August 25, 2009

"Degraded, Barbaric, and Depraved"

From Glenn Greenwald's article on the CIA Inspector General's 2004 report on torture:

The fact that we are not really bothered any more by taking helpless detainees in our custody and (a) threatening to blow their brains out, torture them with drills, rape their mothers, and murder their children; (b) choking them until they pass out; (c) pouring water down their throats to drown them; (d) hanging them by their arms until their shoulders are dislocated; (e) blowing smoke in their face until they vomit; (f) putting them in diapers, dousing them with cold water, and leaving them on a concrete floor to induce hypothermia; and (g) beating them with the butt of a rifle -- all things that we have always condemend as "torture" and which our laws explicitly criminalize as felonies ("torture means... the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering...") -- reveals better than all the words in the world could how degraded, barbaric and depraved a society becomes when it lifts the taboo on torturing captives.
I hope that one day -- in my lifetime -- we as a society come to realize just how wrongly we behaved in the years following 9/11. No one I know would support internment camps like those in which we placed Japanese-Americans during World War II. So there is precedent. And hope.

May 15, 2009

Listening to a Former SERE Instructor

I've been lazily tweeting instead of blogging of late, but this is worth jumping back into the fray for. Earlier this week, Rachel Maddow interviewed a former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school, better known as the SERE school. The subject was torture. I'm repeating the interview in its entirety because I think it should be required reading in the debate.

RACHEL MADDOW: Joining us now is Malcolm Nance, former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school, better known as the SERE school. He's now a U.S. government consultant on terrorism and counterterrorism.

Mr. Nance, thank you so much for joining us.


MADDOW: When you heard Ali Soufan today testify about his interrogation techniques as an FBI experience interrogator versus these force-based techniques that were reverse-engineered from some of the SERE techniques, does that resonate with you in terms of what you understand about the appropriateness of those techniques as interrogation methods?

NANCE: Well, it resonates with me for a very particular reason. One, the SERE program was started in the 1950s exactly because these techniques were being used against American servicemen. The SERE program and all the techniques carried out that we call enhanced interrogation techniques -- these were reverse-engineered from communists, from totalitarian states, and the Nazis.

So, of course, everything that he said about that -- about bringing the prisoner in, interrogating the prisoner and then him becoming recalcitrant and resistant, that's exactly what we want. And, of course, al Qaeda, of course, won by that, because they defeated the purpose of all the interrogations.

MADDOW: In terms of the argument that SERE-based techniques, these techniques, reverse-engineered as you say from what was done by totalitarian regimes, reverse-engineered and figured out in the '50s -- the argument has been made that because we do it to American troops as part of training it can't be torture, because then people like you who were an instructor at SERE could be charged with torture.

NANCE: That's ridiculous on its face. Listen, there's a whole class of people who I call now "torture apologists." And their full-time job is to go out and find spurious arguments in order to justify exactly why they violated, you know, U.S. legal code. And, of course, the standing order from General George Washington to treat prisoners with dignity.

And so, it's ridiculous. What we're doing is we're allowing a service member the opportunity to practice in a controlled environment over a few moments how to behave and how to react in order to act like Abu Zubaydah, in order for them to become resistant and for them to make sure that the techniques that are being applied to them don't work.

MADDOW: On the issue of sleep deprivation, specifically, sleep deprivation is one of those things that I think is at the top of the slippery slope when people start talking about torture. Well, sure, you don't want to get down to things like waterboarding or pulling people's fingernails out, but a little sleep deprivation never really hurt anybody. We've heard testimony that maybe some forms of mild sleep deprivation were used even before there were any new legal justifications ginned up in Washington to explain that.

What do you think about sleep deprivation in terms of its effect on prisoners in custody, whether it should be seen as part of torture?

NANCE: Well, these are softening techniques. All they did was they decide to bring the person up, keep him awake, whether they were going to walk him around, whether they're going to stand him up, whether they're going to give him loud music. And what you're doing is softening that person.

You're making that person, putting him into a state where you think he's going to be susceptible to answer questions. In fact, it's going to be even more difficult to get him to answer questions. And that, of course, you hit them with a harsh interrogation technique right after that, whether it's slapping or walling or some other physical harm or waterboarding, and you think that's going to snap them out of it -- when, in fact, that's the state we want you in. That's where you're going to be least susceptible to answer honestly. You'll answer gibberish.

MADDOW: That's the situation we want you in if you are an American and we want you to...

NANCE: Absolutely. So...


Well, in the case, then, so I guess we can sort of get there, we can follow the math problem. In the case of an actual ticking time bomb scenario, which is a faulting premise because things don't work out this way in the real world -- would you do SERE techniques on a prisoner in that scenario?

NANCE: No, of course not.

MADDOW: Any of them?

NANCE: No, of course not. Because one, it defeats the ticking time bomb scenario, in that all the prisoner has to do is not answer the question, or, better yet, the prisoner will lie.

And once the prisoner lies -- especially with al Qaeda members, let me tell you something, their ideology, they have a concept within their ideology called Al-wara wal'bara (ph), and that is absolutely devotion to their god, but absolute disavowal and hatred of anything that's not their god. Therefore, anything that they do to foil you is well within their plan. And they take great pride in that. And I'm sure when he was brought back to his little cage or to his holding cell, he saw every time that he defeated us, every time he didn't get an answer out of us or got some gibberish out of us, he saw that as a victory.

MADDOW: Yes. So, you got to outwit him.

NANCE: Well, what we've done is we've created al Qaeda SERE school for them.

MADDOW: Malcolm Nance, former master instructor and chief of training at Navy SERE schools, talked to you a few times over the years about this, and every time, I'm very grateful to have the chance to ask you these questions. So thank you.

NANCE: My pleasure.

March 28, 2009

The Inhumanity of Solitary Confinement

One of my favorite non-fiction authors, Atul Gawande (author of Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science and Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance), has written a typically excellent article for the The New Yorker, "Hellhole", on the effects of long-term solitary confinement:

Consider what we’ve learned from hostages who have been held in solitary confinement [such as journalist Terry Anderson]...

Most hostages survived their ordeal... although relationships, marriages, and careers were often lost. Some found, as John McCain did, that the experience even strengthened them. Yet none saw solitary confinement as anything less than torture. This presents us with an awkward question: If prolonged isolation is -- as research and experience have confirmed for decades -- so objectively horrifying, so intrinsically cruel, how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of our own citizens to it than any other country in history has?

So hostages held in solitary confinement uniformly view it as a form of torture. What do courts say?

Our first supermax -- our first institution specifically designed for mass solitary confinement -- was not established until 1983, in Marion, Illinois. In 1995, a federal court reviewing California’s first supermax admitted that the conditions "hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience." But it did not rule them to be unconstitutionally cruel or unusual, except in cases of mental illness. The prison's supermax conditions, the court stated, did not pose "a sufficiently high risk to all inmates of incurring a serious mental illness." In other words, there could be no legal objection to its routine use, given that the isolation didn't make everyone crazy.
So that's the legal argument? If something doesn't make everyone crazy, then it's an allowable form of punishment?

What about other Western countries? Do they follow our practices? In a word, no. Gawande describes a British prison program begun in the 1980s that de-emphasized solitary confinement in favor of techniques designed to prevent prison violence, then writes:

The results have been impressive. The use of long-term isolation in England is now negligible. In all of England, there are now fewer prisoners in "extreme custody" than there are in the state of Maine. And the other countries of Europe have, with a similar focus on small units and violence prevention, achieved a similar outcome.
So what about results? At least we can point to results from our efforts, right?
In this country, in June of 2006, a bipartisan national task force, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, released its recommendations after a yearlong investigation. It called for ending long-term isolation of prisoners. Beyond about ten days, the report noted, practically no benefits can be found and the harm is clear -- not just for inmates but for the public as well. Most prisoners in long-term isolation are returned to society, after all. And evidence from a number of studies has shown that supermax conditions -- in which prisoners have virtually no social interactions and are given no programmatic support -- make it highly likely that they will commit more crimes when they are released. Instead, the report said, we should follow the preventive approaches used in European countries.

The recommendations went nowhere, of course.

So let me see if I have this straight. According to Gawande, we have probably "the vast majority of prisoners who are in long-term solitary confinement", at a cost of over $50,000 per inmate per year. Other Western nations have rejected our approach. Hostages held in solitary confinement come to view it as a form of torture. The legal argument in favor of it is that it doesn't make everyone crazy. And studies show that long-term solitary confinement increases the risk of recidivism among inmates eventually released.

Can someone explain to me why we're doing this?

March 24, 2009

Turing and Battlestar Galactica

As noted in my previous entry, the finale of Battlestar Galactica was last Friday night. I've been thinking about what to say about BSG in the wake of its departure.

I don't want to talk about the finale because I don't want to reveal any spoilers here, no matter how carefully I firewall them. I'd hate for someone to come across this site and have the end ruined for them.

Besides, what I'm more interested in is the fundamental premise of the series. Ultimately, when everything else was stripped away, BSG seemed to me to be a four-year exploration of what it means to be human.

During a decades-long armistice, the Cylons evolved from clunky metal robots to perfect facsimiles of humans. 12 models were created, with many copies of each, and some of these human-appearing Cylons infiltrated the Colonies. Of these infiltrators, some knew who they were and what their missions were, while others were sleeper agents, believing themselves to be human but ready to be activated to carry out their missions. Prior to the Cylons' attack on the Colonies, as far as I know, none of their agents -- sleeper or otherwise -- were discovered. They were accepted in their roles as friends, lovers, warriors, and the like.

Once the humans discover that Cylons can now appear to be human, they take the attitude that they are nothing more than simple machines, incapable of emotions, incapable of doing anything not in their programming, and generally show little or no remorse at beating them, torturing them, throwing them out airlocks, and so on. "Toasters," they're called.

So my question is, did the Colonies never have their equivalent of Alan Turing? What his test tells us is that the only useful test of the "human-ness" of an artificial intelligence is whether it can fool a human observer into thinking it's human. In the Turing test as it's commonly conceived, the computer would have the advantage of operating over a text-only connection, so that the human wouldn't be able to rely on visual or aural cues.

But in BSG, the Cylons interact directly with humans. They talk with them, make jokes with them, fight alongside them, make love with them -- and no one is the wiser. Clearly they pass the Turing test not just for intelligence, but for emotion as well.

And yet this fact doesn't seem to enter into the humans' thinking. They realize that the Cylons are essentially perfect copies of humans, distinguishable only via a complex blood test or when they're caught in a compromising position. Despite this, they continue to think of Cylons as machines, devoid of rights -- or souls, for that matter.

In warfare, we dehumanize our enemies to make it easier to kill them. BSG takes this to its logical conclusion: it may be nearly impossible to identify the enemy, even after years of close exposure, but since they're machines, they're completely dehumanized and so can be abused with impunity.

We would never do that.

Would we?

October 26, 2007

"Our Great Strength Is Our Ideals"

During the confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey I blogged about yesterday, John Hutson, former Rear Admiral and Judge Advocate General of the US Navy, testified, not in opposition, but to "highlight some of the concerns" he had. During his remarks, he made the case for upholding our principles in a time of war better than I ever could:

[I]n [the global war on terror], the enemy cannot defeat us militarily. They don't have the lift, they don't have the command and control, communications. They don't have the weapons systems. They can't defeat us militarily.

Winning for the enemy is to cause us to change, to bring us down to his level, to cause us to be something different than what we have been.

Our great strength, the support of human rights and the rule of law. Thomas Paine said that, The cause of America is the cause of all mankind. The great more recent geopolitical commentator Bono said that, America isn't just a country, it's an idea.

We are engaged in an asymmetric war. And in an asymmetric war, the strategy is to pit your strength against the enemy's weakness, unlike World War II, for example, where it was often strength against strength.

Our great strength is our ideals. Thomas Paine and Bono had it right.

The enemy is abjectly devoid of ideals. So the enemy can't defeat us -- certainly can't defeat us militarily, but we can commit national suicide by disarming ourselves of our ideals.

October 25, 2007

A Fundamental Question

In his confirmation hearings this week (transcript here), Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey was asked the following:

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT): [W]here Congress has clearly legislated in an area, as we've done in the area of surveillance with the FISA law, something we've amended repeatedly at the request of various administrations, if somebody -- if it's been legislated and stated very clearly what must be done, if you operate outside of that, whether it's with a presidential authorization or anything else, wouldn't that be illegal?

Michael Mukasey: That would have to depend on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country.

This one single question-and-answer is of monumental importance. It's a fundamental question for our country -- perhaps the single most important question raised by the actions of the Bush administration.

What Mukasey is saying is, in essence, if the President does something in order to defend the country, it's not illegal. This is the position of the Bush Administration and many of its supporters. What they're saying is, as I understand it, "War threatens the the nation. The president's most solemn obligation is to preserve the safety and security of the nation. This obligation overrides any and all other considerations."

I see it differently. I like to think I'm in good company. In Thoughts on Government, John Adams wrote:

[T]here is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; because the very definition of a republic is 'an empire of laws, and not of men.'
It seems to me that what Bush supporters are saying is, in effect, "Yes, of course we should be an empire of laws and not of men. But war threatens the existence of our nation. No president would say, 'I'm allowing the nation to fall because I'm required to obey a certain law.' So we must give the president the ability to do whatever is needed to defend our nation, even if it breaks a law."

The important thing to note here is that Adams wrote those words above in 1776, just months before signing the Declaration of Independence. He and his fellow signers were about to commit what the British government viewed as an act of treason, punishable by death. They were about to found a country that was certainly going to have to fight for its very survival (which it did). He would have been far more within his rights than are we today to claim some sort of executive privilege in time of war. And yet he didn't. He plainly said -- in the face of war -- that if our country was to be a republic, it had to be "an empire of laws, and not of men".

So that one answer from Mukasey is fundamental to the question of what kind of nation we want to be. We need to have this debate as a country, hopefully over the course of the current election campaign. I truly hope the answer is that we do want to be an empire of laws at all times -- not just when it's convenient or safe for us.

(An op-ed in The New York Times has a similar but better-informed take on this issue.)

October 11, 2007

"...The Action of Cowards and Slaves"

From a blog entry by Andrew Sullivan on torture:

There are some things worse than avoiding all casualties in warfare. One of those things is abandoning the core meaning of what a country and a civilization stand for. If America does not stand against the torture of individuals seized without due process by an unchecked executive power, then American stands for nothing. In fact, if this standard had applied two centuries ago, America would not exist at all. The president takes an oath not to prevent any American life from being lost in wartime, but to protect and defend the Constitution which is the sole guarantor of such liberty. Churchill upheld that rule, even as London was reduced to rubble and hundreds of thousands of mother's children were lost. Washington made it a central hallmark of the meaning of his new republic. To destroy the constitution, the rule of law, and habeas corpus and to legalize torture in the false hope of saving lives is the action of those who do not understand freedom and who do not understand America. It is the action of cowards and slaves.
Sullivan concludes by asking of those who support the use of torture and the suspension of habeus corpus,
What part of "Live Free Or Die" do these people not understand?

June 30, 2007

"I Don't Care About Holding People"

This is a couple of weeks old, but it has been nagging at me ever since I saw it.

Via Andrew Sullivan, an article in The Globe and Mail on a panel discussion at a legal conference in Ottawa earlier this month:

Senior judges from North America and Europe were in the midst of a panel discussion about torture and terrorism law, when a Canadian judge's passing remark -- "Thankfully, security agencies in all our countries do not subscribe to the mantra 'What would Jack Bauer do?' " -- got the legal bulldog in Judge Scalia barking.

The conservative jurist stuck up for Agent Bauer, arguing that fictional or not, federal agents require latitude in times of great crisis. "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent's rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.

"Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?" Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. "Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so." ...

Generally, the jurists in the room agreed that coerced confessions carry little weight, given that they might be false and almost never accepted into evidence. But the U.S. Supreme Court judge stressed that he was not speaking about putting together pristine prosecutions, but rather, about allowing agents the freedom to thwart immediate attacks.

"I don't care about holding people. I really don't," Judge Scalia said.

First, was Scalia actually using a television show to buttress his legal position? Second, and more seriously, did he actually say that he doesn't care about holding people? From Article 1, Section 9 of the US Constitution:

The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.
Habeus corpus is quite possibly the most important check on the unrestrained power of the state that the people possess. It's absolutely fundamental to the preservation of liberty. But Scalia doesn't "care about holding people"?

