Saturday, June 18, 2005

No Lemon Chicken for Him

I guess this particular training drill forgot just how well the detainees are being treated at Guantanamo, with the two kinds of fruit and all. And this time, it's an American who has to deal with the consequences for the rest of his life:

A U.S. military policeman who was beaten by fellow MPs during a botched training drill at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison for detainees has sued the Pentagon for $15 million, alleging that the incident violated his constitutional rights.

Spec. Sean Baker, 38, was assaulted in January 2003 after he volunteered to wear an orange jumpsuit and portray an uncooperative detainee. Baker said the MPs, who were told that he was an unruly detainee who had assaulted an American sergeant, inflicted a beating that resulted in a traumatic brain injury.

Baker, a Persian Gulf War veteran who re-enlisted after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was medically retired in April 2004. He said the assault had left him with seizures, blackouts, headaches, insomnia and psychological problems.


The Pentagon first said that Baker's hospitalization after the training incident was not related to the beating. Later, officials conceded that he had been treated for injuries suffered when a five-man MP "internal reaction force" choked him, slammed his head several times against a concrete floor and sprayed him with pepper gas.

Baker said he had put on the jumpsuit and squeezed under a prison bunk after being told by a lieutenant that he would be portraying an unruly detainee. He said he was assured that MPs conducting the "extraction drill" knew it was a training exercise and that Baker was an American soldier.

As he was being choked and beaten, Baker said, he screamed a code word, "red," and shouted: "I'm a U.S. soldier! I'm a U.S. soldier!" The beating continued, he said, until the jumpsuit was yanked down during the struggle, revealing his military uniform.


Teaching Jingoism

Screw the maple leaf. So much for the Star of David. Crescent moon? Forget about it!
Students in Hernando County who want to show their patriotic pride may be limited to the stars and stripes.

The School Board is considering a proposal that would forbid them from wearing apparel that displays any flag other than the American flag.


Worst Yet to Come

So says an unusually honest official:
During a terrible week for violence in Iraq, a senior administration official yesterday warned that the worst is yet to come.

Five Marines and a sailor were killed Wednesday in attacks west of Baghdad, the U.S. military announced yesterday, a day that also brought news of a suicide bomber in Baghdad who killed at least eight police officers and wounded 25 others.

"I think you'll see it continuing up, because the terrorists know what's coming," said the official, speaking as peace demonstrators chanted outside the White House.

He said that militants are "once again trying to derail" progress in Iraq, in this case the writing of a constitution and holding of elections tentatively scheduled for later this year.


Friday, June 17, 2005

End Cuban Restrictions

Forwarded to me by Miriam, and sent to her by The Cuba Central Team, comes this story about a segment to be aired tonight on CBS:
Tonight on the CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer you will see a powerful story that demonstrates the cruelty of the travel restrictionsthat stop U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba.

CBS talks to Carlos Lazo, a Cuban American, a combat medic, and a sergeant in the Army National Guard. Sgt. Lazo has 2 sons living in Cuba. He spent a year in Iraq providingmedical care to our soldiers. During his Iraq deployment, he used his 2 weeks of R+R to return to the U.S., and he sought to see his sons in Havana—only to be turned away at the airport in Miami by orders of the U.S. government days before tough new travel limits were put into place by President Bush. He returned to Iraq not knowing if he’d see his sons again.

Sgt. Lazo’s deployment ended in March. He is back from Iraq, hoping to see his kids in Cuba now. But the travel restrictions say that thisdevoted father must wait until 2006 to see them.

The Sgt. who did his duty in Iraq wants to do his duty as a father—but can’t.

This Cuba policy isn’t pro-family. It isn’t pro-military. And it’s no way to treat a soldier.

Please tune in tonight, and urge your Senators and Representative to do the same!


They're Learning

The insurgents, far from being "on the run," are innovating new means of attack. It's only going to get worse for the American occupation force, as long as they stay:

Insurgents have taken over much of the Iraqi city of Ramadi and used it to launch attacks against US forces while terrorising the population with public beheadings.

A huge bomb killed five American marines yesterday and showered body parts on to rooftops, fuelling suspicion that armour-piercing technology is being developed and tested in Ramadi.


US "Fixing" the Environment

In the same sense that they "fixed" intelligence to support the war:

Bush administration officials working behind the scenes have succeeded in weakening key sections of a proposal for joint action by the eight major industrialized nations to curb climate change.

