Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

domingo, febrero 24, 2008

An Away Message

My plan for the next couple weeks is to step away from the computer and to spend some time sitting in one of these nice chairs overlooking the turquoise Caribe. I might read. I might take a nap. I might stare into space. I might daydream. Who knows what I'll be doing?

Anyway, that's why nothing new is being posted here at The Dream Antilles. But don't worry. I'll be back. And I'll have some new essays. In the meanwhile, you can browse the site and, of course, leave a message.

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sábado, febrero 23, 2008

Jorge Amado's Salvador, Brazil

Jorge Amado (1912-2001)

Imagine my surprise and delight this morning to find in the New York Times a travel article about Jorge Amado's Salvador, Brazil:, more than six years after his death, Amado’s exuberant spirit, aesthetic and characters seem to permeate the streets of the place he described both as “the most mysterious and beautiful of the world’s cities” and “the most languid of women.”

For visitors keen to experience those tropical mysteries, Amado went so far as to suggest an itinerary in his novel, “Tereza Batista: Home From the Wars.” He wanted tourists to see not just “our beaches, our churches embroidered with gold, the blue Portuguese ceramic tiles, the Baroque, the picturesque popular festivals and the fetishist ceremonies,” but also “the putridity of the slum houses on stilts and the whorehouses.”

That kind of dichotomy was typical of Amado, who, especially in his early years, tended to see everything as pairs of opposites: good and evil, black and white, sacred and profane, rich and poor. He even managed to impose that Manichean vision on the geography of Salvador, scorning Rua Chile, then the main commercial street of the upper city, and its well-to-do clientele in favor of the lower city and the port, where sailors, longshoremen, beggars, prostitutes and grifters saturated him in “the greasy black mystery of the city of Salvador da Bahia.”

I remember with joy when I first "discovered" Amado. About 30 years ago, I found a paperback copy of his 1958 novel, Gabriela, Cinnamon and Clove, at the bookstore on Spring Street a few doors off West Broadway. I bought the book because I had just discovered (a little late) the Latin Boom, and without having a guide to direct my reading, I bought books just to try them out. It was not a particularly risky way to go: the Latin Boom was being translated and published in English in paperback. In retrospect, that I devoured it should not have been a surprise. Unknown to me, Sartre called this book "the best example of a folk novel." Of course, I loved it. How could I not? For years I referred to it (or Vargas Llosa's The Green House) as one of my favorite novels. No matter that so few people had read Amado in English, I read and re-read his work. Most recently, I was delighted by Amado's 1988 novel The War of the Saints, also set in Salvador. How I wish there were more of his work.

I'm putting Salvador, Brazil on my list of places to visit, right next to Neruda's Temuco, Chile.

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jueves, febrero 21, 2008

Where In The World Is Diego Garcia?

A Map

Today UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband apologized to parliament. He admitted that US "special rendition" illegal extradition flights had landed on British soil despite earlier assurances that they hadn't.

Miliband said that on two occasions in 2002 US flights carrying "terrorist suspects" stopped to refuel at the airbase on the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia? You've got to be kidding. Look at the map. Why in heaven's name would a flight between any two points ever stop in Diego Garcia? Were the people being transported from or to Indonesia? Unfortunately, you cannot be told that, even though the flights were 6 years ago, if you were told, you'd have to be silenced.

The balance of the story from The Independent:
He said his concern about the case was shared by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

"We both agree that the mistakes made in these two cases are not acceptable and she shares my deep regret that this information has only just come to light," he said.

Mr Miliband told MPs that he was "very sorry indeed" to have to correct previous statements made by then prime minister Tony Blair and foreign secretary Jack Straw that rendition flights had not used British bases.
In other words, the previous statements by Blair and Straw and Rice and heaven knows who else were false. Regardless, the details about the two admitted flights are extremely limited:
Mr Miliband said that in each of the two cases, the aircraft involved had been carrying a single detainee - neither of them British - who did not leave the plane while it was on the ground at Diego Garcia.

One of those detainees has since been released but the other is still being held by the Americans at Guantanamo Bay.

Mr Miliband said the Americans had given an assurance that no detainees had been held on Diego Garcia and that US records showed no record of any other rendition through Diego Garcia or any other UK territory.
Oh thank heavens that the two souls being illegally extradcited or kidnapped weren't British. That makes this so much more palatable. Not.

Of course, the US version of the story is more detailed. It seems that CIA Director Michael Hayden told agency employees that information previously provided to the British "turned out to be wrong." Hayden told AP AP:
One of the two prisoners is now jailed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and the other was released to his home country, where he has since been freed by that government, the U.S. intelligence official said.

The CIA didn't interrogate or imprison either man, according to the official. In this case, the CIA only moved the two men from one country to another.

The CIA has held and interrogated fewer than 100 prisoners in its detention program, using "enhanced" or harsh interrogation techniques on about a third of them, Hayden has told Congress.

The rendition program secretly transfers alleged terrorists from one country to another without formal extradition proceedings. It can involve moving prisoners to the custody of governments where harsh interrogation techniques, including torture, are known to be used. The U.S. government insists it does not move prisoners to third countries without assurances that torture will not be used.
Does this make sense to anyone? In fact, it raises more questions than it answers.

* The CIA allegedly didn't imprison either of the two people who were flown through Diego Garcia. They obviously were not free to leave the plane. Is keeping someone on a plane traveling between two countries who wish to or have imprisoned the person being transported something other than "imprisonment?"

* Is the CIA now some kind of secure, worldwide prison taxi service carrying prisoners from one country to another? How is it that the CIA has that particular job? And between what countries does the US ferry prisoners? Does the CIA direct or participate in deciding where prisoners should be imprisoned?

* What are the admitted "harsh interrogation techniques" in the sending and/or recipient countries and what standard is being used, if any, to determine that they do not amount to "torture?" Or put another way, when the US receives an assurance that "torture will not be used" what is the definition of torture?

* Why are third party countries and not the US imprisoning and using "harsh interrogation techniques" on these prisoners?

May we have answers to these questions? Of course not. If we were told the answers we'd imperil the safety of the free world. We'd give the terrists information we don't want them to have. We'd be aiding the enemy. We'd be thwarting the GWOTTM. How very silly of you to ask. Did you think this was the US and that the Government would answer these questions? How very silly of you.

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martes, febrero 19, 2008

Fidel Resigns

A Havana billboard (AP Photo)

The text in English of Fidel's message today. It, of course, is long and rambling. How could anyone expect anything else after all of this time?

