31 May 2006

Supporting the troops but not the war crimes

I've gotten a lot of hate mail in response to my article calling for Americans to support our troops. Most were written in light of the recent revelations of a massacre of civilians in Haditha.

To those folks, I offer the following:

I do not support or condone war crimes. When war crimes happen, the perpetrators should be held accountable and brought to justice, as far up the chain of command as necessary.

However, war crimes are committed by a relative few. Most U.S. troops in Iraq are not torturing detainees. Most U.S. troops in Iraq are not deliberately killing civilians in cold blood. Most U.S. troops in Iraq are scared young kids who are just trying to get through their tour of duty and go home. In the meantime, they follow orders.

These young men and women are under unimaginable stress, many suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They are repeatedly stretched to the limits of sanity. Sometimes they snap. (Note: This is not an excuse.) The leadership can make all the difference.

Do not condemn all soldiers for the criminal actions of the few.

30 May 2006

Will Enron employees see true justice?

Last Thursday, former Enron CEOs Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling were convicted of fraud and conspiracy. Sentencing is scheduled for September 11, interestingly enough. [Read story.]

I hope they spend the rest of their lives behind bars for the way they cheated so many of their employees out of their pensions and life savings.

Furthermore, I would like to see the employees receive full financial retribution.

They deserve nothing less.

But, sadly, I don't think it will happen.

29 May 2006

In memory of our fallen troops - in good wars and bad

The Memorial Day holiday in the U.S., celebrated on the last Monday in May, is a day set aside to honor the military men and women who have died in service to this country. I can think of no worthier reason for a holiday.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought in the American Revolution, who gave their lives to fight against the oppression of King George III, and who paved the way for this great experiment known as Democracy.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought for America in the War of 1812. Whether for the noble cause of defending American sovereignty against British invaders or the not-so-noble cause of American expansionism and conquering of the native peoples of this land, our American troops fought and died because they believed they were spreading freedom and democracy across this land.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought for America in the Mexican-American war. Though born of the concept of Manifest Destiny and perhaps seen by some as an opportunistic power/land grab, our American troops again rose to the call of duty. They fought and died because they believed in spreading the ideals on which this country was founded.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought in the American Civil War. They fought this complex and bloody war to defend the Union and the social, political, and economic values for which it stands.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought in the Spanish-American War. They gave their lives to free Cuba from brutal oppression by its Spanish occupiers.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought in World War I. While President Wilson had tried to remain neutral in the war's early stages, German U-boat attacks on American merchant ships made our participation inevitable. Our troops bravely stood up to protect our nation's interests.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought in World War II. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor threw this nation into the largest and deadliest war so far in history. Our American troops bravely fought with the Allies against the Axis Powers that were brutalizing much of Europe.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought in the Korean War. Though often called the "forgotten war", we must not forget those who fought and died to keep South Korea free.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought in the Vietnam War. They are perhaps our most under-appreciated war heroes, but we must remember that they did not choose to fight that war. They were the pawns of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and administrations before them. The soldiers were just doing their job, and we must honor them for serving our nation, for good or for bad.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought in Operation Desert Storm. Under a United Nations mandate, our brave soldiers led an international coalition to liberate Kuwait.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought, and are still fighting, in Afghanistan, in Operation Enduring Freedom. These brave men and women are fighting and dying to avenge the attacks on America on 9/11. They remain there resolutely fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda even though vital resources were long since diverted to Iraq.

On this Memorial Day, I honor the brave troops who fought, and are still fighting, in Iraq, in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were sent there under false pretenses, with inadequate supplies, to fight a war not of necessity but of choice -- George W. Bush's choice. The troops had no choice. And we still await the answer to a long-standing question: What is this noble cause for which our soldiers are dying in Iraq?

Perhaps some day humankind will awaken to the realization that war and aggression are not the most effective way to resolve disputes, and we will appoint leaders who understand that true freedom can only be won through respect for the human rights of all.

In the meantime, whether you think a war is just or unjust, our soldiers must not take the blame for the follies of our leaders.

Regardless of the war they happen to be fighting, our troops deserve our full support. They were there when called to duty. They are America's truest heroes.

28 May 2006

Did U.S. marines kill up to 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians?

Are we looking at another massacre of innocent civilians by U.S. troops?