Under U.S. pressure, negotiators in the past month have agreed to delete language that would detail how rising temperatures are affecting the globe, set ambitious targets to cut carbon dioxide emissions and set stricter environmental standards for World Bank-funded power projects, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

How long till faith-based "science" bites us all on the ass?


Gitmo II: Halliburton's Revenge

Close the shameful prison at Guantanamo? There's an idea! Here, according to the GOP, is a better one: Open another shameful prison at Guantanamo!

A Halliburton Co. unit will build a new $30 million detention facility and security fence at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States is holding about 520 foreign terrorism suspects, the Defense Department announced on Thursday.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Another Propaganda Organ

This time it's the USDA spouting partisan views using taxpayer money:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has churned out three dozen radio and television news segments since the first of the year that promote a controversial trade agreement with Central America opposed by labor unions, the sugar industry and many members of Congress, including some Republicans.

Amid an intense debate over government-funded efforts to influence news coverage, the pre-packaged reports have been widely distributed to broadcast outlets across the country for easy insertion into newscasts.

About a third of the reports deal specifically with the politically powerful sugar industry, which has emerged as the major obstacle to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA.


Clark Joins Fox?

What the...? Actually, I must say I'm not terribly surprised. His convictions always remained rather fuzzy during the campaign, and his motives here are equally unclear.
Fox News Channel has signed Gen. Wesley Clark as a military and foreign affairs analyst, Bill Shine, senior vice president of programming, said yesterday.



How are things in Iraq these days? Well, the US is contemplating a new strategy of going in, clearing out insurgents, and leaving behind US-trained Iraqis to maintain security afterwards:
Nine months ago the American military laid siege to this city in northwestern Iraq and proclaimed it freed from the grip of insurgents. Last month, the Americans returned in force - to reclaim it once again.
It is a cycle that has been repeated in rebellious cities throughout Iraq, and particularly those in the Sunni Arab regions west and north of Baghdad, where the insurgency's roots run deepest.
Now, with the pace of insurgent attacks rising across Iraq and scores being killed daily in bombings and mass executions, Tal Afar and the surrounding area is becoming something of a test case for a strategy to try to break the cycle: using battle-hardened American forces working in conjunction with tribal leaders to clear out the insurgents and then leaving behind Iraqi forces to try to keep the peace.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

Well, not so much, if you consider this new tactic in light of Jonathan Schell's recent article, which begins:
Sometimes the truth of a large, confusing historical enterprise can be glimpsed in a single news report. Such is the case in regard to the Iraq War, it seems to me, with the recent story in the Washington Post by Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru called "Building Iraq's Army: Mission Improbable." Shadid and Fainaru did something that is rarely done: spend several days with a unit of Iraq's new, American-trained forces. (The typical treatment of the topic consists of a few interviews with American officers in the Green Zone in Baghdad, leading to some estimation of how long it will take to complete the job.) The Post story starts with the lyrics of a song the soldiers of the unit, called Charlie Company, were singing out of earshot of their American overseers. It was a ballad to Saddam Hussein, and it ran:

We have lived in humiliation since you left
We had hoped to spend our life with you

The American press often discusses the political makeup of the insurgency, but no one until now has suggested that some of the very forces being trained by the United States might be longing for the return of Saddam. To the extent that this is the case -- or that these forces are otherwise opposed to the occupation -- the United States, far from improving "security," is now training the future resistance to itself. Indeed, the soldiers of Charlie Company told Shadid and Fainaru that seventeen of them had quit in recent days. They added that every one of them planned to do the same as soon as possible. Their reasons were simple. They were bitter at the United States. "Look at the homes of the Iraqis," one soldier remarked. "The people have been destroyed." When asked by whom, he answered, "Them" -- and pointed to the Americans leading the patrol. The Iraqis had enlisted in the new army only for the salary -- $340 per month, an enviable sum in today's ruined Iraq. But the money had come at the price of self-respect. The new recruits had been bought off and hated themselves for it. One said that after they had all quit, "We'll live by God, but we'll have our respect."

Put those two stories together, and we see, once again, a blind American military presence setting up yet another snafu for itself, one which cannot but lead to more dead Iraqis and more dead Americans.


Human Guinea Pigs: Update

I've reported before on the use of less-than-affluent Americans as guinea pigs to see just how dangerous pesticides are. It seems the EPA is making much use of Bush's vile policy permitting such tests:
Data from two dozen industry tests that intentionally exposed people to poisons, including one involving a World War I-era chemical warfare agent, are being used by the Environmental Protection Agency in approving and denying specific pesticides.

