Thursday, June 22, 2006

False Confessions Rampant

False confessions to serious crimes as a result of police misconduct during interrogations (something that used to be glorified on NYPD Blue if the times I occasionally watched the show were at all representative; another example of entertainment as propaganda) are a serious problem in the U.S. An illustration of the extent of the problem comes from one of the co-founders of the Innocence Project who notes that "of the 180 inmates in the United States exonerated by DNA testing in the last two decades, 44 had falsely confessed." The quote comes from a Los Angeles Times article which focuses on a case in Texas in which an innocent man confessed to murder after police threatened him with the death penalty and prison rape.

[Henry Weinstein, "Freed Man Gives Lesson on False Confessions," Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2006]

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Iraq War Fought "To Make An Example" Of Hussein

Michiko Kakutani, reviewing Ron Suskind's book, "The One Percent Doctrine," writes that the Iraq war, "according to the author's sources who attended National Security Council briefings in 2002, was primarily waged 'to make an example' of Saddam Hussein, to 'create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States.'" This is a quote sure to turn up in Chomsky's next book.

Of less political significance, but nonetheless interesting, it seems the portrait of Cheney as Bush's puppet master does indeed have some validity. Kakutani writes:
This book augments the portrait of Mr. Bush as an incurious and curiously uninformed executive that Mr. Suskind earlier set out in "The Price of Loyalty" and in a series of magazine articles on the president and key aides. In "The One Percent Doctrine," he writes that Mr. Cheney's nickname inside the C.I.A. was Edgar (as in Edgar Bergen), casting Mr. Bush in the puppet role of Charlie McCarthy, and cites one instance after another in which the president was not fully briefed (or had failed to read the basic paperwork) about a crucial situation.

["Personality, Ideology and Bush's Terror Wars," New York Times, June 20, 2006]

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Democratic Party's Anti-war Pose

The House engaged in "impassioned" debate on the Iraq war today, reports the Associated Press. Republicans, taking their lead from House Speaker Hastert and armed with a "debate prep book" provided by the Pentagon, took a bold stand against "evildoers" (perhaps the prep book was a comic book?) while the Democratic leader, Pelosi, called the war a "grotesque mistake" - rather than a deliberate act.

Although the war has become unpopular with the public, it is the Republicans who are on the offensive, seeking "to put lawmakers of both parties on record on an issue certain to be central in this fall's congressional elections." Congressional Democrats are "divided into three camps. Some want troops to leave Iraq this year. Others object to setting any kind of timetable. A number of them want the United States to start redeploying forces by year's end but don't want to set a date when all troops should be out."

It is interesting to consider why this apparent paradox exists. There is considerable confusion on the left about the nature of the Democratic Party machine, as evidenced by the frequent charge that Democratic representatives are 'cowardly' or 'spineless;' one cannot speak of 'bravery' or 'cowardice' in relation to those who have no principles save to abide the power of the purse. In this context, it is nearly inconceivable that Democratic VIPs would take note of the rights of the victims of imperial aggression - but if one is to ignore this aspect of the war in Iraq, one must adduce other objections to the venture. Indeed, there are many purely self-interested factors that could be noted, a predictable increase in terrorism against the U.S., the enormous costs, etc. However, here too we run into problems - those who wish to uphold the dominant ideological line must be careful not to undermine the system with subversive ideas. As a result, even the most dovish representatives are unwilling to appeal to their (much more anti-war) popular constituencies with anything beyond lamentations of the "grotesque mistake." The "mistake" was made by most of the Congressional Democrats, as well as Republicans, tricked into it by the devious Bush administration no doubt. It's not exactly the strongest argument, even if it were true, pleading one's own susceptibility to transparently false arguments for the war. The Republican accusation is, after all, quite true - the Democrats are simply hypocritical and inconsistent in attempting to opportunistically capture the anti-war vote, putting aside for a moment that the Democrat's appeals consist mostly of rhetorical flourishes, largely devoid of any policy significance.

["House Debates Resolution on Iraq War," the Associated Press, June 15, 2006]
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Republicans Blocked Black Voters In 2004?

If Greg Palast is to be believed, there is solid evidence that the Republican Party used a calculated plan to deliberately exclude large numbers (from tens of thousands to a million) of voters in the 2004 elections because they were black. If this is indeed credible (the case is presented in his new book), it would obviously be quite significant. It's worth looking into this story further and following the reactions it receives.

["The Front Lines of the Class War from 1927 to Today," Democracy Now!, June 14th, 2006]

Iran: No Need For US To Invade

Juan Cole reports that an advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently "joked that there was not need for the US to invade Iran. He said that the US had invaded Afghanistan and established an Islamic republic there. Then it had done the same thing in Iraq. Since Iran has had an Islamic republic for 27 years, he said, there really isn't a point in a US invasion." Cole notes that the jest has more than a little truth to it: "The Northern Alliance that the US installed in Afghanistan is a coalition of the Sunni Jami'at-i Islami and the Hazara Shiite Hizb-i Vahdat. And in Iraq, you now have the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Da'wa Party, not to mention the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front, as the leading parties, and the new constitution forbids legislation contradicting Islamic law." Indeed, it's well understood by those that care to see that the U.S. has long been fomenting Islamic fundamentalism, either directly or indirectly.