According to an article in yesterday's Baltimore Sun, photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team "have convinced investigators that a Marine unit killed up to 24 unarmed Iraqis, some of them 'execution style', in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha after a roadside bomb killed one American last November."

According to the photos, the victims included several women and six children.

[Read story.]

This is horrible.

It is also a very complex issue.

On one hand, the Geneva Conventions forbid this kind of thing. Heck, a soldier's own conscience should forbid the cold-blooded killing of innocent children.

On the other hand, these Marines are in a living hell, and I'm sure that sometimes the stress and the fear get in the way of good judgment. It's not an excuse, but a possible explanation. And situations like this are where the quality of the leadership can really make a difference between life and death.

An investigation is ongoing. Hopefully it will be a very thorough investigation, all the way up the chain of command. And hopefully everyone responsible will be brought to justice, all the way up the chain of command.

27 May 2006

First female conscientious objector sentenced for refusing deployment to Afghanistan

Earlier this week, Army National Guard Specialist Katherine Jashinski received a bad conduct discharge and was sentenced to 120 days confinement for "refusal to obey a legal order." [Read story.]

Specialist Jashinski refused deployment to Afghanistan on moral grounds, and was hoping to obtain conscientious objector status, but was denied. These days, the military needs all the bodies it can get, since they can't find new recruits.

How can you win a war when you force your soldiers to fight against their will?

26 May 2006

Impending U.S. police state?

To say that we're headed for a police state sounds a bit over-the-top. However, there is no question that our human rights and civil liberties have been rapidly eroding under the Bush administration.

According to a piece by Allan Uthman titled Top 10 Signs of the Impending U.S. Police State, "[f]rom secret detention centers to warrantless wiretapping, Bush and Co. give free rein to their totalitarian impulses." [Read the article.]

This nation must change its course soon. With the upcoming elections in November, we have a chance. We cannot afford to blow it this time.

We must make a difference now, while we still have the power to do so.

25 May 2006

Santorum starts the "swift boating" of Bob Casey

Here in Pennsylvania, Rick ("Man on Dog") Santorum has begun his desperate attempt to defend his senate seat against Bob Casey, his Democratic challenger in this year's election.

Basically, Santorum is inventing allegations that Casey campaign folks are spying on him -- at a home where he does not actually spend any time. [Read story.]

The really scary part is that this sort of thing works. The sheep will go to the polls in November remembering that Casey trespassed on Santorum's property (whether true or not).

Unfortunately, the credible denials don't stick as well in the public's mind.

Karl Rove himself couldn't have done a better job.

George W. Bush's war on democracy

George W. Bush's "war on terror" has been an easy excuse to wage a war on democracy. The White House works hard at keeping the American people in fear, so that they'll be willing (even eager) to accept his gradual distruction of the Constitution and his elevation of the Presidency to a position that stands above the law. It's for our own good, they tell is. It's to stop the terrorists who want to destroy our freedom.

Who needs terrorists when Bush is doing a fine job of destroying our freedom all by himself (with help from Rove, Gonzales, and the rest of that motley crew)?

There are some particularly good articles on the Web this week that elaborate on this issue. Read them and take them seriously:

Rowan Wolf: A Slow Motion Coup

Robert Parry: Bush's Garroting of Democracy

Jim Hightower: Inside Donnie Rumsfeld's Orwellian Pentagon

In closing, I must once again quote that great Philadelphia patriot Ben Franklin, who is surely spinning in his grave as you read this. He wrote, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Trust Ben Franklin.

24 May 2006

Amnesty: The "war on terror" is provoking more terror

In a press conference yesterday marking the launch of Amnesty International's 2006 annual report on the state of human rights around the world, Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Kahn highlighted how tactics used by the Bush administration and other world leaders in the so-called "war on terror" have actually served to provoke terrorism, rather than reduce it.

This is not a matter of opinion, folks. The facts speak for themselves. As Ms. Khan pointed out, "The number of attacks by armed groups has been going up according to research, and empirical evidence."

[Read more about Amnesty's annual report launch, and the major issues covered.]

[Browse Amnesty's 2006 annual report.]

23 May 2006

Amnesty's annual report released today

This morning, Amnesty International, the human rights organization for which I serve as Philadelphia Area Coordinator, released its annual report on the state of human rights around the world.

