29 February 2008

New horrific photos from Abu Ghraib - and some insight on the torture mindset

Phychologist Philip Zimbardo did a study in which Stanford University students posed as prisoners and guards. Then he wrote a book about how "a perfect storm" of conditions can make ordinary people commit horrendous acts (while others become whistle blowers).

Zimbardo has created a short video containing some previously unseen photographs from Abu Ghraib (along with some of the old photos that have previously shocked the world). Zimbardo obtained the photos while serving as an expert witness for an Abu Ghraib defendant.

Wired.com obtained the video, and also interviewed Zimbardo about the problem.

>> Read the interview and watch the video.
(Warning: Not for the faint of heart. But every American should see this video, because our tax dollars are paying for these atrocities.)

28 February 2008

Mr. Mukasey goes to Gitmo

Yesterday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey paid a six-hour surprise visit to Guantanamo Bay.

While I was preparing to write some commentary about it, I stumbled upon a piece by Liliana Segura for AlterNet. In it, Segura says just about everything that I was planning to say, and more.

So, instead of launching into my own rant on the subject, I shall simply refer you to Segura's excellent article.

Check it out: Mr. Mukasey Goes to Guantanamo

27 February 2008

Cracked justice: HRW testifies to Congress on the unfairness in cocaine sentencing

Overcrowding is a big problem in the U.S. prison system today. We're sending a lot of people to jail for drug use and nonviolent offenses.

According to Wikipedia, "In absolute terms, the United States currently has the largest inmate population in the world, with more than 2½ million in prison and jails, even though violent crime and property crime have been declining since the 1990s according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Although the United States represents less than 5% of the world's population, over 25% of the people incarcerated around the world are housed in the American prison system."

Tough on crime, or just too tough on people who would be better off in rehab or other programs?

Also a factor is an apparent racial bias in sentencing.

So yesterday Human Rights Watch (HRW) submitted a written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. HRW "urges Congress to pass legislation to remedy the disproportionately harsh and racially discriminatory penal sanctions for federal crack and cocaine offenses. While the public health, social, and economic consequences of the use and sale of cocaine -- in any form -- warrant public concern, they do not justify disproportionate prison sentences that are racially discriminatory, violate US treaty obligations, and defy basic principles of criminal justice."

>> Read HRW's full testimony.

26 February 2008

Take action: Tell your senators to support S. 2633 and bring our troops home from Iraq

I think we've done enough damage in Iraq over the past five years. And the majority of Americans agree.

So Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has introduced S. 2633, which would provide for the safe redeployment of US troops from Iraq within 120 days.

Right now, the Dems might not yet have enough of a majority in the Senate to pull this off, but it's worth a try.

So below is an action alert from True Majority. Click the "Tell your Senators" link in the message below to urge your senators to say "Enough!":
Today, in a 70-24 vote, the Senate agreed to move forward with a bill that would end the President's failed strategy in Iraq.

S. 2633, introduced by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, would provide for the safe redeployment of US troops from Iraq within 120 days. Today's vote allows it to be brought to the Senate floor, where the final version could see a vote by the end of the week.

Tell your Senators: Support S. 2633. Bring our troops home!

As we all know, the war in Iraq has already cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars and has arguably put us in greater danger than ever before. There's no debating the President's failed strategy in Iraq. It's time to bring the troops home. Tell your Senators to take the final vote for safe redeployment.

It's time.
>> See how your senators voted on the motion to proceed with this legislation.

If we must have Ralph Nader, then we should have IRV

On Sunday, Ralph Nader announced that he's running for president again. This has a lot of Democrats worried. To tell you the truth, my heart sank when I heard the news. That is because of all the allegations that Nader stole votes from Gore in the 2000 election, leading to the very unfortunate Bush presidency.

The prospect of Nader stealing votes from this year's Democratic presidential candidate, and thereby giving the Republicans another four years in the White House, is too frightening for words.

So what can we do?

First, the idealistic answer: Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). I am no expert on this, but it seems like a good alternative to the current method which feeds the two-party system. IRV apparently eliminates the "spoiler" effect. Isn't this what we need?

But, currently, that's not how the system works in our national elections. So, for now, the best way to go is to not vote for Nader.

This is perhaps the most important election of my adult life. So many things hang in the balance. We desperately need to put a Democrat in the White House. Nader cannot win. He can only take votes away from the Democratic candidate. Please don't vote for Nader.

24 February 2008

In politics, sex sells

Advertisers know that sex sells. So they use it liberally to push all kinds of products into our shopping carts.

