28 February 2006

Marjorie Cohn: Human rights hypocrisy

In a recent column in truthout, Marjorie Cohn does a brilliant job of exposing the Bush administration's most recent display of hypocrisy with regard to human rights -- its attitudes towards the UN Human Rights Council.

An excerpt:
Last week, the President of the United Nations General Assembly announced a new proposal to revamp the UN Human Rights Commission and rename it the UN Human Rights Council. The product of months of negotiations between the 53 member nations of the Commission, the proposal will be voted on by the General Assembly next month. The United States, however, immediately denounced the compromise. John Bolton, US ambassador to the United Nations, said it has too many "deficiencies" and should be renegotiated.

Bolton stated last month, "Membership on the Commission by some of the world's most notorious human rights abusers mocks the legitimacy of the Commission and the United Nations itself." But Bolton was not referring to the United States, which invaded Iraq in violation of the UN Charter, killed thousands of innocent Iraqis, and tortured and abused prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

The United States and Western European countries have criticized the Human Rights Commission because it has elected countries such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, Libya and Cuba, whom the Western nations have accused of human rights violations.

In a press release issued last week, the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations said, "If any government does not deserve to be part of the Council, it is the one who represents a State that benefited from the slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, that kept a 'constructive commitment' to extend the existence of the apartheid regime, that protects and bestows impunity to the human rights violations perpetrated by the Israeli occupation of Palestine and other Arab territories, that supported the bloody military dictatorships of Latin America, that today tortures and murders in the name of liberty which the majority of its own citizens do not benefit from, that fails to meet its commitments and obligations of official development assistance to the Third World, and that threatens and attacks the Southern countries."

The United States objects to the new proposal's commitment to the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. The refusal to enshrine rights such as employment, education, food, housing, and health care in US law is the reason the United States has not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Since the Reagan administration, there has been a policy to define human rights in terms of civil and political rights, but to dismiss economic, social and cultural rights as akin to social welfare, or socialism.

Indeed, the United States' inhumane policy toward Cuba exemplifies this dichotomy. The US government criticizes civil and political rights in Cuba while disregarding Cubans' superior access to universal housing, health care, education and public accommodations and its guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal pay rates.

The US also opposes the new proposal's affirmation that the right to development is on par with the rights to peace and security, and human rights, as the three pillars of the United Nations system. Last year, the United States and Australia were the only nations to vote against a General Assembly resolution on the Right to Development, which was passed by a vote of 48 to 2, with 2 abstentions. It reaffirmed the principle that the right to development is an "inalienable human right."

A member of the Commission since it was formed in 1947, the US was furious when it was voted off the Commission in 2001. Many countries were angry with the United States for its policies in the Middle East, and its opposition to the International Criminal Court, the treaty to ban land mines, the Kyoto Protocol, and making AIDS drugs available to everyone.

It was only after behind the scenes negotiations among Western nations that the US was able to manipulate its way back onto the Commission one year later.

The new proposal provides that members of the Council will serve for a period of three years and shall not be eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms. This is objectionable to the United States, which wants to guarantee a spot on the Council for the five permanent members of the Security Council - France, Britain, Russia, China and the US.

The United States also wants open voting on Council membership instead of the secret ballot elections that the proposal calls for. The US would like to make it easier to blackmail smaller nations for their votes.

In his statement last week, Bolton also said, "We consider the United States a champion of human rights. It is a fundamental and bedrock tenet upon which our country was founded. Thus, when the United States falls short of the high standards we set for ourselves, we move swiftly and decisively to vigorously prosecute offenders who are US citizens in our courts." Yet only a few low-ranking soldiers and a chief warrant officer have been prosecuted for the widespread and systematic torture and abuse of prisoners in US custody.
[Read more.]

27 February 2006

Canadian waitress with secondhand lung cancer fights for life

I have written in the past about the benefits of smoking bans in the workplace. My main point on this issue is that one person's rights end where the next person's rights begin. Your right to swing your fist ends where my face begins. Your right to smoke cigarettes and pollute your own lungs ends where my own airspace begins.

Now, underscoring my arguments, is the case of Heather Crowe, a Canadian waitress with inoperable lung cancer from secondhand smoke.

Since her diagnosis some years ago, Heather has been campaigning against second-hand smoke. She says, "I want to be the last person to die from second-hand smoke at work." [Read an article about her.]

Now the smokefree grapevine tells me that Heather is "struggling" to keep her pain under control, and may be in her final days. I hope that her efforts to save others from her fate will not be wasted.

26 February 2006

Judge orders U.S. to identify detainees

It could be that hundreds of prisoners that the Bush administration caused to "disappear" in the "war on terror" might see an end to their legal limbo. Or at least their families will finally know why they never returned from that trip to the convenience store.

From the Associated Press via Common Dreams:
A U.S. federal judge ordered the Pentagon on Thursday to release the identities of hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to The Associated Press, a move which would force the government to break its secrecy and reveal the most comprehensive list yet of those who have been held at the U.S. navy base in Cuba.

Some of the hundreds of prisoners in the war on terror being held at Guantanamo have been imprisoned as long as four years. Only a handful have been officially identified.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in New York City ordered the Defence Department to release uncensored transcripts of detainee hearings, which contain the names of prisoners in custody and those who have been held and later released. Previously released documents have had identities and other details blacked out.

The judge ordered the government to hand over the documents by March 3 after the Defence Department said Wednesday it would not appeal his earlier ruling in the lawsuit filed by the AP.

On Jan. 23, Rakoff ordered the military to turn over uncensored copies of transcripts and other documents from more than 550 military hearings for detainees at the prison camp.

U.S. authorities now hold about 490 prisoners at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Most have been held without charges since the camp opened four years ago, prompting complaints from human rights groups and others.

"AP has been fighting for this information since the fall of 2004," said Dave Tomlin, assistant general counsel for the news organization.

"We’re grateful to have a decision at last that keeping prisoner identities secret is against the public policy and the law of this country."

The military has never officially released the names of any prisoners, except the 10 who have been charged.

Most of those who are known emerged from the approximately 400 civil suits filed on behalf of prisoners by lawyers who obtained their names from family or other detainees, said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which represents about 200 detainees.

"They have been very resistant to releasing the names, Ratner said.

"There are still people there who don’t have a lawyer and we don’t know who they are. They have disappeared."
[Read more.]

Abu Ghraib in our own backyard

News from abroad in the "war on terror" has prompted many to ponder the deplorable prison conditions at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and other locations far from home. However, many Americans might not realize that prison conditions are often just as harsh right here in the U.S.

Human rights and criminal justice groups have compiled numerous accounts of prisoner abuse in correctional facilities across the country.

Prison overcrowding is an enormous issue. Overcrowding is not only a problem in itself, but it triggers more problems that are bound to occur when too many human beings are forced to occupy close spaces.

The prison overcrowding problem is the inevitable result of mandatory prison sentencing for perpetrators of non-violent crimes, such as drug offenses and immigration violations, as well as mentally ill persons who would be better served in a psychiatric facility.

Inmates are routinely being denied medication and medical care, and this sometimes results in death or permanent injury.

They are often deprived of soap, toothpaste, razors, and other basic grooming necessities, even prior to court appearances.

They are underfed. They are often forced to buy or bargain for treats from the commissary because the regular prison meals offer inadequate portions if they are delivered at all.

Guards routinely discriminate against certain prisoners, address them using racial slurs, and arbitrarily keep them from attending religious services.

Physical violence against prisoners by guards, including gratuitous and malicious beatings and shocks from electric stun devices, is rampant, as is prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse.

Female prisoners have it even worse. According to a recent report by Amnesty International, correctional officials have subjected female inmates to rape, other sexual assault, sexual extortion, and groping during body searches. Male correctional officials watch women undressing, in the shower, or on the toilet. And male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment.

Pregnant inmates are denied proper care, even during childbirth. Shackling of all prisoners, including pregnant prisoners, is policy in federal prisons and almost all state prisons. Shackling during labor may cause complications during delivery, such as hemorrhage or decreased fetal heart rate. If a caesarian section is needed, a delay of even five minutes may result in permanent brain damage to the baby.

Some people point out that prison isn't supposed to be a country club, and that prisoners deserve harsh treatment in return for the crimes that they have committed. This is a naive view, because even the lower-security prison systems are a far cry from Club Med, as Martha Stewart can attest. Prisoners are there to serve their time in accordance with their sentences. Torture and ill-treatment are not part of the sentence. Furthermore, they are unconstitutional.

We need to fix the problems in our prisons. Prison guards must be trained in proper procedures for the management and treatment of prisoners, and they must be held accountable for their behavior. Our elected officials must enact legislation to ensure that prisoners receive adequate medical care and that prison conditions in general are effectively monitored for adherence to basic standards of humane treatment.

The way we treat the lowliest among us is a testament to the nature of our society. The world looked in horror at the photos from Abu Ghraib. How then should we view the same abusive treatment when it's directed at our very own citizens?

Our tax dollars must not be used to support cruel and inhumane treatment of any human being.

FBI 'warned military on Guantanamo techniques'

They still keep telling us that the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and elsewhere was the work of merely "a few bad apples".

That batch of bad apples keeps growing. Now, according to the FBI, it includes a big orchard called the Defense Intelligence Agency. And they knew that they were acting illegally, because the FBI had told them so.