Last year's report contained some heavy criticism of the Bush administration's conduct in the "war on terror", citing torture, unlawful detentions, etc. The Bush administration reacted by calling Amnesty's carefully researched findings "absurd", and saying that they do not take Amnesty's reports seriously. (Never mind the fact that they quoted our reports on Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses to justify their attack on Iraq. They take us seriously when our reports suit their agenda.)

Will they once again resort to their shoot-the-messenger tactics? Will they react to this year's report by again trying to discredit us?

Check out this year's report and assess the issues for yourself.

22 May 2006

Writing discrimination into the Constitution

Shame on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who last week voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage. [Read story.] The amendment will now be sent to the full Senate floor, where a vote is scheduled for June 5.

These politicians want the government in your bedroom, but not in the boardroom. They want corporations to be able to pollute our air, endanger our health, and gouge our wallets with impunity. They'd rather focus on legislating what consenting adults can and cannot due in the privacy of their own bedrooms. They'd rather write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution.

Some of them say that allowing gays to marry would destroy the institution of marriage. However, if they feel that their own heterosexual marriages would be at risk if the lesbian couple down the street were allowed the same legal benefits, I think they'd be far better off by seeking some marriage counseling for themselves.

We heterosexuals have done a good enough job of destroying marriages on our own.

So what are they really afraid of?

21 May 2006

Violence rages in Iraq as new cabinet meets

Iraq's new national unity government had its first meeting today. [Read story.]

Over here, Bush praised the new government, even though some key vacancies have yet to be filled.

Over there, bombs were exploding outside as the cabinet met.

I hope that the new government manages to improve the situation over there, especially for all the innocent civilians who have been suffering so horribly since Bush attacked them in his unnecessary war of aggression. Time will tell.

20 May 2006

International efforts in Darfur facing collapse

Bad news from Darfur: According to a piece in yesterday's New York Times, the already horrific situation there is getting even worse, and international relief efforts are on the verge of collapse. [Read story.]

The U.S. government is wasting billions of dollars on a needless war of choice in Iraq. Imagine what might be possible if those wasted resources were instead directed to Darfur, where maybe they could actually do some good.

19 May 2006

New York Times reporter had warning of 9/11 attacks (not that anything would have happened differently)

Yesterday's big news was the revelation that New York Times reporter Judith Miller (of Plamegate fame) had been privy to a leak in 2001 that al-Qaeda was planning a major attack in the U.S. For various reasons, the story was never published. [Read the details.]

My first reaction was that this story, if Miller had followed up on it and had gotten it published, might have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

But no. On second thought, I don't think so.

After all, George W. Bush had ample warning that bin Laden was determined to strike in US. But he did nothing. It wasn't worth interrupting his vacation.

Even as the World Trade Center was under attack, Bush did nothing. He read "My Pet Goat" with a bunch of children as we were under attack. He had his priorities. Or, more likely, he had no idea what to do in a national emergency.

This is your so-called leader.

This is how your hard-earned tax dollars are spent.

This is the administration that was reelected based on its claims that only Bush and Cheney could save us from the terrorists, even though the American people should have known better by then.

This is what happens in a culture of fear.

And it reinforces FDR's message that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

18 May 2006

Jon Stewart on domestic spying

The only good thing about the Bush administration is that it provides an endless supply of material for the comedians to run with.

Jon Stewart is one of the best at taking advantage of these opportunities.

Stewart was up to par when he recently let loose on the NSA's newly uncovered practice of collecting our phone records.

This is a must-see. [Download the video clip.]

17 May 2006

Al Gore's global warming film comes out next week!

An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's new documentary about global warming, will hit theaters next week. I'm hoping it will wake some people up, because people need to understand the likely consequences of unimpeded carbon emissions.

You cannot keep driving your Hummer, or running your factory at its current under-regulated level of pollution emissions, without creating a really nasty predicament for your grandchildren.

Do you love your grandchildren (whether or not they've been born yet)?

If not, then read no further. You've got bigger issues to worry about.

But, if you care, then go see An Inconvenient Truth next week, or soon thereafter.

In the meantime, here is your homework:

[Read a Grist magazine interview with Al Gore about the film.]

[Check out the film's official website.]

