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108 posts from September 2006

September 27, 2006

No, Senator Reid, we don't want to torture


Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says that Democratic senators want to reach a compromise on torture. The NYT surmises that Reid wants the Democrats to look "strong" going into 2006.

If that's true the reasoning is as shortsighted as it is reprehensible.

Tough guys don't torture their prisoners. Cowards and sadists do.

Only losers torture, only losers compromise on torture:

Republicans also said they were trying to reach a compromise on the habeas corpus provision of the bill, which would deny a suspect the right to challenge his detention in court.

Democrats, who have found themselves on the losing end of the national security debate the past two national elections, said the changes to the bill had not yet reached a level that would cause them to try to block it altogether.

“We want to do this,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader. “And we want to do it in compliance with the direction from the Supreme Court. We want to do it in compliance with the Constitution.” [NYT]

The American people needs moral leadership on this issue, not pandering.

September 26, 2006

Recommended reading

Some links to keep you entertained while I work on my follow-up post about Mel Sembler Lieberman fundraiser and proprietor of the Abu Ghraib of rehab.

Alon Levy reviews Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.

Jennifer Ouellette body image, clothes that fit, and sizes less than 0.

Lizardbreath does a little diffident white person race-blogging. What do you do when you don't want to pretend you're ethnically unmarked, but you don't want to sound like George Allen?

Update: Amanda and Shakes on Bush's rape-torture loophole.

Rice claims Bush adminstration "at least as aggressive" on terror as Clinton pre-9/11

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is insisting that the Bush administration was at least as aggressive on terrorism as the Clinton administration, pre-9/11.

Notice she's not making any unqualified assertions about Bush being any more aggressive than Clinton, because that's not even a credible claim anymore. I take this as a sign that Democrats are finally putting Republicans on the defensive about their national security record.

Even the claim that the Bush administration was "at least as aggressive" is false, however. Actually, as Julia notes, former Attorney General John Ashcroft slashed counter-terrorism pre-9/11 and demoted counter-terrorism as a priority compared to his predecessor.

As the Guardian reported in 2002, AG Ashcroft did start flying in private jets instead of on commercial airlines in July of 2001, but counter-terrorism for other people just wasn't on his radar, so to speak:

In the late 90s the threat of a terrorist attack on US soil became a near obsession in the Clinton administration, particularly in the justice department under Janet Reno. But her successor had other ideas.

On September 10 last year, the last day of what is now seen as a bygone age of innocence, Mr Ashcroft sent a request for budget increases to the White House. It covered 68 programmes, none of them related to counter-terrorism.

He also sent a memorandum to his heads of departments, stating his seven priorities. Counter-terrorism was not on the list. He turned down an FBI request for hundreds more agents to be assigned to tracking terrorist threats.

Nevertheless, he began using a chartered private jet to travel around the country, rather than take commercial airliners as Ms Reno had done. A justice department spokesman said this was done as a result of an FBI "threat assessment" on Mr Ashcroft, but insisted that the assessment was not specifically linked to al-Qaida.

But Mr Ashcroft stopped using commercial flights in July, just as the intelligence "chatter" about a possible al-Qaida strike on US soil was getting louder.

According to yesterday's edition of Newsweek, he had a showdown on counter-terrorism with the outgoing FBI director, Louis Freeh, in the spring of last year in Quantico, Virginia, at an annual meeting of special agents.

People at the meeting said the two disagreed fundamentally on their priorities.

Mr Ashcroft's agenda comprised "basically violent crime and drugs" and when Mr Freeh began to talk about his concern about the terrorist threat facing the country, "Ashcroft didn't want to hear about it".

Pre-9/11, Ashcroft was more interesting in raiding medical marijuana clinics than fighting terrorism.

Who's out to get you?

wiki for Bill O'Reilly's enemies because, Bill can't possibly keep track of all the "people trying to marginalize me, or worse, destroy" him.

September 25, 2006

Baby bunnies

Today's FlickrFind.

Not for technical merit, not for composition, just for the baby bunnies.

Molly Ivins battles breast cancer

That Texas journalist and humorist Molly Ivins is keeping up the political fight while contending with her third recurrence of breast cancer.

Damn, she's tough.

Iraqi photographer Bilal Hussein held without trial

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is being held by the US military in Iraq without charge.

Bilal Hussein and his AP team won the 2005 Pulitzer in the category of Breaking News Photography for their stunning series of photographs of bloody yearlong combat inside Iraqi cities."  Mr. Hussein's contribution to the prize-winning portofolio can be viewed here.

Hussein has been in custody for five months, but I hadn't heard about his case until I read Bob Herbert's impassioned plea for due process for the AP photographer.

You can read most of Herbert's column here.

