Saturday, May 29, 2004


The plan--or one of the many plans--as I understand it was that we'd bring democracy to Iraq, and the other nations in the Middle East would follow along and adopt democracy too.

Well, it's working, except that what we've brought, and what is spreading, is not democracy but violence and lawlessness:

Gunmen opened fire on Saturday on three complexes used largely by Americans and other foreigners in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province and seized a large group of hostages, bringing the terrorist attacks that have plagued the country for the past year into the heart of its oil-producing region.

The official Saudi Press Agency quoted Crown Prince Abdullah, the country's de facto ruler, as saying that 10 people had been killed. But sporadic gunfire continued into the night in Khobar, the town on the Persian Gulf where the attacks occurred, and the reports remained confused.

The death toll could climb higher, officials from Western embassies and local reporters said. The United States Embassy in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, first confirmed that one American male was among the dead, but later said they were uncertain.

The gunmen took some hostages at the Oasis residential compound in Khobar, home to many senior Western company executives. Some 15 hours after the attack began, the reports varied on the number of people who might still be held. Some said the gunmen were holding 15 people hostage, but other reports, quoting a residence manager, said they were holding as many as 50.


Kiss Off

Well, that's it. My faith in the sociopolitical insight of heavily made-up aging metal bands is shattered:

[Gene] Simmons sparked outrage when Kiss toured Australia earlier this month with comments seen as attacking Islam.

"This is a vile culture and if you think for a second that it's willing to just live in the sands of God's armpit you've got another thing coming," Simmons said during an interview on Melbourne's 3AW radio.

"They want to come and live right where you live and they think that you're evil."

Angry Muslims flooded the radio station with calls.

Yep, I think I'll just stick with Steve Earle:

I woke up this mornin' and none of the news was good
And death machines were rumblin' 'cross the ground where Jesus stood
And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that way
And there was nothin' anyone could do or say

And I almost listened to him
Yeah, I almost lost my mind
Then I regained my senses again
And looked into my heart to find

That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Well maybe I'm only dreamin' and maybe I'm just a fool
But I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school
But somewhere along the way I strayed and I never looked back again
But I still find some comfort now and then

Then the storm comes rumblin' in
And I can't lay me down
And the drums are drummin' again
And I can't stand the sound

But I believe there'll come a day when the lion and the lamb
Will lie down in peace together in Jerusalem

And there'll be no barricades then
There'll be no wire or walls
And we can wash all this blood from our hands
And all this hatred from our souls

And I believe that on that day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Yes, that is rather better, I think.


Some Good News in the War on Terror

This is long overdue:

A Chilean court has stripped General Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution, opening up once more the possibility of his being tried for his part in the human rights abuses that followed his military coup in 1973.

The appeals court in Santiago voted by 14 to 9 to remove immunity from the man who led the military dictatorship that replaced President Salvador Allende and remained in power until 1990.


The Problem With Lying...

Is that it is so hard to keep your stories straight:

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft issued a joint statement late yesterday indicating that they have settled their tiff after Ashcroft surprised Ridge with some statements about terrorist threats at a news conference on Wednesday.

"We are entering a season of symbolic events that could be attractive targets for terrorism," the joint statement said. "In the months to come, we will hold significant national celebrations, host important international meetings, and conduct our democratic political process leading to our elections. Credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States during this period."

Ridge and other Homeland Security officials were miffed that on Wednesday Ashcroft, while asking Americans to look out for seven alleged al Qaeda associates, issued an updated terrorist threat warning. At one point he said al Qaeda is "90 percent" complete in its attack planning.

Under the Homeland Security Act and Bush administration rules, only Ridge is supposed to communicate with the public about such threat warnings -- and he was not using such language.

Ashcroft's statements caused concern at Homeland Security's Washington headquarters. Democrats such as presidential candidate John F. Kerry pounced on the moment to denounce the administration's performance on homeland defense. Some raised the prospect that the Bush administration was overstating dangers for political effect.

So yesterday morning, at the White House "principals meeting" of Ridge, Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and others, the assembled administration figures agreed to issue the joint statement and patch up the quarrel, government officials said.

"We're aware some of this week's press reports could have created confusion in the minds of the public by attempting to highlight perceived differences between the departments of Homeland Security and Justice," a Homeland Security official said, choosing his words carefully. "We wish to put aside any differences and demonstrate we're on the same page and unified in our efforts to prevent acts of terrorism."