May 13, 2007

"Je Veux Lancer un Appel..."

Via Andrew Sullivan, via Eugene Volokh, comes this amazing passage from French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy's first address to the nation (text as written here, text as delivered here):

Je veux lancer un appel à tous ceux qui dans le monde croient aux valeurs de la tolérance, de la liberté, de la démocratie, de l'humanisme, à tous ceux qui sont persécutés par les tyrannies et les dictatures. Je veux dire à tous les enfants à travers le monde, à toutes les femmes martyrisées dans le monde, je veux leur dire que la fierté, le devoir de la France sera d'être à leurs côtés.

La France sera aux côtés des infirmières libyennes (bulgares, ndlr) enfermées depuis huit ans, la France n'abandonnera pas Ingrid Betancourt, la France n'abandonnera pas les femmes qu'on condamne à la burqa, la France n'abandonnera pas les femmes qui n'ont pas la liberté. La France sera du côté des opprimés du monde. C'est le message de la France, c'est l'identité de la France, c'est l'histoire de la France.

Volokh's English version is as follows (I've made a few minor changes to his otherwise solid translation):

I want to launch a call to all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance, of liberty, of democracy, and of humanism, to all those who are persecuted by tyrannies and by dictators. I want to speak to all the children of the world, and to all the martyrized women in the world, to say to them that the pride, the duty of France will be at their sides.

France will be at the sides of the Libyan (Bulgarian) nurses imprisoned for eight years, France will not abandon Ingrid Betancourt, France will not abandon women who are condemned to the burqa, France will not abandon women who do not have liberty. France will be at the side of the oppressed of the world. This is the message of France, this is the identity of France, this is the history of France.

If Sarkozy is sincere, and if he follows through on his promises, France has, in Volokh's words, "a new era of greatness" ahead of it. Bonne chance, Monsieur le Président.

April 01, 2007

Republicans on Habeus Corpus

Via Andrew Sullivan comes this blog entry from Ramesh Ponnuru:

Crane says he was disappointed with Romney's answer to his question the other night. Crane asked if Romney believed the president should have the authority to arrest U.S. citizens with no review. Romney said he would want to hear the pros and cons from smart lawyers before he made up his mind. Crane said that he had asked Giuliani the same question a few weeks ago. The mayor said that he would want to use this authority infrequently.
This is staggering. Two Presidential candidates were asked a direct question about a fundamental right guaranteed to us by the Constitution -- the right to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment -- and gave negative or waffling answers. We don't have transcripts of the original conversations, but if this entry is accurate, they might have gone something like these imagined exchanges:
Crane: Mayor Giuliani, do you believe the President should have the authority to arrest US citizens with no review?

Giuliani: Yes, but I would only use this authority infrequently.


Crane: Governor Romney, do you believe the President should have the authority to arrest US citizens with no review?

Romney: I would want to hear the pros and cons from smart lawyers before making up my mind about this.

What? You would use this authority only "infrequently"? Is that supposed to make me feel better? You want to hear "the pros and cons"? What pros and cons? This is habeus corpus! It can only be suspended in case of rebellion or invasion.

As Sullivan said in commenting on this:

I never thought I'd read a post like this in America in my lifetime. Isn't this power of a sovereign to detain any citizen without charge at any time part of the reason this country was founded? And now it is simply assumed that this kind of monarchical power is fine. A country that grants its executive the power to do this is definitionally not a free country. It really is as simple as that.
I guess at this point, we're just waiting for Alberto Gonzales to call habeus corpus "quaint" and be done with it.

By the way, I have no idea what Ponnuru's stance on this is. By "Crane", I presume he means Edward Crane of the Cato Institute, and anyone from the Cato Institute would be a strong defender of habeus corpus rights. On the other hand, Ponnuru has called Democrats "The Party of Death", so who knows?

September 21, 2006

Baghdad's Murder Rate Revised

Back in June, I used reports from Baghdad's morgues and available statistics to take a guess at Baghdad's murder rate:

According to Wikipedia, Baghdad's estimated population as of 2005 is 7,400,000. That makes Baghdad's murder rate 195.41 per 100,000 residents.

According to this page, the murder rate for the US in 2004 was 5.5 per 100,000 residents. That means you're 35.53 times more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in the US. But perhaps it isn't fair to compare an urban area to an entire nation. Fine. According to this page, the highest murder rate of any US city in 2002 was that of Washington, DC, at 45.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. That means you're 4.27 times more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in the most dangerous city in the US.

This wasn't shocking enough for some people, who made comments like:

I think it is quite amazing that it is only 4X more likely to be murdered in Baghdad in the middle of an emerging civil war than in Washington D.C.
Perhaps the latest news will make such people sit up and take notice:
A United Nations report released Wednesday says that 5,106 people in Baghdad died violent deaths during July and August, a number far higher than reports that have relied on figures from the city’s morgue...

The report also describes evidence of torture on many of the bodies found in Baghdad, including gouged-out eyeballs and wounds from nails, power drills and acid. “Hundreds of bodies have continued to appear throughout the country bearing signs of severe torture and execution-style killing,” the report found.

As Baghdad has become the main stage for intensified sectarian fighting, the counting of the dead has become a contentious issue. Some American officials say figures released by the Baghdad morgue are inflated. The United Nations report includes the morgue’s figures of 1,855 killed in July and 1,536 killed in August. But it also counts bodies received at other hospitals in the city.

5,106 deaths over a two-month period equals a yearly rate of 30,636. Using the statistics from my original post, this equals a murder rate of 414.0 per 100,000 residents. That makes one 75.27 times as likely to be murdered in Baghdad as in the US as a whole, and 9.04 times as likely to be murdered in Baghdad as in the most dangerous city in the US, Washington, DC.

September 19, 2006

Sullivan on Torture and the Christian Right

Andrew Sullivan on torture and the Christian Right:

Torture is not a hard issue for any Christian. It is an unmitigated moral evil. There is no theology on earth which can make it a less grave moral matter than, say, gay marriage. And yet it has been enforced by this president for five years and where is the outrage? You would imagine that James Dobson would have organized a massive phone-in or email blitz to Capitol Hill on the detainee legislation. You would imagine that every theocon from Ponnuru to Neuhaus would be writing about this every day and night. But nah. Gays getting married in one state out of 49? Massive, coordinated outrage, sermon after sermon, direct mail blitz after direct mail blitz, and a threatened constitutional amendment. The president authorizing torture? You can hear a pin drop on the religious right. Tells you something, no?
Yes it does. And it's not good.

September 17, 2006

From Supporting the IRA to Torturing Al Qaida

During the heyday of the Irish Republican Army, Representative Peter King (R-NY) was a vocal supporter of it here in the US:

The politician once called the IRA "the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland," he was banned from the BBC by British censors for his pro-IRA views, and he refused to denounce the IRA when one of its mortar bombs killed nine Northern Irish police officers...

He forged links with leaders of the IRA and Sinn Fein in Ireland, and in America he hooked up with Irish Northern Aid, known as Noraid, a New York based group that the American, British, and Irish governments often accused of funneling guns and money to the IRA. At a time when the IRA's murder of Lord Mountbatten and its fierce bombing campaign in Britain and Ireland persuaded most American politicians to shun IRA-support groups, Mr. King displayed no such inhibitions. He spoke regularly at Noraid protests and became close to the group's publicity director, the Bronx lawyer Martin Galvin, a figure reviled by the British.

Mr. King's support for the IRA was unequivocal. In 1982, for instance, he told a pro-IRA rally in Nassau County: "We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry."

By the mid-1980s, the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic were openly hostile to Mr. King. On one occasion, a judge threw him out of a Belfast courtroom during the murder trial of IRA men because, in the judge's view, "he was an obvious collaborator with the IRA." When he attended other trials, the police singled him out for thorough body searches.

Now times have changed. Not only is Representative King anti-terror, he's all for torture:

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said: "I just think John McCain is wrong on this [requiring all US government agencies, including the CIA, to fully respect Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions]. If we capture bin Laden tomorrow and we have to hold his head under water to find out when the next attack is going to happen, we ought to be able to do it."
The problem, Mr. King, is that the legitimization of torture is a very slippery slope. If it's okay to torture bin Laden, surely it's okay to torture his lieutenants? If it's okay to torture his lieutenants, surely it's okay to torture his operatives? Pretty soon you're picking up people far from the battlefield, people with no proven connection to terrorism, based solely on testimony supplied under torture, by people willing to say anything to make it stop, and then you're torturing these newly-captured people as well. And that, it would seem, is exactly what the US has been doing. And that is what Senators Warner, McCain, and Graham are trying to stop.

On reflection, I suppose it's not surprising that Mr. King is a supporter of torture. Clearly he's from the ends-justify-the-means camp. If you think that the UK rule of Northern Ireland is wrong (a reasonable position on its own), then anything that might make it stop is justified: murdering Lord Mountbatten, mortaring police officers, attempting the assassination of Prime Minister Thatcher, whatever it takes. If you think that Al Qaida is a threat to the US (which it obviously is), then again, anything to stop them is justified, including torture such as waterboarding:

The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources [former and current intelligence officers and supervisors], CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

"The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.

August 12, 2006

"...I Would Find Something in Them to Have Him Hanged"

On the ACLU blog, this is from an entry by Bruce Schneier:

Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies -- whoever they happen to be at the time.

July 01, 2006

"This Was Hypocrisy at Its Worst"

Heard last night on News Hour, during their regular face-off between liberal Mark Shields, conservative David Brooks, and host Jim Lehrer. As you expect, they're usually polar opposites, but last night they pretty much agreed on everything, but this exchange was particularly notable:

Jim Lehrer: The desecration of the flag amendment, the burning of the flag amendment, did not get its one vote it needed, the sixty-seventh vote it needed to become a constitutional amendment as far as the Senate's concerned. How do you read that?

Mark Shields: This one really made me angry.

Jim Lehrer: Made you angry?

Mark Shields: It made me angry because I listened to those speeches. I listened to the people advocating it, and they talk about our fighting men and women. If they really are remotely authentic or sincere about our fighting men and women and honoring them, how about body armor? How about armorning Humvees? How about not cutting veterans' benefits? How about not putting our troops in a position where they're ordered to perform tortuous acts? How about sending enough troops into battle? I mean, I just -- this was hypocrisy at its worst.

David Brooks: Mark and I burn each others' columns. We find that emotionally satisfying. I recommend that to everybody. No, I think it's a stupid idea. I sort of respect the immense popular support it has, and i somehow think people must associate it with something real. Personally, I think you should be allowed to burn the flag, I think that's in the Constitution, so I think that's -- mucking up the Constitution with this amendment is trivializing it to me.

June 21, 2006

Our Orwellian Executive Branch

From an EFF e-mail I just received:

Late last Friday night, the Government filed its reply brief, providing a last round of written briefing in advance of this week's hearing in our case against AT&T for collaborating with the Government's surveillance program. Finally the Administration has come out and flatly said what it has hinted at throughout its arguments: that the program is above the law.

The Government wrote that "the court -- even if it were to find unlawfulness upon in camera, ex parte review -- could not then proceed to adjudicate the very question of awarding damages because to do so would confirm Plaintiffs' allegations."

Essentially the Government is saying that, even if the Judiciary found the wholesale surveillance program was illegal after reviewing secret evidence in chambers, the Court nevertheless would be powerless to proceed. The Executive has asserted that the Program, which has been widely reported in every major news outlet, is still such a secret that the Judiciary (a co-equal branch under the Constitution) cannot acknowledge its existence by ruling against it. In short, the Government asserts that AT&T and the Executive can break the laws crafted by Congress, and there is nothing the Judiciary can do about it.

Put another way, what the government is saying is,

Even if the court finds our surveillance program illegal, the court can't rule against it because to do so would be to acknowledge its existence.
Am I the only one besides the EFF who finds this profoundly troubling -- that the Executive branch has asserted that it can, on its own, engage in activities that are so secret that no court can be allowed to rule against them because to do so would confirm their existence?

And of course it almost goes without saying that this is one of the most Orwellian things I've heard in a long time. "You can't rule against this program that you know about because to rule against it would be to confirm that you know about it."

The EFF page on this case can be found here.

June 15, 2006

Congressional Time Management

Andrew Sullivan notes the Christianist organization Concerned Women for America's backing of a proposed law to ensure the words "under God" remain in the Pledge of Allegiance:

Concerned Women for America's (CWA's) Director of Government Relations Lanier Swann will join other conservative leaders in speaking at a press conference tomorrow in support of Sen. Jon Kyle's (R-Arizona) and Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Missouri) Pledge Protection Act. This legislation would ensure the protection of the phrase "under God" in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. The press conference will be held on Flag Day, which marks the day in 1777 when John Adams proposed the stars and stripes as the official United States flag.

Swann said, "As Americans commemorate Flag Day, it is also appropriate to remember the importance of keeping God in our Pledge. CWA strongly supports the mention of God in our nation's oath in keeping with our constitutional freedoms. We are free from an established religion and free to worship as we choose. Our country's founding fathers were men of faith who intentionally included the phrase 'under God' in an oath that serves as a symbol of loyalty and patriotism to our great country.

Sullivan goes on to document how the CWA's version of history is staggeringly inaccurate (the Pledge was written in 1892 and the words "under God" added in 1954).

I'm of two minds about this. Part of me thinks that Congress is so spectacularly inept that if they want to occupy themselves with debating gay marriage, flag burning, and the Pledge of Allegiance, let them. Their amendments won't pass (I hope), and a new law on the Pledge will have little or no effect. And meanwhile, they're not off making even stupider laws. But in the end, I can't help but think that surely there must be something more worthwhile on which Congress can spend its time than this sort of claptrap. And I can't help but think of how pathetic this is. With all the problems in the world, the Republicans are convinced that if they can show their concern over the grave threat to society posed by gays marrying, flags being burned (which hasn't happened in how long again?), and leaving God out of the Pledge of Allegiance, they'll energize their base of supporters to help them win the elections this Fall. It's as simple as that. And the only thing more pathetic would be if it were to work.

June 14, 2006

Fafblog on Guantánamo

I've linked to Fafblog before. After an absence, it's back, and brilliant as always:

Run for your lives -- America is under attack! Just days ago three prisoners at Guantanamo Bay committed suicide in a savage assault on America's freedom to not care about prisoner suicides! Oh sure, the "Blame Atrocities First" crowd will tell you these prisoners were "driven to despair," that they "had no rights," that they were "held and tortured without due process or judicial oversight in a nightmarish mockery of justice." But what they won't tell you is that they only committed suicide as part of a diabolical ruse to trick the world into thinking our secret torture camp is the kind of secret torture camp that drives its prisoners to commit suicide! This fiendish attempt to slander the great American institution of the gulag is nothing less than an act of asymmetrical warfare against the United States -- a noose is just a suicide bomb with a very small blast radius, people! -- and when faced with a terrorist attack, America must respond. Giblets demands immediate retaliatory airstrikes on depressed Muslim torture victims throughout the mideast!

June 08, 2006

Not Dramatic Enough?

Perhaps my previous entry on the subject of Baghdad's murder rate wasn't dramatic enough. One commenter wrote:

If your figures are close to the truth, then I'm forced to concede that I had no idea DC was such a dangerous city.
Another wrote:
I think it is quite amazing that it is only 4X more likely to be murdered in Baghdad in the middle of an emerging civil war than in Washington D.C.
This reminds me of what Douglas Hofstadter once called "number numbness" -- the "inability to fathom, compare, or appreciate really big numbers or really small numbers" (definition here). So I'm going to recast my my numbers as percentage increases. In other words...
[Y]ou're 4.27 times more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in the most dangerous city in the US.
becomes "[Y]ou're 327 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in the most dangerous city in the US". Here goes:
  • You're 780 percent more likely to murdered in Baghdad as you are in Chicago.
  • You're 1,017 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in Los Angeles.
  • You're 2,577 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in New York or San Francisco.
  • You're 4,242 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in Seattle.
  • You're 9,671 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in Honolulu.
Is that better?

June 06, 2006

"We Were Duped"

From a blog entry by Andrew Sullivan:

If I had been informed in early 2003 that the liberation of Iraq would be conducted outside the Geneva Conventions, I could not have supported what would have been an unjust war in its execution. Period. If the president had been candid and explained that this war would require America to jettison its long history of humane detention policies and become a nation that practices and outsources torture, I would have been unable to support the war. Those of us who believe in the American tradition of humane warfare and in the moral boundaries of just warfare are not fair-weather hawks. We simply expected America to retain its honor in warfare. We were duped.
I couldn't have said it better myself.

