'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, April 29, 2005


So Fox has conceded to popular pressure and has cleared the way for Obrador to run in Mexico's 2006 elections. Here's the Financial Times:

Under pressure to defuse a growing political crisis, [President Vicente] Fox made a television address to the nation on Wednesday night to announce that he had accepted the resignation of Rafael Macedo de la Concha, the attorney-general, who had been pursuing the case against Mr López Obrador.

A new attorney-general would review the case "exhaustively", Mr Fox said. Most analysts interpreted this to mean that any charges against the mayor had been put on hold indefinitely.

If any doubts remained over a case beset by confusion in recent weeks, they appeared to be cleared up yesterday by the presidential spokesman, Rubén Aguilar. Asked whether the case against Mr López Obrador had been shelved, Mr Aguilar demurred before saying: "You could say that it has."

Mr Fox also said he would present a bill to change the law that would have barred Mr López Obrador from the presidential race. As in most other countries, he said, Mexico should accept the principle of a presumption of innocence in criminal cases; citizens who face charges should still be able to run for election.

"My government won't stop anyone from taking part in the forthcoming federal elections," Mr Fox said.

which just goes to show what you can accomplish when you can get a million people on the streets ...

The whole sleazy maneuver has really backfired on Fox, not only by consolidating support for Obrador but by spawning a wave of grassroots organization the power of which will likely be felt in other domains of Mexican politics: (from here)

What the US ruling class fears has already started to happen. The mass movement behind Obrador has already begun to develop a mind of its own. The so-called “March of silence” was not really so silent. The movement has gone way beyond simply demanding that the case against Obrador be dropped. The masses can see a direct link between the privatizations and austerity measures of the Fox government and the removal of Lopez Obrador. They are linking the case against Obrador to the defence of democracy and against capitalism.

The trade unions and the advanced layers of youth and PRD activists now make demands for the defence of Mexican democracy and against privatizations. The mass movement is now learning through their own experience what many in Venezuela for instance have already learned: that democracy cannot be established and defended in Mexico without a struggle against capitalism and imperialism. Many in Venezuela, through the concrete experience of events, have learned that capitalism cannot be tinkered with, that the social programmes and reforms in Venezuela are not tolerated by the oligarchy and are not sustainable under capitalism. In order to ensure the victory of the struggle against poverty and capitalism, the workers and peasants in Venezuela are realizing that they need to control the levers of the economy, because you cannot control what you do not own, and that they must establish the broadest genuine democracy – workers’ democracy, or socialism. The movement in Mexico is heading down the same road and is coming to the same broad conclusions. As the movement develops its slogans will become more and more radical and develop strong anti-capitalist demands.

Welcome Visitors from BBC News 

If you got here via this this BBC story, the relevancy of this site to the story in question might not be immediately clear. I was linked to because the current story is an update to this old BBC story which explicitly talked about a work of art I made last year ... see the "War President" link on the right side bar...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Zaman's Believe It or Not 

I haven't run a juicy rumor propagated by a disreputable source for awhile so ... umm ... The Turkish news source Zaman Online, via al-Quds, says that Rumsfeld wants to cut a deal with Saddam Hussein: Hussein gets freedom in exile in exchange for ending the insurgency:

There are claims that US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during his last visit to Iraq met with ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

According to a news article based on Iraqi Baath sources in Jordan published in the London based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, Rumsfeld met with Saddam in his cell in Bagdat (Baghdad) and the US Secretary of Defense asked Saddam to end the insurgence [sic]. The paper claims that Rumsfeld asked him on a television broadcast to make a call for insurgents to end the resistence against US and multi-national forces as well as the Iraqi security forces.

Rumsfeld in return offered a release and exile of the administrators of the overthrown Iraqi regime or those who are willing to be involved in the government after negotiations.

Baath sources in Jordan have reported that Saddam refused the offer.

The idea that Hussein has the power to "end the insurgency" is just false; actually it's related to a false belief Rumsfeld himself used to be fond of. He used to like to characterize the insurgents as ex-Baathists, the remnants of Saddam's army, thus suggesting that their number was finite and low.

But, although such a characterization works well in propaganda, it doesn't correspond much with reality. For example, according to a little discussed CIA report from a few months ago the Saddamist ex-Baathists, along with Zarqawi's terrorists, are "lesser elements" in the resistance, which is increasingly dominated by "newly radicalized Sunni Iraqis, nationalists offended by the occupying force, and others disenchanted by the economic turmoil and destruction caused by the fighting." -- in other words by ordinary Iraqis who are angry that their country was invaded, wrecked, and occupied by a foreign army and are attempting to do something about it.

So, you know, the Turkish rumor seems false on its face to me -- because it's predicated on an assumption that is true in the world of spin, not in the world of reality.

Oh Man, You Can't Make This Stuff Up 

From Times Online UK

In a twist that is likely to raise a few eyebrows in Washington, Iraq's great political survivor Ahmad Chalabi - first the darling and then the scapegoat of the Bush Administration - will take the hotly-contested post of Oil Minister on an interim basis. Mr Chalabi, who is a Shia Muslim, is also one of the four deputy Prime Ministers.

Tariq Blows Through Town 

[This post is by guest blogger Richard Estes. Richard lives in Northern California, and co-hosts a radio program, with an emphasis upon peace, civil rights, labor and environmental issues, on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, CA.]

April is a busy month for me, time for me to sample some of the offerings at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which can be challenging, given the vagaries of the schedule, and the fact that I live far away from the primary venues. Success is measured by how many films that you see that will not be subsequently distributed within the US.

During the 1960s and 1970s, film, literature and politics were inextricably linked, as many movies and novels had a social significance beyond catering to the whims of the marketplace. At least, some films at the festival, especially the foreign ones, show that this legacy survives, even if it has been largely extinguished in the US. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised, despite my busy schedule, to discover that longtime British? Pakistani? leftist Tariq Ali, a figure with an instinctive feel for the interwoven fabric of politics and culture, was going to read from one of his recently published books,

Street Fighting Years
,at the Modern Times bookstore in the Mission District. Few people speak with his warmth, cultural sophistication and directness, so, naturally I made time for it.

