30 November 2007

Don't use FedEx for your holiday shipping

The holiday shipping season has begun. I can't walk into a post office or shipping store without encountering very long lines.

There are lots of different shipping companies to choose from. So this holiday season, choose the U.S. Postal Service, or UPS, or DHL, or whoever. But stay away from FedEx.

According to the organization American Rights at Work, "FedEx has built a successful company on the backs of its drivers while pledging to 'never recognize any unions' at the company."

The right for workers to form unions is guaranteed via Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A union is often the only thing that stands between a worker and corporate tyranny run amok.

But FedEx doesn't care. They continue to threaten and harrass employees who try to join a union. And that's only one of the issues.

FedEx clearly puts profits above its people.

Please set your shipping standards higher. Don't use FedEx.

>> Sign a pledge not to use FedEx to ship your holiday gifts. American Rights at Work will be delivering the signatures to FedEx management.

>> Read more about FedEx's unfair labor practices.

29 November 2007

New CCR ad: Rescue the Constitution

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has put together a powerful 30-second ad, narrated by Danny Glover, which depicts the shredding of our Constitution, especially regarding the use of torture (and Bush's denial thereof).

Gotta hand it to the CCR -- they're arranging to air it during The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News.

This is all being done in the lead-up to the December 5th Supreme Court hearings in which the CCR will be fighting for habeas corpus rights for Gitmo detainees.

>> Watch the ad: Rescue the Constitution

28 November 2007

Take action for justice in Darfur

The genocide continues in Darfur, in western Sudan. According to Amnesty International (AI), "The conflict in Darfur has led to some of the worst human rights abuses imaginable, including systematic and widespread murder, rape, abduction and displacement. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed by both deliberate and indiscriminate attacks, and over 2.5 million civilians have been displaced."

When a similar ethnic cleansing took place in Rwanda in the 1990s, we said, "Never again." But guess what. It's been happening again, and not enough is being done to stop the violence.

This week, Amnesty International issued the following call to action. Please click one of the links below to call on the United Nations Security Council to ensure that two major war crime suspects in the Darfur crisis are brought to justice.

What kind of people have freedom in Darfur?

Those who commit 92 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes including:

- Murder
- Persecution
- Forcibly removing civilians from their property
- Rape

Why should millions of Darfuri lives hang in the balance when the actions of alleged criminals are not even put on hold? Bring war crimes suspects to justice now!

In April 2007, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants against Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb for their involvement in attacks on four West Darfur towns which resulted in the deaths of some 1000 people. To this day, both suspects remain free. The indictment against Harun, the current State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, is a monumental step as it marks the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting government official. However, as the instability in the region mounts, the government of Sudan continues to disregard international law by shielding the two suspects from prosecution.

Darfur has become a lawless land where the innocent live in fear and criminals roam free. Civilians have not felt safe to move freely in Darfur in over four years. Meanwhile suspected war criminals not only remain free, but in the case of Ahmad Harun, are actually rewarded with new government posts.

Call on the UN Security Council to ensure that these suspects are brought to justice. Next month, the ICC's Prosecutor will report his findings regarding the situation in Darfur to the UN Security Council. Ensure that the UNSC condemns Sudan's refusal to arrest and surrender Harun and Kushayb.

Before human rights can be ensured in Darfur, justice must be enforced.

27 November 2007

Mark Fiore: That Darn Dictator!

Today I was going to write more about the situation in Pakistan, and George W. Bush's willingness to overlook Musharraf's human rights violations and safe-harboring of al-Qaeda.

In Bush's world, Musharraf may be a ruthless dictator, but he's our ruthless dictator. So we pat him on the head and look the other way.

Kind of like the ill-behaved little bully who terrorizes the neighborhood (world) while his parents just shake their heads, and maybe smirk, and say, "Boys will be boys."

But today I can end my own rant here and let Mark Fiore do the rest of the talking. Fiore is one of my favorite political cartoonists, and his latest short animation takes a humorous-yet-astute look at the dysfunctional codependent relationship between Bush and Musharraf.

Check it out: That Darn Dictator!

26 November 2007

Catholicism, Islam, and shedding blood to spread the faith

Over the weekend, the pope elevated a Philadelphia native, John Foley, to the role of cardinal. Of course, this got a lot of local press coverage.

But one report from KYW News Radio in particular caught my attention.

The report quoted the pope as instructing the new cardinals that they must be ready to act "even to the point of spilling your blood for the increase of the Christian faith, for peace and harmony among the people of God, for freedom and the spread of the Holy Roman Catholic Church."

Wow. Spilling your blood to spread the faith. Martyrdom.

And it made me think of how some Christians criticize Muslim extremists for their emphasis on martyrdom to spread their own faith.

Fortunately, the Catholic Church no longer wages crusades or inquisitions.

But, in hearing some blood-thirsty right-wing nuts calling for the torture and killing of Muslims who they think are out to kill all Christians, I can't help but wonder: Is this not the pot calling the kettle black, at least to some extent?

Isn't Christianity supposed to be about loving thy neighbor and turning the other cheek?

Why the preoccupation with bloodshed?

25 November 2007

Bush, Musharraf, and the meaning of democracy

It's been a rough month in Pakistan. On November 3, General Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution and declared a state of emergency, and then all hell broke loose.

Musharraf's thugs arrested and imprisoned hundreds of lawyers, human rights activists, and political opponents. They closed down all local and foreign news channels except the state-controlled Pakistan Television, and warned the media not to print or broadcast "anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative, or judicial organ of the state." According to Amnesty International, even though some of the political prisoners have since been released, as many as 200 or more may still remain in detention, and more arrests have been taking place.

And what does George W. Bush think of all this? Well, in an ABC News interview with Charles Gibson on November 20, Bush said that Musharraf "hasn't crossed the line." He defended Musharraf as "a loyal ally in fighting terrorists" and claimed that Musharraf has "advanced democracy in Pakistan."


Seems like a funny way to advance democracy. And I wonder just how far Musharraf would have to go to cross the line.

On second thought, Bush's comments seem to fit with his own idea of advancing democracy.

Bush keeps telling us that he's spreading freedom and democracy in Iraq. And how has he been doing that? By launching an unprovoked attack on that country in defiance of the U.N. Charter, bombing the hell out of it, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilian men, women, and children over the past four and a half years, and not bothering to rebuild the country's infrastructure or restore essential services like electricity, clean water, and security.

That's our Bush -- spreading democracy at the point of a gun.

Now he wants to spread democracy to Iran, only this time with nukes. Free the Iranian people by nuking them. What a way to win hearts and minds.

And look at what he's been doing to advance democracy here at home.

He spies on us without court warrants.

He pressures Congress into passing laws abolishing habeas corpus rights.

He arbitrarily labels people as enemy combatants, tosses them into Gitmo, and denies them any kind of due process so they have no way to challenge their detention or prove their innocence.

He allows his henchmen to torture people.

And he refuses to compromise with the new Democratic-led Congress. It's always his way or the highway.

And so our brave troops continue to fight and die for Bush's agenda: Full control of the U.S. government and full control of Middle Eastern oil resources for Bush and his corporate bedpartners.

This isn't your grandparents' democracy.

And those purple fingers in Iraq were little more than a photo op.

24 November 2007

Fireworks and the culture of fear

Here in my Philadelphia suburb, just after dark tonight, I started hearing small explosions. They sounded like fireworks, but today is not a holiday.