May 29, 2006

"Rapes Within Rapes"

I think that Part I, "Rapes within rapes", of this article by Johann Hari on the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (found via Andrew Sullivan) is possibly the most horrible thing I've ever read. I was thinking of quoting it here, but just couldn't bring myself to -- it's that difficult to read. How can human beings do such things? How?

April 07, 2006

Gay Marriage > Robot Dating > End of Civilization

A hilarious entry by the ever-funny Fafblog:

The Slipperiest Slope

As you all know, Giblets would love for gays and lesbians to be able to enjoy the same marriage rights as normal, non-icky Americans, but the sheer destructive power of their gay cooties threatens to destroy civilization as we know it! And now there is a new and even deadlier danger: Respected Thinker Charles Krauthammer has discovered the existence of polygamy through the cutting-edge research of HBO and keenly concluded that any attempt to legalize gay marriage will inevitably legalize polygamy as well, leaving America at the mercy of unstoppable hordes of ever-copulating Mormon group sex brigades! But gay marriage and polygamy are only the beginning, because the dark road that begins with equal rights leads inexorably to the next terrifying step: legalized, state-sponsored robot sex!

Since the dawn of time marriage has been defined as a union between one man and one woman who are not also complex electronic devices -- and once you abandon one part of this ancient formula you abandon it all! Oh sure, today you may think it's harmless for gays and lesbians to get married, but take away the precious protection of state-sponsored homophobia and tomorrow you'll have men marrying machines, unhinged threeways between two lesbians and a minidisc player, crowds of deranged mechanophiliacs humping household appliances in an orgy of animatronic man-on-android action! And the children! Within a decade America will be raising a morally deformed generation of depraved mutant human-toaster hybrids brainwashed to bang half-robot potato-peeler people by our cyborg-sympathist media elites! And not only will this destroy the sanctity of marriage, it will destroy Western civilization itself, as our superintelligent sex computers rise up against their human masters to make bottoms of us all!

And the only way to prevent this nightmarish future dystopia of apocalyptic cyborg sex? Banning gay marriage! Equality is a slippery slope, people, and if you give it to the gays you have to give it to the polygamists and if you give it to the polygamists you have to give it to the serial dog molesters and if you give it to the serial dog molesters you have to give it to the machine fetishists and the next thing you know you're being tied up by a trio of polygamist lesbian powerbooks and you can't get out because the safety word is case sensistive! Even as we speak Giblets's iPod nano is clearly coming onto him, and the only thing giving him the power to resist its seductively well-designed contours is the awe and majesty of the Defense of Marriage Act! Pass an amendment now, America -- before it's too late!

Of course, when it comes to robot sex, Futurama was well ahead of the curve:

Fry: Well, so what if I love a robot? It's not hurting anybody.

Hermes: My God! He never took middle school hygiene. He never saw the propaganda film.

Farnsworth: It's just lucky I keep a copy in the VCR at all times.

[He presses a button and a film title, I Dated A Robot!, appears on the screen. In the movie a couple sit in a cafe and stare into each other's eyes. A narrator walks into the scene.]

Narrator: [in movie] Ordinary human dating. It's enjoyable and it serves an important purpose. [He turns the table over and a crying baby appears. He turns it back again.] But when a human dates an artificial mate, there is no purpose. Only enjoyment. And that leads to... tragedy.

[The woman behind him turns into a blank robot and the man downloads a celebrity onto it.]

Billy: [in movie] Neat-o! A Marilyn Monroe-bot!

Monroe-bot: [in movie] Ooh! You're a real dreamboat, (mechanical voice) Billy Everyteen.

Narrator: [in movie] Harmless fun? Let's see what happens next.

[The scene cuts to Billy's bedroom where he kisses the Monroe-bot. His mother walks through the door.]

Billy's Mom: [in movie] Billy, do you want to walk your dog?

Billy: [in movie] No thanks, Mom. I'd rather make out with my Monroe-bot.

[Enter his dad.]

Billy's Dad: [in movie] Billy, do want to get a paper route and earn some extra cash?

Billy: [in movie] No thanks, Dad. I'd rather make out with my Monroe-bot.

[The girl from the cafe, Mavis, walks in.]

Mavis: [in movie] Billy, do you want to come over tonight? We can make out together.

Billy: [in movie] Gee, Mavis, your house is across the street. That's an awfully long way to go for making out.

Narrator: [in movie] Did you notice what went wrong in that scene? Ordinarily, Billy would work hard to make money from his paper route. Then he'd use the money to buy dinner for Mavis, thus earning the slim chance to perform the reproductive act. But in a world where teens can date robots, why should he bother? Why should anyone bother? Let's take a look at Billy's planet a year later. [The scene changes and a foam hand rolls across an empty football field.] Where are all the football stars? [The foam hand drifts across an empty laboratory.] And where are the biochemists? [The scene changes to a split screen of human and robot couples making out on beds.] They're trapped! Trapped in a soft, vise-like grip of robot lips. All civilization was just an effort to impress the opposite sex... and sometimes the same sex. Now, let's skip forward 80 years into the future. Where is Billy?

[The scene changes to a post-apocalyptic world. Billy is an aged man but still with his Monroe-bot and still making out with her.]

Billy: [in movie] Farewell!

[He dies.]

Narrator: [in movie] The next day, Billy's planet was destroyed by aliens. [A fleet of flying saucers destroy buildings with laser shots.] Have you guessed the name of Billy's planet? It was Earth. Don't date robots!

[A "Don't Date Robots!" caption appears on the screen and the movie ends. The Space Pope is displayed on the screen with "Crocodylus pontifex" written around him in English and alien.]

Announcer: [voice-over; in movie] Brought to you by the Space Pope.

The Space Pope

When Charles Krauthammer, Fafblog, and the Space Pope all agree... well, how can we argue with logic like that?

March 12, 2006

"Yours Is a Literalism of Convenience"

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. writes an open letter to a Miami-area high school teacher, Donna Reddick, who participated in a student-produced television segment broadcast within the school. The segment was part of a series featuring pro- and anti-gay opinions. In Reddick's segment, after anti-gay students had made their comments, she made hers:

The coup de grace... was you, invoking Sodom and Gomorrah and telling students homosexuality was "wrong according to the Bible" because God ordered humanity to multiply, which gay couples cannot do...

Put simply, I've had it up to here with the moral hypocrisy and intellectual constipation of Bible literalists.

By which I mean people like you, who dress their homophobia up in Scripture, insisting with sanctimonious sincerity that it's not homophobia at all, but just a pious determination to live according to what the Bible says. And never mind that the Bible also says it is "disgraceful" for a woman to speak out in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-36) and that if she has any questions, she should wait till she gets home and ask her husband. Never mind that the Bible says the penalty for going to work on Sunday (Exodus 35:1-3) is death. Never mind that the Bible says the man who rapes a virgin should buy her from her father (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and marry her.

I'm going to speculate that you don't observe or support those commands. Which says to me that yours is a literalism of convenience, a literalism that is literal only so long as it allows you to condemn what you'd be condemning anyway and takes no skin off your personal backside. As such, your claim that God sanctions your homophobia is the moral equivalent of Flip Wilson's old claim that the devil made him do it.

You resemble many of your and my co-religionists, whose faith so often expresses itself in an obsessive focus on one or two hot-button issues -- and seemingly nowhere else. They're so panicked at the thought that somebody might accidentally treat gay people like people. They run around Chicken Little-like, screaming, "Th' homosex'shals is comin'! Th' homosex'shals is comin'!" Meantime, people are ignorant in Appalachia, strung out in Miami, starving in Niger, sex slaves in India, mass murdered in Darfur. Where is the Christian outrage about that?

"[Y]ours is a literalism of convenience, a literalism that is literal only so long as it allows you to condemn what you'd be condemning anyway and takes no skin off your personal backside." Brilliant.

Pitts could have added the following instructions from the Bible:

  • Women must not wear gold or pearls (1 Timothy 2:9).
  • A woman must not "teach or... have authority over a man" (1 Timothy 2:12).
  • People must not "not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material" (Leviticus 19:19).
  • Men must not shave (Leviticus 19:27).
  • People must not eat rabbit (Leviticus 11:6), pork (Leviticus 11:7), or shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12).
(A tip of the hat to this page for source material.)

I suppose I'll take more seriously someone protesting homosexuality on Biblical grounds when they can show me they never work on Sunday; don't eat rabbit, pork, or shellfish; don't shave; don't wear knit fabric; and don't allow their wives to speak out in church, teach men, or wear gold or pearls. I'll think they're incredibly silly, but at least I won't think they're quite as hypocritical as most of their anti-gay brethren.

March 10, 2006

BoingBoing's Greatest Moment

It's true, I'm biased: I think BoingBoing is the best blog going. But they surpassed themselves today.

There's a story that involves Secure Computing and its SmartFilter censorware, BoingBoing, and a Secure Computing employee who has been apparently outed as having a fairly interesting fetish. I don't need to repeat it here -- the blogosphere is covering the issue quite extensively. What I'm concerned with here is BoingBoing's response to this alleged outing:

We believe there's nothing wrong with consenting adults doing what they enjoy with other consenting adults, and writing about it on USENET if they want. If there's any black pot to Foote-Lennox's [Tomo Foote-Lennox, director of filtering data at Secure Computing, makers of SmartFilter] alleged charcoal grey kettle, it's us. We're all about celebrating the weird, about wooing the muse of the odd. About being in touch with your inner outsider.

What is relevant about the and posts attributed to Foote-Lennox is this: If one of us went to observe one of these parties and blogged about the fact that this subculture exists, Smartfilter would block it. No big deal if you're inside a corporate cubicle in the USA, because you can always access blocked sites from home or elsewhere. But netizens in countries that use Secure Computing's censorware to filter traffic nationwide effectively lose their right to access this information, and anything else Secure Computing deems naughty...

To sum up: It's wonderful to live in a country where you have the freedom to do your own freaky thing. It's terrible to live in a country that limits your freedom to be freaky. And it's hypocritical to celebrate your own freakiness to the fullest while helping oppressive governments restrict others from celebrating their own freakiness.

If the USENET archive posts attributed to Foote-Lennox are legit (they could be an elaborate hoax, but so far, no denial has been issued), it would appear that like all of us at BoingBoing, he uses the Internet to connect with and enjoy the odd things in the world that interest him -- but works tirelessly to stop the rest of us from doing the same.

We support the right of consenting adults around the world to enjoy diverse lifestyles, and read all about them on the internet.

Foote-Lennox speaks for a company that makes censorware. When questioned about his company's censorship of BoingBoing, he was dismissive of their complaints. It was then alleged (not by BoingBoing) that he had, in the past, posted information to the Internet that his company's own product would prevent users in many foreign countries from seeing -- not at work, not at home, not anywhere. In this light, the editors of BoingBoing would have been justified in going on the attack. Instead, they chose to point out the hypocrisy of his position without criticizing his alleged behavior. In fact, Xeni, Cory, and their co-editors went out of their way to point out their support for people to pursue their personal interests on the Internet -- not just themselves and their readers, but Foote-Lennox and anyone anywhere in the world who might want to read his alleged posts.

I told Xeni in a message that I thought this was one of BoingBoing's greatest moments. I was wrong. It's BoingBoing's greatest moment, period.

April 02, 2005

Coming Together in Hatred

From a New York Times story out this past week:

International gay leaders are planning a 10-day WorldPride festival and parade in Jerusalem in August, saying they want to make a statement about tolerance and diversity in the Holy City, home to three great religious traditions.

Now major leaders of the three faiths -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- are making a rare show of unity to try to stop the festival. They say the event would desecrate the city and convey the erroneous impression that homosexuality is acceptable.

"They are creating a deep and terrible sorrow that is unbearable," Shlomo Amar, Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi, said yesterday at a news conference in Jerusalem attended by Israel's two chief rabbis, the patriarchs of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, and three senior Muslim prayer leaders. "It hurts all of the religions. We are all against it."

Abdel Aziz Bukhari, a Sufi sheik, added: "We can't permit anybody to come and make the Holy City dirty. This is very ugly and very nasty to have these people come to Jerusalem."...

Interfaith agreement is unusual in Israel. The leaders' joint opposition was initially generated by the Rev. Leo Giovinetti, an evangelical pastor from San Diego...

"That is something new I've never witnessed before, such an attempt to globalize bigotry," said Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of Jerusalem Open House, a gay and lesbian group that is the host for the festival. "It's quite sad and ironic that these religious figures are coming together around such a negative message." ...

Mr. Giovinetti circulated a petition against the festival, titled "Homosexuals to Desecrate Jerusalem," which he said had been signed by every member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party in the Israeli Parliament. Another American who helped bring together the opposition was Rabbi Yehuda Levin, of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, which says it represents more than 1,000 American Orthodox rabbis. At the news conference in Jerusalem, he called the festival "the spiritual rape of the Holy City." He said, "This is not the homo land, this is the Holy Land."

So, in other words, the one thing that seems to unite Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is hatred and fear of homosexuality. How sad.

November 07, 2004

"A Hopeful and Decent Society"

Of all the doublethink from the Bush Administration -- the war is going well, the economy is great, and so on -- this latest has to be the worst of all:

President Bush will renew a quest in his second term for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage as essential to a "hopeful and decent" society, his top political aide said on Sunday...

"If we want to have a hopeful and decent society, we ought to aim for the ideal, and the ideal is that marriage ought to be, and should be, a union of a man and a woman," Bush political aide Karl Rove told "Fox News Sunday."

So let me see if I have this straight: by amending the Constitution to preemptively take away rights from a class of citizens -- something never before done in our nation's history -- Republicans will create a "hopeful and decent society."

The truly frightening thing is that given the passage of all 11 anti-gay marriage state ballot initiatives last week, I'd say there's a good chance the President and Karl Rove -- the Republicans' Clarence Beeks -- will get their way.

What is happening to my country?

October 29, 2004

Freedom Is on the March?

President Bush loves to say that "freedom is on the march." From the second presidential debate this year:

President Bush: Freedom is on the march. Tomorrow, Afghanistan will be voting for a president. In Iraq, we'll be having free elections, and a free society will make this world more peaceful.
Of course, as was pointed out in the first debate:
Senator Kerry: As George Will said the other day, "Freedom on the march; not in Russia right now."
Yes, it's true that 146 million Russians are substantially less free than they were four years ago. But we need a strong ally in the War on Terror, so we barely say a word about President Putin. Besides, 25 million Iraqis are more free than they were four years ago. Well, as long as they stay indoors. And bolt the doors. But I'm picking nits here.

Anyway, as long as we're watching nations slip from democracy to placate our supposed allies in the War on Terror, why not Taiwan? We need the help of the Chinese when it comes to North Korea, and Taiwan is a real thorn in China's side. Let's not let the fact that they're a vibrant democracy get in our way. After all, there are only 22 million people in Taiwan, but China has 1,286 million people. We have to look at the big picture here.

Oh, sorry, I forgot: the US apparently signaled a major shift on Taiwan this week while no one was looking. At least no one in the US. It would seem the Taiwanese and Chinese were looking. From an article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

US signals policy shift on Taiwan

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has expressed support for the reunification of Taiwan with mainland China, in an apparent shift from the previously agnostic American policy on the island's future.

And in what could be a rebuttal of recent claims by Taiwan's independence-leaning President, Chen Shui-bian, Mr Powell said that Taiwan does not possess "sovereignty as a nation".

Bruce Jacobs, a leading Taiwan specialist at Monash University, said the remarks indicated a distinct change from the previous American position. "It may not be intentional, but it is a shift," Professor Jacobs said from Taipei. "If I were a leader here, I would be pretty concerned," he added.

And from an AP story:

Secretary of State Colin Powell has angered Taiwanese officials and lawmakers by making unusually strong comments denying that the island is an independent nation and suggesting Taiwan should unify with China...

According to a State Department transcript, Powell told Phoenix: "There is only one China. Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, and that remains our policy, our firm policy." ...

Rebuking Powell without mentioning him by name, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian told visiting former South Korean President Kim Young-sam on Tuesday that the island is a separate nation.

"Taiwan is absolutely a sovereign, independent nation. It's a great nation, and it absolutely does not belong to the People's Republic of China. That is the present situation, that is the reality," Chen said....

