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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

What couldn't be so is so…

Tuesday, November 8, the news wires were humming with the odd.

Kansas: The New Face of the Nation

As the Associated Press reports here, this was the day the Kansas Board of Education finally approved new public-school science standards. The public schools in Kansas can teach evolution - high school students "must understand major evolutionary concepts" (yes, Dwayne, that will be on the final), but science teachers have to tell all students "that the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology."

Yes, science teachers have to say that there are some things that science hasn't gotten around to explaining yet, and so, since these things are complex and pretty cool, they are definitive proof that there is an "intelligent designer" behind them - but since one cannot say, in public schools, that designer is the God of the New Testament as understood by Methodists and Baptists, just know that there must be an "intelligent designer" - or nothing makes sense. It's only logical.

By the way, the AP reports the vote was six to four. All six of those who voted for the new standards were Republicans. Two Republicans and two Democrats voted no.

But the kicker is this: "In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena."

Say what? Science is more than that natural explanation stuff. You have to cover the supernatural explanations. Science is now religion?

No. The "Intelligent Design" folks don't claim God is the designer. They aren't that presumptuous.

Science is now metaphysics. If you haven't yet discovered the physical mechanism for something you must assume a metaphysical explanation. You have no choice.

So the Kansas Board of Education has redefined what science really is. We'll see if the scientists of the world agree with them.

Board member Janet Waugh, Kansas City Democrat: "This is a sad day. We're becoming a laughingstock of not only the nation, but of the world, and I hate that."

So move.

The AP notes that the supporters of the new standards said these new standards will promote academic freedom. John Bacon, Republican board member: "It gets rid of a lot of dogma that's being taught in the classroom today."

Yeah, no one likes having reality shoved down his or her throat. Why not acknowledge, in science class, where one studies natural phenomena and tries to figure it out, those who believe in the supernatural? It's only fair. All you need to do is redefine science. Science in the Kansas schools in now broader than that. You teach them about the physical world, and also about the metaphysical one that we all have faith is really there.

Ah well. It doesn't matter.

Making Uncle Dick Cry

Recent posts in these pages have covered the efforts of the Vice President to allow our government to ignore the Geneva Conventions and do "enhanced interrogations" of folks we grab who we think might know things that would harm us. His efforts have been directed to allowing our military and intelligence services to engage in what almost everyone would define as torture. When the senate balked and, led by John McCain, vetoed 90-8 to say we'd follow the rules we already had in Military Code of Justice and defined by the treaties we have signed, he met repeatedly with key senate leaders to say we at least ought to exempt the CIA, and we really needed those super-secret prison in eastern Europe and elsewhere where there were no rules and no one knew who we held there or why.

Then Tuesday the AP reports here that the Pentagon has issued "a broad new directive mandating that detainees be treated humanely and has banned the use of dogs to intimidate or harass suspects."

The AP item reports this is just an attempt to "pull together" all of the Defense Department's "existing policies and memos covering the interrogation of detainees captured in the war against terrorism" - a bureaucratic thing. But it makes the Vice President look bad, doesn't it?

And this new directive says that "acts of physical or mental torture are prohibited" - and it directs that any violations be reported, investigated, and punished when appropriate. And you cannot even use dogs as dogs used by any government agency "shall not be used as part of an interrogation approach or to harass, intimidate threaten or coerce a detainee for interrogation purposes."

So how do we get information from the bad guys? Cats?

Poor Richard!

But the we're told that the new policy only governs the interrogation of any detainee "under Defense Department control." What isn't covered? "Prisoners in department facilities, such as Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, could at times be considered under the control of another agency - such as the Central Intelligence Agency - and therefore would not be subject to the directive's policies."

Ah, Cheney may still have the CIA as a resource.

And anyway, as mention previously, the president last Sunday said we don't really do torture. We can be a bit abusive, but these are bad guys, and "abuse" is not torture. Not all of them die or anything.

Here's an interesting comment, an email at Andrew Sullivan's site:
I've figured out a way to solve this. The administration is looking for ways to "physically abuse" prisoners "without intent to cause permanent injury or loss to vital organs."

I've got just the thing:

Sharpened reeds jammed underneath the fingernails. It hurts like a bitch. The nails will turn black and fall off, but they'll eventually grow back. No permanent injury and no organ failure. In other words, it's not torture.

Or how about sticking their head in mud for a minute at a time, letting them come up for air for a second, then plunging them back down again, over and over? Our South Vietnamese friends used to do this to captured VC. It's like waterboarding, only more messy. No permanent injury and no organ failure, unless you mess up and you kill him by mistake. No worries, though. You didn't intend to kill him. In other words, it's not torture.

Or if you're not that creative you can always stick with the old standby: breaking the bones in their arms and legs. No permanent injury and no organ failure. Bones eventually heal, and last time I checked bones are not organs.

In other words, it's not torture.
Yeah, and Uncle Dick is a good and kind and peaceful man.

But Tuesday the buzz around Washington was the rumored split between Bush and Cheney, and that was openly discussed by Thomas DeFrank in the New York Daily News here, where he quotes "a key Bush associate" saying this:
The vice president's office will never be quite as independent from the White House as it has been. That will end. Cheney never operated without a degree of [presidential] license, but there are people around who cannot believe some of the advice [Bush] has been given."
Okay, the president seems to have a three-year-old's grasp of things, his "brain" (Rove) is either going to be indicted and resign, or many say, not be indicted and resign as he's become more of an albatross than a brain, and folks are wondering if the vice president has lost it.