I cracked open the blinds to look outside and saw that many of my neighbors were doing the same.

Then I stepped outside. So did everyone else. All agreed that it sounded like fireworks, but it's not the Fourth of July. So people were a bit nervous. After all, George W. Bush keeps telling us that the terrorists want to kill us and our families.

My neighbors were wondering if al-Qaeda was perhaps attacking the nearby Limerick nuclear power plant or King of Prussia shopping mall.

So I walked up the hill to get a better perspective. And what did I see? Fireworks.


But the fact remains that the general consensus amongst my neighbors, at first guess, was that it must be an attack. Everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop.

This is what we have come to.

Thank you, Mr. Bush.

23 November 2007

Bush blackmails Congress and threatens to fire civilian military workers

Congress has been trying to tie conditions to further Iraq funding -- conditions like a withdrawal timeline. But the White House must have its way -- open-ended war for all of the foreseeable future.

So now the Bush administration is threatening to lay off 100,000 civilian workers at military bases in mid-December if it doesn't get its war money.

Merry f'ing Christmas.

These are the civilian workers who make their living by supporting our troops and their families. And Bush is holding them hostage for war money.

What a way to support the troops, George.

Of course, if it comes to that, Bush will blame it all on Congress. It will be Congress's fault that these people lost their jobs. Because Congress, according to Bush, does not support the troops.

According to Bush, the only way to support the troops is to keep funneling money into his senseless war, so that more of our troops can be killed or injured and he can go down in history as a war president.

God bless America.

22 November 2007

This year's Thanksgiving list

Today, November 22, is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S.

In addition to overeating and putting up with family, it is customary on this day to reflect on the things that we are grateful for.

This year, these are some of the things I am grateful for:

I am grateful that Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and Alberto Gonzales are no longer getting paid with my tax dollars.

I am grateful that we finally have a Democratic majority back in Congress. It's not enough of a majority to turn things around as much as I'd like them to, but it's a start.

I am grateful that the American people are finally waking themselves out of their six-year coma and realizing that the Bush administration doesn't have their best interests at heart. So now maybe we can increase that Democratic majority with next year's Congressional elections.

I am grateful to all the individuals and organizations who have been working around the clock to save this country as it's been sliding rapidly towards fascism: Air America Radio, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, Sen. Barbara Boxer, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Rep. John Conyers, Sen. Russ Feingold, MoveOn.org, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Women's Law Center, Keith Olbermann, People for the American Way, Jon Stewart, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Rep. Henry Waxman, and thousands of other people and groups too numerous to mention.

And I am grateful that we still have freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press, so that I can openly share these sentiments.

Happy Thanksgiving. And may we all have many more things to be grateful for this time next year.

21 November 2007

The Supreme Court is NOT going to abolish the Second Amendment

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Washington, D.C. gun ban case. The D.C. mayor escalated the case to the Supreme Court when the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. struck down the District's ban on the private ownership of handguns.

The Supreme Court's ruling could have widespread effects on gun control laws across the nation.

The pro-gun extremists are getting nervous. In fact, some are spinning the case by saying that the Supreme Court is going to decide whether or not to "uphold the Second Amendment". That wording is false and it is (perhaps deliberately) misleading.

The Supreme Court cannot decide whether to uphold or abolish a portion of the Constitution. Rather, the Court interprets the Constitution.

The question of whether the ambiguously-worded Second Amendment ensures the right for individuals to own guns (and, as the NRA likes to think, the right to own as many guns as they want, even the giant assault rifles that can penetrate brick walls) has spawned arguments and debates for decades or longer. Now the Supreme Court will decide on whether the states can regulate gun ownership. And, in doing so, they will tell us what the Second Amendment really means in today's world.

The Second Amendment will not go away. It will merely be clarified and explained.

And, in light of the growing problem of gun violence in America, the Court's decision could literally be a matter of life or death.

20 November 2007

Human Rights Watch condemns sentencing of Saudi gang-rape victim (Where's George Bush?)

You're a 19-year-old girl. Like most teenagers, you occasionally disobey orders, as you're trying to find your place in the world.

This time, you get into a car with a male acquaintance. Then a group of seven men kidnap and gang-rape you both. Repeatedly.

You would expect the authorities to provide you with all the appropriate support and social services to help you deal with the trauma, while they prosecute the rapists, right?

Not in Saudi Arabia.

The female victim, whose only real "crime" was to get into a car with a man who was not a relative, has been sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes. 200 lashes! For getting into a car with someone she knew.

Her male friend was sentenced to 90 lashes.

The young woman's sentence was originally for 90 lashes, but a higher court increased her sentence after she appealed to the media for justice. Gotta keep those ladies suppressed and silent.

This woman is the victim of a horrible crime, but she is being treated as a criminal. They're also persecuting her lawyer.

Some are saying that the punishment is fair under Islamic Sharia law. But this is the 21st century. 200 lashes is nothing short of torture. It's not justice.

The following is the text of a press release on the subject by Human Rights Watch:

Saudi Arabia: Rape Victim Punished for Speaking Out

Court Doubles Sentence for Victim, Bans Her Lawyer From the Case

(New York, November 17, 2007) – A court in Saudi Arabia doubled its sentence of lashings for a rape victim who had spoken out in public about her case and her efforts to seek justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The court also harassed her lawyer, banning him from the case and confiscating his professional license.

An official at the General Court of Qatif, which handed down the sentence on November 14, said the court had increased the woman's sentence because of "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media." The court sentenced the rape victim to six months in prison and 200 lashes, more than double its October 2006 sentence after its earlier verdict was reviewed by Saudi Arabia's highest court, the Supreme Council of the Judiciary.

Human Rights Watch called on King Abdullah to immediately void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim and to order the court to end its harassment of her lawyer.

"A courageous young woman faces lashing and prison for speaking out about her efforts to find justice," said Farida Deif, researcher in the women's rights division of Human Rights Watch. "This verdict not only sends victims of sexual violence the message that they should not press charges, but in effect offers protection and impunity to the perpetrators."

The young woman, who is married, said she had met with a male acquaintance who had promised to give her back an old photograph of herself. After she met her acquaintance in his car in Qatif, a gang of seven men then attacked and raped both of them, multiple times. Despite the prosecution's requests for the maximum penalty for the rapists, the Qatif court sentenced four of them to between one and five years in prison and between 80 and 1,000 lashes. They were convicted of kidnapping, apparently because prosecutors could not prove rape. The judges reportedly ignored evidence from a mobile phone video in which the attackers recorded the assault.

Moreover, the court in October 2006 also sentenced both the woman and man who had been raped to 90 lashes each for what it termed "illegal mingling." Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that the criminalization of any contact between unmarried individuals of the opposite sex in Saudi Arabia severely impedes the ability of rape victims to seek justice. A court may view a woman's charge of rape as an admission of extramarital sexual relations (or "illegal mingling") unless she can prove, by strict evidentiary standards, that this contact was legal and the intercourse was nonconsensual.

In an interview in December, the rape victim described to Human Rights Watch her treatment in court:
"At the first session, [the judges] said to me, 'what kind of relationship did you have with this individual? Why did you leave the house? Do you know these men?' They asked me to describe the situation. They used to yell at me. They were insulting. The judge refused to allow my husband in the room with me. One judge told me I was a liar because I didn't remember the dates well. They kept saying, 'Why did you leave the house? Why didn't you tell your husband [where you were going]?'"
"Victims of sexual violence in Saudi Arabia face enormous obstacles in the criminal justice system," said Deif. "Their interrogations and court hearings are more likely to compound the trauma of the original assault than provide justice."

