Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Humanitarian Crises #3

Civilians Trapped as War Rages in Eastern Congo

Since September 2007 renewed fighting in North Kivu has caused massive displacement in the region. A ceasefire agreement signed in January 2008 was not respected, and by the end of August large-scale fighting had broken out again in the region between various armed groups and the Congolese armed forces (FARDC), despite the presence of the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force, MONUC.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled in all directions throughout the region, desperately in search of safety. The displaced, many of whom have been forced to flee multiple times, have little or no access to health care, food, water or basic shelter. They find shelter in camps or with host families, or hide in the forest where they are under threat of attack from all armed groups. Few aid agencies have established humanitarian programs with a continued presence outside the provincial capital, Goma.

Despite its UN mandate, MONUC has not been able to protect civilians from violence and forced displacement. In November, after rebel forces took control of Rutshuru, where MSF runs a surgical hospital, MONUC lead an armed “humanitarian relief” convoy into this town, a move that threatens to further blur the lines between military and humanitarian action in the region.
More on Congo here.

Iraqi Civilians in Urgent Need of Assistance

One of the greatest challenges facing independent humanitarian action today is that of reaching civilians caught in war and armed conflicts. Nowhere is this more frustratingly illustrated than in Iraq, where MSF has struggled to gain a meaningful foothold since the US-led invasion of 2003. Various military and political actors have sought to use and abuse humanitarian action for political purposes and in doing so have made humanitarian organizations a target for violent attacks. This has undermined the ability of MSF, and other neutral humanitarian organizations to address critical needs of the civilian population.

MSF was forced to leave the violence-affected regions of Iraq in 2004 when attacks on humanitarian aid workers placed its teams at too great a risk. The recent moderation of violence levels in Iraq has presented MSF with new opportunities to re-engage inside Iraq with direct medical care. In 2008, MSF has cautiously started several new projects inside Iraq.

Four million people have been displaced by the war in Iraq, with 2 million of them trapped within the country itself, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center of the Norwegian Refugee Council. There has been some improvement of security in Iraq in the past 18 months. Overall levels of violence have reduced and a changing political environment has emerged. Despite these changes, the situation in Iraq is uncertain and many people are still living under the threat of violence.

More on Iraq here.

Millions of Malnourished Children Left Untreated Despite Advances in Lifesaving Nutritional Therapies
(click on this map)

Food riots around the world early in 2008 brought into sharp relief the impact of rising food prices on communities as far as apart as Haiti, Bangladesh, and Ivory Coast. Less visible, though more deadly and pervasive, was the ongoing crisis in childhood malnutrition. While combating hunger depends on having access to food in sufficient quantity, conquering malnutrition also means assuring foods of adequate nutritional quality. For young, malnourished children, foods rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are essential to survival and development.

The figures are shocking. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are 178 million children suffering from undernutrition across the globe. All told, malnutrition contributes to 3.5 to 5 million deaths in children under five each year. According to UNICEF, the situation is actually getting worse in 16 high-burden countries. In the world’s “malnutrition hotspots,” the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and South Asia, many families simply cannot afford to provide nutritious food—particularly animal source foods such as milk, meat, and eggs—that young children need to grow and thrive. Instead, they struggle to survive—far from the media spotlight of high-profile humanitarian emergencies—on a diet of little more than cereal porridges of maize or rice, amounting to the equivalent of bread and water.
More on malnutrition here.

HIV/TB Co-Infection Poses Health Battle on Two Fronts
(click on this map)
Every year, tuberculosis (TB) kills about 1.7 million people and 9 million develop active disease. TB is on the rise in countries with high HIV rates, particularly in southern Africa, which has the highest rates of HIV. Tuberculosis is one of the leading causes of death for people living with HIV/AIDS, and in the past 15 years, new TB cases have tripled in countries with high HIV prevalence. People living with HIV/AIDS are up to 50 times more likely to develop active TB in a given year compared with HIV-negative individuals, and roughly a third of the 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are infected with latent TB. Yet, in 2006 less than one percent of people living with HIV/AIDS were screened for TB.

While the treatment of HIV has received substantial global attention, people living with both HIV and TB have slipped mostly under the radar mainly because sensitive diagnostic tools are lacking and treatment for co-infected patients is complicated. While programs still focus on individual diseases, patients may have both and other diseases.

More on HIV/TB here.

More on all of MSF's efforts here.

Chris Hedges - Party to Murder

Party to Murder
Posted on Dec 29, 2008
By
Chris Hedges

Editor’s note: In light of the recent fighting in Gaza, Truthdig asked Chris Hedges, who covered the Mideast for The New York Times for seven years, to update a previous column on Gaza.

Can anyone who is following the Israeli air attacks on Gaza—the buildings blown to rubble, the children killed on their way to school, the long rows of mutilated corpses, the wailing mothers and wives, the crowds of terrified Palestinians not knowing where to flee, the hospitals so overburdened and out of supplies they cannot treat the wounded, and our studied, callous indifference to this widespread human suffering—wonder why we are hated?

Our self-righteous celebration of ourselves and our supposed virtue is as false as that of Israel. We have become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage. We are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing. We forget that the innocents who suffer and die in Gaza are a reflection of ourselves, of how we might have been should fate and time and geography have made the circumstances of our birth different. We forget that we are all absurd and vulnerable creatures. We all have the capacity to fear and hate and love. “Expose thyself to what wretches feel,” King Lear said, entering the mud and straw hovel of Poor Tom, “and show the heavens more just.”

Privilege and power, especially military power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become gods. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, and over 1,000 have been wounded since the air attacks began on Saturday. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, said Israel is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas in Gaza. A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, has labeled what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity.” Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” He has asked for “the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.”

Falk’s unflinching honesty has enraged Israel. He was banned from entering the country on Dec. 14 during his attempt to visit Gaza and the West Bank.

“After being denied entry I was put in a holding room with about 20 others experiencing entry problems,” he said. “At this point I was treated not as a U.N. representative, but as some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch body search, and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have ever witnessed. I was separated from my two U.N. companions, who were allowed to enter Israel. At this point I was taken to the airport detention facility a mile or so away, required to put all my bags and cell phone in a room, taken to a locked, tiny room that had five other detainees, smelled of urine and filth, and was an unwelcome invitation to claustrophobia. I spent the next 15 hours so confined, which amounted to a cram course on the miseries of prison life, including dirty sheets, inedible food, and either lights that were too bright or darkness controlled from the guard office.”