The media also know that sex sells. So they use it liberally in their coverage of U.S. politics.

A case in point is the new John McCain lobbyist scandal. The New York Times reported recently that McCain's aides became concerned during the 2000 presidential campaign because they thought McCain was spending too much seemingly cozy time with lobbyist Vicki Iseman.

The mass media's tabloid-like emphasis on a possible romantic relationship between McCain and Iseman seems to have distracted a lot of people from the real issue -- one of ethics and the corruption that so often takes place in Washington when politicians and lobbyists get too friendly. The Larry Craig incident aside, I doubt that this McCain story would have gotten as much mileage if McCain had been spending a lot of time with a male lobbyist rather than an attractive female one.

Former President Bill Clinton knows what it's like. The House of Representatives actually voted to impeach him for a sexual relationship. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the Senate acquitted him two months later. This was only the second time in U.S. history that a president had been impeached. And for what? For sex!

Conservatives may argue that it wasn't the sex, it was the fact that Clinton lied about it. But what man -- indeed, what person -- hasn't at some point lied about sex?

Monica Lewinsky did not put this nation at risk. And Congress has since let much more heinous misconduct by the Bush administration slip by without breaking a sweat.

I don't care if Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Bill Clinton's sex life is not my business. It does not affect me.

When Clinton was president, I was much more enraged by things like Clinton's support for NAFTA and the Telecommunications Act. Unlike Clinton's sex life, those things did -- and still do -- have an effect the average American.

Likewise, John McCain's possible philandering is not my business. That's the business of John McCain and his immediate family. It does not affect me.

What does affect me is the revelation that John McCain's platform of ethics is just so much hot air.

But then, one should not be surprised. It's politics, after all. And it's only a little thing called corruption. It's not nearly as interesting as sex.

And sex -- not ethics -- is what sells newspapers and air time.

What does this say about the emotional maturity of the American public? And could that explain -- at least in part -- why our country is in such a mess?

23 February 2008

Justice Dept. is investigating torture policy

The New York Times today reports: "The Justice Department revealed Friday that its internal ethics office was investigating the department’s legal approval for waterboarding of Qaeda suspects by the Central Intelligence Agency and was likely to make public an unclassified version of its report."

This included "an internal review of the legal memorandums the department has issued since 2002 that authorized waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods."

In other words, they will be accounting (one way or another) for those 2002 memos that the Bush administration used to justify the use of torture on terror suspects.

Will we finally see some real accountability?

I am hopeful, but I am not optimistic. Because, in essence, this appears to be another case of the Bush administration investigating itself.

22 February 2008

Iraq war casualties: We're nearing another grim milestone; vigils planned nationwide

As of this writing, 3,969 U.S. troops have died in this Iraq war. That's 31 away from a very grim milestone of 4,000.

4,000 dead U.S. troops plus countless dead Iraqi men, women, and babies. And for what? To line the pockets of the war profiteers, I guess. For everyone else, it's made matters much worse, in so many ways.

So we need to let off some steam.

To that end, the American Friends Service Committee is organizing local vigils and memorials all across the country to commemorate all the lives lost in this catastrophe.

>> Find an event near you or organize one in your community.

21 February 2008

Take action: Tell AG Mukasey to act on Miers/Bolton contempt case

With new Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the Bush administration found a new ally willing to undermine the Constitution in order to protect the powers that be.

He tapdances around torture.

He seems to believe that the president is above the law.

And now he is refusing to enforce the contempt citation issued by the House of Representatives against former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House chief of staff Josh Bolton for their refusal to testify about the firings of the U.S. Attorneys.

We need to put some pressure on Mukasey.

To that end, below is a message from the American Freedom Campaign, including links you can click to send a strongly worded message to Mukasey.
Do you think the Attorney General of the United States and those who serve beneath him should follow the laws of the United States? If you do, click here to tell Attorney General Michael Mukasey to allow his department to prosecute two White House officials who have clearly broken the law and undermined our Constitution.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution charging White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers with contempt for ignoring congressional subpoenas to testify about the U.S. Attorneys scandal. According to the law, once the House (or Senate) approves a contempt citation, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia -- who serves within the Department of Justice -- "shall…bring the matter before [a] grand jury for its action." Such a grand jury proceeding is necessary in order to prosecute Bolten and Miers for defying Congress.

When asked two weeks ago whether his department would follow the law and the will of the people if these contempt charges were passed by the House, Attorney General Michael Mukasey gave a simple answer: No.