During the recent hearings, Judge al-Muhanna of the Qatif court also banned the woman's lawyer, Abd al-Rahman al-Lahim, from the courtroom and from any future representations of her, without apparent reason. He also confiscated his lawyer's identification card, which the Ministry of Justice issues. Al-Lahim faces a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Justice on December 5, where sanctions can include suspension for three years and disbarment.

Al-Lahim, who is Saudi Arabia's best-known human rights lawyer, earlier this year had planned to take legal action against the Ministry of Justice for failing to provide him with a copy of the verdict against his client so that he could prepare an appeal. Despite numerous representations to the court and the ministry, he was not given a copy of the case file or the verdict.

"The decision to ban the rape victim's lawyer from the case shows what little respect Saudi authorities have for the legal profession or the law in general," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

On October 3, King Abdullah announced a judicial reform, promising new specialized courts and training for judges and lawyers. There is currently no rule of law in Saudi Arabia, which does not have a written penal code. Judges do not follow procedural rules and issue arbitrary sentences that vary widely. Often, judges do not provide written verdicts, even in death penalty cases. Judges sometimes deny individuals their right to legal representation. In May 2006, a judge in Jeddah had thrown a lawyer out of his courtroom in a civil suit on the sole basis that he is of the Isma'ili faith, a branch of Shiism. Trials remain closed to the public.

George W. Bush is very close with the Saudi royal family. And he always talks about spreading freedom and democracy around the world. Where is he now? (A rhetorical question, of course.)

19 November 2007

Might higher oil prices be a good thing?

Over the weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned us that the price of oil could go as high as $200 per barrel if the U.S. attacks Iran.

Of course I don't want the U.S. to attack Iran, but for other reasons. I'm thinking that these rising oil prices are not necessarily a bad thing.

You see, Americans are slaves to their automobiles. They drive too much in their bloated gas-guzzling SUVs. In fact, U.S. gasoline consumption accounts for 11 percent of the world's oil production.

The world does not contain an infinite supply of oil. In fact, it's running out fast. But that's not enough to make the average American want to park the Suburban and walk instead.

And, of course, burning all that gasoline contributes to global warming. But, while many Americans say they care, they won't cut down on their gas consumption. Instead, they seem to believe that they're doing their part for the environment by simply recycling all their empty Aquafina bottles.

No, Americans won't voluntarily give up the comforts and conveniences they've become used to and think they're entitled to. That's where rising oil prices come in.

If the realities of climate change and peak oil production won't prompt Americans to reduce their oil consumption, maybe $5-per-gallon gasoline will do the trick.

If you can't appeal to the conscience, maybe you have to appeal to the wallet.

And, in this spoiled, car-crazy culture, that might be the best we can hope for.

18 November 2007

Redact O'Reilly

November 16 saw the limited release of Brian DePalma's new film, Redacted. Right-wing gasbag Bill O'Reilly has been attacking this film, and calling for a boycott, so I knew I had to see it. Fortunately it's showing in Philly, so I planned my weekend around a matinee screening.

The film presents fictionalized accounts of events leading up to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. troops, and the killing of her family, and the aftermath of that tragic night.

Of course, that girl and her family were not the only victims of a war gone terribly awry. Earlier in the film, we see a pregnant woman shot to death by U.S. troops as her brother drove through a checkpoint while rushing his sister to the hospital to give birth.

But the violence isn't one-sided. We see a U.S. Army master sergeant blown to pieces by an IED in full view of his men, who later went on to commit the rape and murder.

It's a study of the toll that war can take on the minds of the soldiers. When you're not sure who you can trust, you eventually decide that it's safest to trust nobody. Not only do the lines get blurred between which Iraqis you can trust or not, you also start to distrust your fellow soldiers. And it gets worse when you start drinking.

It's also a study of how the war gets filtered through the media, and how, as a result, our ideas and beliefs are controlled as well. You and I cannot be in Iraq. So, when it comes to war, the media tells us what we should know and what we should think.

And therein lies the true irony of O'Reilly's attacks on the film and its makers. Keep quiet about the atrocities of war, and America will continue to go shopping. If you recognize that war is hell, you are on the side of al-Qaeda. Go figure.

Every American should see this film, including every member of the Bush administration. Because it's not so much about what American troops are doing to the Iraqis, but rather what Bush's war is doing to our troops. Their actions are just a consequence of that.

While the soldiers who committed the rape and murder upon which that episode of the movie was based should, and are, being punished, they're not just a few bad apples. They're the fruit of a poisonous tree. And Bill O'Reilly is the snake dangling from a low-hanging branch and tempting his followers with the poisonous fruit of that tree.

17 November 2007

The U.S. vs. the world in the death penalty debate

The U.S. is one of very, very few western nations that still engage in state-sponsored killing. The rest of the western world sees the death penalty as barbaric, which it is.

It is also illogical: Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?

And it is unethical. Amnesty International calls the death penalty "the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment." And most major religious denominations in the United States are opposed to the death penalty.

Some people believe that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime, but that theory doesn't hold up under careful scrutiny.

And then there's the risk of executing an innocent person. Since the first DNA exoneration took place in the U.S. in 1989, 208 people have been freed via DNA evidence after being wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. Many more have been exonerated via other kinds of late-coming evidence.

Some of those innocent people were freed from death row. These folks are the "lucky" ones, because they had a chance to prove their innocence before they were put to death. How many others have not been so lucky? We cannot know. But do we really want to risk that kind of mistake?

Furthermore, the American Bar Association recently described the legal process leading to executions as "deeply flawed". Studies in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and elsewhere have shown that the death penalty is applied in a discriminatory, arbitrary, and uneven manner, and is used disproportionately against racial minorities and the poor. For example, a 1998 study of death sentences in Philadelphia found that African-American defendants were almost four times more likely to receive the death penalty than were people of other ethnic origins who committed similar crimes. That's not what I would call justice.

And these are just a few of the many good reasons to go instead with a sentence of life in prison without parole. Like the rest of the civilized world.

So, on November 15, a human rights committee of the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a global "moratorium on executions with a view toward abolishing the death penalty."

The vote was 99 in favor and 53 against, with 33 abstentions.

Want to guess who voted against the resolution? Yep, the good ol' United States of America, along with Afghanistan, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and a handful of other countries known for their systematic violations of human rights.

What do they say about the company you keep?

16 November 2007

Democratic diversity

Last night's Democratic presidential candidates' debate was interesting. A lot of good lines were spoken by all the candidates.

One of the most poignant moments for me was when Senator Hillary Clinton made note of the diversity on that stage. Said Hillary:
It's exciting when you look at this field of candidates. You know, several of us would never have had a chance to stand here and run for president -- a Latino, an African American, a woman -- if it hadn't been for the progress of America over my lifetime.

And then you look at the field of candidates on the Republican side. All white men. The Republicans cling to their Southern strategy. And even John McCain laughed this week when one of his supporters called Hillary a bitch.

This contrast clearly illustrates a core difference in values between the two parties.

And it's another reason why we need to put a Democrat in the White House next November.

