30 April 2006

The FBI spied on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents last year

The Associated Press is reporting that the FBI spied on over 3,500 U.S. citizens and legal residents last year without court approval. They secretly combed through our bank and credit card info and our telephone and Internet records.

[Read story.]

They're supposedly doing this to catch terrorists. You see, reading your e-mail from your Aunt Millie will help them to uncover new al-Qaeda plots. Uh-huh.

And, if their spying is so legitimate, why do they not get a court order?

29 April 2006

Mark Fiore on Darfur

Tomorrow I expect to be in Washington, DC, for the big rally to stop the genocide in Darfur.

Fittingly, this week's new animation by political cartoonist Mark Fiore addresses the crisis in Darfur and the world's apparent (and inexcusable) apathy. [Check it out.]

28 April 2006

William Fisher on immigration: We can all agree on this, right?

In a piece posted yesterday at truthout.org, Bill Fisher does an excellent job of addressing an aspect of the immigration issue that most people have probably not thought about. But in my work with Amnesty International, I deal with it all the time.

An excerpt from Bill's article:
In the unlikely event that our senators and congresspersons come together to pass an immigration bill sometime in this century, it is virtually certain to overlook a heartbreakingly simple humanitarian issue: battered women seeking asylum.

This is far from a new issue. It has been kicking around for years - and it has been kicked around for years.

Kicked from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) within the wildly dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security. And to compound this bureaucratic nightmare, BCIS now shares jurisdiction with the Justice Department (DOJ) for preparation of new guidelines that would cover this category of asylum seeker.

Rewind to 1995, when the INS actually produced some acceptable guidelines concerning women's issues. There was only one problem: the INS failed to follow its own guidelines.

That little lapse resulted in the bizarre case of Rodi Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who was subjected to extreme domestic violence by her husband, who broke her jaw, kicked her when she was pregnant, wielded a machete and threatened that if she tried to escape he would leave her wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life.

In 1995, Mrs. Alvarado did escape - to the United States, which granted her asylum. But this decision was immediately appealed by the INS and overturned by the Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals in 1999.

The Board claimed she was not seeking asylum due to membership in a social group, political opinion, race, religion or nationality. They claimed she needed to show a nexus between the beatings and her political opinion or membership in a social group.

She was allowed to remain in the US pending an appeal of the appeal. And she's still here, living in California and working in a convent.

Near the end of the Clinton administration, Attorney General Janet Reno proposed regulations to expand the ability of victims of domestic violence (and other gender-related human rights abuses like trafficking, sexual slavery and honor killing) to seek asylum in the United States.

But those regulations were never implemented. And when John Ashcroft became attorney general, he failed to recommend that the regulations be adopted. Instead, he re-certified Ms. Alvarado's case to himself in order to review it, since the attorney general has authority to make decisions on any immigration case.

But Ashcroft left office in 2004 without making a decision. He said the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security should agree on a set of guidelines covering women's issues, including domestic violence.

Since then, both agencies continue to claim they are working on these guidelines. Despite the fact that proposed regulations were drawn up back in December 2000, nothing has been finalized in more than five years.

According to Rodi Alvarado's lawyer, Karen Musalo, of the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, "The complication, as we understand it, is that now both DHS and DOJ have jurisdiction over the regulations because of the reorganization of the INS, and there has not been consensus between the two agencies on how to proceed."

One has to wonder about how hard these two taxpayer-funded behemoths are working to solve the problem.

Meantime, Mrs. Alvarado and others in her predicament remain in legal limbo.
[Read more.]

27 April 2006

Sierra Club: Bush speech on gas prices ignores real solutions

George W. Bush's approval ratings have gone even lower now that the price of gasoline has hit $3.00 per gallon. Bush's policies are now hitting average Americans where it counts -- their wallets.

So the White House is in damage control mode, and Bush is now suddenly Mr. Conservation.


He is not offering any real solutions to the real problems.

The Sierra Club has released a statement in response to Bush's Tuesday speech.

While I maintain that it is critical that we get serious about developing alternative fuels and vehicles that will run on them, in the meantime we need better short-term solutions. The Sierra Club's statement addresses that aspect.

An excerpt:
While rising gas prices are hitting American consumers in the pocketbook, President Bush continues to ignore the most obvious and practical solutions to help consumers save money at the gas pump and cut America’s dangerous dependence on oil. The biggest single step we can take toward saving money at the gas pump, curbing global warming, and cutting America’s oil dependence is to make our cars, trucks, and SUVs go farther on a gallon of gas.

No investigation is needed to understand that America deserves a better energy policy. While it is important to investigate whether price gouging is driving up gasoline prices, there is a deeper crisis facing the country. In the State of the Union, President Bush admitted that America is addicted to oil. But instead of taking steps to cut that addiction, the Bush administration has continued to move forward with its disastrous energy policy that ignores real solutions. The President continues to promote technologies that are years or even decades away from becoming available in order to distract the American people from the devastating realities of today resulting from his failed energy policy.

The technology exists today to make all new cars, SUVs, and other light trucks average 40 miles per gallon within the next ten years. Taking this step would save the average driver over $2,200 at the gas pump over the lifetime of their vehicle. It would also save more oil than the United States currently imports from the entire Persian Gulf and could ever get out of the Arctic Refuge, combined.

But instead of putting this technology to work, the Bush administration has allowed its energy policy to be controlled by its friends in the oil and auto industry. Just two months ago, the Bush administration announced pathetic new fuel economy standards for light trucks that by the administration’s own admission would save less than two weeks worth of oil over four years. While the President pays lip service to hybrid vehicles, his new fuel standards give the auto industry a perverse incentive to make more of the biggest, least efficient vehicles on the road.
[Read more.]

26 April 2006

William Fisher: Someone does not mean anyone

In a very interesting piece at truthout.org, Bill Fisher explores how Zakarias Moussaoui has become terrorism's scapegoat.

An excerpt:
The trial of Zakarias Moussaoui has all the makings of a soap opera. If Kafka wrote soap operas, that is.

Consider the cast of characters:

A defendant who alternately proclaimed his innocence and boasted of his guilt.

A prosecution that magnified the importance of a bit player in the 9/11 terrorist plot, and put the death penalty on the table despite charging him not with doing anything, but only with conspiring to do something.

A government that claimed that if only Moussaoui had not lied to the FBI, they could have prevented the attacks of 9/11, even though on 9/11 Moussaoui was in a Minnesota jail, while FBI headquarters was minimizing repeated alarms from its Minneapolis field office about Moussaoui's flight training.

A heart-wrenching chorus of survivors of 9/11 victims, unified in their view that the defendant was guilty of committing a crime, but divided about whether to exact retribution by executing him (thus conferring the martyrdom he says he welcomes), or jailing him for life (so that he will have to look in the mirror every morning and hate himself for the terror he wrought). Except that he didn't actually commit any act of terrorism. And, judging from his testimony, if he hated himself for anything it would be for not killing any American infidels.

Psychiatrists who painted the defendant as a paranoid schizophrenic, prompting some of us to label him "crazy" and others to decide he's "crazy as a fox."

A media that slavishly focused on the defendant's bizarre courtroom rantings and portrayed the trial as some kind of 21st century passion play about retribution vs. forgiveness, good vs. evil.

But there remains a major issue this trial has ignored. As lawyer David Cole wrote me, "There is something fundamentally wrong with trying to execute Moussaoui, an admittedly marginal figure who was not himself even involved in the planning of 9/11, when we have detained the mastermind of the attack, and the alleged 20th hijacker, but have brought no charges against them - and probably never will, because our torture of them effectively immunizes them from prosecution."
[Read more.]

Human Rights Watch: States negligent in use of lethal injections

To the observer, it looks like a peaceful way to go. But lethal injection has come under fire lately due to evidence that the paralyzing component of the three-drug cocktail might simply hide the fact that a prisoner might be experiencing excruciating pain during execution.

The excellent organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just released a 65-page report on problems with the use of lethal injection in executions in the U.S.

According to HRW, "incompetence, negligence, and irresponsibility by U.S. states puts condemned prisoners at needless risk of excruciating pain during lethal injection."

There are some who say that the criminals on death row deserve to suffer a painful death. However, the fact remains that the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

[Read more on the HRW site.]