No wonder the New York Times editorial for the day contained this -
Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.
You want dreadful? Think about Bush alone running things, without Rove on domestic issues figuring things out, and Cheney doing the same thing on international issues. He alone would handle all the detail and nuance? Talk about dread.

But wait! There's more!

As mentioned previously, late Monday it seemed that there would be a bit more on those secret CIA prisons, franchised to torture "detainees" in former Soviet camps in Eastern Europe. The senate might call for a congressional investigation into the disclosure of all this, trying to figure out how Dana Priest of the Washington Post found out about it all. Matt Drudge, early Tuesday morning, said it was coming.

He was right. Here's the opening of the Boston Globe account.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert circulated a letter Tuesday calling for a congressional investigation into the disclosure of alleged secret U.S. interrogation centers abroad.

The Washington Post reported Nov. 2 on the existence of secret U.S. prisons in Eastern Europe for terror suspects.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sidestepped questions on secret prisons Tuesday, saying the United States was in a "different kind of war" and had an obligation to defend itself.

The Republican leaders' letter said that if the Post story was accurate, "such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks."

The letter was to be sent to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas and his House counterpart, Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan. Hastert's office said he had signed it. There was no immediate word whether Frist had done so.
Frist signed it. The Justice Department has been called in.

Yes, the obvious - these guys are a whole lot more concerned with punishing someone who let that cat out of the bag than with stopping torture or our practice of "disappearing" people.

Driving through Los Angeles at noon Tuesday you found talk radio in your car filled with discussion of this - the Post story put counties like Poland and Romania is grave danger because the al Qaeda folks would now do terrorist things to their buses and trains and all that. (Both countries deny running these CIA franchise operations but Human Rights Watch has some really damning flight records showing otherwise.) What else? What we're doing may be reprehensible but it was still secret and the Post should have never known about this. Or the Post should have spiked the story and never printed a word as this makes us look bad - they must hate America (remember what they did to Nixon). Or the Post should have named the countries and revealed everything - we have a right to know (remember the New York Times and the Pentagon Papers). And if your turned to the oldies station they were playing the Stones - "Paint it Black."

And, over on Air America, Al Franken was interviewing Josh Marshall, who I see later in the afternoon had some thoughts on this new investigation, comparing it to Fitzgerald's CIA leak investigation, as in this -
What we have here is an administration under the sway of men with lawless and authoritarian tendencies. Betraying one of the county's own spies to cover up revelations about dishonest actions in leading the country to war, attempts to squelch the press to hide government policy of supporting torture. These actions are all cut from the same cloth: cover-ups and secrecy to hide lies and dishonorable acts, all backed by force and disregard for the law.

Now it seems Sen. Lott is telling reporters he thinks the leaks came from Republicans, which is at least one more sign that there are a growing number of Republicans more interested in their country's honor than in the Cheney gang's governance by violence and lies.

Let them investigate Republicans, Democrats; let them take it before judges. Whatever. Lies beget coverups which beget more law breaking into a spiralling cycle. The executive is in corrupt hands. Nothing will change till that does.
Senator Trent Lott? What was that about?

CNN (Ed Henry) here -
Trent Lott stunned reporters by declaring that this subject was actually discussed at a Senate Republican luncheon, Republican senators only, last Tuesday, the day before the story ran in the Washington Post. Lott noted that Vice President Cheney was also in the room for that discussion and Lott said pointblank - "A lot of it came out of that room last Tuesday, pointing to the room where the lunch was held in the capitol." He added of senators "we can't keep our mouths shut." He added about the vice president, "He was up here last week and talked up here in that room right there in a roomful of nothing but senators and every word that was said in there went right to the newspaper." He said he believes when all is said and done it may wind up as an ethics investigation of a Republican senator, maybe a Republican staffer as well. Senator Frist's office is not commenting on this development. The Washington Post not commenting either.
Maybe they shouldn't have opened an investigation. The wheels really are coming off.

Guess Who's Back in Town!

AFP (l'Agence France-Presse) may have had it with Americans, as their account of the visit of Ahmed Chalabi to Washington opens with le ridicule et la méchanceté (ridicule and malice) -
Ahmed Chalabi, the guileful Iraqi politician enmeshed in a row over Iraq war intelligence, resurfaces in Washington this week, at an embarrassing moment for the Bush administration.

Chalabi, in his latest incarnation as an Iraqi deputy prime minister, is due to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday, and deliver his first speech in the US capital for two-and-a-half years.

Critics accuse Chalabi, once a darling of the Pentagon and neoconservative hawks, of peddling false intelligence and seducing the United States into a war which has now killed more than 2,000 American soldiers.

He was due to arrive in Washington Tuesday with the White House reeling from the indictment of senior aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby in a federal probe, which shone new light onto the administration's justification for the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

He will also meet Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Bush's national security advisor Stephen Hadley, Treasury Secretary John Snow and senior figures in Congress, his spokesman Francis Brooke said.
And he's still under investigation by the FBI, of course - that stuff about his passing US intelligence to Iran.

Senator Durbin of Illinois, Tuesday - "It is very difficult to track how this man, who gave us such misleading information before the invasion of Iraq - now under active investigation for endangering American troops - is now the toast of the town in the Department of the Treasury and Department of State." (And much more here.)

Well, the man is deputy prime minister of Iraq. And he's also their Oil Minister. You can't exactly turn him away. And he wants to talk about improving Iraq's infrastructure, including the electricity and water networks. So what's the problem?

The problem is there's no upside here.

"I understand why Ahmed Chalabi wants to see Condoleezza Rice, it is not entirely clear to me why Condoleezza Rice wants to see Ahmed Chalabi," said Danielle Pletka, from the American Enterprise Institute, which has close ties to the administration and will host Chalabi's speech on Wednesday.