From the Financial Times via truthout:
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at Guantánamo Bay warned military interrogators that some aggressive interrogation techniques were illegal, according to documents released on Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Organisation released internal FBI memos that outline agents' concerns about the interrogation tactics being used by Defense Intelligence Agency interrogators at the prison.

According to a May 2003 memo, FBI agents in late 2002 believed DIA interrogators were using tactics that were of "questionable effectiveness."

"Not only are these tactics at odds with legally permissible interviewing techniques used by US law enforcement agencies in the US, but they are being employed by personnel in GTMO [Guantánamo] who appear to have little, if any, experience eliciting information for judicial purposes," the memo said.

Another memo documents how DIA interrogators used techniques such as showing pornographic videos and wrapping prisoners in the Israeli flag. It also alleges that the interrogators sometimes posed as FBI agents.

According to the May 2003 memo, FBI agents complained that the US military officer overseeing interrogations at Guantánamo "blatantly misled" the Pentagon into believing that the FBI had endorsed some of the more aggressive techniques.

The report said Major General Geoffrey Miller, overall commander of the prison from late 2002, who was later sent to Abu Ghraib to improve the flow of intelligence from interrogations, "favoured" the more aggressive techniques "despite FBI assertions that such methods could easily result in the elicitation of unreliable and legally inadmissible information."

"We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law," said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer.
[Read more.]

25 February 2006

UAE gave $1 million to Bush Library Foundation

Why does Dubya keep defending the sale of our ports to a a terrorist-friendly company controlled by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) despite the bipartisan backlash and despite the UAE's known ties to anti-American terrorism?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that the UAE gave $1 million to the Bush Library?

From the Associated Press via Chron.com:
A sheik from the United Arab Emirates contributed at least $1 million to the Bush Library Foundation, which established the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The UAE owns Dubai Port Co., which is taking operations from London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which operates six U.S. ports. A political uproar has ensued over the deal, which the White House approved without congressional oversight.

The donations were made in the early 1990s for the library, which houses the papers of former President George Bush, the current president's father.

The list of donors names Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan and the people of the United Arab Emirates as one donor in the $1 million or more category.

The amount of the gift grants them recognition on the engraved donor wall in the library entrance or on the paving bricks that line the library's walkways, according to library documents.

Roman Popaduik, chairman of the Bush Library Foundation that collects donations, said he could not discuss details of the gifts except to say the amount category and whether it was before or after 1997.
[Read more.]

South Dakota vs. women

It has begun.

Yesterday, South Dakota passed a law that makes it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion except where necessary to save a woman's life (and that latter caveat could open up a big can of subjective worms).

The law makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

Now think about this: Under this new law, if a young girl in South Dakota is raped by her drunken uncle and becomes pregnant as a result, she will be forced to carry that pregnancy to term.

Furthermore, the rapist could have the same parental rights as the mother.

And they call this "pro-life"?

[Read MSNBC's coverage of this story.]

24 February 2006

Doctors and executions

A California death row case has opened a can of worms regarding whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and the state can't find physicians willing to participate to ensure that the process is humane.

An article in today's Christian Science Monitor summarizes the issue (and related medical ethics issues) quite well.

An excerpt:
In California this week, two anesthesiologists refused to monitor the administering of a barbiturate designed to render unconscious convicted killer Michael Morales before he was to be killed with two other drugs.

The execution was called off - or, at least, postponed. Death-penalty opponents cheered. And the roiling debate over the ethics of medical professionals' involvement in the officially sanctioned ending of human life got a little hotter.

At issue: Should a healer help the executioner?

Beyond abortion (where the question of when life begins remains the major debating point), this includes executions carried out by the state and physician-assisted suicide now legal in Oregon and being considered in other states.

Similarly, medical ethics are involved in growing questions about military doctors taking part in the interrogation of prisoners and the force-feeding of those on a hunger strike.

In the eyes of most professional medical organizations, physicians have the ethical and professional obligation to do what they can to make people well, not to help kill them. The American Medical Association (AMA) code of ethics states, "A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution."

While most states now favor lethal drugs in capital punishment, courts increasingly are taking a skeptical view of a procedure that critics say violates the Constitution.

"The issue is whether the method the government has chosen to employ in our case constitutes cruel and unusual punishment," says Steve Northup, a Richmond, Va., attorney with a client on death row for gang murders. "There's a lot of scientific opinion out there to the effect that it causes a great deal of pain."

In the California case, a federal district judge ordered - for the first time - that licensed medical personnel administer the sedative.

In recent weeks, stays of execution have been granted in four cases, and the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Florida case involving lethal injection.
[Read more.]

Supreme Court rules that you are not necessarily entitled to introduce that evidence that could overturn your death sentence

You're innocent. You have an alibi. But you get convicted of murder anyway and you are sentenced to death.

In a last-ditch effort to prove your innocence, you ask the state to allow your mother to take the stand and present alibi-related testimony that could clear your name.

But, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States just said that you don't necessarily have the right to present that kind of evidence.

The case was Oregon v. Guzek, and the Supremes held that states are free to put limits on the innocence-related evidence that may be offered at sentencing. [Read story.]

To download a PDF of the Supreme Court's opinion in this case, click here.

This is some sad and scary news for the wrongfully convicted and those who care about them.

23 February 2006

Port insecurity and the UAE-Osama link: The plot thickens

According to a post on the Daily Kos, the Emir of Dubai, and the head of the family that owns Dubai Ports, is an associate and hunting companion of Osama bin Laden. [Read more.]

New report from Human Rights First on detainee deaths

Human Rights First has independently investigated the deaths of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yesterday they released their report, which describes more than 20 detainee deaths in detail.

To download the report in PDF format, click here.

While you're at it, to view more of the latest photos from Abu Ghraib, click here.

More fun with port insecurity

They "re-elected" George W. Bush in 2004 because Bush managed to convince them that he could keep them safe from "the evil-doers".

Then he turns around and defends the hiring of a company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to manage our port security. Another fox guarding the American henhouse -- except this fox has known ties to al-Qaeda and 9/11 (which would present an easy opportunity for terrorists to infiltrate the operation).

Bush is so adamant about allowing al-Qaeda's pals to guard our ports that he is threatening to veto any efforts to stop the deal from going through. Gotta wonder what's really behind it all, especially considering that Bush is under strong bipartisan pressure on this issue. But rather than pay serious credence to his critics, Bush responds with another "bring 'em on".

But don't worry. George will keep us safe. After all, he's wiretapping peace activists.

From yesterday's Washington Post:
President Bush yesterday strongly defended an Arab company's attempt to take over the operation of seaports in Baltimore and five other cities, threatening a veto if Congress tries to kill a deal his administration has blessed.

Facing a sharp bipartisan backlash, Bush took the unusual step of summoning reporters to the front of Air Force One to condemn efforts to block a firm from the United Arab Emirates from purchasing the rights to manage ports that include those in New York and New Orleans.

The Bush administration recently approved the sale of a London-based company that currently manages the ports to state-run Dubai Ports World. The deal has raised alarms on Capitol Hill and with the Republican governors of Maryland and New York. Critics note that the United Arab Emirates has been a home base for terrorists.

The federal government has approval rights over business transactions with national security implications. In this case, Dubai Ports World would handle shipping arrivals, departures, unloading at the docks and many security-related functions. The federal government would oversee those security operations.

"I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a [British] company," Bush told reporters.

He said the transaction was thoroughly scrutinized by administration officials, who concluded that it poses no threat to national security. He praised the United Arab Emirates as a close ally against terrorism and warned of sending the wrong message to the world by condemning a business just because it is Arab-owned.

But many Republicans and Democrats who represent the seaport regions remain deeply skeptical of a UAE-owned company playing such a central role at some of the most sensitive entry points in the country. They noted that some of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks used the United Arab Emirates as an operational and financial hub.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) called on Bush to delay the takeover and reevaluate the security risk. Frist threatened to introduce legislation to delay the takeover if Bush does not act quickly.

Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) called Bush politically tone-deaf. "Of all the bills to veto, if he lays down this gauntlet, he'll probably have 350 members of the House ready to accept that challenge," Foley said.

Bush welcomed the fight. "They ought to look at the facts and understand the consequences of what they're going to do," Bush said. "But if they pass a law, I'll deal with it, with a veto."
[Read more.]

By the way, this is not any kind of phobia regarding Arabs. It's about the old adage that you are the company you keep. And when the company you keep (and finance) is al-Qaeda, you can't expect a warm welcome when you're hired to guard us against your friends.

22 February 2006

Economic reality check -- 24/7

George W. Bush keeps telling us how well our economy is doing.

Rather than take his word for it, do your homework.

For the real economic truth, check out this site: EconomyInCrisis.org

21 February 2006

37 million poor hidden in the land of plenty

Ronald Reagan won reelection by asking us if we were better off than we were 4 years ago. Interestingly, a similar approach worked for George W. Bush, too.

So, for a change of pace, let's take a look at the facts.

From The Observer (UK):
The flickering television in Candy Lumpkins's trailer blared out The Bold and the Beautiful. It was a fantasy daytime soap vision of American life with little relevance to the reality of this impoverished corner of Kentucky.

The Lumpkins live at the definition of the back of beyond, in a hollow at the top of a valley at the end of a long and muddy dirt road. It is strewn with litter. Packs of stray dogs prowl around, barking at strangers. There is no telephone and since their pump broke two weeks ago Candy has collected water from nearby springs. Oblivious to it all, her five-year-old daughter Amy runs barefoot on a wooden porch frozen by a midwinter chill.