With the publication of The Clash of Fundamentalisms in 2002, Ali has been a highly visible public figure, traveling the world extensively to assert an alternative to Bush’s preemptive, imperial, "war on terror" and the Islamic primitivism of al-Qaeda. There is something quaint, almost naive, about his belief that one can change the world through rational observation, analysis and argument. Watching him filter the experience of what we used to describe as "The Third World" through skills that were shaped by the Pakistani and British educational systems, is an eye-opening experience. It is especially striking during a time when a Federal Court of Appeals nominee maintains that there is war against religious belief, and one of the most powerful corporations in the world is intimidated by Christian fundamentalists into abandoning its support for gay rights. Unfortunately, Ali seems to rarely speak at length about his novels, even though his literary insight compassionately draws upon the richness of his political and cultural vision.

But Ali’s secularism is not always comforting for Americans. In regard to the war in Iraq, he places responsibility for the violence solely upon the US, and, consistent with his roots as a supporter of wars of national liberation during the 1960s, obviously empathizes with the resistance. Recalling that riveting scene in Citizen Kane, when Kane’s longtime friend, Jedediah Leland, excoriates him by insisting that the "working man" is going to demand his liberties as his "right" instead of a "privilege" to be granted by Kane, Ali likewise bluntly states that people around the world are going to win their freedom from American imperialism, non-violently, if possible, violently, if necessary, and that he supports them in this endeavor. It is hard to imagine a more direct challenge to the paternalism of many American liberals and leftists.

Ali also has little patience with the sectarianism of the American left. After one questioner criticized him and the other older panel members for insensitivity to the right of younger people to organize themselves, without their interference, Ali was polite, but firm: if you do so, and end the war, we will all applaud, but, if you are not going to do it, don’t stop us from trying to so ourselves, as he related a story about how thousands of schoolchildren walked out of class when the war started, and requested a speaker from the antiwar coalition in London. What were we supposed to do, he asked rhetorically, turn them down? With a hint of bitterness, he concluded, "No other country in the world that I visit talks like this." Only Americans are sufficiently removed to engage in such petty disputes while the fire burns in Iraq, and Iranians, Syrians, North Koreans and Venezuelans feel the heat from the flames.

NOTE: Tariq Ali will appear in Vancouver and Toronto over the next few days before departing the US.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Everyone Says Chalabi 

There was an interview with Ahmed in a recent Al-Ahram Weekly that was of interest if for no other reason than getting a feeling for the sort of political identity that Chalabi has constructed for himself in Iraq. Here's an excerpt ... the bit at the end in which Chalabi comes out against the "security service companies" is just priceless ... yes, Ahmed foreign mercenaries who seek profit in a war-ravaged country really are despicable...

Q: How do you view foreign military presence in Iraq?

A: According to UN Security Council Resolution 1546, Iraq is a sovereign state. There are multinational forces in Iraq and I want these forces to be of assistance to the Iraqi government. I want their role be specified and regulated in an agreement. I am against these forces arresting thousands of Iraqis, acting as they wish in Iraq, and bringing to power Iraqi parties that endorse what they do. The current situation is not one of occupation, but the Iraqi government is accepting acts by foreign forces that give the impression of occupation. The occupation is over, but the context in which foreign forces operate has not changed.

Q: When should the foreign forces leave?

A: Before asking this question one has to ask about the rehabilitation of Iraqi security services, both the army and police. The Americans are unfortunately in charge of the rehabilitation. I want a bigger role for the Iraqi government in rebuilding these institutions. The government should be in control of security services, army, and intelligence, from recruitment to training, equipment and deployment. Secondly, total control of public expenditure by the government is a must. Thirdly, control of administration by the government is essential, through the dismissal of the advisers who were appointed by the occupation authorities and who are still acting as they did in the past. Iraq should control its foreign policy. I called on the US Embassy to vacate the Iraqi presidential palace, for the latter is the country's symbol of sovereignty. I called for ending the presence of foreign security service companies that operate in Iraq employing 22,000 people.

Q: Do you use any of them?

A: Not one. All my bodyguards are Iraqis. So that you know, each one of those 22,000 makes $1,000 a day. This is $22 million a day, or $7 billion a year. Why is that necessary? They are not answerable to anyone and move around bearing weapons in a provocative manner.

Also, Justin Raimondo speculates that Chalabi still might end up as Iraqi Prime Minister. Raimondo argues that Iraq's current post-election "stalemate" isn't some accidental occurrence like a traffic jam or a sudden rain shower but is an intentional act of sabotage perpetrated because Americans do not want to see Jafaari become the PM, and further that the legal basis for such an act was purposefully inserted into Iraq's interim constitution for just this purpose:

The capacity to derail the Shi'ite majority slate's victory was built in to the very structure of Iraq's fledgling "democracy." The Kurds and the non-Shi'ite parties are playing the trump card dealt them by the American occupiers. They have been upping their demands, deliberately prolonging the process of choosing key ministers, because the clock is ticking on the efforts of the Shi'ite fundamentalist-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) – the overwhelming victor in the Iraqi elections – to put together a government. What the moderates and Iraqi secularists, including the followers of neocon sock puppet Ahmed Chalabi, couldn't win at the polls, they may yet steal in a series of murky backroom deals. The outcome of the process set up by American diktat may well end up with Chalabi at the helm, as per the original neocon plan.

Gee, What Happened to All That Steady if Uneven Progress? 

Remember that far-off era shrouded in the mists of time characterized by the paper of record offering us such refreshing morsels as:

Interviews with more than a dozen senior American and Iraqi officers, top Pentagon officials and lawmakers who have visited Iraq yield an assessment that the combination of routing insurgents from their sanctuary in Falluja last November and the Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 has given the military operation sustained momentum, and put the Bush administration's goal of turning Iraq over to a permanent, elected Iraqi government within striking distance. [...]