When Colin Powell was secretary of state, the State Department was cool toward Chalabi, and its skepticism was shared by some in the CIA.

Whatever private feelings top Bush aides may still hold towards Chalabi, little would be gained by snubbing him.

Chalabi stirred intrigue this month by traveling to Tehran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ignited a new war of words with Washington.

"On the one hand, you have the feeling he is doing it to show (the US) he is independent, on the other hand you have the feeling that he is going to cover his odds," said Pletka.

But Bush critic Steven Clemons, senior fellow of the New America Foundation, a non-partisan public policy institute, branded Chalabi a "repugnant foe of American interests," on his political blog "The Washington Note."

Some people also criticize Chalabi because he was sentenced in absentia in 1992 by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison, accused of corruption and embezzlement of 288 million dollars over the collapse of Petra bank of which he was managing director.
And consider his overall rap sheet, discussed off and on in these pages but condensed here.

The general idea is before the war we were paying his Iraq National Counsel 335,000 a month (around forty million over five years) for "intelligence" about Saddam and how much of a threat Saddam was. It was bogus - but it went to the Cheney-sponsored Pentagon Office Of Special Affairs, bypassing everyone else, then straight to the White House. Heck, there's the account of Chalabi being asked to speak to a Pentagon planning meeting the week after the World Trade Center was destroyed, a meeting of the Defense Policy Board, chaired by Richard Perle. And Chalabi provided "Curveball" - that defector with all the information about the Iraqi chemical weapons labs we never found - the brother of one of Chalabi's guys. Chalabi fed Judy Miller of the New York Times her scoops - like the twenty secret WMD sites hidden in Iraq. The link above has all the news sources.

Then he laughed it all off - "Mr Chalabi, by far the most effective anti-Saddam lobbyist in Washington, shrugged off charges that he had deliberately misled US intelligence. 'We are heroes in error,' he told the Telegraph in Baghdad."

And yes, in June 2004 he was accused of passing secret US intelligence to Iran, and National Security Adviser at the time, Condoleezza Rice, now our Secretary of State, promised Congress a full investigation into that. But nothing happened. Links to that in the Post and Wall Street Journal are here too, along with links to his arrest for counterfeiting and the 1992 conviction for fraud and embezzlement from the Bank of Petra. He still owes Jordan twenty-two year of prison time, in hard labor.

But he's the toast of Washington at the moment, just back from Tehran where he met with their leaders, that one-third of the Axis of Evil.

So we fought this war for this liar and thief who laughs at us, betrays us, and hands Iraq over to Iran as a sort of Shiite satellite?

That couldn't so. But it seems that it is so.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005 - a very odd day indeed.

Posted by Alan at 20:49 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005 20:54 PST home

Topic: Breaking News

News, Not Commentary: Just In From Paris
Instead of commentary, news, from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, an account of the situation on the ground there today.
Curfew Starts

PARIS - Tuesday, 8 November -

After a 12th night of urban turmoil the Council of Ministers met today and decided to instruct préfets to apply curfews if they think they are necessary.

On Monday President Jacques Chirac judged that such a move was necessary in order to 'speed up the return to calm.' The Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, announced the decision to declare a state of emergency last night on TF1 TV-news, saying that the violence was 'inexcusable and unacceptable.'

Residents of France showed their concern with an audience score of an estimated 13 million viewers for the newscast.

The curfew law dates from 1955 and has only been used twice in the past 50 years. How it is to function was explained by the minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy. In zones defined by a second decree, pr?fets will have authority to impose measures necessary to maintain order.

Where defined, curfews could go into effect at midnight tonight, and can continue for 11 days, until the law must be re-voted.

Police will also be able to make searches for arms without specific warrants during the 11-day period. Violation of the curfew could result in a two-month term in jail.

Monday night's violence lessened slightly from the levels reached on the weekend. A youth in Toulouse had a hand blown off by a tear-gas grenade fired by police. In all, 226 communes all over France were touched by violence last night, while 10,200 police officers effected the arrests of 330 suspected rioters.

In Paris, other than the relatively minor incidents of a few days ago, the nights are as quiet as they usually are. The nightly scenes of arson and mayhem shown on TV-news are not being witnessed first-hand by the city's residents and visitors.


Today on rue des Rennes

The front page of Le Monde -

Text and Photos Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Editor's Notes

BBC summary of the curfew law, in English:

- Cabinet can declare state of emergency in all or part of the country
- Regional leaders given exceptional powers to apply curfew and restrict movements
- Breach of curfew could mean a fine or two-month jail sentence
- Police can carry out raids on suspected weapons stockpiles
- Interior minister can issue house-arrest warrants for persons considered dangerous to public safety
- Public meeting places can be closed down
- House searches possible day or night
- Authorities can control press or broadcast media, film and theatre performances
- State of emergency can only be extended beyond 12 days if approved by parliament

TF1 streaming video - if you have a high-speed connection, watch the early afternoon or the evening news show from TF1 in Paris each day here, in French, no subtitles. The link to the broadcast is on the upper right of the page.


See John Lichfield in The Independent (UK), 07 November 2005 No intifada, no cause, just poor kids defending their territory - he's their Paris reporter.

Or see Melanie Phillips here -
The disturbances are thus being portrayed as race riots caused by official discrimination and insensitivity. But this is a gross misreading of the situation. It is far more profound and intractable. What we are seeing is, in effect, a French intifada: an uprising by French Muslims against the state.

