Losing My Religion

by matttbastard

Three must-reads on the consequences of embracing torture as official US policy at the expense of long-established (if not always consistently applied) American values.

Glenn Greenwald:

It’s certainly true that Reagan, like most leaders, regularly violated the principles he espoused and sought to impose on others, but still, there is an important difference between (a) affirming core principles of the civilized world but then violating them and (b) explicitly rejecting those principles.  Doing (a) makes you a hypocrite; doing (b) makes you a morally depraved barbarian.  We’re now a country where the leading “intellectuals” of the conservative movement expressly advocate torture on the pages of The Washington Post, and where most of the political and media class mocks as Far Leftism what Ronald Reagan explicitly advocated and bound the U.S. by treaty to do:  namely, “prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

Karen J. Greenberg:

One day, perhaps soon, much of the rest of the minutiae produced by the Bush administration’s torture-policy bureaucracy will come to light. Procurement lists, for example, will undoubtedly be found. After all, who ordered the sandbags for use as hoods, the collars with chains for bashing detainees’ heads into walls, the chemical lights for sodomy and flesh burns, or the women’s underwear? The training manuals, whatever they were called, will be discovered: the schooling of dogs to bite on command, the precise use of the waterboard to get the best effects, the experiments in spreading the fingers just wide enough in a slap to comport with policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, released last week, has already begun to identify the existence of training sessions in techniques redefined as not rising to the level of torture.

For now, however, we have far more than we need to know that what the United States started when, in 1948, it led the effort to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became the moral figurehead for human rights concerns worldwide for more than a half-century, has come to an end. Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the commission that drafted that 1948 Declaration, remarked at the time that the United States was “the showcase” for the principles embodied in the declaration. Sixty-one years later, that is no longer true.

Gary Kamiya:

Ever since 9/11 we have been living in a twilight country, one where it is not clear whether laws apply or not, a morally relativist place in which unembarrassed emotionalism has replaced adherence to ethical and legal principles. When one of the country’s leading pundits, the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, can argue that the Bush administration torturers should suffer no legal consequences because “Al Qaeda truly was a unique enemy, and the post-9/11 era a deeply confounding war in a variety of ways,” and that Americans “would have told the government (and still will) ‘Do whatever it takes,'” he is basically saying that the inchoate fears and primal emotions of the people should override morality and law.

This widely shared attitude is like a dormant virus: It may appear to be harmless now, but it could come to life at any time.

DJ rewind — what Frank Rich said:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Yes, this.

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‘Somebody’s going to jail behind this stuff.’

by matttbastard

Something to keep in mind, bottom-lined by former FBI special agent Ali Soufan:

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Also, what Frank Rich said:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Yes, this.

Methinks the inimitable Charles Pierce is wearing soothsayer garb here:

It seems fairly plain now that the torture story has the kind of legs that neither this administration, nor, certainly, the previous one, wish that it had. The question of whether there will be an investigation is now off the boards. There will be a number of them, official and unofficial. There are now too many people talking for anything else to happen. The career military and the FBI are pretty pissed and, sooner or later, the CIA lifers are going to push back and pin the whole thing on the political apparatchiks inside the Bush White House. That the apologists now seem to be simply rooting for another attack, after which they plan to gloat themselves back into power, is demonstration enough that they perceive the moral bankruptcy of their own position, and that they sense a very strong tide turning against them. The oddest thing is how seriously the rising outrage seems to have wrong-footed the Obama Administration. They had to know this was coming, even though torture–and the theories of executive power from which the atrocities sprang — was nowhere near the issue during the campaign that it should have been.They’ve been stumbling around for two weeks looking for some way to spin this into the message of “Change” without actually doing anything about it. The best thing they can do is let the investigations — all of them, official and unofficial — continue to gather steam and see where the whole thing leads. Events are in the saddle now, and I don’t think the president is comfortable with that, but there isn’t anything else he can do about it. A while back, in response to some tut-tutting by the insufferable Parson Meacham, I suggested that, while anger might not take us very far, as he suggested, we should see how far it would take us anyway. I suspect we’re about to find out. I didn’t believe this for a long time, but I do now. Somebody’s going to jail behind this stuff.

Please, let it be so.