Fidel has been a genius at survival. He's weathered everything from the Bay of Pigs invasion, exploding cigars, fly overs by former Battista stooges, the bloqueo, the end of the Soviet Union. And he's done it 90 miles from the US. He's provided excellent health care and universal education. Unlike the US, he's managed to prevent Hurricane disasters. He's managed to form alliances throughout the hemisphere and world despite US attempts to destabilize and depose him by making ordinary Cubans suffer. And, most important, he's left Cuba's direction to the Cubans.

Has he been perfect? No. Has he committed human rights violations? Yes. But he's due enormous credit for maintaining his Revolution for 50 years and his unwavering insistence on autonomy for Cuba. I only wish more US citizens could appreciate exactly what he's done for Cuba. And the extent of US efforts to thwart him.

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

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lunes, febrero 18, 2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet, RIP

Alain Robbe-Grillet

Alain Robbe-Grillet died on Monday, February 18, 2008. He was 85.

May he rest in peace.

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Outsourcing Torture? It Depends

Torture At Abu Ghraib

It depends on what you mean by "outsourcing." If, like me, you've been assuming that "interrogations" of detainees prisoners at Guantanamo and the "black sites" were all being conducted only by CIA employees or uniformed armed forces personnel or at the very least US government employees, you're probably making a mistake. The facts seem to be that "interrogations" have frequently been conducted by "contractors" and not by government employees. That's right. Arguments about what the CIA's employees can and cannot do don't directly address what contractors can do any more than US law determines how prisoners are to be interrogated after they are extraordinarily renditioned illegally extradited to other countries.

In November, 2007, the WaPo reported that a suit by 200 Iraqis against abuses by contractor "interrogators" at Abu Ghraib in 2003 could continue:
A federal judge in Washington ruled yesterday that a civil lawsuit alleging abuse and torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq can go forward against a U.S. military contractor, setting the stage for what could be the first case in a U.S. civilian court to weigh accountability for the notorious abuses in 2003.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson denied CACI International's motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit on behalf of more than 200 Iraqis who at one time were detained at the Abu Ghraib prison. The Iraqis allege that the contracted CACI interrogators took part in abuses and that the company should be held liable for the harm inflicted on the detainees.

Attorneys for the Arlington-based CACI have argued the company should be immune from such a lawsuit because it worked at the behest of the U.S. military, but Robertson said he believes a jury should hear the case, in part because CACI had its own chain of command and might not have answered directly to the military. /snip

Susan L. Burke, a lawyer representing the Iraqi detainees along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, alleges that CACI interrogators were responsible for numerous abuses. Burke also filed a similar lawsuit against Blackwater for wrongful death over the Sept. 16 incident in Baghdad. /snip

Military investigations of the Abu Ghraib abuse linked CACI interrogators to alleged abuses such as the use of dogs in interrogations and putting detainees in painful "stress positions."
The lawsuit, which remains pending and is apparently unique in getting so far toward a trial, makes the point that the "interrogations" weren't conducted solely by CIA or by army personnel. No. Not at all. In Abu Ghraib, the claim is that contractors were abusive. Contractors, as opposed to US employees, have been accused of abuse torture. Is Abu Ghraib an isolated venue for contractor use? Apparently it is not. Is Abu Ghraib an isolated venue for abuse? Apparently it is not. Evidently, the CIA uses contractors in a host of situations and in various locations to conduct their "enhanced interrogations."

In February 5, 2008 testimony before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, CIA Director Mike Hayden admitted to using contractors for "enhanced interrogation" at the CIA's secret prisons, the so-called "black sites." The Q&A:
FEINSTEIN: I'd like to ask this question: Who carries out these [enhanced interrogation] techniques? Are they government employees or contractors?

HAYDEN: At our facilities during this, we have a mix of both government employees and contractors. Everything is done under, as we've talked before, ma'am, under my authority and the authority of the agency. But the people at the locations are frequently a mix of both -- we call them blue badgers and green badgers.

FEINSTEIN: And where do you use only contractors?

HAYDEN: I'm not aware of any facility in which there were only contractors. And this came up...

FEINSTEIN: Any facility anywhere in the world?

HAYDEN: Oh, I mean, I'm talking about our detention facilities. I want to make something very clear, because I don't think it was quite crystal clear in the discussion you had with Attorney General Mukasey.
As Hayden pointed out, "In many instances, the individual best suited for the task may be a contractor." And you'll note the waffling around about "detention facilities" as compared to some other kind of "facility."

What's this blue badge green badge talk? "Green badges" are contractors and there are two kinds: individuals, who are contracted by the CIA, and those who work for a corporation under contract with the CIA. For quite some time, the CIA has directly hired its former employees and other experts individually as contractors. Since 9/11 there has been an increase of corporate contractors without whom the CIA probably could not function. Put another way, some of the CIA's important functions have been "privatized."

Because of this, Hayden was asked about whether "enhanced interrogations" had been "outsourced." He denied it:
HAYDEN: This is not where we would turn to Firm X, Y or Z, and say, This is what we would like you to accomplish. Go achieve that for us and come back when you're done. That is not what this is.

This is a governmental activity under governmental direction and control, in which the participants may be both government employees and contractors, but it's not outsourced.

FEINSTEIN: I understand that.


FEINSTEIN: Is not the person that carries out the actual interrogation, not the doctor or the psychologist or supervisor or anybody else, but the person that carries out the actual interrogation a contractor?

HAYDEN: Again, there are times when the individuals involved are contractors, and there are times when the individuals involved have been government employees. It's been a mix, ma'am.
In other words, the "governmental function" of "enhanced interrogations" is not necessarily carried out by government employees. Oh no. In Bushco's America in some cases it's carried out by private contractors. This evidently is not new news. The issue has been around for some time.

In 2004, the Baltimore Sun reported that contractors were acting as interrogators:
The U.S. military's use of private contractors for the sensitive task of wartime interrogation marks a sharp shift from traditional practices and is raising difficult issues of accountability as authorities investigate the alleged role civilian workers played in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. /snip

But critics say that reliance on nonmilitary personnel undermines a key safeguard - the threat of punishment. While U.S. soldiers allegedly involved in the acts face a military court-martial or other sanctions, the legal status and possible penalties for private workers are far less certain.

Two federal laws adopted in the past decade - each intended to protect Americans abroad - could be used to pursue charges against private military workers overseas, legal scholars and military experts said yesterday. Neither statute has been tested in any situation like the Iraqi prison abuse.