"We thought this would be helpful as we move into this period of threat," he said.

Mealy-mouthed pathetic liars.


The Bushes Just Love a Good Surprise

No need to keep anyone informed of anything, I suppose. If it sounds good in a speech, just say it (by the way, are we still going to Mars?):

On Monday night, President Bush made the dramatic announcement that the United States would demolish Abu Ghraib prison and build a modern maximum-security center in Baghdad to replace it. But on Wednesday, Pentagon officials said the president's words had taken them by surprise, and they scrambled without success to come up with details of the plan.

"This office was not aware of any plans to raze Abu Ghraib or build another prison," said a Pentagon spokesman who insisted that he not be identified because he did not want to be seen as contradicting the president.

A senior Pentagon official said that any plans would have to be discussed with a new Iraqi government, as Mr. Bush himself stipulated in his announcement, and that in any case razing the prison could not happen quickly.

"It's just an idea the president came up with," the official said. "The Iraqis could decide they don't want to tear it down. It's not ours to tear down. It will be some time before I can give you the kind of details you want."

A White House official said Wednesday that it had been Mr. Bush's idea to insert the prison announcement into his speech Monday, at the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., where he outlined his strategy for handing over power to a new Iraqi government by June 30. The official said Mr. Bush discussed the idea last week with his war cabinet and with L. Paul Bremer III, the American administrator in Iraq.

On a similar note:

After turning to the United Nations to shore up its failing effort to fashion a new government in Baghdad, the United States ended up Friday with a choice for prime minister certain to be seen more as an American candidate than one of the United Nations or the Iraqis themselves.

The man chosen to be prime minister, Iyad Alawi, is the secretary general of the Iraqi National Accord, an exile group that has received funds from the Central Intelligence Agency. His ties with the C.I.A., and his closeness to the United States could become an issue in a country where public opinion has grown almost universally hostile to the Americans.

The announcement of Dr. Alawi's selection appeared to surprise several at the United Nations.

"When we first heard the news today, we thought that the Iraqi Governing Council had hijacked the process," said a senior United Nations official, referring to the American-picked body that voted to recommend Dr. Alawi earlier on Friday.

Why do I get the strong feeling that Bush never had to learn to play nice with others, or to share. We need a presidential remedial education program, starting with compulsory viewing of Sesame Street, at least eight hours a day.


Misuse of History

Just appalling:

President Bush urged Americans on Saturday to persevere in Iraq and paid homage to veterans as he prepared to lead a dedication of the new World War II memorial amid tens of thousands of people, including his Democratic presidential rival, John Kerry.

While scores of veterans poured onto the National Mall -- some pushed in wheelchairs, many wearing emblems of their service six decades ago -- Bush evoked the sacrifices of the Allied campaign in his weekly radio address even as he faced criticism from Kerry of having rushed to war in Iraq.

Because of America's sacrifices in World War II, "fascism and Nazism were vanquished and freedom prevailed," Bush said.

In Iraq, he said, "Our mission continues, and we will see it through to victory."

Using similar language to describe the war against Hitler and that against Saddam Hussein, Bush said the "war on terror" and the invasion of Iraq were part of efforts to defend freedom.

Bush is doing his part to ensure that future presidents will also have plenty of disabled vets to address on Memorial Day, but beyond that the two wars--and the two presidents in charge of them--have little in common.

Newsweek magazine had a long article on this fact in its May 31 issue. Some salient points:

Bush eschews complexity; FDR and Churchill embraced it. Bush prefers to decide, not to go into details or revisit issues; FDR and Churchill were constantly examining their own assumptions and immersing themselves in postwar planning. Bush is largely incurious about the world; FDR and Churchill wanted to know everything.

And perhaps the key lessons Bush needs to, and will not, learn from history:

Acknowledging error is not weakness; it can be wise statecraft. "It is common sense to take a method and try it," Roosevelt said. "If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." Churchill is great not only because he refused to give in to Hitler but because he understood the art of alliance.

If only our president could be bothered to learn, perhaps we would learn these things. I doubt we will ever know.


Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Real War on Terror

Although the neocons scoffed at the notion, the fact is that winning against al Qaeda and other violent fundamentalist factions will depend less on warfare and more on law enforcement. In fact, anyone arguing that now will probably be lambasted as weak on national security. However, actions speak louder than words:

U.S. officials are seeking the extradition of a radical Muslim cleric who was arrested Thursday by British police. The cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, was indicted last month by the U.S. government on charges of aiding and conspiring in terrorist activities.
U.S. officials say Abu Hamza al-Masri provided material support to al-Qaida and the Taleban.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the charges contained in an 11-count indictment, which was issued by a federal grand jury in New York last month.

