::can you clear this up for me?

19 09 2006

This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article III of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It’s very vague. What does that mean, “outrages upon human dignity”? That’s a statement that is wide open to interpretation. And what I’m proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they are doing is legal. You know, it’s — and so the piece of legislation I sent up there provides our professionals that which is needed to go forward.

George Bush

September 15th, 2006

Here’s a little history on the Geneva Conventions

Common Article III went into effect on August 12th 1949.  It reads as follows:

Art. 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: (1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. (2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for. An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.

The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

The conventions of 1949 replace the previous conventions, which were signed at Geneva on July 29th, 1929.  They were ratified by the United States Senate on January 7th, 1932, and by the President of the United States of America on January 16th, 1932.  Articles 2 and 3 of the 1929 conventions read as follows:


Prisoners of war are in the power of the hostile Power, but not of the individuals or corps who have captured them.

They must at all times be humanely treated and protected, particularly against acts of violence, insults and public curiosity.

Measures of reprisal against them are prohibited.



Prisoners of war have the right to have their person and their honor respected. Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex.

Prisoners retain their full civil status.

Previous to the conventions of 1929, prisoners of war were protected under the Laws and Customs of War, signed at The Hague on October 18th, 1907.  Prisoners were protected under Chapter II, Article 4 of the Hague convention, which reads as follows:

Art. 4.

Prisoners of war are in the power of the hostile Government, but not of the individuals or corps who capture them.

They must be humanely treated.

All their personal belongings, except arms, horses, and military papers, remain their property.

So here we have almost 100 years of documented agreements, entered into and honored by the United States Government.  Honored in World War I.  Honored in World War II.  Honored, for the record, by the Nazi regime during World War II.

But now we have a crisis of clarity that the wise and honorable Mister Bush hopes to rectify.  The question he asks is one, apperently, our military and intelligence corps have been crippled by for decades–What is an outrage to human dignity?

Is it okay, we need to know, to crap on the Quran?

Can we, soldiers across the globe fitfully wonder every night as they toss and turn on their cots, threaten prisoners with rape and murder?

Would it be an outrage to human dignity, new CIA cadets often ask, if I make a prisoner strip down naked and pretend to perform oral sex on another prisoner while an attack dog snarls at him and I take pictures?

I wonder, our protectors of freedom and democracy wonder aloud, if I can send someone off to a country that we know tortures people, knowing that these people will be tortured?

Then again, what is dignity anyway?

Inquiring minds want to know.




::extraordinary rendition

19 09 2006

Mister President–

I think I need some clarity on this.

Say you’re a Canadian citizen, and you’re travelling home to Canada from a trip overseas.  Your return trip takes through JFK International, where you have to catch a connecting flight.  Say you’re getting off your plane and you’re on your way to you connection when you get arrested kidnapped in the airport. 

Let’s go on in this scenario and say that you’re held for two weeks by officials working for the United States government, and during that time you’re not allowed to call any of the following people:

  1. Your wife back home in Canada
  2. Your lawyer
  3. The Canadian embassy or any member of the Canadian government. 

Let us also remember, in this hypothetical situation, that there are treaties between the Canadian and US governments dealing with just this sort of thing, and that the treaties spell out that you should be able to, at a minimum, get in touch with 2 and 3 on the list above. You’re a good Canadian who knows a thing or two about what your government does, and you’re aware of your rights.  No one seems to care.

So let’s say you’re held in the US for two weeks, after which time the CIA decides to put you on a plane and fly you to Jordan, and then drive you to Syria, where you are turned over by the CIA to the Syrian government.  The Syrians hold you for a year, during which time you are repeatedly tortured.

When the US government is asked about you and your whereabouts, let’s say they deny ever having heard of you.  For a year or so.  Then they refuse to say where you are or what has become of you.

But let’s say the Syrians can’t get anything out of you, and they give you back to the Canadians, who spend the next two years smearing your name and calling you a terrorist. 

Then all of a sudden they realize that you’re not a terrorist, you’ve never had terrorist sympathies, and you’ve never done anything wrong.  Unless of course, being of Arab descent while travelling through US airspace is wrong.  And it very well may be. 

