Saturday, May 30, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

Scott Horton: Hidden Abu Ghraib Photos Contain Images of Rape and Torture

Scott Horton is reporting that the images contained in the batch of photos that President Obama decided to keep secret do indeed contain images of rape and sexual humiliation.

The Pentagon has strongly denied reports from Britain's Daily Telegraph that quoted General Antonio Taguba as saying the photos contained images of "torture, abuse, and every indecency".

Though the Pentagon has made strong denials to these claims, Scott Horton's latest piece counters their denials. Below is a clip of Horton's piece but I strongly suggest reading the entire article:

The Daily Beast has confirmed that the photographs of abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, which President Obama, in a reversal, decided not to release, depict sexually explicit acts, including a uniformed soldier receiving oral sex from a female prisoner, a government contractor engaged in an act of sodomy with a male prisoner and scenes of forced masturbation, forced exhibition, and penetration involving phosphorous sticks and brooms.

[...]

The Daily Beast has obtained specific corroboration of the British account, which appeared in the London Daily Telegraph, from several reliable sources, including a highly credible senior military officer with firsthand knowledge, who provided even more detail about the graphic photographs that have been withheld from the public by the Obama administration.

[...]

The Telegraph article quoted retired Major General Antonio Taguba, who directed the official inquiry in 2004 into the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Taguba told the Telegraph that the “pictures show torture, abuse, rape, and every indecency.” The Telegraph reported: “At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee. Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire, and a phosphorescent tube. Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.”

[...]

In one withheld photograph, not previously described, Specialist Charles A. Graner, Jr., an Abu Ghraib guard, is shown suturing the face of a prisoner, a reliable source tells The Daily Beast. The suturing appeared to serve no ostensible medical purpose than perhaps Graner’s attempts to humiliate or terrorize the prisoner, the source suggested. Graner was court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in 2005 for charges that included prisoner abuse. A number of the withheld photographs, according to reliable sources, show Graner engaged in sexual acts with Specialist Lynndie A. England, another soldier assigned to duty at Abu Ghraib. She appears in some of the most notorious photographs disclosed so far, including one in which she walked a detainee on a leash—enacting a regimen later revealed as an authorized technique known as “walking the dog.”

Other suppressed photographs show a female prisoner assuming sexually suggestive poses in a chair, while a prison guard appears behind her in some frames. In another series, prisoners are shown hooded in a transport with open copies of pornographic magazines in their laps.

Still other withheld photographs have been circulating among U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq. One soldier showed them to me, including a photograph in which a male in a U.S. military uniform receives oral sex from a female prisoner.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tancredo: Sotomayor is Part of a Group that is "a Latino KKK without the hoods or nooses"

Adding to the ever growing list of wild attacks by the right-wing to discredit and smear Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, is Tom Tancredo. Tancredo first called Sotomayor a "racist" and now says that she is a member of a group that is like the "Latino KKK without the hoods or nooses". Watch:

Supreme Court Nominee Sotomayor is a Stupid, Racist, Hispanic Chick Lady-and Other Right-Wing Smears

What will they think of next? In case you are keeping score:

- Jeffrey Rosen kicked it off by advancing the claims that Sotomayor is "not that smart".

- Karl Rove and Fred Phelps echoed this line of attack

- Former Republican House member Tom Tancredo raised the bar by calling Sotomayor a racist.

- Newt Gingrich decided that the racist line of attack was the best and called her a "Latina woman racist" via Twitter.

- Rush Limbaugh tweaked the racist line of attack and called her a "reverse racist".

- Ann Coulter jumped on the "racist" bandwagon

- Glenn Beck, while echoing that she is a racist, also made a reference to her as a "Hispanic Chick Lady".

- and finally, Pat Buchanan expressed outrage that the four finalists for the nomination did not include a white male and stated that Sotomayor only got the nomination because she was a Hispanic woman.

Help us out Rachel Maddow:



and why are all these people calling Sotomayor a "racist" or a "reverse racist"? It is because of this quote from a lecture entitled "A Latina Judge's Voice" that she gave in 2001:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.


This quote has been repeated in this isolated format and has been the focal point, by those I referenced above, for their claims of racism. What is missing from the quote above? Ah yes, context! Here is the same quote in context:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.


The point that Sotomayor is making is a simple one. Personal experiences vary depending upon your gender, race, and background. These varied personal experiences give people different perspectives on the same issues. Judges, like everyone, inherently bring these personal experiences with them and they affect the way that various issues are perceived. These variations in perspective are not problematic, they are healthy.

Can you tell me Sotomayor's statements above, are different from this exchange between then Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito and Senator Tom Coburn during Alito's confirmation hearing:

U.S. SENATOR TOM COBURN (R-OK): Can you comment just about Sam Alito, and what he cares about, and let us see a little bit of your heart and what's important to you in life?

ALITO: Senator, I tried to in my opening statement, I tried to provide a little picture of who I am as a human being and how my background and my experiences have shaped me and brought me to this point.

ALITO: I don't come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.

And I know about their experiences and I didn't experience those things. I don't take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame.

But I think that children learn a lot from their parents and they learn from what the parents say. But I think they learn a lot more from what the parents do and from what they take from the stories of their parents lives.

And that's why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."

When I have cases involving children, I can't help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that's before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them.

So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.

COBURN: Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, I think I'll yield back the balance of my time at this time, and if I have additional questions, get them in the next round.

SPECTER: Thank you very much, Senator Coburn.


Video of the above can be found here.

The content of what was said is not the issue, it is who said it. None of these people who are calling Sotomayor a "racist" had a problem when Alito said virtually the same thing at his confirmation hearing. What we are currently seeing is more disgusting partisan politics over the nomination of a Latina woman for the nation's highest court.



The crosspost of this piece is here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Roy Eidelson, President-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility




A few weeks ago in a piece that I posted, I reacted to an article entitled "How Americans Think About Torture - and Why" written by Roy Eidelson. In his piece, Eidelson discussed the psychological tactics that the Bush Administration used to not only sell the public on torture, but also the war in general.

In order to further examine these points and dive deeper into this issue, I contacted Roy Eidelson to ask him a few questions on this topic. Below is the interview:

Roy Eidelson, Ph.D., is a psychologist who studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is president of Eidelson Consulting and president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

CJ: Can you begin by giving some background on yourself and some of your most recent work?

RE: I am a clinical psychologist who studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. Prior to my current independent consulting practice, for much of the previous decade I was executive director of an interdisciplinary center at the University of Pennsylvania that focused on ethnopolitical conflict. I have also spent many years as a licensed psychologist conducting therapy with individuals and couples.

Much of my own work these days involves applications of my “dangerous ideas” framework. I’ve identified five core issues--vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness--that represent key concerns underlying individual and group behavior. They powerfully affect the way we make sense of the world around us. To oversimplify a bit, individually and collectively we evaluate situations and make judgments (sometimes correct, sometimes not) about whether we’re safe; whether we’re being treated fairly; whether we can trust the people we’re dealing with; whether we’re “good enough” or better than others; and whether we can control what happens to us. Because these five concerns are so important, they are prime targets for those who seek our support or want to influence the decisions we make. For those who might be interested, on my website is a brief video entitled “Resisting the Drums of War” that applies this framework to describe how the Bush administration promoted the Iraq war.

