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A secular analysis of news, culture and kitsch. Following the slide into theocracy and fascism and encouraging signs of resistance.
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Just how big a disaster is the war in Iraq?
What had to come, has come. The question is no longer if American forces will be withdrawn, but how soon— and at what cost. In this respect, as in so many others, the obvious parallel to Iraq is Vietnam.However, the alternatives are not pleasant either. Van Creveld predicts that a classical withdrawal
Confronted by a demoralized army on the battlefield and by growing opposition at home, in 1969 the Nixon administration started withdrawing most of its troops in order to facilitate what it called the "Vietnamization" of the country. The rest of America's forces were pulled out after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated a "peace settlement" with Hanoi. As the troops withdrew, they left most of their equipment to the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam which just two years later, after the fall of Saigon, lost all of it to the communists.
Clearly this is not a pleasant model to follow, but no other alternative appears in sight.
Whereas North Vietnam at least had a government with which it was possible to arrange a cease-fire, in Iraq the opponent consists of shadowy groups of terrorists with no central organization or command authority. And whereas in the early 1970s equipment was still relatively plentiful, today's armed forces are the products of a technology-driven revolution in military affairs. Whether that revolution has contributed to anything besides America's national debt is open to debate. What is beyond question, though, is that the new weapons are so few and so expensive that even the world's largest and richest power can afford only to field a relative handful of them.
Therefore, simply abandoning equipment or handing it over to the Iraqis, as was done in Vietnam, is simply not an option. And even if it were, the new Iraqi army is by all accounts much weaker, less skilled, less cohesive and less loyal to its government than even the South Vietnamese army was. For all intents and purposes, Washington might just as well hand over its weapons directly to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
probably will require several months and incur a sizable number of casualties. As the pullout proceeds, Iraq almost certainly will sink into an all-out civil war from which it will take the country a long time to emerge— if, indeed, it can do so at all. All this is inevitable and will take place whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice like it or not.And then we will still have to deal with the growing maelstrom we have set into motion.
Seymour Hersh has an article in the latest New Yorker discussing the possibility of a drawdown of US forces in Iraq. These plans depend on two pure fantasies. First, that newly trained Iraqi forces can take over the fight and second, that the insurgency isn't growing.
Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceedingBy modern standards of rationality, this is simply insane. Bush is divinely incapable of recognizing that we are losing the war, that we have already alreadly lost the war. The top generals are now too afraid to tell him the truth for fear of retalliation. Hersh suggests that they are now using intermediaries such as congressman Murtha to make the grim reality on the ground more public. However, reality isn't making much progress by that route either. After Murtha called for a pullout, Bush just ramped up the rhetoric,
Bush's closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President's belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; "Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that he's the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.
"The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. . . . If they're not stopped, the terrorists will be able to advance their agenda to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, and to break our will and blackmail our government into isolation. I'm going to make you this commitment: this is not going to happen on my watch."And even senior defense officials describe his response in religious terms,
'The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,"” the former defense official said. "He doesn't feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage 'People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.'" He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. "They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway."The only thing about Hersh's description that does not quite ring true is his claim that Bush believes it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq. Bush fairly obviously does not have much interest in democracy even in this country. He famously joked, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." Looking at what he has done over the last five years, it hardly seems like he was joking. Still, I have heard Hirsch make this claim several times before. So perhaps Bush does use the word, but what can it possibly mean to him? Conquest and subjugation to the will of god of which he is the chosen instrument?
Richard Seymour of Lenin's Tomb has an excellent, detailed article The Genocidal Imagination of Christopher Hitchens in the most recent Monthly Review, which goes far beyond earlier analysis to show just how far round the bend this former leftist has gone.