This view of steady if uneven progress is shared by virtually all senior American commanders and Pentagon officials interviewed, who base their judgments on some 50 to 70 specific measurements from casualty figures to assassination attempts against Iraqi government officials as well as subjective analyses by American commanders and diplomats. They recall how plans a year ago to reduce American forces were dashed by resurgent rebel attacks in much of the Sunni-dominated areas north and west of Baghdad, and in Shiite hot spots like Najaf. And they express concern that a huge, last-ditch suicide attack against a prominent target, like the new Iraqi National Assembly, could deal the operation a severe blow.

Well, ... ummm ... you know, what a difference two weeks makes:

Violence is escalating sharply in Iraq after a period of relative calm that followed the January elections. Bombings, ambushes and kidnappings targeting Iraqis and foreigners, both troops and civilians, have surged this month while the new Iraqi government is caught up in power struggles over cabinet positions.

Many attacks have gone unchallenged by Iraqi forces in large areas of the country dominated by insurgents, according to the U.S. military, Iraqi officials and civilians and visits by Washington Post correspondents. Hundreds of Iraqis and foreigners have either been killed or wounded in the last week.

"Definitely, violence is getting worse," said a U.S. official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "My strong sense is that a lot of the political momentum that was generated out of the successful election, which was sort of like a punch in the gut to the insurgents, has worn off." The political stalemate "has given the insurgents new hope," the official added, repeating a message Americans say they are increasingly giving Iraqi leaders.

My Name is Rachel Corrie 

Rafah Pundits responds to the coverage the Rachel Corrie play has received from the "foaming at the mouth brigade":

There is nothing stopping anyone, anywhere, making a play commemorating or remembering the lives of Rachel Levy, Rachel Thaler, Rachel Levi, Rachel Gavish, Rachel Charhi and Rachel Shabo all of whom were tragic innocent victimes of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Unlike Rachel Corrie though they were simply going about their daily business, in a supermarket, a pizza parlour on a bus, etc when their lives were brutally cut short.

Rachel Corrie on the other hand travelled thousands of miles and deliberately put herself in the way of what killed her because she believed it was the right thing to do. Many people may disagree with what Rachel did or scorn her reasons for going but Rachel chose to put herself in harms way to defend people she felt were uncapable of defending themsleves and she paid for having the courage of her convictions with her life. Some may regard her as a saint, others as the devil incarnate but she most certainly qualifies as a martyr.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Of Armed Jackasses in Lawn Chairs 

Via The New Standard, Gabriel Thompson's account of the Minute Man Project as viewed from the other side of the border ... here's an excerpt:

Early in the day, Palafox encountered a group of men hunkered below a ridge within fifty feet of the border. The men, not knowing that they had been discovered, kept popping their heads up and sneaking glances across the border at the Minutemen.

Palafox approached the migrants with a greeting that he had adopted since the Minutemen arrived: "Are you going to evade the gringos?" He used the Spanish verb toriar to liken migrants to toros, or bullfighters, in the path of an antagonist.

Palafox later recalled that as he was handing out tuna and water to the men, they told him that they had spent the last hour peering over the ridge, wondering why so many Anglos were sitting around with guns.

After explaining the situation, Palafox was able to convince the group to return to Agua Prieta for a meal and shower.

"Last night we put out signs all along this area, telling people not to cross because of the armed vigilantes," Palafox said, pleased that he was able to do his part in keeping the Minutemen bored. In a transnational game of cat-and-mouse, the people from Grupo Beta were doing their best to round up immigrants before they fell within eyesight of the Minutemen, hoping to avoid any confrontations.

For Palafox, it was heartening to see the vigilantes wasting their time. "Let them sit there staring at us," he said. "If you ask me, they are just ignorant racists."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The New Pope 

So they picked Ratzinger, and it's hard to imagine a worse choice.

The guy's against women priests and against married priests. Not only is he against Catholic dissidents, he excommunicated Tissa Balasuriya, a leftist Sri Lankan theologian, for the crime of presenting Mary as the "author of the Magnificat with its fierce cry for social justice [and] the strong mother who stood as she witnessed the execution of her Son" and for promoting "'relativism' of all religions", to quote Gerard Sloyan.

Ratzinger's not merely passingly anti-gay, he's the author of the Vatican's statement against gay marriage. He also condemned Buddhism, Hinduism and other Eastern religions as offering "false hope" through "auto-erotic spirituality".

Then there's the fact that he's kind of a former Nazi:

Unknown to many members of the church, however, Ratzinger's past includes brief membership of the Hitler Youth movement and wartime service with a German army anti-aircraft unit. [ ... ]

In 1937 Ratzinger's father retired and the family moved to Traunstein, a staunchly Catholic town in Bavaria. Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth aged 14, shortly after membership was made compulsory in 1941. He soon won a dispensation on account of his training at a seminary. "Ratzinger was only briefly a member of the Hitler Youth and not an enthusiastic one," said John Allen, his biographer.

Two years later Ratzinger was enrolled in an anti-aircraft unit that protected a BMW factory making aircraft engines. The workforce included slave labour from the Dachau concentration camp. Ratzinger has insisted he never took part in combat or fired a shot – adding that his gun was not even loaded – because of a badly infected finger. He was sent to Hungary, where he set up tank traps and saw Jews being herded to death camps. He deserted in April 1944 and spent a few weeks in a prisoner of war camp.

Ratzinger has since said that although he was opposed to the Nazi regime, any open resistance would have been futile – comments echoed this weekend by his elder brother Georg, a retired priest ordained along with the cardinal in 1951.

"Resistance was truly impossible," Georg Ratzinger said. "Before we were conscripted, one of our teachers said we should fight and become heroic Nazis and another told us not to worry, as only one soldier in a thousand was killed. But neither of us ever used a rifle against the enemy."

