Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 23rd, 2009

Closing the service academies

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Tom Ricks has some interesting posts—and even more interesting comments—concerning his proposal that the Army, Navy, and Air Force Academies be shuttered. (But not the Coast Guard Academy: interesting.)

Rather than try to excerpt these, let me just list them and recommend that you read them, including comments.

Closing the academies and war colleges (II)

Jumping from the Ivy League to olive drab (II)

Closing the war colleges and the academies (III): Who said this?

Does West Point produce good leaders?

From Ivy League to olive drab (III): what happens once they’re in

The academy strikes back

Data on different sorts of officers

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Education, Military

How they lie

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A good article by Michael Tomasky in the Guardian:

From the second I read the sentence, I knew there was something fishy about it. Many years’ experience in reading and then looking into rightwing canards set off the usual alarm bells in my head. So I know how these things work. But even I was shocked after I looked into the truth of the matter.

My daily readings led me to an interview with Newt Gingrich in Christianity Today. The former speaker was asked whether opposition to tax increases was an adequate "uniting message" for his party. Gingrich replied that there had to be more to the party’s story. For instance, he said:

You have Obama nominating Judge Hamilton, who said in her ruling that saying the words Jesus Christ in a prayer is a sign of inappropriate behavior, but saying Allah would be OK. You’ll find most Republican senators voting against a judge who is confused about whether you can say Jesus Christ in a prayer, particularly one who is pro-Muslim being able to say Allah.

That seemed, frankly, ridiculous. I happened to know that the "Hamilton" in question was from Indiana and had a reputation as a moderate-to-liberal jurist. I also happened to know that "her" first name was David, so Gingrich could not get even this basic fact straight (obviously, he assumed, only some sort of Wiccan lesbian could deliver such a ruling!). So I wanted to know more.

I Googled around, and sure enough, ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Religion

Very good point by Kevin Drum

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Mr. Drum:

When the subject has anything to do with sex, the right in America is the party of moral absolutes.  We know what’s right, we know what’s wrong, and even if there’s a price to pay we can’t shirk our responsibility to set a proper example and do the right thing.

But when the subject is torture, suddenly it’s all about carefully weighing the costs and benefits.  Having an honest debate about how far we should go to protect ourselves.  Understanding the context of what happened.  It’s just not possible to flatly say that waterboarding and sleep deprivation and stress positions are barbarisms unfit for use by a civilized country.  It’s much more complex than that.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 2:12 pm

Posted in GOP, Religion

Pardons for torturers

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I don’t agree with this column by Michael Dorf, but I thought it was interesting and worth reading:

Last week, the Justice Department released four previously secret memoranda that the Office of Legal Counsel ("OLC") under President Bush had issued to the CIA. The memos provided an ostensible legal basis for abusive interrogation techniques that were used, during the Bush Administration, against detainees suspected of terrorism. In a statement accompanying the memos’ release, Attorney General Holder also announced that the Obama Administration would not bring federal criminal charges against government officials who acted in reliance on the memos, and would defend them against any international charges and civil lawsuits. Interestingly, Holder’s statement did not explain what, if anything, the Administration plans to do with respect to the people who designed the policy and wrote the memos.

At least six of those people—David Addington, Jay Bybee, Douglas Feith, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes II, and John Yoo—face the possibility of criminal charges being lodged against them by Spanish investigating judge Baltasar Garzón and by others elsewhere overseas. Meanwhile, some American commentators (mostly on the political left) have argued that these and other current and former government officials should be charged criminally in a U.S. court. Yesterday, President Obama told reporters that he would leave the decision whether to bring charges to the Attorney General "within the parameters of various laws."

Criminal charging decisions are indeed partly a matter of reading the applicable laws. But prosecutors, including the Attorney General, also have discretion, and it is hard to imagine that political considerations would not play some role in the determination whether to seek indictments arising out of the detainee abuse. As I shall explain below, those political considerations make it unlikely that anybody will face domestic criminal charges for torture.

If the Obama Administration ultimately decides not to initiate prosecutions against anybody who designed, justified, or carried out the Bush Administration’s program of detainee abuse, then it ought to consider issuing pardons to all such persons. As I will explain below, doing so would at least have the virtue of acknowledging that wrongs were committed.