"The whole status of private contractors is murky," said law professor Scott L. Silliman, executive director of Duke University's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security. The growth in the use of private contractors to fill even the most sensitive military roles has in some ways outpaced U.S. law, he said: "It is an area of great concern."
In other words, the privatization of enhanced interrogation torture not only pays private corporations and individuals for performing governmental functions, it also intolerably undermines legal accountability for abuse and for torture. Criminal legal accountability under the two available, federal statutes requires prosecutions by US Attorneys. To the extent that no such prosecutions have been commenced, the "privatization", the "outsourcing" shields torture crimes from all accountability.

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domingo, febrero 17, 2008

More Lies About Torture In Guantanamo

This Is What Torture Looks Like

How gullible are we? How much nonsense will we consider truthful? How many lies and contradictions and just plain nonsense about torture do we need to be told before we say, "Basta ya! Enough already!" The photo clearly depicts the torture of detainees prisoners at Guantanamo: stress positions and sensory deprivation. But today the WaPo reports that Bushco says its activities don't really cross the line and aren't quite torture.

The Bush administration allowed CIA interrogators to use tactics that were "quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening," as long as they did not cause enough severe and lasting pain to constitute illegal torture, a senior Justice Department official said last week.

In testimony before a House subcommittee, Steven G. Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, spelled out how the administration regulated the CIA's use of rough tactics and offered new details of how simulated drowning was used to compel disclosures by prisoners suspected of being al-Qaeda members.

The method was not, he said, like the "water torture" used during the Spanish Inquisition and by autocratic governments into the 20th century, but was subject to "strict time limits, safeguards, restrictions." He added, "The only thing in common is, I think, the use of water."

Bradbury indicated that no water entered the lungs of the three prisoners who were subjected to the practice, lending credence to previous accounts that the noses and mouths of CIA captives were covered in cloth or cellophane. Cellophane could pose a serious asphyxiation risk, torture experts said.
So here we go again. It's "simulated" drowning, rather than asphyxiation. It's regulated. It's limited. Right. Naturally, these assertions called for a harsh response:
Martin S. Lederman, a former Office of Legal Counsel official who teaches law at Georgetown University, called Bradbury's testimony "chilling." In an online posting, Lederman said that "to say that this is not severe physical suffering -- is not torture -- is absurd. And to invoke the defense that what the Spanish Inquisition did was worse and that we use a more benign, non-torture form of waterboarding . . . is obscene."
Bradbury is arguing that there is some magical, bright line between "quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening" conduct and torture, and that Bushco in its infinite wisdom and sensitivity knows just where that line is and that it always manages to stop before it crosses the line and actually tortures. This is, of course, arrant nonsense. If this were even close to being true, we'd be watching the videotapes of the 24,000 interrogations conducted at Gitmo and nodding our heads in agreement at how benign they were.

And, of course, Bradbury's, and the WaPo's attention to "waterboarding", continues to make that activity the focus of inquiry when, in fact, that is just one of the many forms of torture the administration uses at Guantanamo and in "black sites" in other countries that are completely unacceptable in a civilized world.

But enough of the imprecision. Slate has compiled a list of the techniques the US uses on detainees prisoners in Guantanamo as well as the documents that discuss the "authority" for doing these things. Which brings us back to the photo above.

"Stress positions", like the ones in the photo, kneeling on the ground for long periods of time in awkward positions, were approved by Donald Rumsfeld in a 2002 Memorandum. Wrote the ever compassionate Donald R on the first page of the memo, "However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?" This technique was also discussed in the CIA's KUBARK manual. And FM 34-52 recognizes that it is physical torture to force "an individual to stand, sit, or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time." So what's going on in the photo? Are we being told that this is ok because it didn't go on for long? The person in orange is just sitting down for a second or two?

And what's that on the person in orange's head and hands and eyes? The photo also documents the use of "sensory deprivation." Salon writes:
...sensory deprivation. The benign-sounding form of psychological coercion has been considered effective for most of the life of the (CIA) /snip
The technique has already been employed during the "war on terror," and, Salon has learned, was apparently used on 14 high-value detainees now held at Guantánamo Bay.

A former top CIA official predicted to Salon that sensory deprivation would remain available to the agency as an interrogation tool in the future. "I'd be surprised if [sensory deprivation] came out of the toolbox," said A.B. Krongard, who was the No. 3 official at the CIA until late 2004. Alfred McCoy, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has written extensively about the history of CIA interrogation, agrees with Krongard that the CIA will continue to employ sensory deprivation. "Of course they will," predicted McCoy. "It is embedded in the doctrine." For the CIA to stop using sensory deprivation, McCoy says, "The leopard would have to change his spots." And he warned that a practice that may sound innocuous to some was sharpened by the agency over the years into a horrifying torture technique.

Sensory deprivation, as CIA research and other agency interrogation materials demonstrate, is a remarkably simple concept. It can be inflicted by immobilizing individuals in small, soundproof rooms and fitting them with blacked-out goggles and earmuffs. "The first thing that happens is extraordinary hallucinations akin to mescaline," explained McCoy. "I mean extreme hallucinations" of sight and sound. It is followed, in some cases within just two days, by what McCoy called a "breakdown akin to psychosis." /snip

Just like waterboarding, Massimino said, extreme sensory deprivation techniques "push people beyond the brink of what they can bear, physically and mentally. Once you understand that, the veneer of acceptability -- the myth that 'it's not torture, it's just harsh' -- completely falls apart." But compared to the outcry over physical torture, she described a "deafening silence" about techniques like sensory deprivation.
Severe sensory deprivation clearly violates the Geneva Conventions and would be illegal under the Military Commissions Act's ban on "severe or serious mental pain and suffering." In fact, some subjects never fully recover. Put another way, sensory deprivation is torture.

How, you might wonder, can Bradbury speak before a House Subcommittee and make the statements he made and miraculously not be confronted with the widely available photos of stress positions and sensory deprivation? Why, you might wonder, does Bushco's defense of torture go on and on and on, and it's dutifully reported by the Traditional Media, and yet nothing happens to stop the torture? And how, given what it is doing in Guantanamo and in the "black sites," can the US not be considered a pariah, a rogue among civilized nations?

Are we ever going to stop the torture and prosecute those who perpetrated it?

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viernes, febrero 15, 2008

How Did We Get Here?