The foreign press has been, like Falk, barred by Israel from entering Gaza to report on the destruction.

Israel’s stated aim of halting homemade rockets fired from Gaza into Israel remains unfulfilled. Gaza militants have fired more than 100 rockets and mortars into Israel, killing four people and wounding nearly two dozen more, since Israel unleashed its air assault. Israel has threatened to launch a ground assault and has called up 6,500 army reservists. It has massed tanks on the Gaza border and declared the area a closed military zone.

The rocket attacks by Hamas are, as Falk points out, also criminal violations of international law. But as Falk notes, “... such Palestinian behavior does not legalize Israel’s imposition of a collective punishment of a life- and health-threatening character on the people of Gaza, and should not distract the U.N. or international society from discharging their fundamental moral and legal duty to render protection to the Palestinian people.”

“It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health,” Falk has said of the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza. “This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that 46 percent of all Gazan children suffer from acute anemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live.”

The rest of the sad saga is here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Robert Parry - Two Bush Myths

Two Dangerous Bush-Cheney Myths
By Robert Parry


As George W. Bush and Dick Cheney make their case for some positive legacy from the past eight years, two arguments are playing key roles: the notion that torturing terror suspects saved American lives and the belief that Bush’s Iraq troop “surge” transformed a disaster into something close to “victory.”

Not only will these twin arguments be important in defining the public’s future impression of where Bush should rank on the presidential list, but they could constrain how far President Barack Obama can go in reversing these policies. In other words, the perception of the past can affect the future.

Though most current thinking holds that George W. Bush might want to trademark the slogan “Worst President Ever,” America's powerful right-wing media (and its many allies in the mainstream press) will surely seek to rehabilitate Bush’s reputation as much as possible.

Even elevating Bush to the status of a presidential mediocrity might open the door for a revival of the Bush Dynasty with brother Jeb already eyeing one of Florida’s U.S. Senate seats and possibly harboring grander ambitions.

And even if another Bush in the White House is not realistic, a kinder-gentler judgment on George W. Bush at least could help the Republican Party rebound in 2010 and 2012. So evaluating the Bush-Cheney torture policies and how successful the “surge” are not just academic exercises.

Two recent articles by people with first-hand knowledge also shed important new light on these issues: one by a lead U.S. interrogator in Iraq and the other by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The interrogator – using the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” for an article in the Washington Post’s Outlook section on Nov. 30 – wrote that the practice of humiliating and abusing prisoners had proved counterproductive, not only violating U.S. principles and failing to extract reliable intelligence but fueling the Iraqi insurgency and getting large numbers of U.S. soldiers killed.

Indeed, “Alexander,” a U.S. Air Force special operations officer, argued that it was his team’s abandonment of those harsh tactics that contributed to the tracking down and killing of the murderous al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006, an important turning point in reducing levels of violence in Iraq.

“Alexander” said he arrived in Iraq in March 2006, amid the bloody civil war that Sunni extremist Zarqawi had helped provoke a month earlier with the bombing of the golden-domed Askariya mosque in Samarra, a shrine revered by Iraq's majority Shiites.

“Amid the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi,” he wrote. “What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model. … These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.

“I refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information.”

Breakthroughs

By getting to know the captives and negotiating with them, his team achieved breakthroughs that enabled the U.S. military to close in on Zarqawi while also gaining a deeper understanding of what drove the Iraqi insurgency, “Alexander” wrote.

“Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq.

“Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money,” the interrogator wrote, noting that this understanding played a key role in the U.S. military turning many Sunnis against the hyper-violent extremism of Zarqawi’s organization.

“Alexander” added that the new interrogation methods “convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June 8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders.”

Despite the success in killing Zarqawi, “Alexander” said the old, harsh interrogation methods continued. “I came home from Iraq feeling as if my mission was far from accomplished,” he wrote. “Soon after my return, the public learned that another part of our government, the CIA, had repeatedly used waterboarding to try to get information out of detainees.”

“Alexander” found that the engrained support for using “rough stuff” against hardened jihadists was difficult to overcome despite the successes from more subtle approaches.

“We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques,” he wrote. “A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, ‘I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate.’"

From hundreds of these interrogations, “Alexander” said he learned that the images from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were actually getting American soldiers killed by drawing angry young Arabs into the Iraq War.

“Torture and abuse cost American lives,” the interrogator wrote. “I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners.
They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

“It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

"How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.”

Nevertheless, in a series of candid “exit interviews,” Vice President Cheney – and to a lesser degree President Bush – have defended their actions that included sanctioning brutal methods of interrogation, such as the simulated drowning of “waterboarding.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Cheney Defends Waterboarding Order.”]

The ‘Surge’

To this day, the belief that subjecting “bad guys” to physical and psychological abuse makes them crack -- and thus saves American lives -- remains a central myth that the departing Bush administration won’t abandon. A parallel myth is the notion of the “successful surge.”

It holds that Bush’s brave decision to go against the prevailing political winds in early 2007 and escalate U.S. military involvement in Iraq – with a 30,000-troop “surge” – saved the day. News stories and opinion articles across the U.S. news media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have transformed this argument into “conventional wisdom.”

However, as we have pointed out in other stories, the reality is far more complex, with several other key reasons contributing to the drop in Iraqi violence, many predating or unrelated to the “surge,” including:

--The decision by Sunni tribes to turn against al-Qaeda and accept U.S. financial support, the so-called “Anbar Awakening” that began in 2006. Zarqawi’s extremism contributed to this shift, which in turn was a factor in his isolation and death in June 2006.

--Vicious ethnic cleansing had separated Sunnis and Shiites to such a degree that there were fewer targets to kill. Several million Iraqis fled as refugees either into neighboring countries or within their own.

--Concrete walls built between Sunni and Shiite areas made “death-squad” raids more difficult but also “cantonized” much of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, making everyday life for Iraqis even more exhausting as they sought food or traveled to work.

--An expanded U.S. policy of rounding up so-called “military age males” locked up tens of thousands in prison.

--Awesome U.S. firepower, concentrated on Iraqi insurgents and civilian bystanders for more than five years, had slaughtered countless thousands of Iraqis and intimidated many others to look simply to their own survival.

--With the total Iraqi death toll estimated in the hundreds of thousands and many more Iraqis horribly maimed, the society was deeply traumatized. As tyrants have learned throughout history, at some point violent repression does work.