It is a vision of deep and abiding poverty. Yet the Lumpkins are not alone in their plight. They are just the negative side of the American equation. America does have vast, wealthy suburbs, huge shopping malls and a busy middle class, but it also has vast numbers of poor, struggling to make it in a low-wage economy with minimal government help.

A shocking 37 million Americans live in poverty. That is 12.7 per cent of the population - the highest percentage in the developed world. They are found from the hills of Kentucky to Detroit's streets, from the Deep South of Louisiana to the heartland of Oklahoma. Each year since 2001 their number has grown.

Under President George W Bush an extra 5.4 million have slipped below the poverty line. Yet they are not a story of the unemployed or the destitute. Most have jobs. Many have two. Amos Lumpkins has work and his children go to school. But the economy, stripped of worker benefits like healthcare, is having trouble providing good wages.

Even families with two working parents are often one slice of bad luck - a medical bill or factory closure - away from disaster. The minimum wage of $5.15 (£2.95) an hour has not risen since 1997 and, adjusted for inflation, is at its lowest since 1956. The gap between the haves and the have-nots looms wider than ever. Faced with rising poverty rates, Bush's trillion-dollar federal budget recently raised massive amounts of defence spending for the war in Iraq and slashed billions from welfare programmes.

For a brief moment last year in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina brought America's poor into the spotlight. Poverty seemed on the government's agenda. That spotlight has now been turned off. 'I had hoped Katrina would have changed things more. It hasn't,' says Cynthia Duncan, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire.
[Read more.]

20 February 2006

Churches stand up to Bush

Bush has his cozy relationship with the radical religious "right". But some churches have decided to take a formal stand against the hypocrisy.

From the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
A coalition of American churches sharply denounced the U.S.-led war in Iraq on Saturday, accusing Washington of "raining down terror" and apologizing to other nations for "the violence, degradation and poverty our nation has sown."

The statement, issued at the largest gathering of Christian churches in nearly a decade, also warned the United States was pushing the world toward environmental catastrophe with a "culture of consumption" and its refusal to back international accords seeking to battle global warming.

"We lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights," said the statement from representatives of the 34 U.S. members of World Council of Churches. "We mourn all who have died or been injured in this war. We acknowledge with shame abuses carried out in our name."

The World Council of Churches includes more than 350 mainstream Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches; the Roman Catholic Church is not a member. The U.S. groups in the WCC include the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, several Orthodox churches and Baptist denominations, among others.

The statement is part of widening religious pressure on the Bush administration, which still counts on the support of evangelical churches and other conservative denominations but is widely unpopular with liberal-minded Protestant congregations.


On Friday, the U.S. National Council of Churches — which includes many WCC members — released a letter appealing to Washington to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and saying reports of alleged torture violated "the fundamental Christian belief in the dignity of the human person."


The churches said they had "grown heavy with guilt" for not doing enough to speak out against the Iraq war and other issues. The statement asked forgiveness for a world that's "grown weary from the violence, degradation and poverty our nation has sown."
[Read more.]

19 February 2006

"Cyber Storm": Government gears up against political dissenters

It appears that the Bush administration is so afraid of bloggers who challenge the administration's actions that they are holding "war game" exercises in dealing with us.

From a piece by Will Pitt for truthout:
They called it "Cyber Storm," and it was a war-game exercise run last week by the Department of Homeland Security. The war game had nothing to do with testing the security of our shipping ports, borders, infrastructure or airports. "Cyber Storm" was testing the government's ability to withstand an onslaught of information and protest from bloggers and online activists.

"Participants confirmed," wrote the Associated Press, that "parts of the worldwide simulation challenged government officials and industry executives to respond to deliberate misinformation campaigns and activist calls by Internet bloggers, online diarists whose "Web logs" include political rantings and musings about current events."

Say what? Online expressions of political opinion are so dangerous that the Department of Homeland Security must war-game scenarios to deal with them? Bloggers are potential terrorists now? Bloggers are the enemy? Last week, as far as DHS was concerned, they were.

We hear a great deal about enemies these days. Don't criticize the war, or you'll embolden the enemy. The enemy is clever and cruel. Stick with the White House and we'll defeat the enemy. Since the Bush administration no longer likes to mention the name Osama bin "Stayin' Alive" Laden in public, lest everyone remember a dramatic promise long broken, any specific definition of an enemy changes with the moment.

Sometimes, the enemy is in Iraq, and we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here. Sometimes, the enemy is in Iran, allegedly toiling with all its collective might to manufacture nuclear weapons. Sometimes, the enemy is in Palestine, where Hamas used George W. Bush's exported democracy to take over the government. Sometimes, the enemy is an American face on a television offering criticism of the White House. Last week, the enemy was a blogger making a political expression.

The enemy is never in Saudi Arabia, though that nation is the very birthing bed of international terrorism. The enemy is never in Israel, though that nation's far-right leadership has been a good deal of the impetus behind the Bush administration's calamitous push into Iraq. The enemy is never in China, even when they smack our planes out of the sky, because they own a substantial portion of our debt. The enemy is never in Pakistan, though that nation's fundamentalist wing allies itself with the Taliban, and though they actually do possess nuclear weapons. The enemy is occasionally mentioned as being in North Korea, but not often, because we want no part of that fight.

For a time, the enemy was in the United Arab Emirates. Two of the hijackers of the September 11 aircraft were citizens of the United Arab Emirates, and the funding behind those attacks was wired through the UAE's banking system. Republican and Democratic Senators believe the UAE has been used as a conduit for the proliferation of nuclear technology.

That was then, however. A company named Dubai Ports World intends to spend $6.8 billion to gain control of the management of shipping ports in New York and New Jersey, as well as in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Miami. Dubai Ports World is foreign-owned, but is backed financially by the government of the United Arab Emirates. In other words, a nation suspected of being a significant player in the September 11 attacks is being allowed to take control of our borders. For the record, US ports handle an estimated two billion tons of cargo annually, with only 5% of that cargo undergoing inspection. The deal has already been granted regulatory clearance by the White House.
[Read more.]

Why can't we see this video?

As of this posting, this video is censored from U.S. view.

If you're in another country and able to view it, I'd love to hear about it.

18 February 2006

Bush hires Arabs with terrorist ties to manage U.S. port security

Yes, you read that headline right. While Bush is spying on Americans suspected of having possible ties to terrorism, he turns over our port security operations to the United Arab Emirates, which certainly does have a history of supporting anti-U.S. terrorists.

From the Associated Press via The Washington Post:
The Bush administration on Thursday rebuffed criticism about potential security risks of a $6.8 billion sale that gives a company in the United Arab Emirates control over significant operations at six major American ports.

Lawmakers asked the White House to reconsider its earlier approval of the deal.

The sale to state-owned Dubai Ports World was "rigorously reviewed" by a US committee that considers security threats when foreign companies seek to buy or invest in American industry, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, run by the Treasury Department, reviewed an assessment from US intelligence agencies. The committee's 12 members agreed unanimously the sale did not present any problems, the department said.

"We wanted to look at this one quite closely because it relates to ports," Stewart Baker, an assistant secretary in the Homeland Security Department, told The Associated Press. "It is important to focus on this partner as opposed to just what part of the world they come from. We came to the conclusion that the transaction should not be halted."

The unusual defense of the secretive committee, which reviews hundreds of such deals each year, came in response to criticism about the purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

The world's fourth-largest ports company runs commercial operations at shipping terminals in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

Four senators and three House members asked the administration Thursday to reconsider its approval. The lawmakers contended the UAE is not consistent in its support of US terrorism-fighting efforts.

"The potential threat to our country is not imagined, it is real," Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., said in a House speech.

The Homeland Security Department said it was legally impossible under the committee's rules to reconsider its approval without evidence DP World gave false information or withheld vital details from US officials. The 30-day window for the committee to voice objections has ended.


US lawmakers said the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan. They also said the UAE was one of only three countries to recognize the now-toppled Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government.


Critics also have cited the UAE's history as an operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
[Read more.]

No Child Left Behind: Let's get it right

The American Federation of Teachers has created a cute little musical animation outlining the problems with the so-called No Child Left Behind Act.

[Check it out.]

After watching the animation, you can click to take action.

17 February 2006

No wiretapping probe: Republican-led Senate gives Bush full reign

No more checks and balances. The Senate has decided to allow the Bush administration to do whatever they please. No oversight. Warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens? No problem!

Our founding fathers must be spinning in their graves.

From today's Washington Post:
The Bush administration helped derail a Senate bid to investigate a warrantless eavesdropping program yesterday after signaling it would reject Congress's request to have former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and other officials testify about the program's legality. The actions underscored a dramatic and possibly permanent drop in momentum for a congressional inquiry, which had seemed likely two months ago.

Senate Democrats said the Republican-led Congress was abdicating its obligations to oversee a controversial program in which the National Security Agency has monitored perhaps thousands of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents and foreign parties without obtaining warrants from a secret court that handles such matters.

"It is more than apparent to me that the White House has applied heavy pressure in recent days, in recent weeks, to prevent the committee from doing its job," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said after the panel voted along party lines not to consider his motion for an investigation.
[Read more.]

Jeremy Scahill: "Missing the scandal at Abu Ghraib"

CNN's Pentagon coorespondent Barbara Starr has spun the news surrounding the newest Abu Ghraib photos and skirted the real issue.

Instead of expressing outrage at the torture that those photos reveal, she expresses outrage at the fact that it was photographed.

