Friday, June 19, 2009

A Patriot's Guide to Vegetables

Avocado: Now, I know you’re thinking ‘what in tarnation is a tree fruit with an illegal immigrant name doing on a list of patriotic vegetables?’ The answer is this – these puppies got enough potassium in a bushel-full to assassinate ten abortionists. It’s not as messy as shootin’ ‘em, you don’t have to do it at church (though you certainly could), and we could blame it all on the Mexicans. Yessir, Avocados serve our country proud.

Corn: As the saying goes, ‘corn didn’t land on Plymouth Rock’. And I’ll give you that. I know it’s politically correct to point out that Indians eat corn. So I will. That doesn’t make any of them patriotic. Matter of fact I got my suspicions that all the genetic engineering and cloning they do with corn may have something to do with the stem cell research John Kerry wanted to do to help out Osama. But I can’t ignore the fact that eatin’ an ear of corn while watching my favorite episode of Everybody Loves Raymond is one of the simple joys of life. When that guy with the droopy face talks in that Frankenstein voice all I can think of is how glad I am that life begins at conception, and how delicious this corn tastes. I don’t care what Big Oil says, corn’s patriotic.

Eggplant: I should start by saying that aubergines are as anti-American as Jim Carey on a date with Mike Myers at a falafel hut, and they will not be tolerated. But eggplants are alright. I can slice ‘em into pieces and fry them, beer-battered, and munch on them during Everybody Loves Raymond. Also, I can’t help but feel that if eggplants had to use a disposable razor, they’d pick Gillette, because it’s the ‘best a man can get’ and eggplants always remind me of a testicle inflicted with elephantitis. Schick is for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Patriots use Gillette, and that’s why eggplant is a patriot.

Soy Beans: Not patriotic. The Jerrys eat ‘em like popcorn. They got it from the Russians who got it from the North Koreans. No sir, I do NOT want my house bought and paid for by Kim Jung Il and I will not partake in the intake of soy beans. Plus that episode where Ray’s mother decides she aint gonna eat any fat no more and at Thanksgiving she has the gall to cook a tofu turkey?! That nearly ruined my marriage. That’s right soy beans are the food of communists, abortionists and married gays.

Peas: Peas are like tiny little bald heads freshly shaven by a Gillette disposable razor. Peas are in pods the way Ray is intertwined with his parents, his brother and his wife. Peas never ‘choose’ to end a life. And peas love to play scratch lottery tickets. Peas are as patriotic as that Chappaquiddick girl who gave her life so that Ted Kennedy would never become president.

Potatoes: Many are suspicious of spudding dirt-lingerers. But I know a handful of Armenians and they’re not as bad as you’d think. They’re alright. And potatoes are just fine too. You can peel their skin with a Gillette disposable razor. You can put four toothpicks in them and recreate your favorite episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. Or you could even scratch off your instant lottery ticket with a chipped potato of the Ruffles kind. Potatoes are as patriotic as the cleanly shaven Jesus in the custom-made portrait I have of Jesus to combat the liberal revisionist history version of a Jesus with unwieldy facial hair obviously caused by using a Schick disposable razor.

Rutabaga: I never saw Ray’s Dad make a morose statement about Rutabagas. I never saw them at a disposable Gillette shaver convention lunch buffet. I never heard of an instant scratch lottery winner spending their money on them. And I for damn sure never heard of anyone putting make-up on them and kissing them before I go to bed. Unpatriotic.

Squash: This is technically a fruit, but so is everything Nancy Pelosi ever said, so, we’ll count it. Squashes are a very lucky fruit. It was because of them that I won that $500 that one time on scratch tickets. They doll up real nice too. If you got your own lipstick and a wig it gets pretty close to the real thing. Squash don’t make no judgments. That’s patriotic in my book.

Turnips: Turnips don’t look past you to the computer when they get home from work. Turnips always encourage you even when they’re discouraging you. Turnips don’t hide things about your finances from you or tell you the same thing over and over even after you told them you’d take care of it. Turnips like it when you try to engage them about things they’re interested in. Turnips love Raymond, lottery tickets, Gillette disposable razors and political assassination. Turnips will put on that wig for you and insert that vegetable you like. Turnips are as patriotic as Michael Jordan brushing his teeth with an Oral-B toothbrush (Gillette subsidiary sister of Proctor and Gamble).