However, in Washington political circles, it was all about the “successful surge.”

There also was little concern about the 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since President Bush started the “surge” in 2007. The Americans killed during the “surge” represent roughly one-quarter of the total war dead whose numbers have now passed the 4,200 mark.

Rumsfeld’s Doubts

Surprisingly to some Iraq War critics, one of the chief obstacles to Bush’s “surge” was the widely despised Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who – in fall 2006 – pushed for a strategy that would have slashed the U.S. military presence in Iraq dramatically by mid-2007.

On Nov. 6, 2006, Rumsfeld sent a memo to the White House, in which he listed his preferred – or “above the line” – options as "an accelerated drawdown of U.S. bases … to five by July 2007" and withdrawal of U.S. forces "from vulnerable positions — cities, patrolling, etc. … so the Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Two days later, Rumsfeld was forced to submit his resignation and Bush announced Robert Gates as the new Defense Secretary. Not aware of Rumsfeld’s memo, Washington pundits and many leading Democrats misinterpreted the personnel shift as a reaction to the Democratic congressional election victory on Nov. 7, 2006.

The consensus view was that the “realist” Gates would oversee a rapid U.S. military drawdown in Iraq. However, the opposite occurred. Gates became Bush’s front man for the “surge.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?”]

The subsequent conventional wisdom about the “successful surge” catapulted Gates from the ranks of the departing Bush administration into those of the arriving Obama administration, where he will remain Defense Secretary.

On Nov. 23, 2008, less than three weeks after Obama’s Nov. 4 election victory as it was becoming clear that Obama would retain Gates, Rumsfeld shed more light on his own Iraq War strategy in an op-ed for the New York Times.

While bowing to the prevailing conventional wisdom about the “successful surge,” Rumsfeld defended his pre-surge thinking, explaining that a number of factors had set up the “tipping point” that enabled the “surge” to be successful.

Though using more positive language about those preconditions (than we did), Rumsfeld made essentially the same points, adding that previous increases in U.S. troop levels – to numbers comparable to the “surge” levels – had achieved minimal effect in containing the violence.

“As one who is occasionally — and incorrectly — portrayed as an opponent of the surge in Iraq, I believe that while the surge has been effective in Iraq, we must also recognize the conditions that made it successful,” Rumsfeld wrote.“By early 2007, several years of struggle had created the new conditions for a tipping point:

“--Al Qaeda in Iraq’s campaign of terrorism and intimidation had turned its Sunni base of support against it. The result was the so-called Anbar Awakening in the late summer of 2006, followed by similar awakening movements across Iraq.

“--From 2003 through 2006, United States military forces, under the leadership of Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey, inflicted huge losses on the Baathist and Qaeda leadership. Many thousands of insurgents, including the Qaeda chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, were captured or killed and proved difficult to replace.

“--The Iraqi Security Forces had achieved cohesion, improved operational effectiveness and critical mass. By December 2006, some 320,000 Iraqis had been trained, equipped and deployed, producing the forces necessary to help hold difficult neighborhoods against the enemy. By 2007, the surge, for most Iraqis, could have an Iraqi face.

“--And the political scene in Iraq had shifted. Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric, declared a cease-fire in February 2007. The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, seated in May 2006, moved against militias and Iranian-backed militias and has imperfectly, but notably, rejected narrow sectarian policies.

“The best indication that timing is everything may be that there had been earlier surges without the same effect as the 2007 surge. In 2005, troop levels in Iraq were increased to numbers nearly equal to the 2007 surge — twice. But the effects were not as durable because large segments of the Sunni population were still providing sanctuary to insurgents, and Iraq’s security forces were not sufficiently capable or large enough.”

In other words, even Rumsfeld would agree that the simplistic conventional wisdom of Washington – that Bush’s “surge” turned everything around and that everyone, including Barack Obama, must accept that “fact” – doesn’t square with the more complex reality.

Still, as Americans should have learned over the past three decades of image-managing – from Ronald Reagan to Karl Rove – perceptions can be a powerful thing. Perception may not be the same as reality but it can become a very dangerous substitute both in defining the present and charting the future.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

Original article is here.

2008 Humanitarian Crises #2

Civilians Killed and Forced to Flee as Fighting Intensifies in Northwestern Pakistan

The fighting between government forces and anti-government militants in the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan has intensified throughout 2008. Air strikes by United States military in the area have also increased insecurity. In August, thousands of Pakistanis were displaced within the country or fled to neighboring Afghanistan for safety. At the same time, the Pakistani army also began expelling Afghan refugees, specifically in Bajaur Agency, for alleged connections to militant groups.
Throughout the course of the year, hundreds of people in the Bajaur Agency and Swat and Mohmand regions were killed or injured in suicide bombings, air attacks, and shootings, with thousands more repeatedly uprooted from their homes. MSF provided thousands of people with the basic materials they needed to survive: blankets, floor mats, shelter items, hygiene kits and food. MSF adapted its primary health-care programs to respond to the sharp increase in victims of violence by providing medical supplies to treat war wounded, assisting in referrals, and providing care for the treatment of watery diarrhea caused by the poor quality of water initially provided for the displaced.
More on Pakistan here.

Health Crisis Sweeps Zimbabwe as Violence and Economic Collapse Spread
The first months of 2008 marked a period of further economic meltdown and political violence throughout Zimbabwe. While the country has been in crisis for years, the situation deteriorated to ever more alarming levels, with inflation of 231 million percent, shortages of essential goods, repression of opposition supporters, and additional restrictions on humanitarian organizations in the lead up to contested elections in June.

The crisis was especially troubling for the country’s estimated two million people living with HIV/AIDS. According to the United Nations, life expectancy in Zimbabwe has plummeted to just 34 years of age because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As a result of the crisis, many people undergoing treatment were forced to skip meals, unable to afford bus fares to clinics, or were simply too afraid to leave their homes. MSF has 40,000 people with HIV/AIDS under its care in Zimbabwe, half of them on antiretroviral therapy. As patients missed appointments, some were feared to have fled the country. Unplanned treatment interruptions can have severe health consequences, including treatment failure due to the development of drug resistance.
More on Zimbabwe here.

No End in Sight to Violence and Suffering in Sudan
Sudan continued to be wracked by two major humanitarian emergencies in 2008—the crisis in Darfur and the consequences of decades of civil war in the south.