CJ: There has been much conversation on the role of the media in the post September 11th world, most notably of the media's failure of critical coverage in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. During that period of time, how do you think the media's role contributed toward the overall public perception of issues surrounding going to war? Are there historical parallels that you have found?

RE: I think an independent, responsible, and vigilant media is crucially important because an effective democracy requires an informed and engaged public. Unfortunately, I believe in the U.S. we have moved away from this ideal since the most powerful media outlets have become part of even larger corporate enterprises closely connected to the political elite in Washington, DC. The mainstream media’s willingness to embrace the role of cheerleader in regard to the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a tragic failure, in my view. There were of course admirable exceptions to this tendency as well, but these voices were drowned out by the much larger chorus I’ve described.

CJ: Do you think the media has learned any lessons from this period of time or did this type of collective behavior lay the foundation for where we find ourselves today?

RE: We’ve learned some valuable lessons from this period, but it’s also difficult to measure how much things have changed. Who would have thought that only a few months into a new administration we’d be looking to significantly increase our military engagement in Afghanistan--again with surprisingly little debate, probing, or skepticism from the media or the public. It’s also interesting to me how, regardless of how embarrassing their track record might be, the same analysts and commentators continue to hold sway on TV and in the press. It feels as though celebrity has become a virtue that too often outranks all others (including wisdom, reliability, and integrity).

CJ: You recently wrote a piece entitled "How Americans Think About Torture - and Why" in which you discuss the Bush Administration's campaign in the selling of torture to Americans. Can you give an overview of some of the persuasive tactics that were used?

RE: My recent essay “How Americans Think About Torture--and Why” was an attempt to explain how we came to be so comfortable with the way detainees in the “war on terror” have been treated. I think there is no question that the Bush administration employed torture as commonly understood and as defined by international and U.S. law. But “torture” was replaced by euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Yet there’s no denying that these very same techniques--take waterboarding as an example--have long been viewed as inhumane and criminal when used by others.

The Bush administration’s persuasion campaign to garner public support for torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners is actually a good example of the “dangerous ideas” framework I described earlier. Consider these five components. They promoted our fear of another terrorist attack (vulnerability); without evidence, they emphasized that these horrific techniques were effective and necessary (helplessness); they encouraged us to see the detainees as “the worst of the worst” wrongdoers and therefore deserving of what was done to them (injustice); they claimed that their interrogation techniques served a higher moral purpose (superiority); and they painted opponents of this interrogation approach as misguided and untrustworthy (distrust).

CJ: Lately, with former Vice President Dick Cheney leading the charge, we have seen a number of people go on national television and openly advocate their support for so-called "harsh interrogation techniques". One of the results of this has been that the topic of torture seems to have been made into a political issue. How do you interpret the national conversation on torture and the impact that both media coverage and these various figures have had on this conversation? and also, do you feel that we have passed a point in time where we will be able to have a serious discussion on the issue of torture without being constrained to the framing that was put in place by the Bush Administration?

RE: It seems that there’s little that has not become politicized in this environment--and questions about torture are no exception. A “national conversation” about torture could be a very good thing, but I don’t think it’s unfolding here, or yet. One major obstacle is that we don’t have all of the information, there are conflicting accounts, and so on. That’s why something along the lines of a congressional “truth commission” has the potential to be so valuable. But the second big obstacle is that this is not an abstract issue. Rather, we’re potentially talking about very real and very serious crimes, so we can’t expect an open exchange of ideas. People’s lives and reputations hang in the balance (as they should). The ideal time for open discussion and debate would have been before pursuing the path of torture--and that did not happen. So now we have to do the best we can in a situation where sides are drawn and positions are entrenched. As an example, and to again oversimplify, how are we to know the extent to which former VP Dick Cheney’s recent statements on the subject are influenced by his self-interested desire to avoid criminal prosecution?

CJ: The group Physicians for Human Rights has recently called for an investigation into the role that the American Psychological Association played in the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody. Physicians for Human Rights claims that newly released documents indicate that the APA's ethics task force altered their policy to adhere to governmental interrogation policies. Can you speak to the significance of psychologists playing a role in overseeing these interrogations?

RE: The role of psychologists in detainee settings is an issue of great importance to me. I support the call for investigations by Physicians for Human Rights. Indeed, as president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, I have contributed to PsySR’s issuing a similar call. The details surrounding the American Psychological Association’s involvement in the Bush administration’s detainee practices are complex and much of this story is yet to be told (six key questions that PsySR has posed to the APA are available at http://www.psysr.org/questions). But at a very basic level, the ethical code of psychologists is built upon the principle of “do no harm”--and there is troubling evidence that this principle was ignored by individual psychologists working at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. As one instance, psychologists played a lead role in reverse-engineering the military’s SERE training program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) so that it could be used instead for the harsh interrogation (and torture) of detainees. In the eyes of many psychologists, the APA has been too slow to take forceful action to curtail or prevent such abuses of psychology. Fortunately, a membership referendum last fall has recently led to a new APA policy prohibiting psychologists from working “in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law…or the US Constitution…unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.” I believe this is an important step in the right direction.

CJ: At the conclusion of your recent piece, you express a hope that through the declassification of documents, high-level investigations, or congressional hearings, that the public may now be less wiling to buy the sales pitch that those who defend the policies of torture, will continue to feed the public. What gives you this hope? Do you believe we will truly be able to progress as a society if truth and accountability about these issues are not brought forth?

RE: In my recent essay on torture and public opinion, I did conclude by expressing some optimism that the public may be less susceptible to the manipulative selling of torture in the future. We do learn from our mistakes and, with sufficient evidence documenting the immoral and counterproductive nature of Bush era torture, I am cautiously hopeful that this will not be an exception.
But at the same time, as a psychologist I also believe that we will continue to be particularly susceptible to persuasion efforts that tap into our five core concerns (vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness). Depending upon the purposes for which these appeals and arguments are used, they can promote war and torture on the one hand, or peace, social justice, and human rights on the other.


Thanks to Roy Eidelson, President of Eidelson Consulting and President-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

The video that Eidelson mentions in the answer to the first question above can be found by clicking here and I have also included the video below:





This is crossposted here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Former Military Interrogator: "Torture has cost us American lives"

Matthew Alexander is a former senior military interrogator that conducted over 300 interrogations in Iraq and supervised over 1,000. He was lead interrogator for the military task force whose responsibility it was to track down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. He recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Brave New Films during which he rebuked statements made by former Vice President Cheney and asserted that "Torture has cost us American Lives".

Here is the video:

What do Danica Patrick, Michelle Wie, and Rachel Alexandra Have in Common?

I found this item, posted by StuntDouble, quite interesting.

Apparently, Fox Sports put out a list of women athletes that are good enough to compete with the men. The first woman on their list is Rachel Alexandra.

This is a picture of Rachel:



In case there is any confusion here, Rachel is the horse. Here is the description on the the Fox Sports website:

Girl power

Rachel Alexandra struck a blow for females everywhere when she became the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924. But she isn't the only female athlete to prove she can hang with the boys.