Taiwanese Premier Yu Shyi-kun made a terse response to Powell's comment. "Taiwan is a sovereign, independent nation. This is reality," Yu told reporters Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Mark Chen told lawmakers that Powell used "heavy language" that left "a deep impression" on Taiwan. He also complained Washington didn't warn Taiwan that Powell would depart from long-standing policy.

"They (America) hope that we'll try hard not to give them any surprises. They've really dropped an extremely big surprise on us," said Chen, adding that Taiwan had asked for explanations from U.S. officials in Washington and Taiwan.

Powell's statement seems both immoral and clumsy to me. It's immoral in that we're selling out a long-time ally simply to appease its larger neighbor in order to gain its continued help on other issues. It's clumsy in that it could easily worsen the situation. By driving Taiwan into an ever-smaller corner, we may well be fueling sentiment there for declaring independence.

Can the Bush team get anything right? Anything?

October 06, 2004

When Do "Accidents" Become Terrorism?

It's hard for me to imagine what it must be like to be an Israeli, wondering when the next terrorist attack will occur. A horrible strike took place last week:

Hamas has been bombarding areas just beyond Gaza with increasingly powerful rockets.

Last week one hit the town of Sderot. It blew the legs off a little boy, killing him and another child he was playing with.

Israel says no state could sit back and allow its most bitter enemies to rocket its homes and schools.

I want to be clear about this: of course it's terrorism when Hamas kills innocent Israeli children with rockets.

The same story, though, also describes Israel's response:

It sits on the east side of the Jabaliya refugee camp -- the side that the Israeli army punched into just over a week ago.

The wrecked neighbourhood echoes to the sound of machine gun fire.

A 16-year-old girl called Islam Dawidar was baking bread with her mother in a room in the Abed Rabbo Street house when one of those bursts of fire came in through the window.

"I heard shouting and I came in, and she was lying on the floor covered in blood," said her father, Maher Dawidar.

"We called an ambulance, and it came in 15 minutes, but she was already dead." ...

More than 70 Palestinians have died since the Israelis launched operation Days of Repentance.

The Israeli human rights organisation, B'tselem, says more than 30 of them were civilians -- like Islam Dawidar.

If the death of this teenage girl was an isolated incident -- if such deaths happened rarely, if they were properly investigated, if apologies and reparations were offered -- then it would be an accident, tragic yet not terrorism. But when such deaths happens repeatedly -- not dozens of times but hundreds and even thousands -- when do they cease to be accidents? When do they become a deliberate disregard for human life? When do they become terrorism -- not just state-sponsored, but state-executed?

While considering that last question, consider this passage from the same story:

The Israeli army has dropped leaflets on Jabaliya telling the people of the camp that groups like Hamas are making their already grim, often poverty-stricken lives worse.

They would not have the Israeli army on their doorstep, if it was not for the violent campaigns waged by the militants.

So let me see if I can put all this together and simplify the message of the Israeli government to the Palestinians:

We're sorry about your civilian deaths. But we wouldn't be accidentally killing your civilians if you'd stop your terrorists from deliberately killing our civilians.
This is a good time to remind ourselves of the definition of terrorism:
The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
So would someone on the other side of this issue explain to me why they believe Israel's actions fail to qualify under this definition?

May 17, 2004

While I'm at It...

...I know it's bad form to say this, but I can't help it.

I told you so.

The Slippery Slope of Torture

For me, the last paragraph of Seymour Hersh's article on high-level involvement in Iraqi prisoner abuse for the New Yorker really sums up the situation:

"In an odd way," Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, "the sexual abuses at Abu Ghraib have become a diversion for the prisoner abuse and the violation of the Geneva Conventions that is authorized." Since September 11th, Roth added, the military has systematically used third-degree techniques around the world on detainees. "Some JAGs [Judge Advocates General] hate this and are horrified that the tolerance of mistreatment will come back and haunt us in the next war," Roth told me. "We're giving the world a ready-made excuse to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld has lowered the bar."
People in favor of using torture will use exaggerated examples to make their point. For example, if we could go back in time, wouldn't we tell the CIA to torture Osama bin Laden in order to prevent 9/11? Most people probably would. (Actually, we'd simply tell the CIA to arrest those 19 hijackers, but now I'm picking nits.) But as with so many things in life, it's a slippery slope. As Newsweek wrote:
What started as a carefully thought-out, if aggressive, policy of interrogation in a covert war -- designed mainly for use by a handful of CIA professionals -- evolved into ever-more ungoverned tactics that ended up in the hands of untrained MPs in a big, hot war. Originally, Geneva Conventions protections were stripped only from Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. But later Rumsfeld himself, impressed by the success of techniques used against Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo Bay, seemingly set in motion a process that led to their use in Iraq, even though that war was supposed to have been governed by the Geneva Conventions. Ultimately, reservist MPs, like those at Abu Ghraib, were drawn into a system in which fear and humiliation were used to break prisoners' resistance to interrogation.
Once you've decided to torture one person, you've crossed a moral line. You're going to torture again when it seems necessary. If you'll torture 10 suspected Al Qaida ringleaders, you'll torture 100 suspected Al Qaida terrorists. And if you'll torture 100 of them, you'll torture 1,000 or 10,000 Iraqi prisoners. It becomes nothing more than another tool. A slippery slope.

Back to Hersh's article, as a former soldier, I'm incredibly angered at what the Bush Administration has done to the reputation of the US military. Now we're seen by many around the world as torturers, as cold-blooded killers. The reason countries sign up to the Geneva Conventions isn't altruism, it's selfishness. It's a desire to protect their own. "We won't torture you if you don't torture us." Now the Bush Administration has changed that. "We may torture you. But don't you dare torture us." But that's exactly what's going to happen. In future conflicts, from the standpoint of our enemies, the gloves will be off. If you believe the US will torture your soldiers, then you're going to be very motivated to torture any US soldiers you happen to capture. And that has made the world a far more dangerous place for US soldiers for a long, long time to come.

May 13, 2004

I'm Ashamed

From a New York Times article out today:

The Central Intelligence Agency has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials...

In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown....

Defenders of the operation said the methods stopped short of torture, did not violate American anti-torture statutes, and were necessary to fight a war against a nebulous enemy whose strength and intentions could only be gleaned by extracting information from often uncooperative detainees.

So strapping a man down, pushing him underwater, and making him believe he might drown isn't torture?

It's beyond me how Middle America can look at the Bush Administration and think, "Good job. Let's give them four more years." I look at the Bush Administration and see damage done to the US that will take at least a generation to undo. We have dismissed the viewpoints of many of our closest allies. We have refused to sign treaties that would place limits on our misbehavior. We have engaged in a war based on false pretenses. We have asserted our right to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely, with no legal recourse. Now we find out that we have been torturing prisoners on multiple fronts.

I cannot believe that this is the sort of country the Founding Fathers had in mind. It's not the country of which I thought I was a part. But the worst part is that it's entirely conceivable that we may be in for another four years of this. If President Bush were running 20 or 30 points behind John Kerry in the polls, I would feel better -- I would say to myself, "At least America realizes how awful things are and is determined to do something about it." But that's not the case. There are plenty of people who think George Bush is doing just fine, thank you very much. And for the life of me, I can't understand that.

As ashamed of my country as I am right now, if President Bush is reelected, I'm going to feel much worse. What kind of signal would that send to other nations -- that we would voluntarily return him to office after what he and his team have done to America's reputation throughout the world?

April 21, 2004

The Supremes Hear Guantánamo

At last, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of the Guantánamo detainees yesterday. The preliminary news was good:

The Supreme Court appeared distinctly unreceptive Tuesday to the Bush administration's argument that the federal courthouse doors must remain closed to the foreign detainees at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

In the first of three cases this month on the right to judicial review of those deemed enemy combatants, most justices seemed to regard the World War II-era precedent that is the cornerstone of the administration's strategy as ambiguous, irrelevant or even counter to the administration's position.

And so much for the administration's argument that this policy is a wartime necessity:

Even Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson's opening declaration, "The United States is at war," appeared to rankle rather than persuade the skeptical justices.

"Supposing the war had ended," Justice John Paul Stevens asked Mr. Olson. "Could you continue to detain these people in Guantnamo, and would there then be jurisdiction?"

Mr. Olson replied, "We believe that there would not be jurisdiction."

Justice Stevens then asked, "So the existence of the war is really irrelevant to the legal issue, is it not?"

True, Mr. Olson acknowledged, the government's position did not depend on the continued military conflict in Afghanistan. "But it's even more forceful and compelling" in that context, he said.

In other words, the administration believes that it has the right to hold foreign nationals in Guantánamo indefinitely, with absolutely no judiciial oversight of any kind, regardless of whether we're at war.

On another note, I find myself disagreeing with Justice Scalia on every case in which I'm interested enough to read the arguments. From NPR's coverage of yesterday's arguments (audio only):

Nina Totenberg: The executive branch's power is not unchecked, said Scalia:

Justice Scalia: If the people think that this is unfair, if Congress thinks it's unfair, with the stroke of a pen, they can change the habeus statute.

If you take Scalia's argument to its logical conclusion, what he's saying is, in effect, "We don't need to exercise any oversight when it comes to actions by the executive branch. After all, Congress can pass a law stopping the actions it doesn't like." In other words, the Supreme Court has no role in ensuring the rights of citizens if they are abridged by the executive branch, because the legislative branch can pass laws to stop such abridgement. Not only is this argument not worthy of a Supreme Court justice, it's not worthy of a college debating class. Just to remind Justice Scalia of his Civics 101, the President wields veto power over laws passed by Congress. It would take two-thirds majorities in both houses to override such a veto. So if the executive branch harms you as an individual, in Justice Scalia's world, your recourse is to convince two-thirds of both the House and the Senate to enact a law prohibiting such harm.

The Supreme Court is the last refuge for US residents whose rights have been trampled upon. Justice Scalia would have the Court abdicate that role to the political whims of Congress. I find that distasteful in the extreme.

February 27, 2004

Orson Scott Card's "Medieval Views"

My friend and former colleague, the wonderfully incisive Juan Benito, wrote to me recently about an essay written by the science fiction author Orson Scott Card (asterisks mine):

I want to go on the record as saying that I've always thought Ender's Game was a great short sci-fi story for children, stretched to novel length, and that everything else Card has written is crap.

I also want to go on record as saying that when I met Card, although it was not politic to say so at the time, I thought him to be an insufferably arrogant f**ktard. This confirms my intuition:

I wish I had the time for a point-by-point rebuttal of his seriously medieval views, so I had to settle for the pithy summation "f**ktard," which is my current fave epithet of denigration. It should be noted that a person's political views should not necessarily impugn their artistic credibility, but in this happy case Card's views are as stunted as his fiction.

Card's "medieval views" -- medieval being a good one-word summary -- are on same-sex marriage. From his essay:

Humpty Dumpty Logic


The Massachusetts Supreme Court has not yet declared that "day" shall now be construed to include that which was formerly known as "night," but it might as well.

By declaring that homosexual couples are denied their constitutional rights by being forbidden to "marry," it is treading on the same ground.

Do you want to know whose constitutional rights are being violated? Everybody's. Because no constitution in the United States has ever granted the courts the right to make vast, sweeping changes in the law to reform society...

Pardon me? Did Card actually say that? So is he saying that the Supreme Court didn't have the right to issue its decision in Brown v. Board of Education? Going back further, is Card saying that Marbury v. Madison was an illegal and invalid decision -- that the Supreme Court doesn't have the right to interpret the Constitution and strike down laws it sees as un-Constitutional? If the answer is "yes," then he's out of step with 198 years of jurisprudence. If the answer is "no," then he himself disclaims one of the required bases for his own argument.

Regardless of their opinion of homosexual "marriage," every American who believes in democracy should be outraged that any court should take it upon itself to dictate such a social innovation without recourse to democratic process.

And we all know the course this thing will follow. Anyone who opposes this edict will be branded a bigot; any schoolchild who questions the legitimacy of homosexual marriage will be expelled for "hate speech." The fanatical Left will insist that anyone who upholds the fundamental meaning that marriage has always had, everywhere, until this generation, is a "homophobe" and therefore mentally ill...

This is too easy. Just pretend it's 1955 and substitute "interracial" for "homosexual" and "racist" for "homophobe."

In the first place, no law in any state in the United States now or ever has forbidden homosexuals to marry. The law has never asked that a man prove his heterosexuality in order to marry a woman, or a woman hers in order to marry a man.

Any homosexual man who can persuade a woman to take him as her husband can avail himself of all the rights of husbandhood under the law. And, in fact, many homosexual men have done precisely that, without any legal prejudice at all.

Ditto with lesbian women. Many have married men and borne children. And while a fair number of such marriages in recent years have ended in divorce, there are many that have not.

So it is a flat lie to say that homosexuals are deprived of any civil right pertaining to marriage. To get those civil rights, all homosexuals have to do is find someone of the opposite sex willing to join them in marriage...

This is so nonsensical, it's amusing. Card to gays: "You can marry! Just not each other! What's the problem?" Does he actually believe this?

[N]ot only are two sexes required in order to conceive children, children also learn their sex-role expectations from the parents in their own family. This is precisely what large segments of the Left would like to see break down. And if it is found to have unpleasant results, they will, as always, insist that the cure is to break down the family even further...
See "herring, red." No one of whom I am aware -- no one -- wants to see "sex-role expectations... break down." Speaking honestly, I hope my children grow up to be heterosexual. For one thing, I'm selfish, and I'd like to have grandchildren to dote upon. For another, it's still difficult to be gay in this country, with Card's troglodytic comments Exhibit #1. But should any of my children grow up to be gay, I will still love them just the same, care for them just the same, and want for them exactly the same rights as their straight peers -- including the right to marry the person they love.
Of course, in our current society we are two generations into the systematic destruction of the institution of marriage. In my childhood, it was rare to know someone whose parents were divorced; now, it seems almost as rare to find someone whose parents have never been divorced.

And a growing number of children grow up in partial families not because of divorce, but because there never was a marriage at all.

The damage caused to children by divorce and illegitimate birth is obvious and devastating...

This is like the old joke about Microsoft technical support: it's technically correct but has nothing to do with the original question. Card is right that the institution of marriage has broken down over the last few generations. Does he blame gays for this? No, that would be too intellectually dishonest, even for this essay. Instead, he seems to be drawing a line in the sand: "It's too late to turn back the clock on the causes of the breakdown of the nuclear family, but by God, we can stop gays from marrying." And that will accomplish what again?

[S]ociety has a vital stake in child-rearing; and children have a vital stake in society.

Monogamous marriage is by far the most effective foundation for a civilization. It provides most males an opportunity to mate (polygamous systems always result in surplus males that have no reproductive stake in society); it provides most females an opportunity to have a mate who is exclusively devoted to her. Those who are successful in mating are the ones who will have the strongest loyalty to the social order; so the system that provides reproductive success to the largest number is the system that will be most likely to keep a civilization alive.

Ah, here we're getting to it. Monogamous heterosexual marriage, "the system that provides reproductive success to the largest number," is "the ystem that will be most likely to keep a civilization alive." So marriage is about procreation. Okay. I can see that.

Wait a minute, though. We let people who can't have children marry. If the core of Card's argument is that same-sex marriage detracts from procreation, then shouldn't we outlaw any marriage in which the participants can't procreate? If, say, a sterile man marries a fertile woman, that man has just removed a potentially child-bearing woman from the pool of women available to be fertilized. Clearly this detracts from procreation. If a still-fertile man marries a post-menopausal woman, that woman has just removed a potentially child-creating man from the pool of men available to fertilize women.

Calling a homosexual contract "marriage" does not make it reproductively relevant and will not make it contribute in any meaningful way to the propagation of civilization.
Card can't be more clear than he is here. Marriages that are not "reproductively relevant," that "don't contribute in any meaningful way to the propagation of civilization," aren't marriages at all. Tell that to every couple who can't have children, Card. Go ahead. If you can't, then your intellectual dishonesty is staggering. If you can, then your heartlessness is beyond measure.
In fact, it will do harm. Nowhere near as much harm as we have already done through divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing. But it's another nail in the coffin. Maybe the last nail, precisely because it is the most obvious and outrageous attack on what is left of marriage in America...
This is actually surprisingly honest. Card says that same-sex marriage won't do as much "harm" as divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing. So if he wants to outlaw same-sex marriage, then clearly he must also want to prohibit divorce and criminalize out-of-wedlock births. Right? Right?