Darfur remained the site of the largest humanitarian aid operation in the world, with more than 80 organizations and 15,000 aid workers—including 2,000 MSF staff—providing assistance in a region where one-third of the population has been displaced by conflict. But despite international efforts, five years into the Darfur crisis, hundreds of thousands of people remain cut off from aid. Thousands more are at risk of losing assistance as a result of unstable frontlines, shifting alliances among armed factions, targeted attacks on aid workers, and increasing government restrictions on the provision of humanitarian assistance. Eleven aid workers were killed in Darfur this year and 189 abducted, according to the UN. MSF was also the victim of attacks and lootings in the region.

More on Sudan here.

More on all the Humanitarian Crises noted by Doctors Without Borders here. Kinda makes you a little more grateful to be living in America, no?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Biggest morons of 2008

1. WILL THE REAL DUMMY PLEASE STAND UP?
AT&T fired President John Walter after nine months, saying he lacked intellectual leadership. He received a $26 million severance package. Perhaps it's not Walter who's lacking intelligence.

2. WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS.
Police in Oakland , CA spent two hours attempting to subdue a gunman who had barricaded himself inside his home. After firing ten tear gas canisters, officers discovered that the man was standing beside them in the police line, shouting , 'Please come out and give yourself up.'

3. WHAT WAS PLAN B???
An Illinois man, pretending to have a gun, kidnapped a motorist and forced him to drive to two different automated teller machines, wherein the kidnapper proceeded to withdraw money from his own bank accounts

4. THE GETAWAY!
A man walked into a Topeka , Kansas Kwik Stop and asked for all the money in the cash drawer. Apparently, the take was too small , so he tied up the store clerk and worked the counter himself for three hours until police showed up and grabbed him.

5. DID I SAY THAT???
Police in Los Angeles had good luck with a robbery suspect who just couldn't control himself during a lineup. When detectives asked each man in the lineup to repeat the words: 'Give me all your money or I 'll shoot', the man shouted, 'that's not what I said!'

6. ARE WE COMMUNICATING???
A man spoke frantically into the phone: 'My wife is pregnant and her contractions are only two minutes apart'. 'Is this her first child?' the doctor asked. 'No!' the man shouted, 'This is her husband!'

7. NOT THE SHARPEST TOOL IN THE SHED!
In Modesto , CA , Steven Richard King was arrested for trying to hold up a Bank of America branch without a weapon. King used a thumb and a finger to simulate a gun. Unfortunately, he failed to keep his hand in his pocket. (hellooooooo)!

8. THE GRAND FINALE!!!
Last summer, down on Lake Isabella, located in the high desert, an hour east of Bakersfield, CA, some folks, new to boating, were having a problem. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn't get their brand new 22 foot boat, going. It was very sluggish in almost every maneuver, no matter how much power they applied. After about an hour of trying to make it go, they putted into a nearby marina, thinking someone there may be able to tell them what was wrong. A thorough topside check revealed everything in perfect working condition The engine ran fine, the out-drive went up and down, and the propeller was the correct size and pitch. So, one of the marina guys jumped in the water to check underneath. He came up choking on water, he was laughing so hard.
NOW REMEMBER...THIS IS TRUE. Under the boat, still strapped securely in place, was the trailer!


What?!? Not even an Honorable Mention for John McCain picking Sarah Palin for V-P?! There is no justice!!

2008 Quoteable Quotes

"My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars."
- Gov. Sarah Palin, uttering a sentence that is unable to be diagrammed

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."
- The Treasury Department's proposed Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, September 2008

"The most qualified? No! I think they went for this, excuse me, political bulls**t about narratives."
- Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter, caught on air on MSNBC during a commercial break dissing Sarah Palin as the VP pick

"All of 'em, any of 'em that have been in front of me over all these years."
- Gov. Sarah Palin, unable to name a single newspaper or magazine she reads, in an interview with Katie Couric

"The fundamentals of America's economy are strong."
- John McCain, in an interview with Bloomberg TV, April 17

"It's moist, it's a wetland, it's a place where people come for fun. And when things go south, forget about it, shut it down."
- Jane Fonda, on the Today Show, explaining why New Orleans is the vagina of America

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."
- President George W. Bush

"Stand up, Chuck, let 'em see ya."
– Sen. Joe Biden, to Missouri state Senator Chuck Graham, who uses a wheelchair

"Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades. ... I honestly think it's the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism and Islam, which I think is a great threat. ... They're going after our young children as young as two years of age to try to teach them that the homosexual lifestyle is an acceptable lifestyle."
- Oklahoma Republican State Rep. Sally Kern, who stands by her comments

"This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq."
- Journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who hurled both of his shoes at President Bush during a press conference in Iraq

"I should say if anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead, feel free to do it. ... I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful."
- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the day before he was arrested based on evidence acquired in taped conversations

"Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."
- President George W. Bush at the G-8 Summit, as he punched the air and grinned widely

"Unfortunately, I have to follow the law."
- Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, on being forced to list polar bear as a threatened species

"I can see Russia from my house!"
- Comedian Tina Fey, impersonating Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, broadcast Sept. 13

"We have sort of become a nation of whiners."
- Former Sen. Phil Gramm, an economic adviser to Sen. John McCain, quoted in The Washington Times, July 10

"It's not based on any particular data point, we just wanted to choose a really large number."
- Treasury Department spokeswoman explaining how the $700 billion number was chosen for the initial bailout, quoted on Forbes.com Sept. 23

Hey, George, there are still a few days left in 2008, you fucking idiot.

Upcoming bowl games

Oh, wait, I almost forgot....I don't give a shit about college sports. Saves a whole lot of time and money this way.

2008 Humanitarian Crises

From Doctors Without Borders, a worthy charity if there ever was one. There is still time to make a tax-deductible contribution for 2008.

Somalia's Humanitarian Catastrophe Worsens

Already struggling to survive with little or no access to even basic health-care services, Somalis experienced some of the worst violence in over a decade in 2008, with people in the central and southern parts of the country living under increasingly deteriorating humanitarian conditions. While difficult to verify given the collapsed health-care system, Somalia has some of the worst health indicators in the world: one in ten women die during child birth and more than one in five children die before their fifth birthday. The impact of the war on childhood malnutrition was exacerbated by skyrocketing food prices and a prolonged drought in the country.

More on Somalia here.