"These charges are related to Hamza's alleged attempts in late 1999 and early 2000 to set up a training camp for violent jihad in Bly, Oregon, here in the United States," he said. "Hamza is also charged with providing material support to al-Qaida for facilitating violent jihad in Afghanistan, as well as conspiracy to supply goods and services to the Taleban."

I'm not sure what Britain's policy is on this, but it would be interesting if the extradition were held up or halted entirely as a result of the U.S.'s continued implementation of the barbarity known as "capital punishment."


Bush's Budget Plans: Slash and Burn

The tax cuts for the rich aren't just giveaways to his cronies; they are an integral part of the conservative long-term plan: bankrupt the government so that spending cuts are inevitable. And where are the cuts to come from? Homeland security, education, and veterans affairs, the very things Bush is talking about so often in his re-election campaign.

The White House has told government agencies to brace for slower spending growth and outright budget cuts if President Bush is re-elected, including in homeland security, education and other domestic programs touted by his campaign.
"This secret memo goes to the heart of the White House's two-faced approach to governing," said Phil Singer, a Kerry campaign spokesman.

"President Bush goes around the country touting his commitment to education but then pursues plans to gut the funds for schools. He talks about homeland security, but then tries to slash the resources first responders need to protect us," Singer added.

But release of the memo could help Bush shore up support from fiscal conservatives. They have accused the Republican president of not proposing deep enough cuts to bring down this year's record federal budget deficit.

"It certainly can't hurt with fiscal conservatives," said Brian Riedl, a budget expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation. "At the same time, it is always important to see real spending cuts now as opposed to a promise of spending cuts later."

According to an analysis by Democrats, Homeland Security would face $1 billion in cuts starting in fiscal year 2006 under the White House plan. Its budget that year would be about $29.6 billion.

Veterans Affairs would be cut by $910 million in 2006 from $29.7 billion in 2005 while spending growth at the Education Department would slow.

The hypocrisy is boundless.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A Bad Day for Ashcroft

Let's hope this rationale continues to work in opposing Ashcroft's department, both in the case of assisted suicide and regarding other issues, like medical marijuana:

A federal appeals court today rejected an effort by the Justice Department to block the only law in the nation authorizing doctors to help their patients commit suicide.

The decision, by a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, upheld Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.

The majority used unusually pointed language to rebuke Attorney General John Ashcroft for overstepping his authority.

"The Attorney General's unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers," Judge Richard C. Tallman wrote for the majority, "interferes with the democratic debate about physician assisted suicide and far exceeds the scope of his authority under federal law."

Oh, and speaking of medical marijuana and rubbing Ashcroft's nose in the fact that we are a free nation:

What do you do when you sue U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and win? Fifty-one-year-old Valerie Corral, a sinewy 5-foot tall great-granddaughter of Italian immigrants, throws back her head laughing, her hands reaching to the clouds, hips wiggling, feet stomping.

''It's my happy dance!'' she says, throwing her arms around her husband Mike.

She has also planted an acre of marijuana.

The decision that lets the crop remain is just one round in a long legal battle.

Last month, a federal judge in San Jose issued a preliminary injunction banning the Justice Department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from interfering with the Corrals' pot garden, set above an ocean bluff near Davenport, about an hour south of San Francisco. The injunction gives the judge time to reconsider his earlier decision to allow the garden to be uprooted.

Still, the Corrals call the injunction a victory.


A Thrashing

Being out of office seems to suit Gore:

George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility. Instead, he has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world.

He promised to "restore honor and integrity to the White House." Instead, he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon.

Honor? He decided not to honor the Geneva Convention. Just as he would not honor the United Nations, international treaties, the opinions of our allies, the role of Congress and the courts, or what Jefferson described as "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind." He did not honor the advice, experience and judgment of our military leaders in designing his invasion of Iraq. And now he will not honor our fallen dead by attending any funerals or even by permitting photos of their flag-draped coffins.
The abuse of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib flowed directly from the abuse of the truth that characterized the Administration's march to war and the abuse of the trust that had been placed in President Bush by the American people in the aftermath of September 11th.