Lately, the Dream Antilles has been about Guantanamo and torture. How did that happen? And isn't this, after all, supposed to be a lit blog? You know, a blog about books and literature and writing and fiction. Well, to be honest, the narrator here has a pebble in his shoe, a burr under his saddle. He's annoyed and irritated about torture. Of all things. So, of course, that expresses itself here. And alas, it's likely to continue to come up because your narrator doesn't seem to know how to ameliorate his aggravation. He keeps on ranting. He insists on posting essays on dKos and docuDharma about torture. Then he complains bitterly about the comments the supposedly liberal people at dKos post about his essays. He doesn't receive such a nettlesome response at docuDharma. He says he feels like his hair's on fire. Put another way, the narrator of this blog thought he was beginning a digression about torture, but now it's a whole, full time topic by itself, and he doesn't remember exactly what he was saying before he began meandering. Among the questions he has is why most people in the US, let alone Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain, aren't apparently bothered by torture. Is it your narrator's job to continue to rage and prod on torture until something changes?

Meanwhile, he finished reading Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives, which has fourteen different narrators. And at least two characters (Garcia Madero and Arturo Belano) who are autobiographical Bolanos. The book is about a circle of "visceral realist" poets in Mexico City and takes place also in Northern Mexico, Spain, Israel, and elsewhere. He enjoyed it thoroughly. Let me repeat that Bolano, it seems, has 14 narrators, each of which is convincing. Meanwhile, in your narrator's current writing project, his one narrator is having trouble finding and maintaining his voice. Bolano had an embarrassment of riches. Your humble narrator is toiling away, and his narrator is making his skin itch.

Your humble narrator also finished reading Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which has one narrator, Yunior, who goes from omniscient to being a character in the novel. This is actually a pleasure. Yunior begins outside this historical story of the Dominican diaspora in New Jersey and the DR, but emerges later as Oscar's roommate and Oscar's sister's lover. Oscar Wao, by the way, is supposed to be a Spanglish mispronunciation of "Oscar Wilde." Because Trujillo is so important to the plot (not to worry it will not be given away here) parts of the book resemble aspects of Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat and Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies, but Diaz's story takes all of that to a different level. Diaz's narrator is charming, authoritative, smart, literary, funny, sly. Your narrator's narrator in progress, on the other hand , just isn't. At least not yet.

Both Bolano and Diaz are great reads, and both were recognized by being included in many lists of the Best Books of 2007.

Meanwhile, your narrator is stuck. He remains bothered by torture and his narrator's voice's lack of conviction and consistency. He hopes that things will improve on both fronts soon, but he's not holding his breath. Winter seems interminable.

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Torture, Lies And Videotape At Gitmo

Still Guantanamo

Every day it just gets worse. Today (h/t to Smintheus at dKos), Prof Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall University Law School (with assistance from many others) released a report (pdf format) on interrogations at Gitmo. It's a shocker. Among other things it says that there have been 24,000 "interrogations" at Gitmo and that all of them have been videotaped.

The short of it (from the report's executive summary):

*More than 24,000 interrogations have been conducted at Guantánamo since 2002.

*Every interrogation conducted at Guantánamo was videotaped.

*The Central Intelligence Agency is just one of many entities that interrogated detainees at Guantánamo.

*The agencies or bureaus that interrogated at Guantánamo include: the Central Intelligence Agency and its Counterterrorism Center; the Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF); the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI; Defense Intelligence Analysis (DIA); Defense Human Intelligence (HUMINT); Army Criminal Investigative Division (ACID); the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI); and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Private contractors also interrogated detainees.

*Each of these entities has identical motives to destroy taped investigations as has the Central Intelligence Agency. As one former senior Central Intelligence Agency official put it: “It’s a qualitatively different thing—seeing it versus reading about it.”
One Government document, for instance, reports detainee treatment so violent as to “shake the camera in the interrogation room” and “cause severe internal injury.” Another describes an interrogator positioning herself between a detainee and the camera, in order to block her actions from view.

*The Government kept meticulous logs of information related to interrogations. Thus, it is ascertainable which videotapes documenting interrogations still exist, and which videotapes have been destroyed.

There's a whole lot more in the report. The report is a remarkable piece of work, and Denbeaux and his team deserve a great deal of credit for important work well done.

Now that it has been the disclosed that every "interrogation" has been videotaped-- something that the Bush administration has not previously admitted-- one would hope that those in Congress who are in charge of oversight might want to view the video tapes. They might want to see what techniques are actually being used in Gitmo. They might want to decide with their own eyes and ears whether what is going on in Gitmo is or is not torture, is or is not legal, is or is not something they feel is appropriate. They might want to see the videos and decide whether they've been told the truth about Gitmo, or if what they've been told is a pack of lies. Bottom line, whatever is on the video is going to be different from reading about the events in classified documents.

At the very least those who are responsible for oversight should immediately demand that they be provided with copies of all of these videotapes. They have the staff and resources to cull these videotapes and to find out precisely what has been going on. And they should do that. This is what they were elected to do. And it's different from sitting in briefings about the "interrogations" and nodding their heads. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Nancy.)

And what if, as before, it turns out that the videotapes have been-- quel surprise!-- destroyed? Maybe Arlan Spector and others can rouse them selves and make as big a deal out of these Guantanamo videotapes as they have about the NE Patriots videos.

Might this be something to dial up "our" Congress people about?

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jueves, febrero 14, 2008

Contradictions About Torture

The Original Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

This is really fascinating. And short. Whoever is playing Edgar Bergen has apparently temporarily lost control of his sockpuppet Charlie McCarthy. The story is that the voices of Bushco apparently don't agree today on the legality of waterboarding torture.

The New York Times blog pulls it all together:
Steven G. Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, seemed set to shake up one of the fiercest debates in Washington today by offering a clear and concise statement about the controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

‘’There has been no determination by the Justice Department that the use of waterboarding, under any circumstances, would be lawful under current law,'’ he says in prepared remarks for a House hearing today that were obtained in advance by The Associated Press.

The administration’s current interrogation rules are “narrower than before” waterboarding was used five years ago by the C.I.A., he said. Earlier this week, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said that “in order for it to become part of the program, its legality would have to be passed on.”

Sounds like Bradbury, who hasn't been confirmed, says that waterboarding is not legal under current law. Hmmm.

But then there's this:
About two weeks ago, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying that the technique was not clearly illegal, as The New York Times reported:

“But with respect, I believe it is not an easy question,” he said. “There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit the use of waterboarding. Other circumstances would present a far closer question.”

The letter did not define any of the circumstances.

"Not clearly illegal" means "sorta legal?" Or illegal but not totally? incompletely illegal?