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Even in the Age of Obama, Flying While Brown is Still Hazardous

by matttbastard

The more things Change™, the more they stay the same:

Officials ordered nine Muslim passengers, including three young children, off an AirTran flight headed to Orlando from Reagan National Airport yesterday afternoon after two other passengers overheard what they thought was a suspicious remark.

Members of the party, all but one of them U.S.-born citizens who were headed to a religious retreat in Florida, were subsequently cleared for travel by FBI agents who characterized the incident as a misunderstanding, an airport official said. But the passengers said AirTran refused to rebook them, and they had to pay for seats on another carrier secured with help from the FBI.

According to Kashif Irfan, one of the passengers removed from the flight, “five of the six adults in the party are of South Asian descent, and all six are traditionally Muslim in appearance, with the men wearing beards and the women in headscarves.”

Entirely coincidental, I’m sure.

Even so, AirTran went into full spin mode following the incident:

AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson agreed that the incident amounted to a misunderstanding. But he defended AirTran’s handling of the incident, which he said strictly followed federal rules. And he denied any wrongdoing on the airline’s part.

“At the end of the day, people got on and made comments they shouldn’t have made on the airplane, and other people heard them,” Hutcheson said. “Other people heard them, misconstrued them. It just so happened these people were of Muslim faith and appearance. It escalated, it got out of hand and everyone took precautions.”

Yes, it “just so happened” that the people kicked off the plane for making “comments they shouldn’t have made” were scary brown people wearing scary Muslim clothing.

Ahem.

If you buy that load of frozen high-altitude airplane waste , well, I also have some prime TWA stock available for purchase at a fabulous price.

Vanessa @ Feministing isn’t buying:

The fact of the matter is that if “these people” weren’t of Muslim faith and appearance, this wouldn’t have happened.

Gee, ya think?!

Oh, and what were these comments that were so inappropriate that the plane just had to be evacuated and the FBI called in?

CNN:

“The conversation, as we were walking through the plane trying to find our seats, was just about where the safest place in an airplane is,” [Inayet] Sahin said. “We were (discussing whether it was safest to sit near) the wing, or the engine or the back or the front, but that’s it. We didn’t say anything else that would raise any suspicion.”

The conversation did not contain the words “bomb,” “explosion,” “terror” or other words that might have aroused suspicion, [Atif ] Irfan said.

“When we were talking, when we turned around, I noticed a couple of girls kind of snapped their heads,” said Sobia Ijaz, Irfan’s wife. “I kind of thought to myself, ‘Oh, you know, maybe they’re going to say something.‘ It didn’t occur to me that they were going to make it such a big issue.”

Hah–never underestimate the potential overblown idiocy of jittery airline passengers in a full-on post-9/11 ethnic panic state (“ZOMG TERRORISTS IZ GUNNA BLOW UP THE PLANE–LET’S ROLL!!!!1″) Still, I’m rather astounded at how remarkably sanguine the family is about the entire farcical (if infuriating) situation. Can’t say I’d be so reserved if I somehow found myself sitting across from the FBI, all because I dared to inappropriately express completely understandable concerns over flight safety (while being brown, scary and clad in funny-looking religious garb).

But don’t think a lack of righteous outrage means the family is rolling over:

“Really, at the end of the day, we’re not out here looking for money. I’m an attorney. I know how the court system works. We’re basically looking for someone to say… ‘We’re apologizing for treating you as second-class citizens.'”

“We are proud Americans,” Sahin said. “You know we decided to have our children and raise them here. We can very easily go anywhere we want in the world, but you know we love it here and we’re not going to go away, no matter what.”

Aziz said there is a “very strong possibility” he will pursue a civil rights lawsuit.

“I guess it’s just a situation of guilt by association,” Aziz said. “They see one Muslim talking to another Muslim and they automatically assume something wrong is going on.”

Libby Spencer lays out the bottom line:

If we allow ourselves to diminish our humanity and toss our common sense out of fear of terrorism, then [the terrorists have] won without lifting a finger.