You can have a decent quarrel about the poor return [genocide] that Native Americans received for their kindness in leading Puritans to find corn and turkeys in the course of a harsh winter. You may find yourself embroiled, as on Columbus Day, with those who detest the conquistadores [apparently Hitchens doesn't] or who did not get here by way of Plymouth Rock or Ellis Island [i.e. in slave ships]. ("Not for us it isn't," as the receptionist at Louis Farrakhan's Final Call once glacially told me, after I had pointed out that her boss had desired me to telephone that very day.) Even Hallowe'en is fraught, with undertones of human sacrifice and Protestant ascendancy. But Thanksgiving really comes from the time when the USA had replaced the squabbling confessional colonists, and is fine, and all-American, too.A more flippant dismissal of our history of genocide and slavery is hard to imagine. How can anyone take this guy seriously any more?
After the Guardian apologized for and withdrew the substantially fradulent Emma Brockes "interview" with Chomsky, reasonable people might have thought that the issue was settled. True, I did receive one overheated and frankly incoherent comment continuing to defend the Brockes piece as proof that Chomsky was intellectually corrupt and dishonest, but I had put this off to the writer being off his meds.
On the night of Oct. 6, David Ludwig, 18, and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Kara Beth Borden, went to church. There was no sermon, though -- at least not a traditional one. David and Kara were at the Lancaster Bible Church in Manheim, Penn., for a Christian rock concert. As the punishingly loud guitars of Audio Adrenaline and Pillar strained the limits of the church sound system, the kids screamed and pumped their fists and banged their heads. "Pillar and Audio A rock my face off!" David wrote on his blog the next day. Kara spent almost all the money in her pocket on a Pillar sweatshirt. She was wearing it the morning of Nov. 13 when, police say, David shot and killed her parents and fled with her at his side....
Pillar ended its Oct. 6 set with a song called "Fireproof." It must have struck a chord in David. He posted the lyrics on his blog:
I know where I stand and what'll happen if you try it
I am FIREPROOF
I know my heart and I just can't deny it
I am FIREPROOF
I tried to tell you but you wouldn't be quiet
I am FIREPROOF
I'll never bow down and you won't buy it
I am FIREPROOF
Like many edgier evangelical bands, Pillar specializes in battle anthems, composed on the premise that Christians are under constant spiritual attack.
Take me to your leader is a great slide show and talk about the history of alien invasion themes in New Yorker cartoons.
Thanks for the wild turkey and
the passenger pigeons, destined
to be shit out through wholesome
Thanks for a continent to despoil
Thanks for Indians to provide a
modicum of challenge and
Thanks for vast herds of bison to
kill and skin leaving the
carcasses to rot.
Thanks for bounties on wolves
Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through.
Thanks for the KKK.
For nigger-killin' lawmen,
feelin' their notches.
For decent church-goin' women,
with their mean, pinched, bitter,
Thanks for "Kill a Queer for
Thanks for laboratory AIDS.
Thanks for Prohibition and the
war against drugs.
Thanks for a country where
nobody's allowed to mind the
Thanks for a nation of finks.
Yes, thanks for all the
memories-- all right let's see
You always were a headache and
you always were a bore.
Thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams.
But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin -- the genocide of indigenous people -- is of special importance today....And a real authentic vision of Thanksgiving can be seen over at The Defeatists!
The lies just keep unraveling. Democracy Now has more revelations about white phosphorous as a chemical weapon
New evidence has emerged that the U.S. military used chemical weapons during the assault on Fallujah a year ago. Last week the Pentagon confirmed for the first time that it used white phosphorous as a weapon to attack Iraqi fighters. But the Pentagon rejected claims that white phosphorous is a chemical weapon. White Phosphorous is often compared to napalm because it combusts spontaneously when exposed to oxygen and can burn right through skin to the bone. While the Pentagon is denying white phosphorous is a chemical weapon, a newly uncovered Defense Department document, reveals that is just how the military described it when Saddam Hussein allegedly used it a decade ago. A declassified 1995 Pentagon intelligence document reads QUOTE "Iraqi forces loyal to president Saddam may have possibly used white phosphorous chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels." Meanwhile a British commander has admitted that he trained his troops in using white phosphorus as a weapon. Until now the British government has maintained it used white phosphorous but only for tactical purposes.How a lie slowly becomes the truth:
Just after we got the surprise apology and retraction of the Emma Brockes' doctored interview with Noam Chomsky from the Guardian, we get this miserable hatchet job* on Kurt Vonnegut in the Weekend Australian. Or there is the shorter and even worse version, titled US author lauds suicide bombers. First of all, the interviewer David Nason is some utterly shallow clueless boob who finds Vonnegut's world view viscerally distasteful and hasn't even bothered to read Vonnegut's work before interviewing him. Then the "interview is 75% Nason and 25% Vonnegut. To top it off, Nason spends most of the article measuring him against the standards of his own self-righteous emotional correctness.