And that's not all:
Last week, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the legality of waterboarding was “not certain … under current statute,” a view he attributed to himself and lawyers at the C.I.A. and the Justice Department.

When legality is "not certain" it means maybe it's legal, maybe it's illegal, I don't know?

What is next? Retractions all around? Retractions called "clarifications" all around? A more "nuanced" response from some/all of the talking heads? A gag order from Edger Bergen? Stay tuned.

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martes, febrero 12, 2008

To Avoid Judicial Review, Executions At Guantanamo

Guantanamo Detainee

Yesterday the US announced that 6 Gitmo detainees would face the death penalty after bogus "trials" with unfair and untested procedures. I wrote an essay explaining why this was an outrage and a disgrace. Today, to my shock and surprise, I discovered an even greater outrage: that the US plans to conduct executions of these detainees at Gitmo so that the detainees will be denied any judicial review in the US Courts. If yesterday's news was dreadful, today's is even more cynical and and even greater disgrace.

AP reports:
If six suspected terrorists are sentenced to death at Guantanamo Bay for the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. Army regulations that were quietly amended two years ago open the possibility of execution by lethal injection at the military base in Cuba, experts said Tuesday.

Any executions would probably add to international outrage over Guantanamo, since capital punishment is banned in 130 countries, including the 27-nation European Union.

Conducting the executions on U.S. soil could open the way for the detainees' lawyers to go to U.S. courts to fight the death sentences. But the updated regulations make it possible for the executions to be carried out at Guantanamo.

And so the US intends to kill detainees after a "trial" before a Military Commission and not a court without permitting the possibility of review by US civilian courts. The US fears that bringing prisoners to the US might make habeas corpus available to them. How does Bushco solve this troubling problem of detainees seeking habeas corpus relief? By thumbing its nose at civilian courts, by building an execution chamber in Guantanamo, and by continuing to argue that Guantanamo is not subject to the habeas corpus jurisdiction of the US Courts.

How was the groundwork for this so stealthily accomplished?

Up until recently, experts on military law said, it was understood that military regulations required executions to be carried out by lethal injection at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

But in January 2006, the Army changed its procedures for military executions, allowing "other locations" to be used. The new regulations say that only the president can approve an execution and that the secretary of the Army will authorize the location.

"Military executions will be by lethal injection," the regulations say.

The US plan is quite simple. And it's this: do not allow the civilian United States Courts to inquire into the legality of the detainees' detention, or whether their guilt has been proved, or whether the "lethal injection" protocol is valid, or whether they are "enemy combatants," or whether they have been proved guilty, or anything else. Avoid all that potentially embarrassing judicial review. Just don't let detainees get to the US no matter what. Make sure they are killed in Guantanamo, that they never leave Guantanamo alive.

No death chamber is known to exist at Guantanamo, but Scott Silliman, a former Air Force lawyer and who is now a Duke University professor, said the military may decide to build one there. The 2006 Army regulations also call for a viewing room to the death chamber, where at least two news media representatives would be witnesses.

And so, even though the US just spent $12,000,000 on a courtroom in Guantanamo for "war crimes trials", and a death chamber has still not been built, the plan is in place to insulate the exterminations of detainees from meaningful, civilian court review.

In an irony, Bushco is trying today to quell arguments about killing the detainees:
The Bush administration has instructed U.S. diplomats abroad to defend its decision to seek the death penalty for the six men by recalling the executions of Nazi war criminals after World War II.

A four-page cable sent to U.S. embassies and obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press says that execution as punishment for extreme violations of the laws of war is internationally accepted.

The cable points to the 1945-46 Nuremberg war crimes trials in Germany. Twelve of Adolf Hitler's senior aides were sentenced to death at the trials, though not all were executed in the end.

The irony? The Nuremberg trials were entirely public. The Military Commissions remain hidden behind the wire at Guantanamo and their goal is to prevent public review of their conclusions.

What a disgrace.

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lunes, febrero 11, 2008

Show Trials: 6 Gitmo Detainees Face Death

A Gitmo Detainee

Let the Gitmo show "trials" begin. Let the Bushites promote fear of "terrorism" in behalf of McCain. Let those who have been waterboarded be convicted on statements they made under torture. Let the US show the entire world that it's mired in its barbarianism and that it will kill to advance a partisan political agenda. Let yet another national disgrace unfold.

Killing to advance a partisan political agenda isn't exactly new. Two of the most glaring examples: Ricky Ray Rector and Karla Faye Tucker. And now the eventual killing of 6 Gitmo detainees-- even if they are convicted executions will not be possible for years-- is planned. Notice when this announcement was made. It's been 6+ years since the incident, and the detainees have been in custody for more than 5 years. But the election season is upon us, and the Republican front runner believes that terrorism is his most powerful issue. Is this the earliest moment when the announcement could have been made that the death penalty would be sought? Of course not. But what better political time to announce this.

Today's New York Times tells part of the story:
Six Guantánamo detainees who are accused of central roles in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will be shown all the evidence against them and will be afforded the same rights as American soldiers accused of crimes, the Pentagon said Monday as it announced the charges against them.

Military prosecutors will seek the death penalty for the six Guantánamo detainees on charges including conspiracy and murder “in violation of the law of war,” attacking civilians and civilian targets, terrorism and support of terrorism, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann of the Air Force, legal adviser to the Defense Department’s Office of Military Commissions, said at a Pentagon news briefing.

General Hartmann said it would be up to the trial judge how to handle evidence obtained through controversial interrogation techniques like “waterboarding,” or simulated drowning. Critics have said the harsh techniques, which are believed to have been used on several of the defendants, amount to torture.

As expected, the six include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the former Qaeda operations chief who has described himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

The Military Commission system has not yet had a single "trial." The one case in which there was a disposition, David Hicks, involved a guilty plea. So nobody knows whether the commission system works or how it works in practice and none of the procedures has been tested in an actual "trial." And, of course, the decision to seek the death penalty was announced before any of the charges were translated and served on the accused. So the additional complications of having a death penalty trial, let alone the 6 announced at this moment, haven't been worked out. Today's dramatic announcement means that a previously untested, unused procedure will now be invoked for the first time to decide if the six live or die.

This should spark a worldwide firestorm of criticism:
The decision to seek the death penalty will no doubt increase the international focus on the case and present new challenges to the troubled military commission system that has yet to begin a single trial. The death penalty is an issue that has caused friction for decades between the United States and many of its allies who consider capital punishment barbaric.