The controversial data come from 24 human pesticide experiments submitted to the EPA by companies seeking pesticide permits. The data, provided by the EPA to congressional officials, is being studied under a policy the Bush administration adopted last November to have political appointees referee on a case-by-case basis any ethical disputes over human testing.

Aides to two California Democrats, Sen. Barbara Boxer (news, bio, voting record) and Rep. Henry Waxman (news, bio, voting record), compiled and reviewed EPA data on 22 of the cases.

"Nearly one-third of the studies reviewed were specifically designed to cause harm to the human test subjects or to put them at risk of harm," the aides concluded in a 38-page report and accompanying documents provided Wednesday to The Associated Press.

The report said scientists conducting the experiments "failed to obtain informed consent (and) dismissed adverse outcomes," adding that the tests "lacked scientific validity."

One study in 2002-2004 by University of California-San Diego researchers administered chloropicrin, a soil insecticide that during World War I was a chemical warfare agent, to 127 young adults. Trade-name products for it and mixtures of it — such as Timberfume, Tri-Con, Preplant Soil Fumigant and Pic-Chor — must carry a "danger" warning label.

Most were college students and minorities who were paid $15 an hour to be put in a chamber or have the vapor shot into their nose and eyes after signing consent forms warning they should anticipate "some irritation in the nose, throat and eyes that could be sharp enough to cause blinking and tearing."

"Because you will be participating in an experiment, we must apprise you that there may be some risks that are currently unforeseeable," the consent form read.

However, doses 120 times the hourly limit established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were ingested by the test subjects, according to the congressional aides' report.

Another study dosed eight people with the pesticide azinphos-methyl for 28 days, and everyone reported headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, coughing and rashes, the report said.

Boxer said the report "proves the Bush administration is encouraging dangerous pesticide testing on humans with no standards," despite the EPA's new policy.


Catholic Common Sense

All too rare these days, but US bishops, at least, seem to be acting on it:
U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, in a national meeting, are expected to preserve the core policy they adopted at the peak of the sex abuse crisis — permanently barring offenders from church work — despite concern that the punishment is too severe.

On the other hand...
Still, the panel noted that "many, perhaps a majority," of prelates hoped that they could eventually allow men who are truly rehabilitated back into ministry — an idea victims vehemently oppose.


More Stem Cell Progress

And not, of course, in the United States:
Australian scientists say they have found a way to make blood cells in volume out of human master cells, which could eventually lead to production of safe blood cells for transfusions and organ transplants.

Synthetically produced red blood cells would, in theory, overcome the concerns about dangerous infections that can be transmitted from blood donors to patients worldwide.

But researchers said it would probably take years for scientists to get to the stage where blood cells could be made in large enough quantities for transfusions.
The team's system was able to stimulate the stem cells specifically into becoming red or white cells.


Death's PR Men

Just appalling. Bob Herbert provides a glimpse into the Army's "School Recruiting Program Handbook," a guide to the best ways to sucker high school students into signing up. Some excerpts:
"The football team usually starts practicing in August," the handbook says. "Contact the coach and volunteer to assist in leading calisthenics or calling cadence during team runs."

"Homecoming normally happens in October," the handbook says. "Coordinate with the homecoming committee to get involved with the parade."
"Some influential students such as the student president or the captain of the football team may not enlist; however, they can and will provide you with referrals who will enlist."
"If you wait until they're seniors, it's probably too late," the book says. It also says, "Don't forget the administrative staff. ... Have something to give them (pen, calendar, cup, donuts, etc.) and always remember secretary's week, with a card or flowers."

The sense of desperation is palpable: "Get involved with local Boy Scout troops. Scoutmasters are typically happy to get any assistance you can offer. Many scouts are [high school] students and potential enlistees or student influencers."

Truly, our public schools are becoming more dangerous places for teenagers...


Freedom Chips!

That's right, even the representative who coined the ridiculous term "freedom fries" in order to show the French who's boss around here has now joined the movement calling for full investigation of the Downing Street Memo...

Via The Raw Story.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Substantial Victory for Readers

Finally, librarians will no longer have to delete records daily in order to avoid being subjected to obscene Patriot Act intrusions into the lives of their patrons.

Unfortunately, to win this victory, Internet use is still subject to surveillance:
The House voted Wednesday to block the Justice Department from using the anti-terror Patriot Act to search library and book store records, responding to complaints about potential invasion of privacy of innocent readers.

Despite a veto threat from President Bush, lawmakers voted 238-187 to block the part of the anti-terrorism law that allows the government to investigate the reading habits of terror suspects.