Yeah, Barb. The torture itself isn't the issue, as long as we don't have to see it. Sheeeesh!

From a piece by Jeremy Scahill at AlterNet:
CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr should be given some kind of award for the most outrageously off-target reporting on the newly released photos and videos of U.S. torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In her numerous appearances during the morning news cycle on CNN after the images were first broadcast on Australia's SBS television, Starr described what she saw as the "root of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal" as such:

"Let's start by reminding everybody that under U.S. military law and practice, the only photographs that can be taken are official photographs for documentation purposes about the status of prisoners when they are in military detention. That's it. Anything else is not acceptable. And of course, that is what the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal is all about."

What? Here I thought the "scandal" was that the U.S. military was systematically abusing prisoners. These new photos, with their documentation of violently inflicted open wounds, obliterate any notion that what occurred at Abu Ghraib was anything short of torture by all accepted definitions of the term. They reveal some horrifying scenes of naked, humiliated, bloodied prisoners, some with apparent gunshot wounds. In a video broadcast on Australia's SBS, naked, hooded prisoners were seen being forced to masturbate in front of the camera.

But, according to CNN's Starr, the real transgression was that some soldiers documented the torture in violation of "U.S. military law and practice."
[Read more.]

16 February 2006

New Fiore animation: Gonzales and illegal spying

In his latest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore takes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to task for his defense of Bush's illegal spying.

[Check it out.]

American Bar Association slams Bush on eavesdropping

If anyone knows the law well, it's the collective membership of the American Bar Association. But I don't expect Bush to listen to them. He just has Gonzales make up their own fantasy version of what's "legal".

From Reuters:
The American Bar Association told President George W. Bush on Monday to either stop domestic eavesdropping without a warrant or get the law changed to make it legal.

"We hope the President will listen," association president Michael Grecco told reporters after the more than 500 members of its policy-setting body passed a resolution saying that both national security and constitutional freedoms needed to be protected.

"We do not say surveillance should be stopped, only that it comply with the law," said Neal Sonnett, a Miami lawyer who headed the task force formed to look at the issue not long after the spying program came to light in December.

Authorized by Bush in 2001, the program allows the National Security Agency to monitor the international phone calls and e-mails of US citizens to track people with ties to al Qaeda and other militant groups.

The White House has said warrantless eavesdropping is legal under Bush's constitutional powers as commander-in-chief and a congressional authorization for the use of military force adopted days after the September 11 attacks.

The program bypassed secret courts created under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, that grant warrants.

"We are not trying to limit the President's ability to go after terrorists," Sonnett told the group's House of Delegates before it passed his task force's resolution with relatively little debate.

"Nobody wants to hamstring the President," he added, "But we cannot allow the US Constitution and our rights to become a victim of terrorism," he added.

Grecco told the group the issue is not whether the President can conduct surveillance but whether he can do it unilaterally.
[Read more.]

Whistleblower alleges a second NSA wiretap program

If the first NSA wiretap program hasn't zoned in on you yet, maybe this other one has.

From UPI:
A former NSA employee said Tuesday there is another ongoing top-secret surveillance program that might have violated millions of Americans' Constitutional rights.

Russell D. Tice told the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations he has concerns about a "special access" electronic surveillance program that he characterized as far more wide-ranging than the warrentless wiretapping recently exposed by the New York Times but he is forbidden from discussing the program with Congress.

Tice said he believes it violates the Constitution's protection against unlawful search and seizures but has no way of sharing the information without breaking classification laws. He is not even allowed to tell the congressional intelligence committees - members or their staff - because they lack high enough clearance.

Neither could he brief the inspector general of the NSA because that office is not cleared to hear the information, he said.
[Read more.]

15 February 2006

BBC covers new torture photos

There is a story on the BBC website about the new Abu Ghraib photos, along with links to some of the photos and to BBC news footage about this.
[Go there.]

New Amnesty video: "Connecting the dots on torture."

Amnesty International has released a short but excellent video about George W. Bush's torture policies (and lies).

Everyone should see it.

[Watch the video, and then take action.]

New Abu Ghraib photos released

The Daily Kos reports that the Australian media will be publishing some new Abu Ghraib photos that have until now been suppressed by the Bush Admnistration.
[Read more and see some of the pictures, if you dare.]

UN investigators say that US tortured prisoners

A new report was released by the United Nations outlines the findings of an 18-month study by UN human rights investigators regarding the treatment of prisoners being held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay.

The report alleges that we have indeed been torturing our detainees, and it calls for closure of Guantanamo.

The report doesn't tell us anything that we didn't already know. And Amnesty International has been calling for Gitmo's closure for some time now. But now the UN has taken an official position on this, and that means a lot.

On the other hand, it's probably meaningless to Bush, who has proven time and time again that international law means nothing to him.

From the Christian Science Monitor:
A confidential report of an 18-month investigation by five United Nations human rights investigators alleges that the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners being held in military detention centers in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, violates international law and in some cases may constitute a form of torture.

The Washington Post reports that the investigation includes interviews with former US prisoners in France, Spain, and Britain, as well as the lawyers and relatives of detainees.

The investigators did not visit the base itself, saying that the Defense Department, which invited only three of the five members of the group to visit the facility last November, refused to allow them to speak to detainees privately. The US government allows only the Red Cross to have direct access to prisoners. The Red Cross does not write reports on the way the prisoners are being treated.

The confidential draft, which was obtained by The Washington Post, notes that two of the UN investigators concluded that the "legal regime applied to these detainees seriously undermines the rule of law and a number of fundamental universally recognized human rights, which are the essence of democratic societies."

The report cites several practices – including sleep deprivation, lengthy solitary confinement and the use of other harsh US-authorized interrogation techniques – that it claims violate international conventions barring cruel or inhumane treatment. It also charges that detainees' rights to religion and health were violated.

The Guardian reports that the investigators also dispute the US government's legal justification for the prison, saying that there has been "insufficient legal process to decide whether detainees continued to pose a threat to the US." Lead investigator Manfred Nowak said the actual report will be released Wednesday.

Reuters writes that the investigators called for the US to shut down the prison "without further delay," and that all the detainees held there should be bought to the US for trial, or let go.

The BBC reports that the White House responded immediately to the draft document. President Bush brought up the report with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who said he had not seen it yet. And the US State Department criticized the report as "hearsay."
[Read more.]

14 February 2006

"No Bravery": A Valentine's Day reality check

On this Valentine's Day, take time to watch the new video "No Bravery", based on a song by James Blunt. (Visuals produced by GlobalFreePress.com.)

It's disturbing, but everyone should watch it. Then take a few moments to consider all the people whose hearts have been broken in this ridiculous war in Iraq.

[Click to watch & listen.]

Those Valentine's Day flowers may be supporting the exploitation of Columbian women

Today is Valentine's Day. I wish a happy one to all.

On this romantic holiday, many of you will send or receive flowers. Now, I don't want to put a damper on your holiday romance. But you might want to ensure that your florist buys his flowers only from suppliers that have officially adopted a voluntary code of conduct on employment rights and pesticides.

In 2001, a piece was published in the UK paper The Guardian outlining the human rights abuses and environmental issues related to Columbia's flower industry. Unfortunately, the situation today is even worse. And, while the piece was published in a UK paper, it's very much an issue with flowers sold here in the U.S.

An excerpt:
"Flowers," wrote Goethe, "are the beautiful words and hieroglyphs of nature, with which she shows us how much she loves us." Then again, he never had to make a living by picking them.

Up on the high plains of the Savanna region around the Colombian capital of Bogota, you get a different view. Here flowers are hieroglyphs not of nature, but of exploitation. "For me flowers mean hard work, bad conditions and bad health," says Elida Duarte, a 29-year-old flower picker working for the Dole corporation, which now controls one fifth of Colombia's exports.

The Savanna is flower country. Today, Colombia is the second largest source of flower exports to the world market after Holland. The giant greenhouses dotted across the landscape generate $600m a year in export revenue. Only coffee and coca earn more. One of every two flowers sold in the US now originates on the Savanna; and the chances are that the last bunch of roses you got - or gave - on Valentine's Day included a Colombian bloom.

The flower boom has generated huge environmental costs. The water table on the Savanna has been shrinking almost as quickly as export earnings have been rising. Around the town of Madrid the aquifer has fallen from 20 metres to 200 metres, and water is now imported from Bogota. Highly toxic residues of pesticides banned in Europe, such as lindano, have been found in dangerously high levels in groundwater.

But the flower trade has created jobs. Around 80,000 women now work in the greenhouses, many of them seeking an escape from rural poverty. Wages are low. On an average day, one woman will pick over 400 top grade carnations. Four of them will cost you £2 in your local florist, which is more than a flower worker earns in a day. But in an area with 40% unemployment, a job in the flower industry offers hope.

It also generates risk. Flowers leave the Savanna with their blooms in an immaculate state to meet American and European inspection standards. They are grown in sterilised soil in greenhouses that are fumigated every day with fungicides, insecticides and nemoticides.

One-fifth of the chemicals used in the greenhouses of the Savanna are carcinogens or toxins that have been restricted for health reasons in the US. Women workers testify to spraying dichlorpropene, categorised by the WHO as carcinogenic, without protective clothing and with only handkerchiefs to cover their mouths.

Medical surveys carried out by Cactus, a Bogota-based non-government organisation, show that nearly two-thirds of Colombia's flower workers suffer from maladies associated with pesticide exposure, ranging from nausea, to conjunctivitis, muscle pains, and mis-carriages.