16 May 2006

CIA is monitoring the calls of media reporters

Farewell to freedom of the press. While most of the mainstream media have been asleep (or wearing corporate muzzles) for the past four years or so, this will seal the status quo:

ABC news is reporting that the CIA is monitoring the calls of various media, supposedly to identify "anonymous" sources in leak cases.

[Read story.]

Is nothing sacred anymore? (Rhetorical question, of course.)

Ben Franklin, that great patriot and newspaper publisher, would be mortified.

15 May 2006

Rice, Rumsfeld block access to secret detainees: International Red Cross

In defiance of international law, the Bush administration continues to deny access to its detainees in the "war on terror" to groups like the International Committee of the Red Cross.

[Read story.]

What are they hiding? What do they not want us to see?

14 May 2006

On Mother's Day in a time of war

On this Mother's Day 2006, my thoughts go out to all the mothers who have children fighting in George W. Bush's illegal, immoral, and unprovoked war of aggression. Your children volunteered for duty because they believed that America is a beacon of democracy, freedom, and opportunity. They signed up for job training, college money, and honor. They did not sign up to kill innocent Iraqi women, children, and men. They did not sign up to torture people. They did not sign up to die in a war based on oily corporate lies. They did not sign up to promote this country's transformation from freedom to fascism. May they remain safe and come home to you soon.

On this Mother's Day, my thoughts go out to all the mothers who have lost their children in Bush's illegal war of choice. My thoughts go out Cindy Sheehan, who is still waiting for an answer to her very reasonable question to George W. Bush: For what noble cause did her son, Casey, die? And my thoughts go out to more than 2,400 other mothers who won't be getting a Mother's Day card or a phone call from their kids this year because those kids were sent into a no-win situation with inadequate body armor to fight against non-existent weapons of mass destruction. These mothers lost their beloved children because, as Donald Rumsfeld said, you "fight a war with the troops you have, not the troops you want."

On this Mother's Day, my thoughts go out to First Lady Laura Bush. In her privileged Stepford world, she will never know the pain of losing a child to a political agenda. She will likely spend this Mother's Day with her pretty and well-protected twin daughters, whose greatest tragedy might be a broken fingernail or a Sunday morning hangover. She will never feel the pain that so many Iraqi mothers feel when their babies are blown to bits for Bush's agenda. And she will never feel the pain of all those American mothers of dead soldiers. My thoughts go out to her because I believe that she works so hard to find a way to justify the emotional distance. For that, I feel very, very sad for her. Sleep must certainly be difficult.

On this Mother's Day, my thoughts go out to Barbara Bush, the presidential family matriarch, who summed up her moral values and her views on the war by asking the following on national TV: "Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" Why, indeed! She has always had the means to protect her brood from the ugly truths of the real world. But there are some things that money cannot buy. Like compassion. Like personal redemption. Like humanity.

On this Mother's Day, my thoughts go out to every other mother on this planet. You've got the most difficult job in the world, and you do it by choice (in most cases), for no pay and no glory. You dedicate your lives, 24/7, to something greater than yourself: Your child, and his or her future. And, in doing so, you're shaping our future as well. Happy Mother's Day. And thank you.

13 May 2006

Most Americans support the NSA's illegal spying?!

According to a new poll by the Washington Post and ABC, 63% of Americans say that they support the NSA's illegal spying into our phone records! [Read story.]

Our basic freedoms, the things that make this country great, are being taken away from us, and 63% of us don't care!

Perhaps they neither understand the implications nor realize that it's illegal.

Wake up, people!

Remember what Ben Franklin said about this kind of thing: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

And don't you think Ben Franklin was a bit smarter than George W. Bush?

Why Qwest said no to NSA

Kudos to the Qwest phone comany.

While AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth went ahead and cooperated in the NSA's illegal snooping into your phone records, Qwest held out and refused to turn their records over because they recognized that the NSA's requests were illegal. [Read story.]

Time to switch to Qwest, everybody!

12 May 2006

Who really hates our freedom?

Yesterday, after USA Today published the big story about how the NSA has been snooping through the phone records of tens of millions of regular Americans, George W. Bush gave a speech defending the program. [Read the transcript.]

Predictably, he told us that he's just doing it to protect us. He has to curtail our freedom in order to fight the terrorists who "hate our freedom". What???!!!