The vote reversed a narrow loss last year by lawmakers complaining about threats to privacy rights. They narrowed the proposal this year to permit the government to continue to seek out records of Internet use at libraries.

Thanks to NYMary.


Are They Still on About This?

One would think that perhaps they have more important things to worry about in Congress these days.

Oh, and while the anti-lynching business was put to an anonymous voice vote, what do you bet that the all-important anti-flag burning amendment vote will be an on-the-record roll call vote?
The Senate may be within one or two votes of passing a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the U.S. flag, clearing the way for ratification by the states, a key opponent of the measure said Tuesday.

So bloody stupid.


Kidnapping in Iraq

We've heard plenty about all the kidnappings done by evil insurgents. Now, the Washington Post has discovered a memo that indicates another side of the story:

Police and security units, forces led by Kurdish political parties and backed by the U.S. military, have abducted hundreds of minority Arabs and Turkmens in this intensely volatile city and spirited them to prisons in Kurdish-held northern Iraq, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, government documents and families of the victims.

Seized off the streets of Kirkuk or in joint U.S.-Iraqi raids, the men have been transferred secretly and in violation of Iraqi law to prisons in the Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah, sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. forces. The detainees, including merchants, members of tribal families and soldiers, have often remained missing for months; some have been tortured, according to released prisoners and the Kirkuk police chief.

A confidential State Department cable, obtained by The Washington Post and addressed to the White House, Pentagon and U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the "extra-judicial detentions" were part of a "concerted and widespread initiative" by Kurdish political parties "to exercise authority in Kirkuk in an increasingly provocative manner."

For the life of me, I cannot figure out exactly what the highlighted bit means... It is very bad writing, and the rest of the article cites many Americans declaring their ignorance of such goings-on.

The Sydney Morning Herald, however, puts it rather more clearly:
Police and security units, forces led by Kurdish political parties and backed by the US military, have abducted hundreds of minority Arabs and Turkomens in the volatile city of Kirkuk and spirited them to prisons in Kurdish-held northern Iraq.


Georgia School More Liberal Than California School

Now that's an unlikely headline. But it's true.

Georgia's School Board displayed some common sense recently:
The Georgia School Board Tuesday rejected a proposal that could have forced LGBT students to come out to their parents in order to join gay support groups.

The proposal would have required parental permission for students to participate in any extracurricular activity.

Although It did not specifically name LGBT clubs, its intent was clear said LGBT activists in the state.

Meanwhile, a Southern California school did quite the opposite:
A Southern California school has told a same-sex couple who have children in the facility not to appear together at school functions.

St. John the Baptist School, in Costa Mesa, has adopted a new policy that calls for parents to display "appropriate conduct, in order to support the school's mission and provide positive role models to our students."

The school is affiliated with the Roman Catholic diocese of Orange County.

Just one more argument in favor of supporting public schools rather than handing out vouchers to support private and parochial schools that are more likely to get away with such bigotry.


Rape Survivor Update(s)

Thanks to Miriam's help, I can report the following ambiguous developments. First, according to Reuters and MSNBC:
A Pakistani gang rape victim, whose case has been highlighted by international media, has been removed from a list of people barred from traveling abroad, the government said on Wednesday.

However, if you read the BBC site, you get another little bit of information--seems rather an important caveat for Reuters to ignore:

The Pakistan government has lifted a foreign travel ban on the victim of a high profile gang rape, Mukhtar Mai.

But Ms Mai has told the BBC that because her passport has been confiscated, the move is meaningless.

(And yes, the woman in question does seem to go by a variety of names, and I do not know why.)


The Foxing of the Times

Appalling irresponsibility from our "liberal" media, as Doug Ireland notes:
Today's Times front-pages a report on new studies by the oh-so-conservative Heritage Foundation claiming "young people who took virginity pledges had lower rates of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases and engaged in fewer risky sexual behaviors." This is nonsense -- in an article last year for the L.A. Weekly on the Bush administration's war on the condom, I cited "a Minnesota Department of Health study of the state’s five-year, abstinence-only program, which found last year that sexual activity by students taking the program actually doubled, from 5.8 percent to 12.4 percent."

My old friend Ken Sherrill, chair of the Political Science Department at Hunter College, immediately fired off an outraged letter to the Times (a copy of which he sent me), saying: "The Times' headline neglects to identify the ideological bias of the sponsors of this study and the story buries the fact that this 'study' has yet to be peer-reviewed to see if it meets professional standards. Perhaps the Times is finding its own way of becoming fair and balanced."
The Times article was by the paper's medical correspondent, Lawrence Altman, whose dreadful coverage of AIDS at the height of the epidemic in America was considered complicitous by the AIDS community.