Critical Need of Assistance in Ethiopia's Somali Region

Continued violence and harsh climatic conditions have made living a constant struggle for people in the crisis-affected area of Ethiopia’s Somali region this year. Caught between rebel groups based in the region and government forces intent on quelling the rebellion, the largely nomadic population has become ever more isolated from basic services and humanitarian assistance.

Due to dangers and restrictions associated with importing goods to the region, the availability of food and other essential items in local markets has drastically decreased and price spikes made basic staples largely unaffordable. At the same time, severe restrictions on movements in certain zones have seriously increased the vulnerability of nomadic people who are unable to search for water and food for their livestock. People have seen their harvests, food stocks, grazing lands, and livestock destroyed by a combination of drought and as a result of the conflict. Some have been directly exposed to the violence.

More on Ethiopia here.

Beyond the International Spotlight, Critical Health Needs in Myanmar Remain Unmet

On May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis, in all its horror, threw Myanmar back into the international spotlight, devastating the Irrawaddy Delta and leaving an estimated 130,000 people missing or dead. Governed by a military regime since 1962 and enduring low-intensity conflict in certain areas, the disaster was the latest blow to a people largely forgotten by the outside world. Meanwhile, chronic and urgent health needs remain unmet throughout the country, compounded by a lack of investment by both the government and the international community. State health expenditure was $0.70 USD per person in 2007, just 0.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The level of international humanitarian aid was around $3 USD per person, the lowest rate worldwide. The selective blindness to countrywide needs, not least in the areas of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, continues to cost the lives of thousands of people year upon year and demands attention.
More on Myanmar here.

Dems better pursue Bush war crimes

It's become quite clear why the Democrats seem so hesitant to pursue investigations and prosecutions against the Bush administration for war crimes such as torture and domestic violations of the law such as warrantless wiretapping.

Why?

Because Democratic leaders, such as Pelosi and Reid, are up to their eyeballs with guilt on the matters. They knew what was going on. They did not object. In fact, they assented to what Bush was doing.

It does not matter if all of this occurred in the heated aftermath of 9/11. Sure, tensions were high. Uncertainty reigned. But those are the PRECISE times when LEADERSHIP must step up and cool heads must prevail.

Pelosi and Reid have failed miserably. They are complicit in the Bush administrations violations of our laws, and it is no wonder that they are hesitant to prosecute Bush and his gang for these crimes. They are guilty also! Investigations will reveal that.

But we must let the chips fall where they may. If Democrats are guilty, PROSECUTE THEM ALSO! This is not rocket science.

If we do NOT prosecute these crimes, we will lose what little respect we have left in the world.

It's pretty much all up to Obama.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Over 200 dead in Gaza

Normally I don't touch the Irsaeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been going on seemingly forever at this point. It's radioactive. Recently idiots in Gaza fired a bunch of rockets into Israel. Israel responded with massive bombing raids, killing over 200 and wounding 400+ more. This latest incident seems noteworthy, as it seems to be the harshest fighting (bombing) in decades.

At the same time, Israel is enforcing a blockade around Gaza. Gaza appears to be a large, walled-off concentration camp. Access to and from Gaza is tightly controlled, if allowed at all. They make big news when Israel lets in supplies. This is an intolerable situation and must end. These people, who have been neighbors for centuries, have to learn how to live together. Why is this so hard? Gee, could religion have something to do with it?

Which came first? The rockets? The blockade? The bombings? The suicide missions? Revenge seems to be a way of life over there, which is something we should have already known about another place we are occupying over there by the name of Iraq.


The story below is from AFP, which I trust a lot more than our once-respected AP.


At least 228 die as Israel hammers Hamas-run Gaza

GAZA CITY (AFP) – Israeli warplanes have hammered Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rocket fire, killing at least 228 people in one of the bloodiest days of the decades-long Middle East conflict.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said "Operation Cast Lead" against the Islamist movement, which has also left some 700 wounded, will continue "as long as necessary.

"The battle will be long and difficult, but the time has come to act and to fight," he said.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called in Damascus for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel and promised new suicide attacks.

Following mid-morning bombings, in which some 60 warplanes struck more than 50 targets in just a few minutes, Hamas fired more than 70 rockets and mortars into Israel killing one person and injuring four, according to a new Israeli army toll.

Israeli air strikes continued sporadically throughout the day and into the night.

Two Hamas members were killed in an Israeli helicopter raid in eastern Gaza City while they were preparing to fire more rockets into Israel, a medical source said.

Two other Palestinians were wounded in that late Saturday attack, as Israeli helicopters also targeted four metals factories in the city where rockets are believed to be stored or built.

A mosque near the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City was damaged when Israeli air-ground missiles targeted two Hamas policemen standing near its doors. Both men were injured, witnesses said.

"We will not stand down and we will not cave in even if (the Israelis) should eradicate the Gaza Strip or kill thousands of us," Ismail Haniya, who heads the Hamas government, said in a defiant radio address.

Meshaal called for a "military intifada against the enemy" and said "resistance will continue through suicide missions."

Hamas has not carried out a suicide attack in Israel since January 2005.

He said that for there to be any talks with the people of Gaza, "the blockade must be lifted and the crossings (from Israel) opened... notably that in Rafah," which leads to Egypt.

Israel imposed a blockade after Hamas seized power in Gaza last year, but let in dozens of truckloads of humanitarian aid on Friday.

The White House said only Hamas could end the cycle of violence by putting a stop to the rocket fire on Israel.

"These people are nothing but thugs, and so Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said at George W. Bush's Texas ranch, where the president is preparing to spend the new year.

"If Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel, then Israel would not have a need for strikes in Gaza," Johndroe said. "What we've got to see is Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel.

"The United States holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire; we want the ceasefire restored. We're concerned about the humanitarian situation and want all parties concerned to work to make sure the people of Gaza get the humanitarian assistance they need," said Johndroe.

He was referring to a six-month truce mediated by Egypt, which ended on December 19, with Hamas refusing to renew it.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged Israel will do its utmost to avert a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

"The people in Gaza do not deserve to suffer because of the killers and murderers of the terrorist organisation," he said, referring to Hamas.

He insisted that Israel had only hit Hamas targets, including command structures and rocket-manufacturing installations.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate halt to the violence , as did the European Union, Russia, Britain and France, while several Middle Eastern states and the Arab League slammed Israel.