Some locals in Traunstein, such as Elizabeth Lohner, 84, whose brother-in-law was sent to Dachau as a conscientious objector, dismiss such suggestions. "It was possible to resist, and those people set an example for others," she said. "The Ratzingers were young and they had made a different choice."

Oh, yeah, and he also helped to cover up a molestation scandal at the Vatican:

The accusers say Vatican-based Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican office to safeguard the faith and the morals of the church, quietly made the lawsuit [against Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ which has raised millions of dollars for the Church, regarding allegations of sexual abuse] go away and shelved it. There was no investigation and the accusers weren't asked a single question or asked for a statement.

He was appointed by the pope to investigate the entire sex abuse scandal in the church in recent days. But when approached by ABCNEWS in Rome last week with questions of allegations against Maciel, Ratzinger became visibly upset and actually slapped this reporter's hand.

"Come to me when the moment is given," Ratzinger told ABCNEWS, "not yet."

"Cardinal Ratzinger is sheltering Maciel, protecting him," said Berry, who expressed concerns that no response was being given to the allegations against the man charged with sex abuse. "These men knelt and kissed the ring of Cardinal Ratzinger when they filed the case in Rome. And a year-and-a-half later, he takes those accusations and aborts them, just stuffs them."

A Post in which I Don't Know What I'm Talking About 

So I just read Katha Politt's column about Andrea Dworkin dying, which was all fine and good, I guess, but what caught my attention was Politt's throwaway line towards the end in which she says that Naomi Wolf has just finished an article "calling for the banning of abortion after the first trimester."

Now, look, I don't know much about feminist academics, which is one reason why feminism gets the short shrift on this blog, but I know enough to be surprised by this. I wanted to read the actual Wolf article but it's pretty clearly not online yet; poking around for it, however, I stumbled upon the commentary of several bloggers who know what they're talking about regarding Politt's assertion about Wolf -- for instance, this one:

[W]omen need abortions after the first trimester. That's real. If women had unfettered access to birth control and abortion, the need for abortions past the first trimester would decline. But barriers to access: that's what's real. If I don't know or can't face the fact that I'm pregnant, if I don't know abortion is an option, if I think I'm a bad person for getting pregnant or wanting an abortion, if I can't find someone in my area to perform an abortion, if I have to travel, if I have to raise the money first, if I have to get signed permission from my parents or a judge, if I have to pay for a hotel room so I can stay overnight while bound by a 24 hour waiting period, if I need a friend or family member to take time off from work so they can travel with me and accompany my release from the clinic, if I'm psychologically manipulated into believing that I'm causing a baby great pain or risking my own future health by having an abortion, if I can't get the money or help or sympathy I need ... then, if I manage to get an abortion, it may well be after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. We don't solve the problem of second and (very rare) third term abortions by calling for the stigmatization or criminalization of women trying to take care of themselves.

In what way could Naomi Wolf, formerly avowed feminist, claim to be helping women by calling for a ban on abortions after the first trimester? You know who you're helping, babe? You're helping the conservative Right, the people who want to take my rights, and your rights, away.

Voltaire on Marla Ruzicka 

[This post is by guest blogger Richard Estes. Richard lives in Northern California, and co-hosts a radio program, with an emphasis upon peace, civil rights, labor and environmental issues, on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, CA.]

As many of you probably already know, Marla Ruzicka, a young American woman known for her tireless efforts to document civilian casualties in Iraq, and obtain US compensation for them, was killed by a suicide bomber while traveling near a convoy along the dangerous Baghdad airport road.

Ruzicka was truly inspiring in her willingness to take incomprehensible risks to assist some of the victims of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It must be said, however, that her political approach to the war in Iraq was fundamentally misguided, either because, as suggested within this very informative David Corn article, she acquiesced in the inevitability of the occupation, or actually came around to supporting the Occupation Authority against the resistance.

One need only visit the website of the organization that Ruzicka created, CIVIC Worldwide, to recognize the problem. CIVIC, you see, stands for "The Campaign for Innocent Civilians in Conflict". Accordingly, it promotes the pernicious distinction between "innocent" Iraqis, Iraqis who decline to violently resist the occupation, and other, "guilty" Iraqis who do not. Such a perspective, coming from an American organization, is morally myopic, if not morally offensive, given that it condemns Iraqis for violently resisting their own personal and economic victimization by the Occupation Authority. It is indistinguishable from the one continually advanced by the US military.

Of course, this shouldn't be surprising as it is the inevitable consequence of Ruzicka's decision, after the start of the war, to sever her association with Global Exchange, a non-profit that organized against the war and now condemns the occupation, because she believed that she could subsequently accomplish more by working with the US rather than against it. It is tempting to dismiss the significance of her politics as the result of her political naivete. After all, according to Corn, she reportedly told a friend, "My long-term goal is to get a desk at the State Department that looks at civilian casualties."

Perhaps, I am subjecting Ruzicka's decision to excessive scrutiny. It is crucial to understand, however that her implicit belief, and by extension, the founding principle of CIVIC, that one can most effectively assist the Iraqi people by remaining silent about the self-serving justifications for the war, and the brutality of the occupation, so that one can obtain the assistance of the Occupation Authority, is not only false, but as pernicious as CIVIC's separation of dead Iraqis into "innocent" and "guilty" ones.

In fact, others have been quite effective in Iraq, without compromising their willingness to speak the truth about what is happening there. Last fall, Simona Toretta, a young Italian women, nearly the same age as Ruzicka, was kidnapped and then subsequently released. She worked for A Bridge to Baghdad, an organization known for its outspoken condemnation of the sanctions, the war and the occupation, and she strongly shared these views. Upon her release, she supported the right of Iraqis to violently resist the occupation. Despite her bluntness, she reached many Iraqis through her humanitarian efforts, efforts that were arguably more effective than Ruzicka's.