Workers in the industry face more than immediate health risks. While Colombian law provides wide-ranging maternity rights and social welfare rights, these count for nothing in the greenhouse economy. In theory, pregnant women have the right to 80 days' paid maternity leave. In practice, many companies simply sack women who become pregnant. Membership of a trade union is a one-way ticket to instant dismissal.
[Read more.]

13 February 2006

VA nurse investigated for "sedition" for criticizing bush

Remember the Bill of Rights? Remember the First Amendment and freedom of speech? Ah, those were the days!

Now, if you work for the government and you publicly criticize Bush, you could be accused of sedition. Yes, sedition!

From The Progressive:
Laura Berg is a clinical nurse specialist at the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, where she has worked for 15 years.

Shortly after Katrina, she wrote a letter to the editor of the weekly paper the Alibi criticizing the Bush Administration.

After the paper published the letter in its September 15-21 issue, VA administrators seized her computer, alleged that she had written the letter on that computer, and accused her of "sedition."

Here’s what her letter said.

"I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government," it began. "The Katrina tragedy in the U.S. shows that the emperor has no clothes!" She mentioned that she was "a VA nurse" working with returning vets. "The public has no sense of the additional devastating human and financial costs of post-traumatic stress disorder," she wrote, and she worried about the hundreds of thousands of additional cases that might result from Katrina and the Iraq War.

"Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown, and Rice should be tried for criminal negligence," she wrote. "This country needs to get out of Iraq now and return to our original vision and priorities of caring for land and people and resources rather than killing for oil ... We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.

Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times."

After her computer was seized, Berg wrote a memo to her bosses seeking information and an explanation.

Mel Hooker, chief of the human resources management service at the Albuquerque VA, wrote Berg back on November 9 and acknowledged that "your personal computer files did not contain the editorial letter written to the editor of the weekly Alibi."

But rather than apologize, he leveled the sedition charge: "The Agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act which potentially represents sedition," he said. "In your letter ... you declared yourself 'as a VA nurse' and publicly declared the Government which employs you to have 'tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence' and advocated, 'act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.'"

Berg, who is not talking to the press, is "scared for her job" and "pretty emotionally distressed," says Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico.

"We were shocked to see the word 'sedition' used," Simonson tells The Progressive. "Sedition? That’s like something out of the history books."

In a press release, Simonson also said: "Is this government so jealous of its power, so fearful of dissent, that it needs to threaten people who openly oppose its policies with charges of 'sedition'?"

The ACLU of New Mexico is working in Berg’s behalf. It has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to this incident. And it is asking "at the very least" that Berg "receive a public apology from Mr. Hooker to remedy the unconstitutional chilling effect on the speech of VA employees that has resulted from these intimidating tactics," according to a letter from the New Mexico ACLU to the VA’s Office of Regional Counsel.
[Read more.]

12 February 2006

More than 10,000 empty FEMA trailers while Katrina victims go homeless

Earlier this month, thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims were evicted from the FEMA-arranged hotels where they have been staying.

Many have nowhere to go.

Meantime, thousands of FEMA trailers, which were ordered to house the homeless hurricane victims, sit empty in Arkansas.

From the Los Angeles Times:
At Uncle Henry's Smokehouse Bar B Que in Hope, Ark., the lunchtime crowd filled every table Thursday - all 10 of them. At City Hall, the phones were ringing off the hook. And out at the airport, a private pilot who just turned 45 said she didn't expect to live long enough to see things get back to normal.

All because of the latest example of how federal, state and local officials have responded to Hurricane Katrina. Time was, Hope was known primarily as the childhood home of President Clinton. Now it's Trailer Town, USA.

After the Aug. 29 storm left thousands homeless on the Gulf Coast, officials in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama began calling for trailers to provide temporary shelter. More than 100,000 were requested, and somebody decided to create holding areas for the trailers outside the hurricane zone.

Today, legions of wide-bodied mobile homes sit empty at Hope's Municipal Airport, a sprawling former military base. After all these months, storm victims can't seem to get the trailers, which are proving a mixed blessing to Hope and Arkansas.

"It just boggles the mind in this day and time," said Mark Keith, director of the Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce. "There are 10,770 trailers at Hope Airport. That's one for every man, woman and child in Hope, with a few left over to send to Emmet, down the road."

On the plus side, new jobs have been created for security guards, maintenance workers and others for trailers that cover all but one of the airport's runways and spill onto adjacent land. At Uncle Henry's, owner Bobby Redman says business is up by as much as 20%. The small army of truckers who deliver the trailers pump money into many parts of the local economy.

"It's been good for the whole town," said Mayor Dennis Ramsey. The Federal Emergency Management Agency picked Hope after searching the Internet for World War II-era military airports, he said.

State coffers also have benefited. Many truckers got tickets ranging from $125 to $425 each for not carrying the right permits or for getting stuck on the road after dark, said businessman Dennis Larson of Montevideo, Minn., whose company hauled nearly 400 of the trailers to Hope.

"I have a dozen of the tickets sitting on my desk," he said. "The state of Arkansas set out to profit. It was by far the worst of all the states that we went through ... Missouri was the best. You talk to any trucker, you mention Arkansas and they shiver."

Locally, some people are upset that the trailers are not being moved to where they're needed. "It has employed quite a few people, but it's not about Hope," Mayor Ramsey said. "It's about folks in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama."

"All of us think it's not right for them to be sitting out there and not where families need them," said Janice Skipworth, general manager of the Super 8 Motel, which filled with Katrina evacuees after the storm. "I stand behind my government no matter what, but this is kind of wrong."

City Bakery owner Randall Ross agreed. Months after the hurricane, "it's dang sure those people are in need now."

With the rainy season at hand, some local officials feared many units would sink into the mud. But FEMA plans to lay down a 290-acre bed of gravel for them to rest on, at a cost of $6 million.

Why haven't the trailers been sent to those who need them?

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), a graduate of Hope High School, asked that question as he toured the airport Thursday with FEMA officials. "It cost $431 million and they're all sitting there, 75% of them literally parked in a cow pasture," Ross said in a telephone interview. "They are brand-new, all totally furnished, and yet people have been living in tents for five months in a row. It just makes you sick to your stomach."
[Read more.]

FEMA, you're doing a heck of a job.

11 February 2006

House Republicans promote torture

Hear no evil, see no evil, worry about no evil.

But their lack of a conscience isn't enough, so they tell us that the Democrats who want to investigate the Bush administration's torture policies are posing "real dangers to our country."

Wait a minute. Haven't we already seen that torture doesn't work?

From the New York Daily News:
Republicans easily defeated three resolutions seeking information about the Bush administration's policies on torture after a heated committee hearing.

Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said Democrats who submitted the resolutions should "at least silently confess to themselves that their actions pose real dangers to our country."


All three proposed resolutions were defeated on almost straight party-line votes.
[Read more.]

PS: Who is posing the real threat to our country?

Report: More than half of Gitmo detainees not accused of hostile acts

A post on the TalkLeft blog cites a new report containing some alarming (but not surprising) statictics proving that hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay might be there for no just cause.

An excerpt:
1. Fifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.

2. Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.

3. The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that in fact, are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist.
[Read more.]

Our tax dollars at work.

Former Gitmo detainees face continued problems after release

You're in the wrong place at the wrong time. You're scooped up in the U.S. military's indiscriminate net in the "war on terror". You're innocent. But you end up at Guantanamo Bay, held for years without charge, and with no legal recourse. You're tortured.

If you're lucky, you might eventually get released if the government realizes that you're not a terrorist. Big if.

And, if you are lucky enough to be released, your problems aren't over.

A recent report by Amnesty International outlines the issues facing former detainees after their release.

From The NewStandard via Currents of Awareness:
A leading international human rights organization has issued a report on the fate of people who have been detained at the United States military camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to the report, released yesterday by Amnesty International, those discharged from the prison are facing an increasingly difficult time assimilating back into society.

Many of those returned to their home countries from US detention are subject to harassment from authorities, and others are stigmatized as suspected terrorists.

The report details the cases of five men formerly interred at Guantánamo, one of whose whereabouts is still unknown. All the men reported being followed by law enforcement agents after returning to their home countries, and several were subsequently arrested on dubious criminal charges, according to accounts compiled by Amnesty.

For instance, according to Amnesty, Wisam 'Abd Al-Rahman Ahmed, a Jordanian national returned to his home country in 2004 after the US released him, is currently being held incommunicado at an unknown location. He claimed to have been first apprehended in Iran in March 2002.

In statements to the media shortly after his release from the US-run prison camp, Al-Rahman Ahmed said he had been mentally, physically and sexually abused by US authorities at the military base in Bagram, Afghanistan for over fourteen months prior to being transferred to Guantánamo Bay.

Yemeni citizen Karama Khamis Khamisan told Amnesty of being stripped naked, beaten and otherwise physically abused while held at Bagram. Khamisan also told the human rights group that he was threatened with transfer to Egypt or Jordan and recounted being piled naked with other detainees and photographed.

After finding that he did not fit the "enemy combatant" category, US authorities transferred Khamisan to his home country in the summer of 2005. He met with Amnesty while in Yemeni custody a month later and is now being held under tighter guard, without access to the courts and kept from communicating with his lawyer, Amnesty said.

Families of both the released prisoners and current detainees have repeatedly been stonewalled by officials when trying to discover the fate of their loved ones, Amnesty reported. Several told the human rights organization that their governments will not confirm or deny reports of loved ones' release from Guantánamo or transfers back home.