Off the Record

Honestly, the GOP continues to amaze me. Now they cannot even bring themselves to go on the record as being against lynching?

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) refused repeated requests for a roll call vote that would have put senators on the record on a resolution apologizing for past failures to pass anti-lynching laws, officials involved in the negotiations said Tuesday.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Arresting Rape Victims

That's what our ally, Pakistan, is doing, in the latest in a long series of atrocities committed against this woman, as Nicholas Kristof reports:

Last fall I wrote about Mukhtaran Bibi, a woman who was sentenced by a tribal council in Pakistan to be gang-raped because of an infraction supposedly committed by her brother. Four men raped Ms. Mukhtaran, then village leaders forced her to walk home nearly naked in front of a jeering crowd of 300.

Ms. Mukhtaran was supposed to have committed suicide. Instead, with the backing of a local Islamic leader, she fought back and testified against her persecutors. Six were convicted.

Then Ms. Mukhtaran, who believed that the best way to overcome such abuses was through better education, used her compensation money to start two schools in her village, one for boys and the other for girls. She went out of her way to enroll the children of her attackers in the schools, showing that she bore no grudges.

Readers of my column sent in more than $133,000 for her. Mercy Corps, a U.S. aid organization, has helped her administer the money, and she has expanded the schools, started a shelter for abused women and bought a van that is used as an ambulance for the area. She has also emerged as a ferocious spokeswoman against honor killings, rapes and acid attacks on women.

A group of Pakistani-Americans invited Ms. Mukhtaran to visit the U.S. starting this Saturday (see Then a few days ago, the Pakistani government went berserk.

On Thursday, the authorities put Ms. Mukhtaran under house arrest - to stop her from speaking out. In phone conversations in the last few days, she said that when she tried to step outside, police pointed their guns at her. To silence her, the police cut off her land line.

After she had been detained, a court ordered her attackers released, putting her life in jeopardy. That happened on a Friday afternoon, when the courts do not normally operate, and apparently was a warning to Ms. Mukhtaran to shut up. Instead, Ms. Mukhtaran continued her protests by cellphone. But at dawn yesterday the police bustled her off, and there's been no word from her since. Her cellphone doesn't answer.

Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer who is head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said she had learned that Ms. Mukhtaran was taken to Islamabad, furiously berated and told that President Pervez Musharraf was very angry with her. She was led sobbing to detention at a secret location. She is barred from contacting anyone, including her lawyer.

"She's in their custody, in illegal custody," Ms. Jahangir said. "They have gone completely crazy."

Utterly vile. And the U.S. considers this nation an ally, even while still occasionally claiming to be "liberating" Iraqi women from oppression.


Even Rumsfeld

Think back over the past months and years, and remember all the times that the media were afire with the righteous indignation on the part of the right wing because some Democrat or another had suggested that maybe, just maybe, we should wait and see whether Iraq was actually better off after Saddam's fall.

Now ask yourself, where's the media firestorm now that Rumsfeld is coming out and actually saying that it most definitely is not better now than it was:
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged that security in Iraq has not improved statistically since Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003.

Mr Rumsfeld told the BBC insurgents crossed Iraq's "porous" borders from Iran, Syria and elsewhere.


Legal Gay Marriage: The Healthy Choice

And the reduction of the rate of a serious illness has to be accepted as a significant find in the argument about gay marriage.

Except, of course, to those who are bigoted enough to think that gay people somehow deserve to suffer (and there's no arguing with them anyway):
A new study on European countries which recognize same-sex unions shows there has been a significant reduction in syphilis since the gay family laws were adopted.

The study by Swarthmore College economist Thomas Dee looked at countries like Holland and Belgium which allow same-sex marriage and other European countries which have strong domestic partner laws. In all, 12 European countries were examined.

“The evidence shows these laws could dramatically reduce risky sexual behavior and the social costs of some sexually transmitted infections,” said Dee. “However, the results may be even more important because of what they suggest are the likely effects of gay marriage on the degree of personal commitment in same-sex relationships.”

The study covered the years between 1989 and 2003.

The syphilis rate dropped on average 24 percent, Dr. Dee reports in the journal National Bureau of Economic Research.


Monday, June 13, 2005

Burned Out

Too much going on, and blogging is feeling too much like a chore, so I'm taking a break.