“The system hasn’t been able to handle the less-complicated cases it has been presented with to date,” said David Glazier, a former Navy officer who is a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Forget that the commission hasn't been used yet. Not once. In today's announcement, to no one's surprise, General Hartmann emphasized the procedural safeguards the accused would supposedly have:
General Hartmann said he could not predict when actual trials would begin, but that pretrial procedures would take several months at least. He said the accused will enjoy the same rights that members of the American military enjoy, and that the proceedings will be “as completely open as possible,” notwithstanding the occasional need to protect classified information.

In no sense will the proceedings be secret, the general said. “Every piece of evidence, every stitch of evidence, every whiff of evidence” will be available to the defendants, General Hartmann said.

Some officials briefed on the case have said the prosecutors view their task in seeking convictions for the Sept. 11 attacks as a historic challenge. A special group of military and Justice Department lawyers has been working on the case for several years.

Evidently a speedy trial isn't one of the rights the detainees have. Nor is the freedom from torture. Nor is the suppression of statements extracted under torture or evidence derived from the fruits of torture. And it remains to be seen exactly what kind of cross examination and confrontation rights the detainees have. And what kind of rights the detainees have to call witnesses in their own behalf. And what kind of non-secret, public "trial" they will receive behind the wire in Guantanamo. General Hartmann's statements aside, there's more to due process than receiving the evidence against the accused. A whole lot more.

Put simply, today's announcement should be widely condemned for its barbarity. And for its obvious political motivations. This a complete disgrace.

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sábado, febrero 09, 2008

Waterboarding: Those Who Cannot Remember The Past

cross posted at docuDharma

Waterboarding (read: torture) is nothing new. It's been around since the 15th century, and has a long, well documented history. That history was briefly summed up by Ted Kennedy for Democracy Now:

It’s an ancient technique of tyrants. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century, it was used by interrogators in the Spanish Inquisition. In the nineteenth century, it was used against slaves in this country. In World War II, it was used against us by Japan. In the 1970s, it was used against political opponents by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the military dictatorships of Chile and Argentina. Today, it’s being used against pro-democracy activists by the rulers of Burma. When we fail to reject waterboarding, this is the company that we keep. /snip

Make no mistake about it: waterboarding is already illegal under United States law. It’s illegal under the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit outrages upon personal dignity, including cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment. It’s illegal under the Torture Act, which prohibits acts specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. It’s illegal under the Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. And it violates the Constitution. The nation’s top military lawyers and legal experts across the political spectrum have condemned waterboarding as torture. And after World War II, the United States prosecuted— prosecuted— Japanese officers for engaging in waterboarding. What more does this nominee need to enforce existing laws?
This essay isn't about rehashing the many legal arguments about how waterboarding is torture and in violation of US and international law. Instead, this essay recalls two recent, prominent instances in which the US itself prosecuted the use of waterboarding as a crime, as torture. It raises this simple question: how can anyone who acknowledges this relatively recent history argue that waterboarding isn't a crime and isn't torture. And how is it that our learned congresspersons haven't forcefully confronted Bushco's minions with this history?

World War II
NPR reports:
In the war crimes tribunals that followed Japan's defeat in World War II, the issue of waterboarding was sometimes raised. In 1947, the U.S. charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for waterboarding a U.S. civilian. Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
According to this Wiki:
The United States has a historical record of regarding waterboarding as a crime, and has prosecuted individuals for the use of the practice in the past. In 1947, the United States prosecuted a Japanese military officer, Yukio Asano, for carrying out a form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian during World War II. Yukio Asano received a sentence of 15 years of hard labor. The charges of Violation of the Laws and Customs of War against Asano also included "beating using hands, fists, club; kicking; burning using cigarettes; strapping on a stretcher head downward."
The WaPo described what Asano did:
The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.
And then there's the record of the conviction. And this article that provides the specifications (starting on page 18) on which Asano and others were tried. These included "water torture", which the charges described:
Specification 1: That in or about July or August, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Morris O. Killough, an American Prisoner of War, by beating and kicking him; by fastening him on a stretcher and pouring water up his nostrils.

Specification 2: That on or about 15 May, 1944, at Fukoka Prisoner of War Branch Camp Number 3, Kyushu, Japan, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Thomas B. Armitage, William O Cash and Munroe Dave Woodall, American Prisoners of War by beating and kicking them, by forcing water into their mouths and noses; and by pressing lighted cigarettes against their bodies.

Specification 5. That between 1 April, 1943 and 31 December, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture John Henry Burton, an American Prisoner of War, by beating him; and by fastening him head downward on a stretcher and forcing water into his nose.
And, of course, there's the testimony of victims of these crimes.

It seems clear enough that if what Asano (and others) did was not torture, Bush and Mukasey need to issue him a pardon. But, alas, Asano isn't alone. The issue arose again in Vietnam two decades later. And with the same results: waterboarding was criminal and it was torture.

NPR reports:
On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post ran a front-page photo of a U.S. soldier supervising the waterboarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier. The caption said the technique induced "a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk." The picture led to an Army investigation and, two months later, the court martial of the soldier.
The photo:

According to this Wiki:
Waterboarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in the Vietnam War. On January 21, 1968, The Washington Post published a controversial photograph of an American soldier supervising the waterboarding of a North Vietnamese POW near Da Nang. The article described the practice as "fairly common." The photograph led to the soldier being court-martialled by a U.S. military court within one month of its publication, and he was thrown out of the army. Another waterboarding photograph of the same scene is also exhibited in the War Remnants Museum at Ho Chi Minh City.
Cited source

The original WaPo article is here (pdf format, redacted).

These two cases do not involve statutory construction, a close reading of the texts of treaties, arcane principles of international law. They don't require extensive analysis. The facts are incontrovertible: in World War II and in Vietnam the US prosecuted "waterboarding" as a crime and as torture. And now, Mukasey, like Abu AG before him, and like other Bushco officials criminals have the gall to argue that "waterboarding" somehow isn't a crime. That proposition is laughable. They deserve not only our contempt. They deserve to be impeached and prosecuted.

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viernes, febrero 08, 2008

Nebraska Court Bans Electric Chair

Nebraska's Electric Chair

I'm cheering and applauding. Nebraska's Supreme Court has dragged the state kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by forbidding the state, as a matter of State Constitutional Law, from using the electric chair to kill prisoners sentenced to death. Because electrocution was the only means of execution in the Nebraska statute, the state has reluctantly now joined the nationwide de facto stay on state executions.

The New York Times reports:

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment, outlawing the electric chair in the only state that still used it as its sole means of execution.

