Wednesday, April 22, 2009

torture as political tool

wow. i take this from "the daily kos," which itself quotes from a mcclatchy story.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubeida at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document. [...]

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.

According to another source, from the Senate Armed Services report:

"While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

I sat myself down to write a long essay about this, but I could not.

We have here the foul nexus between the Bush administration pushing "enhanced" interrogation techniques, and the ginned up case for the Iraq War. As early as 2002, torture was being used not to break "resistant" subjects, but in an effort to gain information that would be primarily politically useful.

Two points are critical. First, that both the approval for which "enhanced" techniques would be used and the political pressure to use them came directly from members of the Bush administration.

And second, that the torture was used in spite of the intelligence services involved knowing that the torture was extremely unlikely to produce any useful information, because they already knew -- despite the pressure from "Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people" -- that there were no such links. And yet they tortured prisoners in an attempt to find them.

They ordered torture; they approved the specific methods to be used, including "waterboarding", a long-recognized method of torture; they did it in an attempt to extract politically expedient information from prisoners; they did it in spite of knowing that the prisoners would almost certainly not be able to provide any such information.

I cannot come up with any rationale for why this would not be, unambiguously, a war crime.

Monday, April 20, 2009

my first iraqi television

by chance today, maybe a bad internet connection, my four reliable arabic tv channels -- the russian propaganda, the coptic christian theology, and the jordanian tall, majestic women talk show hosts -- were not available. i went back to a website i had tried before, and only come up with a scratchy, boring algerian channel. but lo and behold, when i clicked on al-furat out of baghdad, it played.

i saw a slightly uneasy anchor in bright pastel shirt and tie give the football league rankings. i saw a piece on a judo tournament, with massive-headed, thick-necked coaches and earnest athletes spout out cliches. i saw a wheelchair basketball game. i saw a volleyball match.

how good it was to see people absorbed in sports, even in the mundanest of gyms and most local of rivalries. i was hardly paying attention to the language, so transfixed was i by their faces, showing nervousness before a camera, or pride, or resolve. i wondered if any of the basketball players had lost their legs in bomb blasts or aerial bombings. how i wish for them more of this ordinary drama of two teams or two competitors fighting it out in an echoing gym, more of news anchors standing in front of garish backgrounds, more of determined men (and maybe women someday) telling their will to victory.

i looked up al-furat, and it means "euphrates," which itself means sweet (water).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

how civilized. . .

we've caught our enemy. . . now we can indulge in middle-school-boy humiliations.

"During his captivity, US marines forced Saddam, who was executed in 2006, to repeatedly watch the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut, which shows him as gay, as well as the boyfriend of Satan. He was also regularly depicted in a similar manner during the TV series."

Monday, April 13, 2009

thanksgiving, 1676

thanksgiving of that year was celebrated with the severed head of wampanoag chief Phillip stuck on a pole in the middle of plymouth. phillip was the son of massassoiet, the chief who had signed a treaty of friendship with the english their first tough year at plymouth. unable to stem english dispossession of native rights to land, phillip was goaded into fighting so that the english could take final and total control of southern new england. he knew he would lose, but fought anyway.

the decisive blow was struck by the mohawks, allies of the english, who struck in the summer of 1676.

one of the most tragic notes on this war was the fate of the so-called "praying indians," natives who had moved into missionary-organized "praying towns," cut their long hair (if men), and witnessed their belief in jesus christ. the beleaugured english, paranoid about enemies within, loaded hundreds of them into canoes without food or blankets, and sent them to Deer Island near Boston Harbor. they died in the harsh winter wind -- they who had given up generations of culture to adapt to english ways and an english God, kicked out to die for it.

phillip's head was left on the pole for 20 years, proof of the result for any native person who dared resist White hegemony.

i learned all this from an excellent PBS program mixing re-enactment and interviews with historians and archaeologists, which gave the narrative much more texture than the usually simplistic tale of mistrust and woe. the first twenty or 30 years of puritan/native coexistence shows how much possibility there was as long as the english (enough of them, anyhow) were committed to peace and friendship. once those lovers of peace were gone, there was nothing to hold back the greed of the colonists. in this program we see clearly how colonial occupations proceed on various levels at once -- economic, cultural, social.

phillip's nine year-old son was imprisoned in boston during that savage, triumphalist thanksgiving when Our God was shown to be stronger than their gods. afterwards he was sold into slavery in the west indies. can that kind of shock and grief be imagined? did he live to age ten?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

glenn beck -- patriot?