When the police tried to take back the streets, they were driven out with the demand that they leave what the protesters called the 'occupied territories'. And far from the claim that the disturbances have been caused by French policy of segregating Muslims into ghettoes, this is a war being waged for separate development.

Some Muslims have even called for the introduction of the ancient Ottoman 'millet' system of autonomous development for different communities.
See also this -
What is exciting about the present riots is:

a) that they are genuinely political and, so far as I can see, legitimate: the inhabitants of these suburbs are burning their own cars, schools and possessions (and not, so far, people) because they (rightly) believe them to be emblematic of all that their situations trap them to: crime, joblessness, helplessness, voicelessness, boredom, alienation and the awful horror of grotesque concrete tower-blocks. They are political in Plato's sense: of ceasing to fight for space within a pre-existing and deviant order, and instead going to the outside and forcing that order to reform.

b) they are well organised: the targets are apposite, and discipline among the activists remarkably strong (witness 5000 car burnings and just one or two isolated, and possibly unconnected, personal attacks).

c) they are going to continue, one suspects, for as long as the political establishment presumes to deliberately and systematically misunderstand why they are occurring. At the moment, the governmental call is for 'above all, the return of good order'; scant mention is yet to be made of even the possibility of making some effort to correct the absurd embedded racism of France's so-called meritocratic power-structures, whose professed egalitarian ethic could not be further from practical truth. Headlines moronically blurt out: 'how long will this go on?' as if it is the temper tantrum of an infant, not the organised scream for help of an entire and dismembered portion of society. Senior ministers have been threatening longer jail-terms of all things, in blackly comic, American justice style.

d) the immigrants may soon be joined in the pillage by a host of left-wing organisations. Since the riots of 1968 made the error of not going far enough and thus resulting in minimal long-term change, there is implicit consensus that for this action to be justified it must be pursued to its natural extreme: all-out civil disobedience, until the government falls. While official opinion seems to be that this political activity will quickly run its course, there is evidence that it is steadily mounting and indeed heading from outside the city into the centre. I have noticed in my very central quartile here that there has been a steady and ominous thickening on street corners and among shadows of determined looking folk from the banlieues (it reminds me a little of Hitchcock's The Birds). I look forward to their expressing themselves, with appropriate respect for human life, through the media of bonfires and chaos.

So anyhow, this is just to let you know that France is much closer to gaining its sixth republic than anything in the western media is likely to have you think. The unrest may indeed go international (Denmark has already seen the first glimmerings of revolt). I just hope it doesn't lose its focus and political rigour as the coming weeks unfold, for its efficacy relies on the precision of its message: we will no longer tolerate living in a political and economic concentration camp.
Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds? And "a steady and ominous thickening on street corners and among shadows of determined looking folk from the banlieues?"

Well, your editor finally got to New Orleans three years ago for a good visit, and has had his many trips to Paris. Is each gone now?

Posted by Alan at 16:28 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005 16:33 PST home

Monday, 7 November 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Entropy: Trying to Hold it all Together and Facing Facts

Last weekend in these pages, in Prisons That Don't Exist for Those Who Don't Exist, after the long preamble setting the political context, you'd find a discussion of the Washington Post revealing that we seem to have a gulag of "black sites" - secret prisons where we have "disappeared" people and used "enhanced interrogation" to find out if they know anything. And in Our Richelieu you'd find a discussion of all the reports that our policies regarding 1.) "extraordinary rendition" (grabbing folks anywhere in the world and sending these suspects off to places where torture can be done by cooperating governments, a sort of outsourcing), 2.) hiding the fact we have any particular person at all from any agency like the International Red Cross, or any one else who's picky, and 3.) the nature of the "enhanced interrogation" that periodically causes the death of those we detain - all this seems to be decided in the office of the Vice President. In 2002 the president signed an order directing the military to abide by the Geneva Conventions against torture. The Vice President seems have directed everyone to do otherwise.

Ignore the kid from Texas in the expensive suit? Something like that.

See this for a discussion of the implications:

President Cheney
His office really does run national security.
Daniel Benjamin - Monday, Nov. 7, 2005 at 5:06 PM ET - SLATE.COM

Well, there is too much evidence this is so.

But here's where it gets interesting.

Returning the summit in Argentina by way of Brazil, the president in Panama said, Monday, November 7, "There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. So you bet we will aggressively pursue them - but we will do so under the law. We do not torture."

So the kid from Texas in the expensive suit wants to clarify things? Uncle Dick must have let out a loud groan. (The president also proposed the Panama Canal be widened for bigger ships, and may have strayed from the script, given all the bad press from this secret prison and torture business.)

Other possibilities? There are these:
... we have a few possible interpretations in front of us. Either the president simply does not know what is being done in his name in his own military or he is lying through his teeth to the American people and the world. I guess there is also a third possibility: that he is simply unable to acknowledge the enormity of what he has done to the honor of the United States, the success of the war and the safety of American service members. And so he has gone into clinical denial. Or he is so ashamed he cannot bear to face the truth of what he has done. None of these options are, shall we say, encouraging.
That was Andrew Sullivan. He's not a happy camper. As in this:
If that's the case, why threaten to veto a law that would simply codify what Bush alleges is already the current policy? If "we do not torture," how to account for the hundreds and hundreds of cases of abuse and torture by U.S. troops, documented by the government itself? If "we do not torture," why the memos that expanded exponentially the leeway given to the military to abuse detainees in order to get intelligence? The president's only defense against being a liar is that he is defining "torture" in such a way that no other reasonable person on the planet, apart from Bush's own torture apologists (and they are now down to one who will say so publicly), would agree. The press must now ask the president: does he regard the repeated, forcible near-drowning of detainees to be torture? Does he believe that tying naked detainees up and leaving them outside all night to die of hypothermia is "torture"? Does he believe that beating the legs of a detainee until they are pulp and he dies is torture? Does he believe that beating detainees till they die is torture? Does he believe that using someone's religious faith against them in interrogations is "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment and thereby illegal? What is his definition of torture?
Well, don't expect an answer. That would require some subtle chopping of logic, and that dreaded "nuance" stuff the man doesn't do.