The Memos’ Justification for Detainee Abuse

Even before the latest release of memos, it was widely known that the Bush Administration had used waterboarding and other coercive techniques in an effort to extract information from detainees. The newly-released memos are nonetheless significant because they show both how systematic the Bush program of cruelty was, and the lengths to which the Administration went to justify it. The techniques for which the Administration sought legal authority included: nudity; facial immobilization during interrogation; face slapping; abdominal slapping; cramped confinement; stress positions; water dousing; prolonged sleep deprivation; and waterboarding…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Torture

Parochial Senators

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Senators often (generally?) work to protect their home-state contributors rather than promote the national interest and the greater good for the public. While I view the government as having a mission to counterbalance the power and influence of big business, Senators seem generally to view their mission as helping big business do whatever it takes to get bigger. From a story by Mike Lillis:

The House is set to take up a credit card bill on the floor as early as next week — with some White House sponsored amendments expected to be offered during debate. That bill is likely to pass without much resistance (84 House Republicans voted for the same bill last year). In the Senate, where a similar bill barely squeaked out of the Banking Committee last month, success is much less certain. Indeed, protectionist Democrats like South Dakota’s Sen. Tim Johnson and Delaware’s Sen. Tom Carper have a history of voting with the famously regional credit card issuers, leaving consumer advocates all but certain that the Senate bill will need a good deal of watering down to pass the upper chamber.

Johnson and Carper will, of course, say that they are doing their duty to stymie any national initiative that might threaten their biggest donors. So it goes.

The full story, though brief, does contain a statement by President Obama on his principles for the credit-card industry. The principles are good, but the Senate does have its priorities.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 12:50 pm

Balzheimer’s Disease

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Via Dan Froomkin:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Balzheimer’s Disease", posted with vodpod

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 12:38 pm

Posted in GOP

Interesting approach to an invasive fish species

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Eat them all. Here’s the story:

Lionfish 2

A handful of ravenous, venomous lionfish, a species native to the western Pacific, were spotted off North Carolina in 2000.

Turns out they like it here. A lot.

The lionfish population has exploded at a pace unlike anything scientists have ever seen from an invasive fish species in this part of the world. They are appearing in huge numbers from here southward into the Caribbean and are so plentiful that divers off the North Carolina coast routinely find up to 100 on a single shipwreck.

"If you go deeper than 100 feet, they’re ubiquitous now," said Paula Whitfield, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Beaufort. "They’re absolutely everywhere."

Little research has been done on lionfish, and researchers at NOAA’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort are rapidly becoming some of the world’s leading experts as they respond to worried fisheries managers. It’s feared that the newcomers are making life harder for already struggling popular commercial reef fish such as grouper and snapper by stealing their food, seizing their turf and eating their young.

"They’re eating everything," said Lisa A. Mitchell, executive director of Reef Environmental Education Foundation, a Florida nonprofit group that is helping several Caribbean governments deal with the influx of lionfish. "They could wipe out entire reefs."

The odd offshore interloper has joined the growing list of harmful species spread by global commerce, climate change misguided humans, such as zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, and the fire ants and Japanese stilt grass that are problems in the Triangle and elsewhere.

There are so many lionfish off North Carolina already that scientists don’t think it’s possible to eliminate them, but hope there may be ways to at least control the population. The researchers are joining forces with sport divers and even culinary instructors from Carteret Community College to see if the critters can be kept in check with spears, nets and tartar sauce.

Lionfish, it turns out, have a sweet, white meat similar to the tasty groupers and snappers they are threatening…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 12:22 pm

Fascinating video on Puget Sound and Chesapeake Bay

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Well worth watching. The Chesapeake Bay was a national treasure. I hope it can recover.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 12:13 pm

Protecting the industry, not the consumer

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Yet again Congress shows loyalty to contributors. Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

It’s one of the central components of the Democrats’ plans for reforming the finance industry this year, and among the most vital, supporters say, for protecting consumers from abusive lending practices in a tumbledown economy. Yet as Congress advances legislation reining in the most abusive credit card traps, both the House and Senate proposals have been watered down in recent weeks so that the protections likely won’t help card users for more than a year.