15 November 2007

Gitmo SOP manual leaked

When the photos from Abu Ghraib first surfaced in 2004, and shocked and disgusted the world, remember how the Bush administration blamed it on "a few bad apples"?

Well, it appears that those bad apples are pretty high up the tree.

It turns out that the U.S. military has a 238-page manual, dated 2003, outlining the standard operating procedures for the prison at Guantanamo, and it covers some pretty familiar techniques, like using stress positions and dogs to break the prisoners.

The manual was leaked online last week. And I'm betting that Lynndie England didn't write it.

From Wired magazine:

The Camp Delta document includes schematics of the camp, detailed checklists of what "comfort items" such as extra toilet paper can be given to detainees as rewards, six pages of instructions on how to process new detainees, instructions on how to psychologically manipulate prisoners, and rules for dealing with hunger strikes.


The manual also includes instructions on how to use military dogs to intimidate prisoners.


According to media reports, [Maj. Gen. Geoffrey] Miller introduced harsh interrogation methods to Guantanamo, such as shackling detainees into stress positions and using guard dogs to exploit what the former head commander in Iraq Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez referred to as "Arab fear of dogs."

>> Read the full article from Wired.

>> Download the Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures.

14 November 2007

Privacy redefined: Big Brother comes to America

Per Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

In other words, we can rest comfortably in our homes, knowing that our privacy is sacred under this international standard of which the U.S. was a founding endorser.

But now the Bush administration is in charge.

They redefined torture. And now they're redefining privacy.

You see, we were attacked on 9/11 by a handful of fringe radicals. Therefore, the Bush administration needs to read your e-mails and monitor your phone calls. Oh, and they need to review your financial records. Go figure.

As a recent CNN article explains:
[I]t is time that people in the United States change their definition of privacy. Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information.
Yeah, and the fox will "properly safeguard" the henhouse.

Hello, Big Brother.

13 November 2007

Veterans constitute 1/4 of America's homeless

According to a recent study the the National Alliance to End Homelessness, "between 23 and 40 percent of homeless adults are veterans."

As a statement on the group's website indicates, "The U.S. Department of Veterans estimates that as many as 200,000 homeless people are veterans, and that over the course of the year, as many as 500,000 veterans experience homelessness. They are veterans of different conflicts, including World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon; research indicates that those serving in late Vietnam and post-Vietnam era are at greatest risk of homelessness. Recent media accounts highlight a small but growing trend of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan showing up in shelters."

These people have put their lives on the line for this country. They fought for this country. Many were seriously injured, physically and/or emotionally. And how do we thank them for their service to this country? By making the system so difficult to navigate, and by doing so little to help them succeed when they come back home.

The folks in Washington are always wrapping themselves in the flag and pretending to be Christians. Meantime, half a million vets are, or have been, homeless.

It's a disgrace.

>> Read more about this crisis, or download the full report.

12 November 2007

Bush administration defies the U.N. Committee on Torture

Last week, the U.N. Committee on Torture made public the Bush administration's one year follow-up report to that committee. This was in response to a 2006 committee review that found widespread evidence of U.S. sponsored policies involving torture and abuse, and it goes far beyond just Gitmo.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the new report proves that the U.S. is still not in compliance with anti-torture treaties.

Bush, of course, denies any wrongdoing. He says that the rules don't apply in these situations.

The world sees us as torturers. And the world sees us as not wanting to do anything to change that. King George is above the law.

Below is the text of the ACLU's press release on the subject:

Government Defies Recommendations of U.N. Committee on Torture

Group Calls One Year Follow-Up Report a Whitewash

NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union [on Wednesday] blasted the government's one year follow-up report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture. The report was recently submitted to the committee in Geneva and was made public Tuesday. Following a 2006 committee review that found widespread evidence of U.S sponsored policies involving torture and abuse, the committee gave the U.S. one year to report on its progress in ending these practices. But the new report proves the U.S. is still not in compliance with the treaty, said the ACLU.

"With the debate over waterboarding front and center, it is shocking to see the U.S. government continue to defend its shameful record of sanctioning secret and indefinite detention and its lack of accountability for torture and abuse," said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "The torture committee attempted to give the U.S. government a chance to correct its wrongs, but unfortunately the Bush administration responded with nothing more than empty gestures and hollow words."

In its short submission to the torture committee, the U.S. reiterated its position that the Convention against Torture is not fully applicable to its treatment of individuals held in the Bush administration's fight against terrorism. The ACLU found that the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody was facilitated by the government's decision not to apply the Geneva Conventions, and to narrowly interpret or deliberately ignore prohibitions in the Convention Against Torture. In a series of legal memoranda, senior administration lawyers, led by former White House Counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, developed a framework to justify the administration's circumvention of international legal prohibitions of torture and abuse. The framework included three secret memos issued in May 2005 by the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel relating to the interrogation of detainees in CIA custody.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture is the world's leading human rights body tasked with holding countries accountable for torture and other abusive practices. The committee, which meets twice a year to examine countries' compliance with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, met in May 2006 to review U.S. compliance with the treaty, which the U.S. ratified in 1994.

In its 2006 review, the Committee Against Torture found the U.S. was in stark violation of the treaty and issued an exceptionally long and comprehensive list of concerns and recommendations in order to bring the U.S. into compliance. The committee gave the U.S. government one year to provide detailed information on its response to the committee's recommendations regarding specific issues, both on the domestic and extraterritorial level.

According to the ACLU, today's response from the U.S. reveals that it has failed to respond to the torture committee's directives from last year, including:

* Ensuring that no one is detained in any secret detention facility;

* Prohibiting the transfer or the rendition of persons to countries where they could be at risk of being tortured and providing detailed records on all diplomatic guarantees assuring that a person will not be tortured if expelled, returned, transferred or extradited since 9/11;

* Closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and either permitting access by the detainees to a fair judicial process or releasing them as soon as possible while ensuring that they are not returned to any state where they could face a real risk of being tortured;

* Ending gender-based humiliation and the mistreatment of women detainees, including the federal Bureau of Prisons' policy of shackling of women during childbirth in certain circumstances;

* Promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigating all allegations of acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by law enforcement personnel and bringing perpetrators to justice;

* Addressing sentences of life imprisonment for children, which could constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

* Ensuring that reports of brutality and ill-treatment of members of vulnerable groups by law enforcement personnel - including those related to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - are independently, promptly and thoroughly investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and appropriately punished.

"The U.S. government's report demonstrates that its progress is woefully inadequate," said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "Nowhere did the government report any significant improvements in preventing the abusive conditions of confinement in this country, the problem of sexual assault in our prisons, or the use of restraint devices that have endangered many detainees and prisoners held domestically."

In 2006, the ACLU presented the committee with its detailed report, Enduring Abuse: Torture and Cruel Treatment by the United States at Home and Abroad, which documents U.S. failure to comply with the treaty against torture within the U.S. and abroad.

The ACLU's report to the Committee Against Torture is available online here.

The U.S. follow-up report to the Committee Against Torture is available online here.

For more information, over 100,000 government documents turned over to the ACLU as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit are available online in a searchable database here.

11 November 2007

Dennis Kucinich is not a joke

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is once again running for president. But you wouldn't know it from the mainstream media, which have been spending all their time focusing on Clinton, Obama, and sometimes Edwards.

It seems like the only time we hear about Dennis Kucinich is when the talking heads make fun of him. They ridicule Kucinich's short physical stature and his elfin appearance, and they make creepy comments about Kucinich's gorgeous young wife.