Herbert describes how Mr. Hussein was captured by the US, and his subsequent fate:

Mr. Hussein was taken to a hospital. His camera and videotapes were seized. And despite his CBS press credentials, which were checked out and found to be legitimate, he was arrested by U.S. authorities and imprisoned. Much of his time over the course of the next year was spent in solitary confinement at the Abu Ghraib prison, where he was subjected to coercive interrogation and other indignities.

Here is the AP's own detailed account of the accusations against Bilal Hussein such as they are--he was allegedly arrested in the company of two other accused insurgents in an apartment that allegedly contained bomb-making materials. Of course, we have no idea whether any of this is true because there has been no due process for any of these people, nor any public review of the evidence against them.

The Pentagon continues to insist on its right to detain Mr. Hussein without trial, despite pleas by AP lawyers to give Mr. Hussein his day in court. The AP is calling on the US military to either transfer the jailed photographer to the Iraqi justice system or let him go.

Bilal Hussein's name may not be a household word in mainstream society, but the right wing blogosphere has been gunning for him for months.

The chickenhawks couldn't even bear to look at Hussein's pictures of close combat. So, they convinced themselves that these horrors must have been contrived.

Journalistic ethics charges fell flat against Hussein. It's worth noting that one member of the five-person jury that bestowed the Pulitzer is the director of photography for the Washington Times and a Pulitzer laureate in his own right.

Now, the wingnuts are accusing Hussein of collaborating with the insurgents. Their evidence? His pictures are too real. Nobody could ever get that close to an insurgent unless he was an insurgent himself! Besides, the US arrested him, and they would never do that if he weren't guilty.

If you googled "Bilal Hussein" circa 4:30 pm today over 70% of the top 100 hits were right wing blogs (not news reports, not websites, but specifically high-traffic right wing blogs): Michelle Malkin, Sir Humphrey's, Jawa Report, Ace of Spades, Pajamas Media, Rhiel World View, Jihad Watch, Newsbusters, bRight and Early, Tailrank linking to right wing bloggers linking to Michelle Malkin excoriating Hussein and the AP (including Jeff Gannon, Sister Toldjah, and Little Green Footballs), A Blog For All (Lawyerhawk), Never Yet Melted (a blog with a sidebar button that reads "Islamophobic and Proud of It"), and GOP Video just to name a few. The largest of these blogs had several posts each in the top 100.

Did it ever occur to these numbskulls that journalists are supposed to be independent? If you're going to cover the news, you've got to approach both sides. They're always complaining about bias, but they act as if reporters who can approach insurgents without getting blown away on sight are necessarily traitors. Their darling, the recently deceased Oriana Fallaci interviewed the The Ayatollah Khomeini just after the Iranian revolution. The fact that this doesn't bother the right is a vote in their favor. At some level they must realize that journalists often talk to unsavory people, and that guilt by mere association is a logical fallacy.

Matthew LaPlante, a reporter who met Hussein last year in Iraq, has an excellent post about the background to Hussein's arrest and the implications for all un-embedded war correspondents. Here's another good article by Greg Sargent about how Powerline is distorting the AP's statements about Bilal Hussein.

The AP agrees that Bilal Hussein had better access to the insurgents than most other Western-affiliated journalists in Iraq. Therefore, he was able to actually report on what they were doing. You'd think that sort of information would be valuable to the US military as much as anyone else. But accurate reporting from the battlefield is the last thing the Pentagon wants.

So, they've declared Hussein dangerous, dragged him off to Abu Ghraib, tortured him, and left him locked up. They've had him for five months, and they still don't have enough evidence against him to charge him, let alone try him.

This is not about fighting the Iraqi insurgency, or the war on terror, this is about terrorizing all independent journalists in Iraq, and by extension, all independent journalists.

Think about the precedent the Pentagon is setting. US authorities are asserting their right to jail anyone indefinitely on secret evidence. How are reporters supposed to cover national security or war if any attempt to learn about the other side could get you thrown in jail indefinitely?

The power to whisk inconvenient people away with no explanation will corrupt anyone who wields it. These tactics will won't be confined to the battlefield and they won't be restricted to journalists.

The United States of America vs. Bill Keller

Joe Hagan has an excellent article in the September 18th issue of the New York Metro: The United States of America vs Bill Keller. The article describes how various personalities, power struggles, and politics shaped the Times' coverage of the NSA domestic spying scandal.

There's so much information in the article that I had to read it twice to absorb it all. I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in the New York Times gossip, the NSA scandal, and the Bush administration's attempts to criminalize journalism.

Is it appropriate to use a loved one's MRI as wall art?

David Ng asks:

So, for the last couple of days, I've been feeling a little unsettled. Here's the backdrop, but I'm also interested on what folks think, if they care to comment.

Basically, for about a week or so, I had a MRI head scan of someone I care about on one of my office walls. Initially, the reason to do this was that MRI's are first and foremost impressive looking, and the sort of thing that one can marvel at - that is, the ability to see the brain in different swaths etc.