The state's death penalty remains on the books, but the court said the Legislature must approve another method to use it. The evidence shows that electrocution inflicts ''intense pain and agonizing suffering,'' the court said.

''Condemned prisoners must not be tortured to death, regardless of their crimes,'' Judge William Connolly wrote in the 6-1 opinion.

''Contrary to the State's argument, there is abundant evidence that prisoners sometimes will retain enough brain functioning to consciously suffer the torture high voltage electric current inflicts on a human body,'' Connolly wrote.

The opinion was strong in its disapproval of electrocution. The majority opinion had this gem:

...the high court said electrocution ''has proven itself to be a dinosaur more befitting the laboratory of Baron Frankenstein'' than a state prison.

The decision was 6-1. The dissenting judge, Chief Justice Mike Heavican, argued that he didn't think electrocution was cruel and unusual, and that he believed federal courts could take the case because, he said, the majority's stated reliance on Nebraska's constitution was misleading because the court actually based its decision on federal precedent.

Responding to the decision, Governor Dave Heineman (R) expressed his "outrage":

''I am appalled by the Nebraska Supreme Court's decision,'' Heineman said in a statement. ''Once again, this activist court has ignored its own precedent and the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court to continue its assault on the Nebraska death penalty.''

What a joke. The Nebraska Supreme Court is an "activist court"? Does the Gov pay any attention to those "strict constructionists," those "originalists" in DC? Give me a break. The Rethuglican rule of judicial criticism: if you win, they're "strict constructionists"; but if you lose, then they're "judicial activists." What a crock.

The Governor's spokesperson threatened that there would be a special legislative session to enact a new penalty provision. Evidently, Nebraskans cannot live for even a few months without having their finger on the trigger needle. One of the options to permit state killing to continue without a significant hiatus would be a bill to replace electrocution with lethal injection, a method of execution presently under consideration in the US Supreme Court and effectively stayed across the nation.

I have no idea why Nebraska cannot just sit it out for a little while. I guess when the Governor says he's appalled you have to drop everything else and restore people killing. After all, WWJD?

I detest state killing. I want to see the death penalty abolished for all crimes in my lifetime. I want the United States as a whole to renounce barbarianism and to join the community of nations and the consensus that state killing is wrong. And the Nebraska Supreme Court's decision is a small step in that direction. It is absolutely a recognition that standards of cruel and inhuman treatment are evolving over time and that the barbarities of the past can no longer be countenanced. Every single judicial decision that blocks state killing is a victory on the road to abolition of the death penalty.

So I cheer this decision. And I invite you to cheer and applaud it with me.

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miércoles, febrero 06, 2008

Tungurahua To Blow


From Bloomberg:

The Tungurahua volcano in Ecuador's central Andes has begun to erupt and may spread ash across six provinces, the country's geophysical institute said.

The intensity of the eruption matches that of the violent explosions registered on July 14, 2006, with the mountain spewing ash, volcanic gases and rocks, the institute reported today on its Web site.

The heaviest period of activity so far was recorded around 1 a.m. local time, the institute said. Heavy cloud cover is limiting visibility, it added.

Falling ash will likely affect six of Ecuador's 24 provinces, it said. The government has already declared a state of emergency in several of those areas following heavy rains and flooding that led to evacuations and crop damage.

It's amazing how much seismic activity there is in South America right now.

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martes, febrero 05, 2008

Afghanistan: Harsh Forms Of Criticism

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh

A young man has been sentenced to death in Afghanistan for downloading a report from the Internet and distributing it.

The Independent reports:
A young man, a student of journalism, is sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the internet. The sentence is then upheld by the country's rulers. This is Afghanistan – not in Taliban times but six years after "liberation" and under the democratic rule of the West's ally Hamid Karzai.

The fate of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has led to domestic and international protests, and deepening concern about erosion of civil liberties in Afghanistan. He was accused of blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website which stated that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.

Mr Kambaksh, 23, distributed the tract to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter. But a complaint was made against him and he was arrested, tried by religious judges without – say his friends and family – being allowed legal representation and sentenced to death.

So much for debate and freedom of speech.

The UN, human rights groups, journalists' organizations and Western diplomats have urged the Karzai government to intervene and free Kambaksh. But the Afghan Senate passed a motion on January 30 confirming the death sentence. Welcome to the US puppet government and its barbarianism.

Want to respond to this?
Sayed Pervez Kambaksh's imminent execution is an affront to civilised values. It is not, however, a foregone conclusion. If enough international pressure is brought to bear on President Karzai's government, his sentence may yet be overturned. Add your weight to the campaign by urging the Foreign Office to demand that his life be spared. Sign the Independent's e-petition here

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised at the severity of the verdict. You'll recall that after Salman Rushdie published his novel, Satanic Verses, Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa condemning him to death. It seems that Satanic Verses appropriated the prophet Muhammad as a character and attributed what some thought were insulting things to him. Later, the writer VS Naipaul, one of my heroes, described the fatwah as "an extreme form of literary criticism."

It may be difficult to tell what will insult readers and even make them throw rocks. As Rushdie himself wrote in The Ground Beneath Her Feet,

"Insults are mysteries. What seems to the bystander to be the cruelest, most destructive sledgehammer of an assault, whore! slut! tart!, can leave its target undamaged, while an apparently lesser gibe, thank god you're not my child, can fatally penetrate the finest suits of armour, you're nothing to me, you're less than the dirt on the soles of my shoes, and strike directly at the heart."

Which brings me to two years ago, and this rock throwing and literary criticism news:

Demonstrations against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by newspapers in Europe spread across Asia and the Middle East today, turning violent in Afghanistan, where at least four protesters were killed and over a dozen police officers and protesters injured.

The protests gained momentum all over the Muslim world, a day after attacks on the Danish consulate in Lebanon and the Danish and Norwegian Embassies in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday. Muslim clerics led demonstrations in half a dozen cities in Afghanistan, and protesters turned out in Indonesia, India, Thailand, Iran, and even in New Zealand, where local newspapers recently reprinted the offending cartoons.

A teenager died in Somalia in East Africa today when police fired in the air to disperse stone-throwing protesters and set off a stampede. A crowd of about 200 people stoned and broke the windows of the Austrian Embassy in the Iranian capital, Teheran, and tried to hurl gasoline bombs inside, Reuters reported. Police with riot shields prevented further damage and the crowd dissipated after an hour, the agency reported.