There was then, there is now and there would have been regardless of what Bush did, a threat of terrorism that we would have to deal with. But instead of making it better, he has made it infinitely worse. We are less safe because of his policies. He has created more anger and righteous indignation against us as Americans than any leader of our country in the 228 years of our existence as a nation -- because of his attitude of contempt for any person, institution or nation who disagrees with him.


Bush Policy Is Lawlessness

We need to see that fact clearly, and we need to act accordingly. This band of thugs has to go.

The United States and its supporters in the war against terror are flouting human rights in the pursuit of a global security agenda that has made the world more dangerous, Amnesty International said today.

The abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops was the consequence of a Bush administration policy "to pick and choose which bits of international law it will apply and where," the group's secretary general, Irene Khan, said in presenting the annual assessment of human rights.

Khan condemned attacks by terror groups such as al-Qaida, but said the U.S. response was driving the most sustained erosion of human rights and international law in 50 years.

"As a strategy, the war on terror is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle," Khan said. "Sacrificing human rights in the name of national security, turning a blind eye to abuse abroad and using pre-emptive military force where and when the powerful choose to act has damaged justice and freedom, and made the world a more dangerous and divided place.''

The response from the White House:

Asked about the report's assertions, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "I dismiss that.''


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Wandering Around, Saying Stuff

I have no idea of the merits of the case. Perhaps what Nader says is true:

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader returned to his home state Tuesday and predicted that Gov. John. G. Rowland would likely be impeached.

"He has compromised his own independence through taking all these freebies, these cottages and so forth from economic interests who have business before his state administration," said Nader, who made several stops around the state Tuesday.

But the venue for his incendiary remarks is rather sad:

A crowd of about 50 people, including many Canton middle school and high school students, gathered at the library to listen to Nader discuss his opposition to the war and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

And this assertion is utterly idiotic:

Nader, who has met with Kerry, said he believes his presence will only sway votes away from Bush.


Weapons of Mass Terror-Related Destruction Activity Type Things

Okay. I have distinct recollections of the "terror alert" going to "orange" without a word of explanation a few months back.

So what is this about?

The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI will announce a new terror-related threat amid increased security concerns over several high-profile events in the United States, law enforcement officials said on Tuesday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller are due to hold a 2 p.m. news conference at FBI headquarters on Wednesday to give details of the threat, the officials said.

One law enforcement official said Mueller and Ashcroft would announce an FBI "be on the lookout" bulletin and give specific information about individuals the FBI is seeking.

"It's more investigatory...there's nothing to do with infrastructure protection," the official said.

The Department of Homeland Security has no plans to raise the color-coded terror alert level, which is currently set at "yellow" for an "elevated" risk of attack, officials said.
Officials said Mueller and Ashcroft would not announce any arrests or any new criminal charges at the news conference.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment and an Ashcroft aide could not be reached.

Just more fear-mongering? Or further incompetence? Who can say?


Antsy Poodle

Blair's commitment to all this Iraq nonsense has always rather baffled me, especially watching the heat he has caught from Parliament and the press--heat from which Bush has been shielded with well-nigh paranoid efficiency.

But now, as Bush pronounces that the Iraqis need self-government and such (while mispronouncing many other things), Blair's notion that sovereignty means that the puppet government should have the power to nix coalition military moves has crossed the line:

Tony Blair's call for a new Iraqi government to have a veto over coalition military operations after a hand-over of power at the end of next month was rebuffed in Washington last night.

Within hours of his asserting the right of the incoming government to prevent American forces from mounting another Fallujah-style assault, Colin Powell, the secretary of state, said that US forces would be under US command, with the right to do "what is necessary" to protect themselves.

The truth is, Bush just can't handle the notion of anybody, much less some gang of non-whites, being granted the right to say "No" to him. He continues to deem himself an emperor, even as the walls burn all around him.


The Eloquence of a Stateman

He may not be able to pronounce the name of our torture prison, but he still can turn a phrase:

For President Bush, a crucial turning point came when Mr Chalabi openly criticised US policies in Iraq at the United Nations.

Aides said that to a president who values loyalty highly and expects his friends to do the same, the public comments by Mr Chalabi - formerly the Pentagon's chief source of intelligence on Iraq, including its nuclear capability - were "an eye-opener". Elsewhere, to King Abdullah of Jordan, Mr Bush remarked: "You can piss on Chalabi."