Signed. Off.

h/t The Obscure Store and Reading Room

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Gov. Rod Blagojevich Arrested on Corruption Charges: “Just another day in Illinois”

by matttbastard

Liss on the indictment of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich:

I was in the car listening to NPR when the story broke, and my immediate response was to burst out laughing. He just wouldn’t be an Illinois governor if he weren’t breaking federal law!

Heh. Indeed.  And he also wouldn’t be an Illinois governor if he weren’t trying to deflect attention from his indictment by doing something selfless and morally upstanding at the last possible second (indeed).  Oh, and before you heed the baseless associative smear leveled by a growing chorus of bored beltway Villagers previously sleepwalking their way through a relatively uneventful transition and now gleefully squawking ZOMG OBAMA SCANDAL!!1one, please keep this in mind (courtesy Jake Tapper):

There are no allegations that President-elect Obama or anyone close to him had anything to do with any of the crimes Gov. Blagojevich is accused of having committed.

In fact, there are indications that Mr. Obama and his team refused to go along with the “pay to play” way Blagojevich is accused of operating, offering only “gratitude” if the governor appointed his friend Valerie Jarrett to take his U.S. Senate seat, much to the governor’s chagrin.

Of course, Tapper buries this seemingly important (if not imperative) caveat in the middle of a shit-stirring post provocatively titled “Questions Arise About the Obama/Blagojevich Relationship”.

Oh that liberal media (and its disingenuous utilization of the passive voice)!

Regardless, when it comes to making something (anything!) stick to Obama and/or his camp, sorry kids–there’s no there there. But what is there was summed up earlier today by Josh Marshall:

…I think everyone involved in politics or interested in political corruption in the country had to know that Blagojevich’s phones were tapped and probably his offices were bugged, and that Pat Fitzgerald had him under the craziest level of scrutiny. And he tries to sell the senate seat with that hanging over his head? That’s simply amazing.

Related: The Fix highlights the “juiciest excerpts” from the indictment (full 76 page criminal affidavit here); much, much more over at Memeorandum and Blogrunner (here, here, here, here, here *gasp* ah, fuck it — just keep checking the Blago topic snapshot).

PS: Fitz!

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Judge Orders Release of Unlawfully Held Uighur Prisoners

by matttbastard

Well, it’s about goddamn time:

In a dramatic setback for the Bush administration, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government Tuesday to immediately transfer to the U.S. and release 17 Chinese-born Muslims detained for seven years at Guantanamo.

Reading his decision from the bench, Judge Ricardo Urbina declared the continued detention of the group from the ethnic Uighur minority to be “unlawful” and ordered the government to transfer the detainees to the U.S. by Friday.

The decision marked the first time a court has ordered the release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.

[…]

Dozens of members of a Uighur-American organization attending the hearing reacted to his words with applause.

“The American system has given us justice,” said Rebia Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress.

While I am relieved that the Uighur prisoners have finally been released, I have little confidence that the Bush admin will, for once, heed Judge Urbina’s warning “not to attempt to circumvent [the Uighur’s] release once they arrive in the U.S. by detaining them on immigration holds.” Using the past 8 long years as a benchmark, it seems the one thing you can always count on from the Bush/Cheney White House is a demonstrative, at times spiteful, contempt for the rule of law. According to a Bloomberg News report on the ruling, the Bush admin claimed “it has wartime authority to hold the men indefinitely even if they aren’t enemy combatants [emph. mine].”

Indeed, as noted by Matt Corley of Think Progress, “NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reports that the Bush administration doesn’t want the detainees coming to the U.S. because “that sets a legal precedent.””

Williams:

[T]his is a big deal because for the first time in the six plus years that Guantanamo Bay has been a detainee center for enemy combatants picked up overseas a federal judge has ordered that some of them should be released and released into the U.S., a step that the Justice Department and the Bush administration have continually opposed.

[…]

And you know, that does raise a larger question about Guantanamo Bay because as the U.S. tries to get other countries around the world to accept some of the detainees that the U.S. itself believes should no longer be held there. Many of those countries are saying, “hey, you set up Guantanamo Bay, you, you know, you should take some of them too.” So this is a very key issue in the history of Guantanamo Bay.