More from StuntDouble:

Which female athletes had the good fortune of an equine comparison? Well, there's Katie Hnida, first woman to score in a NCAA football game, but she was entangled in a rape-allegation scandal, Fox notes. There's Michelle Wie, but of course she faced "substantial criticism" when she only qualified for one of 14 PGA events. Legendary athletic phenomenon Babe Didrikson Zaharias is also mentioned, plus that one time she didn't qualify for that one event.



So yes, including a horse on a list of female athletes who can "compete with the boys" is stupid and condescending to female athletes, but I am in agreement with a point that StuntDouble makes. The fact that this list exists at all is a problem:

It seems to be common practice that when women reach elite levels in their individual sports, society insists on juxtaposing them to their male counterparts. Sure, she's good — but is she as good as a Tiger Woods/LeBron James/Patrick Rafter?

While athleticism in men has been encouraged since forever, it's only been in the last couple hundred years that women have been allowed to participate in athletics. Americans didn't even begin recording women's sports results until the early 1960s. Since that time, the gap seems to be closing. The men's marathon record each year is usually broken by an increment of about 60 seconds, whereas the women's marathon record decreases by about two-and-a-half minutes.

But does it really matter? Do women need to compete against men to be considered great athletes? My answer, obviously, is no.

Why, then, do you think it is that society insists on comparing them?

RNC Accidentally Leaks Their Talking Points on Sotomayor's Nomination

It has taken very little time for people to see how the Republicans plan to respond to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

The RNC has inadvertently leaked their talking points that were sent out to several hundred prominent Republicans. Check them out:

o President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is an important decision that will have an impact on the United States long after his administration.

o Republicans are committed to a fair confirmation process and will reserve judgment until more is known about Judge Sotomayor's legal views, judicial record and qualifications.

o Until we have a full view of the facts and comprehensive understanding of Judge Sotomayor's record, Republicans will avoid partisanship and knee-jerk judgments - which is in stark contrast to how the Democrats responded to the Judge Roberts and Alito nominations.

o To be clear, Republicans do not view this nomination without concern. Judge Sotomayor has received praise and high ratings from liberal special interest groups. Judge Sotomayor has also said that policy is made on the U.S. Court of Appeals.

o Republicans believe that the confirmation process is the most responsible way to learn more about her views on a number of important issues.

o The confirmation process will help Republicans, and all Americans, understand more about judge Sotomayor's thoughts on the importance of the Supreme Court's fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law.

o Republicans are the minority party, but our belief that judges should interpret rather than make law is shared by a majority of Americans.

o Republicans look forward to learning more about Judge Sotomayor's legal views and to determining whether her views reflect the values of mainstream America.

President Obama on Judicial Nominees


o Liberal ideology, not legal qualification, is likely to guide the president's choice of judicial nominees.

o Obama has said his criterion for nominating judges would be their "heart" and "empathy."

o Obama said he believes Supreme Court justices should understand the Court's role "to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process."

o Obama has declared: "We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old-and that's the criterion by which I'll be selecting my judges."

Additional Talking Points

o Justice Souter's retirement could move the Court to the left and provide a critical fifth vote for:

o Further eroding the rights of the unborn and property owners;

o Imposing a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage;

o Stripping "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance and completely secularizing the public square;

o Abolishing the death penalty;

o Judicial micromanagement of the government's war powers.


Now that you can read these talking points, is it any surprise that this was RNC Chairman Michael Steele's reaction to Sotomayor's nomination:

"Supreme Court vacancies are rare, which makes Sonia Sotomayor's nomination a perfect opportunity for America to have a thoughtful discussion about the role of the Supreme Court in our daily lives. Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views."

More on Sotomayor's Nomination

President Obama has now officially nominated federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to succeed Justice David Souter when he retires from the Supreme Court later this year.

As this story continues to develop and we move closer toward her confirmation hearings, it is all but certain that there will be strong backlash from members of the right against this pick. Prior to Sotomayor's nomination, we saw an indication of the line that critics would take if she were nominated.

Jeffrey Rosen of The New Republic led the way and questioned the intelligence of Sotomayor:

But despite the praise from some of her former clerks, and warm words from some of her Second Circuit colleagues, there are also many reservations about Sotomayor. Over the past few weeks, I've been talking to a range of people who have worked with her, nearly all of them former law clerks for other judges on the Second Circuit or former federal prosecutors in New York. Most are Democrats and all of them want President Obama to appoint a judicial star of the highest intellectual caliber who has the potential to change the direction of the court. Nearly all of them acknowledged that Sotomayor is a presumptive front-runner, but nearly none of them raved about her. They expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.

The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench," as one former Second Circuit clerk for another judge put it. "She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue." (During one argument, an elderly judicial colleague is said to have leaned over and said, "Will you please stop talking and let them talk?") Second Circuit judge Jose Cabranes, who would later become her colleague, put this point more charitably in a 1995 interview with The New York Times: "She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media."


Marc Hemmingway then called her "dumb and obnoxious" and then Rosen's claim was echoed by Fred Barnes and Karl Rove:




Tom Goldstein over at SCOTUS Blog has outlined the four lines of attack that will likely be leveled at Sotomayor and they include:

1. That she is not smart enough for the job
2. That she is a liberal ideologue or a "judicial activist"
3. That she is dismissive of opinions that she disagrees with
4. That she is "gruff" and "impersonable"

Goldstein indicates that all of these objections are thin, will not take hold and predicts that she will be easily confirmed.

Also worthy of note is another post by Goldstein at SCOTUS Blog in which several of her opinions from civil cases are highlighted and discussed. That post can be found here and gives a good outline of some of her opinions on various issues that she will likely be questioned on during her confirmation hearings.

Obama Picks Sotomayor for the Supreme Court




It is expected that at 10:15am this morning, President Obama will announce that he has picked federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor to succeed Justice David Souter who is retiring later this year.

From the Huffington Post:

Sotomayor is a self-described "Newyorkrican" who grew up in a Bronx housing project after her parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico. She has dealt with diabetes since age 8 and lost her father at age 9, growing up under the care of her mother in humble surroundings. As a girl, inspired by the Perry Mason television show, she knew she wanted to be a judge.

A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, a former prosecutor and private attorney, Sotomayor became a federal judge for the Southern District of New York in 1992. The district covers New York, Vermont and Connecticut.

As a judge, she has a bipartisan pedigree. She was first appointed by a Republican, President George H.W. Bush, then named an appeals judge by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

At her Senate confirmation hearing more than a decade ago, she said, "I don't believe we should bend the Constitution under any circumstance. It says what it says. We should do honor to it."


It will now be interesting to see the Republican's response this nominee. There has already been indication from some Republicans that no matter who Obama picked, they would attempt a filibuster.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Radio Host Agrees to Being Waterboarded, Now Agrees That it is Torture

Conservative talk radio host Eric "Mancow" Muller decided to get waterboarded on his radio show this morning to see just how bad it was.

Guess what? He now thinks it is torture.

Watch:



Mancow now joins the ranks of journalist Christopher Hitchens who also came to the same conclusion after he agreed to be waterboarded:

A Tale of Two Speeches and a Tale of Two Obamas

Yesterday I posted an entry prior to, what the media was dubbing as, the "dueling speeches" between President Obama and Vice President Cheney on anti-terrorism policy.

