30 October 2007

My comment on news that Mukasey still refuses to say whether Waterboarding is Torture

Here's my comment on TPM Muckraker piece on Mukasey's continued refusal to answer the question "Is waterboarding torture?"

OK, fine. If Cheney and Addington (no need to ask where Bush is in all of this) want to resist any questioning of "presidential authority" to torture, and Mukasey's willing to be their stooge, then turn him down flat. And if they send up another stooge who won't answer legitimate questions in his nomination hearings, turn him down too. These people have to be shown that the Congress has constitutional powers no matter what dangerous crackpot theories they have, and if they want to paralyze the government by refusing to participate in the constitutional process, that's their choice, but the onus is on them.

Personally, I think Congress has been extremely remiss in failing to impeach Cheney AND Bush, a long, long time ago.

26 October 2007

Why Tortureboy Rudy Giuliani is totally unqualified to be president

I would like to propose it as an axiom that anyone who is as morally unclear on the concept of torture, and why it is unacceptable in civilized society, as Rudolph Giuliani, is unqualified to be president of the United States, period. Ever.

Let's leave alone for the moment the obvious lack of qualification for the same office of the current incumbent and his patron, Dick Cheney, for the same reasons.

This isn't hard, or even close to being a judgment call. Water torture is never acceptable to civilized people. If you don't get that, get off the political stage and go crawl in some hole. It's truly nauseating that this kind of stuff can be said in ordinary political discourse in this country today without widespread, open-mouthed, wide-eyed-in-disbelief condemnation.

Here's Conason today in salon:

"It depends on how it's done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it."

Such lazy-minded clichés--"it depends on the circumstances" --
are emblematic of the moral relativism that swaggering absolutists like Giuliani claim to despise in liberalism. He went on to disparage media coverage of the technique, claiming that "liberal newspapers" have exaggerated its brutality. "So I'd have to see what they really are doing." Perhaps as president, he would attend the interrogations and even pour a few pitchers over the face of a suspect himself.

If tough Rudy does go waterboarding, however, he should have no illusions about its status under American law and tradition. As a former federal prosecutor, he should know that the United States has indicted, convicted and punished a substantial number of torturers whose offenses included waterboarding or, as it used to be known, "the water cure." American prohibitions on the mistreatment of prisoners date back to George Washington, but the earliest prosecution of an American military officer for using that particular technique occurred in 1902, during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines under the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.

Following a series of Senate hearings led by Massachusetts Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, the Army tried Maj. Edwin Glenn in a court-martial in the Philippine province of Samar for misconduct and breach of discipline, including "infliction of the water cure" on suspected Filipino insurgents. The Army's judge advocate general rejected Glenn's defense of "military necessity," and he was suspended from his post for a month and fined $50 (not an insignificant sum in 1902). President Roosevelt affirmed the major's conviction. More severe punishments were meted out to the Japanese imperial officers who inflicted the water ure on Allied military officers and civilians during World War II in such places as Korea, the Philippines and China. In war crimes trials overseen by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander in the Pacific and a great Republican hero, testimony about water torture led to numerous convictions -- and sentences that ranged from years of imprisonment at hard labor to death by hanging. As head of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, MacArthur voted to uphold those convictions and sentences.

Just so there can be no mistake about what the Japanese perps were convicted of doing, here is a sliver of the copious testimony that can be found at Law of War, where an excellent essay on waterboarding and American law can be found. It comes from the trial in Manila of Sgt. Maj. Chinsaku Yuki, a Japanese military intelligence officer. The witness is Ramon Lavarro, a Filipino lawyer suspected by the Japanese of providing assistance to resistance forces. "I was ordered to lay on a bench and Yuki tied my feet, hands and neck to that bench lying with my face upward," Lavarro testified. "After I was tied to the bench Yuki placed some cloth on my face and then with water from the faucet they poured on me until I became unconscious. He repeated that four or five times." Such testimonies all sound very much the same because waterboarding is a simple practice that even Giuliani should be able to comprehend. When he argues that it is an act whose significance depends on who does it and under what circumstances, does he mean to suggest that the Japanese war criminals were wrong, but the CIA is right? Does he think that laws and treaties apply only to foreigners and not to Americans? Or that the president can abrogate those laws and treaties at will? That is a formula for tyranny -- and it was rejected by Republicans and Democrats alike, all much better men than he.