25 April 2006

US to release one-third of prisoners at Gitmo

Whenever I write about the mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, I get hate mail from people who insist that those prisoners are "the worst of the worst" and that they deserve the treatment they get. These critics will not accept that a large number of detainees are actually not guilty of terrorism but have been falsely imprisoned.

Will they change their tune with today's big news? (Unfortunately, they probably will not.)

From the Christian Science Monitor:
The same day that the Department of Defense announced that it was going to file charges against more of the detainees being held at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, including the death penalty in some cases, it also quietly announced that it was going to release 141 of the prisoners.

The Los Angeles Times said the US plans to release about one-third of the men being held at the prison because they pose no threat to the United States.
[Read more.]

Today is Equal Pay Day (and women are still not paid fairly)

We women have come a long way since our grandmothers' day, but we still have a long way to go. The actual statistics regarding pay inequality are disturbing.

From a news release from the National Organization for Women:
Today, April 25, is Equal Pay Day -- the day when women's average earnings finally catch up with the amount men earned on average in the previous calendar year alone. At our founding in 1966, the National Organization for Women identified the wage gap and its negative impact on women. Forty years later, the gap remains wide and progress has slowed to a crawl. Now, women working full-time, year-round, are paid only about three-quarters as much as men, and African-American women and Latinas receive even less.

Women are still not receiving equal pay for equal work, let alone equal pay for work of equal value. According to data from the Department of Labor, women are paid less than men in every occupation for which sufficient information is available—more than 300 job classifications. This disparity not only affects women's day-to-day spending power; it also affects their retirement by penalizing them through gaps in social security and pensions. In spite of the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the pay gap remains, having closed by an average of less than half a penny per year since the act was passed.


If women were paid as much as men who work the same number of hours, have the same education and union status, are the same age, and live in the same region of the country, then women's annual income would rise by $4,000 and poverty rates would be cut in half. Working families would gain an astounding $200 billion in family income annually.

"It is shameful that, in the United States of America, women are paid so much less than men—and that that there is so little political will to deal with the disparity," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "These inequities are injuring women and our families. Both employers and politicians are way past due in demonstrating that they value women's contributions as much as they value men's."
[Read more.]

More fun with CIA leaks

The plot thickens in the case of CIA agent Mary McCarthy, who was fired last week for supposedly leaking information about the CIA's network of secret prisons to the press.

While the CIA at the time had indicated that McCarthy had confessed to the leak, apparently she is now denying it. And her lawyer has indicated that McCarthy didn't even have access to the information in question.

Furthermore, we now learn that McCarthy had worked in the Clinton administration and for the John Kerry campaign.

[Read the latest.]

Valerie Plame's CIA career was destroyed because she was married to a critic of the Bush administration. Could the McCarthy thing be another case of an innocent CIA employee being unjustly punished for the company she keeps? Or was she simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?

More arguments against nuking Iran

Each day, I stumble upon more and more good reasons why Bush should not attack Iran.

Here are the latest ones worth checking out:

• A British perspective from The Times (UK): The madness of bombing Iran

• An eye-opening animation from the Union of Concerned Scientists: The Nuclear Bunker Buster

24 April 2006

Osama is back to remind us that he remains free

So now we have a new video of (supposedly) Osama bin Laden directing some new threats at the west. [Read story.]

But that's fine. Bush has destroyed Iraq and captured Saddam Hussein, so we're in good shape. Uh-huh.

Thanks, George.

Blogger having technical difficulties

It looks as though my daily posts will arrive much later than usual, as Blogger is having technical difficulties...

23 April 2006

They just keep on shooting the messengers

Now a CIA analyst has been fired for leaking information about the CIA's network of secret prisons to the press. [Read story.]

While I recognize that there are some intelligence secrets that must remain guarded, it seems that this kind of stuff only hits the fan when the leak exposes some kind of illegal action on the part of the Bush administration (e.g., using a secret network of prisons, outing a CIA agent, etc.).

In this case, we should be alarmed not by the leak but by the information that it revealed. This is supposed to be an open democracy. Secret prisons have no place here.

Shooting the messenger is an obvious attempt to cloud the issue.

Mike Carlton: "Tide turns on Dubya's wreck"

In an excellent column in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mike Carlton shares an Australian perspective of the Bush administration.

It's definitely worth reading.

An excerpt:
SYDNEY, NSW, is a long way from Washington DC but, even at this distance, it is clear that the Bush Administration is falling to pieces.

In recent weeks, scanning the political coverage in the mainstream US media and sampling the blogs has been to watch a flood tide ebbing to reveal a rotting, skeletal hulk. It is the George W. Bush ship of fools, stuck in the mud for the world to see in all its mendacity, its incompetence, its faith-based stupidity.

It is possible, at this late stage, that even Bush himself has begun to realise something is wrong. That oddly simian face is ashen, the eyes leaden. The voice is shrill and its tone defensive.

"I'm the decider and I decide what's best," he squawked to reporters in the White House rose garden the other day, as the screws turned tighter on his disastrous Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Can you imagine Roosevelt, Eisenhower or Kennedy blurting something like that?
[Read more.]

Bush irony of the week: Has protester arrested while verbally promoting freedom

In reflecting on the past week's events, the one that stands out in my mind took place during the visit to Washington of Chinese President Hu Jintao.

As Bush and Hu spoke about working together to advance freedom, the Secret Service forcibly removed a female protester who shouted a plea asking Bush to stop Hu from killing innocent people in China.

Instead, Bush apologized to Hu for the the fact that the woman exercised an essential liberty guaranteed by the Consitution. In essence, he was apologizing for democracy.

[Read story.]

22 April 2006

Are meat eaters aiding global warming?

Today, 22 April, is Earth Day 2006.

Many will be marking this date by taking some action to benefit the planet, or to learn more about environmental issues.

On this day, you might also want to consider the effect that your diet has upon this planet.

Recent research suggests that eating meat may be "as bad for the planet as it is for our bodies."

According to one of the researchers, changing your diet can have an effect on the planet that is "comparable to the difference between driving an SUV and driving a reasonable sedan."

[Read more.]

I'm proud to be a Corolla-driving vegetarian.

21 April 2006

More proof that lots of innocent people are being tortured at Gitmo

We have known for some time via reports by Amnesty International and other human rights/civil liberties groups that a majority of detainees by the U.S. military on the "war on terror" are probably innocent of any terrorist ties. They simply had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and/or fell victim to the U.S. military's policy of paying bounty hunters for random bodies. Or whatever.

But that doesn't matter to King George W. These prisoners have no rights. Guilty until proven innocent, but no legal means to prove your innocence.

Sound fair to you? I hope not.

Well, now that the Pentagon has been forced to release the names and nationalities of the 558 Gitmo detainees, the stuff is hitting the fan, and countries around the globe are demanding that the U.S. government cut the nonsense and release their citizens from unjust detention.

[Read more.]

Will Dubya listen? Or will he just continue to give the world an arrogant smirk -- with impunity?

William Fisher on torture policy: Getting closer to the top?

More good dirt from Bill Fisher: In a new piece on truthout.org, he reveals evidence of torture moving beyond "a few bad apples" to much higher up the tree.

An excerpt:
In less than a month, we may finally get to hear from the army general who ordered commanders at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison to "get dogs."

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who ran the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and then was sent to Iraq to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib, has been silent on his role in introducing cruel and degrading interrogation techniques to that prison.

Originally, Gen. Miller invoked his military rights not to incriminate himself. But last week, a military judge ordered prosecutors to produce him on May 17 as a witness for the defense in the trial of a military dog handler accused of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Defense lawyers have said it was Miller who first told intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib to "get dogs" to exploit Arab fears of the animals.

As reported by The Washington Post, Miller's appearance "will give defense attorneys a chance to question Miller about the use of dogs in security and interrogation operations at Guantanamo and in Iraq. It also means lawyers could use Miller's testimony to attempt to draw connections between the alleged abuse and the policies developed by top Pentagon officials who had regular contact with Miller when he was the commander at Guantanamo."

Witnesses in other cases have testified that Miller went to Iraq at the request of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who wanted to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib. Tactics used on detainees in Iraq - including dogs, a dog leash and placing women's underwear on their heads - were the same as those used on one Guantanamo Bay detainee in 2002.

So, it seems, we inch closer to the top - to the White House and Pentagon policy makers who sliced and diced the Geneva Conventions to redefine torture, and left the grunts who followed orders to pay the price.