President Obama went first and gave a speech that was highly critical of the Bush Administration's policies over the last eight years:

Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. I believe that many of these decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.

[...]

the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable -- a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions, and that failed to use our values as a compass. And that's why I took several steps upon taking office to better protect the American people.



Obama went on to condemn waterboarding and torture, defend his decision to close the military base at Guantanamo Bay, and assure the people of the United States that we are a country that adheres to the rule of law and to the Constitution. It was a good speech that was well delivered and spoke very eloquently about the United States as a country that is obligated to respect and adhere to the principles upon which it was founded.

As expected, Dick Cheney's speech was sharply critical of President Obama for the decisions that he has made since being elected to the Presidency. Cheney also defending the decision made by the Bush Administration as well as the legacy that their policies have left behind:

What is equally certain is this: The broad-based strategy set in motion by President Bush obviously had nothing to do with causing the events of 9/11. But the serious way we dealt with terrorists from then on, and all the intelligence we gathered in that time, had everything to do with preventing another 9/11 on our watch. The enhanced interrogations of high-value detainees and the terrorist surveillance program have without question made our country safer. Every senior official who has been briefed on these classified matters knows of specific attacks that were in the planning stages and were stopped by the programs we put in place.


There have been some good reactions and observations on both speeches and I would like to share a few of them with you. First is the assessment that McClatchy Newspapers gave of Dick Cheney's speech in which they say that Cheney "ignored some inconvenient truths" in his speech. Here are a few examples from the McClatchy piece:

_ Cheney denied that there was any connection between the Bush administration's interrogation policies and the abuse of detainee at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, which he blamed on "a few sadistic guards . . . in violation of American law, military regulations and simple decency."

However, a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report in December traced the abuses at Abu Ghraib to the approval of the techniques by senior Bush administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own," said the report issued by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz. "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees."

[...]

_ Cheney said that only "ruthless enemies of this country" were detained by U.S. operatives overseas and taken to secret U.S. prisons.

A 2008 McClatchy investigation, however, found that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees captured in 2001 and 2002 in Afghanistan and Pakistan were innocent citizens or low-level fighters of little intelligence value who were turned over to American officials for money or because of personal or political rivalries.

In addition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Oct. 5, 2005, that the Bush administration had admitted to her that it had mistakenly abducted a German citizen, Khaled Masri, from Macedonia in January 2004.

Masri reportedly was flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he allegedly was abused while being interrogated. He was released in May 2004 and dumped on a remote road in Albania.

In January 2007, the German government issued arrest warrants for 13 alleged CIA operatives on charges of kidnapping Masri.

[...]

_ Cheney said that, in assessing the security environment after 9-11, the Bush team had to take into account "dictators like Saddam Hussein with known ties to Mideast terrorists."

Cheney didn't explicitly repeat the contention he made repeatedly in office: that Saddam cooperated with al Qaida, a linkage that U.S. intelligence officials and numerous official inquiries have rebutted repeatedly.

The late Iraqi dictator's association with terrorists vacillated and was mostly aimed at quashing opponents and critics at home and abroad.

The last State Department report on international terrorism to be released before 9-11 said that Saddam's regime "has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack since its failed plot to assassinate former President (George H.W.) Bush in 1993 in Kuwait."

A Pentagon study released last year, based on a review of 600,000 Iraqi documents captured after the U.S.-led invasion, concluded that while Saddam supported militant Palestinian groups — the late terrorist Abu Nidal found refuge in Baghdad, at least until Saddam had him killed — the Iraqi security services had no "direct operational link" with al Qaida.



Cheney's speech was quite typical of speeches that were given by various Bush Administration officials during their time in office. They mischaracterized facts, omitted contrary information, and flat-out lied in order to defend their lawless and reckless behavior. Instead of once again tearing down the neo-conservative agenda for the remainder of this post, let's return to the President.

There has also been some worthy criticism of Barack Obama's speech as being well delivered, but meaningless considering the actions that he has taken since he has taken office. Glenn Greenwald provides his insight:

The speech was fairly representative of what Obama typically does: effectively defend some important ideals in a uniquely persuasive way and advocating some policies that promote those ideals (closing Guantanamo, banning torture tactics, limiting the state secrets privilege) while committing to many which plainly violate them (indefinite preventive detention schemes, military commissions, denial of habeas rights to Bagram abductees, concealing torture evidence, blocking judicial review on secrecy grounds). Like all political officials, Obama should be judged based on his actions and decisions, not his words and alleged intentions and motives. Those actions in the civil liberties realm, with some exceptions, have been profoundly at odds with his claimed principles, and this speech hasn't changed that. Only actions will.


I agree with Greenwald's mixed reaction. Obama does a good job at making some very important points and arguments surrounding the need to refocus the country on the values and principles that we have strayed from in the last eight years. Within the same speech however, Obama openly argues for extending old policies and implementing new ones that violate the very areas to which he seeks recommittal.

dday echoes these sentiments:

So in public, the President gave a pretty speech about upholding the rule of law, but inside the White House, he vows not to uphold it, to do precisely the opposite of what he claims to believe makes us "who we are as a people." In fact, it does violence to the rule of law for the President to even decide who does and does not get prosecuted, as that is nowhere near within his jurisdiction. And as each new revelation about criminal activity committed at the highest levels comes out, the hollowness of Obama's rhetoric becomes more and more clear


Rachel Maddow also did a fantastic job at observing the same on her program last night:




Will Obama supporters now be in favor of so-called "prolonged detention"? It seems as though those who opposed "indefinite detention" under President Bush should oppose "prolonged detention" if they are being intellectually honest.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Today's Cage Match Between Obama and Cheney

President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney will both be giving speeches on the topic of anti-terrorism and national security later this morning and the corporate media are eating this up, portraying this as if it were a championship fight between two heavyweight boxers.

"Obama vs. Cheney" reads this headline on MSNBC and Politico has a headline entitled, "Barack Obama, Dick Cheney plan dueling speeches". My how the media loves a good political speech-off! So much so, that CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all plan to carrying Dick Cheney's speech in its entirety and predictably, will debate both speeches as if they carry equal weight.

I, for one, would like to see analysis of these speeches given in the following context. President Obama's speech, which will reportedly focus on Guantanamo Bay and the issues surrounding the closure of the base, actually has meaning considering that Obama is the President. Dick Cheney's speech, which will reportedly focus on how torture is a necessary tool in combating terror, are the words of a man who is not only making torture a partisan issue, but has been on a media tour trying to justify the lawless legacy that the Bush Administration has left behind.

This is only a "duel" because the corporate media are presenting it that way. What we really have is one speech by the President of the United States and another speech by a former Vice President who is desperate to defend the lawless legacy that he has left behind and in doing so, will rely on his continued strategy of defending torture and using fearmongering to claim we are "less safe" under Obama.

More thoughts and reactions on this after the two speeches.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Jesse Ventura

In case you didn't get a strong enough dose of Jesse Ventura with my earlier post, here is a clip from last night's "Hannity" on Fox News:



Sean Hannity's attempt at engaging in a new conversation with Ventura goes down the tubes quickly when he brings up the ridiculous "Obama is an idiot because he uses a teleprompter" smear. Ventura does a good job at countering the talking points that Hannity puts forth, but as expected, one is never going to make any headway on this program. Hannity has a list of questions and talking points that he is going to bring up no matter what his guest says and it results in him not addressing any points the guest brings up while quickly darting to the next item on his list. There is nothing "conversational" about that.