Weird. The New York Times published a review of a new book on Andrew Jackson right after I put up my last post. Coincidence or a sign of intelligent design?
Jackson's role in fighting Indians should be understood in light of the danger they posed on the frontier. [ed. tr. defending their homes and culture] But less easy to defend is the expulsion of Indians who had Americanized themselves, notably the Cherokees of Georgia who practiced agriculture, developed a written language and abided by the white man's law [ie. good tame Indians who abandoned their savage culture]... Brands rightly condemns Jackson for his hypocrisy in maintaining that expulsion was a humane solution, although he qualifies this by saying that nearly all white people agreed with Jackson that no good alternative to his Indian policy existed...It is nice to see some small dim recognition of what a monster he was, but coupled with a complete obliviousness about the right of Native Americans to defend their homes and culture, it still makes me a bit ill. Racism against Native Americans is apparently not only alive and well in the 21st century, it is still respectable.
Expelling the Cherokees, and most of the other "Five Civilized Tribes," from their lands east of the Mississippi may have been popular but remains a crime against humanity... unlike George Washington, another and greater man with humble roots who became an entrepreneur, general and president, Andrew Jackson makes your blood run cold.
It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation...It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community...Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the conditions in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?
"This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there ... If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now."lenin has an excellent analysis of what is at stake in the increasingly hair splitting discussions of whether the US use of white phosphorus weapons is a war crime.
Bush Advisor Richard Perle
As noted here earlier, the Guardian ran an "interview" with Noam Chomsky so wildly inaccurate it crossed the border from slander into disinformation. Today the Guardian has printed a full and unqualified retraction, acknowledging the egregious errors and distortions in the article. They have even gone so far as to delete the original interview from the website. This is what journalistic integrity looks like. My only quibble is that the retraction appears on the corrections and clarifications page, which is not something readers on the internet are likely to come upon by accident.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. More torture, this time by our Iraqi clients:
Iraq's government said Tuesday that it had ordered an urgent investigation of allegations that many of the 173 detainees American troops discovered over the weekend in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in a Baghdad suburb had been tortured by their Iraqi captors. A senior Iraqi official who visited the detainees said two appeared paralyzed and others had some of the skin peeled off their bodies by their abusers...At least they seem to have gotten beyond the euphemism of "abuse," and the pretense that such barbarism might be justified... well, at least for the moment.
An Interior Ministry statement said flatly that torture had occurred and that "instruments of torture," which it did not describe, were found in the building.
US forces yesterday made their clearest admission yet that white phosphorus was used as a weapon against insurgents in Iraq. A Pentagon spokesman told the BBC last night that it had been used as "an incendiary weapon" during the assault last year on Falluja in 2004.This would seem to be fairly damning since,
... the use of incendiary weapons such as WP and napalm against civilian targets - though not military targets - is banned by international treaty. Article two, protocol III of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons states: "It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by incendiary weapons."But the US government is continuing to deny that the weapons were banned and asserts that they were used against enemy combattants, not civilian targets. Now an Iraqi team has gone to Falluja to investigate.The US press reports on this issue have been uniformly poor and are often complicit in helping the government cover up its crimes, as in this atrocious article by William Arkin in the Washington Post.