While this may be standard operating procedure for an administration that routinely breaks our laws and defiles our Constitution, it does not mean that we should be silent in the face of this kind of behavior. It is time to tell the attorney general that his job is to enforce the law, not to ignore it.

Click on the following link to send a strongly worded message to Attorney General Mukasey, urging action on these contempt citations. You will have the opportunity to add your own language to our pre-written email and we encourage you to do so:

[Click here to take action.]

With your help, we can increase the public pressure on Mukasey to bring these rogue officials to justice. I hope you will add your voice to our call.

Thank you in advance for taking action.

20 February 2008

Wal-Mart to open in-store health clinics

First it was just cheap department stores. Then Wal-Mart tried to expand into banking. Now the world's largest retailer is planning open a chain of co-branded health clinics in hundreds of its stores.

So now will Wal-Mart employees be able to get affordable health care at Wal-Mart clinics?

They need it.

After all, Wal-Mart is notorious for pricing its employee health care benefits so high that most Wal-Mart employees cannot afford to opt in. Instead of providing affordable health care benefits, Wal-Mart refers its employees for public assistance. Let the taxpayers foot the bill to keep the Wal-Mart stock dividends high.

So now Wal-Mart workers in select stores will have a health clinic right there at work.

I hope it helps to fill a need for the workers as well as the low-income public who tend to shop at Wal-Mart because of the low prices.

But you have to love the irony.

Now I wonder if the clinics will be stocked to treat the symptoms of lead poisoning from all the products that Wal-Mart imports from China.

19 February 2008

USA's record on racial discrimination under international scrutiny

Americans tend to pride ourselves on the principle of our founding fathers that all people are created equal.

But, apparently, we're not treating racial and ethnic minorities that way.

In fact, prompted by a recent report by Amnesty International, the United Nations suspects that we may be in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and they're going to do a little investigating.

Below is the text of a press release issued yesterday by Amnesty International on the subject:
The USA's record under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination will come under scrutiny [this] week. A treaty monitoring body will examine the government's periodic report on 21 and 22 February in Geneva.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (the Committee) is scheduled to consider the USA's combined fourth, fifth, and sixth periodic reports describing how it complies with its treaty obligations to guarantee protection against discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity, or nationality.

Amnesty International submitted a briefing to the Committee last November in which the organization highlighted concerns raised in the course of its work since the Committee's consideration of the USA's initial report in 2001.

Amnesty International's briefing noted that, despite the US Constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law, systemic discrimination continues to exist in many areas. Its concerns included racial profiling in law enforcement; discriminatory treatment of foreign nationals detained in the aftermath of the attacks on 11 September 2001; the disproportionate number of racial and ethnic minorities among the US prison population; and racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and in the administration of the death penalty.

The briefing also expressed concern about the discriminatory treatment of non-US nationals held by the US military in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere in the context of the "war on terror", an issue not touched upon in the USA's report. It included concerns about how foreign nationals designated "unlawful enemy combatants" can be subjected to unfair military commissions, operating under a lower standard of justice than US citizens accused of similar crimes.

The briefing also expressed concern about the barriers to accessing justice faced by Native American and Alaska Native American women who suffered disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual violence, and about the treatment of displaced African American residents of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
>> Read more: USA: Amnesty International's briefing to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

18 February 2008

What would George Washington think?

Today America celebrates Presidents' Day, with George Washington's traditional birthdate falling later in the week, on February 22.

On this day, I am wondering what George Washington would think of the current state of affairs in this country he helped to found.

Legend has it that a young George Washington admitted to cutting down a cherry tree by saying that he "cannot tell a lie." What would he think of a president who led this country into a war of aggression justified only by lies?

During the Revolutionary War, George Washington instructed his troops to treat their captured prisoners of war humanely. "Treat them with humanity," he told his troops, "and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren." What would he think of Abu Ghraib, and the Bush administration's fetish for waterboarding?

Last year on Presidents' Day, George W. Bush said that George Washington's example "guides us in our time." In that same speech, Bush seemed to compare himself to the first President, praising how Washington had fought for freedom, and then segueing into a song and dance about how he, George W. Bush, is now working "to advance the cause of freedom around the world."

What nerve!

George Washington must be spinning in his grave.