The Canadians issue apologies, offer you compensation for the money you’ve lost and the slander  you’ve suffered, and genuinely try to make up for their part in the horrible injustice that’s been done to you and your family.  The United States, on the other hand, summarily dismisses without comment the lawsuit you filed against them.

Bullshit, right? 

That’s just another liberal bullshit conspiracy story that never happens.  We are saving the world for democracy here, people. 

We are the guys in the white hats.

Tell that to Maher Arar.  The bullshit story above is his story, and it is true.

But hey, there’s a war on, right?  And every airport, bus stop, train station and intersection is part of the front, right? We are all players here, we are all soldiers. 

This is tragic, this is sad, this is a terrible injustice, but would which would we rather have–a few mistakes, a few people tortured when they shouldn’t be, or another 9/11?  That’s how the logic goes.  There is collateral damage in every war.

Wrong.  If this can happen to one person, if the government can blow off treaties and laws and common human decency when dealing with a Arab Canadian no one is likely to care about, it can happen to anyone.  You or me, in New York or Kansas City, citizen or no. 

Am I paranoid?  Am I a conspiracy nut?  I don’t think I am.

What’s stopping it from happening?

Who knows that it hasn’t happened already?



::so this must be how the Germans felt

18 09 2006

from, say, 1934 to 1945.  I’m sure it took a year or so for the reality to really take hold, for some of the unbelievable rumors to be confirmed. 

What the hell am I talking about?


Fear that this terrible system is going to swallow us all whole, fear that there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Fear that speaking too loudly is going to make them come for me too.  Fear that I won’t give the right answers to the right questions, and the decision will be made to use some alternative techniques.  Fear that my kids will grow up always looking over their shoulder for THEM. Fear that the boogeyman has been replaced by the terrorist.

Fear that we have been replaced for the terrorists.

Fear that any one of us could be among the 14,000.

I’m not really comparing the US Government to the Nazis, am I? 


Only crackpots do that shit.



::five years on

11 09 2006

The thing I remember most strikingly about September 11th, 2001 and the days that immediately followed is the silence of the sky.  US air space was closed to all traffic on the morning of September 11th, and the ban held for something like a week.  It left the night sky eerily empty quiet.  Quiet in the way a person in shock is quiet.  The way a person will sit in stunned silence trying to wrap their minds around what their eyes are telling them as they stare a gaping whole in their body or the empty space where a limb used to be.

At the time, we lived just a few miles from a moderately busy regional airport, and regularly could see larger planes flying over on their way to or from Sacramento International Airport.  Sometimes we would even see training flights from the former Mather Air Force Base, which still had a sizable amount of military activity despite the majority of the base being closed and turned over to civilian activities. 

I sat outside that night smoking and looking to that pitch black night sky, and wondering if there would be some semblance of hope in the stars that had not yet emerged to poke through the glow of the city.  I mourned for my country–something I hadn’t really ever done before–and I mourned for the innocence lost and the terrible hatred brewing out of it.

There used to be a guy from the Nation of Islam who would stand outside the door to the supermarket up the road from me on Tuesdays.  He’d hand out his paper and talk to whoever wanted to talk to him, though he kept conversation with non-blacks to a minimum.  I’d waive at him whenever I saw him, which was often.  I went to the supermarket late on that afternoon to get a bottle of wine.  I remember how much I wanted to have a drink and just get some  of the tension out of my neck.  He was there, standing behind his table with his news papers spread out, rigid and defiant.  Maybe a little scared.  I’d already heard reports on the news of people who appeared to be middle-eastern getting jumped, shop owners running out and buying every American flag they could get their hands on.  One Sikh convenience store owner in Arizona or New Mexico had already been beaten to death, and the sun hadn’t even gone down yet. 