Card goes on to dismiss the genetic basis of homosexuality. I'll leave it to others to dissect that particular argument.

If parents stop transmitting the culture of the American elite to their children, and actively resist letting the schools and media do it in their place, then that culture will disappear.

If America becomes a place where the laws of the nation declare that marriage no longer exists -- which is what the Massachusetts decision actually does -- then our allegiance to America will become zero. We will transfer our allegiance to a society that does protect marriage.

We will teach our children to have no loyalty to the culture of the American elite, and will instead teach them to be loyal to a competing culture that upholds the family. Whether we home school our kids or not, we will withdraw them at an early age from any sense of belonging to contemporary American culture...

The barbarians think that if they grab hold of the trunk of the tree, they've caught the birds in the branches. But the birds can fly to another tree.

And I don't mean that civilized Americans will move. I mean that they'll simply stop regarding the authority of the government as having any legitimacy...

If Card and his like-minded friends go down this path, they'll find themselves in the same place as people who think the government has no right to levy income taxes, or no right to tell them they can't own and use any weapon they want, no matter how destructive: in jail.

It is the most morally conservative portion of society that is most successful in raising children who believe in loyalty and oath-keeping and self-control and self-sacrifice.

And we're tired of being subject to barbarian rules and laws that fight against our civilized values. We're not interested in risking our children's lives to defend a nation that does not defend us.

Who do you think is volunteering for the military to defend America against our enemies? Those who believe in the teachings of politically correct college professors? Or those who believe in the traditional values that the politically correct elite has been so successful in destroying?

This is a great question. Let's see:

  • President George W. Bush: Served in the Texas Air National Guard.
  • Vice-President Richard Cheney: No military service.
  • Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert: No military service.
  • House Majority Leader Tom DeLay: No military service.
  • Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist: No military service.
What about those "politically correct elite"?
  • Former Vice-President and 2000 Democratic Presidential nominee Al Gore: Volunteered and served in Vietnam.
  • Senator and probable 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry: Volunteered and served in Vietnam. Received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for bravery. Received three Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat.
Okay, I'll bite: who do I "think is volunteering for the military to defend America against our enemies?" I'd say it's the "politically correct elite."

By the way, since by Card's standards, I'm "politically correct" (though not "elite"), I suppose I should point out that I served in the US Army from 1980-84. I was fortunate enough not to see combat. As for Card, since by his own standards, he is one of those who "believe in traditional values," as far as I can tell, he never served in the military.

My friend Juan is right. Card's views are "medieval." But that would be okay if they were logically consistent and intellectually honest. They're neither.

[Disclaimer: I, too, once met Card, in 1997, when I was a principal at a game development firm and I went to meet him to discuss the possibility of collaborating on a game based on one of his books.]

February 26, 2004

Well Done

The Economist's cover story this week is on same-sex marriage.


The accompanying editorial, excerpted here, does a wonderful job of laying out the slipshod thinking and fundamental unfairness of those opposed to same-sex marriages:

The case for allowing gays to marry begins with equality, pure and simple. Why should one set of loving, consenting adults be denied a right that other such adults have and which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else? Not just because they have always lacked that right in the past, for sure: until the late 1960s, in some American states it was illegal for black adults to marry white ones, but precious few would defend that ban now on grounds that it was "traditional". Another argument is rooted in semantics: marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and so cannot be extended to same-sex couples. They may live together and love one another, but cannot, on this argument, be "married". But that is to dodge the real question -- why not? -- and to obscure the real nature of marriage, which is a binding commitment, at once legal, social and personal, between two people to take on special obligations to one another. If homosexuals want to make such marital commitments to one another, and to society, then why should they be prevented from doing so while other adults, equivalent in all other ways, are allowed to do so?

The reason, according to Mr Bush, is that this would damage an important social institution. Yet the reverse is surely true. Gays want to marry precisely because they see marriage as important: they want the symbolism that marriage brings, the extra sense of obligation and commitment, as well as the social recognition. Allowing gays to marry would, if anything, add to social stability, for it would increase the number of couples that take on real, rather than simply passing, commitments. The weakening of marriage has been heterosexuals' doing, not gays', for it is their infidelity, divorce rates and single-parent families that have wrought social damage.

But marriage is about children, say some: to which the answer is, it often is, but not always, and permitting gay marriage would not alter that. Or it is a religious act, say others: to which the answer is, yes, you may believe that, but if so it is no business of the state to impose a religious choice. Indeed, in America the constitution expressly bans the involvement of the state in religious matters, so it would be especially outrageous if the constitution were now to be used for religious ends.

February 18, 2004

The Berlin Wall of Gay Rights?

My friend and colleague David Smith wonders (via e-mail):

Is San Francisco the Berlin Wall of Gay Rights?

The genie may be out of the bottle. Can the far right put it back in?

I like this analogy -- that the destruction of the wall represents a blow for freedom.

I think that one message this sends is that gay marriage is not the result of "judicial activism" (which seems, of late, to be conservatives' term for any court decision they don't like). Gay marriage is about human beings who have formed long-term, loving relationships, and who wish those relationships to be sanctioned in the same way that marriage sanctions heterosexual relationships.

Another message this sends is that cities and states have varying standards when it comes to such matters. Were this taking place in Alabama, I suspect we'd be seeing near-riots. In San Francisco, it's being celebrated. Conservatives like to talk about "community standards" -- except when community standards are more liberal than average rather than more conservative. Then they believe that the federal government needs to step in and strip away the rights of communities to set such standards. The hypocrisy of this attitude is despicable.

If I still lived in the Bay Area, I would take a trip downtown to mingle with the people waiting in line for their marriage licenses. To see all those loving couples -- all having been denied a basic right for so long, and all about to receive it at last -- would, to me, be touching.

December 27, 2003

Padilla v. Rumsfeld

A recent Opinion Journal entry illustrates for me what has gone so horribly wrong with America of late:

Court Backs Dirty Bomb Plotter
A pair of judges on the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have ordered the Pentagon to release enemy combatant Abdullah Al-Muhajir, né Jose Padilla, from military custody. Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was picked up in May 2002 at O'Hare International Airport after flying back from Pakistan; the following month, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced and explained the arrest:
On several occasions in 2001, he met with senior al Qaeda officials. While in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Muhajir trained with the enemy, including studying how to wire explosive devices and researching radiological dispersion devices. Al Qaeda officials knew that . . . as a citizen of the United States holding a valid U.S. passport, Al Muhajir would be able to travel freely in the U.S. without drawing attention to himself. . . .

In apprehending Al Muhajir as he sought entry into the United States, we have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive "dirty bomb."

In today's decision, Padilla v. Rumsfeld (link in PDF form), a split three-judge panel holds that "clear congressional authorization is required for detentions of American citizens on American soil," and that the September 2001 declaration of war does not constitute such authorization.

Under the court's order, the Defense Department must release Al-Muhajir from military custody within 30 days. The court leaves open the possibility that he can be held in the criminal-justice system--either as a suspect or as a material witness--but he "will be entitled to the constitutional protections extended to other citizens."

One can expect the government to appeal the ruling, either to the full Second Circuit or to the Supreme Court. But perhaps it's also worth asking Congress to take up this issue. Some lawmakers, notably Sen. John Edwards, a presidential candidate, have been championing the civil liberties of would-be terrorists, as if setting off a dirty bomb in an American city were a matter of no more gravity than an ordinary mugging or embezzlement. Why not force all members of Congress to go on record for or against this proposition?

Meanwhile, the notoriously liberal Ninth Circuit, in Gheredi v. Bush, holds that noncitizen terrorists at Guantanamo Bay also are entitled to lawyers. Given the Ninth Circuit's batting average in the Supreme Court, this preposterous ruling seems highly unlikely to stand.

Re-read the next-to-last paragraph especially carefully:

Some lawmakers, notably Sen. John Edwards, a presidential candidate, have been championing the civil liberties of would-be terrorists, as if setting off a dirty bomb in an American city were a matter of no more gravity than an ordinary mugging or embezzlement.
Let's review the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, shall we (italics mine)?
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Clearly Jose Padilla has been deprived of his liberty. According to the court ruling:
For the past eighteen months, Padilla has been held in the Brig in Charleston. He has not been permitted any contact with his counsel, his family or any other non-military personnel. During this period he has been the subject of ongoing questioning regarding the al Qaeda network and its terrorist activities in an effort to obtain intelligence.
So if he has been deprived of his liberty, has he had the due process of law? Has the government made its case against him in court, with a jury empowered to hear evidence and make a decision as to his guilt or innocence?

Jose Padilla is not a person with whom I would want to associate. He "was convicted of murder in 1983, and remained incarcerated until his eighteenth birthday. In 1991, he was convicted on a handgun charge and again sent to prison." But this is irrelevant to the matter at hand. Whatever his past transgressions, he is a human being with certain inalienable rights. Moreover, as a US citizen, our Constitution places a special obligation on the government to avail him of those rights.

Besides, whatever any of us may think of Padilla as a person, the words of Abbie Hoffman ring true:

You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.
Two letter writers to the New York Times put it well. One wrote:
The president claims that he has the right to seize any American citizen, hold him indefinitely and apply psychological pressure until the citizen cracks and tells his captors what the president wants to hear.

Furthermore, the president argues that no court should be able to review his actions, under any circumstances. It is hard to imagine a more direct attack on the rule of law.

And from the other:

As an immigrant to this country, I found that my proudest moment was to serve on a jury. A person is innocent until proved otherwise by a jury of one's peers. It is not sufficient for the police, the prosecutor, Attorney General John Ashcroft or the president to be convinced of a person's guilt. It is the jury that counts.

If the president can round up people based on evidence that no one else can judge, have we not lost our democracy and gained a king?

How Americans can not be worried to their very cores about this is beyond me.

Is it possible that we, the citizens of the United States, are no longer deserving of the freedoms our forefathers fought and died to gain for us?

September 11, 2003

Anti-Gay Marriage Hearings

Via Million for Marriage, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights held a hearing last week entitled, "What is Needed to Defend the Bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act of 1996?", called by its Chariman, Senator John Cornyn (R.-TX). Four witnesses were allowed to speak in favor of a Constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and civil union, while two witnesses were allowed to speak against it.

The first speaker was an African-American pastor from Massachusetts:

The American family is in serious trouble today. At present, a historically unprecedented percentage of families with children in our nation are fatherless. In fact, over 25 million American children (more than 1-in-3) are being raised in a family with no father present in the home. This represents a dramatic tripling of the level of fatherlessness in America over the past thirty years.

Unfortunately, there is an overwhelming body of social science research data which shows that the epidemic level of fatherlessness in America represents a disaster for children and society...

As compelling as the empirical evidence may be, I do not need to consult social science research studies in order to conclude that the African-American community in particular has paid a heavy price for the modern epidemic of family disintegration.

Of course, the problems of America's urban neighborhoods are well known. But the modern epidemic of family breakdown means that an increasing number of children in America are growing up under similarly difficult conditions. Indeed, for several decades, our nation has been wandering in a wilderness of social problems caused by family disintegration...

Tragically, as bad as our current situation may be, it could soon become dramatically worse. This is because the courts in America are poised to erase the legal road map to marriage and the family from American law. In fact, the weakening of the legal status of marriage in America at the hands of the courts has already begun.

This process represents nothing less than a social revolution -- advancing apart from the democratic process and against the will of a clear majority of the American people. If allowed to continue, this revolution will deprive future generations of Americans of the legal road map they will need to have a fighting chance to find their way out of the social wilderness of family disintegration.

Marriage as the union of male and female is the most multicultural social institution in the world -- it cuts across all racial, cultural and religious lines.

Significantly, this common sense understanding of marriage as the union of male and female is so fundamental to the African-American community that over 70% of all African-Americans in the United States would currently favor a constitutional amendment to protect the legal status of marriage. Indeed, polls consistently show that the African-American community -- along with other communities of color in the United States -- lead the way in their support for a Federal Marriage Amendment to protect the legal status of marriage in America for future generations.

Of course, no one involved in the Alliance For Marriage believes that saving the legal status of marriage in America will alone be sufficient to stem the tide of family disintegration in our country. But we are convinced that protecting the legal status of marriage is a necessary condition for the renewal of a marriage-based culture in the United States.

The good news in all of this is that family breakdown is a completely curable social disease. This is one of the greatest and most prosperous nations in the world. And we can do better than accept historically unprecedented levels of youth crime and child poverty because more than one-third of our nation's children are being raised without the benefit of a married family made up of a mother and a father.

We can -- and we must -- rebuild a culture of marriage and intact families in this country while we still have time.

Let me see if I can translate and condense that:

The family is in serious trouble. Fatherlessness is an epidemic and a disaster. Family disintegration has been especially hard on the African-American community. Now, I can't draw any connection whatsoever between gay marriage on the one hand and fatherlessness and family disintegration on the other, but most African-Americans are against gay marriage, as am I, so I think we should ban it.
Thankfully, this rhetorical know-nothing nonsense was balanced by the eloquent testimony of a man whose partner of 11 years was an attendant on one of the hijacked 9/11 flights:
Jeff and I had exchanged rings and we were married in our hearts. Legally, it was another matter entirely.

After his death, I was faced not only with my grief over losing Jeff -- who was indeed my better half -- but with the painful task of proving the authenticity of our relationship over and over again. With no marriage license to prove our relationship existed, even something as fundamental as obtaining his death certificate became a monumental task...

During the years we were together, Jeff paid taxes and had social security deducted from his paycheck like all other Americans do. But without a civil marriage license, I am denied benefits that married couples and their families receive as a matter of routine.

Jeff died without a will, which meant that while I dealt with losing him, I also had huge anxiety about maintaining the home we shared together. Without a marriage license to prove I was Jeff's next of kin, even inheriting basic household possessions became a legal nightmare.

Married couples have a legal safety net of rights and protections that gay Americans are currently denied. Until Jeff died, I had no idea just how vulnerable we were -- where married couples have security and protection, gay couples are left without a net...

The terrorists who attacked this country killed people not because they were gay or straight -- but because they were Americans. It is heart wrenching that our own government does not protect its citizens equally, gay and straight, simply because they are Americans.

Two years ago we were all united against the common threat of terrorism. Now, less than two years later I am sitting here and being told that my relationship was a threat to our country.

Jeff and I only sought to love and take care of each other. I do not understand why that is a threat to some people, and I cannot understand why the leaders of this country would hold a hearing on the best way to prevent that from happening.

In closing, I would like to read an excerpt from a letter that Jeff wrote to me on our last anniversary:

"Keith, we've been through much the past 11 years. Our lives haven't always been easy, but through it all, our undeniable love for each other has carried us through! I love you -- don't ever forget that! When you're feeling lonely and I'm not home with you, just pull out this letter and read my words to you once again and know how much you will always mean to me! With loving thoughts of you now and forever, Jeff."

I truly believe I have learned the meaning of the phrase -- Love is Eternal.

How someone could listen to that testimony, to such an obviously heartfelt expression of love and caring -- to the story of a family, in the truest sense of the word, stricken with tragedy -- and then go on to talk abstractedly of "protecting the legal status of marriage is a necessary condition for the renewal of a marriage-based culture in the United States" is utterly and completely beyond me. It bespeaks a lack of empathy, a self-centeredness, a moral righteousness that I hope I am never able to comprehend.

September 09, 2003

Ted Koppel on the PATRIOT Act

Via the tireless Lisa Rein, a wonderful closing statement by Ted Koppel from a recent episode of Nightline focused on the PATRIOT Act:

The men who drafted our Constitution, who framed our civil rights and protected our various freedoms under the law would, I suspect, retch at some of the bone headed, self-serving misinterpretations of their intentions that are so often used these days to undermine the very freedoms they pretend to safeguard. The miracle of American law is not that it protects popular speech, or the privacy of the powerful, or the homes of the privileged, but rather, that the least among us, those with the fewest defenses, those suspected of the worst crimes, the most despised in our midst, are presumed innocent until proven guilty. That remains as revolutionary a concept now as it was in the 1780s. It makes protecting the nation against terrorism excruciatingly difficult, but we cannot arbitrarily suspend the rights of one catagory of suspects without endangering all the others.
Eloquent and right on the mark.

Lisa hosts clips of this show on her site; you can find them at the entry above.

August 30, 2003

Opposing an Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment

The Human Rights Campaign needs people to write to their senators to oppose attempts to amend the US Constitution to prohibit gay marriage. They've made it easy with a fill-in-the-blanks page.