Wit matched only by depth of insight.


Massachusetts Setback

Inevitable, I suppose, but still a shame:

Three of four Massachusetts towns issuing marriage licenses to out-of-state gay couples stopped doing so on Tuesday after the state's attorney general ordered them to end the practice.

Worcester, Springfield and Somerville have issued licenses to dozens of nonresident gay couples since last week, when Massachusetts became the only state in the nation where same-sex couples can legally marry.

However, they said will now approve applications only from gay couples who live in Massachusetts or say they intend to move to the state.

Provincetown, a hub for the gay community on the East Coast, was to discuss whether or not to comply with the attorney general's order at a meeting later on Tuesday.

The four municipalities issued licenses in defiance of Gov. Mitt Romney's decision last month to enforce a 1913 law that bars Massachusetts from issuing marriage licenses to couples if their marriage would be invalid in their home states.

There is something deeply meaningful about the fact that they are stopping the marriages by means of a law enacted to hinder interracial marriages at a time when backward states still had miscegenation laws.


Neocons=Iran's Pawns

Anyone with any sense could see from day one of the Iraq misadventure that the neoconservatives were playing right into bin Laden's hands by invading.

Now, however, it appears that the course events took may have been actively shaped by a member of the "Axis of Evil."

An urgent investigation has been launched in Washington into whether Iran played a role in manipulating the US into the Iraq war by passing on bogus intelligence through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it emerged yesterday.

Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq.

This is a complete disaster. Now the US looks not only like a blundering failure of a superpower, but also like the dupe of Iranian theocrats, tricked into doing their dirty work for them.


Third-Party Threat?

I'm not talking about Nader, but about a Libertarian challenge to Bush's don't-tax-yet-spend fiasco:

While Democrats fret over the possibility of Ralph Nader causing them to lose another election by stealing votes on the left, President Bush may face an even greater third-party threat from the right wing. The Libertarian Party nominee could cost Mr. Bush his job in 2004.

With conservatives upset over the ballooning size of the federal government under a Republican White House and Congress – and a portion of the political right having opposed the war in Iraq from the outset or else dismayed at how it's being handled – the Libertarian nominee may do for Democrats in 2004 what Nader did for Republicans in 2000.

I have the feeling it won't come to much in the end, but it is an interesting hypothesis.

Link via Emphyrio.


Freeing the Iraqis...

from the burdens of wealth:

Besides the prisoner-abuse scandal, there is another, more pervasive problem Iraqis say they suffer daily at the hands of U.S. troops -- theft of money and other property during aggressive American raids.

Over the past 14 months of occupation, U.S. forces have carried out literally thousands of raids on homes across the country, routinely seizing money, jewelry and other property from Iraqis suspected of "anti-coalition activities."

Items are generally confiscated on suspicion they could be used to finance attacks against U.S.-led forces, and the U.S. military says it has had some success in cutting off funding for insurgents via the policy.

But Iraqis say the raids often target the wrong people, are carried out in an aggressive, even destructive manner and complain that lifetime savings, precious jewelry and family heirlooms are regularly stolen in the process.
[Captain Mark] Doggett said when are items are confiscated, a receipt is always given. If the owner is eventually found to be innocent, items can be recovered, he said. But many people who have had property confiscated say no receipts were written.

Vriesinga estimates that in nine out of 10 raids, the home owners raided are innocent, but suffer huge consequences.

"If the husband is hauled off as a suspect, the family has lost its breadwinner and often lost its savings and cash as well," he said, citing a recent Red Cross report which referred to up to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees being innocent.

If Iraqis file complaints, it comes down to a case of the Iraqi suspect's word against the American soldier's, he said.

"If there's any doubt, then it's assumed the Iraqi is lying -- the Americans are creating enemies by the score."


Recruitment Is Up

And, no, I am not talking about Americans jumping at the chance to help bring democracy to Iraq:

Al Qaeda has more than 18,000 militants ready to strike and the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq has accelerated recruitment to the ranks of Osama bin Laden's network, a leading London think-tank said on Tuesday.

Al Qaeda's finances were in good order, its "middle managers" provided expertise to Islamic militants around the globe and bin Laden's drawing power was as strong as ever, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said.

It warned in its annual Strategic Survey that al Qaeda would keep trying to develop plans for attacks in North America and Europe and that the network ideally wanted to use weapons of mass destruction.