On occasion, people dropping by the office would ask about it, and this would inevitably lead into an anecdote that is part personal reflection (being a biologist and someone who happens to be knowledgable in the genetic counselling arena), as well as part neurology lesson (there being a reason that the MRI was done in the first place).

A colleague happen to come by on Friday and suggested that having it up in the first place is a bit "wonky." He felt that it should be taken down - it's significance was too close to me. So I did, because he is the sort of person I already trust (even though I don't know him that well).

If you can put up pictures of the outsides of your friends and family in your office, why not pictures of their insides?

Granted, you should get the subject's permission to put up the MRI, especially if it shows something that the subject might prefer to keep private.

Putting up a picture of your friend Bob's normal brain is probably not a big deal, especially if you clear it with Bob first.

On the other hand, it might be a problem if the MRI shows that Bob has a brain disease or malformation that would be obvious to all your colleagues. In that case, it would be important not only to get Bob's permission, but also to make sure he that he understands what the MRI reveals about his health.

You should probably also ask Bob's permission if you want to make this art into a conversation piece. It's one thing to have the picture up, or use it as a teaching tool without mentioning any names, but it's quite another to say to visitors, "Check out my friend Bob Smith's brain!"

If you and Bob come to a mutual understanding, then I see no reason not to display his MRI as art in your office.

The garage judges of New York

The New York Times has a great article about New York State's town and village courts:

Some of the courtrooms are not even courtrooms: tiny offices or basement rooms without a judge’s bench or jury box. Sometimes the public is not admitted, witnesses are not sworn to tell the truth, and there is no word-for-word record of the proceedings.

Nearly three-quarters of the judges are not lawyers, and many — truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers — have scant grasp of the most basic legal principles. Some never got through high school, and at least one went no further than grade school.

But serious things happen in these little rooms all over New York State. People have been sent to jail without a guilty plea or a trial, or tossed from their homes without a proper proceeding. In violation of the law, defendants have been refused lawyers, or sentenced to weeks in jail because they cannot pay a fine. Frightened women have been denied protection from abuse.

These are New York’s town and village courts, or justice courts, as the 1,250 of them are widely known. In the public imagination, they are quaint holdovers from a bygone era, handling nothing weightier than traffic tickets and small claims. They get a roll of the eyes from lawyers who amuse one another with tales of incompetent small-town justices.

A woman in Malone, N.Y., was not amused. A mother of four, she went to court in that North Country village seeking an order of protection against her husband, who the police said had choked her, kicked her in the stomach and threatened to kill her. The justice, Donald R. Roberts, a former state trooper with a high school diploma, not only refused, according to state officials, but later told the court clerk, “Every woman needs a good pounding every now and then.”

A black soldier charged in a bar fight near Fort Drum became alarmed when his accuser described him in court as “that colored man.” But the village justice, Charles A. Pennington, a boat hauler and a high school graduate, denied his objections and later convicted him. “You know,” the justice said, “I could understand if he would have called you a Negro, or he had called you a nigger.”

And several people in the small town of Dannemora were intimidated by their longtime justice, Thomas R. Buckley, a phone-company repairman who cursed at defendants and jailed them without bail or a trial, state disciplinary officials found. Feuding with a neighbor over her dog’s running loose, he threatened to jail her and ordered the dog killed.

“I just follow my own common sense,” Mr. Buckley, in an interview, said of his 13 years on the bench. “And the hell with the law.”

It's as if you gave Bill O'Reilly his own courtroom in a closet in upstate New York. Nancy Grace would love this guy:

In 2003 alone, justices disciplined by the state included one in Montgomery County who had closed his court to the public and let prosecutors run the proceedings during 20 years in office.

Check this one out:

In the Catskills, Stanley Yusko routinely jailed people awaiting trial for longer than the law allows — in one case for 64 days because he thought the defendant had information about vandalism at the justice’s own home, said state officials, who removed him as Coxsackie village justice in 1995. Mr. Yusko was not even supposed to be a justice; he had actually failed the true-or-false test.


A 17-year-old girl had stayed out all night, then fought with her family and wound up facing a harassment charge in court in Alexandria Bay, a busy tourist village on the St. Lawrence River. The justice, Charles A. Pennington, a boat hauler with 23 years on the bench, took her not-guilty plea on a Sunday in 2003.

But when told that the girl had no place to go, the judge did not send her to a women’s shelter or alert social service officials, as local justices typically do. He took her home.

Talk about activist judges:

And then there are the powers they simply take.

In what the Commission on Judicial Conduct called “a shocking abuse of judicial power,” Justice Roger C. Maclaughlin single-handedly went after a man he decided was violating local codes on the keeping of livestock in Steuben, near Utica. The justice interviewed witnesses, tipped off the code-enforcement officer, lobbied the town board to deny the man approval to run a trailer park, then jailed him for 10 days without bail — or even a chance to defend himself, the commission said.

Read the whole thing, it's a truly startling piece of investigative journalism.

[Via This Modern World.]