But to the critics of white phosphorous and the U.S. military, I say: When have you ever been happy when the United States has only employed precision, when it has been scrupulously "legal" in the conduct of its military operations? To suggest that white phosphorus is illegal or illegitimate suggests that you are willing to accept that some use of military force and some weapons are perfectly legal. It is to say that there are laws of war, that fighting and the military enterprise can be honorable and just. I never hear this from certain quarters, and the inability to give credit where credit is due undermines any efforts to encourage the U.S. military -- and the rest of the world -- to systematize and strengthen constraints on weapons and methods of warfare that no longer accord with the public's conscience.Huh? An amazing sequence of non sequiturs directed at a straw man. Credit for what? The war is illegal and unjust on entirely different grounds. That "fighting and the military enterprise can be honorable and just" does not in any way entail that anything undertaken in the invasion of Iraq is either honorable and just. What a hack.
Stripping the bears of protection could eventually clear the way for grizzly hunting. These three states [where Yellowstone is located] would assume management responsibilities from federal wildlife officials and have greater flexibility in dealing with the bears.I had to go to the Times of London to get the real reason for delisting the bears:
Environmental groups are split on the move. The National Wildlife Federation supports delisting, saying it highlights the success of the endangered species law. The Natural Resources Defense Council says that too many threats still exist for the bears.
Lance Craighead, a bear biologist, said that many bears already live in areas outside the national parks. He said: "Development there has been restricted because of the bear's status. But once it's off, then the Bush Administration has nothing to slow down oil and gas development and timber harvest in those areas.Taking the bears off the endangered list will put their survival in danger
"Federal protection is the only reason these bears exist in Yellowstone today, and they aren't ready to survive without it, Louisa Willcox, director of the NRDC's wild bears project, said. "Delisting the Yellowstone bear prematurely would drive it back to the brink of extinction." She added: "It would open their habitat to oil and gas drilling and would allow hunters to kill bears that roam outside the park."The National Wildlife Federation, the one environmental organization that backs the plan, argues "that the bear numbers threaten landscape, livestock and people." It is certainly telling that their reasons for supporting the plan make no mention of the welfare of the bears--or of the ulterior motives for delisting.
The NY Times is maintaining the polite fiction that Alito's record on abortion rights is unclear. The paper's reporting so far has tended to make Alito appear more moderate than his record clearly shows he is, mainstreaming his extremism. So for example the Times argues, "...although groups on both sides of the issue expect Judge Alito to narrow abortion rights, his judicial record is hardly definitive."
"I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion." Judge Alito 1985The Republicans are nonetheless continuing to deny that this is in any evidence at all about how Alito might rule on Roe.
In so doing, the court has made it impossible for a wrongly convicted criminal defendant to bring a new trial motion on the basis of newly discovered evidence. No evidence will ever constitute newly discovered evidence of a defendant's innocence, because the defendant must have been aware all along of his or her innocence. That is now the law in the Third Circuit.This lack of concern for a defendant's actual innocence echoes one of the most infamous opinions of his role model and current Supreme Court Justice Scalia:
Alito did not author United States v. Jasin. But Alito did sign on to it, despite the fact that the egregious technical error at its core was pointed out, in a very diplomatic manner, in a separate opinion by Judge Ambro. Alito's approval of this mangling of the law, at the severe expense of wrongly convicted criminal defendants, should, in my view, disqualify him from serving on the Supreme Court.
This 1993 case (Herrera v. Collins) involved a dubious claim of actual innocence, unsupported by scientific evidence. Scalia, however, offered an opinion that went beyond the issues under review in Herrera v. Collins. He indicated that he would reject any claim of actual innocence, including the irrefutable proof sometimes provided by DNA evidence, as grounds for reopening a previously tried case. "There is no basis in text, tradition, or even in contemporary practice ... for finding in the Constitution a right to demand consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after conviction," said Scalia with Thomas' concurrence.Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, stated on Sunday that the Democrats are keeping the possibility of a filibuster open, despite earlier indications to the contrary from Democratic Senator Joe Biden and other "moderate" Democrats.