Of course you could just take him at his word. We don't do torture. And Kevin Drum suggests calling his bluff, here -
Fine. Then shut down the black sites, tell Dick Cheney to stop lobbying against the McCain amendment, and allow the Red Cross unfettered access to prisoners in our custody. After all, if the events of the past four years had happened in any other country in the world - the abuse, the memos, the photos, the relentless opposition to independent inspections - isn't that the least it would take for any of us to believe it when that country's head of state declared "We do not torture?"
That's not going to happen. You'll just have to trust the man's word. Has he ever misled you?

This topic should have gone away, but it didn't. It seems to have legs, as they say.

Jane Mayer has a new article in the New Yorker - A Deadly Interrogation - which in its subhead asks an interesting question. Can the CIA legally kill a prisoner?

Maybe so -
Mark Swanner, a forty-six-year-old C.I.A. officer who has performed interrogations and polygraph tests for the agency, which has employed him at least since the nineteen-nineties. (He is not a covert operative.) Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner's custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation. His head had been covered with a plastic bag, and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe; according to forensic pathologists who have examined the case, he asphyxiated. In a subsequent internal investigation, United States government authorities classified Jamadi's death as a "homicide," meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes. Swanner has not been charged with a crime and continues to work for the agency.

The harsh treatment of Jamadi and other prisoners in C.I.A. custody, however, has inspired an emotional debate in Washington, raising questions about what limits should be placed on agency officials who interrogate foreign terrorist suspects outside U.S. territory.
We know the Cheney answer. Things have changed.

This is not November 21, 1943, when Winston Churchill said this in a speech - "The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."

There are no limits now.

See Laura Rozen here:
If he had been supporting the very same policies he is now advocating while representing a regime like Serbia's, the big man would be in a Hague jail cell. The same support for torture. The same naked contempt for democratic processes. The same contempt for law. The same contempt for their people.
Yeah, she's ticked, but Fareed Zakaria over at Newsweek is just helpful - "I have a suggestion that might improve Bush's image abroad. ... It's simple: end the administration's disastrous experiment with officially sanctioned torture."

It's a thought.

And that leads to the hot political story of Monday, November 7, also from the Washington Post.

Dana Priest and Robin Wright report that Vice President Cheney is now starting to find himself isolated on this issue - government sponsored torture of prisoners - "Cheney's camp is a 'shrinking island,' said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House."

But the story got out. Dana Priest was responsible for the previous Post story about how we had that chain of secret prisons, and according to this, the president ordered an internal inquiry of how she found out about that stuff.

And now we have this. We learn Condoleezza Rice opposes torture, but not because its wrong. She thinks we ought to close the secret prisons and not work on new "exceptions to the law" to "get out of the detainee mess." She's a diplomat now. See sees a PR problem. Change the de facto policy allowing anything at all. And it seems there are "other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism" who are not happy with Cheney's position.

Attorney General Gonzales and White House counsel Harriet Miers are sitting on the fence. Cheney's guys are working on them.

But the there is the problem of definitions -
Cheney's camp says the United States does not torture captives, but believes the president needs nearly unfettered power to deal with terrorists to protect Americans. To preserve the president's flexibility, any measure that might impose constraints should be resisted. That is why the administration has recoiled from embracing the language of treaties such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Cheney's aides find vague and open-ended.
That's an interesting argument. We'd never do these evil things, but we should have the power to do these evil things. "The option to treat prisoners harshly must not be taken from interrogators."

And it's getting hot - Rice versus Cheney -
Cheney's staff is also engaged in resisting a policy change. Tactics included "trying to have meetings canceled ... to at least slow things down or gum up the works" or trying to conduct meetings on the subject without other key Cabinet members, one administration official said. The official said some internal memos and e-mail from the National Security Council staff to the national security adviser were automatically forwarded to the vice president's office -- in some cases without the knowledge of the authors.

For that reason, Rice "wanted to be in all meetings," said a senior State Department official.
Oh my, what next? Try this from Knight-Ridder -
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to President Bush's war powers, taking on a case to decide whether Osama bin Laden's Yemeni driver should face a war crimes court at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In an unusual move, the justices agreed to review a federal appeals court decision by their new chief justice, John G. Roberts, who with two other federal judges had earlier upheld the president's Military Commissions in the case of Salim Hamdan v. Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense.

Roberts disqualified himself, and is expected to do the same when the court hears arguments in the case, probably in March.
The fun never stops. The new chief justice knows he cannot review his own decision. This could be a four-four tie, leaving the lower court ruling stand, or not.

Cheney's world is crumbling. Expect him to lash out.

But wait! There's more!

The Italians are on our case!

Fallujah. La strage nascosta (Fallujah, The Concealed Massacre) will be shown on RAI News, November 8th at 07:35 (via HOT BIRD satellite, Sky Channel 506 and RAI-3), and rebroadcast by HOT BIRD satellite and Sky Channel 506 at 17:00 [5 pm] and over the next two days.

What's that about?