First of all, this is supposed to be an election, not a beauty contest. Kucinich may not have Obama's height or Edwards' good looks. But what he does have are ideas that are often much more in line with what the American people really want. But, for some reason, we can't get past the jokes and get down to the issues.

Unfortunately, the ridicule took on a new dimension when Kucinich admitted, during a recent debate, that he had seen a UFO -- an unidentified flying object. From the reactions I've seen, you'd think he had admitted to seeing little green men inside that UFO.

Yes, that's a little weird, but did that question even really belong in the debate?

Is it any weirder than the fact that former presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan had also seen UFOs?

Is it any weirder than the fact that Ronald and Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer before making major decisions?

Is it any weirder than the fact that George W. Bush believes that God speaks through him?

No, what's weird is that the issues are being ignored in favor of schoolyard-style ridicule. If the pundits and the Congress could get past the nonsense and focus on the issues, Dennis Kucinich might have a chance to bring about some of the change that the American people have been more and more impatiently waiting for.

Like bringing our troops home from Iraq.

Like holding the Vice President accountable for his manipulation of the intelligence process to deceive Americans in the run-up to the war in Iraq, and for threatening aggression against Iran absent any threat to the U.S.

Like keeping jobs here in the U.S.

Like protecting consumers.

Like promoting the development of clean, safe, renewable energy sources.

Like taking care of our sick.

And like enforcing our country's ideal that all persons are created equal.

But those things are hard work. It's much easier to just sit back, collect money from the special interests, and ridicule Dennis Kucinich.

Because he's short.

Because he's not so telegenic.

Because he's married to a beautiful redhead.

And because he speaks for those of us who have a heart.

On Veterans Day, please remember our fallen troops (and lean on Congress)

Today, November 11, is Veterans Day. This is a special holiday in the U.S. that was set aside to honor our U.S. military veterans.

So, on this Veterans Day 2007, please take some time to reflect on the sacrifices of our veterans -- especially those who are bravely fighting today in Iraq, being misused by the Bush administration for no good reason, and those who have died or been wounded in doing so.

Please take some time to acknowledge the huge sacrifice of the 3,860 U.S. troops (and counting) who have lost their lives thus far in this needless war, and the tens of thousands who have been wounded -- physically, emotionally, or both.

And please remember that they were sent overseas to participate in this unlawful preemptive war by some chickenhawks in suits who never had to fight in an actual war.

And please contact your members of Congress and let them know how you feel. Tell them that we need to support the troops by bringing them home and ending this needless nightmare. And tell them that we need to take better care of them once they've returned. It might not inspire our Congresscritters to grow a spine, but it will at least show them that their employers (i.e., we the people) demand change.

10 November 2007

Eyewitness report: Another kangaroo court hearing at Gitmo

They're still bumbling around trying to figure out what to do with all our so-called enemy combatants.

Yesterday, November 9, was their third attempt at arraigning Omar Khadr.

My friend Jumana Musa, an attorney who serves as Advocacy Director for Domestic Human Rights and International Justice for Amnesty International USA, was there to observe and report on the proceedings. Some of her findings were disturbing, to say the least.

Below is Jumana's report from the scene:

Live from Guantanamo: unfair pretrial proceedings for Omar Khadr

November 9, 2007

Today was the US government's third attempt at arraigning Omar Khadr. Khadr walked into the commission room today looking much more engaged than he did at his last appearance before the commission. Unlike his appearance in June, where he looked disheveled and dead to the world, today Khadr walked into the court room wearing what looked like white scrubs and slip on sneakers. His curly hair was tucked into a skull cap and his medium length beard was neatly trimmed. He seemed very engaged in the process, at times looking around the commission room and at one point smiling towards the gallery. He spent much of the hearing with his head cocked to the side, appearing to listen intently to the proceedings.

Initially, the hearing was scheduled so the judge could conduct a mini-hearing within a hearing to determine whether or not military commissions had jurisdiction over Khadr and could properly try him. This past June, the military judge in the case threw out the charges against him because there had been no previous determination. The issue at hand was a provision in the Military Commissions Act (MCA) which included a provision stating that in order for the commissions to have the ability to try Khadr, there must be a determination that he was an "unlawful enemy combatant." The Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) convened by the Bush Administration to determine status never reached such a finding, instead confirming "enemy combatant" status. Since the MCA distinguishes between lawful enemy combatants and unlawful enemy combatants, the military judge found that such a determination was not sufficient to confer jurisdiction on a detainee and threw out the charges against Khadr. In addition, the military judge also found that not having jurisdiction, it would be in appropriate for him to conduct a hearing to determine Khadr's status.

In September, the Court of Military Commissions Review (CMCR), an intermediary appeals court created by the MCA, held that while the CSRT determination was not sufficient to find jurisdiction, the military judge could hold a status determination hearing to decide whether or not Khadr meets the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant. Initially, the purpose of today's hearing was to make such a determination, however when we arrived in the commission room we encountered a different hearing all together.

At first it appeared that the military judge was cautious about proceeding in the face of a pending appeals court decision. He even made mention of the fact that three years ago on this same day, proceedings were stayed in the Hamdan case by a federal judge. Later it could become clear that the more fundamental issue was one of witness testimony. The prosecution had brought two witnesses to testify about Khadr's status. One of them was an FBI agent who had yet to talk to the defense. It was later revealed in a press conference that the prosecution had recently revealed that there was an additional witness not on the base who may have exculpatory evidence, or evidence that could potentially clear Khadr of some of the charges made against him. This witness has apparently been known to the government since the time of Khadr's arrest, and was recently disclosed by the prosecution. In meetings between the prosecution, defense and judge, it was decided that they would not go ahead with the status determination, giving the defense an opportunity to pursue this lead.

The judge did go through Khadr's right to counsel. At his last hearing, Khadr had fired his American attorneys and requested that he be represented by his Canadian attorneys. At issue is the rule that specifically prohibits any attorney who is not a US citizen from representing anyone before the commission. A non US national can serve as a only as a "foreign attorney consultant" and advise the case. This time, when asked if he wanted to keep his detailed military defense counsel and detailed assistant defense counsel, he responded in the positive.

Once the issue of representation was settled, the defense went forward with a voir dire of the military judge, which is the opportunity to ask the judge questions to establish his fitness to serve. There were a few stunning revelations during the questioning. In one exchange, defense counsel asked the military judge about his understanding of the 2006 Hamdan decision, which threw out the previous commissions created by the President. The judge responded that the Court ruled that in order to hold commissions, the President had to go to Congress for authorization. When pressed on whether or not he agreed that the Court held that the commissions were illegal and that they violated common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (which, among other things, mandates that trials must be fair), judge replied that the Court referred to common article 3 and that to hold commissions the President had to go to Congress. The defense attorney then read the judge the relevant portions of the decision in which the court did say the commissions were illegal and that common article 3 applied. The fact that the judge could not either remember or would not concede the plain language of the Supreme Court decision that ruled on the previous commissions was disturbing to say the least. It was this decision that laid the groundwork for the MCA and the new commissions over which he presides.