"Meanwhile, soft targets encompassing Americans, Europeans and Israelis, and aiding the insurgency in Iraq, will do," the institute said.

"Galvanized by Iraq if compromised by Afghanistan, al Qaeda remains a viable and effective network of networks," it said.



Last night, Bush spoke a lot of vague and empty words. This morning:

Najaf - Seven people were killed and 45 wounded in fighting on Tuesday in Iraq's central holy city of Najaf, where a mortar round exploded inside Shiite Islam's holiest shrine, medics said.

The upper part of one of the main gold-covered gates leading to the tomb of revered Shiite Imam Ali was damaged and rubble strewn on the blood-stained floor of the shrine.

"We have seven killed and 45 wounded, including 10 injured at the shrine," said medics at Najaf's Hakim hospital.

Aides of Shiite radical leader Moqtada Sadr said earlier that 10 people were wounded in the attack on the mausoleum, which happened at around 11:00 and blamed it on US troops.

Guess which event--Bush's speech or this explosion--will matter more to the Iraqis.


Monday, May 24, 2004


These people are pushing the limits of sanity in their efforts to avoid any and all responsibility for everything:

"It's extremely difficult to govern when you control all three branches of government," says Hastert spokesman John Feehery, a burden of which Democrats would happily relieve them.

From Atrios.


Symbolism. Empty.

While I am surprised by the decision to this--mainly because it seems like a good idea--it really is meaningless. The US is extending its carceral society across the globe, and turning another building into rubble doesn't mean a thing:

The United States will demolish Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison in consultation with the incoming government as a way of symbolizing the country's new start, the White House said on Monday.
The prison near Baghdad, scene of torture under Saddam Hussein and of a prisoner abuse scandal under the U.S. military, would be replaced by a new maximum security prison funded by the U.S. government, the White House said in a statement. The statement was issued ahead of a prime time speech on the future of Iraq by President Bush.

"Under Saddam Hussein, prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values," the statement said.

"America will fund the construction of a modern, maximum security prison. When that prison is completed, detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated.

"Then, with the approval of the Iraqi government, we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning," it added.

Actually, it is meaningful, in a sense. It is symbolic of the new American system being imposed upon the Iraqis. Steady water supply? No. Electricity? Not so much. Elections? Maybe later.

Brand-spankin' new prison? Right away. Because the first thing every free society needs is sleek, modern jail cells.


Saved by Addiction

This case demonstrates clearly the bizarre ethical morasses in which one finds oneself when debating the death penalty. It is simply perverse to resolve that it is morally acceptable for the state to kill someone and then to split hairs over how much pain the state can acceptably inflict attaining that goal:

The Supreme Court ruled for the first time Monday that a death row inmate can pursue a last-ditch claim that lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel.

In a rare unanimous decision on a capital punishment case, justices sided with a convicted Alabama killer who claims his veins are so damaged from drug abuse that executioners might have to cut deeply into his flesh to administer the deadly drugs.

Lethal injection is used in 37 states, largely because it's considered more humane than the electric chair, firing squad, gas chamber or hanging. Criticism of the method has been building, however, and David Larry Nelson's case led to a stark discussion at the court about a so-called "cut-down procedure" needed when problems complicate accessing a vein in an inmate's arm, neck or thigh.

Justices were told in filings by physicians that if done improperly, the procedure could cause Nelson to hemorrhage badly and suffer heart problems before the drug cocktail could kill him.

The death penalty is abhorrent. No reliable evidence shows that it has any measurable good effect. It presumes that the justice system is or can be perfected. It must be abolished.




Lawyers for one of the soldiers accused of abusing prisoners in Iraq said Monday they will ask a military judge to throw out her confession, because they contend military investigators pressed her to talk after she had asked for an attorney.

Pfc. Lynndie England is one of seven soldiers facing military charges in connection with the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison. She appears in several of the most well-known photographs from the prison, including one where she is holding a leash attached to a collar around the neck of a naked prisoner.

England has taken a rather roundabout way to learn the importance of human rights, in my humble opinion.


Video Killed the American Lie

Again. This time, it's the lie that we didn't actually bomb another wedding party:

The US military says it is investigating the attack in the village of Mogr el-Deeb, about 8km from the Syrian border, but that all evidence so far indicated the target was a safe house for foreign fighters.

"There was no evidence of a wedding: no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration," Brig-Gen Mark Kimmitt, the chief US military spokesman in Iraq, said yesterday.