Members of the UN Security Council were set to hold consultations late Saturday, a UN spokesperson said, adding it was unclear if there would also be a formal meeting.

The Arab League will hold an extraordinary summit in Doha on January 2 to discuss the crisis, diplomats in Cairo said.

In Gaza, thick clouds of smoke billowed into the sky. Mangled, bloodied and often charred corpses littered the pavement around Hamas security compounds, and frantic relatives flooded hospitals.

Medics said civilians had been hit, but the majority of the victims appeared to be members of Hamas, branded a terror group by Israel and the West.

Hamas said the strikes destroyed its security structures across Gaza and killed three senior officials -- the Gaza police chief, the police commander for central Gaza and the head of the group's bodyguard unit.

Dr Moawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services, put the toll at 225 dead and 700 injured, 140 of them seriously.

Later, a medical source added three more to the toll with witnesses saying that two of them died in the east of Gaza City while they were preparing to fire rockets towards Israel.

The bombing came after days of spiralling violence, with militants firing rockets and Israel vowing a fiery response.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak , who brokered the six-month truce, slammed the "Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip" and blamed "Israel, as an occupying force, for the victims and the wounded."

The bombardment set off angry demonstrations in Israel's Arab towns and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as well as protests in countries around the region.

It came less than two months ahead of Israeli elections on February 10.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the head of the governing Kadima party and one of the front-runners for the premier's chair, said that "today there is no other option than a military operation."

Violence in and around Gaza has flared since the truce ended, and it escalated dramatically on Wednesday.

the original story is here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fan of Stephen Colbert?

[music] Stephen Colbert - Another Christmas Song

"Forgive us for being overly, well, jazzed about Stephen Colbert's Another Christmas Song� — the iTunes Store does get a mention in it, after all. In our defense, the big band instrumentation and Colbert's instantly recognizable (yet impressively easy on the ears) voice help to present the set of humorous lyrics with a swingin' effortlessness. It's the perfect track to open the equally excellent " -- iTunes Store

Genre: Holiday

Download for Free!

Bebel Gilberto - So Nice

Another take on Christmas

I could go for this one.

The True Meaning of the Holiday Season

by: Greta Christina, Greta Christina's Blog

So what does Christmas really mean?

Among all the traditions of the holiday season, one that's becoming increasingly familiar is the War on the Supposed War On Christmas. In this tradition -- one that dates back to the sweet olden days of overt anti-Semitism -- the Christian Right foams at the mouth about the fact that not everyone has the same meaning of Christmas that they do, and works themselves into a dither about things like store clerks politely recognizing that not everyone is a Christian by saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Because in the mind of the Christian Right, it somehow disrespects their faith and impinges on their religious freedom to share a country with people who feel and act differently than they do.

Okay. Insert rant here about how the Christian Right isn't actually interested in religious freedom and respect for their faith. They're trying to establish a theocracy. They don't care about religious and cultural plurality. They don't care about the fact that winter holidays mean different things to different people, and that different people celebrate different ones and in different ways. They don't care about the fact that not everyone in the country is Christian, and that lots of people who do call themselves Christian are actually pretty secular in both their everyday life and their celebration of the winter holidays.

No, scratch that. They do care about it. They think it's bad.

But that's not actually what I want to talk about today.

In the face of Bill O'Reilly and company screaming hatefully about the true meaning of Christmas, I want to talk -- in true grade-school essay form -- about what Christmas means to me.

Because I actually like Christmas.

Christmas; Solstice; Hanukkah; Kwanzaa; Festivus; "the holidays"; whatever. I don't have a strong attachment to any particular name or date or occasion. Any mid-winter holiday around the end of December will do. Lately I've been calling it either "the holidays" or "Santamas" (in honor of what Bart Simpson has described as the true meaning of the holiday: the birth of Santa). I was brought up culturally Christian, though, with Christmas trees and Santa and all that, and I do tend to refer to it as Christmas at least some of the time.

And I love it. I always have. I know it's fashionable to hate it, and I get why people get annoyed by it -- but I don't. I love it. It's one of my favorite times of the year.

And here's what it means to me.

I think that holidays tend to rise up naturally out of the rhythms and seasons of a particular geographical area. And in parts of the world where winter is a big nasty deal, I think it's almost inevitable that a winter holiday, at right around the darkest, shortest day of the year, is going to become the biggest holiday in the culture.

It's been noted many times, for instance, that Hanukkah is far from the most important holiday in the Jewish religious calendar. What's less well known is that Christmas isn't the most important holiday in the Christian calendar, either. Christmas is pretty much a pagan midwinter holiday shoehorned into the Christian religious calendar for convenience. From a strictly religious standpoint, Easter is a much bigger ticket. (Getting born? Big whoop. Everybody gets born. Dying on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and getting resurrected three days later because he's God? Now that's what they're talking about.)

And yet -- in parts of the world where winter is a big nasty deal -- Christmas has almost entirely eclipsed Easter, for all but the most devout. Christmas gets an entire month of frenzied eating and drinking and shopping and traveling and party-going and family drama. Easter gets -- maybe -- a nice dinner or brunch, plus for kids it acts as a sort of secondary candy- frenzy holiday to Halloween. If the holidays were really about Jesus, we'd be having a nice quiet dinner with friends and family in late December, maybe with a hunt for hidden chocolate Santas for the kiddies ... and a massive social and economic whirl in March or April. As it's commonly celebrated -- at least in the U.S. -- the meaning of Christmas is only partly about the Christian religion. And a pretty minimal part at that.

So what is the meaning of Christmas? Solstice? Santamas? The holidays? Etc.?

It's cold. It's dark. The days are short, and the nights are long. Life is harder than usual right now, and we're cooped up in close quarters more than any other time of the year.

So let's celebrate.

Let's sing. Let's decorate. Let's eat and drink. Let's light candles and put up electric lights. Let's have parties. Let's visit our families and our friends. Let's give each other presents. Let's spend time together that's specifically devoted to enjoying each other's company, and take part in activities -- like gift- giving and parties and big group dinners -- that strengthen social bonds.

Let's remind ourselves that life is worth living, and that the cold and dark won't be here forever. Let's remind ourselves that we care about each other, and remind ourselves of why.

That's what this holiday means to me.

Happy holidays, everybody!

the original is here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Oh yeah, Merry Christmas

I almost forgot. Merry Christmas.

Whatever that means.

Be Merry when you're giving gifts. Be Merry receiving them.