Miller would be the first general and the highest-ranking officer to testify in any case connected to the now infamous abuses at Abu Ghraib. Lawyers for Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, 31, are the first to be successful in persuading a judge that his involvement could shed light on how dogs came to be used to threaten high-value detainees during interrogations in Iraq in late 2003.

One of Cardona's lawyers said he plans to question Miller about the Rumsfeld-inspired trip he made to Iraq to advise US officials on how to get better intelligence.
[Read more.]

William Fisher: In terror war, not all names are equal

In Bush's world, Muslim charities are guilty of terrorism until proven innocent. And even when proven innocent, it might not matter.

In IPS News, Bill Fisher reports that the non-profit group OMB Watch has accused the U.S. government of using the "war on terror" to give preferential treatment to law-breaking companies like Halliburton (Dick Cheney's organization), while discriminating against (and shutting down) Muslim charities that often have no opportunity to prove that they have no ties to terrorism.

In Bush's world, you are judged not by the quality of the work you do, but by your skin color and religious affiliation. This is Bush's crusade.

[Read story.]

20 April 2006

China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the USA: The top four countries that execute their citizens

Today, Amnesty International published its annual report on the death penalty.

According to an Amnesty press release, the U.S. remains one of the top executing countries, along with China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Together the four nations accounted for 94 percent of all executions worldwide in 2005.

George W. Bush must be so proud.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world (the civilized portion), the annual number of executions has fallen dramatically.

[Read more.]

"I'm the Decider, koo koo ka choo"

I don't often post humor to this site, but someone has created a great new song about George W. Bush that's worth checking out.

The lyrics and audio are available on the Huffington Post site.
[Check it out.]

Mark Morford: Iran, You Ran, Let's Bomb Iran

In his latest column, the inimitable Mark Morford analyzes Bush's desperate need to blow up another country -- this time possibly with nukes. [Read it.]

UN torture panel presses US on detainees

The United Nations committee against torture wants to hold the U.S. accountable for prisoner abuse and renditions. Will they succeed, or will Bush continue to find ways to evade accountability for his crimes?

From Reuters via truthout.org:
The United Nations committee against torture has demanded that the United States provide more information about its treatment of prisoners at home and foreign terrorism suspects held in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

In questions submitted to Washington, the panel also sought information about secret detention facilities and specifically whether the United States assumed responsibility for alleged acts of torture in them, U.N. officials said on Tuesday.

"It is the longest list of issues I have ever seen," Mercedes Morales, a U.N. human rights officer who serves as secretary to the U.N. Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, told reporters.

Washington is expected to send a delegation of 30 officials to defend its record at a meeting next month in Geneva of the committee, composed of 10 independent human rights experts.

The debate, set for May 5 and May 8, will focus on a report filed a year ago by the United States on its compliance with the Convention against Torture, which bans all forms of torture.

Washington said at the time it was abiding by the treaty and that any abuses of detainees in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were not systemic. Critics called the report a whitewash.

The U.N. committee has responded, asking firstly how memoranda from the U.S. Justice Department declaring that torture covers only extreme acts is compatible with the treaty.

It asked whether there had been any independent investigation into "the possible responsibility of high-ranking officials" for authorizing or consenting to acts of torture committed during interrogation of detainees.
[Read more.]

Video: Terrorist training at Fort Benning

Most Americans have probably never heard of the School of the Americas (SOA), which was cleverly renamed to "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)" to try to dodge the stigma surrounding the SOA's reputation.

Basically, the SOA is a U.S. military-run training center based at Fort Benning, Georgia, where Latin American warlords and dictators are taught the art of torture and repression. They then use their new skills to violate human rights in their home countries.

A wonderful organization called SOA Watch has created an excellent new video to educate people about this issue. [Check it out.]

19 April 2006

Iraqi women are worse off after American "liberation"

Bush keeps telling us how much better off the Iraqi people are now that we have "liberated" them from Saddam.

But some Iraqi women's rights groups disagree.

Who would you believe?

From Capitol Hill Blue:
A new poll of leaders of Iraqi women's-rights groups finds that women were treated better and their civil rights were more secure under deposed President Saddam Hussein than under the faltering and increasingly sectarian U.S.-installed government.

This is doubly troubling. It's troubling first, because the Bush administration used the issue of women to justify its now widely criticized invasion of Iraq in part by promising to improve the situation of women.

It's troubling secondly, because the administration has issued news releases, held public meetings and tried to gain media attention (as well as U.S. public support) for all the "good" it's supposedly doing the women of Iraq via this invasion.

The poll was released last week by the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a U.N. news agency covering sub-Saharan Africa, eight countries in central Asia, and Iraq.

IRIN reports the survey findings as follows: "...women's basic rights under the Hussein regime were guaranteed in the constitution and more importantly respected, with women often occupying important government positions. Now, although their rights are still enshrined in the national constitution, activists complain that, in practice, they have lost almost all of their rights."
[Read more.]

Way to go, Mr. President. Way to spread freedom. Not!

18 April 2006

More fun with indefinite detention of innocent people

If you're detained by the U.S. government in the "war on terror" and then they discover that you have no ties to terrorism after all, they can keep you locked up anyway, just for fun.

Or so the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

[Read story.]

How long will the Statue of Liberty remain standing?

More tax dollars wasted

Last night at midnight was the deadline for filing 2005 income tax returns in the U.S.

And how are our tax dollars being spent?

Among other atrocities, our tax dollars are being spent paying performance bonuses to weapons contractors for projects that are years late, millions over budget, and often entirely non-functional.

[Read story.]

Again the Bush administration rewards the incompetent.

Yet, at the same time, they don't want to raise the minimum wage (currently $5.15 per hour) by a dollar or two.

God bless America. Yes, indeed.

17 April 2006

Kucinich demands answers from administration about US troops in Iran

Is the U.S. already involved in military actin in Iran, without any Congressional debate or oversight?

There is growing evidence that this is the case.

CommonDreams.org today published a letter sent by Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) to George W. Bush, demanding an explanation. Kucinich is the Ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations.

Below is the text of Kucinich's letter:
Dear President Bush:

Recently, it has been reported that U.S. troops are conducting military operations in Iran. If true, it appears that you have already made the decision to commit U.S. military forces to a unilateral conflict with Iran, even before direct or indirect negotiations with the government of Iran had been attempted, without UN support and without authorization from the U.S. Congress.

The presence of U.S. troops in Iran constitutes a hostile act against that country. At a time when diplomacy is urgently needed, it escalates an international crisis. It undermines any attempt to negotiate with the government of Iran. And it will undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts at the U.N.

Furthermore, it places U.S. troops occupying neighboring Iraq in greater danger. The achievement of stability and a transition to Iraqi security control will be compromised, reversing any progress that has been cited by the Administration.

It would be hard to believe that such an imprudent decision had been taken, but for the number and variety of sources confirming it. In the last week, the national media have reported that you have in fact commenced a military operation in Iran. Today, retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner related on CNN that the Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA, Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, reported to him that the Iranians have captured dissident forces who have confessed to working with U.S. troops in Iran. Earlier in the week, Seymour Hersh reported that a U.S. source had told him that U.S. marines were operating in the Baluchi, Azeri and Kurdish regions of Iran.

Any military deployment to Iran would constitute an urgent matter of national significance. I urge you to report immediately to Congress on all activities involving American forces in Iran. I look forward to a prompt response.

Dennis J. Kucinich
Member of Congress
[Read it on the Common Dreams site.]

Scientists say they're being gagged by Bush

If the facts are inconvenient to one's corporate fascist agenda, then all you have to do is suppress those facts. At least that's the way the Bush administration likes to do business. Corporate interests trump the truth every time. Planet be damned.

From yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle:
Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing.

Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being fought in other federal science agencies as well.

These scientists -- working nationwide in research centers in such places as Princeton, N.J., and Boulder, Colo. -- say they are required to clear all media requests with administration officials, something they did not have to do until the summer of 2004. Before then, climate researchers -- unlike staff members in the Justice or State departments, which have long-standing policies restricting access to reporters -- were relatively free to discuss their findings without strict agency oversight.

"There has been a change in how we're expected to interact with the press," said Pieter Tans, who measures greenhouse gases linked to global warming and has worked at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder for two decades. He said that although he often "ignores the rules" the administration has instituted, when it comes to his colleagues, "some people feel intimidated -- I see that."