Michael "McFly" Steele Stars in 'Back to the Future: RNC Chair Edition'

RNC Chairman Michael Steele has a piece that is currently posted over at Politico that discusses reshaping the Republican Party. Steele believes that America needs the Republican Party now more than ever because the Democrats version of change has been to "push America to the left farther and faster than I think anyone could have imagined."

In response to the policies of the Democrats Steele says that the Republicans should do the following:

First, the Republican Party will be forward-looking – it is time to stop looking backward. Republicans have spent ample time re-examining the past. It has been a healthy and necessary task. But I believe it is now time for Republicans to focus all of our energies on winning the future by emerging as the party of new ideas. Republicans are emerging once again with the energy, the focus, and the determination to turn our timeless principles into new solutions for the future.



Later in his piece to emphasize this point Steele then says this:

The Republican Party has turned a corner, and as we move forward Republicans should take a lesson from Ronald Reagan. Again, we’re not looking back – if President Reagan were here today he would have no patience for Americans who looked backward. Ronald Reagan always believed Republicans should apply our conservative principles to current and future challenges facing America. For Reagan’s conservatism to take root in the next generation we must offer genuine solutions that are relevant to this age.


So let's get this straight, Steele thinks that Republicans need to look to the future and away from the past and the means by which to do this is to...look to Ronald Reagan's brand of conservatism and let it take root in the next generation.

Ronald Reagan "would have no patience for Americans who looked backward," Steele says, and then in the exact same paragraph advocates for Reagan's brand of 1980's conservatism.

Why would anyone take this seriously?

A Moment for a Deep Breath

With all of my posts on such serious topics, I think it is important to have moments that do a little to remind us of the good in humanity. A story that I saw on ABC World News last night that involves a banker and some ducks, did just that.

Embedding of the video has been disabled, so click here for the video.

Ventura Gets the Three-Count on Hasselbeck

Jesse Ventura has been making the rounds recently promoting his new book and speaking out against torture. Take a look at what happened when Elizabeth Hasselbeck decided to go head to head with Ventura on "The View":

Monday, May 18, 2009

McChrystal's Appointment Signals Obama's Adherence to Failed Bush Era Policies

President Obama recently appointed Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to head up the U.S. military command in Afghanistan, replacing Gen. David McKiernan.

McChrystal's selection immediately raised red flags over questionable conduct that has surrounded him regarding prisoners that were tortured under his command in Iraq and his role in covering up the friendly-fire death of former Arizona Cardinals star turned military hero, Pat Tillman. From Registan:

General McChrsytal carries with him a dark side as well. One unit under his command, the now-notorious Task Force 6-26, which was assigned to find HVTs, or High Value Targets in Iraq, is credited with the ultimate death of Zarqawi. The problem is, along the way they faced accusations of running a secret camp that tortured prisoners, and they were implicated in at least two detainee deaths during torture sessions. Their camp, called Camp Nama, became something of a lightning rod after a “computer malfunction” destroyed upwards of 70% of their records and an investigation into their conduct stalled out.

More relevant to Afghanistan is GEN McChrystal’s involvement in the shameful coverup of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death. While he was named among the list of high-ranking military personnel believed to have covered up the circumstances of Tillman’s death, GEN McChrystal was “spared because he had apparently drafted a memo urging other officials to stop spreading the lie that Tillman died fighting the Taliban. He drafted that memo, however, after signing the award for Tillman’s posthumously-awarded Silver Star, the commendation for which claims, in part, that he was leading the charge against a Taliban assault. GEN McChrystal has never clarified why he signed an award for Tillman dying under enemy fire right before begging his colleagues and superiors to stop lying about Tillman dying under enemy fire.


As the Tailban continues to control various regions around the Afghanistan/Pakistan border and frustration grows in Washington over the effectiveness of airstrikes in the region, it is apparent with the appointment of McChrystal that the Obama Administration is turning the focus of the fighting to the type of covert operations that McChrystal is known for. James Petras uses language that is more blunt in his most recent piece:

McChrystal’s rise to leadership is marked by his central role in directing special operations teams engaged in extrajudicial assassinations, systematic torture, bombing of civilian communities and search and destroy missions. He is the very embodiment of the brutality and gore that accompanies military-driven empire building.


Petras goes on to say that the very point of these special operations teams is that they do not distinguish between civilian and military opposition. That the very purpose of these groups is to "terrorize communities, neighborhoods, and social movements" underneath the surface and work to disband all forms of opposition that may have a hand in feeding ideas and motives to those who actively take up arms.

This conscious choice by Obama to put McChrystal in charge of these operations should be understood within this context. It is fair to ask whether the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan will have a chance of improving under the leadership of a Lieutenant General who has been surrounded by allegations of torture, murder, and covering up the truth. It would seem as though the United States is "changing direction" by taking a step backward in putting the military operations of the region under the command of someone who was a favorite of former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. As Obama continues to embrace the failed policies of the Bush Era it is certainly necessary for the progressives who believed that they would get change by electing Obama, to voice opposition to the continuation and expansion of failed ideas and policies.

Jason Petras is correct in observing that:

By focusing all resources on successful military conquest, scant attention is paid to the costs borne by the people targeted for conquest or to the US treasury and domestic American economy. This has been clear from the start: In the midst of a major recession/depression with millions of Americans losing their employment and homes, President Obama increased the military budget by 4% - taking it beyond $800 billion dollars.


This continual foreign policy wheel-spinning will end up doing two things:

1. Continue to dig the United States into greater financial turmoil by spending dollars on a bloated military budget while domestic services continue to suffer and,
2. Continue to isolate populations of people who already view the United States as a country determined to solve issues through militarism.

These policies centered around militaristic objectives have shown their ineffectiveness in combating terrorism and extremism in the past and will continue to only re-enforce the viewpoints that the United States is trying to combat. It is a cycle of madness that fails to critically address any of the fundamental issues and can only result in more bloodshed for Americans and the Afghani people.



This piece is crossposted here.

A Great Reference on Torture and Rumsfeld's Bible Quotes

There are two things worth mentioning this morning to start the week.

First as we continue the conversation surrounding torture, Batocchio has an extremely comprehensive and well-written piece on this topic. It provides links to a lot of relevant blog entries as well as many other sources. You will find that this is well worth your time. You can find the piece here and here is a snippet:

This is not a game. These torture "debates" should not be thought experiments divorced from objective reality, history, the known timeline and the very real and deadly consequences of these policies. It's one thing for members of the general public to be confused or not be up to date on the general timeline and key details, or be swayed by fantastical ticking time bomb scenarios. It's one thing for the bloodthirsty chickenhawks who assume every Muslim or Arab prisoner is a guilty terrorist to indulge in their ignorant, self-flattering Jack Bauer fantasies of living in the "real world" of tough decisions. It's inexcusable that so many members of the media still - still - know and/or report these matters so poorly. We deserve and need better.

[...]