Zucchini: Full disclosure, my father was killed by a Zucchini. Luckily for zucchini he was an abortionist. If it were zucchini’s gay cousin cucumber that killed my dad, I’d hold a grudge, but the fact is, zucchini has helped me through many lonely nights. It is a gorgeous vegetable that will imitate any position we see on Everybody Loves Raymond and scratch off a lottery ticket as we both climax. If that isn’t patriotic, I don’t know what patriotism means.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Prolonged Detention a Non-Starter in International Law

The Obama administration’s proposed ‘prolonged detention’ program has drawn criticism from all corners of the political ring. I defended the concept of the program through pragmatic, ethical and utilitarian arguments here. Although I believe the program is the right thing to do (within the strict parameters outlined), that doesn’t mean it is legal. Clearly it is not legal under U.S. law, which is why the Obama administration is pressuring Congress to change the laws to make the program, going forward, lawful. Despite being the most popular politician world-wide (a distinction that never would have been possible with a President McCain), President Obama cannot so easily shirk U.S. responsibilities under international law. As it happens, no matter how you package it or rework the legalese in the American judicial system to sanction the program, it would still be in clear contravention of multilateral treaties that the U.S. is party to. Not only are these treaties not the ones you would expect to uphold the rights of due process, equal treatment before the law, and a trial by jury, they are actually the treaties that the U.S. utilizes the most in its ‘War on Terror’.

In Obama’s national security speech he outlined a program his administration is proposing that would indefinitely detain prisoners of Guantanamo Bay that were deemed a threat to security, unable to stand trial in the American legal system and also unable to be tried before ‘military commission’. As I previously remarked, this population would most likely be limited to detainees who have no evidence against them who were in effect innocent at the time of apprehension, but who have in large part due to being tortured become a threat to American national security. It is not a pleasant thought experiment to undertake and has understandably drawn ire from defenders of civil liberties. Legal scholars too are debating whether this program would mark an ominous precedent, or whether it would be similar to policies of Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt during a time of war. I would fall in the former category, though I would say Obama’s proposed program is indeed less ominous than those of Lincoln and Roosevelt. Those breaches of Constitutional guarantees, particularly the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II represent some of the larger scars on American legal tradition. There is a clear difference between those policies and Obama’s proposed program – while Lincoln and Roosevelt’s breaches of law were on a broad or national scale, Obama’s program will apply only to a small, definite and limited population. If it is extended beyond current detainees at Guantanamo that meet the criteria set forth earlier, then it will indeed be unjustified and as ugly and unwarranted as previous American concentration camps.

American obligations under international law are another story. International humanitarian law governs conduct of nations during a time of war. The Hague and Geneva Conventions are viewed as the foundational multilateral treaties of humanitarian law. The first and second Geneva conventions deal with the treatment of armed forces in the field. The third Geneva Convention deals specifically with the treatment of prisoners of war. The U.S. is a signatory and was among the first to ratify the Geneva Conventions including the third regarding treatment of war captives. If the Geneva Conventions apply to the detainees at Guantanamo, then Obama’s proposed program would be in direct violation. Even when applied only to the small theoretical population I described earlier – innocent captives who became victims of torture and are now security threats – the Geneva Conventions specifically address this situation:

Third Geneva Convention

Part IV, Section I, Art. 109
Throughout the duration of hostilities, Parties to the conflict shall endeavour, with the cooperation of the neutral Powers concerned, to make arrangements for the accommodation in neutral countries of the sick and wounded prisoners of war referred to in the second paragraph of the following Article. They may, in addition, conclude agreements with a view to the direct repatriation or internment in a neutral country of able-bodied prisoners of war who have undergone a long period of captivity.

Part IV, Section I, Art 110. The following shall be repatriated direct:

(1) Incurably wounded and sick whose mental or physical fitness seems to have been gravely diminished.

II. General Observations

(1) The conditions given shall, in a general way, be interpreted and applied in as broad a spirit as possible. Neuropathic and psychopathic conditions caused by war or captivity, as well as cases of tuberculosis in all stages, shall above all benefit by such liberal interpretation.