Christopher Milly, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said he had problems twice while drafting news releases on scientific papers describing how climate change would affect the nation's water supply.
[Read more.]

Another stark warning over climate change

Computer predictions in the UK are raising some dire warnings over the impending effects of climate change.

From BBC news:
The Earth is likely to experience a temperature rise of at least 3C, the UK government's chief scientist says.

Professor Sir David King warned this would happen because world governments were failing to agree on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases.

He told the BBC that nations had to act now to tackle the warming expected to happen over the next 100 years.

And he said even if a global agreement could be reached on limiting emissions, climate change was inevitable.

The UK government and the EU want to try to stabilise the climate at an increase of no more than 2C, but the US refuses to cut emissions and those of India and China are rising quickly.

A recent report called Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, produced by the Hadley Centre, one of the top world centres for projecting future climate, modelled the likely effects of a 3C rise.

It warned the situation could wreck half the world's wildlife reserves, destroy major forest systems, and put 400 million more people at risk of hunger.
[Read more.]

And yet Bush continues to give the issue only some lame and useless lip service and absolutely no action. He doesn't want to inconvenience his corporate buddies by having them take measures to reduce their carbon emissions.

16 April 2006

Progress in Europe's CIA torture probes

Aside from passing an anti-torture amendment recently that Bush blew off with a signing statement, the Congress of the United States of America appears to be afraid to take real action to address government/CIA complicity in extraordinary renditions.

But the Europeans aren't going to let it slide. They are taking matters into their own hands with some serious investigations that seem to be finally yielding some serious results.

I don't know what the prosecutorial options might be. I imagine that the prosecution by Europe of American entities would be difficult to do, for a number of reasons.

This is one glaring example of why the Bush administration has refused to be a party to the International Criminal Court. Bush, of course, believes himself to be above the law. And he and his lawyers do all they can to avoid any kind of accountability.

From Reuters via truthout.org:
After months without a breakthrough, European investigators probing alleged CIA abuses in the war on terrorism are starting to sound more hopeful and will seek new evidence in the next few weeks.

A Washington Post report last November that the US Central Intelligence Agency had run secret prisons in Eastern Europe for al Qaeda suspects unleashed a spate of investigations which have so far failed to produce a "smoking gun."

But after several months when the issue largely faded from view, two developments in the past eight days have generated new headlines.

First Amnesty International detailed the case of three Yemeni men who were held for 13 months until May 2005 at a secret US facility, possibly in Eastern Europe.

Then the Council of Europe, a human rights organization, said on Wednesday at least one European state had admitted to handing over terrorism suspects to foreign agents.

"We have received official acknowledgement of 'handing over' individuals to foreign officials" in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, Council head Terry Davis said, declining to name the country involved.

He may have been referring to Sweden, where a parliamentary ombudsman has criticized the security services over the expulsion of two Egyptian terrorism suspects who were handed over to US agents and flown home aboard a US government-leased plane in 2001. Human Rights Watch has said there is credible evidence they were later tortured.
[Read more.]

On a related note: For a recent Amnesty International article on international justice, click here.

15 April 2006

Decorated Air Force nurse barred for being a lesbian

It doesn't matter how well you do your job. What matters is who you share your bed with.


From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
In 1993, Maj. Margaret Witt was a poster woman for the Air Force's flight nurse recruiting program.

In her career of 18-plus years, the decorated operating room and flight nurse from McChord Air Force Base earned stellar reviews for her work, which included helping to evacuate the nation's wounded troops and humanitarian missions to aid civilians.

In 2003, President Bush awarded her the Air Medal for her Middle East deployment and, later, the Air Force Commendation Medal, for saving the life of a Defense Department worker.

Less than a year later, after an Air Force investigation, Witt, a reservist, was drummed out.

Her offense: a committed relationship, but with another woman, a civilian, from 1997 to 2003.

On Wednesday, Witt, 42, challenged her forced discharge in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma against Air Force officials and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The lawsuit, filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, seeks to prevent Witt's discharge, citing her First and Fifth amendment protections of free speech and due process.
[Read more.]

14 April 2006

Nat Hentoff: Supreme Court judges Bush

He calls it "the most important case in the Bush presidency". It could be.

In his column in this week's Village Voice, Nat Hentoff outlines the issues and implications in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, on which lies the fate of Guantanamo prisoners in particular and Constitutional rights in general.

An excerpt:
The Supreme Court is now deliberating on the most important case in the Bush presidency, a case that can set precedents for future presidents during what the defendant, Donald Rumsfeld, admits will be a decades-long war against terrorism. It is so important that Chief Justice John Roberts made available audiotapes of the oral arguments on the same day. The last time I remember that happening was in the case of Bush v.Gore, which resulted in the Bush presidency.

On the surface, Hamdan v.Rumsfeld would appear to be primarily about the 10 prisoners at Guantánamo set to appear before military commissions established by the sole order of the president in Military Order No. 1 of November 13, 2001. As USA Today charged in a lead editorial on the day of the oral arguments, these commissions are "a set-up in which the executive branch alone serves as judge, prosecutor and jury; rules of evidence are one-sided and his lawyers don't even have the right to know what the [most crucial] evidence is."

But the much deeper significance of the case is emphasized in Hamdan's brief to the high court, calling on the justices to stop George W. Bush's "unprecedented arrogation of power."

A telling illustration of how the fate of Hamdan can encompass untold numbers, not only of suspected terrorists but also Americans, is the March 25 statement on C-SPAN of Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, Hamdan's military lawyer. Swift has long been persistently, publicly critical of the mockery of due process by these military commissions that the president and Donald Rumsfeld invented.

Said Swift: "Mr. Bush and his lawyers have made it clear that he wants a precedent [from this case] that says the president, as commander in chief, can arrest any person in the world and then put that person on trial before a military tribunal (or commission).

"They've made it very clear that these powers can be exercised against American citizens right here at home. The president talks about the global war on terror and his lawyers have gone into court frequently saying the United States is a battlefield in this war." (Emphasis added.)

Indeed, I remember the chill when John Ashcroft said the very same thing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and his successor Alberto Gonzales, a faithful vassal of the president, is also a true believer in this war. George W. Bush is the law.
[Read more.]

13 April 2006

National Archives participated in document cover-up

It used to be that the Bush administration would just mysteriously "disappear" people. Well, now they're disappearing public documents.

According to yesterday's headlines, the National Archives, whom We The People entrust with the documentation of our nation's history, turns out to have worked with the Bush administration to make certain documents disappear.

Hey, if it's not documented in the National Archives, you can't prove that it happened, I guess. And that apparently includes documentation that had previously been unclassified and accessed by countless researchers.

We can't erase those researchers' memories who may have seen the "disappeared" documents, but we can certainly now challenge their credibility, since there is no longer any official record to back up their claims. Apparently, that's now the American way.

From Capitol Hill Blue:
The National Archives agreed to seal previously public CIA and Pentagon records and to keep silent about U.S. intelligence's role in the reclassification, according to an agreement released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The 2002 agreement, requested three years ago by The Associated Press and released this week, shows archivists were concerned about reclassifying previously available documents - many of them more than 50 years old - but nonetheless agreed to keep mum.

"It is in the interest of both (unnamed agency) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to avoid the attention and researcher complaints that may arise from removing material that has already been available publicly from the open shelves for extended periods of time," the agreement said.

The agreement was originally stamped "secret." The National Archives and Records Administration provided a redacted copy of the agreement to AP under FOIA this week and then posted the document on its Web site.

The agreement said the archives "will not acknowledge the role of (redacted) AFDO in the review of these documents or the withholding of any documents determined to need continued protection from unauthorized disclosure." AFDO stands for Air Force Declassification Office.

"NARA will not disclose the true reason for the presence of AFDO (redacted) personnel at the Archives, to include disclosure to persons within NARA who do not have a validated need-to-know," the agreement added.

National Archivist Allen Weinstein applauded the release of the agreement and said an internal agency review on how best to handle reclassification requests should be completed by the end of this month.

"It is an important first step in finding the balance between continuing to protect national security and protecting the right to know by the American public," Weinstein said.
[Read more.]

Shame on the National Archives! I had always assumed that the Archives were run by high-level librarians, and librarians usually seem to care about truth and accuracy.