We have failed as a nation in allowing torture. We will fail again if we don't learn the full story and prosecute where appropriate as many of the guilty as possible. The perpetrators and their allies say they've done nothing wrong, so why would they stop should they re-gain (or maintain) power? The specific abuses of power may change, but the pattern of abuse will not. There's a direct line from Watergate through Iran-Contra to the Bush administration's abuses. As the recently-released Senate report shows, there's also a direct connection from trying to sell an unnecessary war with Iraq to torturing prisoners to make them "confess" to a non-existent Iraq-al Qaeda/9-11 link.

[...]

Torture is immoral and illegal. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but there's more than one road, and the price of doing nothing is just too damn high. It's a radical stance to be sure, but: Let the truth come out, and justice be done.



Also noteworthy this morning is the news that during his tenure as Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld delivered intel briefings to the President with Bible verses printed over top of military imagery. These Bible versus began appearing on the cover sheets of the intel briefings around the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and were delivered to a President who once referred to the mission of the United States as a "crusade". You can view the cover sheets of the intel reports here and here is a sample of some of the Bible versus that were used:

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” [The quote appears over an image of a tank at sunrise]

“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” [The quote appears over an image of a soldier in Baghdad]

“It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” [The quote appears over an image of Saddam Hussein]

“Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, The nation that keeps faith.” [The quote appears over an image of tanks entering an Iraqi city]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Colin Powell's Former Chief of Staff: Torture Was Used to Link Al Qaeda to Saddam

Former Chief of Staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, was recently on "The Rachel Maddow Show" discussing the various comments made in the media by Former Vice President Dick Cheney:



Wilkerson then posted an entry on the website of the Washington Note in which he stated:

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002--well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion--its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just "committed suicide" in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi....)


The seriousness of what went on over the last eight years under the leadership of the Bush Administration cannot be stressed enough. Claims that torture was being applied to detainees to elicit false information on a non-existant link between Al Qaeda and Iraq remind me of the words of another former Administration official.

Take a journey with me back to 2004 when President Bush's top adviser on terrorism, Richard Clarke, made the following claims on 60 Minutes (emphasis mine):

Clarke says that as early as the day after the attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, even though al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan.

Clarke suggests the idea took him so aback, he initally thought Rumsfeld was joking.

[...]


After the president returned to the White House on Sept. 11, he and his top advisers, including Clarke, began holding meetings about how to respond and retaliate. As Clarke writes in his book, he expected the administration to focus its military response on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He says he was surprised that the talk quickly turned to Iraq.

"Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said to Stahl. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.

"Initially, I thought when he said, 'There aren't enough targets in-- in Afghanistan,' I thought he was joking.

"I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection, but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying we've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection."

Clarke says he and CIA Director George Tenet told that to Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Clarke then tells Stahl of being pressured by Mr. Bush.

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the president saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't-- wouldn't like the answer."


Clarke's statements were made five years ago. Seems like some of the puzzles pieces are beginning to fit together to bring things full circle.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More Reaction to Obama Suppressing Torture Photos

President Obama's decision to try and block the release of photographs that depict the abuse of detainees has sparked a vocal chorus of opinions in the blogosphere.

Glenn Greenwald follwed up his initial reaction with today's entry in which he states:

We're currently occupying two Muslim countries. We're killing civilians regularly (as usual) -- with airplanes and unmanned sky robots. We're imprisoning tens of thousands of Muslims with no trial, for years. Our government continues to insist that it has the power to abduct people -- virtually all Muslim -- ship them to Bagram, put them in cages, and keep them there indefinitely with no charges of any kind. We're denying our torture victims any ability to obtain justice for what was done to them by insisting that the way we tortured them is a "state secret" and that we need to "look to the future." We provide Israel with the arms and money used to do things like devastate Gaza. Independent of whether any or all of these policies are justifiable, the extent to which those actions "inflame anti-American sentiment" is impossible to overstate.

And now, the very same people who are doing all of that are claiming that they must suppress evidence of our government's abuse of detainees because to allow the evidence to be seen would "inflame anti-American sentiment." It's not hard to believe that releasing the photos would do so to some extent -- people generally consider it a bad thing to torture and brutally abuse helpless detainees -- but compared to everything else we're doing, the notion that releasing or concealing these photos would make an appreciable difference in terms of how we're perceived in the Muslim world is laughable on its face.


Meanwhile Andrew Sullivan backtracks somewhat on his initial outrage and now is asking that we give Obama a break:

When you have inherited a policy of war crimes, and you are still fighting a war, balancing accountability with responsibility is tough. I think, having made our point, we should cut the man some slack on this. What matters is holding those who destroyed America's moral standing responsible. That is a struggle for patriots to engage, a Truth Commission to study, and the attorney-general to pursue, while allowing the president to do his job as commander-in-chief.


I am in agreement with Greenwald on this one. If Obama is serious about accountability (which does not necessarily conflict with responsibility) then he would not be making efforts to suppress these images, continue to argue for indefinite detention, and actively try to continue and expand Bush-era policies.

Indeed, what matters is holding those "who destroyed America's moral standing responsible", but in all of these instances Obama has showed by his actions that he is not willing to move this country closer toward doing so. It is disingenuous to continue to hold one's breath for the moment where Obama will decide to emerge as the Progressive that many of his supporters thought he would be.

Maybe if President Obama is so concerned over sparking anti-American sentiment, he should be more concerned with acts such as these:

American soldiers opened fire and killed a 12-year old boy after a grenade hit their convoy in Mosul on Thursday.

The boy was found with ten thousand Iraqi dinars in his hand - worth less than $9. U.S. officials said the money is evidence of a disturbing new trend.

"We have every reason to believe that insurgents are paying children to conduct these attacks or assist the attackers in some capacity, undoubtedly placing the children in harm's way," a U. S. military spokesman wrote in an email on Saturday.

But eyewitnesses said the boy, identified as Omar Musa Salih, was standing by the side of the road selling fruit juice - a common practice in Iraq -- and had nothing to do with the attack.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Obama to Try and Block the Release of Photographs that Depict Abuse

It had been expected that the Obama Administration was going to comply with a court order stemming from a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and release photographs which depict abuse of detainees that were held in U.S. custody. The ACLU wanted the release of these photographs to counter the arguments of the Bush Administration that the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident and not part of government policy.

Ever since the Obama Administration announced that they would comply with the court order, there has been an outcry from both lawmakers and commentators on the Right claiming that the release of these photos would make those serving in the United States military less safe. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) even wrote a letter to President Obama in which they asked for the photographs not to be released because they would serve "no public good" and "endanger our men and women in uniform".

It is now being reported that the Obama Administration has reversed itself and that President Obama has now directly decided to oppose the release of these additional photos citing a concern for the safety of U.S. troops. Speaking to the New York Times, one anonymous administration official stated:

"The president strongly believes that the release of these photos, particularly at this time, would only serve the purpose of inflaming the theaters of war, jeopardizing US forces and making our job more difficult in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."


and another senior administration official stated:

"The president would be the last to excuse the actions depicted in these photos. That is why the Department of Defense investigated these cases, and why individuals have been punished through prison sentences, discharges, and a range of other punitive measures."


Aside from this last interesting quote (Obama is apparently in favor of prosecutions and investigations for some who carried out torture, but not for those who ordered it), the outcry over the release of these photos takes on an interesting dynamic.