Sony has decided to suspend their nasty spyware assault on Macs and PCs but this is by no means the end of their campaign to violate your privacy. As boing boing, which has been doing a great job of covering this, notes: too little, too late. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation goes over the equally nasty legal fineprint that accompanies every Sony CD.
"A foreign national who is captured and determined to be an enemy combatant in the world war on terrorism has no more right to a habeas corpus appeal to our courts than did a captured soldier of the Axis powers during World War II," Senator Joseph LiebermanThere are two totalitarian aspects of our growing global network of "detention facilities": the physical abuse, torture and sometimes murder of detainees, and the lack of any legal recourse for those detainees to challenge their incarceration. These are facts. The legal status of these facts has however remained in limbo. The unlimited right to torture and abuse detainees has been forcefully challenged by the Senate. However, the right to hold prisoners forever without charge was ratified by the Senate earlier this week.
"Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak, using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism." The Pentagon's National Defense Strategy, March 2005
What is Democratic party policy on including intelligent design in the classroom? As far as I can tell there isn't one. I wasn't even able to find any national party leaders who have gone on record on the issue other than Howard Dean, and it is unclear to what extent, if any, he was speaking for the party. What Dean said (in August) was a good start
But the truth of the matter is, intelligent design is a religious perception and a religious precept. That's fine. That should be taught wherever religion is taught, if that's the desire of those people who are religious. Science is science. There's no factual evidence for intelligent design.Now the good news yesterday in Dover was that 8 candidates who backed evolution threw out all the creationist incumbents on the school board. And the pro-evolution winners had all run as Democrats and won despite the fact that the district itself is heavily Republican. All very encouraging. But where is the national party? As far as I can tell, there was no comment on this or on the disastrous intelligent design victory in Kansas the same day. A search of google and various newspaper and congressional databases for "democrat" and "intelligent design" turned up nothing relevant but silence.
...the background of the current evolution/intelligent design controversy is the widespread rejection of science, a phenomenon with deep roots in American history that has been cynically exploited for narrow political gain during the last quarter-century. Intelligent Design raises the question whether it is intelligent to disregard scientific evidence about matters of supreme importance to the nation and world — like global warming...___________
In our time, the Bush administration’s hostility to scientific inquiry puts the world at risk. Environmental catastrophe, whether you think the world has been developing only since Genesis or for eons, is far too serious to ignore...Perhaps only the word "malignant" could describe a failure to acknowledge, much less address, the all-too-scientific issue of climate change. Thus the "moral clarity" of the Bush administration extends to its cavalier attitude toward the fate of our grandchildren.
In his book What's the Matter with Kansas Thomas Frank did a good job of showing what Democrats had done wrong in Kansas but he never fully explored the antediluvian depths of the fundamentalist revival in the state. Yesterday, the Kansas school board voted not only to abandon evolution and the Enlightenment but science itself.
Among the most controversial changes was a redefinition of science itself, so that it would not be explicitly limited to natural explanations.As usual Pharyngula has the best coverage of this. And there is more from Scientific American.
CBS Producer Peddles 'Jesus Juice' Wine LabelBut there is of course the inevitable controversy about whether the label was in good taste. The site of origin, a right wing nut organization devoted to ferreting out "liberal media bias," is shocked, shocked that anyone could do something in such bad taste.
A CBS producer who led the network's coverage of the recent Michael Jackson trial has been marketing a brand of wine under the label "Jesus Juice," complete with a logo of a Christ figure sporting a Jacksonesque red glove, fedora hat, white socks, and penny loafers
NewsBusters.org has learned that Bruce Rheins, a high-level producer for such shows as the "CBS Evening News", and his wife, Dawn Westlake, began preparations for their marketing campaign while the Jackson case was still in court, registering a U.S. trademark for the words "Jesus Juice" in January of 2004, days after word got out that Jackson referred to wine by that term in allegedly attempting to seduce young boys.