The delay — a concession to the banks, who oppose the changes — means that Congress’ reforms likely won’t arrive anytime sooner than the Federal Reserve’s new credit card rules, scheduled to take hold in July 2010. It also leaves consumers hung out to dry at an unwelcome time, as the recession deepens, unemployment rises and card issuers raise fees and interest rates on even their most reliable customers. Many observers wonder why, if some credit card practices are indeed unfair and deceptive — some say criminal — Congress isn’t acting more quickly to eliminate them. Some consumer advocates say the delay is yet another example of lawmakers prioritizing the banks above working families amid the downturn.

“While we expect the Fed to be weak and buckle under bank pressure, there is no excuse for Congress pandering to the banks and delaying implementation of legislation to stop practices that hurt working families,” Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, wrote in an email. “Every day of delay is millions of dollars in unfair fee income. Every day of delay means more families cannot buy things to stimulate the economy (or save to buy things later), as they are forced to pay usurious credit card interest rates.”

The debate arrives as Democratic leaders are pushing legislation to restrict some of the finance industry practices that have been largely blamed for the current economic turmoil. Credit card reform is just one item on a list that also includes proposals to tighten regulations on mortgage lending and grant homeowners the option of bankruptcy to prevent foreclosure. But the power of the finance industry to sway Congress is never to be underestimated. Indeed, the mortgage bankruptcy bill has been stalled in the Senate for weeks, and reportedly faces an uncertain future despite robust support from Democratic leaders, including President Obama. The delay in the credit card reforms is just the latest example of what happens when leadership goals smack headfirst into political reality — and a lobbying juggernaut.

That spells bad news for credit card users, as …

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it gets worse.

Congress is truly broken. I suggest that election campaigns be paid for by public funds (using a formula based on characteristics of the district (for Reps) or state (for Senators): population, cost of media in that locale, and so on. Then contributions to elected officials should be made illegal. Of course, Congress would have to pass such a law, and Congress for the most part will do anything for money, so it won’t happen.

UPDATE: And now read what’s happening as a result of the above. It’s not good.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Daily life

Tagged with

Is Mitchell the key?

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Very interesting post by Spencer Ackerman, which begins:

As I mentioned, Marcy has a question about something from retired FBI agent Ali Soufan’s op-ed in The New York Times. Soufan’s whole op-ed is about how a joint FBI/CIA team interrogating Abu Zubaydah from March to June 2002 yielded valuable intelligence. But Jay Bybee’s Office of Legal Counsel memo from August 1, 2002 is predicated on the proposition that the interrogation regime that Soufan and his colleagues employed was unsuccessful, and needed to be enhanced. Marcy wants to know:

So who lied to Bybee about what facts the CIA had in its possession?

Presuming that Soufan’s account is accurate — and when he testifies, as he inevitably will, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it’s going to be as powerful as Jim Comey’s May 2007 public indictment of the Bush legal team, so it better be public is all I’m saying — then someone had to communicate to Bybee a misrepresentation of what was going on during the initial, pre-torture interrogation.

George Tenet’s memoir is unclear on who did this, and probably deliberately, saying only that after Abu Zubaydah’s late-March 2002 capture, “we opened discussions within the National Security Council as to how to handle him, since holding and interrogating large numbers of al-Qa’ida operatives had never been part of our plan.” (That’s page 241 of At The Center Of The Storm.) It’s easy enough to figure that the CIA’s then-top lawyers, Scott Muller and John Rizzo, were the ones communicating directly with Bybee. But someone must have been giving them information about what was happening at the CIA safehouse in Thailand where Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation took place — and suggesting that the interrogation wasn’t going well.

One guess is James Mitchell…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 12:03 pm

"Good faith" questionable

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From a story by Daphne Eviatar:

… Some of the facts set out in the report strongly suggest that further investigation is warranted as to whether the legal conclusions were reached in good faith by the lawyers, and whether policymakers acted reasonably in relying on them. That’s critical to the defense put forward by Bush administration officials such as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Vice President Dick Cheney, who have consistently defended the Bush administration’s conduct by saying they all reasonably relied on the good-faith advice of government lawyers.

The Senate Armed services report repeatedly calls that “good faith” into question.

“The report talks about Haynes disregarding the advice from JAGS [Judge Advocates General], and disregarding other legal opinions,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights who has been calling for years for appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s interrogation policies. “If you’re a prosecutor, that gives you something. That questions good faith.”