It is fairly clear; captives that have incurable mental illness that was cause by the conditions of captivity are to be directly repatriated to their home country. Even General Petreaus has recently claimed that the U.S. violated the Geneva Conventions (though possibly in an [semi]unrelated matter). I can not find a reasonable opinion as to why these detainees would not fall under the Geneva Conventions (sorry, eight years of the Bush administration). As such, Obama’s newly proposed program would do nothing to change that.

Let’s do a thought experiment, though. Let us say for the sake of argument that the detainees do not fall under jurisdiction of the Geneva Conventions. What then? Isn’t there international human rights law in place that would prevent this program? The answer is surprisingly ‘not necessarily’. But what is even more surprising is that there is international terrorism law that would.

If we look at international human rights law, the so called ‘international bill of human rights’ – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – would be where we would begin to look for a right not to be indefinitely detained with no legal charges brought against us. This program would violate nearly the entire first half of the UDHR. Unfortunately it is an aspirational document and does not require actions of states. The ICESC doesn’t really deal with civil and political issues, and besides the U.S. isn’t even a signatory. That leaves the ICCPR. This is a civil and political matter. The ICCPR has the force of law (as much as international law has force). Article 9 states this:

Article 9

1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.

2. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.

3. Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.

4. Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.

5. Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.


Obama’s indefinite detention program would be in gross violation of this Article of the ICCPR. But wait:

Article 4

1 . In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin.

2. No derogation from articles 6, 7, 8 (paragraphs I and 2), 11, 15, 16 and 18 may be made under this provision.

So as long as Obama declares a public emergency to the Security Council (Art.4.3), it is within the parameters of this Covenant to derogate from the right to trial by jury and of non-arbitrary arrest and detention. So much for Civil and Political Rights Guantanamo detainees!

Thankfully, because of the U.S.’s own efforts to internationally prosecute terrorism, there is a broad framework consisting of thirteen multilateral treaties that deal with terrorist offences. Due to the politically charged nature of terrorism, international consensus about a definition of terrorism has proven, so far, impossible to reach. As such, international terrorism law addresses specific acts which most states are willing to call terrorism – including hijacking airplanes, assassinating diplomats, bombings, and taking hostages. In all but one of these conventions there is a provision of aut dedere aut judicare; extradite or prosecute. The first terrorism convention, the Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, signed at Tokyo on 14 September 1963, did not contain such a provision and led to a string of hijackings that went unprosecuted. In 1970 The Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft was signed into law at The Hague covering, for the most part, the offences outlined in the Tokyo Convention. This convention required prosecution or extradition of offenders, as did every terrorism convention that has come since.

What this means is that whatever terrorism charge that the U.S. took Guantanamo detainees into custody for, warranted or not, they are required as signatory to every one of the terrorism conventions to prosecute the suspects or extradite them to their country of origin.

Obama does not have an easy out here. He can not just change the rules and make the proposed indefinite detention program legitimate in all circumstances. These treaties have been ratified by the U.S. Senate and carry the force of law. But this leads back to the question of ‘who enforces international law?’ And the answer right now is sadly ‘the U.N. Security Council’ on which America has a veto over any proposed resolution. Retribution could be sought by countries of origin of the detainees through the International Court of Justice, but the U.S. would most likely claim that the I.C.J. has no jurisdiction, as it did in the Nicaragua case (1986), though it clearly does under the U.N. Charter. At least in the Nicaragua case the U.S. allowed for the jurisdiction of the I.C.J. in the judgment of customary international law. That is, until the court found America in violation of that as well, at which time the U.S. dismissed the ruling outright by way of Security Council veto.