11 May 2006

The NSA wiretap story gets even worse

In this morning's edition of USA Today, we learn that the NSA's illegal wiretapping program is even worse than we thought.

We're starting to see why they've been sidestepping the FISA Court.

It appears that they are building a giant database to track virtually every call within the U.S., thinking that such a big jigsaw puzzle will somehow make us safer, or whatever.

[Read story.]

I hope those NSA spooks enjoyed listening to yesterday's discussion with my friend about where we should meet for dinner.

This is how our tax dollars are being spent.

Mark Morford: Bring on the $6 gallon of gas

Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle remains one of my favorite columnists.

This week, he explains why the $6 gallon of gasoline would actually be a good thing. No, make that $10....

[Read it.]

10 May 2006

Lives in the balance

Check out this political video set to Jackson Browne's solo acoustic version of the 1986 classic Lives in the Balance:

Windows | QuickTime

Many thanks to Air America talk show host Randi Rhodes for turning me on to this.

09 May 2006

Civil liberties as an antidote to violent extremism

The FAS Project on Government Secrecy has posted a very interesting article on its blog. The article does a very good job at discrediting the theory that civil liberties might sometimes have to be curtailed in order to effectively fight terrorism.

It's not easy reading, but it's definitely worthwhile. [Read it.]

And this brings to mind the worlds of the great patriot (and Philly guy) Benjamin Franklin, who said: "He who gives up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety."

08 May 2006

More fun with Iran

There are some good articles and op-eds out there today that go into good detail about why Bush should not bomb Iran.

Here are a few:

Marjorie Cohn: Bush Setting up Attack on Iran

Mike Whitney: Not One Drop

ABC News: Iran's Leader Writes to President Bush

IranMania: Iran will change policies if IAEA asks: President

CBS News: Did Bush Force British Minister Out?

We do not need another pre-emptive (and therefore illegal) war. Iran is years, if not decades, away from realizing its nuclear weapons goals, so it' s not a imminent threat. And Iran has been asking for direct negotiations with the U.S., but the U.S. keeps refusing. The U.S. clearly doesn't want to negotiate, and they don't want to entertain the facts, which are inconvenient to the Bush neocon agenda.

07 May 2006

Clive Stafford Smith: A death worse than a dog's

In a recent op-ed in the UK newspaper The Guardian, anti-death-penalty attorney Clive Stafford Smith does a very good job of examining some of the problems with the death penalty in the U.S.

An excerpt:
For the last 12 years, I have delighted in the companionship of a golden retriever, rescued from neglect as a puppy. He is the most amiable dog in the world. He is getting on in years, and I know that in the not too distant future a vet is going to encourage me to have him put down. I hope it never comes to this, but at least when we put animals down the injection administered by the vet will not contain the drug potassium chloride, as it has been found to cause intense pain unless the animal is deeply unconscious.

This is not a reassurance that I can offer to my clients on death row.

The lethal cocktail administered in 37 US states and by the federal government to prisoners condemned to death typically does include potassium chloride, despite years of criticism. This drug is preceded by an anaesthetic and then a drug that paralyses the prisoner's muscles. I suspect this is done more to make society feel better rather than the prisoner. They used to cover the face of the electric chair's victim with a leather mask and strap him in so tightly that he could not writhe - not for the benefit of the prisoner, but for the witnesses. With lethal injection, if the prisoner did not feel pain, there would be little point paralysing him, which begs a very troubling question.

Surely the world's most "civilised" nation, which promotes its "compassionate conservatism", would ensure that the anaesthetic was sufficient? Well, actually, no, it doesn't. Death penalty lawyers have been systematically challenging the use of lethal injection recently, as the US has failed to come up with a "kinder, gentler" way to kill people. Human Rights Watch reports that, in fact, prisons do not permit anyone to monitor whether the anaesthetic has been effectively administered during an execution. Anaesthesia is a complex science, affected by the condemned prisoner's weight, his history of intravenous drug use, the blocking ability of the paralysing agent, and many other factors. Once again, the vets are doing a better job here, as guidelines require any veterinarian to do a hands-on check of the depth of anaesthesia before any painful procedure is commenced.
[Read more.]

06 May 2006

Congressmen tell Bush to get Congressional authorization before attacking Iran

In an unusual (but refreshing) display of Congressional cojones, a bipartisan group of 62 House members have issued a letter reminding George W. Bush that he is "constitutionally bound to seek congressional authorization before launching any preventive military strikes against Iran."