An order issued before the proceedings as well as his answers during the voir dire were also cause for concern. In his order, he stated that in arguing Khadrs status, the attorney's could not cite international law or constitutional law. During the proceedings, when asked what rules he was bound by, he responded that he was bound by the MCA, the manual for military commissions and other subsequent rules - no other source of law. It is difficult to fathom how a judge in a US system is not bound by either the constitution or international law, especially when the determination being made is based on the laws of war which itself is based in nothing but international law. This judge, however, seems to feel he needs nothing more that the legislation Congress passed last fall and the rules that were promulgated to implement it to make these complex and cutting edge determinations.

The truly stunning moment came when defense counsel asked the judge what his understanding of Al Qaeda was. He responded that based on general reports, Al Qaeda is an organization/group dedicated to the spread of Islam. Anyone who has watched a news report or read a newspaper since September 11, 2001 is aware that Al Qaeda is known to be a terrorist organization, and is designated as such by the US government. It belies an underlying prejudice to take a group that has claimed responsibility for several mass attacks on civilian populations on at least four different continents and interpret it as a group that purports to spread a religion. This conflating of religion and terrorism is compounded by the fact that this particular judge, in this particular system, will exclusively adjudicate the cases of Muslim men. It calls into question how any Muslim man who enters his court can expect a fair trial, when they are associated with terrorism by the way in which they worship, not the acts they committed.

At the end of the day, the judge in the case did find himself fit to serve on this commission, denying a challenge by the defense team. He also cut off a prosecution attempt to put forth some of the evidence that they believed would prove that Khadr was an unlawful enemy combatant. The matter of scheduling was left to a future meeting between the judge, prosecution and defense. We walked out of the commission building which is up on a hill, overlooking an old airport hanger and airstrip which is now called "Camp Justice." This tent city, having all the appearance of a refugee camp in a war torn country, is intended to facilitate the holding of multiple hearings at a time. It will house the lawyers, the press, the staff and the NGO observers, as well as create two additional commission rooms (currently there is only one). What it does instead is betray the very temporary nature of this shakily constructed "legal" system, which can be folded up and taken away at any time. It is a physical manifestation of the transitory nature of these commissions, which have been resurrected many times but survive only of life support.

Jumana Musa
Advocacy Director, Domestic Human Rights and International Justice
Amnesty International USA

09 November 2007

Senate confirms Mukasey (and endorses Bush's law breaking)

On Thursday night, the Senate worked late so they could confirm the nomination of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. The confirmation passed by a vote of 53-40.

Six Democrats voted for the confirmation: Bayh (IN), Carper (DE), Feinstein (CA), Landrieu (LA), Nelson (NE), and Schumer (NY). And, not surprisingly, former Democrat Joe Lieberman (CT), now an Independent but almost always sympathetic to the Republican agenda, voted in favor of Mukasey. Not a single Republican senator voted against Mukasey. Remember this vote the next time these folks are up for reelection.

They endorsed a man who refuses to say that waterboarding is torture, even though experts in the field have agreed that waterboarding violates the U.S. anti-torture statute.

And they endorsed a man who seems to believe that the president is above the law.

I fear that Alberto Gonzales's departure was nothing more than just another photo op staged by the White House for dramatic effect. I fear that Gonzales's legacy will live on through Mukasey for the next 14 months.

How many more people will be tortured in that time?

Our only hope is that Congress will quickly pass legislation that will expressly outlaw the use of waterboarding. (Sen. Ted Kennedy has introduced bill S.1943 to accomplish this.) And our only hope is that the torturers will comply with that legislation, and not choose another method that they don't believe is expressly forbidden.

I am not optimistic.

08 November 2007

Interesting quote: Bush 41 on invading Iraq

"Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."

-- Former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush, from his memoir, A World Transformed, 1998

07 November 2007

Is Iran just one year away from a nuclear bomb? (And is this the excuse Bush needs?)

A couple of years ago, U.S. intelligence experts estimated that Iran was a decade away from having the capacity to produce any nuclear weapons.

But now there are reports that Iran has been very busy making up for lost time.

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, Reuters is reporting that "President Ahmedinejad asserted the country now has 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, which could produce fuel for either nuclear reactors or a bomb."

The article goes on to say that "3,000 machines running smoothly for long periods at supersonic speed could make enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb in about a year, if Iran wanted."


So this raises a few questions:

• Is Ahmedinejad telling the truth, or is he exaggerating and grandstanding like madmen sometimes do when they feel threatened?

• In either case, will Bush and Cheney try to use this to justify an attack on Iran, which they've been itching to do for some time?

• Will more people have to die for Bush's cowboy-style foreign policy?

• Will Congess please grow a spine and do some pre-emptive policymaking?

Oh, forget that last question. I think we already know the answer.

Is Kucinich the only courageous member of Congress?

A year ago, Americans voted for change. We were sick of the war. We were sick of a Congress that gave Bush and Cheney everything he asked for, and blessed their illegal war, their policy of torture, their illegal spying, and their endless abuses of power.

We expected the new Congress to do everything possible to turn things around and put this country back on track.

But, it hasn't happened.

With a handful of exceptions, which have been few and far between, nothing has changed.

And so Rep. Dennis Kucinich's renewed efforts to impeach Dick Cheney will go nowhere. But at least he has the courage to try.

Yesterday, Kucinich stood on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and introduced his resolution for the impeachment of Richard B. Cheney based on Cheney's manipulation of the intelligence process to deceive Americans in the run-up to the war in Iraq, and for threatening aggression against Iran absent any threat to the U.S.

The House voted to send it to the Judiciary Committee, where it is expected to rot.

But can anyone really argue with Kucinich's allegations?

>> Read the text of the resolution and supporting documentation.

06 November 2007

ACLU call to action re: Mukasey

Today, a majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee donned their kneepads and voted to confirm the nomination of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. (Note to Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein: What the hell were you thinking?)

They didn't care that Mukasey won't definitely say that waterboarding is torture.

They didn't care that Mukasey believes that the president has a right to break the law.

And more.

No, they voted against all those impediments to an imperialist, above-the-law, non-accountable Bush administration gone wild. I can just picture Dick Cheney grinning and rubbing his hands in glee.

So today the ACLU wasted no time in issuing the following call for action, just hours after the Committee vote.

Please read the ACLU's message below, and then click the link to send an e-mail to your senators and ask them to insist that Mukasey vow to uphold the rule of law. (The Senate needs a serious kick in the pants.)

Mukasey Nomination Heads to Senate Floor Without Torture, Spying Assurances

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send Michael Mukasey's nomination for attorney general to the full Senate for consideration.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who decided to advance Mukasey's nomination without getting real answers on the issue of torture -- and the broader issue of executive authority -- missed a real opportunity to make progress on ending torture and reining in a president who believes he is above the law. Now, every senator has a responsibility to act.

The Senate cannot "advise and consent" on the nomination of Michael Mukasey for attorney general until the public knows where he stands on whether acts like waterboarding (simulated drowning) are illegal under existing law. Our position, and the position of practically anyone who has read existing anti-torture laws, is that waterboarding is already illegal under current law and in fact, is criminal. Congress has enacted at least four statutes that ban waterboarding and ratified two treaties that ban the practice.

Mukasey has evaded straight answers on eavesdropping as well. Under his theory, any restrictions on unfettered spying that Congress passes may be meaningless, since Mukasey believes the president has the power to engage in domestic wiretapping without a warrant and outside the law.

Mukasey's answers to these questions reveal a more fundamental and troubling problem in his views on the scope of executive power. If an attorney general, whose mission is to enforce the law, believes the president has the power to disregard the law, our constitutional balance of powers is in peril.