See this, an English translation from the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Monday, November 7 (emphases added) -
In soldier slang they call it Willy Pete. The technical name is white phosphorus. In theory its purpose is to illumine enemy positions in the dark. In practice, it was used as a chemical weapon in the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. And it was used not only against enemy combatants and guerrillas, but again innocent civilians. The Americans are responsible for a massacre using unconventional weapons, the identical charge for which Saddam Hussein stands accused. An investigation by RAI News 24, the all-news Italian satellite television channel, has pulled the veil from one of the most carefully concealed mysteries from the front in the entire US military campaign in Iraq.

A US veteran of the Iraq war told RAI New correspondent Sigfrido Ranucci this: "I received the order use caution because we had used white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military slag it is called 'Willy Pete'. Phosphorus burns the human body on contact - it even melts it right down to the bone."

RAI News 24's investigative story, Fallujah, The Concealed Massacre, will be broadcast tomorrow on RAI-3 and will contain not only eyewitness accounts by US military personnel but those from Fallujah residents. A rain of fire descended on the city. People who were exposed to those multicolored substance began to burn. We found people with bizarre wounds - their bodies burned but their clothes intact, relates Mohamad Tareq al-Deraji, a biologist and Fallujah resident.

"I gathered accounts of the use of phosphorus and napalm from a few Fallujah refugees whom I met before being kidnapped," says Manifesto reporter Giuliana Sgrena, who was kidnapped in Fallujah last February, in a recorded interview. I wanted to get the story out, but my kidnappers would not permit it.

RAI News 24 will broadcast video and photographs taken in the Iraqi city during and after the November 2004 bombardment which prove that the US military, contrary to statements in a December 9 communiqué from the US Department of State, did not use phosphorus to illuminate enemy positions (which would have been legitimate) but instead dropped white phosphorus indiscriminately and in massive quantities on the city's neighborhoods.

In the investigative story, produced by Maurizio Torrealta, dramatic footage is shown revealing the effects of the bombardment on civilians, women and children, some of whom were surprised in their sleep.

The investigation will also broadcast documentary proof of the use in Iraq of a new napalm formula called MK77. The use of the incendiary substance on civilians is forbidden by a 1980 UN treaty. The use of chemical weapons is forbidden by a treaty that the US signed in 1997.
Oh crap. And you remember this Giuliana Sgrena, the investigative reporter here, the woman who was kidnapped. After her release on March 4, 2005, she and the two Italian intelligence officers who had helped secure her release came under fire from our guys while on their way to Baghdad International Airport. Nicola Calipari, a Major General in the Italian military intelligence service was killed, and Sgrena and one other officer were wounded - and lots of folks were ticked off. We investigated and found our soldiers did nothing at all wrong.

Did they know about her notes, or is this all made-up stuff because she's still mad about us shooting her and killing her friend.

Who knows?

Bad news is coming out of the woodwork. The administration just cannot catch a break.

Well, the administration can say she's just an unhinged, angry Italian hothead who shouldn't be trusted. I'm not sure how they'll explain the stills from the show posted at the link above. Maybe Cheney will explain this is all a bunch of lies on Fox News or the Rush Limbaugh Show.

But wait! There's more!

And that would be the local angle on how to make people keep their mouths shut about what we do, even the Episcopalians in Pasadena.

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning
All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena risks losing its tax-exempt status because of a former rector's remarks in 2004.
Patricia Ward Biederman and Jason Felch - Los Angeles Times - November 7, 2005
The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church ? " The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.
Yeah, yeah, they never go after Falwell and Pat Robertson and all the rest, but you have to understand that Desmond Tutu was in the Pasadena pews that Sunday morning. We're talking subversion here, it seems.

The Times says its telephone calls to IRS officials in Washington and Los Angeles were not returned. Rector Bacon said the church had retained the services of a Washington law firm with expertise in tax-exempt organizations.

And this:
In an October letter to the IRS, Marcus Owens, the church's tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, said, "It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season."

Owens said that an IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting.

"They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election."

The church declined the offer.
The Times gives details of what was in the sermon. No one was told how to vote, or even to vote. It seems to be a sermon full of stuff about love and not killing people and not overreacting. The church would rather not confess that was any kind of wrongdoing. It seems they're "the other kind of Christians" - no big American flags in the sanctuary, or giant portraits of Bush and Cheney, thus the trouble. These are the kind of Christians who don't like useless wars.

Ah well, on this side of town, All Saints Episcopal, just off Rodeo Drive, seems to have no position on much of anything. When I was married there in 1984 I remember smiling because in that 1979 Blake Edwards movie 10, Bo Derek was married right where I was standing. Hollywood. Should have driving out to Pasadena.

In any event, on Monday the week opened with tales of "the masters of war" trying to hold it all together. That's getting harder every day.

Posted by Alan at 19:22 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 7 November 2005 19:30 PST home

Sunday, 6 November 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Anticipation: The National Conversation Is Now Open

Does the week begin on Sunday, as the calendar on your desk shows, or does it begin on Monday when everyone gets back to work, or at least those who still have jobs and are not at home wondering how his or her replacement in Bangalore is faring with the systems code? Here in Hollywood, three in the afternoon on Sunday is when Monday begins in Paris. It's always the next day somewhere.

It doesn't matter. The issues for the coming week were being set up on Sunday, November 6th - one could see what will be discussed in the following days.

One: Look to France - What is Happening There Justifies the Iraq War and Conservative Policies

Sunday the riots that started in the Paris suburbs were in their tenth day, or eleventh, depending on the time zone you find yourself in. As distressing as these are in France, and for France, they are fodder for the American right, proof that we have some sort of worldwide war with Islam on out hands, and, as the right likes to claim, that the French are always wrong.