Interviewing Norris on the March 3 edition of his radio program, according to a transcript posted on his website, Beck stated: "Somebody asked me this morning, they said, you really believe that there's going to be trouble in the future. And I said, if this country starts to spiral out of control and, you know, and Mexico melts down or whatever, if it really starts to spiral out of control. ... Americans will, they just, they won't stand for it. There will be parts of the country that will rise up. And they said, where's that going to come from? And I said Texas, it's going to come from Texas." Beck then asked Norris, "Do you agree with that, Chuck, or not?" to which Norris replied, "Oh, yeah. You know, Texas is a republic, you know. ... [W]e could break off from the union if we wanted to." Beck responded, "You do, you call me," adding: "Seriously, you do. I don't mind having that lone star on my flag. I really don't mind it. I've been out with a seam ripper looking at my flag going, I don't know, California could go."

i don't see how Beck can claim to love his country while fantasizing about breaking it up.

During the March 30 edition his Fox News program, Beck aired a graphic portraying Obama and Democrats as vampires and said, "The government is full of vampires, and they are trying to suck the lifeblood out of the economy." Beck then suggested "driv[ing] a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers."

this sounds like a call for violence to me. democrats are not humans -- they are vampires!

does beck really believe in jesus christ? because i can't recall jesus advocating violence or hatred.

David Niewart -- definitions

Niewart is a journalist who has followed rightist fringe groups for many years. In his new book he describes the common theme of "eliminationism:"

Eliminationism: a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination.

His definition of fascism is good too. Too often this word is thrown around loosely as a general insult, without regard to the history of the phenomonon.

Fascism is passionate nationalism, allied to a conspiratorial dualism and a crude Social Darwinism, voiced with resentment toward the forces, or conditions, that restrain "the chosen people."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

hartford rally

today i drove the old S-10 up to Hartford in the rain to join in the "A New Way Forward" rally, calling for the government to take a stronger hand with the banks. i had gotten an e-mail from "," one of the several generic addresses i have been getting since volunteering for Obama's campaign in early '08 in New Hampshire and Connecticut. usually i do not open them, but this time i did, and was interested. i signed up to the rally on the campaign's website. the 90 signed up had dribbled away in the rain to 20 or 30, which was not very encouraging at first. but it was still a good experience, talking to some of my fellow sign holders and chanters (hey hey ho ho, where'd all that money go?). i offered to share my umbrella with a couple of young guys, but they seemed to still be of the age when they thought needless discomfort a sign of valor (maybe it is, at that). one guy dressed as a banker in tie, bright neon sneakers, suit, and fake gold watch chain. another was a british Bobbie with a pair of hand cuffs. i found he was a rightist finding common cause with us. there was a preternaturally calm, collected Chin-do dog, maybe the first i've ever seen (a breed native to Korea). only the two organizers were from hartford -- many had driven a good ways, like me.

anyway, i am on another email list. it feels good. even symbolic actions are actions. and we got some honks.

i also went to an amnesty international meeting this week at the town library, and that too was good. i want to see what AI does about prison reform in the US. solitary confinement is, in my view, cruel and inhumane and tantamount to torture. yet it is dispensed to hundreds of thousands without any particular reason (those states using it most do not see fewer violent acts in their prisons, for example). again, it is an example of this country's dark attraction to punitive cruelty done for no reason but itself: vengeance against our many enemies (in this case, criminals).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"a world without nuclear weapons" (2)

People of Prague: first blessed
with words we --
forgot were -- permitted -- to be
spoken aloud
by presidents --

How I wish that I
were of you,
face leaning forward into the words’ warmth,
eyes closed in the crowd --
that much closer to news
that salves a weary
world with reason.