A year later, the couple registered (under Westlake's name) the web domain JesusJuice.biz, apparently with the intent of partnering with a wine maker to create a product line bearing the Jesus Juice name, in a partnership or by purchasing the trademark.
"Should you want to start something with us (i.e. you're a vintner with a sense of humor, but a seriously good line of wines, visit us here and drop a note…In the meantime, we'll be moonwalking over our own grapes.)" Westlake wrote in an online diary entry on her personal web site...
The fact that, after September 11, 2001, polls showed that “only” around 39% of the American population was willing to endorse the torture of suspects known to have life saving information is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Beyond that tip is the willingness of a much larger percentage of people to accept the government’s general assertion that “tough interrogation,” “stress and duress,” and “fear up” techniques (all of which are official euphemisms for torture and abuse) are sometimes necessary to protect the nation...This rather pessimistic view is somewhat balanced by the fact that Cheney is not having a lot of success convincing people that torture should be legalized. Even former death squad coordinator, now US intelligence czar, John Negroponte apparently isn't willing to go on record supporting Cheney on this. Nor is the ethically challenged cat torturer and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
In addition, we should be honest and admit that racism plays a significant role in the acceptance of torture when it is used against people we do not identify with. From the 18th through the 20th centuries the evolving rules of conduct that impacted the use of torture were most easily and consistently ignored when practiced against non-Europeans. This was the case in Europe’s extensive imperial holdings, as well as the abuse of non-white minorities in American jails. It is now the case with Iraqis, Afghanis, and Arabs in general.
As to those able and willing to commit torture, we must recognize that there has always been a subset of the population who actually like to abuse others and not all of them operate outside the law. The likelihood of an abuse of power is increased by the fact that those who self-select for police and military careers in which torture may become officially possible are sometimes personalities who find it easy to perform such acts. Conditions of war and crisis give such men and women license to act out in ways that, under normal circumstances, would be deemed criminal.
Iraq is getting ready to open for tourism according to a story in today's Independent but "tourists should dress like locals and maybe dye their hair. And they should have armed guards and they should be always vigilant."
Iraq plans hotel and theme parks for a tourism boomThe BBC had a similar but less optimistic story last year. Perhaps this is a sign that things are getting better.
A £48m, five-star, 23-storey hotel rising in the city centre; an opulent palace complex being turned into a theme park; cheap flights to the picturesque "Venice of the east" - all the trappings of a country gearing up for a tourist boom.
Except the country in question is Iraq. With a new constitution and elections in the offing, officials insist there is a new beginning. The tourist board has 2,400 staff and 14 offices.
There has been a rise in the volume of travellers, with Iraqis either leaving or expatriates returning for visits. And there is also the continuous and steady number of foreigners, mainly contractors, coming in for the huge wages they can now command for working in such a risky environment.
The planned hotel is very much at an embryonic stage. The land - in the heavily guarded Green Zone - has been donated by the Iraqi government, and the finance is being provided by an Iraqi businessman.
Thair Feeley, of the Iraqi Commission for Investment, insists everything is in place. "It is not true that it will be a five-star hotel," he says with a flourish, "but a seven and half stars one".
The hotel is intended to have the usual accoutrements: plush suites, business centres, conference halls and a golf range. However, this is Iraq and Mr Feeley is not keen to make more details of the structure public for "security reasons". Nor is he willing to reveal the name of the businessman, again for "security reasons".
The building will have to be built to withstand mortar and rocket attack, just as the one major existing hotel in the Green Zone, Al Rashid, was built to do. Despite the carnage outside and its shabby appearance, the Rashid can still charge $150 (£86) a night.
Another plan is to turn Saddam Hussein's former palaces at his home town of Tikrit into a themed tourist destination. The complex, which contains 18 palaces and 118 other buildings, is surrounded by rolling gardens overlooking the Tigris.