17 February 2008

John McCain sells his soul to the base

I used to hope that John McCain would win the Republican presidential nomination this year, as he is likely to do. Even though McCain wants to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years, at least he actively opposed torture. So in the horrific event that a Democrat does not win the White House this year, at least we might see an end to the systematic (and illegal) use of torture in our name.

Not any more.

Now the Republican choices are Mike Huckabee, who doesn't believe in science, and front-runner John McCain, a torture survivor himself, who incomprehensibly has now voted for torture.

On February 13, McCain voted against a bill that would ban the CIA or other American agents from using waterboarding or any other interrogation technique that is not authorized by the Army Field Manual. Fortunately, the bill passed anyway. (Of course, George W. Bush is promising a veto, because he wants to keep torturing people.)

In the process, McCain has again revealed himself to be a sell-out to the cold, cruel Republican base.

What happened to the John McCain who historically worked in a bipartisan way to legislate against torture and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment of detainees?

What happened to the John McCain who demonstrated that torture doesn't work, by recalling how, when asked under torture in Vietnam to provide his captors with the names of the members of his flight squadron, instead rattled off the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, "knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse"?

What happened to the John McCain who was so appalled by the photos from Abu Ghraib that he went on the CBS "Early Show" and called for Abu Ghraib to be razed to the ground because it is a symbol of torture and mistreatment "both from the Saddam Hussein regime and this one"?

What happened to the John McCain who stood up in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee and grilled Donald Rumsfeld in an effort to get some accountability for the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib?

That John McCain is gone, and has apparently been replaced by a good, compliant Republican. Endless war. Endless torture. God bless America.

I still hear from people who admire McCain because they believe him to be a moderate Republican. I hope those people will wake up before November. After all, there is nothing moderate about torture.

16 February 2008

IPS interviews Mumia Abu Jamal

As a media spokesperson for the human rights group Amnesty International, I have called out numerous times in favor of a new trial for Pennsylvania death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Whenever I do so, I get a lot of heat.

Despite the frequent allegations that I am a "Mumia supporter", I do not profess to know whether Mumia is innocent or guilty. And I do not call for Mumia's release.

Rather, I simply call for a new trial, because an extensive investigation by Amnesty International experts has concluded that "numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings."

And I wonder why my critics are so strongly opposed to a new and more fair trial. If Mumia is as guilty as alleged, then it will be confirmed in the new trial and we can rest assured that we are punishing the right person.

What's to lose, other than potentially a false conviction? Don't you want to be sure that you're punishing the right guy?

Why be afraid of shedding more light on the subject? If the light reveals that Mumia is guilty, then punish him accordingly. But not for any other reason.

OK, enough of my letting off steam.

The real purpose for this post: Inter Press Service (IPS) has published a fascinating interview with Mumia, which I felt was worth sharing.

An excerpt:
Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and black activist who exposed corruption in the Philadelphia police department, is among the best known of America's 3,500 death row inmates. For years, lawyers have been fighting to overturn his 1982 murder conviction. They argue that Abu-Jamal was condemned due to his skin colour and undue influence from the powerful Fraternal Order of Police.

Abu-Jamal and his chief lawyer, Robert Bryan, are currently awaiting a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on their request for a new trial. If a re-trial is ordered, many believe it will be one of the most sensational in U.S. legal history.

In this rare interview from Pennsylvania’s death row, Abu-Jamal talks about being a journalist on death row with IPS correspondent Adrianne Appel and radio journalist John Grebe. "Writing from a radical and populist, black liberation point of view, never left me," he says, "We do truly live in amazing times, times that are challenging, times that are dangerous -- but also times that are inspiring."

IPS: Through your radio broadcasts and columns about politics, race, black liberation and the death penalty, you have continued to be a leader for those on the left, and I suspect an inspiration to those in prison and on death row. Do you hear from others on death row?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I do actually receive letters from guys literally all around the country and -- truth be told -- around the world. Some express solidarity, many request to correspond, some just ask questions on history because they’ve heard of my history with the black liberation movement.

I know that many people on death row are projected as monsters and really evil people. The fact of the matter is, most of the people I’ve met, I’ve heard about, or know about on death row are on death row because of their poverty. If they were men or women of means and could have afforded a decent defence at their trials, many wouldn’t be in jail. And if they were not in jail, they wouldn’t be on death row.

IPS: You have great support in Europe but not here in the U.S. What accounts for this difference?

MAJ: The [U.S.] media has really been an adversary and not an aide. The struggle waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows.