A lank man unfolds himself
on a dais
the words that need to be
said already resounding
inside him
reverberating outward ten
thousand faces willing the
words to unfurl themselves
from his grave lips, from
decades lost
to pinched Big Men
who called peace
a chintzy knick knack,
and bloated themselves on our despair
and our consent.

No. We knew somehow. Peace is the courage
to live, expansively,
within the smallness of what is –
and in doing so,
expanding what is.

Oh that I were you, every one
of you at once -- that I could hear
the words from 10,000 angles, see
from every side the lank
man unfold
unfurl what we’ve passed in
folded pinched notes
all along -- displaying its glory
to the sun.

Those dark blades quiver restless
upturned in -- tranquil earth --
rumor-fuelled and -fitted --
rustling with omens yet;
radar eyes respire, sifting
quiet clouds
for – portents!

Oh people of Prague,
rapturous city where
reason radiated forth –
I savor the news with you.
Preserve the days’ brightness
for me, within you --
there where a spare man
dared, and strode.

Should he forget that day -- or buckle --
we millions of millions
will shout
to shiver the silos
and make the radars blink.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

new embroidery

i have just about finished embroidering a big design on my jacket. it is an ancient chinese character for "longevity" (shou), very different from the modern character. the one deficiency is the lines (strokes) are too thin in most places. one of the charms of the original is these bold, powerful lines marking out baby birds' effervescence.

"a world without nuclear weapons"

People of Prague, first blessed
with news we
forgot was permitted to be
spoken aloud
by presidents,

How I wish that I
were of you,
face leaning forward into it,
eyes closed in the crowd,
that much closer to a news
that envelopes a weary
world in reason.

A lank man unfolds himself
on a dais
the words that need to be
said already resounded
inside him
ten thousand faces willing the
words to unfurl themselves
from his grave lips,
from decades lost
when shrunken Real Men
convinced the people
that Peace was a sales gimmick,
and grew bloated on our despair
and our consent.

Oh that I were you, every one
of you, so that I could hear
the words from 10,000 angles, see
from every side the lank
man unfold
to say what we’ve said or
whispered so long, displaying it
finally to the sun.

Dark blades rest restless
upturned in the earth,
rustling with omens;
radars respire in quiet, sifting
the clouds
for portents.

Oh people of Prague,
rapturous city where
reason rang forth –
I savor the news with you.
Preserve the days’ brightness
for me, within you,
there where a spare man
dared, and strode.

Should he forget that day, or buckle,
we millions of millions
of Prague’s children
will shout
to shiver the silos
and unnerve the radars.

Monday, April 6, 2009

an end to nuclear weapons?

has obama spoken aloud what millions around the world have dreamed a long time? of a world free of nuclear weapons? so-called "realists" have resisted all moves toward abolition, imagining that more and harsher threats against all "enemies" will lead to security. but asserting dominance has never brought acquiescence. the only way to peace and security is to lead by example. we cannot continue to lecture hypocritically other countries for seeking the very weapons we possess by the thousands. an excerpt from Obama's speech in Prague below:

' The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. No nuclear war was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, but generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light. Cities like Prague that had existed for centuries would have ceased to exist. Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black markets trade in nuclear secrets and materials. The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one. Our efforts to contain these dangers are centered in a global nonproliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point when the center cannot hold. . . Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st. And as a nuclear power -as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon - the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.'