Likewise, Global Exchange, her previous organization, has effectively delivered aid to Iraq even as it continues to criticize the occupation from within the US. Ruzicka could not have escaped awareness of these obvious alternatives. Corn quotes a friend as saying, "Marla had no patience for people who demonstrated against the war, and did nothing else," and the remark strikes the ear as more defensive rationalization than sincere indignation.

Could it be that Ruzicka succumbed to the psychologically reassuring feeling that she was more secure in Iraq when working with the occupation, despite all the evidence? If so, her inability to overcome a natural, instinctive tendency to feel more secure among one's own may have ultimately killed her, as the resistance monitors and targets people who work with the US. One cannot avoid the tragic irony: Her alter ego, Toretta refused to accept the constricting boundaries of pragmatism, spoke her mind and refused to compromise, thereby harmonizing her political and humanitarian goals, and still lives. Ruzicka made a Faustian bargain with the Occupation Authority, and tragically died.

[Hat tip to Eli Stephens for provoking a dialogue about Ruzicka and CIVIC, and providing some essential links that have been utilized in this article.]

Monday, April 18, 2005

Uzbek Blues 

In a Village Voice editorial Nat Hentoff juxtaposes recent statements by George W. Bush and Porter Goss regarding the US's use of extraordinary rendition with information about interrogations in Uzbek prisons -- according to Hentoff the CIA's "torture express" jets made ten documented trips to Uzbekistan and according to British whistle-blower Craig Murray torture is business as usual in Uzbek prisons:

During a White House press conference on March 16, George W. Bush was asked: "Mr. President, can you explain why you've approved of and expanded the practice of what's called 'rendition'—of transferring individuals out of U.S. custody to countries where human rights groups and your own State Department say torture is common for people under custody?"

The president: "[In] the post-9-11 world, the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack. . . . One way to do so is to arrest people and send them back to their country of origin with the promise that they won't be tortured. That's the promise we receive. This country does not believe in torture."

Question: "As commander in chief, what is it that Uzbekistan can do in interrogating an individual that the United States can't?"

George W. Bush repeated his talking point: "We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured."

[ ... ]

In a segment of CBS's 60 Minutes on these CIA torture missions (March 5), former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray told of the range of advanced techniques used by Uzbek interrogators:

"drowning and suffocation, rape was used . . . and also immersion of limbs in boiling liquid."

Two nights later on ABC's World News Tonight, Craig Murray told of photos he received of an Uzbek interrogation that ended with the prisoner actually being boiled to death!

Murray, appalled, had protested to the British Foreign Office in a confidential memorandum leaked to and printed in the Financial Times on October 11 of last year:

"Uzbek officials are torturing prisoners to extract information [about reported terrorist operations], which is supplied to the U.S. and passed through its Central Intelligence Agency to the U.K., says Mr. Murray." (Emphasis added.)

Prime Minister Tony Blair quickly reacted to this undiplomatic whistle-blowing. Craig Murray was removed as ambassador to Uzbekistan.

On the BBC (October 15), Steve Crawshaw, director of the London office of Human Rights Watch, spoke plainly about George W. Bush's continual, ardent assurances that this country would never engage in torture:

"You can't wash your hands and say we didn't torture, but we will use what comes out of torture."

I must have missed this Craig Murray story when it occurred, but, anyway, here is the Financial Times piece Hentoff cites if you're curious (the real article is now in a for-pay archive, so I've linked to an item in the archives of some email list) and here's a BBC report about Craig Murray losing his ambassadorship ... umm ... coincidentally just a couple of days after the FT article ran:

The government has withdrawn Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who has been an outspoken critic of the regime's human rights record.

The Foreign Office has given no reason for its decision but it comes after a UK newspaper quoted Mr Murray making claims about the Uzbek authorities.

The Financial Times said a confidential report he wrote claimed political prisoners are tortured for information.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "It's now felt it's no longer possible Mr Murray can do his job effectively so he's been withdrawn."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Steady If Uneven Progress 

This week the Times ran a substantial story by Eric Schmitt about the possibility of troop levels in Iraq being cut by the end of the year. The piece cites "American and Iraqi officers [and] top Pentagon officials" who in quotes hedged with qualifiers speculate that by early 2006 the 142,000 troop strong occupation force might be reduced to 105,000.

The Pentagon sources say there's a consensus among policy planners of "steady if uneven progress" in combating the insurgency, echoing the "light at the end of the tunnel" rhetoric of yester year. Primarily by appealing to two metrics, the number of attacks on US troops and the number daily US casualties, curiously neglecting the number of Iraqis killed, Schmitt argues that the intensity of the insurgency has lessened since the January elections. Although it's only been two and half months since those elections, or one tenth of the twenty-five month Iraq War, the Pentagon sources see "several positive developing trends."

Taking the cited metrics at face value, there are several ways of explaining the February and March numbers. One is to realize that in chaotic environments like war-ravaged countries statistics that are dependent on the environment's stability often fluctuate wildly. Another is to start talking about downward trends like the various spokespeople in the Times article. Another is to note how high the two numbers were just before January 30th, as the insurgents ratcheted up their efforts, 140 attacks a day and 100+ US casualties in the month, and conclude that in February we saw not so much the start of a downward trend but the bursting of a bubble. Schmitt notes that March's death toll, thirty-six US troops, is the lowest since February of 2004. If thirty-six dead is low, acceptable, and a positive indicator, one wonders why we did not read articles about "steady if uneven progress" and the possibility of withdrawal at the beginning of March 2004? After all, at that point there had been a four month long downward trend.

Schmitt also brushes aside the significance of the notably under-reported attack on Abu Ghraib in which dozens of insurgents waged a military-style assault on an American stronghold, coordinating rocket propelled grenades with car bombs. Ironically a day after the "steady if uneven progress" piece ran, the Post reported of another military-style assault, very similar to the Abu Ghraib strike but receiving even less coverage: apparently "insurgents claiming links to al Qaeda tried to overrun a U.S. Marine base ... using gunmen, suicide car bombs and a firetruck loaded with explosives". If the average number of Iraqis participating in each attack is the primary consideration, we can say there is an upward trend in the intensity of the insurgency.