Of course, Bush won't listen if he doesn't want to (he's the decider), but I'm encouraged to see that these Congresscritters finally seem to have the nerve to stand up to him.

To read more about this development, including the text of the actual letter, click here.

05 May 2006

Urgent news: Peace deal reached in Darfur!

Wow. Pinch me.

There is breaking news out of Darfur indicating that the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels signed a peace agreement today to end three years of genocidal violence.

[Read story.]

I hope it's real. But the reports also indicate that (at least) two of the several rebel factions have refused to sign on to the deal. The implications of that remain to be seen.

But this is a step forward in any case, so let's think positive.

Kent State and us

Yesterday was the 36th anniversary of the Kent State massacre.

In a piece published at Democrats.com, SmirkingChimp.com, and probably elsewhere, Bob Geiger warns us about how it could happen again.

Geiger gives weight to his premise by quoting the chilling words of a former Kent State student who was permanently disabled by a bullet to the spine by one of those National Guard bullets:
"When he made the announcement, a very defiant announcement that we were invading Cambodia, he didn’t care what people thought about it -- that's the impression I got and that many of my fellow students got at the same time too. To me, it didn’t make sense. Why were we expanding the war when he was talking about ending the war and bringing our troops home and getting out of there?

"We were invading another country. I thoroughly agreed with the history and political science department at Kent who, the next day, on May 1st, buried a copy of the Constitution because they felt that he had overstepped his powers as Commander-in-Chief by sending troops into another country. The mood kind of changed on campus at that point in time."
[Read more.]


04 May 2006

Amnesty: Torture "widespread" in U.S. custody

George W. Bush's policy of torturing people is back in the news.

Yesterday, Amnesty International released a report to the United Nations outlining just how horribly widespread it is.

From a Reuters rticle about the report, via CNN:
Torture and inhumane treatment are "widespread" in U.S.-run detention centers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba and elsewhere despite Washington's denials, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

In a report for the United Nations' Committee against Torture, the London, England-based human rights group also alleged abuses within the U.S. domestic law enforcement system, including use of excessive force by police and degrading conditions of isolation for inmates in high-security prisons.

"Evidence continues to emerge of widespread torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees held in U.S. custody," Amnesty said in its 47-page report.

It said that while Washington has sought to blame abuses that have recently come to light on "aberrant soldiers and lack of oversight," much ill-treatment stemmed from officially sanctioned interrogation procedures and techniques.

"The U.S. government is not only failing to take steps to eradicate torture, it is actually creating a climate in which torture and other ill-treatment can flourish," said Amnesty International USA Senior Deputy Director-General Curt Goering.

The U.N. committee, whose experts carry out periodic reviews of countries that have signed on to the U.N. Convention against Torture, is scheduled to begin consideration of the United States on Friday. The last U.S. review was in 2000.
[Read the complete article.]

[Read an Amnesty press release about the report.]

[Read the actual report.]

03 May 2006

Oops! Texas may have executed an innocent man

There are approximately 400 exonerees in the U.S. right now, who were wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit and were later found innocent via DNA or other evidence. More than 100 of these exonerees had been on death row, awaiting execution for crimes that they did not commit.

The justice system has too many flaws. We cannot risk executing an innocent person. But, of course, many people disagree.

Meantime, now here's more evidence to support an end to the death penalty, from yesterday's Chicago Tribune:
Four of the nation's top arson experts have concluded that the state of Texas executed a man in 2004 based on scientifically invalid evidence, and they called for an official re-investigation of the case.

In a report released this morning, the experts, assembled by the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization responsible for scores of exonerations, concluded that the conviction and 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the arson-murders of his three daughters was based on interpretations by fire investigators that have been scientifically disproved.

The experts were asked to perform an independent review of the evidence following an investigation by the Tribune that showed Willingham had been found guilty on arson theories that have been repudiated by scientific advances. In fact, many of the theories were simply lore that had been handed down by several generations of arson investigators who relied upon what they were told.

The report's conclusions match the findings of the Tribune, published in December 2004. The newspaper began investigating the Willingham case following an October 2004 series, "Forensics Under the Microscope," which examined the use of forensics in the courtroom, including the continued use of disproved arson theories to obtain convictions.