Giuliani, as Conason notes, was echoing Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey, who also refused to say whether waterboarding (aka Chinese Water Torture) was, as it unquestionably is, in fact torture. The Democratic senators (Leahy, Durbin) who have announced that Mukasey's nomination will be blocked if he doesn't give an answer to this question, should be commended. For once, a bit of backbone in evidence.

Better if they'd said, "Look. This isn't a hard question. The fact that he couldn't... or wouldn't... answer it without hesitation means he's not qualified to be Attorney General and we will vote to block his nomination." But even what they did say is a step in the right direction.

23 October 2007

Bush's Amazing Achievement

From Bush's Amazing Achievement, in the New York Review of Books, in which Jonathan Freedland discussed books by Chalmers Johnson, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Dennis Ross:

One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker. This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America's standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated. Paid-up members of the nation's foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators. They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.

(Stolen from Prof. Juan Cole's incomprable blog, Informed Comment).

19 October 2007

Chris Dodd for President

Mainly because of his principled stand against Telecom immunity for 4th amendment violations at the behest of the lawless Bush administration (which would foreclose the only avenue the people have to find out the truth about how far these violations of the constitution actually went)... and because of his support for strengthening and preserving the Constitution generally, I've decided to support Chris Dodd's presidential candidacy.

Issues: check out Dodd's stands.

Quixotic? Maybe. But at least at the Primary stage I refuse to vote for Centrists who are more interested in calculating what will least offend the Beltway elites than actually advocating what's best for the American people.

17 October 2007

Dalai Lama Congressional Gold Medal

I reply to an (unconventionally) conservative friend who asked my opinion about the Dalai Lama receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, and in so doing remarking that it seemed like a provocation, comparable to another state awarding a medal to Osama bin Laden. (He also commented on positive role of China in resolution of North Korea crisis):

You kindly asked for my opinion, (paraphrasing and supplying some implicit context), on the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama, i.e., whether it’s an unwarranted provocation to the Chinese. This has to be considered in light of their stated position that Tibet is part of China, and any recognition or even official conversation with the Dalai Lama constitutes interference in their internal affairs. (This has been their position since 1959, and has been expressed quite distinctly in these terms since the 1970s).

I’ll avoid giving you a long diatribe on the historical reasons for believing that the Chinese interpretation of their sovereignty over Tibet is untenable, although that is my opinion. Sufficient to say, Tibet was de facto independent, and at most a tribute state (early on the tribute usually went the other way), continuously from about A.D. 750 until 1959, when the Chinese invaded and enforced their claim, which they had proclaimed with the founding of the P.R.C. in 1949. Their primary interest in Tibet is its mineral wealth, which is enormous, and they have been systematically displacing the indigenous population and installing Han Chinese population. With China having a population of 1.2 billion and Tibet having a population of 6 million, the threat to Tibet’s culture and identity as a people is quite real.

I’ll also avoid a diatribe on the brutal oppression of the Chinese towards Tibet, which has abated somewhat in the last ten to fifteen years. There is quite strong evidence that the suppression (and outright destruction) of hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and political dissidents during the Cultural Revolution resulted in at least 200,000 Tibetans (out of that six million population) being killed.