>> Take Action: Tell Your senators Mukasey must commit to enforcing torture and spying laws.

>> Read the the ACLU letter to Senate Judiciary leadership.

Senate Judiciary Committee endorses "Torture Boy II" for AG; Senate needs a wake-up call

Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer should be ashamed. Today they voted with the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the nomination of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General.

Among the lame excuses: According to the Washington Post, Feinstein and Schumer "said they concluded that Mukasey was the best candidate they could get from the Bush administration."

No, I think they could do better. They could refuse to approve any nomination until someone shows up who proves that he or she would uphold the Constitution (and that means no torture).

The Mukasey nomination will now move to the full Senate for a vote next week. I'm not optimistic.

Below is the text of a press release issued by Human Rights Watch last week urging the Senate to reject the Mukasey nomination. Every senator should be required to read it.

US: Senate Should Reject Mukasey Nomination

Refusal to Denounce Waterboarding Shows Him Unfit for Attorney General

(Washington, DC, October 31, 2007) – The United States Senate should reject Michael Mukasey's appointment as attorney general because of his unwillingness to state that "waterboarding" and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is illegal, Human Rights Watch said today.

In response to written questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mukasey said on Tuesday that waterboarding -- mock drowning prosecuted by the United States as torture since 1902 -- was "repugnant," but refused to call it illegal.

"Mukasey seems to think he was nominated to be an ethics professor rather than the nation's chief law enforcement officer," said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. "If he is still unsure whether the horrific practice of waterboarding is illegal, then he shouldn't be confirmed."

In his 172-page response to Senate Judiciary committee questions, Mukasey refused to comment on the legality of any specific interrogation techniques, claiming that it would be inappropriate to comment on them until he had been briefed by the Justice Department on "the actual facts and circumstances" of how they may have been used. But waterboarding is clearly unlawful regardless of the circumstances, Human Rights Watch said.

"If Mukasey had been asked about the rack and thumbscrew, would he have said that it depends on the circumstances?" Roth asked. "The only reason to equivocate on waterboarding is to protect administration officials who authorized it from possible prosecution," Roth added.

Human Rights Watch pointed out that waterboarding has been prosecuted by US military courts as torture for more than 100 years, since the Spanish-American War. After World War II, US military commissions prosecuted and severely punished enemy soldiers for having subjected American prisoners to waterboarding. In its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the State Department has consistently condemned other countries for using the practice.

The Judge Advocates General (JAGs) of the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines agreed in August 2006 that waterboarding, which creates the perception of drowning, violates US law and the law of war. Several JAGs specifically stated that use of this technique would violate the US anti-torture statute, making it a felony offense.

In addition, rather than rejecting certain interrogation techniques regardless of the circumstances, Mukasey adopted the administration's subjective "shocks the conscience" test to interpret the prohibition on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Under that legal test, the cruelty of an interrogation technique must be balanced against its purpose, and in the administration's view, little shocks the conscience if done in the name of fighting terrorism. That thinking led to the adoption of abusive interrogation techniques -- including waterboarding -- in the first place.

Of particular concern, Mukasey suggested that the rules of interrogation adopted in 2006 by the US Army Field Manual are primarily designed for the interrogation of prisoners of war, not terrorist suspects. But the Army Field Manual, which applies to all persons in military custody regardless of status, was adopted at a time when most of those in US military custody were terrorist suspects who had been denied prisoner of war status. The Army Field Manual explicitly prohibits a range of abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, exposure to hot and cold, and use of dogs.

Mukasey's answers were vague or unresponsive on a number of other important questions. He failed to state clearly what -- if any -- interrogation techniques would violate a minimum standard of humane treatment regardless of the interest at stake. He refused to say whether evidence obtained through coercion could legitimately be used in a prosecution against a terrorist suspect, and whether an American citizen detained on US soil could be indefinitely detained as an "enemy combatant." Mukasey also failed to answer what, if anything, he would do to oversee the actions of private contractors operating in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether he thought it legal to send terrorist suspects to countries that regularly engage in torture if the US were provided "diplomatic assurances" -- unenforceable promises of humane treatment.

"How can the government be expected to abide by the rule of law if its chief law enforcement officer won't even say what the law is?" said Roth. "Mukasey provided evasions, not answers, to the most pressing issues facing the Justice Department. He should not be confirmed as attorney general."

Human Rights Watch speaks out on the crisis in Pakistan

Human Rights Watch has issued a press release calling on Pakistan to "immediately return to constitutional rule, restore fundamental rights, and end its crackdown on the judiciary, lawyers, media, human rights activists and political opponents."

The organization also called on the Bush administration to "end its support for Pakistan’s military government and to seek an urgent return to the rule of law and elected governance in Pakistan."

Below is the text of the press release:

Pakistan: End Emergency Rule and Restore Constitution

Move Against ‘Militants' Brings Crackdown on Civil Society

(New York, November 4, 2007) – Pakistan should immediately return to constitutional rule, restore fundamental rights and end its crackdown on the judiciary, lawyers, media, human rights activists and political opponents, Human Rights Watch said today.

General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani military ruler whose recent election as president had yet to be ratified by the Supreme Court, declared a state of emergency at 5 p.m. on November 3, 2007. Following the declaration, Pakistani authorities arrested hundreds, mostly judges, lawyers, and human rights activists. Musharraf has imposed sweeping censorship rules on the media. All private television channels and international media have been taken off the air.

On November 4, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz suggested that national elections scheduled for January 2008 may be postponed.

"On the pretext of fighting militants, General Musharraf has mounted a coup against Pakistan's civil society," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Musharraf says the country needs emergency laws to fight fundamentalists, yet the crackdown is focused on the judiciary, lawyers, media and human rights activists. It's clear this is aimed solely at keeping himself in power."

On the evening of November 3, a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry convened to issue an order barring the government from proclaiming emergency rule and urging government functionaries not to implement emergency orders. These judges were forcibly removed from the Supreme Court premises by military troops and detained thereafter. Chaudhry, who has led efforts to establish an independent judiciary and had survived an attempt by Musharraf earlier this year to dismiss him, was summarily fired.

Only four of the Supreme Court's 17 judges have taken an oath of allegiance to the Provisional Constitutional Order issued on November 3 by Musharraf, which suspended the constitution and gave Musharraf almost total power. At least 60 of 97 senior judges in Pakistan have also declined to take an oath. Many have been placed under detention to prevent them from resuming judicial duties.

"Musharraf has claimed he was building the rule of law, but in his single-minded determination to cling to power he has eviscerated the judiciary," said Adams. "He has exposed himself as nothing more than a petty tyrant."

Human Rights Watch called for the release of all political activists rounded up by the authorities. On November 4, Aziz said on Pakistan state television that more than 500 people have been arrested. This includes hundreds of lawyers across the country, including Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, office bearers and presidents of provincial bar associations, and virtually all leading lawyers associated with the movement for judicial independence that began on March 9 with the attempted ouster of Chaudhry as chief justice by Musharraf. While some lawyers have been placed in police custody, Human Rights Watch has learned that others, including Ali Ahmed Kurd, a senior lawyer from Balochistan, have been handed over to the military's feared Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. The ISI has a well-documented history of using torture on its political opponents.