In strong language harshly critical of the investigation of the 1991 fire in Corsicana, located southeast of Dallas, the report said evidence examined in the Willingham case and relied upon by fire investigators was the type of evidence "routinely created by accidental fires."

"The whole system has broken down. It's time to find out whether Texas has executed an innocent man," said Barry Scheck, co-founder and director of the Innocence Project. The report was unveiled at a news conference in the state capital in Texas, attended by Scheck, some of the report's authors and relatives of Willingham.

His stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, wept as she said, "We want the truth to be known in Todd's case. We want to keep this from ever happening again."
[Read more.]

02 May 2006

Bob Herbert: Warfare as it really is

Bob Herbert's latest column in the New York Times has me wishing I got HBO. Hopefully the documentary he describes will eventually make it onto DVD. It sounds like something that everyone needs to see -- to get a dose of the reality of war, rather than the sanitized version we get from the American mainstream media.

An excerpt of Herbert's piece, via truthout.org:
In the first few moments of the documentary film "Baghdad ER," we see a man dressed in hospital scrubs carrying a bloodied arm that has been amputated above the elbow. He deposits it in a large red plastic bag.

This HBO production is reality television with a vengeance - warfare as it really is. And while it is frightening, harrowing and deeply painful to watch, it should be required viewing for all but the youngest Americans. It will premiere May 21.

For two months in 2005, the directors Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill were given unprecedented access by the Army to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Working 12-hour shifts, they watched - and taped - the heroic struggle of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to salvage as many lives as possible from what amounted to a nonstop conveyor be?t of bloodied, broken and burned G.I.'s.

At one point in the film, a specialist who survived a roadside bomb attack murmurs from a stretcher, "It was the worst thing I ever saw in my life, sir."

"What was that?" he is asked.

Recalling his last view of a buddy who was killed in the attack, he says, "My friend didn't have a face."

The movie is neither pro-war nor anti-war. It is simply a searing record of the ferocious toll that combat takes on real human beings.

In an interview, Mr. Alpert described "the shock of seeing human beings twisted into these horrible shapes, with parts missing and parts being detached from them." In the first couple of hours after he and Mr. O'Neill had arrived at the hospital, he said, "We had already seen two amputations and they were prepping someone else for another one."

Before long, he said, the effort to document the daily activities became psychologically grueling because "you just knew that every single day that door was going to open up, that the helicopter was going to land, and they were just going to bring in something that looked like hamburger instead of a human being."

Above all else, war is about the suffering of individuals. The suffering is endured mostly by the young, and these days the government and the media are careful to keep the worst of it out of the sight of the average American. That way we can worry in peace about the cost of the gasoline we need to get us to the mall.
[Read more.]

And, coincidentally, yesterday was the three-year anniversary of George W. Bush's proclamation that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

Then I guess the ongoing carnage is just minor combat operations.

I'm sure the families of the soldiers and civilians who have died since "mission accomplished" -- as well as all the injured -- do not think of it as minor.

01 May 2006

Priorities of conscience

Best sign spotted at the big rally to save Darfur yesterday in Washington, DC:

Bush has defied literally hundreds of laws

Someone actually took the trouble to count the number of laws that Bush has thumbed his nose at. Not surprisingly, it's an alarmingly high number.

According to the Constitution of the United States of America, the President's job is to faithfully execute the laws of the land. But Bush doesn't like that. He thinks he's above the law. So he ignores (and breaks) any laws that he doesn't like. Kinda like a dictator.

This is not what America is supposed to be about.

From yesterday's Boston Globe:
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.
[Read more.]

Our founding fathers would be appalled.

I love Stephen Colbert

The annual White House Correspondents' Dinner was held this past Saturday night, and I caught part of it on C-SPAN's reruns.

Stephen Colbert, of Comedy Central's Colbert Report, gave a monumental speech. With biting humor, he bravely laid out all that's wrong with the Bush administration, even with George W. Bush sitting just a few feet away.

As a News Hounds article put it, Colbert "gave the Washington elite a huge dose of the truth wrapped in humor."

As noted in an article on the Editor & Publisher site, George W. and Laura Bush did not look pleased.

You can download Colbert's speech from the Crooks and Liars site here. It's definitely worth watching.