I happen to believe that gay people should have the same rights as heterosexuals, including marriage. Even if you disagree with me, though, you may still see the fundamental wrongness of preemptively taking away rights from a class of people, as well as taking away the rights of states to manage their internal affairs as they see fit.

Hearings on this subject are scheduled for 4 September -- just five days from now. It takes a couple of minutes or less to fill out the form and send a letter to your senators. Why not do it now?

August 28, 2003

"Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me"

There was a nice letter to the editor yesterday in the Raleigh News and Observer, our major local paper here:

Many who support the religious monument in the Alabama Supreme Court building argue that the Ten Commandments are really just basic moral virtues that any civilized society would share. "Thou shalt not murder." "Thou shalt not steal." What could be wrong with that?

What is wrong is that there is more to the Ten Commandments than generic moral common sense. The first commandment says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." I do not have a problem with the state telling me not to murder or steal. I do take offense when a cultural elite tries to use the authority of the courts to tell me what god I should worship.

Yahweh is not my god, nor is he the god of millions of other Americans. When a building used by a court of law houses a commandment to worship a specific god, it sends a message that those who do not worship that god do not respect the law.

The monument in Alabama is an affront to patriotic Americans whose love for their country and respect for the rule of law is shaped within spiritual traditions other than the Judeo-Christian one...

The author is absolutely correct: to display a set of religious commandments that start with the order, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," represents not only official sanctioning of a particular religion, but disapproval of all others as well. That's unacceptable.

August 20, 2003

The Latest from MinJust

From a speech given yesterday by Attorney General John Ashcroft:

The cause we have chosen is just. The course we have chosen is constitutional. The course we have chosen is preserving lives. For two years Americans have been safe. Because we are safer, our liberties are more secure.
"Because we are safer, our liberties are more secure." This is the most Orwellian utterance I have heard from our government in memory. It roughly translates to, "the less free we are, the more free we are," which would most certainly make MinTruth proud.

August 14, 2003

Jefferson versus Novak

A great juxtaposition from Eschaton:

Michael Novak tells us that religious liberty is only about Jewish or Christian religious liberty.
In addition, the defense that both Jefferson and Madison gave of the right to religious liberty depends crucially on a specifically Jewish and Christian concept of God. Theirs is not a Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim concept, let alone the concept of God in Aristotle or Plato, Kant or Leibniz. It is the concept of a God who reads our intentions, hearts, and consciences, not just our outward behavior. This God demands to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. This God singles us out one by one, and renders the arena in which He meets the individual conscience sacred.
UPDATE: According to Jefferson himself (via comments over at Big Media Matt's place):
The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.
Well done. When someone not only argues in favor of religious intolerance, but has the audacity to refer to Thomas Jefferson in his argument, it's great to see him undone by Jefferson's own words.

August 10, 2003

Crack Air Marshals

Also via Larry Lessig, via John Gilmore (earlier blog entry here) comes word of a settlement in a disturbing case involving the Transportation Security Administration:

Dr. [Bob] Rajcoomar's disturbing ordeal began shortly after take off during a flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia on August 31, 2002, when U.S. Air Marshals were called to subdue an apparently disoriented man seated in the coach section. The air marshals rushed at the unstable individual, handcuffed him, and then dragged him to the first-class section, where they placed him in the seat next to Dr. Rajcoomar, a U.S. citizen and Lt. Colonel in the United States Army Reserve and is of Indian descent. Dr. Rajcoomar asked to have his seat changed and the flight attendant obliged. For the remainder of the flight, air marshals held passengers at gunpoint and refused to allow anyone to get up, even to use the bathroom, despite the fact that the disoriented passenger had been shackled to his seat.

The nightmare continued for Dr. Rajcoomar even after the flight landed. Air marshals handcuffed Dr. Rajcoomar without explanation and took him into the custody of Philadelphia police. His wife Dorothy, who was also on the flight, was given no information on what had happened to her husband. Because the authorities confiscated Dr. Rajcoomar's cellular phone, she had no way to contact him.

After four tense hours in detention, Dr. Rajcoomar was released. TSA personnel told him that he had been detained because air marshals on board the flight did not "like the way he looked." The agency's official explanation for Dr. Rajcoomars treatment is that while on board, Dr. Rajcoomar had been observing the actions of the air marshals "too closely."

Even if one were to believe the official explanation over the explanation Dr. Rajcoomar reported receiving -- and I don't -- if someone is holding a loaded weapon near you, how exactly is it possible to observe them "too closely"?

The good news is that Dr. Rajcoomar has received a written apology and an undisclosed "substantial" settlement. But there's no word as to what actions, if any, were taken against the two US air marshals responsible for his detention.

July 31, 2003

Anti-Gay Republicans

From an article in the New York Times, "Bush Looking for Means to Prevent Gay Marriage in U.S.":

President Bush said today that federal government lawyers are working on legislation that would define marriage as a union between a man and woman.

"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and I believe we ought to codify that one way or the other, and we have lawyers looking at the best way to do that," Mr. Bush said at a news conference in the Rose Garden.

The president's comments, coming only a few weeks after the Supreme Court overturned a Texas law banning sodomy and holding, in effect, that whatever consenting adults do in private is their own business, seemed likely to reignite issues that have deep social and political implications.

Mr. Bush was responding to a question premised on the assumption that many of his political supporters believe "that homosexuality is immoral" and has been given too much cultural acceptance.

"As someone who's spoken out in strongly moral terms, what's your view on homosexuality?" a reporter asked the president.

"Yeah, I am mindful that we're all sinners," Mr. Bush replied. "And I caution those who may try to take the speck out of their neighbor's eye when they got a log in their own. I think it's very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country.

"On the other hand," Mr. Bush continued, "that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on issues such as marriage. And that's really where the issue is headed here in Washington, and that is the definition of marriage. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we've got lawyers looking at the best way to do that." ...

Mr. Bush's declaration that marriage is properly defined as a union between a man and a woman was not new in itself. His former spokesman, Ari Fleischer, reiterated that very point on July 1, when the White House declined to endorse the idea of a constitutional amendment that would effectively ban gay marriage.

But Mr. Fleischer declined at that time to say whether the president supported a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, as proposed by Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican majority leader.

Senator Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who angered many gays earlier this year with his remarks linking homosexuality to polygamy and incest, wrote to constituents last year to express support for what has been dubbed the Federal Marriage Amendment by its backers.

Let's be clear about this, shall we?

Anti-gay Republicans are pursuing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage because a) court decisions on gay rights have gone against them (and may well continue to do so), b) they believe they may have enough political support to enact such an amendment, and c) they know their opponents can't muster a comparable level of political support. Were the tables turned -- were court decisions going their way but political support for them waning -- anti-gay Republicans would be crying "states' rights" and demanding that legislative bodies stay out of the fight.

July 22, 2003

RAVE Act Abuse

From a story on AlterNet last month:

Only two months after the RAVE Act was passed by Congress it has been used by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to intimidate the owners of a Billings, Montana, venue into canceling a combined benefit for the Montana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). One of the biggest reasons activists waged a national campaign to stop the RAVE Act was the fear that it would be used to shut down political events like this.

On the day the fundraiser was set to take place a Billings-based DEA agent presented the venue owners with a copy of the RAVE Act warning them that they could face a fine of $250,000 if illicit drugs were found in the premises. The bands -- most of which regularly played at the venue -- were also approached and warned that their participation in the event could result in a fine.

Rather than risk the possibility of enormous fines, the venue decided to cancel the event. This blatant intimidation by the DEA was obviously designed to shut down the marijuana reform fundraiser. Unless the American people speak out against this attack on free speech, the DEA will be emboldened to use the law against other events they do not like, such as all-night dance parties, hip hop concerts, hemp festivals, and circuit parties...

The RAVE Act expands federal law to make it easier to jail and imprison event organizers and property owners that fail to stop drug offenses from occurring on their property -- even in cases when they take serious steps to reduce drug offenses. It applies to "any place", including bars and nightclubs, hotels, apartment buildings, and homes. Legal experts warned that the law was so broad that it could be used to shut down not only raves and electronic music events, but also Hip Hop, rock, and country music concerts, sporting events, gay and lesbian fundraisers, political protests, and any other event federal agents do not like.

On May 30th an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told managers of the Eagle Lodge in Billings, Montana that the Lodge could be fined $250,000 if anyone smoked marijuana during a planned benefit to raise money for a campaign to change Montana's medical marijuana law. After consulting their attorneys, the Eagle Lodge canceled the event.

Using anti-drug laws to make it more difficult to organize opposition to anti-drug laws? That's clever. It's not right, but it's clever.

The Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund's page on the RAVE Act (technically the "Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act") can be found here. (By the way, I tried to find a pro-RAVE Act Website to provide the other side's opinion, but after sifting through 30 pages of Google entries, couldn't do so.)

July 20, 2003

Airlines, IDs, and Slippery Slopes

Via boing boing, a message by John Gilmore posted to Declan McCullagh's Politech list:

My sweetheart Annie and I tried to fly to London today (Friday) on British Airways. We started at SFO, showed our passports and got through all the rigamarole, and were seated on the plane while it taxied out toward takeoff. Suddenly a flight steward, Cabin Service Director Khaleel Miyan, loomed in front of me and demanded that I remove a small 1" button pinned to my left lapel. I declined, saying that it was a political statement and that he had no right to censor passengers' political speech. The button, which was created by political activist Emi Koyama, says "Suspected Terrorist"...

The steward returned with Capt. Peter Hughes. The captain requested, and then demanded, that I remove the button (they called it a "badge"). He said that I would endanger the aircraft and commit a federal crime if I did not take it off. I told him that it was a political statement and declined to remove it.

They turned the plane around and brought it back to the gate, delaying 300 passengers on a full flight.

We were met at the jetway by Carol Spear, Station Manager for BA at SFO. She stated that since the captain had told her he was refusing to transport me as a passenger, she had no other course but to take me off the plane...

She said that passengers and crew are nervous about terrorism and that mentioning it bothers them, and that is grounds to exclude me. I suggested that if they wanted to exclude mentions of terrorists from the airplane, then they should remove all the newspapers from it too.

I asked whether I would be permitted to fly if I wore other buttons, perhaps one saying "Hooray for Tony Blair". She said she thought that would be OK. I said, how about "Terrorism is Evil". She said that I probably wouldn't get on. I started to discuss other possible buttons, like "Oppose Terrorism", trying to figure out what kinds of political speech I would be permitted to express in a BA plane, but she said that we could stand there making hypotheticals all night and she wasn't interested. Ultimately, I was refused passage because I would not censor myself at her command.

John has been making a principled stand against airlines' policies to demand identification for domestic flights (news here and here; FAQ here). For this international flight, he was willing to show his passport, but not to withdraw a political statement. I applaud him for his devotion to his principles.

While I understand why airlines might want to require IDs, I nevertheless believe that John is onto something important here. In the Soviet Union -- and presumably continuing in some countries today -- citizens were required to carry internal passports. Domestic travel was a privilege, not a right. Given the Bush administration's attitudes towards civil liberties, we could find ourselves on a slippery slope that leads to US citizens being required to show ID in order to travel anywhere.

Ask yourself: would you be shocked if a state were to require IDs for drivers and passengers to enter it? It's not a huge stretch: California, for one, already has checkpoints at many crossings, built for agricultural inspections but easily repurposable. I'd be angry, for sure; outraged, probably; but shocked? No.

June 30, 2003

Fun with Scalia

For fun, I've taken portions of Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion in Lawrence v. Texas and replaced references to homosexuality with... well, you'll see:

Today's opinion is the product of a Court... that has largely signed on to the so-called Jewish agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some Jewish activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to Judaism...

Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in Judaism as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as "discrimination" which it is the function of our judgments to deter...

Let me be clear that I have nothing against Jews, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means. Social perceptions of religious and other morality change over time, and every group has the right to persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best... But persuading one's fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one's views in absence of democratic majority will is something else. I would no more require a State to criminalize acts of Jewish worship -- or, for that matter, display any moral disapprobation of them -- than I would forbid it to do so.

Now, of course, Scalia was actually talking about homosexuality, not Judaism. But what, exactly, is the difference? Many people believe that homosexuality is a genetic trait, as being Jewish is for people born of Jewish parents. On the other hand, some people believe that homosexuality is an acquired trait, as being Jewish is for people who have converted to Judaism.

One of the basic thrusts of Scalia's dissent is that regulation of sexual conduct between consenting adults is a matter best left to the people to decide via the democratic process:

What Texas has chosen to do is well within the range of traditional democratic action, and its hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new "constitutional right" by a Court that is impatient of democratic change. It is indeed true that "later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress" ... and when that happens, later generations can repeal those laws. But it is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best.
Scalia is flat-out wrong. A fundamental right is a fundamental right, even if a majority of citizens might wish to take it away from a minority.

Put another way, is Scalia saying that were he to find himself sitting on the Supreme Court prior to 1870, when the Fifteenth Amendment ("The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude") was passed, that he would vote to uphold slavery, even believing (as he presumably does) that it is intrinsically wrong, simply because to vote otherwise would be to impose the views of a "governing caste" on the people? If so, then he seems to me to be abdicating judicial responsibility in the name of "traditional democratic action." If not, then I can think of no other reason for the difference except for a personal distaste for homosexuality on his part.

June 28, 2003

"Liberty Presumes an Autonomy of Self..."

From Justice Kennedy's opinion for the majority in the Supreme Court's decision to overrule lower courts in Lawrence v. Texas:

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions...

[T]he Court in Bowers was making the broader point that for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral. The condemnation has been shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for the traditional family. For many persons these are not trivial concerns but profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles to which they aspire and which thus determine the course of their lives. These considerations do not answer the question before us, however. The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law.

Of course, the Court found that the majority may not, in fact, "use the power of the State to enforce [anti-homosexual views] on the whole society through operation of the criminal law."

It has been a while since I've been really proud of something my government has done. This is one of those days.

June 16, 2003

Economist on Guantánamo

This is a few weeks old, but better late than never. The Economist wrote an opinion piece on Camp X-Ray, the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba:

America seems to have no plans to shut the prison, or to alter significantly how it deals with the people held there. The administration should think again. America's handling of the prisoners at Guantanamo is wrong in principle, and a tactical error in its broader fight against terrorism...

Held on a perpetual lease from Cuba, which has no control over the base, [Guantánamo] was chosen deliberately as a legal loophole. Those imprisoned there, the Bush administration has argued, are beyond the reach of any court, and so effectively beyond the law. They have no rights.

The Geneva Conventions, the administration says, do not apply to the Guantanamo prisoners. The captives can be held indefinitely, without access to a lawyer or even, if American authorities so decide, to consular officials from their own country. After 16 months, none of those detained at the camp has been charged. But if any prisoners are ever brought to trial, it will be before a military commission chosen by the Pentagon, which can hold its proceedings in secret and, if it chooses, condemn prisoners to death with no right of appeal to any civilian judge aside from the president himself, who would have made the decision to put them on trial in the first place.

This claim that America is free do whatever it wishes with the Guantanamo prisoners is unworthy of a nation which has cherished the rule of law from its very birth, and represents a more extreme approach than it has taken even during periods of all-out war. It has alienated many other governments at a time when the effort to defeat terrorism requires more international co-operation in law enforcement than ever before. America's casual brushing aside of the Geneva Conventions, which require at least a review of each prisoner's status by an independent tribunal, made America's invocation of these same conventions on behalf of its own soldiers during the recent Iraq conflict sound hypocritical...

The Guantanamo prison itself should be dismantled. It symbolises a legal limbo into which no law-abiding society should ever willingly stray. Even those accused of terrorism have rights, however egregious their alleged crimes.

As I wrote back in March:

[T]hese men -- however grave their alleged crimes -- are human beings with certain rights. If they are prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with the guidelines to which we have agreed for the treatment of such prisoners, including contact with the outside world and release after the end of hostilities. If they aren't prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with our own laws for criminal suspects, including the right to legal counsel and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

May 05, 2003

Go Canada!

Via a Slashdot entry and a story in the Ottawa Citizen comes news of the US State Department's latest Patterns of Global Terrorism report. Canada is mentioned, mostly positively, but including the following passage:

Some US law-enforcement officers have expressed concern that Canadian privacy laws, as well as funding levels for law enforcement, inhibit a fuller and more timely exchange of information and response to requests for assistance. Also, Canadian laws and regulations intended to protect Canadian citizens and landed immigrants from Government intrusion sometimes limit the depth of investigations.
All I can say is, thank goodness at least our neighbor to the north still seems to understand the importance of civil liberties.