On the other hand, Laura Bush is a librarian, so never mind.

So what's next? Thought police? Oh, never mind. They're already here.

Let's be thankful for the Freedom of Information Act, for as long as it might remain alive. (Fingers crossed.)

12 April 2006

Lakotas kick ass: South Dakota Native Americans defend reproductive rights at the sovereign nation level

My new heroes: Cecelia Fire Thunder and the Oglala Lakota tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota

Unless you've spent the past six weeks living under a rock, you've probably heard about how South Dakota passed a state law banning almost all abortions, even in the case of rape or incest. (Here come the 12-toed babies.)

Well, the eternally practical and sensible Native Americans in that state are taking matters into their own hands. According to truthout.org, "tribal president Cecelia Fire Thunder is taking a stand. She is invoking the Oglala Lakota tribe's status as a sovereign nation to surpass state law, by building a family planning clinic on the reservation."

I love it! Monumental kudos to them!

[Video: President Fire Thunder speaks with truthout]

11 April 2006

Cindy Sheehan: A markerless grave in Vacaville

The right-wing nuts who have never had a child in harm's way are again attacking Cindy Sheehan, who lost a son in Iraq.

Because she dares to question what "noble cause" her son died for, she is villified.

The Bushites "support the troops" by tormenting the mothers of the dead ones. (I guess they know better than to torment the mothers of the live ones.)

Cindy's latest response to their abuse is one of her most eloquent to date.

Here it is, courtesy of truthout.org:
I am so tired of the Rovian, heartless, and ignorant smear machine attacking me and my family at every turn of my back.

The latest abomination in their scrutiny of my life is the fact that Casey has no "tombstone." As if it were anybody's business but Casey's family. I am sure every last person who has a problem with this has buried a child and they know what we are going through.

I am being smeared because I have a new car and I have "blown" through "$250,000.00" dollars of Casey's insurance money. I am sure that they have ready access to my bank accounts, too. I know I am writing this to compassionate people who would rather focus on an administration who lies, tortures, kills innocent people using conventional and chemical weapons, spies on its citizens without due process, and is treacherous in outing a CIA operative for petty high school-like revenge, thereby endangering her, her family, and her fellow CIA agents. If it weren't for these criminals, my son wouldn't need a tombstone.

I will tell the world why Casey has no marker yet. In the first place, does anyone who is attacking me know how Casey was brought home from Iraq? We picked him up in the United loading dock in a cardboard box and he was off-loaded into a hearse without one honor guard. We had to wait for about a half hour on a curb near the United freight area for his one escort, who rode from Dover Air Force Base in a seat, while Casey was treated as an over-sized piece of luggage. Has anybody held her other sobbing children who are sitting on a curb in San Francisco, waiting for the remains of their big brother to be carried over to the dock by a forklift?

Our so-called, illegitimate president has never attended a funeral, nor can families see the pictures of their loved ones as they are hauled like freight with flags on them from an immoral war zone. WE don't see them because Mama Bush doesn't want to "bother her pretty mind" with the images. America doesn't want to be bothered, either. We had a Casualty Officer who abandoned us when our mortuary refused to pay the cemetery and told us that the "government sent the money to the mortuary, so now it is your problem. You may have to sue the mortuary." Our government discards and dishonors its own.

My Casey wasn't always a soldier. He was a son and brother whose murder has left an aching hole in our lives worse than an amputation. Sooner or later, amputations heal and quit throbbing; this hole never will, or can, heal.

For the first year after Casey was killed, I didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to place a TOMBstone on my son's grave. I didn't want one more marble proof that my son was dead. I couldn't even call where he was buried a "cemetery," I had to call it "Casey's Park." I placed fresh flowers in the cup every week and journaled there almost on a daily basis, and often laid on it and fell asleep and dreamed of my needlessly killed son. Have any of these people who claim that I am pissing on my son's grave even visited him? Have they visited the grave of any soldier needlessly or senselessly killed in George's war of choice for oil and profit? Have they sobbed uncontrollably for my first born who shouldn't even need a gravestone? No, all they want to do is attack a mother who wants to prevent other people from having to bury their own child. They want to perpetuate a war that has already killed many thousands of our fellow human beings for absolutely nothing.

Casey's shell is buried in Vacaville, California, not his spirit. He lives with me and he is constantly with me as I travel the world so other families, Iraqi or American, do not have to bury their children. Casey lives in the hearts of everyone who wants peace and works for peace. He will never truly die.

There are many people whom the Bush regime has killed, either directly or indirectly, by their murderous policies: there are people buried under rubble of Iraq and who were buried under the rubble of the World Trade Towers, and if their families were lucky they could find small parts to bury, before their remains were carted away in the enormous trucks and barges; there are people still unaccounted-for in the swamps of New Orleans and in refrigerated trucks in Mississippi that will never even have graves, let alone gravestones. The Bush regime is good for business, all right; especially the funeral business.

I know these people are searching for proof that I am a horrible person, and it must be evidence that I didn't love Casey if he doesn't have a marker. I know that they can't support a criminal regime that is slipping into fascism, so they have to attack a mom for the "crime" of being broken-hearted and trying to save lives.

What they don't know is that they can't stop me from trying to save lives. No matter what they cook up next.

It is too important. No more needless gravestones. No more wasted lives.
[View it on the truthout site.]

Can you have a soul, can you have a conscience, and not be brought to tears by Cindy's words above?

Nuking Iran: More from Seymour Hersh

So, you read Seymour Hersh's piece in The New Yorker about Bush's eagerness to attack Iran, which I linked to yesterday, and you want to know more?

No problem. Click here for transcripts and video of Hersh's appearance Sunday on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.

10 April 2006

Seymour Hersh's Iran article online now!

As it turns out, the new Seymour Hersh article I mentioned here yesterday is already available online.

[Read it.]

Of course the Bush administration is denying Hersh's allegations. But Hersh does not make things up.

Bush undermines freedom of the press

No wonder it's hard to find a real journalist these days.

For one thing, as reported here previously, Bush and his goons will persecute journalists who dare to expose the administration's questionable activities.

Secondly, Bush's hijinks have made it very dangerous for journalists to cover the biggest issue facing our country, i.e., the quagmire in Iraq. In invading that WMD-free, previously-unthreatening country, Bush stirred up a hornet's nest of Islamic fundamentalists. And, in doing such a fabulous job of securing Iraq's borders (like everything else), he let al-Qaeda in.

Thanks to Mr. Bush's brilliant international relations policies, 86 journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq since the start of that war, and two are still missing, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Jill Carroll is just the tip of the iceberg.

[Read more.]

It's a lot safer to give up and just report on what Brad and Angelina are doing. And that probably pays more.

Way to spread "freedom", George.

Where have all the journalists gone?

I hear a lot of bickering about media bias these days. The right wingers complain that the media are biased towards the left. The left wingers insist that the media are biased towards the right.

Depending on the medium in question, either assertion might be correct. I offer another: The media are biased in favor of entertainment over acumen.

In all fairness, the print media are not nearly as guilty as their broadcast counterparts (although even the New York Times and Washington Post had initially jumped on the propaganda bandwagon in the run-up to the Iraq war). But, while the print media (with some clear-cut exceptions) might try their best to report the news in a fair manner, and present all sides in their editorial pages, reading newspapers and magazines is work. The average American doesn't want to take the trouble to read. The average American wants to sit back and be entertained. Newspapers and newsmagazines are not that entertaining in this electronic age.

And so we have cable news. Now, cable news is corporate owned, and these networks must be careful not to step on the toes of their corporate advertisers. And they must appeal to the masses in order to sell their sponsors' goods and services. In an age when more people know the names of the "American Idol" contestants than the names of their congressmen, cable news has to entertain in order to survive.

Once upon a time, TV news had Edward R. Murrow. The recent movie "Good Night, and Good Luck" documents Murrow's bravery and fierce integrity in taking on Senator Joe McCarthy's over-the-top anti-Communist witchhunt. That was journalism.

Then we had Walter Cronkite, who earned a reputation as "the most trusted man in America." He did not earn that title by being entertaining; he earned it by being thorough and truthful and honest. That was journalism.

So what passes for TV journalism today?