The Armed Services report concludes that “leaders at GTMO … ignored warnings” from lawyers within the Defense Department and FBI that “the techniques were potentially unlawful and that their use would strengthen detainee resistance.” It adds that Chairman of Joint. Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers cut short the legal and policy review initiated by his legal counsel, which “undermined the military’s review process.” And the report finds that the conclusions reached about the legality of the interrogation techniques “followed a grossly deficient review and were at odds with conclusions previously reached by the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Criminal Investigate Task Force.”

As one example, the report cites a meeting between Jonathan Fredman, chief counsel to the CIA’s CounterTerrorist Center, and GTMO staff about aggressive interrogation tactics. According to the meeting minutes, Fredman said that ”the language of the [torture] statutes is written vaguely … It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies you’re doing it wrong.”

Bush administration critics claim the committee report and OLC memos support their claims that senior officials knowingly flouted the law and used administration lawyers to justify it.

“The consistent story is that there was high-level pressure to authorize these things,” said Alex Abdo, a legal fellow with the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “That certainly bears upon the question of whether DOJ lawyers were merely ratifying their bosses’ wishes.”

As Ratner puts it, “the facts on what they did and who they ignored in getting their legal advice is quite damning.” …

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 11:50 am

Torture doesn’t work

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An op-ed in the NY Times by Ali Soufan, an F.B.I. supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005:

For seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 11:37 am

How media stars close ranks to protect the powerful

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Glenn Greenwald has another column that examines in detail how the media work to protect the powerful. It is exceptionally good. It begins:

Karl Rove on torture prosecutions:

It is now clear that the Obama White House didn’t think before it tried to appease the hard left of the Democratic Party.

Gloria Borger on Karl Rove:

When Rove speaks, the political class pays attention — usually with good reason.

Chuck Todd on Obama’s concession that the DOJ decides whether to prosecute:

There does seem to be a little bit of a reaction to how this was received on the left. . . frankly this feels like a political food fight now. . .. The hard left, the hard right, fighting over this in the blogosphere.

Chris Matthews on the same topic:

This whole torture debate is likely to tell us a lot about the kind of president Barack Obama intends to be. Will he buckle to the left, the netroots, and pursue an investigation into torture having said he didn’t want to? Or will he go post-partisan and leave the past to the historians?

David Gregory on what he calls (with scare quotes) "the politics of the ‘torture’ debate":

What [Obama officials] got on their hands is a highly politicized and very partisan issue about the treatment of 9/11 prisoners.  . . . At a time when the administration and the President will already be under scrutiny for being tough enough, is this a fight they really want to have?  I would also point you to, if you haven’t see this already, the Wall St. Journal Editorial Page today, which I think raises some really tough points about not only what signal you’re sending to the rest of the world, but also to potential Terrorists out there, about just what it is that U.S. interrogators would do and not do, but also the point that’s raised there is:  did the Bush administration go out of its way to make sure they were adhering to the law and not crossing over that bridge when it came to getting into torture?

(By the way:  can someone tell me what a "9/11 prisoner" is?; and is there anything less surprising than the fact that Gregory looks to The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page for guidance on such questions?)

* * * * *

For years, media stars ignored the fact that our Government was chronically breaking the law and systematically torturing detainees (look at this extremely detailed exposé by The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest and Barton Gellman from December, 2002 to get a sense for how much we’ve known about all of this and for how long we’ve known it).  Now that the sheer criminality of this conduct, really for the first time, has exploded into mainstream political debates as a result of the OLC memos, media stars are forced to address it.  Exactly as one would expect, they are closing ranks, demanding (as always) that their big powerful political-official-friends and their elite institutions not be subject to the dirty instruments that are meant only for the masses — things like the rule of law, investigations, prosecutions, and accountability when they abuse their power.

The rules for how media stars behave are vividly evident as they finally take part in what they are calling The ‘Torture’ Debate.  Here are three key rules for Beltway media behavior that, as always, are shaping what they say and do:

(1) Any policy that Beltway elites dislike is demonized as coming from "the Left" or — in this case (following Karl Rove) — the "hard Left."  Media stars recite that claim regardless of how widely accepted the belief is in American public opinion and regardless of whether there is anything "leftist" about the view in question.  For years, withdrawing from Iraq was demonized as the view of the "left" even though large majorities of Americans favored it… 

Continue reading, since it gets even better.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 11:26 am

U.N. torture official on America’s legal obligations to impose accountability

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Good column by Glenn Greenwald.