IPS: Public sentiment here seems to be shifting away from the death penalty, especially in light of the 126 people who have so far been exonerated -- six in Pennsylvania. Have you and your legal team sensed any change in attitude towards your case -- more openness to the idea that you did not receive a fair trial?

MAJ: I can’t say that I have. How do you gauge such a thing? There are many people who -- because of what they read in the paper -- firmly believe I am no longer on death row. I have read articles to that effect. Unfortunately, those articles are misleading. I have never left death row for one day. I am on death row.

IPS: Are you confident you will receive a fair trial this time?

MAJ: I’ve learned not to be in the business of prediction. That’s a risky business. We’re certainly working toward that end and I’m certainly hopeful. But I’m not in the prediction game.
>> Read the full interview.

14 February 2008

In Pennsylvania, race is still a voter issue

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has come under fire recently for suggesting that some Pennsylvanians "are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate."

But he is right, as I know from my own experience as a lifelong resident of the Keystone State.

It's been said that Pennsylvania consists of Pittsburgh on one side, Philadelphia on the other, and Alabama in the middle. And it's true. I grew up in the "Alabama" part of the state, in a small coal-mining town in north-central Pennsylvania. It was a scene out of "Deliverance". And everyone was white.

Not only were they all white, but they looked on any outsiders with suspicion and contempt, especially racial minorities.

When I went away to college, I briefly dated a wonderful African-American man. When the news got back to my hometown, there was hell to pay. I couldn't walk down the street without hearing shouts of "N____ Lover". This was in the late 1970s.

30 years later, that racist attitude still prevails in rural Pennsylvania. It's enough to keep them from voting for Barack Obama. And I can't imagine them voting for Hillary Clinton, either -- even though she is white. Women must be kept in their place as well.

No, the rednecks in the "Alabama" part of the state will likely vote for John McCain this November, even though he doesn't currently own a gun.

These attitudes are why I spent most of my teenage summers staying with relatives in Philadelphia and Washington, DC. And these attitudes are why I made the permanent move to civilization immediately after college. Some parts of Pennsylvania just aren't the right habitat for a fiercely independent and progressive woman who thrives on diversity.

So, yes, Governor Rendell is correct. Some Pennsylvanians are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate. Especially for President. But this is a big state, with big urban populations in and around Philly and Pittsburgh. We managed to throw Rick Santorum out of the Senate last year. Hopefully we can help to put a Democrat in the White House this year.

Fingers crossed.

PS: Apologies to any readers who happen to reside in the actual state of Alabama. I'm using your state in a conceptual/metaphorical sense, and no offense is intended.

13 February 2008

Take action: Tell your Senators to vote against torture

It's bad enough that the U.S. is torturing people, even as they keep telling us that it's not really torture.

Now, in Gitmo's kangaroo court system, they will likely be using information obtained under torture as "evidence" against the prisoners who will soon face trial. (Never mind the fact that the experts agree that information obtained under torture is unreliable.)

Now, as the Bush administration moves forward with these torture-tainted military tribunals, the Senate may vote as early as tomorrow (Thursday) on a provision that would restrict every agency and U.S. agent -- including the CIA -- to the interrogation techniques permitted by the Army Field Manual. And the Army Field Manual does not condone waterboarding.

Please contact your Senators and tell them to support section 327 of the Conference Report on the Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R. 2082).

Below is call to action from Amnesty International USA, with links to online action as well as background info.
Torture can never lead to justice. That's the powerful message we need to send to the Bush administration and the U.S. Senate right now.

Even as the Senate prepares for a crucial vote restricting the CIA and other U.S. agents from using waterboarding and other unlawful techniques, the Pentagon is moving forward with torture-tainted show trials for six detainees at Guantánamo Bay suspected of conspiring in the September 11 attacks.

The Senate vote could come as soon as Thursday. Tell the Senate that torture is intolerable and that it undermines justice at every turn.

The heinous attacks on September 11, 2001 were crimes against humanity. Anyone involved must be brought to justice. But, the truth is, the U.S. government has -- at every turn --undermined the opportunity for justice for the victims of those attacks.

They did it by first disappearing the suspects into secret CIA prisons, torturing "high value" suspects for information and then passing off that information as "evidence." Unconscionably, they have shifted the spotlight from justice for the victims of the September 11 attacks to the illegal behavior of the United States.

Tell the Senate that torture is intolerable and that it undermines justice at every turn.

As one former Navy admiral and judge advocate general put it, "Once you torture someone, it's hard to untorture him." If enough Senators have the courage to act, we can take a huge step forward in ending U.S. torture.