According to Bloomberg News, there are “an estimated 225 detainees still at Guantanamo Bay,” none of whom, it’s safe to say, the Bush admin would want seeking sanctuary in the US (and, potentially, speaking to US media outlets about what happened to them during their Gitmo tenure.)  I find it hard to imagine we’ll see a humble concession to this court-ordered check on executive authority, based on, as skdadl puts it, “the continuing perversity of the Bush administration in its insistence before the courts that the president’s political decisions about justice trump the powers of the judiciary”.  Still, one can’t help but hope that, finally, some small inkling of justice has been achieved for these 17 victims of imperial hubris and willful indifference.

Related: Background on the illegally detained Uighur prisoners from Hilzoy, The Washington Post (h/t skdadl), Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, David Bario, and Justin Rood, who cites a Justice Department report (PDF) that claims “U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up [the] detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men — or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves”.  The Center for Constitutional Rights has more on foreign interrogators at Guantanamo.

Also see this recent HRW report on remaining Guantanamo prisoners, Locked up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo.

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21st Century Law Enforcement at its Finest

by matttbastard

Because the presumption of innocence is, like, so September 10th, dude:

The Justice Department is considering letting the FBI investigate Americans without any evidence of wrongdoing, relying instead on a terrorist profile that could single out Muslims, Arabs or other racial and ethnic groups.

Law enforcement officials say the proposed policy would help them do exactly what Congress demanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: Root out terrorists before they strike.

Yes, we all know just how successful the doctrine of prevention has worked out so far–hey, how is that crusade to forcefully spread democracy across the Middle East going?

Currently, FBI agents need specific reasons — like evidence or allegations that a law probably has been violated — to investigate U.S. citizens and legal residents. The new policy, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press, would let agents open preliminary terrorism investigations after mining public records and intelligence to build a profile of traits that, taken together, were deemed suspicious.

Among the factors that could make someone subject of an investigation is travel to regions of the world known for terrorist activity, access to weapons or military training, along with the person’s race or ethnicity.

[…]

Critics say the presumption of innocence is lost in the proposal. The FBI will be allowed to begin investigations simply “by assuming that everyone’s a suspect, and then you weed out the innocent,” said Caroline Fredrickson of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Oh, come on. Who needs actual, y’know, specific ‘evidence‘ that illegal activity is occurring, when everybody knows that those swarthy Arabmuslimdarkies (especially the ones who dare to rack up frequent flyer mileage) have pure, undistilled terror flowing through their steely veins 24/7? (What? ‘IRA’ stands for ‘Indo-Republican Army’. Srsly.)

Update: Also see I Need To Calm Down, Threat Level, and, representing the silly side of Blogtopia’s *cough* main street, Tammy “everybody knows” Bruce and Allahpundit, who wonders if we should “[b]e on the lookout for English-speaking caucasians with light-colored eyes“.

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Slacker Friday: Alison Bodine Update; More Evidence That Canada Is No Longer ‘Cool’

by matttbastard

Various items of interest guaranteed to kick off the weekend propa!

From the Alison Bodine Defence Committee:

In the first week of the “Drop All Charges Against Alison Bodine!” petition campaign, the ABDC beat the goal of collecting 1,000 signatures on the petition. The committee has set a new goal to exceed 2,000 signatures on the petition to the CBSA by Tuesday October 9th. The campaign has received support letters from MPs Libby Davies and Bill Siksay, the Hospital Employees Union of BC, the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators, MLA David Chudnovsky and the US-based Pastors for Peace/Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization in a strong show of support for this case of democratic and human rights.

Last Friday [September 28th] Alison won important victories in her case at her scheduled Admissibility hearing when her lawyer Gabriel Chand was finally granted the full disclosure of the case against her. This was an important step forward, as the CBSA prosecuting lawyer tried to argue with Chand’s request, but ultimately failed to prevent the right to access this evidence. Due to the introduction of new evidence, the hearing was then adjourned until October 11, 2007 at 11am. For the Alison Bodine Defence Committee, the campaign will continue with mobilization and education in defence of the democratic and human rights of immigrants, refugees, non-residents and social-justice activists.