After President Obama announced last week that he opposes prosecutions of CIA officials who tortured detainees in reliance on OLC memos purporting to legalize that conduct (a decision which is not Obama’s to make), the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, announced that Obama’s policy of immunizing CIA torturers violates international law and, specifically, the clear obligations of the U.S. under the Convention Against Torture (signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988). 

This morning, I conducted a 20-minute interview with Nowak — which can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below — regarding the specific legal obligations of the U.S. to provide accountability for crimes of torture; how Obama’s invocation of the "state secrets privilege" to block torture victims from having a day in court independently violates the Convention; and the detrimental impact that will result for the U.N.’s ability to hold torturers around the world accountable (which is Nowak’s prime mandate) if the U.S. announces to the world that its own political leaders who systematically ordered torture will be shielded from all accountability.

On a quite related note, many people, such as Scott Horton, have argued that prosecutions of Bush DOJ lawyers who authorized torture find precedent in the Nuremberg prosecutions (as part of the Justice Case) of German lawyers who also declared various war crimes to be legal.  International law professor Kevin Jon Heller — who questioned the applicability of that precedenttoday writes about a separate set of prosecutions by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, as part of The Ministries Case, in which German officials were prosecuted for doing nothing other than stating, when asked, that they had no objection to the deportation of 5,000 Jews from France.  Those officials, who were convicted at Nuremberg, did not order the deportation or carry it out; rather, they merely failed, when asked, to object to the policy on the ground that it violated international law.  Professor Heller argues that this case provides an almost perfect precedent for holding OLC torture-authorizing officials accountable (emphasis in original): …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 11:21 am

Cheney and Rice headed for trial?

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Interesting report by Margaret Talev of McClatchy:

A newly declassified narrative of the Bush administration’s advice to the CIA on harsh interrogations shows that the small group of Justice Department lawyers who wrote memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques were operating not on their own but with direction from top administration officials, including then-Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

At the same time, the narrative suggests that then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell were largely left out of the decision-making process.

The narrative, posted Wednesday on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Web site and released by its former chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., came as Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that he’d "follow the evidence wherever it takes us" in deciding whether to prosecute any Bush administration officials who authorized harsh techniques that are widely considered torture.

In a statement accompanying the narrative’s release, Rockefeller said the task of declassifying interrogation and detention opinions "is not complete" and urged prompt declassification of other opinions from 2006 and 2007 that he said would show how Bush Justice Department officials interpreted laws governing torture and war crimes.

These developments come days after the Obama administration declassified four Justice Department memos from 2002 and 2005 that revealed in detail authorized interrogation methods, such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning, sleep deprivation and putting detainees in containers with insects.

The drafting of the narrative began last summer, at the prompting of Rockefeller. The Senate Intelligence Committee staff drafted the document, with heavy input from the Bush administration, in a multi-department effort largely coordinated through the Director of National Intelligence’s office.

Bush’s National Security Council, however, refused to declassify it.

Obama’s National Security Adviser, James L. Jones, signed off on its release last week and the Senate panel cleared it Tuesday.

Among other details, the narrative shows that: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 11:18 am

Investigating oneself

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I’ve noticed that, in general, Army self-investigations clear everyone of any wrongdoing, or at the most punish a few enlisted men or women, with officers extended the courtesy of being found faultless. The same seems to be happening with Israel’s military. Dion Nissenbaum reports in McClatchy:

After an internal investigation, the Israeli military said Wednesday that its soldiers had unintentionally killed dozens of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but said there were no widespread abuses and declared that its soldiers never violated international law.

Innocent Palestinians were killed only as a result of “intelligence or operational errors,” the Israeli investigation concluded.

“We didn’t find one incident in which an Israeli soldier intentionally harmed innocent civilians,” Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, the Israeli military’s deputy chief-of-staff, told reporters in announcing the findings.

U.S., Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups called the Israel Defense Forces investigation a cover-up and called on Israel to allow an impartial probe of the Gaza offensive.