Please take action today and if you have time, make a follow-up phone call to your Senator. You can find the number to call and talking points here.
Thank you for standing up for true justice over fear mongering and showboating.

>> While you're at it, read Amnesty International's just-released report on torture and secret detention.

12 February 2008

U.S. military to seek death penalty in Gitmo's kangaroo court

As the New York Times reported yesterday, "Military prosecutors have decided to seek the death penalty for six Guantanamo detainees who are to be charged with central roles in the Sept. 11 terror attacks."

If anyone deserves harsh punishment, it's the people responsible for 9/11. But those are my emotions talking. Justice is supposed to be a sober matter, not an emotional one.

I have long held that the death penalty is about revenge, not justice. And, in the hands of the corrupt and biased U.S. military tribunal system at Guantanamo, it's of particular concern for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the prospect that this is likely to fuel more terrorism against the U.S. Besides that, it's just wrong.

The world is watching, and much of the world disapproves of the way we're handling things in Guantanamo.

According to an article published today in the British newspaper The Independent:
The decision to use Mohammed and the others as guinea-pigs in a constitutionally dubious legal proceeding is likely to trigger a firestorm of anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world and spark a fractious domestic debate in an already highly charged presidential election year.


"What we are looking at is a series of show trials by the Bush administration that are really devoid of any due process considerations," said Vincent Warren, the executive director head of Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees. "Rather than playing politics the Bush administration should be seeking speedy and fair trials," he said. "These are trials that are going to be based on torture as confessions as well as secret evidence. There is no way that this can be said to be fair especially as the death penalty could be an outcome."

While few doubts have been raised, domestically or internationally, about the men's involvement in the attacks on New York and Washington, just about everything else about their treatment has been bitterly contested and is likely to continue to be contested, inside the courtroom and out. Everything is laden with potential controversy – the decision to try the six men together rather than individually, the proposed venue at Guantanamo Bay, where all six are being held, the threatened use of the death penalty, and perhaps the most controversial question of all: the admissibility of evidence gathered through waterboarding and other coercive techniques generally defined as torture.
It is said that a society can be judged by how it treats its prisoners. In the "war on terror", the world is judging us harshly -- and for good reason.

The U.S. used to stand for freedom. Now the world looks at us and sees a nation that tortures people, deprives them of their basic human rights and due process, and then executes them -- all while waving the American flag in one hand and the Bible in the other.

11 February 2008

Great YouTube video: Meet me in Guantanamo

A reader just told me about this video. It provides some provocative facts about Guantanamo compiled by the ACLU, accompanied by the song "Meet Me In Guantanamo" by Rich Hinrichsen. Carlos Cascante (vocal, bongos), Fred Hoadley (piano), Rich Hinrichsen (double bass), Marisol Berrios-Miranda (claves, guiro). Sound files, lyrics, and sheet music are available at www.hinrichsenmusic.com.

10 February 2008

Dick Cheney as the NRA's new poster boy

On Friday, the National Rifle Association (NRA) issued a news release praising Vice President Dick Cheney for supporting a Congressional amicus curiae brief in favor of individual gun ownership, pursuant to the case of DC vs. Heller.

This is so ironic, given the fact that Dick Cheney, while exercising his own perceived right to point and shoot to his heart's content, ended up shooting his friend in the face.

09 February 2008

And for your homework, please design a torture device

According to an article last week in the British newspaper The Guardian, "An architectural school was at the centre of a row last night after it emerged that students were required to design a fully operational torture device."

How could designing a torture device possibly advance a student's training in architecture?

Even if the purpose were to have them learn how to design a comfortable environment by first designing a grossly uncomfortable environment, doesn't this exercise go a bit too far? Isn't it crossing a line?

Ironically, the article concludes by observing, "The two-week project was designed by course tutor Mike Richards, in advance of a project to design a new headquarters for Amnesty International."

>> Read the full article.

08 February 2008

Same blog, different name

I've held out until now, but I've been feeling more and more bothered by the fact that the right-wing organization Freedom's Watch chose a name so similar to the original name of this blog.

I named this blog "Philadelphia Freedom Watch" long before Freedom's Watch stormed onto the political scene, but they're bigger and more well-known. And the similarity in our names has caused enough grief (and confused inquiries) that I have decided it's time to rename this blog.

So I have renamed this blog from "Philadelphia Freedom Watch" to "Philadelphia Freedom Blog" -- similar enough but different enough.