In France? Le Monde here: "A country which prides itself as the fatherland of the humans right and the sanctuary of a generous social model shows, in the eyes of all, that it is incapable of ensuring dignified living conditions for young French people." Well, that seems to be what they say. It's in French. And despair from the English-language Euronews - "Nothing has deterred the gangs from running rampage. Not calls for calm, not marches for peace. Not even thousands of extra police." As for Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, Socialist Party leader François Hollande tells Libération she had "zero tolerance" for Sarkozy and his "simplistic polemics." This and more in a Washington Post's survey of such comments, including links Le Monde saying to nothing much is working - the continuing burning of cars and sacking of public buildings is proof that the conservative government's "zero-tolerance" policies have failed just as much as the liberal policies of the previous left-wing government. They say the state is "impotent." The Post's own view on this? The rioting "underscores the chasm between the fastest growing segment of France's population and the staid political hierarchy that has been inept at responding to societal shifts. The youths rampaging through France's poorest neighborhoods are the French-born children of African and Arab immigrants, the most neglected of the country's citizens."

Here in the United States?

Mark Steyn in the Chicago Sun Times had the American conservative right buzzing with Wake Up, Europe, You've a War on Your Hands, generating many commentators riffing on his ideas, as in 'It's like Baghdad here! It's the Apocalypse!' - "After how many days does rioting become civil war? At what point do the French people say 'enough is enough' and either demand action from the government in the form of reactive violence, or simply take to the streets themselves in search of justice?" And too you find things like this - "The current intifada in France has stripped the American Left of its second Utopia in a generation. The Left lost its earlier worldly utopia when the Soviet Union fell apart."

Yeah, yeah, this all proves this global war, and its subset in Iraq, is a wonderful thing - they're all out get us - and that the French are wimps and fools, socialism doesn't work, universal healthcare is evil, and the French should pasteurize their cheese like normal people. Whatever. Use the beta version of the new Google "blog search" and chuck in "France Riots" and you'll get about two thousand of such things to scan, if you wish. But you get the general idea.

What is happening in France may be a bit more complex than what is said on the right - yes, my conservative friends get really angry at those words, "more complex" - but if you look at the complied accounts of the events and all the background and maps here, you see there's much that has to do with the history of France and North Africa, with immigration and socialization policies, with the usual odd and theory personalities of various leaders, and with some cultural issues.

But the talking point now is that "the French model" for anything at all just doesn't work, and they should be more like us, vengeful and severe and willing to go to war anywhere at any time - and every Monoprix should be a Wal-Mart (there's not that much difference), and they need free-market healthcare not that socialized stuff. And they talk funny.

Two: We Was Had

The current New York Times is demonstrating what it does when does when Judy Miller is not in charge, shilling for the administration with her single-source insider stories of what Chalabi and Cheney say are grave threats that will kill us all and justify wars here and there. There are rumors she will return to the newsroom any day now and resume telling editor Bill Keller and publisher Arthur Sulzberger what they should and should not print each day, but until then, others are doing the reporting.

One of them is Douglas Jehl, and Sunday, November 6 he gets his column-inches to give us this, a story about one Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda prisoner we captured just after the 9/11 business. Jehl reports that according to a newly declassified memo, not only did this al-Libi provide us with false information suggesting that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda to use al kinds of very nasty weapons of mass destruction of all sorts, but a whole lot of our intelligence agencies pretty much knew the information was bogus as early as 2002 - and Colin Powell presented this crap to the UN in February 2003 anyway, as "credible evidence of Iraqi WMD programs" - just before we told the rest of the world to buzz off and invaded Iraq. We knew the threat. Yep.

The summary from Editor and Publisher -
A newly declassified memo... shows that an al-Qaeda official in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained al-Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to this Defense Intelligence Agency document from February 2002.

... "The document provides the earliest and strongest indication of doubts voiced by American intelligence agencies about Mr. Libi's credibility," Jehl writes. "Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi's information as 'credible' evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons."
The Times was given the report by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the leading Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and from the article itself:
At the time of Mr. Powell's speech, an unclassified statement by the CIA described the reporting, now known to have been from Mr. Libi, as "credible." But Mr. Levin said he had learned that a classified CIA assessment at the time went on to state that "the source was not in a position to know if any training had taken place."
Yep, another Democrat making trouble. And now we learn the CIA appears to have pretty much believed that Saddam Hussein maybe was pursuing those evil WMD programs before the war started, but that there were also real substantial doubts and dissents about a lot of the actual evidence - from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Department of Energy, from Air Force intelligence, and from various parts of the CIA itself.

What's the phrase? Close enough for government work?

Oh heck, Judy Miller got the Times to publish that stuff about those nasty aluminum tubes for the production of nuclear bombs from a single source, and the scoop on the guy who was actually working on "the Iraq atom bomb" just a few months before the war. Did she have to check secondary sources? People are so picky. The old Times said it was so. What's the problem?

Well, neither was true. The new Times has this radical idea that you verify what you're told. And the new Times has this new item on what happens when you don't.

When Judy returns Doug Jehl will be shown the door. It'll be back to business as usual - print the insider scoop from the administration, and don't ask questions.

Be that as it may, just how did Colin Powell end up at the UN explaining some things we heard from pretty much one guy, who had been tagged as a lying loser, as reasons to defy the world and overthrow another government?

Ah, there's a "back story," as we say out here in Hollywood.

Duncan Black here points to a year-old Newsweek article here. Say what? It seems this al-Libi dude was one of the first "test cases" for our new campaign to introduce torture as a standard interrogation technique overseas. The old FBI methods were just too time-consuming, with all that stuff about "winning trust" and clever thinking.