The Times piece is transparent propaganda -- there simply is not enough data to make well-supported claims of downward trends or uneven progress. A reasonable hypothesis is that the Pentagon sources are reciting talking points that are coming from above. But what is the purpose of this propaganda? Like the aforementioned "light at the end of the tunnel" rhetoric of the Vietnam era is it to sure up popular support for an unpopular war? Paint a rosy picture of a bad situation and hope that sooner or later reality catches up with your rosy picture? If this were the case, why would the Pentagon speak in absolute terms and make specific predictions, 105,000 troops by 2006, etc.?

Perhaps there's another explanation. Perhaps the prediction of the troop pull-out, if not the petering out of the insurgency, will turn out to be entirely accurate; it may even turn out to be a pessimistic prediction. Recall that half a year ago close to the climax of the 2004 presidential campaign season, Robert Novak wrote a much discussed column in which he claimed that "[i]nside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there [was] a strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq" in 2005, and that this feeling was not "predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials [were] saying: ready or not, here we go." At the time, Novak's claim was viewed through the prism of the upcoming election and mostly discounted as a bit of spin meant to allow Bush to have it both ways: Republicans who liked the Iraq War would obviously vote for Bush; Republicans who hated the Iraq War and were tempted to vote for Kerry would be nudged back into the fold if they believed Bush would cut and run in '05. Interestingly a few weeks ago Novak wrote a follow-up to his Sept. 20 column, arguing again that disengagement from Iraq sooner rather than later was likely, this time citing the centrality of Rice to the new Bush administration. Rice wants out, Novak says, and has Bush's ear.

In the absence of an upcoming election there is little motive for either Novak or Novak's sources to manufacture this story. There's also plenty of evidence that corroborates Novak's claim, notably William Kristol's Dec. 15 Post op-ed, "The Defense Secretary We Have", in which Kristol called for Rumsfeld's dismissal, writing "Don Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term." For William Kristol, editor of the The Weekly Standard, the quasi-official newsletter of the neoconservative movement, to turn against Rumsfeld, the man who made their grandest dream a reality, solely because of Rumsfeld's "arrogant buck-passing" in the wake of the "hill-billy armor" controversy simply defies credibility. A more reasonable guess is that Kristol detected the same "feeling" in the Bush administration that Novak wrote about and was attempting to do something about it. After all, as Novak admitted in his September column, "getting out of Iraq would end the neo-conservative dream of building democracy in the Arab world".

Another development that makes more sense if the rumors of withdrawal are legitimate is the fate of high-profile neoconservatives within the Bush administration. Douglas Feith recently resigned. John Bolton is going to the UN. Paul Wolfowitz is going to the World Bank. The Bolton and Wolfowitz appointments, of course, rightly irritate liberals and leftists, but a point seldom made is that in a very real sense these appointments are demotions -- in the sense that Bolton and Wolfowitz are ideologues with an agenda; they would like to dictate and/or influence policy decisions but are being moved into positions that are fundamentally representational.

This point was made well by John Brown, the former Foreign Service officer who resigned in protest against the invasion of Iraq, in his TomDispatch piece "Why World War IV Can't Sell". Brown argues that the neoconservatives were useful to the Bush administration only in so far as the Iraq War was useful. The Iraq War was useful for propping up a president that was viewed as weak and feeble-minded. The neoconservatives were necessary to provide rhetorical justification for the Iraq War, but both the war and its architects have outlived their usefulness, as Brown writes:

If there's one thing the sad history of recent years has amply demonstrated, it's that the Bush White House is profoundly uninterested in ideas (even the superficial ones promulgated by the neocons). What concerns Dubya and his entourage is not thought, but power. They pick up and drop "ideas" at the tip of a hat, abandoning them when they no longer suit their narrow interests of the moment. (The ever-changing "justifications" for the war in Iraq are a perfect illustration of this attitude). The Bushies are short-term and savvy tacticians par excellence, with essentially one long-term plan, rudimentary but focused: Republican -- as they interpret Lincoln's party -- domination of the United States for years to come.

We are witnessing a struggle between two poles of power within the Bush administration, Karl Rove, representing the traditional interests of the Republican party, and the neoconservatives, and it is a struggle that Karl Rove is apparently winning. Karl Rove is interested in perpetuating Republican control of US politics for as long as he can manage it. The neoconservatives' primary concern in establishing an American empire. These two projects were in harmony during Bush's first term but are out of sync now. Such a turn of events shouldn't be too surprising given that it was widely reported that Rove was anxious to get out of Iraq in 2004. He even had a catchy "It's the economy, stupid"-type slogan to sell the idea, "No war in '04".

There is perhaps "steady if uneven progress" being made towards disengaging from Iraq, but it has very little to do with the eradication of the insurgency, and a lot to do with internal factions within the Republican party reigning in a powerful group of fanatics. If such forces are victorious, Iraq will still be occupied but occupied in the less intrusive manner in which other Middle-Eastern countries already are, with permanent military bases, and the country will be controlled in a manner similar to the way in which the US controls its other client states.

[Hat tip to Dane Baker for pointing out the Times article and providing good commentary on it]

Celebration of Staughton Lynd 

For readers in New York, there's going to be birthday celebration for Staughton Lynd in Tribeca this Friday. Lynd is going speak along with several others including Leslie Cagan. Lynd is the quintessential American leftist, lived the life of dissent, etc.; he's turning 75 and if you're at all interested in these matters you'd do well to stop by. Here are the details.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Let Them Eat Bombs 

From a recent Guardian piece by Python alum Terry Jones:

A report to the UN human rights commission in Geneva has concluded that Iraqi children were actually better off under Saddam Hussein than they are now.

This, of course, comes as a bitter blow for all those of us who, like George Bush and Tony Blair, honestly believe that children thrive best when we drop bombs on them from a great height, destroy their cities and blow up hospitals, schools and power stations.