Officials in their home countries have been unable or unwilling to provide accurate information on released men, and the US has generally provided little detail related to releases of detainees. United States officials have also refused to release the names of the roughly 500 prisoners currently held at Guantánamo.

In addition to taking the first broad look at post-detention life, the eleven-page report said that nine detainees continue to be held even though they are no longer designated as "enemy combatants" -- a category of prisoner developed by the Bush administration in its counter-terrorism efforts.

The detainees' continued imprisonment, the organization argued, runs counter to rules established by military authorities running the facility, which technically allows for their release if the military tribunal system clears them. Moreover, a US federal district court has ruled that the continued detention under such circumstances is unlawful.
[Read more.]

Boston Globe: Close Guantanamo now

The torture continues at Guantanamo Bay -- in our name, and with our tax dollars.

A Friday editorial in The Boston Globe makes a good case for closing Gitmo -- something that Amnesty International has been calling for for a long time.

An excerpt:
The new chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, was expected to sweeten relations with the United States that had been strained by her predecessor's outspoken opposition to the Iraq war. But in her first meeting with President Bush last month she gave him this unsolicited advice: Close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Just how wise her council was becomes clearer with every revelation about the purgatory the United States has created for hundreds of individuals swept up during the Afghanistan war more than four years ago. So far, the government has managed to bring criminal charges against just a handful of the detainees. The rest are held thousands of miles from their homes and families with no prospect of any resolution of their cases.

Not surprisingly, many are driven to go on hunger strikes. Concerned that starvation deaths would further discredit US policy toward the detainees, US officers take extreme steps to keep the strikers alive with force-feeding. According to US officials interviewed by The New York Times, plastic tubes are forced down prisoners' throats and they are strapped into special "restraint chairs" for hours on end. These keep them from intentionally vomiting after a force-feeding. A detainee lawyer told the Times that one of his clients said officials would purposely insert so much food that prisoners would defecate on themselves.


The most heart-rending cases are the dozen or so Chinese Muslim Uighurs at Guantanamo. Captured at a time when the United States was offering Afghans $5,000 bounties for detainees, the Uighurs have even been declared by the US government not to be enemy combatants. But the government does not want to send them back to China, where Uighurs are persecuted, and won't give them asylum status that would allow them to join a small Uighur community near Washington, D.C. So they stay in their cells.
[Read more.]

"War on terror" reality check

If anyone tries to tell you how "well" the "war on terror" is going, Bob Geiger has provided all the info you need to set the story straight -- complete with charts and graphs.

[Check it out.]

This data clearly illustrates that Bush has made global terror worse.

10 February 2006

Intel pros say Bush is lying about foiling 2002 terror attack

When Bush starting trumpeting how his illegal warrantless spying activity helped to foil a 2002 terror attack on Los Angeles, I thought it seemed too convenient, given the heat he is under.

Now Capitol Hill Blue is reporting that "outraged intelligence professionals" are claiming that Bush's story is a lie.

An excerpt:
Outraged intelligence professionals say President George W. Bush is "cheapening" and "politicizing" their work with claims the United States foiled a planned terrorist attack against Los Angeles in 2002.

"The President has cheapened the entire intelligence community by dragging us into his fantasy world," says a longtime field operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. "He is basing this absurd claim on the same discredited informant who told us Al Qaeda would attack selected financial institutions in New York and Washington."

Within hours of the President’s speech Thursday claiming his administration had prevented a major attack, sources who said they were current and retired intelligence pros from the CIA, NSA, FBI and military contacted Capitol Hill Blue with angry comments disputing the President’s remarks.

"He’s full of shit," said one sharply-worded email.

Although none were willing to allow use of their names, saying doing so would place them in legal jeopardy, we were able to confirm that at least four of the 23 who contacted us currently work, or had worked, within the U.S. intelligence community.

But Los Angeles Mayor Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is willing to go on the record, claiming Bush blind-sided his city with the claims.

"I'm amazed that the president would make this (announcement) on national TV and not inform us of these details through the appropriate channels," the mayor says. "I don't expect a call from the president — but somebody." Villaraigosa also said he has twice requested meetings with Bush to discuss security issues for Los Angeles and was turned down both times.

Intelligence pros say much of the information used by Bush in an attempt to justify his increased spying on Americans by the National Security Agency, trampling of civil rights under the USA Patriot Act, and massive buildup of the Department of Homeland Security, now the nation's largest federal bureaucracy, was "worthless intel that was discarded long ago."
[Read more.]

Amnesty statement on the cartoon issue

Below is a public statement from Amnesty International regarding the cartoon controversy:
AI Index: POL 30/007/2006 (Public)
News Service No: 032
6 February 2006

Freedom of speech carries responsibilities for all

Events of recent weeks have highlighted the difficult question of what should be the legitimate scope of freedom of expression in culturally diverse societies.

While different societies have drawn the boundaries of free speech in different ways, the cartoon controversy shows how, in today's increasingly global media space, the impact of actions in one country can be felt way beyond its borders. Today, more than ever, societies are faced with the challenge of asserting universal human rights principles in an area where there has traditionally been a tendency to defer to the domestic laws of a particular state and the values they enshrine.

Set against the backdrop of the rising climate of intolerance and suspicion between religious and other communities in many parts of the world, including in Europe, two conflicting sets of principles are being advanced in this controversy.

Newspaper editors have justified the publication of cartoons that many Muslims have regarded as insulting, arguing that freedom of artistic expression and critique of opinions and beliefs are essential in a pluralist and democratic society. On the other hand, Muslims in numerous countries have found the cartoons to be deeply offensive to their religious beliefs and an abuse of freedom of speech. In a number of cases, protests against the cartoons have degenerated into acts of physical violence, while public statements by some protestors and community leaders have been seen as fanning the flames of hostility and violence.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression should be one of the cornerstones of any society. This right includes "the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers" (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19). For more than forty years, Amnesty International (AI) has defended this right against attempts by governments across the globe to stifle religious dissent, political opposition and artistic creativity.

However, the right to freedom of expression is not absolute -- neither for the creators of material nor their critics. It carries responsibilities and it may, therefore, be subject to restrictions in the name of safeguarding the rights of others. In particular, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence cannot be considered legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. Under international standards, such "hate speech" should be prohibited by law.

AI calls on the government officials and those responsible for law enforcement and the administration of justice to be guided by these human rights principles in their handling of the current situation.

AI also calls on those working in the media to act with sensitivity and responsibility so as not to exacerbate the current situation. This incident highlights the power and reach of the media and AI calls on those in the media to apply greater political judgement, taking into account the potential impact of their output and the range of often competing human rights considerations involved.

While AI recognises the right of anyone to peacefully express their opinion, including through peaceful protests, the use and threat of violence is unacceptable. Community leaders must do everything in their power to defuse the current atmosphere of hostility and violence. Culture and religion are of central importance to many people’s lives, but they cannot be used as an excuse to abuse human rights.
[Go to original.]

New Fiore animation: "Toon Trouble"

Up until now, I had chosen not to address the Muhammad cartoon fiasco here. This was because I was having a hard time resolving the issue of freedom of expression/press vs. cross-cultural considerations.

But then I watched cartoonist Mark Fiore's latest animation about the subject, and I thought it worth sharing. He makes some very good points.

[Check it out.]

09 February 2006

"Toast the Earth" with ExxonMobil

The Sierra Club has produced a short cartoon animation about ExxonMobil's role in global warming. It's worth watching.

At the end of the animation, you can click to give ExxonMobil's new CEO a piece of your mind.

[Check it out.]

U.S. to repay soldier billed for body armor

In follow-up to the piece I posted yesterday about how the U.S. government billed a wounded soldier for lost body armor, I would like to report the "happy" ending: The government is going to repay the soldier.

From NBC 10 in Philly:
A former soldier injured in Iraq is getting a refund after being forced to pay for his missing body armor vest, which medics destroyed because it was soaked with his blood, officials said Wednesday.

First Lt. William "Eddie" Rebrook IV, 25, had to leave the Army with a shrapnel injury to his arm. But before he could be discharged last week, he says he had to scrounge up cash from his buddies to pay $632 for the body armor and other gear he had lost.
[Read more.]

The right-wing war on women

Women have come a long way since my grandmother's day. Many of us now have successful careers outside the home, and society no longer expects us to rely on a husband for a good income and an identity unless we want to. Many of us are leaders in business, in the arts, and in the community. And we have the right to choose whether or not to be mothers.

Motherhood is a beautiful thing, but it's not for everyone. And it shouldn't have to be.

Apparently, however, there are some folks in Washington and across the country who feel otherwise. Apparently, there are folks out there who would like to return this country to the 1950s, when a proper woman's place was in the kitchen or the bedroom, dutifully beholden to her husband's every whim, and without the right to sovereignty over her own body.

The religious right has made abortion a central topic in the last few elections, even though surveys consistently show that most Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly blocked the over-the-counter sale of the morning-after pill Plan B. They have done so even though over-the-counter availability of Plan B would not only help prevent unintended pregnancies, but would also likely reduce abortions.

Activist pharmacists are refusing to do their job (that is, filling prescriptions per doctors' orders) if the prescription would allow a woman to have some control over the consequences of her sexuality. (At the same time, it seems that no Viagra prescription will go unfilled.)

And now we have an activist judge on the Supreme Court who believes that a woman's uterus is her husband's property.