Complaints Against New Orleans Police Are Up

Complaints against the New Orleans police force are up, though it's not clear if this is because the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has caused people to be less accepting of the established order or because the police are indeed even more abusive than before. "For some residents, the sense that the city is on edge and the department's future uncertain has brought echoes of the days when the local police were considered among the least competent and most racist and brutal in the nation."

"Given where they are mentally and emotionally, we've gotten more citizen complaints about the way the police are treating people than we have in a long time," said Oliver M. Thomas Jr., the City Council president. "Over the last two years, they'd been getting better and more professional. But I've been hearing lots of complaints about verbal abuse."

It's surely not a hopeful sign that the new "blunt-talking" police superintendent uses phrases like "gutter punks."

The article also notes that one of the reasons the force is having difficulty recruiting new officers is the lack of affordable housing. Some officers "have had to double up with other officers or move to distant suburbs to find housing they can afford on their salaries of $35,000 to $50,000." One can only imagine the difficulties in returning to the city for the significant percentage of the city's former population who don't earn a decent wage.

[Christopher Drew, "Police Struggles in New Orleans Raise Old Fears," New York Times, June 13, 2006]

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U.S. Opposes Democracy In Somalia

It seems that, whatever their faults, the Islamic groups now in power in Mogadishu, Somalia are preferred by the general population to the U.S.-backed warlords that have been in power since 1991.

...the residents of Mogadishu, who have been able to move freely around the city for the first time in years. For many here that is enough to suggest the Islamists are the good guys.
"We don't believe they are like the Taliban," says Ahmed Mohamed Wasuge, who owns a hardware shop. "At the moment the sharia courts are working for us and have brought peace and security, which all the communities of Mogadishu welcome."

[Rob Crilly, "Mogadishu's unfamiliar calm," Christian Science Monitor, June 15, 2006]

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bush Surprises al-Maliki

NBC, reporting President Bush's surprise visit to Iraq today, notes that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "didn't know Bush was in Baghdad until five minutes before they met." For security reasons, "The trip was known only to a handful of aides and a small number of reporters sworn to secrecy..." The "dramatic move" by Bush is but a minor illustration of the utter absence of sovereignty in Iraq. Can one imagine an important head of state of a foreign country putting in a surprise appearance on US soil to meet Bush without the prior knowledge of Washington? "Thanks for having me," Bush is reported to have said upon meeting al-Maliki, presumably without irony.

Symbolically, the meeting took place in the current U.S. Embassy, formerly a palace of Saddam Hussein.

["Bush tells PM: Iraq's future 'is in your hands'," NBC News and news services, June 13, 2006]

Monday, June 12, 2006

Asymmetrical Warfare Postscript

An addendum to my earlier post - Reuters reports that "State Department image crafters" are upset by the "asymmetrical warfare" comments of Guantanamo commander Harry Harris, as well as the remark by a senior State Department official who referred to the suicides as a "great PR move" by the enemy. It seems the indiscreet comments could "further erode America's image among allies." The article adopts the proper framing of the issue: 'never mind the abhorrent underlying government policies, what's important is the impolite honesty of the officials in revealing their crassness.'

[Sue Pleming, "US seeks to deal with Guantanamo suicides fallout," Reuters, June 12, 2006]

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The U.S. as Rogue State

The U.S. usage of the death penalty in defiance of international human rights norms has caused most of the world's governments to refuse to extradite criminal suspects to the US unless provided with guarantees that the suspects' elementary rights (not being subject to the death penalty) will be protected. In response, the US government has turned to illegal international kidnapping (euphamistically referred to as "rendition") to seize whom it pleases.

A Human Rights Watch researcher notes that the use of illegal detention and torture "has severely compromised the chances of prosecuting terrorist suspects." Yet another illustration that the Bush administration does not prioritize combating terrorism - even the "retail terrorism" (non-state terrorism) of the enemy.

[Mithre J. Sandrasagra, "A Hindrance to U.S. War on Terror, Say Rights Groups," Inter Press Service, June 10, 2006]

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U.S. Bravely Combats Asymmetrical Warfare

The first successful suicides occurred at Guantanamo Bay on Saturday, the culmination of dozens of attempts in the past several years by prisoners at the camp who are held "lawlessly" in the words of Human Rights Watch. Although rights groups (HRW and others) said the deaths were "driven by despair," the camp commander saw through such phony baloney - the suicides were "not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us." The "warfare" is "asymmetrical" because "They have no regard for life, either ours or their own." Such justifications almost defy comment. The notion that the enemy does not share the West's sacred reverence for life is recurrent throughout our history, though this instance is perhaps exceptionally absurd.