It now appears that, far from improving the quality of life for Iraqi youngsters, the US-led military assault on Iraq has inexplicably doubled the number of children under five suffering from malnutrition. Under Saddam, about 4% of children under five were going hungry, whereas by the end of last year almost 8% were suffering.

These results are even more disheartening for those of us in the Department of Making Things Better for Children in the Middle East By Military Force, since the previous attempts by Britain and America to improve the lot of Iraqi children also proved disappointing. For example, the policy of applying the most draconian sanctions in living memory totally failed to improve conditions. After they were imposed in 1990, the number of children under five who died increased by a factor of six. By 1995 something like half a million Iraqi children were dead as a result of our efforts to help them.

And here's a Guardian piece on the UN human rights report Jones is referring to:

Malnutrition among the youngest Iraqis has almost doubled since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, a hunger specialist told the U.N. human rights body Wednesday in a summary of previously reported studies on health in Iraq.

By last fall, 7.7 percent of Iraqi children under 5 suffered acute malnutrition, compared to 4 percent after Saddam's ouster in April 2003, said Jean Ziegler, the U.N. Human Rights Commission's special expert on the right to food.

Malnutrition, which is exacerbated by a lack of clean water and adequate sanitation, is a major killer of children in poor countries. Children who survive are usually physically and mentally impaired for life, and are more vulnerable to disease.

The situation facing Iraqi youngsters is ``a result of the war led by coalition forces,'' said Ziegler, an outspoken Swiss sociology professor and former lawmaker whose previous targets have included Swiss banks, China, Brazil and Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

Overall, more than a quarter of Iraqi children don't get enough to eat, Ziegler told the 53-nation commission, which is halfway through its annual six-week session.

The U.S. delegation and other coalition countries declined to respond to his presentation, which compiled the findings of studies conducted by other specialists.

Karpinski Says Abuse Continues 

A Bay Area ABC affiliate interviewed Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, and Karpinski claimed torture and abuse are still going on at Abu Ghraib and alleged that the official investigations mainly served to cover up the complicity of top Pentagon brass:

Serious charges tonight from the general who was in charge of Abu Ghraib prison. She believes the abuses are still happening. Even more disturbing, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski says the investigation into the scandal has been covered up. She spoke today with ABC7 political reporter Mark Matthews.

General Janis Karpinski is laying out a scenario of torture, conspiracy and cover-up that she suggests goes all the way from Abu Ghraib to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

When pictures of the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison were made public, the nation was shocked, the Army embarrassed and the commanding general of the prison was suspended from her command. Today General Janis Karpinski told me she believes this kind of abuse is still going on in Abu Ghraib.

General Karpinski says she's getting messages from soldiers who are still at Abu Ghraib.

Gen. Janis Karpinski, U.S. Army: "Through email or through a message left on my telephone, that you need to know that it's still happening."

At the time she was in command at Abu Ghraib, General Karpinski says she never knew this sort of thing was happening because powers higher than her didn't want her to know.

Gen. Karpinski: "And they knew it too, that if I found out or had any kind of a hint that any of this was taking place, that I would have screamed and I would have shouted and I would have pursued it with a vengeance."

On KGO Radio this morning, General Karpinski told Ronn Owens that higher-ups are now trying to cover-up and make her the scapegoat.

Ronn Owens: "Do you think you were targeted because you're a woman?"

Gen. Karpinski: "I do. I think that was a big part of the equation."

The general says she isn't trying to duck her responsibility, but feels there are others more culpable going unpunished.

Gen. Karpinski: "The only problems we had were in cell blocks under the control of military intelligence, not military police."

Karpinski says the commanders in charge of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib are still in command leading her to believe the abuse is continuing.

Karpinski is the only officer to be relieved of command because of the part she played in the Abu Ghraib scandal. Her military career is over and she has very little to lose, which probably explains the above.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Pictures of a Few Tattered Demonstrators 

Time's blog of the year asks the following question regarding the recent demonstrations in Baghdad:

Yet, it seems, their ability to turn out a few tattered demonstrators is enough to garner headlines throughout the U.S. Why?

Umm ... call me crazy but probably because this is what the "few tattered demonstators" looked like:

The AP, among other sources, reported

Others acted out reports of prison abuse at the hands of American soldiers. Photos released last year showing U.S. soldiers piling naked inmates in a pyramid at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison have tarnished the military's reputation here and around the world.

For what it's worth, here's what that looked like:

Also according to the AP,

Protesters burned the U.S. flag as well as cardboard cutouts of Bush and Saddam. Three effigies representing Saddam, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair - all handcuffed and dressed in red Iraqi prison jumpsuits that signified they had been condemned to death - were placed on a pedestal, then symbolically toppled like the Saddam statue two years before.

For the sake of completeness, here's some burning US flags, some cardboard cutouts, and some creepy effigies:

Photos via Democratic Underground

Who Forged the Niger Documents? 

From Ian Masters' interview with former CIA head of counterterrorism operations under Ronald Reagan, Vincent Cannistaro:

Masters: Well, Ambassador Wilson publicly refuted the claims — particularly the 16 words in the President’s State of the Union address that the Iraqis were trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Niger. That document, I understand, was fabricated ... it originally came out of Italian intelligence, I think SISME, or SISDE—I’m not sure which one.

Cannistaro: It was SISME, yeah. ...

[D]uring the two-thousands when we’re talking about acquiring information on Iraq. It isn’t that anyone had a good source on Iraq—there weren’t any good sources. The Italian intelligence service, the military intelligence service, was acquiring information that was really being hand-fed to them by very dubious sources. The Niger documents, for example, which apparently were produced in the United States, yet were funneled through the Italians.

Masters: Do we know who produced those documents? Because there’s some suspicion ...

Cannistaro: I think I do, but I’d rather not speak about it right now, because I don’t think it’s a proven case ...