I walked up and told him that he needed to pack up and get out of here as fast as he could.  He stared at me for a second, trying to read me and trying to decide which rehearsed response he would use.  He started to say something and I cut him off.  People are going crazy with rage, I remember telling him.  They are looking to avenge thousands of deaths, and right now every Muslim on the planet is responsible for those deaths.  Today is not the day to be out here.  Today is not the day to fight this fight.  I went inside before he had a chance to say anything, and he was gone when I came out 10 minutes later. 

Two more years I lived there, and I never saw him again.

My semblance of hope came two and half years later with the birth of our second son, Liam.  He was born two days after the Iraq war started.  Talking to my wife on the couch in the early morning on the day he was born, we wondered what we were bringing him into.  Wondered how we would protect him from it and not allow him to be tainted by it.  We are still trying to do that, every day.  Not just with him, but his older brother Zachary, and their baby brother Elliot.  

Zachary has now lived half of his life under the shadow of war–he’s got an uncle who spent a year in combat in Iraq and he hears every single day about death and destruction and mayhem.  He doesn’t understand it, and he asks questions often.  Sometimes they are very detailed questions about very specific things–strategy or weaponry or some such thing.  Sometimes the questions are much more general and impossible to really answer.  Questions like, Who is actually stupid enough to think that any good will ever come from a war?  When he asks these questions, he is pissed off, and the edge in his voice is sharp.

I used to try and defend the last resort of war in some way.  I would remind him of our trip to Germany in the winter of 2003, and of our trip to Dachau.  I would point out the millions who died in the Holocaust, and that millions more would have died–could maybe still be dying today–if war had not liberated the camps. 

The last time I used this argument, he was disgusted with me, and it showed. 

“That is a fluke and a cop out,” he said, almost spitting, he was so mad. 

“You’re right, at some level.”

I don’t try to answer the questions anymore when they come so angrily.  I just hope for him and the others that war doesn’t forever silence and darken their skies.



::big speech

7 09 2006

Let me just open this up with a quote:

“…The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it — and I will not authorize it. Last year, my administration worked with Senator John McCain, and I signed into law the Detainee Treatment Act, which established the legal standard for treatment of detainees wherever they are held. I support this act. And as we implement this law, our government will continue to use every lawful method to obtain intelligence that can protect innocent people, and stop another attack like the one we experienced on September the 11th, 2001.”

George W. Bush

September 6th, 2006

And just for fun, I’d like to follow that up with an excerpt from a little something called a Presidental Signing Statement:

“The president, as commander in chief, can waive the torture ban if he decides that harsh interrogation techniques will assist in preventing terrorist attacks.”

So we know for a fact what we’ve known as speculation for almost a year now: The CIA kidnaps people in our name–make that your name–they kidnap people in your name, and hold them in secret for months while using alternative sets of procedures with which to extract information out of them. 

We can’t be told what these alternative procedures are; security reasons, you see.  But the procedures we usually use don’t work, so we know what the procedures aren’t.  The alternative procedures the President referred to do not include any of the following:

  • The use of attack dogs

  • Humiliation

  • Degredation

  • Deficating on the Quran

  • Simulating rape

  • Female interrogators stripping down

  • Female interrogators pretending to wipe menstral blood on prisoners

  • Falsely telling prisoners their families have been captured and\or killed because of them

  • Forcing prisoners to remain in painful positions for hours or even days
  • Depriving prisoners of food and water
  • Forced isolation of prisoners

None of these practices were used.  We used alternativesWe did.  You and me, us and them.

But one thing you can be sure of, everyone, is that we are safer now that this type of thing is being done around the world to hundreds or thousands of people.  Or only one–does it matter?  If we throw away our priciples for one occassion, why not despense with them altogether?

Stalin had something to say about that idea, and I think it rings true here.

One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.

Joseph Stalin

But what we are after here is order.  Safety.  Control. 

Liberty breeds danger, after all.




::new fascism

5 09 2006

“…once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism”

Donald Rumsfeld

August 29th, 2006

Got that right.

The new fascism that so many of us are morally and intellectually confused about has some characteristics that the world is all too familar with.

Did I miss anything?

We must fight this new fascism with all that we have, and, just as Rumsfeld cautions, that the extremists behind this new facsism cannot be appeased.

Regime change ’08.