Today we have prime-time cable "news" programs that still devote an entire hour to Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba. They do this while ignoring the thousands of other missing persons who never make the news because they're not as pretty or as blonde as Natalee. In other words, they're not as entertaining.

Today we have perfectly coiffed newsmodels who read to us from teleprompters and practice their frozen smiles as they gloss over stories of fatalities in Iraq on their way to the latest Hollywood gossip. They might occasionally cut to a 60-second report by an authentic hard-working reporter like Christiane Amanpour, in the trenches sans stylist and trying to bring us the real news. But not too much, because it's not as entertaining.

I can think of two current TV news show hosts who still seem to work hard at maintaining their integrity: Keith Olbermann, who takes on the propaganda machine each weeknight in his "Worst Person in the World" segment on MSNBC's "Countdown"; and Bob Costas, who refused to host an episode of CNN's "Larry King Live" because the topic of the show was the already overdone disappearance of Natalee Holloway. But what does it tell you when these two examples of journalistic integrity both rose to fame as sportscasters? Do they get away with practicing real journalism because of their connection to sports, which is much more entertaining?

How can so many Americans sit idle with "American Idol" while our soldiers are dying in Iraq, Osama bin Laden is still at large, and our Constitution is eroding faster than a polar ice cap?

Is entertainment all that matters to us now?

Have we not only turned off our minds but also our hearts and our souls?

Have we lulled ourselves into Huxley's "Brave New World," with the media as our soma?

Can we wake up before it's too late? Can the media?

09 April 2006

The Bush administration's plans to nuke Iran

Fortunately, there are still a few real journalists around. One of them, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, is one of my personal heroes. He broke the story of the My Lai massacre and, more recently, the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Now, according to a press release from The New Yorker, their April 17 issue will include a report by Hersh on the Bush administration's real plans for Iraq.

An excerpt:
"The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack," Seymour M. Hersh reports in the April 17, 2006, issue of The New Yorker ("The Iran Plans," p. 30). Moreover, he writes, "There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change." One former senior intelligence official tells Hersh that Bush and others in the White House have come to view Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a potential Adolf Hitler. "That’s the name they'e using," he says. A senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror says, "This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war." The danger, he adds, is that "it also reinforces the belief inside Iran that the only way to defend the country is to have a nuclear capability." The former senior intelligence official, referring to activity at three U.S. military facilities, says, "The planning is enormous." He depicts it as hectic and operational—far beyond the contingency work that is routinely done. One former defense official tells Hersh that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government." He adds, "I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, What are they smoking?'" A government consultant with close ties to civilians in the Pentagon confirms that undercover units are working with minority groups in Iran, and that while one goal is to have "eyes on the ground," the broader aim is to "encourage ethnic tensions" and undermine the regime.

Hersh reports, "In recent weeks, the President has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat." A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, who did not take part in the meetings but has discussed their content with his colleagues, tells Hersh that the Administration is "reluctant to brief the minority." He adds, "The people they’re briefing are the same ones who led the charge on Iraq.... There’s no pressure from Congress" not to take military action. "The only political pressure is from the guys who want to do it." Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, "The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision."
[Read more.]

My April 10 issue arrived just a few days ago, so it appears that I'll have to wait a few more days to read it. For those of you who don't subscribe, please go out to your local newsstand next weekend and pick up a copy of the April 17 issue. Support The New Yorker and Seymour Hersh.

Gonzales hints at broadened domestic spying programs

Despite mass criticism by government officials, the American people, and the world, dictator wannabe George W. Bush apparently has no intention of ignoring the Constitution and doing whatever he wants.

As if his domestic spyfest isn't enough, Attorney General Albert Gonzales now gleefully suggests that they might expand that activity (or may have already done so).

From the Washington Post via the Houston Chronicle:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Thursday left open the possibility that President Bush could order warrantless wiretaps on telephone calls occurring solely within the United States.

Such action would dramatically expand the potential reach of the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance program.

In response to a question from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., before the House Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said the government would have to determine if a conversation was related to al-Qaida and crucial to fighting terrorism before deciding whether to listen in without court supervision.

"I'm not going to rule it out," Gonzales said of the possibility of monitoring purely domestic communications.

The comments mark a dramatic departure from previous statements by Gonzales, President Bush and others within the Bush administration, who have repeatedly stressed that an NSA eavesdropping program ordered after the Sept. 11 attacks was focused only on international communications.
[Read more.]

So, just because he wants to, Bush can ignore the law and can tap our phones any old time. And then, if he wants to, he can detain us indefinitely withouth charge and without due process, and torture us.

God bless America.

For more good commentary on this issue, click here to read a good piece by James Bovard titled Bush's Bogus Theory of Absolute Power.

08 April 2006

Mark Fiore: Migraphobia

With his trademark wit and creativity, political cartoonist Mark Fiore pretty well sums up the immigration issue in his latest animation.
[Check it out.]

07 April 2006

Richard Cohen: Let Moussaoui live

In a piece about the Moussaoui case in yesterday's Washington Post Richard Cohen reflects my own views on the death penalty, better than I could ever express them myself.

An excerpt, via RealClearPolitics.com:
The way things are going, the United States government will succeed where Zacarias Moussaoui could not. This convicted terrorist, this whack job with a suicidal bent, will almost certainly be put to death -- which is one more death than he was able to manage on his own. In the end, Moussaoui may turn out to be a suicide bomber on a four-year fuse.

Moussaoui's fate is of no concern to me. He is a very bad man, complicit in an evil plot for which he claims a central, though probably exaggerated, role. Whatever the case, he certainly set out to kill innocent Americans and whether he actually did so or not seems beside the point. He was in a position to abort the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and he did nothing to stop them. For that, he may die. So be it.

Nonetheless, while the American sense of justice might be satisfied, that is not how many other people will see it. Instead, they might marvel at how much effort had gone into the killing of a single man. They will note his trial and the lengthy part of it devoted to determining if he is worthy of the death penalty and then whether or not he will get it. The process is almost a parody of justice -- a laborious procedure to carry out what most of us recognize is nothing more than revenge. Call it justice if you will, we all know what it really is.

That, of course, is probably Moussaoui's take on it as well. He seems determined to become a martyr...


If I had my way, I would deny Moussaoui his opportunity. I would do so not just because it is pretty clear the man is crazy and, on account of that, he played a marginal role at best in the 9/11 plot, but because I would not complete the plot for him. I would not grant him what he wanted from the day he stepped foot in America -- his own death. If, in his case, the punishment is to fit the crime, then he would suffer most by spending the rest of his life behind bars. When he dies of old age, he will have been forgotten. In no place will people gather to mark his death. That will not happen if he is executed.

Of course, I would not seek his death in any case. I am opposed to capital punishment -- not for Moussaoui's sake or for another guy's, but for our own. The taking of life is something we should not permit government to do. In the first place, life is inviolate. Second, governments have abused this power in the past and will do so in the future. It is no accident that Europe bans the death penalty. Under Hitler, Stalin and others, Europeans learned what government can do.
[Read more.]

06 April 2006

Don't worry, the perverts are protecting us

By now, if you haven't been living under a rock, you've heard about the Department of Homeland Security employee who was arrested on Tuesday for trying to seduce what he thought was a 14-year-old teenage girl online (but was really a detective).

Well, it gets worse. It's starting to look like the DHS is a breeding ground for pedophiles.

It turns out that a second DHS guy had been busted last October for exposing himself to a teenage girl in a mall -- but this guy had actually been the head of the DHS's Operation Predator, which is the agency's program to bust sexual predators. [Read more.]

I guess it takes one to know one.

These are the people in charge of protecting us -- and our children.

05 April 2006

New Amnesty report on renditions

Today, Amnesty International has released a new report on the U.S. government's program of rendering "terror suspects" to other countries to be tortured.

From an Amnesty press release:
In a new report published today, "USA - Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and 'disappearance'", Amnesty International gives comprehensive information concerning rendition flights and describes the conditions under which victims were held.

The human rights organisation has analysed the movements of airplanes directly linked to the CIA between 2001 and 2005, specifically, the aircraft that transported well known rendition victims such as Khaled el-Masri, Maher Arar and Abu Omar. The analysis shows that these airplanes often used European airspace, although it does not prove that they were always transporting prisoners.

Amnesty International has interviewed several victims of rendition. Their testimonies were coherent and plausible when checked against factual data such as flight information. Also consistent was the description, by every single one, of incidents of torture and other ill-treatment.
[Read more.]