So the case that China has bloody hands with regard to Tibet is there to be made. I am a little biased, I suppose, so in the interests of disclosure I admit I am a Buddhist, of the Gedan tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, which originated in Tibet, and that I have great love and admiration for Tibetan culture and spiritual traditions. But this isn’t really the issue. The fact is that Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, is not a separatist. This is a Chinese canard. He has called for autonomy with Tibet as a part of China, much to the dismay of some of his own refugee population. The Chinese position on Tibet is quite simply indefensible, and they know it. They are flat out lying about the position taken by the Tibetan Government in Exile, which is that there should be recognition of the interests of the Tibetan people and self-determination on issues of development and what’s normally called domestic policy. Much like the arrangement that Catalunya has with Spain. It’s all negotiable, and the Tibetans aren’t fooling themselves about how weak a position they’re in. But the Chinese are lying about this, claiming that the Tibetan Government in Exile is militant and separatist, which just isn’t true. It’s classic disinformation propaganda.

So, yes, I think the Congressional Gold Medal was perfectly appropriate. It’s not an interference in Chinese internal affairs to say, in effect, “we don’t have a beef with you, but we recognize the truth, too, which is that you need to negotiate a resolution to the legitimate interests of the Tibetan people, and we recognize His Holiness as a rightful representative of the exile community.” The Chinese will pout and stamp, but it’s posturing. They’ll get over it. And it is well for us to occasionally give them a little taste of resistance and speaking of truth. China is an authoritarian empire, much like what it has essentially always been. Our interests are not congruent with theirs, and an occasional reminder of that fact is not a bad thing.

Incidentally, I have to say that comparing, even obliquely, the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, to Osama Bin Laden, is just preposterous. I have received teachings from His Holiness and heard him speak on several occasions, and I can tell you from personal experience that he is an honest man of peace. My spiritual tradition is in conflict with some of his religious edicts, but politically he is doing the best he can in a very difficult and precarious position to preserve and defend the interests of his extremely beleaguered people. Moreover, the Tibetans have never (in modern times) attacked the Chinese. Quite the opposite. So to compare their leader in exile in any way to Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida is offensive and untenable. And, once again, the Chinese know perfectly well what the Dalai Lama has really said and done.

Korea is an entirely separate issue, and there it has been in the Chinese interests to help broker a deal, much to the chagrin of the more militant authoritarian neoconservatives in the White House, such as John Bolton and Dick Cheney. (I know Bolton’s out, but there are plenty of folks who think just like him). The Bush administration’s negotiator, Christopher Hill, is a State Dept. guy, aligned with Rice and Negroponte, and one of the best diplomats they've got. Before these six party negotiations were finally embarked upon, the administration’s policy towards Korea had been entirely less than zero. Here’s a good case for how, thanks to the neocons, NK built nuclear weapons they wouldn’t have otherwise built. But I agree with you that the Chinese were undoubtedly instrumental in bringing about a favorable outcome. (Let’s just hope it holds). The last thing they want is a unified Korea with American troops on their border, not that that was a particularly likely outcome. They want NK to continue to exist, and to gradually come under their hegemony as a sort of client state after Kim Jong Il dies. Which is a pretty likely outcome. Marxisim-Leninism is just a slogan for them nowadays, it’s all about hegemony and centralized control. If nothing else, the Chinese are smart enough to look down the road a bit further than we usually do. So, in this case, the Chinese interests and ours coincided, and we were smart enough (for once) to cooperate with them.

Anyway, in general I believe we need to find common ground with the Chinese where it serves the interests of peace and prosperity for our people, and diplomatically resist them when not. Pretty much like any other country. They don’t want open hostility with us any more than we do, so a watchful coexistence is the only course for both countries. Anyone who thinks we have anything more friendly than that going on with them, though, is, in my humble opinion, deluded. They will trade with us, of course, because that relationship is frighteningly lopsided in their favor. If it weren’t, they’d curtail it. They buy US made airplanes, and admittedly it takes a lot of 99ct widgets to pay for a Dreamliner, but if they thought we were getting the better of the trade relationship, they’d forego the benefit to their consumer economy and cut it back. Because they think strategically first and foremost.

I think it likely that in the long run, since they own so much of our debt, we're going to have to accommodate them more than we would care to. Not to mention there are disturbing signs that they will lose interest in US debt as the dollar becomes weaker and weaker, and start buying equity. At the end of the century they're likely to be the world's superpower, not us. Certainly, economically. A prospect that doesn't thrill me, although I'll be dead, so it won't matter to me personally.