"There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have celebrations, too."

But video shot a day after the attack shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans, and brightly coloured bedding, used for celebrations, scattered around the bombed-out tent.

A reporter and photographer who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video, which runs for several hours.

Prominently displayed on the videotape was a stocky man with close-cropped hair playing an electric organ.

Another tape, filmed a day later in Ramadi, showed the musician lying dead in a burial shroud -- his face clearly visible, and wearing the same tan shirt he wore when he performed.


Redefining Sovereignty


The U.S. and U.K. presented a resolution to the United Nations Security Council that, while granting Iraqis ``governing authority'' by June 30, gives U.S. military forces full control over the enforcement of security.

The five-page text says that a multinational force under U.S. command ``shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq by preventing and deterring terrorism.'' It calls for a ``partnership'' between the troops and the interim government.

The mandate of the multinational force, described as being under ``unified command,'' would be reviewed within 12 months of its adoption or ``at the request'' of the interim government. The text also calls for a `distinct entity'' within the multinational force to protect UN workers in Iraq, who are to advise the interim government and ``contribute'' to the reconstruction of the country and delivery of humanitarian aid.


Western Twilight?

Martin Jacques makes a very interesting and compelling argument that the Iraq fiasco signals and contributes to a deeper trend:

The sudden collapse of European communism, together with US military might and the emergence of the Bush doctrine, has served to highlight the extraordinary power of the US. But another trend over the past quarter-century, which is at least as important - and, in the longer run, is likely to be more important - is the economic rise of East Asia, above all China, and also India, which between them constitute almost 40 per cent of the world's population.

The power and influence of Western values was a consequence of, and has ultimately always depended upon, the economic strength of the West. The rise of China as a key global player, and probably the next superpower, will be the prelude to the growing global influence of Chinese values. Further down the road, the same can be said of India.

Western hubris hitherto has seen the economic growth of these countries as simply an affirmation of growing Western influence. Countless BBC news items coo about how Western the Chinese are becoming. Well, yes, in some respects, but in others not at all. Modernity is not just composed of technology and markets, it is embedded in and shaped by culture. We will slowly wake up to the fact that the West no longer has a monopoly of modernity - that there are other modernities, not just ours.

The story of the next quarter-century will not simply be about American hyper-power, but the rise of Asian power and values.

Last century was the "American century" (well, the last half of it, anyway). Will this century be the Asian century?


Debunking the Myth

From The Age:

Iraq is a strategic prize in the Arab world with huge reserves of oil. America will stay put, writes Scott Burchill.

First there was the "grave danger" (in the words of President Bush) posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which failed to materialise.

Then there were the Baghdad/al-Qaeda links that couldn't be established.

Then along came the democratisation rationale. To replace the threat of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, a humanitarian argument was invoked that proved difficult to sustain with more than 10,000 innocent civilians killed by invading and occupying forces.

And far from confronting terrorists in situ as promised, Iraq has became a recruiting ground for a proliferating collection of anti-Western militants.

Now a new orthodoxy is shaping comment and analysis about events in Iraq. Let's call it the "reluctant occupier myth".

Having removed Saddam and his cohorts from power and set Iraq on a path towards democracy, the US is now preparing to leave - the "Vietnamisation" of Iraq. It will find a smooth way out by returning sovereignty to a new Iraqi administration, initially on July 1 through the auspices of the UN and then early next year through democratic elections. Coalition forces, which don't want to be in Iraq a day longer than is necessary to "finish the job", will stay on for a time to "maintain" security, but only at the pleasure of a new interim government in Baghdad.

Like the earlier myths, this one is also a fabrication.
However, it is having difficulty finding a Vichy government willing to follow Washington's orders, because of the domestic risks that collaborators always face.

The US is keen to hand over the "nasties", such as local policing and law and order to indigenous control, because this will reduce coalition losses.

On the other hand, the lucrative gains of economic sovereignty - including control of the oil industry, the privatisation of state-owned enterprises, and opening up the economy to foreign investment and ownership - will not be matters for the discretion of a post-Saddam administration.

The world's largest embassy, which Washington intends to build in Baghdad, would not be necessary if Iraqis were going to genuinely regain control of their country. It will be a constant reminder that full sovereignty, including economic and political independence, will not be returned to them.