[Read the actual report.]

Abramoff offered to aid Sudan

How low can a lobbyist go? Pretty low, when you're talking about Jack Abramoff.

Recent news reports suggest that he tried to arrange to accept money from the Sudanese government (which is responsible for a horrific genocide that is still taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan) in exchange for some pro-Sudan PR.

From yesterday's Los Angeles Times:
Two eyewitnesses say that former lobbyist Jack Abramoff proposed to sell his services to the much-criticized government of Sudan to help improve its abysmal reputation in the United States, especially among Christian evangelicals who were campaigning against human rights violations in the troubled African nation.

Khidir Haroun Ahmed, Sudan's ambassador to the United States, said in an interview that Abramoff proposed a multimillion-dollar lobbying contract in late 2001 but that the proposal was "never seriously considered" by the Sudanese. He declined to elaborate.

The story Ahmed and a former Abramoff associate tell about the solicitation of Sudan, which the U.S. had sanctioned for its record on terrorism and rights violations, is a striking example of the kind of aggressive machinations of Abramoff as spelled out in the criminal cases against him. The super-lobbyist made tens of millions of dollars representing - and sometimes defrauding - corporations, foreign clients and American Indian gambling interests.

A spokesman for Abramoff, Andrew Blum, confirmed that a conversation took place between Abramoff and the ambassador but said Abramoff never sought a contract and rejected working for the Sudanese because of that country's human rights record.

The ambassador and the former associate of Abramoff dispute Blum's account. The former associate said the ex-lobbyist discussed the possible contract while sitting with the ambassador in Abramoff's skybox at Washington's Fed-Ex field during a Redskin football game in late 2001.

The former associate, who did not want to be named out of fear it might damage future business opportunities, said that Abramoff proposed a $16- to $18-million contract - "a staggering sum" for the destitute nation - but one that the lobbyist considered reasonable because international disapproval was so costly to Sudan's economy.
[Read more.]

So there you have it: For enough money, Jack Abramoff will merrily promote the perpetrators of unthinkable human rights abuses.

How can he sleep at night?

Everyone must see this: "Falluja - The Hidden Massacre"

I recently attended a screening of the documentary film Falluja - The Hidden Massacre.

Produced by an Italian filmmaker, and containing interviews with former U.S. marines and others, it exposes the truth about the U.S. military's use of white phosphorus in Falluja (which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and international human rights law).

The effect on civilians was, of course, devastating. (White phosphorus essentially melts the skin and organs, and it doesn't care whether you're a soldier or a civilian, or whether you're a man, a woman, or a little kid.)

The film contains some horrific footage. But everyone needs to see it. Hiding from the truth doesn't make it go away.

[Download the video (free)]

Dahr Jamail: How massacres become the norm

In an article published yesterday at truthout.org, journalist Dahr Jamail, who has spent a lot of time in Iraq, explores the psychology of war crimes, some of the "atrocity-producing situations" in which these crimes have occurred in Iraq, and how the U.S. military lies to try to cover up these crimes. Very disturbing.

An excerpt:
US soldiers killing innocent civilians in Iraq is not news. Just as it was not news that US soldiers slaughtered countless innocent civilians in Vietnam. However, when some rare reportage of this non news from Iraq does seep through the cracks of the corporate media, albeit briefly, the American public seems shocked. Private and public statements of denial and dismissal immediately start to fill the air. We hear, "American soldiers would never do such a thing," or "Who would make such a ridiculous claim?"

It amazes me that so many people in the US today somehow seriously believe that American soldiers would never kill civilians. Despite the fact that they are in a no-win guerrilla war in Iraq which, like any other guerrilla war, always generates more civilian casualties than combatant casualties on either side.

Robert J. Lifton is a prominent American psychiatrist who lobbied for the inclusion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders after his work with US veterans from Vietnam. His studies on the behavior of those who have committed war crimes led him to believe it does not require an unusual level of mental illness or of personal evil to carry out such crimes. Rather, these crimes are nearly guaranteed to occur in what Lifton refers to as "atrocity-producing situations."

Several of his books, like The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, examine how abnormal conditions work on normal minds, enabling them to commit the most horrendous crimes imaginable.

Iraq today is most certainly an "atrocity-producing situation," as it has been from the very beginning of the occupation.

The latest reported war crime, a US military raid on the al-Mustafa Shia mosque in Baghdad on March 26th, which killed at least 16 people, is only one instance of the phenomena that Lifton has spoken of.

An AP video of the scene shows male bodies tangled together in a bloody mass on the floor of the Imams' living quarters - all of them with shotgun wounds and other bullet holes. The tape also shows shell casings of the caliber used by the US military scattered about on the floor. An official from the al-Sadr political bloc reported that American forces had surrounded the hospital where the wounded were taken for treatment after the massacre.

The slaughter was followed by an instant and predictable disinformation blitz by the US military. The second ranking US commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, told reporters "someone went in and made the scene look different from what it was."

On March 15th, 11 Iraqis, mostly women and children, were massacred by US troops in Balad. Witnesses told reporters that US helicopters landed near a home, which was then stormed by US troops. Everyone visible was rounded up and taken inside the house where they were killed. The victims' ages ranged from six months to 75 years.

The US military acknowledged the raid, but claimed to have captured a resistance fighter and insisted that only four people had been killed. Their claim would have held good but for the discrepancies that the available evidence presents. For one, the photographs that the AP reporter took of the scene reveal a collapsed roof, three destroyed cars and two dead cows. The other indictment comes from the detailed report of the incident prepared by Iraq Police. It matches witness accounts and accuses the American troops of murdering Iraqi civilians.

"The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men. Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed the animals." The report includes the observation of local medics that all of the bodies had bullet wounds in the head.

Ahmed Khalaf, the nephew of one of the victims said, "The killed family was not part of the resistance, they were women and children. The Americans have promised us a better life, but we get only death." AP photos of the aftermath showed the bodies of five children, two men and four others covered in blankets being driven to a nearby hospital.

Reminiscent of Vietnam?

Another appalling example of the effect of an "atrocity-producing situation" was experienced last November 19th in Haditha. American troops, in retaliation against a roadside bomb attack, stormed nearby homes and shot dead 15 members of two families, including a three-year-old girl.

US military response? All 15 civilians were killed by the blast of the roadside bomb.

In this case, reality refuted their claim when a student of journalism from Haditha showed up with a video tape of the dead, still in their nightclothes.
[Read more.]

04 April 2006

More fun with Jose Padilla, Sammy Alito, and the shrinking Constitution

The Alliance for Justice has weighed in on the Supreme Court's refusal yesterday to hear Jose Padilla's case.

An excerpt:
Yesterday, long-detained U.S. citizen and alleged "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla fell one vote short of persuading the Supreme Court to hear his challenge to the Bush administration’s effort to hold him indefinitely without court review. Padilla needed four votes to have his case heard and mustered only three – from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and Stephen Breyer. But three other justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, appeared ready to rebuff the Bush administration's thumbing its nose at the concept of judicial review. And one other justice, Antonin Scalia, already has said that indefinitely detaining American citizens, even in the war on terror, is unconstitutional. That probably leaves only two justices – Justices Thomas and Alito – potentially poised to back the administration’s rather breathtaking assertion that our system of checks and balances isn’t really so checked and balanced after all.

We already know Justice Thomas' view from a 2004 case, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, an 8-1 decision where he issued the lone dissent. A true believer in the radical theory that the president basically can do whatever he wants, without judicial oversight, simply by saying it somehow implicates his commander-in-chief powers, Justice Thomas is the Bush administration's best friend. And the Constitution's worst. Justice Alito's silence in Padilla ominously – but not conclusively – suggests he may follow suit if given the chance. Were he to do so, all of the fears, expressed during recently-concluded confirmation hearings, about Justice Alito being excessively deferential to presidential authority, would quickly be realized.
[Read more.]

Bush team wins on power to detain, for now

Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to review the Jose Padilla case. So, at least in this case for now, Bush retains the power to detain American citizens indefinitely, without legal recourse, innocent or not, just because he wants to.

Today's Christian Science Monitor contains an interesting article about the case.

An excerpt:
The US Supreme Court has handed the White House a temporary victory in a legal battle over the war on terror by declining to take up the appeal of suspected Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla.