Masters: If I said “Michael Ledeen” ?

Cannistaro: You’d be very close . . .

Saturday, April 09, 2005

How Does a Secular Leftist Respond to the Pope's Death? 

[This post is by frequent commenter Richard Estes, who will be periodically guest blogging]

As someone who is not Catholic, and believes strongly in the necessity of promoting secular values instead of religious ones as the foundation of a diverse, equitable and non-violent society, the Pope's death, and the tremendous outpouring of sincere affection for him, presents a quandary. For a scholarly, yet emotional account of the Pope's strengths and weakness, it is hard to do better than Hans Kung, a well known dissenting German Catholic theologian who locked horns with this Pope on numerous occasions. His frustation boils over during a meticulous dissection of the Pope's record:

Contrary to all intentions conveyed in the Second Vatican Council, the medieval Roman system, a power apparatus with totalitarian features, was restored through clever and ruthless personnel and academic policies. Bishops were brought into line, pastors overloaded, theologians muzzled, the laity deprived of their rights, women discriminated against, national synods and churchgoers' requests ignored, along with sex scandals, prohibitions on discussion, liturgical spoon-feeding, a ban on sermons by lay theologians, incitement to denunciation, prevention of Holy Communion -- "the world" can hardly be blamed for all of this!!

Alternatively, for a more personal, scatological and forgiving expression of the same sentiment, there is this statement from Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. His conflicted conclusion:

The campy gay sides of me just want to imitate Bette Davis' famous statement about Joan Crawford on the Tonight Show, a few weeks after the death of her long-time nemesis. But the rejected-altar boy side insists, correctly, that that retort must be reserved for those with no redeeming qualities and John Paul II had many.

For a left, secular non-Catholic such as myself, however, these responses are inadequate. A clue to the inadequacy can be found in the course of the Frontline documentary aired about the Pope the night before his funeral. Beyond the many political failings of this Pope, failings, that, in the instance of the spiritual condemnation of the use of condoms to prevent AIDS, resulted in death and suffering on a scale normally associated with the perverse utopianism of fascism and communism in the 20th Century, there is the fundamental question of the Pope's vision of the world. As described on Frontline, the Pope, for many understandable reasons related to his personal experiences with Nazism, the Holocaust and Communism in Poland, developed a very dark, pessimistic view of human nature.

It is here that this Pope and this Church have gone grievously wrong, abandoning, as noted by Kung, the optimism of the mid-20th Century, substituting a bleak despair about people and their capacity for compassion, self-reflection and independent action. Based upon a serious misreading of the 20th Century as uniquely violent and depraved, a misreading that is readily revealed by the most cursory study of the consequences of Western imperialism for four centuries, with episodes such as the near extermination of Native Americans in the Americas, and the millions of deaths that resulted from the great famines near the end of the 19th Century, the Pope has lead the Church into a cul-de-sac whereby an antiquated patriarchal priesthood finds itself perpetually hectoring people to repudiate their skillful integration of the doctrine of the Church with the needs of the heart. In the case of AIDS, people spontaneously acted based upon both, but the Pope tragically undermined them by replicating the intolerance of the fascists and communists that he had condemned for much of his life.

This is the terrain upon which the record of this Pope and this Church must be confronted. By rejecting the Church's insistence that people, if left to their own devices in their own communities, will invariably abuse and exploit one another, we can say that, on the contrary, people can intelligently use contraception, while expressing a profound respect for life as we show compassion for all around us. We can assert that our open acknowledgement of homosexuality and the civil marriage of gays and lesbians will not impair the Church's ministry. We can persuasively contend that a vibrant, diverse culture, and all of its artistic creations, even the most abrasive and confrontational, enrich our lives in every respect, even spiritually.

For the Church is trapped, like a chessplayer compelled to move a piece, with nothing but ruinous alternatives: zugzwang. It disbelieves in the ability of people to live and govern themselves without the rigid direction of the Vatican, yet lacks the power to recover the control over our lives that it possessed in many parts of the world for centuries. One need only attend mass periodically to know that there are many parishioners, and, yes, even priests and nuns, who would celebrate the end of the Church's intrusiveness into almost every aspect of our lives. Many attend, not because they identify with Catholic doctrine, or, even know much of it, but, rather, because they have faith. If the Church possessed the same passionate faith in them, all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic, would benefit immensely. After all, even a secular leftist like myself goes astray, and needs some moral guidance now and then.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Gordon England and Eric Edelman 

The Financial Times reports that the current secretary of the Navy, Gordon England, will replace Wolfowitz as Rumsfeld's deputy. The Turkish press sticks by its story that former ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman will receive an appointment, but now says he's going to replace Feith rather than Wolfowitz -- the Turkish Press along with other international sources is now reporting the Edelman story as fact rather than speculation.

I posted earlier about Edelman, who turns out to be a hardline neoconservative and a Cheney associate very much like a Feith or a Libby without the name recognition, but who is England? The short answer is that Gordon England is a corporate stooge.

Rumsfeld kicked off his tenure as Defense Secretary by packing the Pentagon with corporate insiders, shills for various war-profiteering firms, and as William Harung wrote in the LA Times,

Nowhere was Rumsfeld's vision of a corporate-dominated department more evident than in his initial choices to run three military services: Secretary of the Air Force James Roche, a former vice president at Northrop Grumman; Secretary of the Navy Gordon England, a former executive at General Dynamics; and former Secretary of the Army Thomas E. White, who came from Enron.

The management of the military and, indeed, the use of warfare in American foreign policy has always been heavily influenced by lobbyists for defense contractors and other private interests; Rumsfeld's innovation was simply to cut out the middle man.

We can see Rumsfeld's vision at work in Gordon England's enthusiastic boosterism for the V-22 Osprey, the half-plane half-helicopter money pit that is so unsafe it's killed 23 people without leaving "test phase" and is such a boondoggle that the libertarians at CATO called it "an albatross around the Pentagon's and taxpayers' necks"

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