Yes, you read that right.

In 1991, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Judge Samuel Alito, now our new Supreme Court Justice, supported spousal notification for abortions, even when the woman's life might be at stake. He brushed aside the concern that battered women could face consequences if forced to discuss abortion with a violent spouse. And he ignored the plight of women whose husbands were not available to provide the necessary consent because those husbands had perhaps abandoned the family and moved with their mistresses to other parts of the country. It didn't matter. You had to get his signature or else you had to carry the pregnancy to term. Pay no attention to the consequences to the child. In "Justice" Alito's world, women are chattel.

What are these men afraid of?

Did they all have domineering mothers against whom they're now rebelling by asserting control over women in general?

Is it a testosterone thing? Are they so insecure in their masculinity that they must repress women in order to feel like "real men"?

Is it about the cheerleaders who wouldn't give them the time of day so many years ago?

Or, more likely, is it a straw man solely constructed to incite mindless emotional support from a complacent, under-informed electorate?

In politics, it's all about control. And, with conservative men in the majority in politics, it's easy and convenient to legislate control over women.

If men could get pregnant, abortions would be like Jiffy Lube. But, instead, they pay endless lip service to "family values" while enforcing cowardly discrimination and repression against the female half of the population.

This world that they have constructed might serve their own personal agenda. But is it really what they want for their own families? Is it really what they want for their sisters and their daughters?

And who is going to pay to feed, clothe, and educate all those babies? Justice Alito?

Wal-Mart sued for not stocking emergency contraceptives

Just in case you didn't already have enough reasons to hate Wal-Mart, here is another: Wal-Mart pharmacies are refusing to stock the "morning after pill".

I'll bet they stock Viagra, though.

From CNN:
Three Massachusetts women backed by pro-abortion rights groups sued Wal-Mart on Wednesday, saying the retail giant violated state law by failing to stock emergency contraception pills in its pharmacies.

The suit filed in Suffolk Superior Court seeks a court order compelling the company to stock the so-called "morning after pill," in its 48 Massachusetts pharmacies.

"Wal-Mart apparently thinks it is above the law," said Sam Perkins, a lawyer for the three plaintiffs.

A new state law that took effect late last year following heated debate among lawmakers requires all hospitals to provide the morning-after pill to rape victims. It also allows pharmacists to dispense the pill without a prescription, but does not require it.

The lawsuit, backed by abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts and Jane Doe Inc., argues Wal-Mart is violating a state policy that requires pharmacies to provide all "commonly prescribed medicines." They are suing to force compliance with the regulation through the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act.

"Massachusetts pharmacies are required to stock all medications that are commonly prescribed to meet the usual needs of the community," Perkins said.

Dan Fogleman, a spokesman for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, said the company "chooses not to carry many products for business reasons," but he declined to elaborate.

However, in a letter to Perkins regarding the lawsuit, Wal-Mart attorney John W. Delaney wrote that Wal-Mart has "long had the corporate policy of declining to make available EC (emergency contraception) medication, based on, among other things, a view that EC medication is not 'commonly prescribed' and within the 'usual needs of the community."'
[Read more.]

08 February 2006

Wounded soldier billed for damaged body armor

How much lower can they sink?

A U.S. soldier who was wounded in Iraq was forced to pay the government $700 for body armor that was destroyed as a result of his injuries.

From the Associated Press via NBC5 in Chicago:
A former U.S. soldier injured in Iraq said he was forced to pay $700 for a blood-soaked Kevlar vest that was destroyed.

Medics in January of 2005 removed the vest to treat the 25-year-old soldier for critical shrapnel wounds to his right arm.

First Lt. Eddie Rebrook IV of Charleston, W.Va., had to leave the Army because of his injuries.

Rebrook said before his discharge last week, he had to scrounge up cash from his buddies to pay for the body armor.
[Read more.]

And Bush keeps telling us how much he supports the troops.

Marjorie Cohn: Bush mouthpiece defends illegal spying

In a column for truthout, Marjorie Cohn elaborates on creepy torture fetishist Alberto Gonzales's lame, worthless, unsworn appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Bush's illegal spying.

No need for an oath. So you can't prosecute him for lying. Neat trick, huh?

This is the new system of "checks and balances".

An excerpt:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was called before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday to explain why George W. Bush's program of warrantless spying on Americans is lawful.

Before Gonzales began his testimony, the committee voted along party lines to dispense with the oath. Thus, if Gonzales were to lie, he could not be convicted or even charged with perjury, which requires the lie be made under oath. Why would the Republican senators insist that Gonzales not be sworn to tell the truth unless they expected him to lie?

Gonzales testified that Bush authorized his "Terrorist Surveillance Program" in late 2001, and has renewed it every 45 days since then. The program allows the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on telephone and computer communications of Americans in the United States if the NSA decides there is probable cause to believe that one party is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization, provided one party to the conversation is overseas.

The program is so highly classified that Gonzales refused to tell the senators how many US citizens' emails or phone calls had been intercepted, whether there have been abuses, and whether anyone had been disciplined for abuses.

Bush established this program to circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Congress enacted FISA in 1978 in response to the Nixon administration's abuses of national security wiretaps, which it used against its domestic opponents under the guise of conducting counterintelligence investigations. A senate committee chaired by Idaho Senator Frank Church documented the NSA's abuses that led to the enactment of FISA.

FISA requires that the government convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe the target of the surveillance is a foreign power or the agent of a foreign power. FISA specifically allows for warrantless wartime domestic electronic surveillance, but only for the first 15 days after Congress declares war.

By its express terms, FISA provides that FISA and specified provisions of the federal criminal code (which governs wiretaps for criminal investigation) are the "exclusive means by which electronic surveillance … may be conducted."

FISA anticipates the need to act quickly by allowing a warrantless wiretap, provided the government applies for a FISA court order within 72 hours. However, Gonzales testified that the FISA procedure was "burdensome." He cited the paperwork as an impediment to the "nimble" gathering of intelligence. Although both the Department of Justice and the NSA have batteries of lawyers, Gonzales said we "can't afford to pose layers of lawyers" in the process.
[Read more.]

07 February 2006

Osama pal unhassled at Bush speech while Sheehan evicted

While I haven't written about it here before, if you were paying attention to last week's news you probably know that Cindy Sheehan had been a Congresswoman's guest at the State of the Union address last week, and that she was forceably evicted to protect Mr. Bush from Cindy's t-shirt. [Read Cindy's account of that fiasco.]

Well, the plot thickens. As it turns out, one of Osama's buddies was permitted to sit through the speech uninterrupted.

From a piece by Jeremy Scahill at Common Dreams:
While Cindy Sheehan was being dragged from the House gallery moments before President Bush delivered his State of the Union address for wearing a t-shirt honoring her son and the other 2,244 US soldiers killed in Iraq, Turki al-Faisal was settling into his seat inside the gallery. Faisal, a Saudi, is a man who has met Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants on at least five occasions, describing the al Qaeda leader as "quite a pleasant man." He met multiple times with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. Yet, unlike Sheehan, al-Faisal was a welcomed guest of President Bush on Tuesday night. He is also a man that the families of more than 600 victims of the 9/11 attacks believe was connected to their loved ones' deaths.

Al-Faisal is actually Prince Turki al-Faisal, a leading member of the Saudi royal family and the kingdom's current ambassador to the US. But the bulk of his career was spent at the helm of the feared Saudi intelligence services from 1977 to 2001. Last year, The New York Times pointed out that "he personally managed Riyadh's relations with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar of the Taliban. Anyone else who had dealings with even a fraction of the notorious characters the prince has worked with over the years would never make it past a U.S. immigration counter, let alone to the most exclusive offices in Washington." Al-Faisal was also named in the $1 trillion lawsuit filed by hundreds of 9/11 victims' families, who accused him of funding bin Laden's network. Curiously, his tenure as head of Saudi intelligence came to an abrupt and unexpected end 10 days before the 9/11 attacks.
[Read more.]

NSA's vast spying yields very few suspects

George W. Bush keeps telling us that his warrantless NSA spyfest is necessary to ensure our safety.

But, now that they've been doing this in secret for so many years, we learn that they've been wasting their time as they search for a needle in a haystack.

From Sunday's Washington Post:
Intelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat, according to accounts from current and former government officials and private-sector sources with knowledge of the technologies in use.

Bush has recently described the warrantless operation as "terrorist surveillance" and summed it up by declaring that "if you're talking to a member of al Qaeda, we want to know why." But officials conversant with the program said a far more common question for eavesdroppers is whether, not why, a terrorist plotter is on either end of the call. The answer, they said, is usually no.

Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well. That step still requires a warrant from a federal judge, for which the government must supply evidence of probable cause.

The Bush administration refuses to say - in public or in closed session of Congress - how many Americans in the past four years have had their conversations recorded or their e-mails read by intelligence analysts without court authority. Two knowledgeable sources placed that number in the thousands; one of them, more specific, said about 5,000.

The program has touched many more Americans than that. Surveillance takes place in several stages, officials said, the earliest by machine. Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears.
[Read more.]

06 February 2006

Jason Miller: "The State Of The Empire Address"

In a recent article at SmirkingChimp.com, Jason Miller translates the State of the Union address and gives us the real story.