On one hand you have people like Sean Hannity, Liz Cheney, Joe Lieberman, and others claiming that the release of these photos will depict American troops in a "negative light" and would cause us national harm, while on the other hand you have this same group of people actively defending the use of torture as necessary to our safety. Here is a compilation put together by ThinkProgress:



Note how in the video clip the acts in the photos are denounced by many as something that happened "in the past" and they speak of these actions as if they are obviously wrong. This does two things, first this deflects from the obvious point that the appalling act is not the release of the photos, but that these acts of torture were occurring in the first place and authorized by the last Administration. Secondly, it deflects from the aforementioned point that these same people who are so against the release of these awful photos are the exact same people who are advocating and justifying the use of torture over the last eight years.

It is situations like these which allow for Liz Cheney to state in one breath that by releasing these photos Obama is in fact "siding with the terrorists" and claim in another breath that the United States never engaged in torture and that techniques like waterboarding are vital to saving American lives.




This entry is crossposted here

Helping to Explain the Fragmenting of the Right

What can help explain the decline of the Right in this country? Glenn Greenwald thinks that part of it is quite simple: the face that they put forward in the form of conservative talk radio, is repulsive. From Greenwald's entry:

Last night, someone named Andrew Wilkow guest-hosted Mark Levin's radio program -- one of the highest-rated right-wing talk radio shows in America, whose host is selling more books to a right-wing audience right now than anyone since their leading intellectual historian compared liberals to Nazis with a smiling Hitler face on the cover -- and within the first fifteen minutes this is what he said:

"Perez Hilton, who I am now terming a vile sodomite . . . yeah, Perez, you’re a vile sodomite – doesn’t that word have a ring to it – sodomite -- and vile – vile sodomite – it just sounds so good to hear in my headphones – vile sodomite . . . . I’m not sure whose idea it was to have an overweight homosexual . . . What do gays constitute? They could announce the cure for AIDS on Logo and nobody would know for two weeks . . . And again, Perez Hilton, you’re a vile sodomite . . . and then this vile sodomite . . ."

It went on and on like that. He then continued:

"You, the idiot taxpayer, are paying the salary of that nice little boy, Rachel Maddow . . . Keith Olbermann’s nephew, Rachel Maddow . . ."


No one is saying that the entire Conservative movement endorses these ideas or this kind of discourse, in fact this is precisely the point that Greenwald is trying to make, that this is part of the reason the Right is in decline. But shows like Levin's are widely popular and act as the face of a movement that claims to be the primary voice of genuine populist opposition to the current Administration.

As Camille Paglia mentions in her most recent piece:

In a harried, fragmented, media-addled time, there is an invigorating simplicity to this political fundamentalism. It is comforting to hold fast to hallowed values, to defend tradition against the slackness of relativism and hedonism. But when the tone darkens toward a rhetoric of purgation and annihilation, there is reason for alarm.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

White Phosphorous in Afghanistan

The Associated Press recently reported that injured civilians in Afghanistan are showing signs of being injured by White Phosphorous. White Phosphorous is a chemical agent that can be used legally in war to illuminate targets or create smoke, but its use in heavily populated areas or in situations where civilians can be injured and burned is condemned internationally and can even constitute a war crime.

The American military has denied that they used this substance in this most recent battle which killed 125-140 civilians in the Farah region, but hinted that the Taliban may have been responsible for its use. The United States is also blaming the deaths of these civilians on the Taliban by claiming that they used these civilians as human shields during the fighting. Chris Floyd reacts:

What's more, the Pentagon is now trying to claim that the mass slaughter of more than 140 civilians last week -- killed after a sustained bombing raid destroyed a compound where children, women and old men were sheltering from a battle miles away -- was really the Taliban's fault. How can that be, when officials of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, the International Red Cross and eyewitnesses on the ground all say that the compound, and three surrounding villages, were pulverized by a raid lasting several hours? Why, the discovery that some survivors were also by white phosphorus proves it! Because although the Pentagon routinely uses white phosphorus all over the country, it didn't use it on the day of the slaughter! And how do we know this? Because... the Pentagon said so! Case closed! Just as it was when General McChrystal signed off on Tillman's medal for his heroic death in battle, despite knowing the truth about the "friendly fire" killing.


It should be noted that the United States has used White Phosphorous before, most notably in the 2004 assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah. In October, 2008 I listened to Iraqi veteran Eugene Cherry also confirm the use of White Phosphorous by the United States. From my piece in October:

In 2004, after the U.S. assault on the city of Fallujah, independent reporters began to report that the United States had used chemical weapons on civilians during the assault. Reporter Dahr Jamail was one of those who began to report that he had spoken with Iraqi doctors who treated citizens who "had their skin melted". The U.S. initially denied having used white phosphorus during the assault, then said they had used it only to light up enemy positions at night, and then admitted that they did use the chemical weapon, but assured us that they did not target civilians. Eugene Cherry confirms that the United States did use this weapon and that the those within the military called it "shake and bake".


Despite these recent deaths of Afghan civilians and the call from Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the U.S. to end the airstrikes, the Obama Administration has made clear that the airstrikes will continue.



Above photo is courtesy of here

Monday, May 11, 2009

Selling Torture

Roy Eidelson has an interesting piece posted on CommonDreams today that discusses the American public's perception of torture. I am in agreement that when we discuss this issue, we also must take a look at how torture has been sold to the public by its proponents. Just as marketing has had an effect on selling the public everything from the latest soft drink to the latest war in the Middle East, it is essential to look at the message that has been, and continues to be, emphasized.

Eidelson does a good job in boiling this message down to five main points that the Bush Administration and other torture supporters have used:

1. Instilling fear into the minds of Americans by perpetuating the post-9/11 fears that this country is in imminent danger.

2. Torture is necessary in keeping Americans safe.

This second point is interesting because when the interrogation policies of the Bush Administration were still under lock and key, we didn't really see this strategy being used publicly. Only now, after more details continue to emerge, do we see the likes of Dick Cheney and other torture apologists coming out and saying that these polices were instrumental in keeping Americans safe. I would amend this point slightly to say that pre-emptive war policy (torture is included in this) was sold to Americans as necessary in keeping American's safe.

3. Those who are being tortured are monsters and do not adhere to the normal conduct of war.

4. The United States does not want to use torture, but only uses it for the greater good and to save American lives.

5. Critics of interrogation policies (including human rights groups, leaders, and activists) can not and should not be trusted.

I would also say that this fifth point was coupled with labeling the opposition to these policies as being stuck in a "pre 9/11 mindset". That somehow on 9/11 everything, including the lengths that we were willing to go to as a moral country, were forced upon us by an unconventional enemy.

I think that these points are important and necessary to understand in looking at the ongoing debate over the interrogation policies of the Bush Administration. These points continue to be used, most notably, by former Vice President Cheney in defending the Administration's role in approving these policies. Cheney continues to claim that President Obama is making the country less safe by discontinuing torture...an argument that he deduces directly from his flawed premised outlined in point number two above.