Sunday, May 23, 2004

Magical Thinking

Things are going very badly as far as the Iraq misadventure is concerned, and the so-called transfer of sovereignty is imminent.

The Bush response? Words, and nothing else:

Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the private Council on Foreign Relations — and a top Pentagon strategist during the Vietnam War — said he had never seen confidence sink as quickly in Washington as it has in recent weeks.

"I've never heard the kind of dark defeatism I'm hearing now, both in and out of government, including the worst days of the Vietnam War," said Gelb, a Democrat. "Support for this war is plummeting. In Vietnam, that happened much more slowly, and only after much higher casualties."

....To counter that spreading sense of disorder and shore up public support, [President] Bush plans to give six major speeches on Iraq in the six weeks remaining before the transfer of sovereignty to the transitional government.

....Officials said there was no immediate sign that Bush was planning to announce any major new initiatives or shifts in policy in Monday's speech. The main theme, one aide said, will be a familiar one: "Stay the course." But it may be delivered in a more sober tone than before.


Welcome to Office

One day after Manmohan Singh becomes prime minister of India, Kashmir flares up again:

At least 28 people have been killed in disputed Kashmir as a bus packed with Indian soldiers and their families ran over a landmine planted by separatist guerrillas, officials say.

The attack, which came one day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took office, was the deadliest in Kashmir since India and Pakistan began a peace process late last year to resolve the dispute over the territory, the cause of two of their three wars.
Singh, who took office on Saturday, said his government remained committed to a peaceful resolution of all disputes.

"I have learned with the deepest sorrow about the latest cowardly act of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir...The persistence of this senseless violence in Jammu and Kashmir is yet another indication that terrorism continues to pose a grave threat to our nation's integrity and progress," he said in a statement.

"While we will continue to seek peaceful resolutions to all outstanding problems, there can be no compromise on our solemn resolve to deal with the menace of terrorism with firm determination."

Singh has vowed to carry forward the nascent peace process begun last year by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf and Singh spoke for the first time on Sunday and affirmed a desire for peace, Pakistan's official media said.

It is such a welcome divergence from the usual way of things today, to have violence followed by pronouncements of a commitment to peaceful solutions, rather than bilious calls for vengeance. We seem to be outsourcing everything to India: jobs, democracy, common sense...


Bad News for Bush

Looks like he may not get his popularity boost from his Saudi friends after all:

Dissent emerged in OPEC on Sunday to a proposal from leading cartel producer Saudi Arabia for a big increase in oil output to deflate record crude prices.

Hopes for swift backing from the Organization of the Petroleum Countries for a Saudi plan to lift supply limits by 2 million to 2.5 million barrels daily, an 8 percent to 11 percent increase, have been dashed.

The question then becomes, will he flip-flop on this issue too, and go along with the Democrats' calls to stop filling the national reserve, and perhaps even to tap some of it? Judging by the past (e.g. Homeland Security Department), he will, and then claim credit for the bold idea.

UPDATE: Looks like he's getting his fix after all:

Saudi Arabia has agreed to increase its oil output starting next month by 28 percent and is "prepared" to increase output to its capacity of 10.5 million barrels per day, U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said Sunday after meeting with the Saudi oil minister.

Abraham said the Saudis will boost their production from nearly 7.1 million barrels per day to 9.1 million.

The political motives are obvious to everyone:

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh said the pressure to boost production was related to November's upcoming presidential election in the United States.

"We had the situation like it four years ago where we were very close to another presidential election in the United States," he said. "Every day we are going to be closer to this date, we will have some pressure ... to do something and to satisfy their voters."


The Chalabi Fiasco

Honestly, I find the whole spectacle extremely bizarre. I am not surprised that Chalabi has been making things up in the hopes of attaining power in Iraq. I will be rather surprised if it turns out he did in fact sell or give secrets to Iran. But what has me utterly confused is how a man accused of betraying the US is being permitted access to the airwaves today, while tens of thousands of people around the globe have been rounded up willy-nilly, most of them simply for being the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But, there it is:

Ahmad Chalabi, once a favored Iraqi exile of the Bush administration, on Sunday denied accusations that he passed along U.S. secrets to Iran and challenged the CIA director to a duel before Congress.

Some U.S. government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have accused Chalabi of giving U.S. intelligence to Iran, which the United States considers to be part of an ``axis of evil.''

``It's not true. It's a false charge,'' Chalabi said on ABC's ``This Week'' television program. ``It's a smear.''