12 October 2007

McCain says Gore shouldn't have won.

The Des Moines Register reports that McCain said Al Gore shouldn't have won the Nobel Peace Prize. What an ungracious jerk.

Bush administration criminal leak

salon editor Joan Walsh notes:

« The latest debacle is the news that the administration leaked the most recent Osama bin Laden video, obtained by the private SITE counter-terror institute, to Fox News and other friends, after SITE shared the video with the White House for its intelligence value, while asking that it be kept under wraps. As a result of the administration leaks, SITE's ability to obtain comparable videos and other intelligence has been compromised. As its founder told the Washington Post: "Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless." Can you imagine the outrage if, say, Democratic leaders leaked intelligence information and cost counter-terror experts a valuable way into terror operations? Sure you can. »

If these jerks ever have the gall to imply a lack of patriotism on the part of a political opponent again, this should be thrown in their faces. Which it should anyway. I think this deliberate leak of sensitive intelligence for political purposes, just like the Libby and Rove Valerie Wilson identity leak, only fails to look like seriously detrimental, unpatriotic criminal conduct, bordering on treason, to the hopelessy deluded.

04 October 2007

Rampant Lawlessness threatens our Republic

Greenwald today is in fine fettle. Unfortunately, what he has to say makes me fear more than ever for the future of our republic. Gentle Reader, if you don't see this, I fear that you, like many others in our society as Glenn mentions, are being willfully blind. Read the NYTimes article he links too in the first paragraph, and then tell me it doesn't concern you.

I say, we simply cannot afford to allow the rule of law to die in our country, and if we do, we will pay a very, very high price-- namely that our nation will have ceased all semblance of being a free society. Once that line is definitively crossed, it will be very hard, if not impossible, to bring it back. Our constitution is gravely ill, and if we don't take some action to save it, it will become little more than a shell.

Wake up, folks, this is not exaggeration. If future presidents are permitted to subscribe to the Bush/Cheney theory that they can violate any and all law "in the defense" of the country, in secret , and to act accordingly, then we will cease to be a republic and will become a nation with a form of government all to common in the world, authoritarian government effectively by executive decree. If you'd like an example, another nation has rushed even more headlong in that direction just recently, and it should stand as a stark warning to us. I refer, of course, to the rise of Putin's dicatatorship in Russia. What is happening here is not so very different, and the end result could easily be much the same thing.

In the past, our system has been self-correcting. Maybe this will prove true again. So I hope and pray. But what has made our system self-correcting in the past is that the people have become sufficiently disturbed by what they've seen that they've demanded reform and the removal of lawbreakers from office. I don't see that happening in this 21st Century America, where most people don't even vote.

Think about it. The legislative branch is about to meekly vote for $200 billion more to fund a war that 69% of the population wants to end as soon as it can be done logistically. $200 billion that isn't even in the budget, which is a joke, since our national debt is stratospheric and owned to an alarming degree by foreign governments. What kind of representative government continues, year after year, to enact and reinforce policies that more than two thirds of the population oppose? And continues to mortgage the future of our country's prosperity, without so much as a by your leave?

The legislative branch is effectively disconnected from accountability to the people. As for the executive, I think the case is so clear it doesn't even need to be argued. The people have next to no say in the policies of the executive. Just how can this be described as representative government? This is the way it already is. Take away, as is already well underway, the constitutional protections which allow us to at least find out about, and sometimes, at least, to restrain the secret torture, detention, surveillance of Americans, denial right of trial, habeas corpus, representation of counsel, as this administration has done, and what you are left with is not the constitutional republic our founders conceived, at all. I'm sorry, but it just isn't.

Can the First Amendment long stand in such circumstances? Do you really think so? And to anyone who still thinks, but it's just the terrorists, not ordinary folks, I say, come on. Think, please. Think about what Lutheran anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller famously said: "In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew; And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

It's time for us, as Americans, to speak up, and to say, no more will we tolerate the subversion of our constitution by our own government. It's past time.