Mr. Padilla's lawyers were waging a potential landmark appeal challenging President Bush's power to indefinitely detain American citizens arrested on US soil as enemy combatants.

Rather than argue the case on the merits, the Bush administration had undertaken an array of procedural maneuvers that appear to have been calculated to avoid Supreme Court review of the case. Many legal analysts were watching closely to see if the high court would permit the government to benefit from such tactics.

But in its Monday order, the justices made clear that while they were divided on whether to take up Padilla's case, a majority was prepared to hear the case should the administration attempt to shift him back into open-ended military custody.

The move means that the justices have left for another day consideration of one of the most controversial aspects of the Bush presidency - whether Mr. Bush has the power to order the open-ended military detention of a US citizen seized on US soil.

In addition, the order comes less than a week after the high court heard oral argument in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden. Mr. Hamdan and his lawyers are challenging the legality of the military commission process at the terrorism prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Legal analysts say the high court may have waited to hear arguments in the Hamdan case before deciding whether to take up Padilla's case.
[Read more.]

Who will they come for next? Someone you know, perhaps?

Is it too late to stop global warming?

While the rest of the world has tried to take steps to curb global warming, Bush continues to say that he cares, while at the same time doing almost nothing to solve the problem. To reduce harmful emissions, after all, would be an inconvenience to his rich corporate buddies.

Our future generations will likely have a very big price to pay for Bush's greed and apathy.

From the Associated Press via Common Dreams:
A man stands on a railroad track as a train rumbles closer.

"Global warming?" he says. "Some say irreversible consequences are 30 years away. Thirty years. That won't affect me."

He steps off the tracks -- just in time. But behind him is a little girl, left in front of the roaring train.

The screen goes black. A message appears: "There's still time."

It's just an ad, part of a campaign from the advocacy group Environmental Defense, which hopes to convince Americans they can do something about global warming, that there's still time.

But many scientists are not so sure that the oncoming train of global warming can be avoided. Temperatures are going to rise for decades to come because the chief gas that causes global warming lingers in the atmosphere for about a century.

"In the short term, I'm not sure that anyone can stop it," said John Walsh, director of the Center for Global Change and Arctic System Research at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

There are limits, experts say, to how much individuals can do. The best we can hope for is to prevent the worst -- world-altering disasters such as catastrophic climate change and a drastic rise in sea levels, say 10 leading climate scientists interviewed by The Associated Press. They pull out ominous phrases such as "point of no return."

The big disasters are thought to be just decades away. Stopping or delaying them would require bold changes by people and government.

"The big payoff is going to be for our children," said Tim Barnett, a senior scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California. "Together, if we take a concentrated action as a people, we might be able to slow it down enough to avoid these surprises."
[Read more.]

Obama strikes out at Bush's energy policy

Senator Barack Obama took Bush to task yesterday over the oil/energy issue.

Bush talks about alternative energy, but he will never put his money where his mouth is. And I mean that literally. After all, he and his best buddies are all intimately connected to the oil industry.

From The Associated Press via CBS News:
Sen. Barack Obama accused the Bush administration Monday of a "stubborn refusal" to attack the causes of climate change, and said tougher fuel standards, stricter curbs on oil imports and more investment in cleaner energy are essential to avert global catastrophe.

"Saying that America is addicted to oil without following a real plan for energy independence is like admitting alcoholism and then skipping out on the 12-step program," the Illinois Democrat said. He referred to one of the principal themes of President Bush's State of the Union address Jan. 31.

"It's not enough to identify the challenge. We have to meet it," Obama said in remarks prepared for the annual luncheon of The Associated Press, held on the opening day of the Newspaper Association of America's convention.
[Read more.]

03 April 2006

The Dems really do have a good plan for America

The right-wing pundits keep telling us that the Democrats have no real plan for national security. They tell us that the Democrats have no real message other than "we're not Republicans."

Now we have proof to the contrary: The new publication "Real Security: The Democratic Plan to Protect America and Restore our Leadership in the World".

Everyone should read it and compare it to what the Republicans have been doing to keep us "safe".

An excerpt:
The first responsibility of our government is the security of every American. In this era of unprecedented and unpredictable challenge, we must be prepared for any threat.

The men and women of America's armed forces and those on the front lines here at home have met every challenge with skill, bravery, and selfless dedication. They, along with veterans, military retirees and the families of those who have given their lives or have been wounded in defense of our country, deserve the gratitude and support of the American people. We will always honor their service and fulfill our promises to them. We believe America is best protected, and freedom best advanced, by national security policies -- including homeland, energy, and diplomatic strategies -- that are both tough and smart.

Democrats off er a plan for Real Security to rebuild our military; equip and train our first responders and others on the front lines here at home; provide needed benefits to our troops and veterans; fully man and equip our National Guard; promote alternative fuels and reduce dependence on foreign oil; and restore Americans' confidence in their government's ability to respond in the face of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

To protect the American people, we will immediately implement the recommendations of the independent bipartisan 9/11 Commission and finally protect our ports and airports, our borders, mass transit systems, our chemical and nuclear power plants, and our food and water supplies from terrorist

After September 11, all Americans trusted President Bush to take the steps necessary to keep our country safe. Since then, inadequate planning and incompetent policies have failed to make Americans as safe as we should be. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina showed that the federal government was still not prepared to respond.

Under President Bush and the Republican majority in Congress, the war in Iraq began with manipulated intelligence and no plan for success; our ports and other critical infrastructure remain vulnerable, while both soldiers in the
field and first responders at home lack the basic equipment and resources they were promised. Both in the Persian Gulf and our own Gulf Coast, lucrative no-bid contracts have gone to companies such as Halliburton, Kellogg, Brown and Root, and others with friends in high places and records of cheating taxpayers. And despite record high fuel prices, our country remains heavily dependent on foreign oil because of an energy policy that benefi ts the big oil interests.

Americans want and deserve change. Democrats' plan for Real Security will protect Americans and restore our country's position of international leadership.
[Download the whole report. (PDF)]

02 April 2006

Mark Fiore: Preemptive apology

The latest animation by political cartoonist Mark Fiore deals with how the world stands idle (and makes lame, inexcusable excuses) while the horrific genocide continues in Darfur, in western Sudan.

[Check it out.]

At the end of the video, click the link to do something about it.

01 April 2006

Jill Carroll's story changes, now that she can speak freely

Wow. I stand corrected. Yesterday I jumped to the conclusion that Jill Carroll was speaking freely upon her release in Iraq yesterday.

Today, the Christian Science Monitor has published a statement in which Ms. Carroll discloses that she was forced to say that her captors had treated her well.

[Read her statement.]

Mistreatment of any prisoner, of any human being, or of any living creature, is unforgiveable.

Condi admits the U.S. made mistakes in Iraq

The "infallible" "led-by-God" Bush administration is now admitting that they perhaps could have done a few things differently in Iraq. (Nevertheless, they are still defending the fact that they launched an unprovoked war of aggression against a country that posed no threat to us.)

From Reuters via Yahoo! News:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accepted on Friday the United States had probably made thousands of errors in Iraq but defended the overall strategy of removing Saddam Hussein.

Local Muslims and anti-war activists told Rice to "Go Home" when British counterpart Jack Straw earlier led her on a tour of his home town of Blackburn in the industrial northwest, an area which rarely plays host to overseas politicians.

"Yes, I know we have made tactical errors, thousands of them," she said in answer to a question over whether lessons had been learned since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"I believe strongly that it was the right strategic decision, that Saddam had been a threat to the international community long enough," she added.

Earlier, about 250 protesters gathered outside a school which Rice visited, waving placards urging her to go home and shouting as her motorcade arrived.

Many of them were locals from Straw's constituency of Blackburn, a former cotton town with a 20 percent Muslim population. Straw invited Rice to the area after he toured her home state of Alabama last year.

Protesters had already persuaded a mosque in the town to withdraw its invitation to her.

"The Muslim population is very angry. She's not welcome in Blackburn," said Suliman, one of the demonstrators outside Pleckgate school, where Rice met young pupils.

"How many lives per gallon?" asked one of the placards held aloft, in reference to the U.S. invasion of oil-rich Iraq which many Britons opposed.
[Read more.]

Might this new tactic be a means to pave the way to better results for the GOP in the coming middterm elections?

Will it work?