WE NEED YOUR HELP. It was clear from the beginning that this case was not so simple – that Alison has been singled out for harassment,arrest, detention and this extended period of uncertainty and legal limbo for purely political reasons. Now this battle is entering its third week of fighting for the democratic and human rights of all activists and organizers. The ABDC is repeating the call for all peace-loving and humanist people, all allies of oppressed people fighting for their rights to get involved and support this important campaign. The ABDC is continuing collecting letters of support and petition signatures from grassroots organizations, labour and student unions, politicians, professors and academics and people from all walks of life to unite in defense of civil liberties.

Send your letter of support to the Canada Border Services Agency and defendalisonbodine@hotmail.com or free_alison_bodine@yahoo.ca

Contact us to get involved!
778.891.1470 | 778.882.5223 | 604.339.7103 | 604.780.4029

Upcoming West Coast events also via the ABDC (all times PDT):

SATURDAY OCTOBER 6
“Why I Have Been Targeted – Canada Border Services Agency Violates Civil Liberties”
Free Public Forum
5:30pm
SFU Harbour Center (515 W Hastings St – downtown Vancouver)
———————-
TUESDAY OCTOBER 9
Petition Drive!
10am-4pm
University of Victoria
———————-
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 10
Defence Rally! & Press Conference
12:00pm
Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC) Building
(300 W. Georgia St – corner of Georgia & Hamilton, downtown Vancouver)
———————-
THURSDAY OCTOBER 11
**ADMISSIBILITY HEARING PRESS CONFERENCE & DEFENCE RALLY**
10:30am
Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC) Building
(300 W. Georgia St – corner of Georgia & Hamilton, downtown Vancouver)

(Background here.)

Elsewhere: Also file under ‘creeping Canadian fascism’ – CODEPINK and Global Exchange cofounder Medea Benjamin and retired Colonel and diplomat Ann Wright held a press conference yesterday after the pair of prominent US peace activists “were stopped at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday [October 3rd] and detained for almost three hours because they had been flagged in an FBI-run international database normally used to track violent fugitives, sex offenders and terrorists.” According to the Toronto Star, Benjamin and Wright decided to cross into Canada by foot to “test whether the Canadian government has a policy of denying entry to peaceful activists.”

Benjamin and Wright were scheduled to stop in Toronto to discuss peace and security issues at the invitation of the Toronto Stop the War Coalition.

More:

“In my case, the border guard pulled up a file showing that I had been arrested at the US Mission to the UN where, on International Women’s Day, a group of us had tried to deliver a peace petition signed by 152,000 women around the world,” says Benjamin. “For this, the Canadians labeled me a criminal and refused to allow me in the country.”

“The FBI’s placing of peace activists on an international criminal database is blatant political intimidation of US citizens opposed to Bush administration policies,” says Colonel Wright, who was also Deputy US Ambassador in four countries. “The Canadian government should certainly not accept this FBI database as the criteria for entering the country.”

Both Wright and Benjamin plan to request their files from the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act and demand that arrests for peaceful, non-violent actions be expunged from international records. ”

It’s outrageous that Canada is turning away peacemakers protesting a war that does not have the support of either US or Canadian citizens,” says Benjamin. “In the past, Canada has always welcomed peace activists with open arms. This new policy, obviously a creature of the Bush administration, is shocking and we in the US and Canada must insist that it be overturned.

For its part, the Canadian Border Services Agency tried to justify the controversial detentions by claiming that “visitors with criminal convictions are inadmissible” to the country.

But Benjamin and Wilson remain skeptical:

“Canada is the first country, to our knowledge, that is using this beefed-up database of the FBI as its criteria for judging who enter, which is why we consider this so outrageous and dangerous,” said Benjamin.

“If Canada starts to do this and keeps out people like us, maybe other countries will do it as well. We think it’s important to stop this right away.”

Using Canada’s criteria, even civil rights leader Martin Luther King wouldn’t have made it into the country, she said.

“We think this is absurd. It’s outrageous. It must be reversed.”

An embassy official said Canada has been stopping Americans who’ve been convicted of crimes for years, regardless of whether they’re felonies or misdemeanours.

Many who’ve been caught driving under the influence, for instance, are surprised when they’re turned back, he said.

Keep that in mind the next time George W. Bush or Dick Cheney attempt to hit the Great White North. (h/t Alison@ Creekside)

Quick Hits:

Bring forth the weekend!

Bonus:

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