Kevin brought my attention to this article. ["Triple suicide at Guantanamo camp," BBC News, 11 June 2006]

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Colombia Still Most Dangerous For Trade Unions

The most recent "Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights" published by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions found that: "Latin America remained the most perilous region for trade union activity, with Colombia once again topping the list for killings, intimidation and death threats. 70 Colombian unionists paid the ultimate price for standing up for fundamental rights at work." Other U.S. dominions singled out for special mention in the press release accompanying the report included Iraq and El Salvador.

["Brutal Suppression of Workers' Rights Detailed in Worldwide Report," ICFTU press release, June 6, 2006]

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Government-corporate Dirty Dealings

In an episode reminiscent of an X-Files show, the chief investigator for Iowa Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley was attacked last November by an "assailant, dressed in black" who "clubbed her with what appeared to be a baseball bat." Senator Grassley, who has apparently earned a reputation as a champion of anti-corruption reform in the FDA, suspects she was attacked because of the unwelcome investigations she led on drug safety and other issues. "If they had knocked her out with the first hit, she'd be dead. She was able to just survive and fight back, and the guy got scared and ran off," the Senator commented.

Among other inappropriate FDA behavior, Grassley's office investigated an antibiotic developed by Sanofi Aventis that "the agency approved despite knowing a clinical trial investigator failed to report patients' side effects , back-dated documents, and falsified data."

[Diedtra Henderson, "Watching the watchdog," Boston Globe, June 8, 2006]

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Colombia is "one of the world’s biggest and most forgotten humanitarian tragedies"

Referring to the millions of Colombians displaced as a result of decades of internal conflict (which the U.S. has played no small part in perpetuating), the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees called the Colombian "situation," "not only the largest UNHCR operation in the Americas but also one of the world's biggest and most forgotten humanitarian tragedies." ["COLOMBIA: UN CALLS ON WORLD TO PAY MORE ATTENTION TO MILLIONS DISPLACED BY CIVIL WAR," UN News, June 9 2006]

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Colombian Paramilitaries and Uribe are One

If anyone can doubt that the Uribe administration (a valuable U.S. government ally in the region) is closely connected to terrorism in Colombia, this passage from an Amnesty International USA document should dispel any questions:
a paramilitary group calling itself Colombia Free of Communists sent a threatening email to 20 organizations, including the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (COHDES) and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), labeling them communists and supporters of the left-wing guerrilla organizations FARC and ELN. The email warns the 20 organizations that "you are going to know something more about us now that we are to continue in power... along with the legitimate Colombian armed forces clearing our countryside and cities of grovellers like you." The statement warns members of these organizations to "stop coming here and fucking around with your issue of human rights, education, inequality, and all those things that you have invented because here what we have is work to do... Clear our land of these unproductive elements... …You are all warned, we know where you are".
The phrase "now that we are to continue in power" is a crystal clear reference to Uribe's re-election.

The Amnesty document also notes that:
The paramilitary demobilization that is supposed to come to a closure this year has not proven effective. The process grants amnesty to many individuals responsible for human rights violations and does not allow for justice or reparations for the victims or victims' families. There is increasing evidence that the paramilitaries are not demobilizing after all, but are simply renaming themselves. The paramilitaries even boast about their ongoing collaboration with the army in recent threats they have sent to human rights defenders.

["U.S. Policy and Legislation: Help Reduce Security Assistance to Colombia," Amnesty International USA, June 6, 2006]

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A Warning of Things to Come

Mari­a Jimena Duzan, a columnist for El Tiempo (Colombia's leading daily paper) wrote shortly before Colombian president Alvaro Uribe was recently re-elected, "If Uribe is re-elected, he will have omnipotent power without precedent in our history."
[Juan Forero, "Colombian Leader, Seeking Re-election, Warns of Catastrophe," New York Times, May 28, 2006]

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On the term Collateral Damage

Tom Engelhardt explores the Orwellian nature of the term "collateral damage":
"Collateral damage" is, of course, a Pentagon euphemism for unintentional or incidental destruction of property, facilities, or noncombatants that crept into our language in the Vietnam years and never left. Collateral means "of a secondary nature" or "subordinate," and "damage" is a description you would apply to wrecked or destroyed property, but not normally to the human body. Who, after all, would say, as a woman lay on the ground, shot through the head, that she had been "damaged."... In modern wars, especially those conducted in part from the air (as both Iraq and Afghanistan have been), there's nothing "collateral" about civilian deaths. If anything, the "collateral deaths" are those of the combatants on any side. Civilian deaths are now the central fact, the very essence of war. Not seeing that means not seeing war.

[Tom Engelhardt, "Collateral Damage: The 'Incident' at Haditha,", June 6, 2006]

I spent some time searching the web to pin down the exact origin of the term (here's one of the best webpages I found) and it seems to have originated in the 1970s but became popularized by the U.S. government during the first Gulf War. Significantly, the most recent edition of the Oxford English Dictionary came out in 1989 and did not contain the term but it is being added for the third edition. There are several conflicting origins given that predominate online. If anyone can locate a precise origin from a credible source, I'd be grateful.

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