America has a choice here. Are we going to legitimize international rule of law and eschew the doctrine of American exceptionalism that has garnered international criticism, undermined the U.N. system, and prevented progress in the establishment of international democratic institutions? Or are we going to say ‘We’re a team of Mavericks, either you’re with us or against us, mission accomplished’?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An Appointment with Fate (or, A Good Doctor is Hard to Find)

Cross-posted from One Year In Texas

By Bub

The good Doctor had fallen on hard times. His scalpels weren’t as sharp as they used to be. His tongue-depressors now came from the fifth best merchant of depressors tongue and the like, instead of the third. That little shelf that you pull out on the Doctor’s examination bed wont push back in. He had recently seen a man with dropsy of the liver, and all he could do was sigh and brush the patient’s cheek with a cottonseed tail. He tried so very hard to lobby his way out of this funk. He took out advertisements on shop walls. He carved etchings into lavatory stalls. He wrote newspaper editorials for the Sunday Times. He dispatched several middle-sized marsupial creatures with violence. To no avail. That is, until one blustery summer’s eve.

After he got out of his funk that one blustery summer’s eve, the good Doctor took up the sport of pigeon-calling. He spent all of his mornings at the Royal Pigeon-Calling Yards in Northton. He became so entangled in his pigeon-calling pursuits that, on more than one occasion, he forgot to remove his pigeon-calling gloves when he greeted his first patient of the day. Now, at the time this was perfectly acceptable especially if the patient’s family was of higher moral stature than the good Doctor’s, but years later it became a popular insult and the good Doctor felt retroactively mortified. At present however, the good Doctor just forced a smile through the aching loneliness he felt in his throat

Before going to bed each night the good Doctor would swallow a tablespoon of corn flour. This served no medical purpose; he was simply taken with the taste. But as it turns out, once word of this sort of thing gets around, it can make a man many political enemies. And one St. Vincent’s Day at market, the good Doctor let it slip as to why a simple Welsh Doctor made regular purchase of barrel quantity corn flour. He did not know it, but it was the beginning of the end; the end of his days of buying corn flour discreetly and without others knowing the purpose for which the flour was being bought.

The day IT happened, the good Doctor stood in front of a restaurant vent in the Polish Quarter. He came down here in the evenings to enjoy the scent of pierogies and the feeling of racial superiority. A Pole ship-crewman approached. Saying nothing, he reached inside his satchel and retrieved a copy of Le Monde. The Pole held the news straight in front of the good Doctor’s face so that he was sure to get a good look. “Qu'ils Mangent de la Brioche” read the banner headline – Let them eat egg bread! The Pole tore the paper in two down the middle and threw the newspaper refuse with disdain into the air. The two men stared at each other with a sense of knowing and purpose as newspaper confetti rained down upon them. They were comrades now. The war had begun...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

‘Prolonged’ Detention Lesser Evil, Still, Evil

President Obama’s proposed preventative, or to use the President’s word ‘prolonged’, detention program that was outlined in his national security speech last week has rightly generated a lot of controversy. It is controversial. Unfortunately, much of the criticism so far is misplaced. The pronouncement of the program was largely met with speculation of doomful hypothetical situations – anything from the totalitarian detention of thought criminals to the end of the justice system as we know it. What is more, this speculation has come from all sides of the political spectrum – liberals who are afraid to confront reality and conservatives who are not even capable of that confrontation. The reality is that a ‘prolonged’ detention program may be the only moral choice left to rectify a long series of immoral policies.

Let us start with the fact that we only know a couple of things about the proposed ‘prolonged’ detention program, which are these: Obama only referred to ‘prolonged’ detention in regards to current Guantanamo detainees that are determined a threat and are unable to be tried (for reasons we will get to later); and that it will be a system that will include periodic review and the involvement of all three branches of government. If these are the sole parameters of a ‘prolonged’ detention program then such a program should be welcomed across ideological lines. This scenario seems to be the most likely outcome of a ‘prolonged’ detention program if only because it is what the President indicated, “I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred.” Obama is a gifted lawyer and as such very thoughtful in his choice of words. If he goes against them and expands the scope of any ‘prolonged’ detention program beyond “remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred”, then cries of abusive expansion of authority will be justified. Until then it is imperative to take account of the situation that is and not cloud our judgments with situations we fear.