Apologies for any confusion resulting from old links to this site.

07 February 2008

Bush reserves the right to torture

Yesterday I wrote about how CIA Director Michael Hayden had admitted to waterboarding terror suspects.

Well, it's not necessarily a thing of the past.

Some members of the White House Press Corps decided to pursue the subject. Yesterday, during the daily White House press briefing, they got Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto to admit that George W. Bush reserves for himself the right to authorize the use of torture -- er, enhanced interrogation techniques -- in the future, too, as he sees fit.

Of course, they keep suggesting that waterboarding is not torture -- even though we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners during World War II.

And they keep tapdancing around international and U.S. law.

This is what we have become.

06 February 2008

Amnesty Int'l: Waterboarding is never acceptable regardless of the circumstances

News reports yesterday revealed that CIA Director Michael Hayden had admitted to waterboarding terror suspects.

As if to make it seem OK, he said that it had only been used on three people, and not for the past five years.

In response, Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, issued the following statement:
General Hayden's justification that waterboarding of three detainees was permissible because at the time it took place, authorities had limited knowledge of al Qaeda is absurd at best. Ignorance or lack of knowledge is not an excuse for torture. The legal prohibition on torture is absolute, period -- there are no exceptions.

An official admission that the United States engaged in waterboarding does not lessen the seriousness of U.S. authorities' involvement in the crime of torture (despite Attorney General Michael Mukasey's confusion) under U.S. and international law.

The assertion by Bush administration officials that the U.S. government does not engage in torture is as credible as President Bush declaring there are WMD in Iraq. This administration's consistent efforts to obscure the reality of its war on terror policies make it difficult to accept statements that such torture is no longer acceptable.

05 February 2008

Overseas outsourcing: You get what you pay for

A recent report from the Labor Department indicated that U.S. employers cut 17,000 jobs in January of this year. According to the Associated Press, this was "the first such reduction in more than four years."

Many of the job cuts were in manufacturing and "a variety of professional and business services."

I think it is no coincidence that these areas have seen a lot of U.S. jobs transferred to India, China, and other countries where the labor is much, much cheaper. Apparently, U.S. corporations care more about profits than the welfare of their employees.

Apparently, they also care more about profits than safety. This is evidenced by so many chilling accounts of unsafe American-named products imported from China -- everything from children's toys to toothpaste.

You get what you pay for.

And, apparently, they care more about profits than human rights. Many manufacturing facilities overseas are notorious for their use of sweatshops, horrific working conditions, and slave labor.

You get what you pay for.

All this so that U.S. corporations can rake in huge profits, and reward their CEOs with obscene salaries.

You get what you pay for? No, these CEOs get what others have paid for -- with blood, sweat, and tears.

And it's not just the low-level manufacturing jobs that are moving overseas. As the Labor Department's report noted, various professional and business services were also affected.

Chances are, if you have made a phone call for customer service in the past few years, particularly technical support, the representative who answered your call likely had an Indian accent. I have spoken with countless frustrated folks who gave up on getting their questions answered since they couldn't even make out the words that their rep was saying. I am not a xenophobe, but a customer service representative should have the necessary skills to make himself understood to his audience.

You get what you pay for.

I have a friend who worked as a technical writer for a Philadelphia area software developer. She thought her job was safe. After all, good technical writing must be very clear and unambiguous, and written using uncompromising standards of clarity. One of the rules of international technical writing is that you always write in your native language, or translate documentation into, not out of, your native language. Nevertheless, my friend's employer traded her in for her Indian counterparts. The resultant user guides, technical specs, and help screens were subpar, to say the least. But that didn't seem to matter to the corporate execs. Because it was all so affordable.

You get what you pay for.

Remember the American dream? It's looking more and more as though it, too, has been outsourced.

You get what the CEOs are willing to pay for.

04 February 2008

George Clooney named UN Messenger of Peace

He's more than just another pretty face.

Last month, the United Nations named actor and human rights advocate George Clooney as an official Messenger of Peace, for his commitment to ending the crisis in the Sudanese region of Darfur, among other issues.

And he has hit the ground running.

Just back from a trip to Darfur, Clooney is calling for more resources to back the UN's peacekeeping mission there. Below is the text of a UN press release, issued last Thursday, Jan. 31, with the details:
United Nations Messenger of Peace and award-winning actor George Clooney, just back from the war-wracked Darfur region of Sudan, today urged countries to provide peacekeepers serving with the hybrid United Nations-African Union force there enough resources to do their job -- "or have the decency to just bring them all home."