Mohammed Abbas, a regional official, said: "Ordinary Iraqis were never allowed into these palaces. It will be an opportunity for them to see how their money was spent. International visitors will also be able to see the kind of lifestyle Saddam enjoyed."
Basra in the south has already officially declared itself open for tourism. But, says an official: "Tourists should dress like locals and maybe dye their hair. And they should have armed guards and they should be always vigilant."
Whereas the Democrats have been mostly missing in action on the torture issue, John McCain continues to courageously fight off the Bush-Cheney torture lobby and push for a complete ban on torture. The debate is more appropriate to the 14th century than the 21st, but at least McCain has been on the right side. (And, of course, it is all a moot point because the president again assured us today: "We do not torture.")
The body of Copernicus, the father of modern Astronomy, was just identified, making possible a computer reconstruction of his appearance.
"Of all discoveries and opinions, none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus. The world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the center of the universe. Never, perhaps, was a greater demand made on mankind - for by this admission so many things vanished in mist and smoke! What became of our Eden, our world of innocence, piety and poetry; the testimony of the senses; the conviction of a poetic - religious faith? No wonder his contemporaries did not wish to let all this go and offered every possible resistance to a doctrine which in its converts authorized and demanded a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed not even dreamed of."
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has suggested that those who deface freeways with graffiti should have their thumbs cut off on television. (via the Defeatists!)
The liner used a sonic blaster to foil the pirates. Developed by American forces to deter small boats from attacking warships, the non-lethal weapon sends out high-powered air vibrations that blow assailants off their feet. The equipment, about the size of a satellite dish, is rigged to the side of the ship.(via Boing Boing)
Ordinarily the Guardian is a fairly good source of information for a mainstream publication. You can certainly find a much wider range of information and opinion there than anywhere in the American press. So it was especially disturbing that they decided to publish such an unprofessional hatchet job as the Emma Brockes "interview" with Noam Chomsky.
Turns out Europe is not so sanguine about having secret detention camps on its soil. Rumors that CIA gulags have been established in Poland and Romania have endangered those countries' status in Europe. Although proudly touted as the stalwart new Europe by Rumsfeld, Poland and Romania are now scrambling to deny any connection with the secret detention program.
Human Rights Watch says the CIA used a secret detention centre to interrogate suspects outside the reach of US law and away from official oversight. Using the flight logs of a Boeing 757 jet, the New York-based group said the plane flew from Kabul to Szymany airport, north of Warsaw and close to a training base for Polish intelligence, then to a military airbase near the Romanian military port of Constanta...The US, of course, issued the standard comic book Rumsfeldian response:
Both countries have tried to dispel the reports, though their denials did not appear totally categorical. The Romanian Premier, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, said: "I repeat: We do not have CIA bases in Romania." An aide to the Polish President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, said authorities there had "no information" of such facilities on its territory...
Poland, as an EU member state, is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, and by the EU's governing treaty, whose Article Six demands respect for basic rights. In theory, a risk of persistent breach of these rights could lead to Poland being stripped of its voting rights in the EU, though that seems a remote possibility.
But Romania faces a more pressing problem because its bid to join the EU is at a delicate stage. Last week the commission warned that its accession might be delayed by a year from the planned date of 2007 because of problems that include failure to root out corruption. All countries wishing to join the EU must abide by the so-called Copenhagen criteria, which enshrine basic human rights. The new allegations could prove highly damaging to its prospects of joining. Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for the commission, said: "The Copenhagen criteria are clear. I don't think secret prisons would be compatible with this."
In Washington, Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said Wednesday, "While we have to do what is necessary to defend the country against terrorists and to win the war on terror, the president has been very clear that we're going to do that in a way that is consistent with our values."Other administration officials responded with pure doublespeak, insisting that the US will not tolerate the use of torture at home or in any foreign prisons, just as the White House pushes to exempt CIA agents from a Senate ban on torture.