The military investigation examined charges that Israeli soldiers targeted civilians, killed medical crews trying to help wounded Palestinians, used white phosphorous shells in densely populated areas, needlessly demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and attacked United Nations compounds.

After probing one of the most controversial incidents during the 22-day Israeli offensive in Gaza that began on Dec. 27, the investigation determined that soldiers accidentally targeted a Palestinian home packed with civilians and killed 21 people who were seeking refuge from the fighting.

The military said a “professional mistake” caused soldiers to target the civilians instead of a nearby house that they suspected was being used to store weapons.

In another case, the military said, soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian woman who apparently was attempting to return to her home, which Israeli forces had seized.

After an internal investigation, the Israeli military said Wednesday that its soldiers had unintentionally killed dozens of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but said there were no widespread abuses and declared that its soldiers never violated international law.

Innocent Palestinians were killed only as a result of “intelligence or operational errors,” the Israeli investigation concluded.

“We didn’t find one incident in which an Israeli soldier intentionally harmed innocent civilians,” Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, the Israeli military’s deputy chief-of-staff, told reporters in announcing the findings.

U.S., Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups called the Israel Defense Forces investigation a cover-up and called on Israel to allow an impartial probe of the Gaza offensive.

The military investigation examined charges that Israeli soldiers targeted civilians, killed medical crews trying to help wounded Palestinians, used white phosphorous shells in densely populated areas, needlessly demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and attacked United Nations compounds.

After probing one of the most controversial incidents during the 22-day Israeli offensive in Gaza that began on Dec. 27, the investigation determined that soldiers accidentally targeted a Palestinian home packed with civilians and killed 21 people who were seeking refuge from the fighting.

The military said a “professional mistake” caused soldiers to target the civilians instead of a nearby house that they suspected was being used to store weapons.

In another case, the military said, soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian woman who apparently was attempting to return to her home, which Israeli forces had seized. The soldiers suspected that the woman might be a suicide bomber, but later determined that she was carrying no explosives.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the IDF statement “is an insult to the civilians in Gaza who needlessly died and an embarrassment to IDF officers who take military justice seriously.” It added: “The IDF leadership is apparently not interested, willing, or able to monitor itself. We consider the IDF investigations announced today a cover-up for serious violations of international law.”

According to Palestinian human rights researchers, more than 1,400 Gazans were killed during the 22-day Israeli offensive, and two-thirds of them were non-combatants.

The Israeli government has asserted, without providing supporting evidence, that many fewer civilians were killed in Gaza.

Thirteen Israelis, three of them civilians, were killed during the fighting…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 11:14 am

Accountability needed

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Jameel Jaffer and Ben Wizner in McClatchy:

Last week, in response to litigation filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Justice released memos that had been commissioned by the Bush administration to "legalize" torture. Any lingering doubts that the Bush administration authorized a far-reaching and sadistic torture program have now been definitively put to rest.

These latest disclosures join a vast and growing body of public information about the Bush-era torture regime. Government documents show that hundreds of prisoners were abused in the custody of the CIA and Department of Defense, some of them killed in the course of interrogations. And a devastating report by the International Committee of the Red Cross – the entity mandated by the international community to assess compliance with the Geneva Conventions – concluded unequivocally that prisoners in CIA custody were unlawfully tortured and disappeared.

Ordinarily such unmistakable evidence of grave criminality would lead to a thorough investigation by prosecutors. But no such investigation is underway. President Obama has already announced that interrogators "who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice . . . will not be subject to prosecution."

On Sunday, Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, appeared to go a step further, suggesting that even those officials who devised the Bush administration’s illegal torture policies should not be prosecuted. Emanuel is not alone: indeed, there is a concerted effort underway in Washington, spearheaded by many of the same lawyers who once advocated the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policies, to portray any investigation of Bush-era abuses as the "criminalization of politics."

But it would be a grave mistake to foreclose an investigation before it has even begun.

The domestic laws against torture were …

Continue reading.

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23 April 2009 at 11:05 am

UK high court demands US torture documents

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This is interesting. Julie Sell, reporting for McClatchy:

The chief justice of the British High Court on Wednesday gave the British government one week to obtain the U.S. release of classified information about the alleged torture of a British resident who’d been detained at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The court indicated that it would issue its own order if the government doesn’t respond or justify why continued secrecy is warranted.