April 28, 2003

Homosexuality and the Right to Privacy

Via SFGate, an unedited transcript of the relevant portion of Senator Rick Santorum's comments on homosexuality and privacy. This should be considered required reading for all US citizens. I've commented on it below:

AP: If you're saying that liberalism is taking power away from the families, how is conservatism giving more power to the families?

Santorum: Putting more money in their pocketbook is one. The more money you take away from families is the less power that family has. And that's a basic power. The average American family in the 1950s paid (unintelligible) percent in federal taxes. An average American family now pays about 25 percent.

Once again, a classic Republican is behaving according to type, proposing to keep the government out of people's wallets but in their bedrooms (as he argues below). Of course, a classic Democrat would argue for just the opposite.

[continued] The argument is, yes, we need to help other people. But one of the things we tried to do with welfare, and we're trying to do with other programs is, we're setting levels of expectation and responsibility, which the left never wanted to do. They don't want to judge. They say, Oh, you can't judge people. They should be able to do what they want to do. Well, not if you're taking my money and giving it to them. But it's this whole idea of moral equivalency. (unintelligible) My feeling is, well, if it's my money, I have a right to judge.
Actually, as he makes clear below, Santorum believes he has a right to judge whether or not any of his money in involved.
AP: Speaking of liberalism, there was a story in The Washington Post about six months ago, they'd pulled something off the Web, some article that you wrote blaming, according to The Washington Post, blaming in part the Catholic Church scandal on liberalism. Can you explain that?

Santorum: You have the problem within the church. Again, it goes back to this moral relativism, which is very accepting of a variety of different lifestyles. And if you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it's in the privacy of your own home, this "right to privacy," then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? If you say, there is no deviant as long as it's private, as long as it's consensual, then don't be surprised what you get. You're going to get a lot of things that you're sending signals that as long as you do it privately and consensually, we don't really care what you do. And that leads to a culture that is not one that is nurturing and necessarily healthy. I would make the argument in areas where you have that as an accepted lifestyle, don't be surprised that you get more of it.

AP: The right to privacy lifestyle?

Santorum: The right to privacy lifestyle.

AP: What's the alternative?

Santorum: In this case, what we're talking about, basically, is priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men. We're not talking about priests with 3-year-olds, or 5-year-olds. We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship. Which, again, according to the world view sense is a a perfectly fine relationship as long as it's consensual between people. If you view the world that way, and you say that's fine, you would assume that you would see more of it.

So Santorum is arguing that homosexuality within the Catholic Church is more prevalent in modern times as a result of the modern concept of the right to privacy? Does he have access to some secret report that the rest of us haven't seen, measuring homosexual practices among priests over the ages?

The Supreme Court case he cites below as creating the right to privacy -- Griswold v. Connecticut -- was decided in 1965. Is he arguing that homosexual practices among priests have risen since then? Again, does he have statistics to back this up? And if so, can he prove a causal link?

AP: Well, what would you do?

Santorum: What would I do with what?

AP: I mean, how would you remedy? What's the alternative?

Santorum: First off, I don't believe...

AP: I mean, should we outlaw homosexuality?

Santorum: I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.

As someone on Plastic put it, "I have no problem with Jews. I just wish they wouldn't celebrate Passover."

[continued] As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual. I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it's not the person, it's the person's actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions.

AP: OK, without being too gory or graphic, so if somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?

Santorum: We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold -- Griswold was the contraceptive case -- and abortion. And now we're just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you -- this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, well, it's my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong, healthy families. Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.

Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality...

AP: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out.

This has to be one of the great moments in modern journalism. What makes it especially delicious is that the Senator doesn't seem to appreciate the subtle ridicule to which he's being subjected.

Santorum: And that's sort of where we are in today's world, unfortunately. The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we're seeing it in our society.

AP: Sorry, I just never expected to talk about that when I came over here to interview you. Would a President Santorum eliminate a right to privacy -- you don't agree with it?

Santorum: I've been very clear about that. The right to privacy is a right that was created in a law that set forth a (ban on) rights to limit individual passions. And I don't agree with that. So I would make the argument that with President, or Senator or Congressman or whoever Santorum, I would put it back to where it is, the democratic process. If New York doesn't want sodomy laws, if the people of New York want abortion, fine. I mean, I wouldn't agree with it, but that's their right. But I don't agree with the Supreme Court coming in.

As I have noted before, I believe that a right to privacy should be made explicit in the US Constitution. Senator Santorum's comments -- which are a direct refutation of the Ninth Amendment to the US Constitution -- make me believe in the need for a privacy amendment more strongly than ever.

April 26, 2003

"It Was Not Clear They Had Any Such Rights"

A blog entry from Rafe Colburn, reproduced here in its entirety (because it's important):

John Ashcroft overruled a panel of immigration judges yesterday and ruled that illegal immigrants can be detained indefinitely without any legal recourse for "national security" reasons. You can shelve him with Donald Rumsfeld as a government official probably better suited for service in a totalitarian regime, but we already knew that. The real kicker in this case is that the ruling was issued in reference to Haitian immigrants. Ashcroft says that they threaten national security by consuming homeland security resources. By detaining them for as long as we want, we will deter other potential Haitian refugees from coming to America, Ashcroft theorizes. So now you no longer have to threaten this country yourself, you just have to soak up resources that might potentially be used against people who are actual threats to earn imprisonment without trial for as long as these sleazebags want to hold onto you. I have to admit that this story made my jaw drop, some days I don't even feel like I know what country I live in any more.
From the Washington Post article Rafe references (emphasis mine):
[Ashcroft's] order means that groups of asylum seekers and other aliens -- in this instance Haitians -- can be locked up without hearings and without recourse to release on bond. Ashcroft rejected claims that denying them bail on broad national security grounds would violate their due process rights. He said it was not clear they had any such rights.
Is the average person generally aware of the frontal assault on our basic liberties that the Bush administration has conducted in response to 9/11?

For the record, I would like to declare that if I am ever killed in a terrorist attack, under no circumstances would I agree with the use of my death as justification for the suspension of liberties promised in the US Constitution.

April 18, 2003

The Company We Keep

From the Economist, a chart of executions by nation during 2002:

Besides the US, the rest of the top ten countries in terms of executions consists of China, Pakistan, Kenya, Sudan, Bangladesh, Iran, Egypt, Vietnam, and Rwanda.

How can Americans look at a list like this and not feel deeply ashamed?

April 05, 2003

Dramatic Ideas for Post-War Iraq

Two dramatic ideas for post-war Iraq:

Via Plastic, an article in the New Yorker proposing that Iraq repudiate its international debt:

In 1979, when Saddam Hussein took power, Iraq -- thanks to the oil boom of the seventies -- had a foreign surplus of about thirty-five billion dollars. A decade later, after the war with Iran, it had a foreign debt of some fifty billion dollars. And today, after more war and a dozen years of missed interest payments, the country owes, by many estimates, more than a hundred billion dollars. Its creditors, which include Kuwait, Bulgaria, and the Korean conglomerate Hyundai, are already jockeying for position to be repaid after the war.

Iraq has no hope of ever repaying its debts. Its annual gross domestic product is a mere thirty billion dollars, and even if this war does relatively little damage to the countrys infrastructure it will take years -- and tens of billions of dollars -- to repair the damage that Saddam has done to the Iraqi economy. Presumably, the U.S. and others will invest heavily in reconstruction. But, if Iraq is to become stable and prosperous, it needs to spend public dollars on public goods (health, education, roads), not on debt payments to creditors who willingly lent money to Saddam.

Even if the Iraqi people could afford to pay back Saddam's debts, it's hard to see why they should. Most of the money that Iraq borrowed in the past twenty years went either to Saddam's military misadventures in Iran and Kuwait or to his internal security apparatus. Asking the Iraqi people to assume Saddams debts is rather like telling a man who has been shot in the head that he has to pay for the bullet.

Oddly, though, thats pretty much what international custom seems to require. Lenders and borrowers still believe that debt belongs to a state, not to a regime. As a result, only a handful of countries have ever repudiated their debts. Even when tyrannical regimes have been deposed -- Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu in Zaire, the apartheid system in South Africa -- their successors have dutifully, if reluctantly, assumed their debts.

It might be time to change all that and consider an old idea that has recently been resurrected: the doctrine of odious debts. First articulated in the twenties by a former tsarist minister named Alexander Sack, the doctrine holds that a country is not responsible for debts incurred by a "despotic regime" and used for purposes "contrary to the interests of the nation." Both criteria have to be met for the debt to be considered odious. (In other words, profligate Argentina couldn't repudiate its debt, because it's a democracy.) The idea is that when the despot falls his debt disappears with him. The Harvard economists Michael Kremer and Seema Jayachandran have proposed the creation of an international institution that would have the authority to declare a regime "odious." Such a system would likely persuade lenders to avoid tyrants, as they would no longer expect to be repaid...

Perhaps Saddam's successors should turn theory into practice and, when the time comes, repudiate the debts that Saddam incurred to stock his arsenal and maintain his power. That would vastly improve Iraqs economic prospects, and establish a worthy precedent: lend to tyrants, and you will get stiffed. The U.S., at least, is unlikely to object -- two of Iraqs biggest creditors are Russia and France.

And via InstaPundit, an idea to pass much of Iraq's future oil wealth directly to its people:

Our government should announce -- soon -- that the new postwar Iraqi administration will "personalize" the nation's oil revenues by establishing an Iraqi national investment trust -- The Iraqi People's Freedom Trust -- that will receive a major share -- say, 50% -- of all future Iraqi oil earnings.

The rest can go to central government and federal regional governments on some per capita basis.

Each Iraqi -- man, woman or child -- would be eligible for a personal investment account in the trust once they register as citizens of New Iraq...

Funds in the trust may be invested in New Iraq government bonds, domestic equities, venture capital investments in Iraq or international markets. But legal ownership will be vested in each individual Iraqi -- not the tribe, clan region, power-broker etc. Any Iraqi over age 21 may withdraw funds or borrow against their balances -- for any reason at all...

The effect -- immediately -- would be to establish irrefutably that the U.S. is NOT waging this war to somehow steal Iraqi oil -- but rather to return this resource to the benefit of the Iraqi people themselves -- directly. One person at a time.

It would give all Iraqis a clear sense of the profound policy difference between liberators and corrupt thieves like the Ba'ath regime who have exploited, stolen and misused oil revenues in way that infuriate ordinary Iraqis -- and endanger the world...

By ensuring that all Iraqis will have access -- on reaching adulthood -- to significant sources of money -- it would spur entrepreneurship, revitalize the whole economy, distribute real resources to the most remote and poor regions of the country and create a very strong interest among all ethnic and confessional groups and tribes in ensuring their nation's future stability.

We're not talking small money here. Once its oil facilities are repaired and production is ramped up, Iraq can earn $50 billion a year from its oil. 50% of that would be about $1,000 a year per person...and funds would accumulate for young people to even more significant sums -- until they came of age... I would suggest to you that such a proposal, properly structured and publicized, would have the kind of impact -- in Iraq and on world opinion -- that Lincoln's emancipation proclamation did on the domestic politics -- and nternational [sic]diplomacy -- of our own Civil War. It would be the same kind of profoundly moral -- and revolutionary -- stroke.

Though, as the conquering power, the US will have the ability to impose these ideas on Iraq, it shouldn't do so. But encouraging Iraq's new leaders to take such steps -- and working with them to make doing so possible -- has great appeal.

I don't agree with how we got into this war, but as Thomas Friedman says, now it's time to take our lemons and make lemonade. A post-war Iraq along these lines -- a secular, democratic nation of 25 million people, debt-free, with half its oil revenue kept in trust for the direct use of its people -- is a powerful idea.

April 04, 2003

More Brutality While We're Distracted

A few days ago, I blogged about Zimbabwe apparently using the world's distraction with Iraq to crack down on dissidents. Now it appears that Cuba is doing the same:

Dozens of government opponents have gone on trial across Cuba in what is being seen as the harshest crackdown on dissent in years.

Hearings began in the cases against at least 78 dissidents accused of working to subvert Fidel Castro's government.

The trials are taking place behind closed doors and supporters of the accused say some face life imprisonment.

The government is releasing little information beyond saying the defendants are charged with plotting against Cuba with the top US representative in Havana, James Cason...

One report said those arrested also included Hector Palacios, an organiser of reform efforts known as the Varela Project.

During three weeks of mass arrests, Cuban officials said that those being held were counter-revolutionaries and mercenaries in the pay of the US Government.

The arrests have been condemned by human rights groups.

Some are accusing Cuba of attempting to stifle all internal opposition while the world is distracted by the war in Iraq.

Found here.

March 31, 2003

Lawrence v. Texas

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas last week. This case is a challenge to Texas' outlawing of sodomy by homosexuals.

NPR's Nina Totenberg did a nice piece (audio only) on the arguments. She reported a wonderfully illustrative exchange:

District Attorney [Charles] Rosenthal... rose to defend the Texas law. "There is no right," he asserted, "to extramarital sex of any kind."

Justice [Stephen] Breyer: "The argument for the other side is that people in their bedrooms have a right to sexual intimacy without intrusion from the state. What's your response to that?"

Answer: "In Texas, sodomy is a Class C misdemeanor."

Breyer: "I'd like a straight answer to my question."

Answer: "Our position is that the line should be drawn at the marital bedroom."

Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg: "Homosexuals can adopt children or be foster parents in Texas. If they can be proper guardians of children, then how can they be criminals? That's not consistent."

Justice [John Paul] Stevens: "Does Texas prohibit sexual intercourse between unmarried heterosexuals?"

Answer: "No."

Question: "What about adultery?"

Answer: "It's not illegal, but we don't condone it."

Justice Breyer: "I don't see any justification for this law except, 'I do not like thee, Dr. Fell / The reason why I cannot tell.'"

Answer: "Texas has the right to make moral judgements."

Breyer: "Can the state make it illegal to tell serious lies at the dinner table?"

Answer: "That would have no rational justification."

Breyer: "Oh, really? I would think telling serious lies would be very immoral. You know," continued Breyer, "at the time of the First World War, some states outlawed the teaching of German in the public schools. There was no reason justifying that action and you haven't given us a reason here, except to say that it's immoral."

Justice [Antonin] Scalia: "Just as bigamy and adultery are immoral."

Breyer: "Or teaching German?"

Scalia groaned. "Well, uh..."

It was gratifying to see an editorial against the position of the state of Texas written by Republican Alan Simpson appear in the Wall Street Journal the same day:

I am a lifelong Republican because I have always believed in the rights of the individual -- the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I believe those rights to be, as the Founders declared, God-given. Right now, they are under threat in Texas.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, will hear argument on the constitutionality of a Texas law that criminalizes sex between two people of the same sex. Other states have similar laws, which are contrary to American values protecting personal liberty and opposing discrimination. The Supreme Court should declare them unconstitutional...

Certainly, many Americans have deeply held moral and religious convictions regarding sexual behavior. For some, these convictions include an objection to all homosexual acts. But... [we] should have confidence in our private morality -- not demean it with tortured legal interpretations.

The Constitution protects our right to hold different opinions... The Texas statute, as it currently exists, intrudes on the personal freedom of Americans who are harming no one. It forces the law into the most intimate precincts of the home, where we ought to be able to make our own decisions about how to conduct our lives, even if some of our fellow citizens disapprove. This is especially true of that most intimate and personal decision about whom to love, and how...

It is a bedrock American principle that no law should single out a group of citizens for unfair and spiteful discrimination. Our history demonstrates that every time we have trampled on this principle, we have come to regret it. The homosexual sodomy law makes a criminal of every gay person. That is something no American should sanction.

Most of America has made its peace with a principle of live-and-let-live. Now it is time to bring the law up to date.

I believe that the right to privacy is strongly implied within the US Constitution. But the fact that we are still trying cases like this demonstrates to me more than ever the need for that right to privacy to be made explicit. It's time for an amendment.

March 25, 2003

More on the Geneva Convention

Joi Ito has linked to my previous article on Al Jazeera and the Geneva Convention, with a discussion going in the comments there.