Christmas sure has changed over the years. It used to be the most magical, wonderful time of the year, when we'd get presents and sing songs and have special meals and ... well, when we'd get presents. That's the over-riding activity.

Gradually, the truth sunk in. Christmas is a farce. You learn that the religionistas stole the holiday from the pagans, the tree from the Germans (or was it the Swedes?) and various of the other holiday "traditions" from other cultures. The birthday of Jesus?

Not likely.

And then it becomes a blatant corporate sales pitch. The holiday season accounts for up to 40% of retailers annual sales. Without the Christmas season, a lot of our retailers might go out of business. And this year, they need you out there shopping like never before.

The endless Christmas songs. The advertisements on TV and radio pulling you into the stores, pulling at your heartstrings, pulling a tear from your eye.

The Disney Christmas parade sings their cutesy songs, "Get a gift for your Mother. Get a gift for your Dad. Get a gift for your brother. And your sister. Get a gift for your friends, and your neighbors."

GET A GIFT FOR SOMEBODY, DAMMIT!


A lot of people take this holiday "seriously," and by that they purport to mean that they go the extra mile to look after their fellow man, to help feed the hungry and give comfort to the afflicted. Apparently, these things are among the teachings of Jesus. Some of these people do these activities year-round. Others volunteer only during this time of year. It certainly is a shame that we can't extend the "peace on earth" and "goodwill to your fellow man" to more than just one month out of the year. What kind of world could we have?

So, count me in the bah humbug category, I guess. I don't adhere to the God myths that propel the season, and yet I participate in the gift-giving. Hey, I never said I was a purist.

Christmas is all about the kids. And the toys. And the retailers. So get out there and spur the economy. Oh, am I a little late? Hey, better late than never.

Reason's Greetings, everyone.

The Misinformer of the Year goes to...

Sean Hannity.

So says Media Matters for America (MMFA). I'm sure that Rush Limbaugh was a close second.


I really admire MMFA for pointing out the vast number and depth of misinformation put out by the right-wing goons. It must be a discouraging, daunting task. Wading through such a cesspool must be horribly corrosive to your soul, and I appreciate their efforts tremendously so that I don't have to torture myself by watching them.

I do wish, however, that they - MMFA - would, if they could - if they had the resources - also occasionally, at least, point out when the "media" actually gets it right, when they are truly (and I mean TRULY) fair and balanced. It is discouraging to see example after example of deception, hate, ignorance and mean-spiritedness, when there really is no balancing all that negativity with honest, thoughtful, or positive pieces. Surely the media gets it right SOME of the time, don't they?


Sean Hannity: Media Matters' 2008 Misinformer of the Year

As Media Matters for America has demonstrated time and again, Fox News' Sean Hannity has been a prolific and influential purveyor of conservative misinformation. But never has he so enthusiastically applied his talents for spreading misinformation as he did to the 2008 presidential race, focusing his energies primarily on President-elect Barack Obama. Day after day, Hannity devoted his two Fox News shows and his three-hour ABC Radio Networks program to "demonizing" the Democratic presidential candidates, starkly explaining in August: "That's my job. ... I led the 'Stop Hillary Express.' By the way, now it's the 'Stop Obama Express.' " Hannity's "Stop Obama Express" promoted and embellished a vast array of misleading attacks and false claims about Obama. Along the way, he uncritically adopted and promoted countless Republican talking points and played host to numerous credibility-challenged smear artists who painted Obama as a dangerous radical. When he was not going after Obama, Hannity attacked members of Obama's family, as well as Sen. Hillary Clinton and other progressives, and denied all the while that he had unfairly attacked anyone.

MMFA goes on to document a sadly long list of bullshit put out by Hannity here. Tip of the hat to MMFA, and a cold shoulder to Hannity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Flashback to November 2008

What a year it's been. What a decade. What a life. Remember the future.

Washington 11/30/08 14:30

In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say. Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS' "Sixty Minutes" on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tic, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.

But Mr. Obama's decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements carries with it certain risks, since after the last eight years many Americans may find his odd speaking style jarring.

According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota , some Americans might find it alienating to have a President who speaks English as if it were his first language. "Every time Obama opens his mouth, his subjects and verbs are in agreement," says Mr. Logsdon. "If he keeps it up, he is running the risk of sounding like an elitist."

The historian said that if Mr. Obama insists on using complete sentences in his speeches, the public may find itself saying, "Okay, subject, predicate, subject, predicate - we get it, stop showing off."

The President-elect's stubborn insistence on using complete sentences has already attracted a rebuke from one of his harshest critics, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska .

"Talking with complete sentences there and also too talking in a way that ordinary Americans like Joe the Plumber and Tito the Builder can't really do there, I think needing to do that isn't tapping into what Americans are needing also," she said.

Bush Officials Should Be Prosecuted!

Jonathan Turley says it perfectly here: If there is no investigation or prosecution for these crimes, we will confirm what our enemies are claiming: that we are hypocrites who demand accountability from everyone but ourselves.

George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley is a leading constitutional scholar and commentator who has served as counsel for several defendants in terrorism and national security cases in recent years.

On talk shows and in print, Turley has argued in the last month that the Bush administration should not be allowed to fade quietly from the scene on Jan. 20. He says top administration officials should be held to account for what he sees as criminal violations in connection with the torture of detainees, and its warrantless surveillance program. Turley also asserts that if Eric Holder Jr., President-elect Barack Obama's nominee to be attorney general, declines to view waterboarding as a crime, the Senate should not confirm him.

Earlier in December, Turley invoked the surveillance program in federal court as part of his appeal on behalf of Ali al-Timimi, a U.S. Muslim scholar convicted on terrorism charges in 2005. Turley claims al-Timimi was wiretapped under the program, and if he was, that it violated al-Timimi's constitutional rights and spoiled the prosecution because it was withheld from his defense.

Turley answered questions by e-mail on how and why Bush officials should be prosecuted for their conduct during the last eight years.

Legal Times: What are the offenses of Bush Administration officials that you think need to be redressed or punished?

Turley: The two most obvious crimes in this administration are the torture program and the unlawful surveillance program. Despite the effort to pretend that there is some ambiguity or uncertainty on these crimes, the law is quite clear.

Waterboarding is not some new concept in the law. This torture technique goes back to the Spanish Inquisition and probably earlier. Courts in the United States, England and other countries have long held that waterboarding is not only a crime but a war crime. We prosecuted Japanese officers for this war crime in World War II. The English sentenced people to death for this form of torture.