Noting that President Barack Obama had released highly sensitive documents tracing the decisions on torture during the Bush administration’s war on terror, the high court judges voiced exasperation that the British government hasn’t acted in what they said was the British public interest in being similarly open.

The hearing illustrated how Obama’s decision to be more transparent about his predecessor’s detainee policies is having ripple effects abroad, but it also threw the ball back to the Obama administration to approve release of the contested information.

The White House said it had no comment yesterday.

Lord Justice John Thomas scolded Britain’s Foreign Office for not directly seeking clarification of the new U.S. administration’s policy on the release of classified documents in the case of Binyam Mohamed, who was returned to Britain in February after seven years of detention in several countries, including four years in the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Noting the change of tone between …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 10:58 am

Afghan held at Guantánamo gets a trial

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At last:

A federal judge will allow an Afghan citizen held at Guantanamo Bay to challenge his detention in U.S. court, the ACLU said Wednesday. Mohammed Jawad, who was 16 or 17 when arrested, is charged with killing injuring two U.S. soldiers and an interpreter in a 2002 grenade attack. A lawyer for the ACLU said that the judge’s ruling supported the long-standing right to challenge indefinite imprisonment in U.S. courts under habeas corpus. The lawyer called for a prompt trial because Jawad’s “mental and physical well-being continue to be jeopardized by the harsh conditions in which he is being held at Guantanamo.” (Reuters)

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 10:55 am

Europe and the oceans

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Interesting book review:

Europe Between the Oceans: themes and variations: 9000 BC-AD 1000
by Barry Cunliffe

A review by Peter N Miller

Playmobil, the German company that specializes in detailed snap-together plastic toys, makes a Viking ship. Seventeen inches long and five wide, with six sweep oars, a steering oar, and a single movable square sail, the toy precisely models surviving Viking ships in museums in Roskilde, Denmark and Oslo, Norway. It also floats in bathtubs. Most of its users will not realize, of course, that the Viking ship was the plank-built descendant of the much older hide-covered ships that had sailed the northern seas for well over a thousand years before the Vikings, or that the Vikings themselves were but the last of a long sequence of ocean-going migrants.

Perspective is something that readers of Barry Cunliffe have come to expect. In Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and its Peoples, which appeared in 2001, and now in its sequel, he has chosen to study Europe’s oceanic destiny. Europe was, and is, the land between the oceans. Its deeply convoluted coasts and island fragments make for a total of 37,000 kilometers of interface between land and sea — equivalent to the world’s circumference. It was "no accident" that Europe’s first civilization arose in the Aegean Sea (on Crete), where the ratio of coast to land was at its greatest. The seashore is also where Europe came from — whence Europa was kidnapped to Crete, "a reminder, if one were needed," Cunliffe notes with characteristic charm, "that the seashore is a liminal place where unexpected things can happen!"

Observations of this sort occur on nearly every page of this captivating book. Cunliffe makes the best possible case for archaeology as a specifically human science: not the study of mute objects, but of the walking, thinking, feeling human beings who made or transformed those objects. Europe Between the Oceans is a work of great humanity, looking back across the abyss of time to catch a dim echo of our earlier selves. What is re-constructed is the early history of Europe, from the end of the last glaciation to the emergence of the continent’s first nations. What is re-interpreted is something closer to human nature itself. Archaeology, at this vanishing point, blends back into anthropology, from which it separated either a hundred, two hundred, or three hundred years ago, depending on whom you ask. And Cunliffe, himself, takes on the role of sage, like those early anthropologists whose vocation was a way of glimpsing the eternal while talking about the particular. (Both Durkheim and Levi-Strauss were descendants of rabbis.)

The great advantage of deep distance in time (archaeology) or space (anthropology) is that the significant comes into focus and the trivial blurs to insignificance. For humans, the most important thing is food. And so, romantic encounters at the tideline aside, riverbanks, deltas, and sea coasts were important, because they offered a fantastically rich and regular caloric harvest — a side benefit of which was the presence of iodine, which boosted fertility.

Coastal middens, or garbage dumps, often of gigantic proportions, still amaze with the power of the sea’s nutritional wealth. At a couple of sites in modern-day Denmark, we find middens over 6.5 feet tall, 800 feet long, and 160 feet wide. These testify to …

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Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2009 at 10:52 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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