As much as it pains one to advocate the seeming abrogation of our Constitution and indeed the fundamental human rights of potentially dozens of people, our commitment to the protection of innocent lives must outweigh our commitment to absolutist legal principles, because even human rights can be conflicting. I have advocated against the detention of prisoners at, and indeed the existence of, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and the use of torture, since these violations of U.S. and international law were first committed. That doesn’t change the fact that they have happened. It also does not change the fact that over seventy Guantanamo detainees released so far have gone on to fight against American troops or commit acts of terror. No doubt some, if not the majority, of these former detainees were completely innocent at the time of their capture or rendition, just as there is no doubt that many more innocent people were tortured and remain captive at Guantanamo Bay today.

Let us be clear, ‘prolonged’ detention in whatever form it takes would only be applicable to people who are innocent of any crimes, because anyone with a shred of evidence against them would at least be given a military tribunal. But over the course of seven years of torture and the close comradeship of very guilty Al Qaeda members it is likely that some, not necessarily all, of these innocent people now have the singular intention of committing terrorist acts upon release. I don’t want the government imprisoning people by way of determining who ‘is likely’ to commit terrorist acts, especially people that have not even committed a crime. But clearly the situation at Guantanamo Bay is exceptional. Anti-torture advocates, I among them, argue that torture creates terrorists, and in that argument we are generally only referring to people recruited to Al Qaeda by the mere thought of it. Actual victims of torture are understandably even more likely to engage in terrorism toward the society that allowed them to be tortured if only for retribution.

Despite being routinely misled about security threats for the past eight years, we still have the rational capacity to determine if our government is misleading us. We also still have professionals that are fully capable of competently assessing a security threat. If it is judged by a competent authority that some of these innocent (or not so innocent) victims pose a grave danger to the safety of other innocent people then that judgment has to be sufficiently damning. Arguments that favor upholding a legal principle in the face of any mitigating circumstances don’t account for reality.

The fact is that we do preventively detain people who have been determined a threat – people with mental illness. Mentally ill people who show signs of violence or violent ideation are detained indeterminately all the time with no serious objection. This is done because it is necessary to keep people safe and there is no viable alternative. It is unwelcomed and it is miserable, but it is reality nonetheless.

If, in the very peculiar and sad circumstances of Guantanamo Bay, intelligence experts and psychologists determine some of the innocent detainees are indeed threats to the lives of themselves or others, then it is the duty of the American government to keep them in detention for as long as they are deemed dangerous. This does not mean that they need to be imprisoned forever - indeed after more humane treatment and rehabilitation it would be likely that many could be released in the future. It also does not mean that it is preferable, if there is not a grave threat then innocent detainees should be released, as they have been. But in cases where a grave threat is posed by a detainee then there is no moral argument to release them, only to do harm to themselves or others. This should not be an easy determination. It should be done through the most rigorous procedures available. This should not even be simply deliberative. This should be painful as hell and we should all be very ashamed that it has come to this. But this should demonstrate all the more the necessity of bringing the perpetrators of the crimes that have led us here to justice.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Together Through Modern Times


This is cross-posted from One Year In Texas

The album Together Through Life felt like watching Woody Allen act in Picking Up the Pieces alongside Andy Dick and Fran Drescher, and liking it. Sure, he had already done Small Time Crooks, but that was in the past right? And David Schwimmer was in the prime of his career! It was something I anticipated (admittedly much less so [than Together Through Life that is) and it left me with the uncomfortable task of having to apologize for when the crap that was on the screen (metaphorically) hit my grandmother’s cerebral cortex (my grandfather had fallen asleep before the movie started). Even the most challenging and interesting songs on this album are drooping with schmaltz, which I recently learned is a real thing (pure animal fat used for cooking…). Case in point - Life is Hard. It is the only song on the album that I didn’t feel like I heard at the Cajun Fest’ in Amana, Iowa, bobbing back and forth with my deep-fried corn on the cob (seriously) next to drunken hay-bailers, dream-catcher dealers and biker chicks widowed by Army Reservists (and my wife and child, and I honestly enjoyed Cajun Fest’ [and deep-fried corn on the cob]…). But still I felt like it didn’t say anything that Bob didn’t already say better on Oh Mercy.

I saw that Jolene was on the track-list and was actually excited to hear a Dolly Parton cover for the first time since I camped out in front of the theater at the opening of The Bodyguard. Alas, even though it was not an actual cover it felt like a fake cover of something not even worth covering. “Baby I am the King and you is the Queen”.