I have worried that not enough people would buy and read my 2005 novel, The Dream Antilles. But that seeming problem, a mix of ego, marketing and personal finance, pales compared with the idea that a few people would read my book and then thousands and thousands around the world would run into the streets trying to maim and kill people because of the affronts they perceived in it. Or that they would react in this way to some cartoons. Or to the downloading and distribution of an internet report. Or the conferral of a knighthood on an Salman Rushdie whose best work in my view was Midnight's Children, a remarkable magical realism novel paralleling the birth of India as a nation which won the 1981 Booker Prize and was later awarded the 'Booker of Bookers' Prize in 1993 as the best novel to be awarded the Booker Prize in its first 25 years. People here who know or have heard of only Satanic Verses should treat themselves to Midnight's Children. I just don't get it.

I will admit that I did smile when Mario Vargas Llosa had crowds attack the radio station in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter because of insults to Argentinians. I thought that was a riot, and I laughed aloud. But I am not laughing at today's news from Afghanistan.

I guess I didn't realize that writing could be so dangerous. Or that criticism could be so extreme.

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viernes, febrero 01, 2008

Dying Bats, Dying Bees

Little Brown Bat

Bloomberg reported yesterday that bats in New York and Vermont are dying:
Thousands of bats are dying from an unknown illness in the northeastern U.S. at a rate that could cause extinction, New York state wildlife officials said.

At eight caves in New York and one in Vermont, scientists have seen bat populations plummet over two years. Most bats hibernate in the same cave every winter, keeping annual counts consistent. A cave that had 1,300 bats in January 2006 had 470 bats last year. It recently sheltered just 38.

At another cave, more than 90 percent of about 15,500 bats have died since 2005, and two-thirds that remain now sleep near the cave's entrance, where conditions are less hospitable. Scientists don't know what's causing the deaths, and biologists wearing sanitary clothing and respirators to prevent the spread of disease are collecting the dead for testing as part of a state and U.S. effort.

Eastern Pipistrelle

Apparently, nobody knows what's killing the bats.
Some bats in the die-off have a white fungus encircling their noses. Most living bats now are underweight, too thin to make it through the winter, Hicks said. They choose their hibernating spots based on weight. Colder resting spots, like the ones near the entrance help energy reserves last longer.

``These guys are hibernating in places you never see healthy bats hibernating,'' Hicks said.

When they're not hibernating, healthy bats eat about half their weight in bugs every night, including mosquitoes, grasshoppers, locusts and moths that can spread disease among humans and devastate crops.

Bat populations are vulnerable to disease during hibernation as they congregate in large numbers in caves, sometimes packed so densely that it's difficult to see the cavern wall behind them. In warmer months, bats migrate hundreds of miles to their summer homes, so a new disease could rapidly spread across the region, Hicks said.

And as if that weren't bad enough news, the bees are dying as well:
A separate malady known as Colony Collapse Disorder has killed millions of bees in the U.S. and threatens $14.6 billion of U.S. crops, including almonds, apples, oranges and blueberries, which rely on bees for pollination, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. It may cause $75 billion of economic damage if left unchecked, the agency said.

The illness was identified after thousands of U.S. beekeepers found unusually large losses -- 90 percent or more in some cases -- beginning in 2006. Colony Collapse has been found in 35 U.S. states, one Canadian province, and parts of Asia, Europe and South America. Scientists haven't identified the cause and believe it may be the result of several things in combination.

``You have a strong parallel with the bees in that we just don't know what's going on,'' Hicks said.

I'm no expert. But it sounds to me like something is wrong with the bats' and the bees' immune systems. The bats aren't resisting fungus (or some other invader). The bees aren't resisting a virus (or some other invader). It's as if we had released some kind of contagion in the atmosphere but don't know what it was. Or we released something that's drastically weakening immune functioning and we don't know what that is. Either way, the news is awful. It looks a lot like we're killing the planet.

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Mexican Farmers Protest NAFTA

The Megamarch Yesterday In Mexico City

Chanting "Sin maiz, No hay pais" (Without Corn, the country doesn't exist), Mexican farmers by the tens of thousands demonstrated in Mexico City against NAFTA.

AP reports:
Led by a column of tractors, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Mexico City on Thursday to protest recent trade openings that removed the last tariff protections for ancestral Mexican crops like corn and beans.

Chanting "Without corn, the country doesn't exist!" farmers and farm activists from across the nation demanded the Mexican government renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, to reinstate protection for basic crops.

Farmers here say they can't compete with bigger U.S. farms which receive more government support. Under the terms of NAFTA, Mexico got a 15-year protection period to improve its farms, but that phase-in period ended Jan. 1, and Mexican farms — mostly tiny plots of 12 acres or less — still lag behind.

"The truth is, we can't compete, that is why we're demonstrating ... because we're really getting hit hard," said Telespor Andrade, 44, a weather-beaten farmer from central Mexico who grows corn and beans on about 7 acres of land.

Andrade is typical of Mexican farmers who grow corn for subsistence. I've written about this extensively here and the inescapable conclusion is that NAFTA is making Mexican farmers leave their homes and emigrate the the US. That's right. US economic policy is directly forcing farmers to leave their homes and migrate to the US, with or without documents.

The demonstrations, about which you will probably not read in your local newspaper, are reported all over the Mexican press. Here's Proceso and El Universal, for example. And for good reason:

Protesters pastured their cows outside the Mexican Stock Exchange on the city's main boulevard, and burned a tractor at a nearby monument to the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

Mexican officials say farmers are getting help, and that Mexico's corn production is rising. But activists say farm policies have benefited mainly big producers, not small producers who make up the vast majority of farmers here. U.S. farmers, they say, have much better transport and distribution systems, lower costs and bigger subsidies.

"We're up against all the might of the developed countries," said Martin Perez Santiago, 60, a farmer from the Gulf coast state of Veracruz. "We can't compete because of a lack of support, a lack of subsides, technology, better seed varieties."

When Santiago mentions "better seed varieties," the sound you hear is the door in Mexico opening for genetically modified seed from the US rather than the indigenous species that have been doing quite well for centuries. In other words, not only is NAFTA a disaster in terms of immigration from Mexican family farms, it's an ecological disaster in the making.

This is an extremely important story. NAFTA has created consequences that are disastrous for Mexico. It's forcing subsistence farmers to flee to the US. It's pressuring them to introduce GMA corn. It's already requiring Mexico, the birthplace of corn, to purchase animal corn from the US. It's creating an ecological disaster.

This is an important story, but I don't expect it to be discussed in the presidential race in the US, and I don't expect it to have much of a life in the traditional US press.

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