An excerpt:
The De Facto Tyrant: Thank you all. Mr. Speaker, Uncle Dick, my Congressional collaborators, my five guaranteed votes on the Supreme Court, distinguished plutocrats, and the rest of you wretched plebs we begrudgingly tolerate (because you grease the wheels of our money-making machine): Today our nation lost a beloved, graceful, courageous woman who called America to its founding ideals and carried on a noble dream. Tonight we are comforted by the fact that my regime is working vigorously to cause that noble dream to unravel at the seams.

Every time I'm invited to this rostrum, I remind you of the working class that you have been humbled by the privilege of serving under the strong and resolute leadership of my cabal. We have gathered under this Capitol dome in moments of national mourning and national achievement, but my fellow patricians and I have prospered, regardless of the state of the rest of the nation. It has been your honor to give your blood, sweat and tears to further our financial interests.

In a system of two parties, two chambers, and two elected branches, there is difference and debate. However, my corrupt, power-hungry colleagues and I have implemented measures to minimize and even eliminate that debate. To confront the great issues before us, I must be empowered as the ultimate authority, unfettered by the inefficiencies and headaches of answering to an empowered Congress or Supreme Court. Tonight the state of our Empire is strong -- and my Regime will bleed you and the rest of the world dry to make it stronger.

In this decisive year, I will continue making choices to erode the character of our country. I will choose to continue pursuing fictitious enemies of freedom -- rather than ceasing the perpetual war on terror, which would seriously undermine the profits of many of my corporate supporters. I will choose to build our wealthy elites' prosperity by continuing to facilitate the exploitation of the workers and resources of other nations -- in lieu of putting a leash on avaricious US corporations, which might expose the patrician class to loss of income. In a complex and challenging time, the road to becoming a decent, responsible member of the world community may seem broad and inviting -- yet it ends in danger to the staggering affluence of my "base" and decline in the influence of the Empire. The only way to protect our investments, the only way to secure more money and power, the only way to control our destiny is through Neocolonialism and military invasion---so the United States will continue to defy international law, plunder resources, engage in torture, utilize slave labor, and murder millions of innocent civilians.

Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal -- we seek the end of tyranny in our world by employing our own. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of our corporatocracy depends on it. On September 11th, 2001, we found that our continued oppression and aggression in the Middle East could bring murder and destruction to our country (albeit some say my regime had a hand in the events of that day, but the world will never know the truth). Dictatorships shelter terrorists, feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. For evidence, look no further than Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph, Dominionists, and the largest arsenal of nuclear weaponry in the history of mankind. Every step toward America's domination in the world makes our financial position stronger--so we will act boldly in rapidly concentrating power in the Executive Branch and in expanding the Empire.

Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of tyranny under the guise of democracy is the great story of our time. We're writing a new chapter in the story of self-government. Just as we have with you in America, we will beguile the people of other nations into believing they are free, when in reality, once one scratches beneath the surface, their government will be a plutocracy, by the rich, for the rich and of the rich. Those resisting our spread of pseudo-democracy, like Syria, North Korea, and Iran, will find themselves in our cross-hairs.

No one can deny the success of the Empire, but some men rage and fight against it. And one of the main sources of reaction to our invasion, murder, and Neocolonialism is radical Islam -- the stereotypical description we use for all Middle Eastern people who dare to defy our mighty nation. Terrorists like bin Laden are, like my cabal and me, serious about mass murder. They seek to prevent us from imposing a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East as we utilize our own arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Our aim is to seize power in Iraq, and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against Syria and Iran. Lacking the military strength to challenge them directly, we will rely upon air strikes, tactical nuclear weapons, and Israel, the architect of our foreign policy. While the Terrorists have killed a few thousand, including 9/11, Spain, and London, we have killed over a hundred thousand in Iraq. Despite the fact that they were civilians, each of them could easily have become the next bin Laden. The world is safer without them.

Ina time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our oil and war for profit. If we were to leave the vicious attackers from the Middle East alone, they would not leave us alone. They have proven that time and again. Like on 9/11, and ... Well ... like on 9/11. By leaving radical Islam to work its will, we would signal that we no longer believe that our radical Christianity is morally superior, and that the Empire is too weak to continue its expansion. Our enemies (and two remaining friends) can be certain that the United States will never surrender in its bid to impose its own form of evil upon the world. Not on my watch.

We are one of the nations that contributed greatly to the environment which fostered Hitler. While helping remove him from power was indeed a noble cause, we used World War II to forge the military industrial complex and to impose Pax Americana in the aftermath. We forced a Soviet Union with a much weaker economy into a nuclear arms race. The Cold War greatly enriched corporate America while wreaking financial devastation upon many in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In Iraq, we are once again utilizing the illusion of helping the oppressed to move the world toward perpetual war.

We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan and continue to ravage a nation devastated by decades of war. In Iraq, we also remain on the offensive, oblivious to the cost in human lives. We have a muddled plan, but will eventually achieve the victory of having crushed Israel's chief antagonist and controlling Iraq's vast oil reserves.

Our work in Iraq is difficult because our enemy is brutal. On the other hand, we are fighting in a civilized way. Our depleted uranium, missiles, tanks, cannons, air strikes, and multiple other means of killing are politically correct and legal. We wear uniforms and are an organized military, so when we liquidate civilians, it is not an act of murder, terrorism, or brutality. We are in this fight to win and will annihilate every human being in Iraq if that is what it takes. Yet we are noble liberators and the Iraqi resistance fighters are brutal Terrorists.

In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice, as long as you agree with me. If you do not, you will be sharing a cell with Ms. Sheehan, whom they led out of this hallowed rostrum earlier tonight. Hindsight and second-guessing are worthless, particularly when they incriminate me as a war criminal. Therefore, they will not be tolerated.

A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would save Iraqis from death and prison. It would also put men who would reject American and Israeli domination in charge of a strategic country. We must protect our interests in the region, even if it means the murder of innocents and bloody sacrifices by our own military.

Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful of America. We have inculcated a false sense of duty into the minds of our nation's youth, and used a host of financial enticements and propaganda, to manipulate them into risking, sacrificing, and sometimes dying to perpetuate our ugly agenda. We are grateful to the fallen. Without them, men like Dick Cheney would not enjoy the immense wealth and power he has at his disposal.

Ultimately, the only way to defeat the Terrorists' dark vision of hatred and fear is by killing more people than they have and by pounding the people of the Middle East into submission. The Palestinian people have voted in elections. Now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, accept the Apartheid-like conditions imposed by Israel, disarm, reject terrorism as a tool for themselves but accept the fact that Israel will continue to act as a terrorist state, and work for lasting peace by rolling over for Israel and the United States.

The same is true of Iran. They are a nation held hostage by a small clerical elite. I admire how those clerics could accomplish such a feat when we have been unable to do likewise in Iraq, even with 130,000 occupying troops. The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, which we have grossly exaggerated to whip Americans into a frenzy against them. Only the mighty United States, the world's biggest hypocrite on the issue of nuclear ambition, gets to determine which nations can be trusted with nuclear capabilities. We will not permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Despite the fact that they are years away from having them, and that their capabilities to harm the United States would be limited once they got them, America will continue use the "nuclear card" to evoke a regime change in Iran. If a nation is not receptive to the plutocratic, capitalistic way of the Empire, their leadership will be extinguished.

Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America wants your oil and sees your nation as a threat to the Empire. We have had you in our sights since you exiled the Shah and will not rest until we have installed a ruler friendly to our interests.

Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home. The enemy is lurking around every corner. If you are approached by an individual of Middle Eastern dissent, do not hesitate to eye them warily and to report them to the proper authorities. To aid our superb professionals in law enforcement, and to continue the erosion of the civil liberties stymieing my bid to become an outright tyrant, I urge Congress to serve the interests of the wealthy elite in America by reauthorizing the Patriot Act.

It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. Do not interpret my use of the word conspiracy in place of the word attack to mean that I am admitting that there was a conspiracy involving members of my cabal. My point is that we now know that two of the hijackers made telephone calls to fellow conspirators overseas. So to prevent another attack, I have usurped my executive authority by authorizing my operatives to spy on American citizens. I did so without proper authorization from the FISA court under the false premise that the "War on Terror" has given me unlimited authority as Commander in Chief. If there are people inside our country who are dissenting against my Regime, we want to know about it so we can take advantage of the end of habeas corpus. We have cells awaiting them at Guantanamo Bay.

To spread our foul money-worshipping, bellicose Empire, we need friends and allies, beyond Great Britain and Israel. To draw that support, we must intimidate, bribe, coerce, and extort. The only alternative is the collapse of a tenuous Empire, whose foundation is already sinking into a quagmire of $8 trillion worth of debt and the potential Iranian oil bourse. America's plutocracy is always more secure when tyranny is on the march.

Our own generation is now engaged in an indefinitely long, nebulous, and ambiguous "War on Terror" -- a war that will be fought by Presidents of both parties of the corrupt duopoly. We need steady support from Congress to keep the funding flowing. We need the support of the working class of America to ensure a steady supply of young men and women to act as cannon fodder. Together, let us perpetuate the wealth and privilege of America's ruling class.

Here at home, America's wealthy elite (my base) have a great opportunity: build the prosperity of our country by expanding the Empire's economic dominance through the exploitation of the people and resources of other nations.

Our economy is healthy and vigorous. Over the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million jobs, many of them low-paying with minimal benefits. This has enabled executives, CEOs, and major shareholders to profit handsomely at the expense of the working class. The American economy is the envy of the wealthy elite throughout the world as we have a working class willingly working harder for less money, fewer benefits, and less governmental regulation to protect their rights.
[Read more.] It's long, but worth it.