Former Powell aide links Cheney's office to abuse directives(via Billmon)
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, told National Public Radio he had traced a trail of memos and directives authorizing questionable detention practices up through Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office directly to Cheney's staff.
"The secretary of defense under cover of the vice president's office," Wilkerson said, "regardless of the president having put out this memo" - "they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to what we've seen." He said the directives contradicted a 2002 order by President George W. Bush for the U.S. military to abide by the Geneva conventions against torture.
"There was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of defense, down to the commanders in the field," authorizing practices that led to the abuse of detainees, Wilkerson said.
The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.Although the story does not identify the Eastern European countries that are hosting these concentration camps, my guess is that Poland is one of the prime locations, given that Poland has been the biggest backer of the US in the region. That reminds me of something that happened earlier there...now what was it...?
The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.
The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.
The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country."The Eastern European countries that the CIA has persuaded to hide al Qaeda captives are democracies that have embraced the rule of law and individual rights after decades of Soviet domination."The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.
While the Defense Department has produced volumes of public reports and testimony about its detention practices and rules after the abuse scandals at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA has not even acknowledged the existence of its black sites. To do so, say officials familiar with the program, could open the U.S. government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad...
It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA's internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.
Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning...
The Eastern European countries that the CIA has persuaded to hide al Qaeda captives are democracies that have embraced the rule of law and individual rights after decades of Soviet domination. Each has been trying to cleanse its intelligence services of operatives who have worked on behalf of others -- mainly Russia and organized crime...
Then came grisly reports, in the winter of 2001, that prisoners kept by allied Afghan generals in cargo containers had died of asphyxiation. The CIA asked Congress for, and was quickly granted, tens of millions of dollars to establish a larger, long-term system in Afghanistan, parts of which would be used for CIA prisoners.
The largest CIA prison in Afghanistan was code-named the Salt Pit. It was also the CIA's substation and was first housed in an old brick factory outside Kabul. In November 2002, an inexperienced CIA case officer allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets. He froze to death, according to four U.S. government officials. The CIA officer has not been charged in the death.
The Salt Pit was protected by surveillance cameras and tough Afghan guards, but the road leading to it was not safe to travel and the jail was eventually moved inside Bagram Air Base. It has since been relocated off the base...
In late 2002 or early 2003, the CIA brokered deals with other countries to establish black-site prisons. One of these sites -- which sources said they believed to be the CIA's biggest facility now -- became particularly important when the agency realized it would have a growing number of prisoners and a shrinking number of prisons...sometime in 2004 the CIA decided it had to give up its small site at Guantanamo Bay. The CIA had planned to convert that into a state-of-the-art facility, operated independently of the military. The CIA pulled out when U.S. courts began to exercise greater control over the military detainees, and agency officials feared judges would soon extend the same type of supervision over their detainees...The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. "They've got many, many more who don't reach any threshold," one intelligence official said.
By mid-2002, the CIA had worked out secret black-site deals with two countries, including Thailand and one Eastern European nation, current and former officials said. An estimated $100 million was tucked inside the classified annex of the first supplemental Afghanistan appropriation.
The Bush administration is embroiled in a sharp internal debate over whether a new set of Defense Department standards for handling terror suspects should adopt language from the Geneva Conventions prohibiting "cruel," "humiliating" and "degrading" treatment, administration officials say...
The debate has delayed the publication of a second major Pentagon directive on interrogations, along with a new Army interrogations manual that was largely completed months ago, military officials said. It also underscores a broader struggle among senior officials over whether to scale back detention policies that have drawn strong opposition even from close American allies...
The document under discussion, known as Department of Defense Directive 23.10, would provide broad guidance from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; while it would not spell out specific detention and interrogation techniques, officials said, those procedures would have to conform to its standards. It would not cover the treatment of detainees held by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The behind-the-scenes debate over the Pentagon directive comes more than three years after President Bush decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the fight against terrorism...