Also, today we have learned of the suicide of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Al-Libi ran an Al-Qaeda training camp and after his capture in 2002 by the United States, was tortured. During his interrogation he stated that Saddam Hussein was working with Al-Qaeda and these claims were echoed by President Bush in a speech in Cincinnati and Colin Powell in his infamous speech to the United Nations to make the case for an invasion of Iraq. This information, was obviously wrong and according to the Senate Intelligence Committee's September 8, 2006 report (emphasis mine):

Postwar findings support the DIA February 2002 assessment that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was likely intentionally misleading his debriefers when he said that Iraq provided two al-Qa'ida associates with chemical and biological weapons (CBW) training in 2000… Postwar findings do not support the CIA's assessment that his reporting was credible… No postwar information has been found that indicates CBW training occurred and the detainee who provided the key prewar reporting about this training recanted his claims after the war… CIA's January 2003 version of Iraqi Support for Terrorism described al-Libi's reporting for CBW training "credible", but noted that the individuals who traveled to Iraq for CBW training had not returned, so al-Libi was not in position to know if the training had taken place… In January 2004, al-Libi recanted his allegations about CBW training and many of his other claims about Iraq's links to al Qa'ida. He told debriefers that, to the best of his knowledge, al-Qa'ida never sent any individuals into Iraq for any kind of support in chemical or biological weapons. Al-libi told debriefers that he fabricated information while in U.S. custody to receive better treatment and in response to threats of being transferred to a foreign intelligence service which he believed would torture him… He said that later, while he was being debriefed by a (REDACTED) foreign intelligence service, he fabricated more information in response to physical abuse and threats of torture.


Torture is necessary to keep Americans safe, or manipulate their opinion to get them to support invading a country that the Bush Administration already had their sights set upon attacking.

Same thing.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mustardgate

Seriously?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama's Decision to Pray Privately Not Good Enough for Some

Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson is not that happy with President Obama in his latest blog post. Bronson's criticisms center around Obama's decision to "not take a White House role" in the National Day of Prayer. Instead, Obama decided that he would rather pray privately.

Why does this irk Bronson?:

Outside of attending the offensively radical church of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, there was little evidence of Obama's faith, except what he told us. But since being elected, he broke with tradition by skipping church after his innauguration in favor of a workout; he still has not found a church home after attending a D.C. church on Easter; and he decided not to take a White House role in the National Day of Prayer, saying that instead he would pray privately.

It looks like Obama spent more time in church campaigning than he has since he was elected.


Bronson readily admits that for many, this topic is meaningless and rightly so. After all, Obama was not elected to give us spiritual guidance, that is up to our own individual beliefs and how we wish to express them. Bronson however, disagrees that this topic lacks importance. He says that for people like him, faith is an important part of life and should be a "bedrock foundation for our leaders too".

Bronson goes on to claim that because our nation was founded by Christians, because the majority of those who are asked about religious preference prefer Christianity, and because most people choose Christianity, that we are a Christian nation. While this paragraph is apparently used to show us that he believes that Christianity is number one in his eyes, he mentions that Obama did not just insult Christians, but all people of faith.

Here are the reasons why Bronson believes that Obama made a mistake in not taking a more public role in the National Day of Prayer:


1.) He passed up an opportunity to reassure us all that he respects and shares our faith. Unfortunately, his decision will add fuel to criticism and suspicions that he's a merely political Christian, such as the comments by Rush Limbaugh to his radio audience.


By "our faith" I assume that Bronson means Christianity. If this is a day that celebrates all faiths, then why does Bronson feel that it is important for Obama to express that he shares a specific faith? It has been well-established that Obama is of the Christian faith (except to those who still think he is a closet Muslim), so why would anyone think Obama doesn't respect the religion to which he is a member? It seems as though the only people who are adding fuel to this fire are people like Bronson who continue to advance these claims.

2.) Obama missed the point. He said he would rather pray privately. Many Christians agree and do that every day. But this was not about him. It was about the office of the presidency and using that national pulpit for a few minutes to show respect for all people of faith.


Bronson admits what his real criticism is about in this very point. This isn't about Obama's own relationship with his God, this is about Bronson and others being upset that he did not use his office to advocate for the religious. Obama, like many Presidents before, issued a proclamation in support of the National Day of Prayer which Bronson does mention, but this is apparently not enough. Isn't issuing a Presidential Proclamation "using the national pulpit to show respect for all people of faith"?

3.) Obama turned a non-partisan, ecumenical event into a political jab, by once again going out of his way to show us he is not like President Bush. By now, we all get that. We also know that being the anti-Bush is not always an improvement. Bush's celebrations of the Day of Prayer were classy, considerate and inspirational -- a refreshing respite from the partisan hair-pulling of D.C.


Bronson interprets Obama's actions as a calculated political decision to do the opposite of what President Bush did. This is a baseless claim. Just because Obama's actions were not the same as President Bush's actions does not automatically mean that this was the prime motivator in this decision. Rewind time to 2002 and you can make the same ridiculous argument by replacing Obama's name with "Bush" and Bush's name with "Bush Sr." or "Reagan" since they were not in the habit of holding White House events on the National Day of Prayer.

Bronson's implication is that Obama's decisions were either "classy", "considerate", or "inspirational". It seems like the only person turning this into a "political jab" is Peter Bronson.

4.) Extremists like the Freedom From Religion Foundation want to outlaw observances -- even proclamations -- by claiming they violate separation of church and state. But Congress is opened by prayers; they are written on our courthouses, our currency and our common ideals. Efforts to eradicate religion from our public life would be shocking to the Founders. Such as:

John Adams: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

George Washington: "Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society."

Patrick Henry: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great Nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here."

Obama's faith is between him and God. But the way he treats faith as our president is a fair topic for criticism.


I don't think that "extremist" groups who advocate the separation of church and state would be quite as shocking to the founders as Bronson suggests. Here is a clip from an 1802 letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions"

[...]

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."


Bronson's blog entry is nothing more than the right's continued attempt to attack Obama for anything and everything. How else can you explain Bronson stating in one breath: "It looks like Obama spent more time in church campaigning than he has since he was elected." and then in the next breath state: "Obama's faith is between him and God." If Obama's faith (or lack thereof according to Bronson) is truly between him and his God, then why on Earth does it matter how many times Obama has been to church? The only reason that it matters is to further this baseless and pointless attack.

Below is the proclamation that President Obama signed for this year's National Day of Prayer. It is actions like these that have led those like Bronson to claim that Obama is not showing respect for people of all faiths. (Emphasis mine)

NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER, 2009

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

Throughout our Nation's history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer. In 1775, as the Continental Congress began the task of forging a new Nation, colonists were asked to observe a day of quiet humiliation and prayer. Almost a century later, as the flames of the Civil War burned from north to south, President Lincoln and the Congress once again asked the American people to pray as the fate of their Nation hung in the balance.

It is in that spirit of unity and reflection that we once again designate the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Let us remember those who came before us, and let us each give thanks for the courage and compassion shown by so many in this country and around the world.

On this day of unity and prayer, let us also honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We celebrate their commitment to uphold our highest ideals, and we recognize that it is because of them that we continue to live in a Nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience.

Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and goodwill. Our world grows smaller by the day, and our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. As we observe this day of prayer, we remember the one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule, and its call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

The Congress, by Public Law 100-307, as amended, has called on the President to issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a "National Day of Prayer."

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 7, 2009, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God's continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventh day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.

BARACK OBAMA





This piece is also posted at: http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com