The offices of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in the central city of Lahore were raided on November 4, and 60 of the country's most prominent human rights activists were arrested as they attended a meeting. Police had no written orders and are claiming the right to detain those arrested for up to 90 days under the colonial-era Maintenance of Public Order Act. The detainees are being held at the police lock-up in Model Town (Block A), Lahore, and their families have not been allowed access to them.

Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the human rights commission and a United Nations Special Rapporteur, was served a 90-day detention order on the night of November 3. She remains under house arrest after her house was officially deemed a sub-jail.

Around 30 television news channels have gone off the air since November 3. Cable television operators told Human Rights Watch they were asked by the government to stop beaming all local and foreign news channels, except the state-controlled Pakistan Television. Hours later, Musharraf introduced curbs on the media through two decrees amending earlier ordinances barring the media from printing or broadcasting "anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organ of the state."

The print and electronic media have also been restrained from publishing any material that is likely to "jeopardize or be prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or any material that is likely to incite violence or hatred or create inter-faith disorder or be prejudicial to maintenance of law and order." Television discussions on anything which is deemed to be "false or baseless" by the regulatory authorities has also been banned.

Journalists have been repeatedly threatened and prevented from covering events following suspension of the constitution, had their equipment confiscated, and been warned that if they record footage of arrests or police raids, they will face arrest and incarceration.

Human Rights Watch urged the United States, Musharraf's main patron, to end its support for Pakistan's military government and to seek an urgent return to the rule of law and elected governance in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch welcomed the statement issued by the US embassy in Islamabad calling for the release of those detained and an end to censorship, and the statement from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the US would review its aid to Pakistan. "The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf," she was quoted as saying. Musharraf ignored public calls by senior US government officials not to impose a state of emergency.

"This is as big a test for the Bush administration as it is for Musharraf," said Adams. "Thus far, Washington's long support for a military government has merely led to an unprecedented political crisis that could lead Pakistan to disaster, not least in the effort to address international terrorism."

05 November 2007

Pakistan is in a serious mess -- but did anyone notice?

Things got ugly in Pakistan over the weekend. General Pervez Musharraf, the current president of Pakistan, has gone wild. He suspended the Constitution, and has declared a state of emergency, as of 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 3.

Musharraf's goons have arrested his political opponents and judges, lawyers, and human rights activists.

The upcoming election, scheduled for January 2008, may be postponed.

All private TV channels and international media have been taken off the air.

It's basically a police state. And it's quite possibly about to explode.

Now consider the following:

• The CIA believes that Pakistan is harboring al-Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden.

• Pakistan has nukes.

• That is a very volatile part of the world to begin with.


My local press has been silent on the issue. Thank goodness for the Internet, the international press, and the unfortunately named but politically astute Christian Science Monitor.

Meantime, those Americans in the majority who do not bother to seek out the real news can just remain complacent on their couches and worry about what Britney and Lindsay are up to.

Hopefully George W. Bush is not taking notes.

04 November 2007

Why Bush needs bin Laden

George W. Bush is having a hard time adjusting to the fact that he no longer has an automatic rubber-stamp Congress at his beck and call. And, while the Republican minority in Congress has still been winning some unfortunate battles, and the Democrats haven't done enough to fight back, it's not quite as easy for Bush as it was before this past January.

So Bush gave a speech on November 1 so he could whine about it. He said, "When it comes to funding our troops, some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground, and less time responding to the demands of MoveOn.org bloggers and Code Pink protesters."

See that? He said that we should heed the warnings of Osama bin Laden.

But wait a minute! On March 13, 2002, that same George W. Bush, when asked about our pursuit of bin Laden, said, "I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him."

We should worry about bin Laden, but Bush doesn't spend that much time on him.

This is the same George W. Bush who ran for reelection on the claim that only he could keep us safe from the terrorists. And, even more disturbing, this is the same George W. Bush who was successfully reelected on that claim.

But, while it seems like a contradiction, I think it's really just all part of a well-thought-out strategy.

And my theory appears to be confirmed by recent reports that we may have had an opportunity to kill bin Laden this past August, but we failed. We had him in our sights, but nobody pulled the trigger. Even Fox News criticized that missed opportunity.

We're just not spending that much time on him.

I think we don't really want to kill bin Laden, because Bush needs him.

Bin Laden is the face of al-Qaeda. And as long as al-Qaeda has a face, Bush can keep us -- and Congress -- scared and compliant.

As long as al-Qaeda has a face, Bush can continue his unwinnable war in Iraq, keep life a living hell for the innocent civilians there, and never have to admit that it was a mistake.

As long as al-Qaeda has a face, Bush can continue to shred our Constitution, kill habeas corpus, torture people, and spy on you and your grandmother without a court warrant.

As long as al-Qaeda has a face, Bush can continue to tell you that it's all for your own good.

As long as al-Qaeda has a face, and as long as Congress has neither a conscience nor a backbone, Bush can continue to do this with impunity for another 14 months.

And bin Laden is obviously more than happy to comply, popping up from time to time in a video to taunt us with his equivalent of neener-neener-neener.

It's a match made in heaven. Or in hell.

And America let it happen, because America was scared. Because Bush has bin Laden.

03 November 2007

Pipe bomb found at Arizona nuclear plant, but officials won't call it terrorism

On Friday, they caught a contract worker trying to bring a pipe bomb into a nuclear power plant located 50 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona.

According to a report in USA Today, bomb squad tests determined that the capped pipe was a credible explosive device. It was the real deal.

But, for some reason, Capt. Paul Chagolla of the local sheriff's office told the press, "At this point I don't have any information that would indicate that you have domestic terrorism at hand."

Wait a minute.

As the article in USA Today explains, "Two elementary schools and a high school in the area were locked down briefly when a plant employee notified the district."

And the FBI was called in.

Of course they were! There was a pipe bomb at a nuclear plant!

But somehow it's not terrorism.

So I'm guessing that the suspect here is not of Middle Eastern ancestry. Otherwise, the terror alert level would surely have been elevated to orange (at least), and the suspect would now be on his way to Gitmo.

Sleep well.

02 November 2007

"Obama Girl" takes on Ann Coulter

It's Casual Friday, so I want to lighten things up today.

Yes, the world is all messed up right now. I'm angry and frustrated. But sometimes you just have to find the humor in the situation, and laugh about it, to avoid a serious meltdown.

And who better to laugh at than Ann Coulter?

Right-wing windbag Coulter is all about hate and intolerance. A worthy target indeed.

And so "Obama Girl" singer-songwriter Leah Kauffman has created a brilliant video to satirize Coulter's nonsense.

Check it out: Perfected: The Ann Coulter Song

01 November 2007

Bush wants to be the new Thought Police

Halloween is over, but here's something scary anyway:

Iranian officials keep saying that Iran's nuclear program is for producing energy, not weaponry. And U.S. intelligence experts have confirmed that Iran is a decade away from having the capacity to produce any nuclear weapons.

But just as the Chicken Little in the White House lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, he continues his fear-mongering, only this time to justify an attack on Iran.

Back then, he warned us: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

Now he's talking World War III.

And he doesn't just want to keep Iran from having nukes. He wants to keep them from having the knowledge to create nukes.

He not only wants to control what they do, he wants to control what they know and what they think.

Bush wants to be the new Thought Police.

So which is scarier: Iran generating nuclear power so the people can have electricity in their homes, or Bush and Cheney controlling what we can and cannot know and think?