From Newsweek -
Al-Libi's capture, some sources say, was an early turning point in the government's internal debates over interrogation methods... "They duct-taped his mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo" for more-fearsome Egyptian interrogations, says the ex-FBI official. "At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I'm going to find your mother and I'm going to f--- her.' So we lost that fight."

Kevin Drum here: "No wonder DIA was skeptical of al-Libi's information. Not only did the details of his testimony seem inconsistent with known facts, but DIA knew perfectly well he had given up this information only under torture and was probably just saying anything that came to mind in order to get it to stop."

And Drum links to others:
As Mark Kleiman points out, this is the pragmatic case against torture: not only is it wrong, but it doesn't even provide reliable information anyway - and it makes Cheney's relentless moral cretinism on the subject all the worse. Larry Wilkerson, who investigated this back when he was Colin Powell's chief of staff, confirms that "there was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office" that authorized the practices that led to the abuse of detainees, and Cheney continues to vigorously support the use of torture to this day, pressuring Congress behind closed doors not to pass John McCain's anti-torture legislation.
So there is something very odd here, generating a lot of discussion.

Cheney wants this amendment to forbid torture dropped, even though the senate voted 90-8 to add it to the next spending bill. Cheney argues that the CIA at the very least should be exempt and be allowed to torture anyone they'd like. He says the administration will use its first veto in all these years to stop it, not matter what bill to which this amendment is attached. Senator McCain, who was tortured by the North Vietnamese, says fine - he'll attach it to every bill the senate passes. Hey, Dick, you want to veto them all?

Friday, November 4, Cheney met privately with Republican senators to press the matter.

Andrew Sullivan on that -
A man who avoided service in Vietnam is lecturing John McCain on the legitimacy of torturing military detainees. But notice he won't even make his argument before Senate aides, let alone the public. Why not? If he really believes that the U.S. has not condoned torture but wants to reserve it for exceptional cases, why not make his argument in the full light of day? You know: where democratically elected politicians operate.
Yeah. Good question.

And maybe this will be a topic this week.

Three: Be Careful Out There

See this - a discussion of the Sunday, November 6 item from the Washington Post reporting that the FBI has been obtaining and reviewing records of ordinary Americans in the name of the war on terror through the use of national security letters that gag the recipients.
The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters - one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people - are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.
No more should be said here.

Note this from the Post:

Have a nice day - too bad you read this post.

Posted by Alan at 18:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 6 November 2005 18:35 PST home

Topic: Announcements

Redirection: The Mother Ship Has Landed

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 3, Number 45 for the week of Sunday, November 6, 2005 - with much you will not find here.

In this issue, reviewing events last week, the challenge was the battle for control of what the "big story" actually was. In "Chasing the Zeitgeist" you'll find five items - extended versions of what first appeared here - where one side says "this is important" and the other side counters with "no, this is more important" - and the bombshells dropped are in order, starting with lousy poll results followed by a big nomination, the avian flu plan, the shutdown of the senate, the revelation of our chain of secret prisons where bad things happen, more polls, and ending with a the "secret plot" claim and the sad business of our president in Argentina. It was quite a week.

Elsewhere, France is in its second week of riots, and we cover that, and Ric Erickson sends two "on the scene" columns (and pictures), while Mike McCahill sends word from London. There one of Blair's key players was forced to resign after a scandal. There's something going around? Read "Our Man in London."

But then there's all the photography. Bob Patterson gives us one last Halloween item - photos from last weekend's "World's Longest Hearse Procession." Really. And Don Smith sends one simple, stunning shot from Paris. Locally? An array of new sculpture in Beverly Hills - something between whimsy and satire - along with five new botanicals, as readers have requested more of those.

Bob Patterson's regular columns are unusual too. The WLJ item tries out the "platonic dialog" format, to argue for a change in what these sites are all about, and the Book Wrangler look into some odd coincidences.

This week's quotes? We return to Cynics Corner. It seemed appropriate.

Direct links to specific pages -

Chasing the Zeitgeist ________________________

Long Ago: A Shift in the Wind, Maybe
Changing the Subject: The 'Wise Guy' from Trenton - Sam 'Scalito' Gets Nominated
Changing Subjects Back: Rule 21 from Outer Space
Next Issue, Please: Prisons That Don't Exist for Those Who Don't Exist
Our Richelieu: Who's Minding the Store While the Boss is in Argentina?

Troubles Elsewhere ________________________

Warning Signs: The Word from the Banlieues
Our Man in Paris: Riots Continue - Politicians Wrangle While Suburbs Burn
Paris Follow-Up: All Quiet in Paris
Our Man in London: The Blind and the Drunk

Bob Patterson ________________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - A War That Was Started For No Reason Can't Have An Ending
Book Wrangler: Playing the Name Game with Authors

Guest Photography ________________________

On the Scene: The World's Longest Hearse Procession
Our Eye on Paris: One Simple Shot

Local Photography ________________________

Sculpture: Gentle Joking with the Rich - Otterness in Beverly Hills
Botanicals: November Blooms

Quotes for the week of November 6, 2005 - Return to Cynics Corner

Note: If you attempted to logon to Just Above Sunset early Sunday morning, Pacific Time, the site was unavailable. Sorry. The hosting service, Earthlink, was having problems. A call to their Atlanta control center resulted in an apology for the outage, and assurances that they had a crack team of technical wizards working on the problem. Things seem to be fine now. So I pass along their apology.

Posted by Alan at 08:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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