Briefing the press at UN Headquarters in New York after visiting existing or nascent UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the key troop-contributing country India, Mr. Clooney said the Darfur force (known as UNAMID) was still missing key capacities such as helicopters and trucks.

He said the troops in the mission -- many of whom also served in the earlier, under-resourced AU mission to Darfur -- deserved appropriate resources to quell violence and bring stability to the region, where at least 200,000 people have been killed since 2003.

"Either give them [the UNAMID peacekeepers] the basic tools for protecting the population and themselves, or have the decency to just bring them all home. Because you can't do it halfway," he said. "Bring them home and shut off your TV and your radio and your phones and the Internet and go back into the offices and wait until it's all over."

Mr. Clooney said that during his visit to Darfur, he noticed that locals witnessing the arrival of UN peacekeepers have started to "feel a new energy in the air. They feel for the first time that this is the moment that the rest of the world, all of the nations, united, are stepping in to help them…

"When I stood in the hospital next to women who had been raped and set on fire two days earlier, they looked up to me and said, 'Please send the UN.' Not the US; not China; not Russia; just the UN. You're their only hope."

Mr. Clooney, who travelled with Assistant Secretary-General Jane Holl Lute, the Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Field Support, and other UN staff, said the Sudanese Government must for its part make sure it does not obstruct the peacekeepers from carrying out their work and provide protection to aid workers from rebel attacks.

"These peacekeepers are not an occupying force. They are not there to spread democracy or infringe on religious beliefs. The [DR] Congo is proof of that."

He also stressed that Darfur's vast population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) held the Government or its allied Janjaweed militia for them having to flee their homes.

"Millions are homeless -- not from famine, or disease, or acts of God, but from a well-armed militia intent on ridding the land of its people."

But he noted that the situation has become increasingly complicated as rebel groups fight each other and attack civilians, resulting in "a vacuum of justice, of civility, of local government, land rights, humanity. As in any apocalypse, the ones left standing begin to fight for survival. The rebel groups can and have engaged in horrific acts of violence."

Mr. Clooney said a durable peace will only emerge when all the parties sit down together "and begin the long process of talks. There's 2.5 million people who want to go back to their homes and not live in misery."

Before briefing the press today, Mr. Clooney was formally presented with a Messenger of Peace certificate and dove pin by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro. The Oscar-winning artist was officially designated as a Messenger of Peace, with a special focus on peacekeeping, earlier this month.

He also held talks with Ms. Holl Lute and the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyotaka Akasaka.

Asked about his status as a celebrity Messenger of Peace, Mr. Clooney observed that it was becoming increasingly difficult challenge to get "things that are truly important to us" on the news or the international radar.

"It seems as if at times celebrity can bring that focus. It can't make the policies, it can't change people's minds really. But you can bring a camera where you go because they'll follow you and you can shine a light on it. That seems to be my job in this."
Keep up the good work, Mr. Clooney. We need more people who care.

03 February 2008

Video: The cost of the Iraq war (and what else could it buy?)

Coincidentally, I'm presenting videos two days in a row. I think they're worth sharing.

Today's video looks at the fact that we're spending $720 million of our tax dollars per day on the Iraq war, and explores what else those dollars could do.

Kudos to the American Friends Service Committee for producing this excellent video.

02 February 2008

Video: John McCain as Dr. Strangelove

With warmonger Senator John McCain surging in popularity on the Republican side of the 2008 presidential race, I've been worried about what might happen in November and beyond.

But I'll get serious about it later. For now, it's the weekend, so let's have some fun with it.

To that end, here is a new video from Brave New Films, which I received with the following message:
Thanks to the casting sensibility of Arianna Huffington, we learned that John McCain has been channeling Dr. Strangelove! Duly inspired, Phillip and our Issues 2008 team jumped into action, and 24 hours later, here's the video!

01 February 2008

Fighting over Iraq: Dem vs. Repub perspectives

Republican presidential front-runners McCain and Romney are competing over who can keep our troops in Iraq longer.

Meantime, the Democrats are competing over who can bring our troops home faster.

Think about it.

There are a lot of issues at stake, but this is a biggie, and this is what it boils down to.

War vs. peace.

Occupation vs. Iraqi sovereignty.

Ongoing imperialism vs. restoring our reputation as a world leader rather than a world bully.

These are things that Americans should keep in mind when they go to the polls this November.

We cannot afford four more years of Bush-style foreign policy.