Sunday, April 5, 2009

arizona haunting

i was haunted by a 20/20 episode i saw a few nights ago, about a Mormon love triangle. the odd woman out, a saintly, self-abnegating woman named Fay from Arizona, once she realized she had gotten in the way of her husband's relationship with a much younger woman, starting dreaming of her own death. and she died, sleeping pills in her stomach and drowning in her bathtub. there was no proof the husband had done it, but the most disturbing fact was her own involvement in her death. she was in such mental anguish she was able to imagine her suicide (with the help of her husband) was a Godly act, that she was the good older Sister helping her younger competitor from "beyond the veil."

i saw how tortured the participants were -- the husband, the new wife, the dead woman in her letters announcing to the future wife her visions. . . in the original couple especially, the inability to accept the family broken up by divorce, but also unable to accept the reality that the relationship between husband and wife had died. and so she volunteered to save them all by dying.

the stink of urine

the other day i saw an old man in stop and shop with dark spots down his pant legs. his hair was stringy and unkempt. he moved doggedly, putting food in his basket. in the express line he stood behind me, and the stink was shocking. it was not that the smell of piss is unfamiliar or worse than other smells (have you ever got a whiff of pig slops being cooked? ugh). it is that the smell signifies a person disintegrating physically and socially. and to smell it in stop and shop, in this rich town, unnerves far more than to smell it where homeless people are more common.

was i seeing a sign of the Depression? was this man like the ominous black-robed figure in Poe's Masque of the Red Death, frightening the nobility who had walled themselves in their castle against the Plague? or was he just a man down and out, signifying nothing but his own decrepitude?

it was sad and unsettling. he was not mad. i saw him reach out for the plastic bar and place it behind his groceries, a laconic act of courtesy around here. he must have smelled his own stench. but he didn't care. and it wafted through the sparkling aisles of a fantasy store.

the fantasy is this: that we can live off of nature just by reaching out our hands and plucking food off shelves, and that we can keep on doing this forever.

but our system of global dominance, on which our high incomes and our commodity markets rest, is crumbling.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

high-wire men of dagestan

today i also saw some old ethnographic film of dagestani high wire performers on Russia's Arabic TV channel, online. the clips were intermixed with contemporary scenes of people training in a small town in the caucasus mountains. this program was apparently part of Russia's propaganda aimed at Muslim nations which blame it for the bloodshed in Chechnya. Dagestan is right next to Chechnya, I think. It was a beautiful program. At the end an old man, presumably once a performer, dons a horse costume. The horse takes money in its mouth and, i think, goes on the high wire.

yemeni jews

these images are taken from an old ethnographic film shot in Yemen (Sana) in the 1920s or 1930s, by a Soviet filmmaker. Some of them are of the city's Jews, whose descendants, most likely, are now living in the colonial enclave of Israel. The Russian Arabic-language channel is an interesting mix of content, from Russian folk customs to news analysis to pieces on Muslims in Russia -- a mix of propaganda, culture, and information. This film was a treat. Unfortunately I didn't really understand the introduction or discussion.

huff post's zionist mole

it is odd to see, on the left-wing huffington post, a small but steady stream of zionist articles in the "world" section. a few days ago i saw yet another rehashing of the right wing "hezbollah/mexican cartels" conspiracy theory, which blatantly (and absurdly, knowing hezbollah) tries to paint hezbollah as a terrorist enemy of the united states. in other words, the article tries to align american readers with israeli zionist interests. rather heavy-handedly, too. i hope HP readers are more discerning than to fall for images of bearded arabs sneaking across the rio grande with the help of mexican bandits -- but you never know.

my suspicions were confirmed today, when i saw a new zionist article replacing it: a puff piece trying to humanize Netanyahu, Israel's new leader, and even trying to make him seem like a pragmatist interested in making peace. "God's gift" (his name's meaning) is a nightmare for the region, and he has no intention of ending Israel's colonial occupation of the Palestinians and their land. Juan Cole wrote a good piece on him on his blog Informed Comment (which this blog is linked to).

why is the Huffington Post being infiltrated in this way? Who made a deal with whom?