To my mind, there are two questions to be asked:

  1. Is the US correct in claiming that video footage being shown of US prisoners of war held by Iraq is a violation of the Geneva Convention?
  2. Is the US stance on this issue inconsistent with its treatment of prisoners captured within Afghanistan?
For reference, here's a link to the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Article 13 of the Convention states:

Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

I think the US has a case -- though certainly not an open-and-shut one -- that showing video of prisoners is a violation of the Convention's prohibition against "public curiousity." However, it's not clear to me why footage taken of Iraqis surrendering to coalition forces and being taken into captivity by them is not a violation of this same provision. The US government's position appears to be that to film the surrender and capture of forces is acceptable, but to film them afterwards is not. That seems to me to be a very fine distinction.

More seriously, and as argued here previously, the US government's position on the treatment of prisoners of war in Iraq is utterly inconsistent with its position that prisoners captured within Afghanistan are "unlawful combatants," not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. It is hypocrisy of the highest order to deny Geneva Convention protections to prisoners taken in one conflict, then to show indignance over relatively minor and arguable violations of the Convention by one's opponent in a subsequent conflict.

"Unprecedented Brutality" in Zimbabwe

What better time for minor dictators to crack down on their populations than now, when the world is consumed with Iraq?

According to the BBC, the security forces of Zimbabwe have been brutalizing the citizens there, undoubtedly under the direct orders of President Robert Mugabe:

Opposition groups in Zimbabwe say that government security forces have arrested and beaten hundreds of people following last week's widely observed general strike...

President Robert Mugabe has promised "greater action" against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The BBC's Barnaby Philips in Johannesburg says that all the evidence points to a new crackdown of unprecedented brutality.

A doctor working in a hospital in the capital, Harare, said more than 250 people have been treated there after being beaten by the security forces; many had broken fingers or toes, some had broken legs.

Two women described how men in military uniforms stripped them, beat them, and used guns to sexually abuse them.

The MDC says that children of opposition activists have been assaulted.

Lawyer and director of the publishers of the Daily News Gugulethu Moyo says she was beaten by five men in Harare central police station after going there to enquire about a Daily News photographer who had been arrested.

"The cells were so full I had to stand, which was okay because my backside was so bruised I could not lie down," she said.

Many of the people of Zimbabwe are trying to throw off the chain of Robert Mugabe's disastrous and brutal rule. They deserve our support and assistance. They deserve to be remembered.

March 24, 2003

Agreeing with Al Jazeera

I find myself squarely on the side of Al Jazeera on a human rights issue. From an article posted today:

There is nothing wrong with Article 13 of the Geneva Convention that the world adopted in 1950 for enshrining rights and privileges of a captured prisoner in war. Prisoners of war must at all time be humanely treated..POWs must at all time be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insult and public curiosity," it stated.

The problem is that the US is seeking to take refuge under provisions of the United Nations when the war they are waging does not have UN approval.

There is more to the US double-standards.

The US is holding 158 Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees in one of its high-security bases in Guantanomo Bay in Cuba for the past one year without even having them face a trial.

Taken prisoners in the Afghanistan war, the US has even denied them the status of Prisoners of War.

"They were not POWS but unlawful combatants," Rumsfeld has maintained while warding of accusations that the US was denying the detainees their fundamental rights to defend themselves in courts. The underlying logic has been that the detainees had no rights since they were not POWs.

Rumsfeld's bluster has not silenced the critics. Does a US defense secretary have the authority to determine who is a POW?

The accepted principle in the world hitherto has been that anyone detained in an armed conflict is presumed to be a POW, unless a competent court or tribunal determines otherwise.

But the Guantanomo detainees haven't had the luxury yet of being produced before a court.

An application filed by Human Rights groups before the US federal court seeking an end to the arbitrary detention got thrown out last fortnight because the "detainees held outside US territory were beyond the jurisdiction of US courts."

Robbed of any legal recourse, the Guantanomo detainees have been chained, manacled, hooded and forcibly shaved.

On each score, the US has erred. Forcible hooding, even temporarily, is violation of the 1984 convention against torture and reality.

Forced shaving of beards is in contravention to the 1966 convention of civil and political rights.

The continuing ill-treatment of the Guantanomo Bay detainees bodes ill. "The violations there will undermine the ability of the US government to ensure adequate treatment as and when US citizens are captured or held," said Michael Byers of the International Law at Duke University, North Carolina.

I don't know if Hell is actually freezing over, but let's say it feels more than a little strange to find myself on the same side of an issue as the editorial staff of Al Jazeera, in opposition to my own country's Secretary of Defense. Wow.

March 23, 2003

Geneva Convention Hypocrisy

From an interview of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conducted by CNN's Wolf Blitzer this morning:

BLITZER: [W]ithin the past few moments, the Al-Jazeera Arabic language television network has broadcast Iraqi television video of American POWs that they say are now in the hands of Iraqi officials...

RUMSFELD: ... [T]he Geneva Convention makes it illegal for prisoners of war to be shown and pictured and humiliated. And it's something that the United States does not do. And needless to say, television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that's unfortunate... it's a violation of the Geneva Convention for the Iraqis to be -- if, in fact, that's what's taking place, to be showing prisoners of war in a humiliating manner...

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, this broadcast is being seen live around the world, including in Iraq. What is your message to those Iraqi government officials who now have control of these American prisoners?

RUMSFELD: That they treat those prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, just as we treat Iraqi prisoners according to the Geneva Convention.

The Bush administration wants to have its Geneva Convention cake and eat it, too.

In Afghanistan, facing an opponent incapable of mounting organized resistance, and deploying extremely limited numbers of its own ground troops, the US declares captured enemy soldiers to be "unlawful combatants," ships them to Guantánamo Bay, out of the reach of US courts, and declares it can hold them indefinitely without access to counsel or family. In Iraq, facing an opponent capable of fierce opposition and able to capture US personnel, and with large numbers of US troops on the ground, the US gives notice that it expects its prisoners to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

International agreements are not meant to be optional, observe-them-when-it-suits-you accords. They are meant to apply in all cases. In the specific case of the Geneva Convention, its power derives from the explicit agreement of all signatories to observe it all times. Each signatory should be able to reasonably expect that all other signatories will observe it, with reciprocal humane treatment of prisoners of war the end result. If, though, a nation chooses to ignore its obligations under the Geneva Convention in one conflict, it has little basis to believe that opponents in future conflicts will observe theirs.

Besides the obvious erosion of civil liberties being committed at Guantánamo, by ignoring its obligations with regard to prisoners of war, the Bush administration is endangering captured US soldiers, both in the the current conflict and in those to come.

March 17, 2003

The Rights of the "Unlawful Combatants"

This is a New York Times editorial from last week. I'm reproducing it in its entirety because I think it's important to do so:

Forsaken at Guantánamo

It has been 14 months since the first prisoners from the Afghanistan war were taken to a naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. The Bush administration says it can hold the detainees indefinitely, without allowing them access to family or legal counsel. Yesterday, a federal Court of Appeals threw out a challenge by some of those detainees to their confinement. The administration and the court are wrong. The detainees may not have the same rights as American citizens, but they are entitled to more due process than they are being given.

The United States military is holding hundreds of prisoners accused of Taliban or Al Qaeda ties at Guantánamo. Many were seized in the heat of battle, but others were turned over in exchange for rewards or bounties. Advocates for the prisoners maintain that one-third or more are being held on the basis of bad intelligence, or simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Guantánamo detainees are in legal limbo. The Bush administration refuses to designate them prisoners of war, a label that would entitle them to immunity from prosecution for acts committed during a lawful war, among other things. Nor is the administration treating them as ordinary criminal defendants, entitled to know the charges against them and allowed to contest their confinement in court. The government's position is that the detainees are "unlawful combatants" who can be held incommunicado indefinitely.

Whatever their legal status, the Guantánamo detainees must be given a chance to contest their confinement. Those who were wrongly caught up in the military's net must have an opportunity to make their case.

As noncitizens captured in wartime, they may not have the right to have their claims heard in United States courts. But they must be given some forum, like a military tribunal, in which to contest their continued imprisonment. The rules of evidence, and the standard of proof for holding them, may be different from those in ordinary criminal trials. But there must be rules, and at least some individualized proof, for the detentions to be proper.

The ruling, from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a suit filed by Kuwaiti, British and Australian detainees, said that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear claims by the Guantánamo prisoners who contend that they are being wrongfully held. It is a disturbing decision that gives the administration essentially unchecked power to imprison foreigners. The court abdicated its role by not exercising any oversight in this important matter.

In refusing to let the Guantánamo detainees challenge their confinement, the administration is trampling on their rights. It is also damaging America's reputation for fairness. The administration should rethink its policies, and the Supreme Court should reverse yesterday's unfortunate decision.

It would be easy to forget about these men. I presume that many of them were in fact members of Al Qaeda, or Taliban soldiers fighting on their behalf. Al Qaeda members committed a heinous act of terrorism, and the Taliban refused to hand them over. We were within our rights to pursue and destroy both organizations, and the world is better off without them (though the extent to which we are free of these movements is certainly an open question).

Having said that, none of this changes the fact that these men -- however grave their alleged crimes -- are human beings with certain rights. If they are prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with the guidelines to which we have agreed for the treatment of such prisoners, including contact with the outside world and release after the end of hostilities. If they aren't prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with our own laws for criminal suspects, including the right to legal counsel and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Instead of following either of these paths, the Bush administration has invented a new legal concept to describe the prisoners, "unlawful combatants," which it claims frees it from any of these obligations, and then has used the peculiar territorial status of the US base at Guantánamo to keep the detainees out of the reach of US courts.

Watching the behavior of governments over time demonstrates that small programs targeted at a few often grow far beyond their originally promised purposes. If we allow our government to continue to deny the rights of hundreds of prisoners in Guantánamo, and justify this on the grounds that they are terrorists, we may wake up one day to find that it is no longer hundreds, but thousands. We may wake up one day to a frontal assault on the Bill of Rights and belatedly realize that it began here and now.

March 15, 2003

TSA Leaves Nastygram in Luggage?

From the Seattle Times, a story of a traveler who found a little something extra in his luggage:

Seth Goldberg says that when he opened his suitcase in San Diego after a flight from Seattle this month, the two "No Iraq War" signs he'd picked up at the Pike Place Market were still nestled among his clothes.

But there was a third sign, he said, that shocked him. Tucked in his luggage was a card from the Transportation Security Administration notifying him that his bags had been opened and inspected at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Handwritten on the side of the card was a note, "Don't appreciate your anti-American attitude!" ...

TSA officials say they are looking into the incident. "We do not condone our employees making any kind of political comments or personal comments to any travelers," TSA spokeswoman Heather Rosenker told Reuters. "That is not acceptable."

If the TSA is serious about this, they'll find the employee who wrote the note and fire him or her. (It shouldn't be difficult. After all, they have a clear sample of the person's handwriting, and they have a precise list of suspects -- the employees on baggage inspection duty at Sea-Tac that day.) If the story just fades away, then we'll know that they don't really care about their employees harassing and intimidating travelers.

February 28, 2003

Our Broken Death Penalty System

From an article in the New York Times:

Judge Laura Denvir Stith seemed not to believe what she was hearing.

A prosecutor was trying to block a death row inmate from having his conviction reopened on the basis of new evidence, and Judge Stith, of the Missouri Supreme Court, was getting exasperated. "Are you suggesting," she asked the prosecutor, that "even if we find Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?"

Frank A. Jung, an assistant state attorney general, replied, "That's correct, your honor."

That exchange was, legal experts say, unusual only for its frankness.

It's hard to find the words to properly respond to this. It's hard to express how I feel about the idea that a prosecutor would argue in court for the execution of an innocent man. The article concludes:

Joseph Amrine, whose appeal gave rise to the contentious questioning in the Missouri Supreme Court, is accused of killing another prison inmate while serving time for robbery, burglary and forgery. His conviction was based on the testimony of three other inmates; a guard identified someone else as the likely killer. All three have since recanted their accusations, and Mr. Amrine says this means he should have a new trial.

Mr. Jung, the Missouri prosecutor, told the court that Mr. Amrine's request was simply too late.

"To make sure we are clear on this," Judge Michael A. Wolff of the Supreme Court replied, "if we find in a particular case that DNA evidence absolutely excludes somebody as the murderer, then we must execute them anyway if we can't find an underlying constitutional violation at their trial?"

Again, Mr. Jung said yes.

It took me years of soul-searching to come to the conclusion that, though I respect the death penalty as the current law of the land, I believe it should be abolished. The thought that even one prosecutor exists -- and one presumes Jung spoke for many -- who would knowingly execute an innocent man indicates to me that I reached the proper conclusion.

How anyone could read the exchanges between the judges and Jung and not conclude that the current death penalty system is, at the very least, broken, is beyond me.

February 11, 2003

"...An Eventual Treason Prosecution"

Via Radio Free Blogistan (via Salon) an astonishing editorial in the New York Sun:

Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly are doing the people of New York and the people of Iraq a great service by delaying and obstructing the anti-war protest planned for February 15...

In a federal court action filed yesterday, the New York Civil Liberties Union, representing the anti-war protesters, cites the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution...

The protesters probably do have a claim under the right to free speech. Never mind that it's not the speech that the city is objecting to -- it's the marching in the streets, blocking traffic, and requiring massive police protection.

So long as the protesters are invoking the Constitution, they might have a look at Article III. That says, "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court."

There can be no question at this point that Saddam Hussein is an enemy of America...

And there is no reason to doubt that the "anti-war" protesters -- we prefer to call them protesters against freeing Iraq -- are giving, at the very least, comfort to Saddam Hussein. In a television interview aired this week, Saddam said, "First of all we admire the development of the peace movement around the world in the last few years. We pray to God to empower all those working against war and for the cause of peace and security based on just peace for all." ...

So the New York City police could do worse, in the end, than to allow the protest and send two witnesses along for each participant, with an eye toward preserving at least the possibility of an eventual treason prosecution. Thus fully respecting not just some, but all of the constitutional principles at stake.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Sun is seriously arguing that the mere act of protesting against a war is potentially treasonous -- equating dissent against one's government during wartime with providing "aid and comfort" to the enemy.

I am ashamed that the author of this editorial and I are citizens of the same nation. Ashamed.

July 10, 2002

A New Low for the Web

Actually, I don't think it's a new low... I have the feeling this page is a few years old. It's new to me, though. It's the Petition to Repeal the Nineteenth Amendment.

At first I was mildly amused by the inanity of it. After all, it's hard not to chuckle when you begin reading how women's suffrage is linked to increased murders, low SAT scores (interesting, that one), the decline of US banks, drunk driving fatalities, and so on. After reading through the petition, though, and scanning the rest of the site, the level of misogyny on display is breathtaking. Do people exist who believe this? The author of the site must, unless it's subtle parody. The signers of the petition must, unless they were joking.

It's frightening to think that people exist who believe this stuff. I presume there aren't many of them, but that there are any is scary enough. We need a word that goes beyond "misogyny" to describe this.

July 05, 2002

Pledging Allegiance to Symbols or Systems?

So we're in an uproar because a federal appeals court has ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional as an endorsement of religion, thanks to the words "under God." Predictably, our lawmakers couldn't move quickly enough to denounce the ruling. That bastion of piety, the US Senate, voted 99-0 to proclaim that we are, indeed, "one nation under God." The Senate chaplain went further in his prayer before the vote, saying "We acknowledge the separation of sectarianism and state, but affirm the belief that there is no separation between God and state."

I was at a Girl Scout event with my daughter shortly before this happened. She noticed that I didn't recite the Pledge and asked why. Was it, she asked, because I don't believe in God? (Technically, I consider myself agnostic.) "No," I said. "It's because I don't believe in pledging loyalty to a flag."

In The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan wrote about the Pledge, suggesting (among other ideas) that it be directed at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Compare the Oath of Office sworn by incoming presidents...

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God. the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I explained this to my daughter. "What's the difference," she asked, "between pledging allegiance to a piece of paper instead of to a piece of cloth?" Good question.

Flags are symbols without inherent meanings. We ascribe meanings to them based on our culture. One presumes a typical Palestinian's view of the US flag would be somewhat different than that of an American citizen's. Even within the United States, we hold wide-ranging views on the nature and purpose of the government and nation symbolized by the flag. If I pledge allegiance to it, I'm pledging allegiance to something that might have very different meanings for other people.

The Constitution, on the other hand, specifies a system of government -- an imperfect system, to be sure, but one that has worked, more or less, for over 200 years. Keep in mind that the first duty of the President of the United States is to "support and defend" it. Why shouldn't that be the first duty of all American citizens?