After the Spanish American War of 1898 in the Philippines, Maj. Edwin Glenn was court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years hard labor for waterboarding an insurgent. The Senate denounced the practice. President Theodore Roosevelt dismissed a general for allowing his troops to waterboard suspects.

What is fascinating about this situation is that Congress and the administration continue to pretend that they do not see a crime committed in plain view. However, the rest of the world sees an unambiguous war crime, particularly with Cheney casually discussing his role on national television.

This could prove a bit of a problem when Bush, Cheney and others travel after leaving office. While they would no doubt object to the comparison, there is a similarity with Gen. Augusto Pinochet who was constantly faced with the threat of arrest during international travel. Home countries are generally given the first opportunity to prosecute for such crimes. When they fail to do so, international efforts often follow."

Legal Times: What is the crime involved in the surveillance program?

Turley: The law is equally clear. It is a felony to engage in warrantless surveillance of this kind. Congress has enacted two statutes that provide the sole means by which the government can obtain the necessary approval for electronic surveillance: Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 ("Title III"), 18 U.S.C. §2510 et seq., and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 50 U.S.C. §1801 et seq. Together, Title III and FISA supply "the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance ... and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted." 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(f) One federal court in Detroit has already declared the program to be unlawful and we challenged the law in the Al-Timimi case."

Legal Times: Which officials would you prosecute, and how low or high up the ranks would you go?

Turley: I was asked this question last week by a member of Congress. My response was that the criminal law would extend to all who participated in the criminal act. The criminal code does not call for the prosecution of all convenient crimes or defendants.

Politicians merely have to get out of the way and allow a special prosecutor to take this investigation wherever it would lead. Having said this, it would be difficult to hold lawyers like John Yoo, who merely gave legal advice, responsible -- no matter how baffling and unsupported it proved to be. Likewise, on the unlawful surveillance program, Democratic and Republican members who knew of the unlawful program would not be subject to prosecution.

Bush, Cheney and high-ranking officials would be obvious targets for prosecution under either program. However, I have resisted these questions from members because it misses the point: If there was a crime, we should not be concerned about where an investigation might lead. It will lead where criminal conduct is found. We do not ask that threshold questions for bankrobbers or purse snatchers. We leave the outcome to the criminal justice system.

Legal Times: Why have your assertions not gained more currency in the public debate?

Turley: The mainstream media has bought into the concept that this is merely a political not a legal question. Indeed, media often leave the clearly misleading impression that there is an equal academic debate over whether waterboarding is torture or whether warrantless surveillance is legal. To this day, media refers to waterboarding as an "interrogation technique" when courts have consistently defined it as torture.

Legal Times: How specifically should this accounting be done -- by the next administration, by Congress, by an independent commission, the UN?

Turley: All civil libertarians are asking is for politicians to simply get out of the way. Democratic leadership has blocked any serious investigation in the torture crimes. It will remain a lasting stain upon that institution that it refused to act in the face of clear war crimes.

However, all that is needed now is for members of Congress to stop obstructing this process and allow a special counsel or prosecutor to investigate these crimes.

Legal Times: What about the next administration?

Turley: Eric Holder should be asked the same question that Mukasey refused to answer in his confirmation hearing: Is waterboarding a crime? If he refuses to answer or denies that it is a crime, he should not be confirmed. If he admits that it is a crime, he should order a criminal investigation.

This is precisely why Mukasey refused to answer the question (after first stating implausibly that he did not know what waterboarding is). The appearance around the world of not only a presumptive war crime but our continued debate over whether to investigate is destroying any credibility left after eight years of controversy. The rule of law demands that crimes be investigated equally ... whether they are committed by the lowest and the highest in our society."

Legal Times: Why do you think this is necessary? Why not just turn the page?

Turley: Every criminal defendant that I have represented wanted to "just turn the page." In my view, the response of our country to these crimes is as bad as the crimes themselves. A country should not be judged by those who break its laws. However, it is legitimately judged by how we treat those who break our laws.

If there is no investigation or prosecution for these crimes, we will confirm what our enemies are claiming: that we are hypocrites who demand accountability from everyone but ourselves. If Obama's administration circumvents a prosecution, it will adopt the very same legal relativisim that ultimately destroyed the credibility and authority of the Bush administration [as] an international pariah. The "page" referenced in your question is the page that contains our commitment to the rule of law and blind justice. If we turn that page, we turn our backs on the very thing that defines us and distinguished us from our enemies.

Legal Times: What efforts are under way to make this inquiry happen? What are the chances it will happen, and if you think they are low, why is that?

Turley: The Democrats are clearly still testing the water for an alternative to prosecution to see if they can get away with another commission. Leaders do not see any personal or political benefits from a prosecution. It will come down to the voters. The commission proposal shows utter contempt for the intelligence of voters.

We have been a nation of chumps -- electing officials who run on civil liberties and legal process who have silently blocked any investigations into these crimes. I am still hoping that the public will finally have enough and demand that these politicians get out of the way and allow the criminal process system to work. The key may be the Holder confirmation. If he evades this simple and direct question (as did Mukasey), he should not be confirmed.

Legal Times: What reaction are you getting to your proposal, inside and outside GW?

Turley: I have heard from people around the country asking for ways that they can be heard. There is an obvious sense of frustration and betrayal with Democratic leaders. The criminal investigation is a litmus test of principle for the Obama administration.

If President Obama cannot stand with the rule of law on the issue of war crimes, he is continuing the approach of politics without principle that have made the current president and current Congress the least popular in modern history. It will take considerable pressure, however.

This week, Democratic leaders again voiced interest in a commission to determine whether to investigate for war crimes. Since when do we need commissions to investigate whether to investigate crimes? The crime here is well defined and openly committed. A commission would only work to delay any action in the hopes that voters will eventually lose interest and dismiss the issue as "ancient history." The last thing we need is another commission like the 9/11 Commission. Congress has already passed laws making torture a crime. It is now up to prosecutors to enforce those laws.

Noted in Law.com here. If Obama just wants to "turn the page" and only "look to the future," like Clinton did in 1992 in response to the Bush I Christmas Eve pardons of the principle Iran-Contra characters, I will be sorely, sorely disappointed in him. His mantra of "change" will begin to ring hollow.

The Daily Puppy

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