At this point I want to put in the disclaimer in rock criticism that I have always been waiting to read but have not yet seen – that no matter how harsh my criticism is, I can never make anything worthy of licking the nose of this album or even the worst album that Bob Dylan has ever done (and this is still far from that). This is an amazing contribution to the art form of music and will change the landscape of… you get the idea.

But still, is Hell really your wife’s home town Bob Dylan? Jeez she sounds pretty awful then. Or are we supposed to feel sorry for her? I can’t tell because I was too busy shaking my hips to the twelve bar blues.

I like the idea of having to walk right if I ever go to Houston. But when he started talking about when if I ever go to Dallas, I could only think about Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman and about how I better pioneer the TV series Dream Season.

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, Forgetful Heart and It’s All Good are all brooding, foreboding and existential in scope. But at the same time they’re all smaller than what Dylan accomplished with his last three albums. It’s All Good may deal with the end of the world, but it does it in a way that makes it sound like a 70-something-year-old man is trying to communicate in a hip manner with teenagers, and not in a cute way like when he referenced Alicia Keyes in Thunder on the Mountain. Beyond Here and Forgetful Heart deal with powerful issues but they come out through the device of romantic melodrama. And that’s hard to get past. Especially since he didn’t make us get past anything with recent doomful tomes like Aint Talkin’ and High Water.

So this was a horrible disappointment. But still a great album. And by far the best album of 2009! I can’t wait to see Dylan live one more time. Stay alive Bob! I loved the album, really.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Great Reconciler - How Obama is Making the Far Left Look Like the Far Right

So the title of this article is a little overzealous. This is really a response to a single article, the article Obama Looking Very Short on Change at newmatilda.com. You can read the whole article here. However, I find the criticisms made against Obama in this article representative of things I have been hearing from my ultra-leftist friends, and, oblivious to the irony, the right-wing pundits. The latter not out of conviction but out of a desperation for arguments against Obama that could stick. The former out of a desire to cling to the almost tantric sense of disenfranchisement imposed by George W. Bush.

“Consider first the case of Afghanistan. Obama — more intelligent and candid than Bush — has admitted the occupation of Afghanistan is going badly. What has he learnt from this? To respect Afghanistan's sovereignty and the wishes of its people? No. Obama has inherited Bush's imperial arrogance, which is considered so natural that it goes unnoticed, even when openly reported. British paper the Independent, for example, reported that Obama has decided he doesn't like Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, and wants to find a new one.”


First, you have to be careful when you assert that you know the will of a people without pointing to evidence. What if the will of its people is to impose a fundamentalist Sharia Law not only on its own citizens but on the rest of the world as well, say a Sharia Law that legalizes marital rape for instance, or a death penalty for being gay, And what if they are willing to allow mass terror attacks to be organized and administered in their sovereign territory? I’m not saying that IS the will of the Afghan people, I think it’s more likely they want to live a normal happy life free from war, but I also think that they’d prefer not to have 4th Century repression imposed on them by the barrel of a Kalashnikov. It’s a serious question to ask because you have to make the decision of what you value more – State sovereignty, or human rights. Is it more important for China or Sudan to have impunity for committing acts tantamount to genocide, or is it more important to stop the Genocide itself? If you would stop Genocide where would you draw the line? There is no hard and fast answer to that question.

You also need to consider if it is moral to leave a despot installed by George Bush who is among the most corrupt leaders in the world, one who cannot even provide the most basic governmental services to his people while at the same time allowing government officials to bribe people for anything from entering the airport to delivering food aid, to leave the Afghan people at his discretion? Because he is elected? How free and fair are Afghan elections when the local warlord who controls every aspect of you public life tells you which way to vote because Karzai’s people look the other way on his opium fields? How free and fair can election be when the majority of the population is ill-informed, illiterate and terrified? Those are other questions to consider before you declare the paramount status of state sovereignty, or the so-called will of the people.

“However, lately even Karzai has been speaking out against American arrogance towards Afghanistan. The Economist notes that he has been publicly condemning the US airstrikes that have been killing Afghan civillians. It even called him "strident", as it is considered inappropriate and audacious for poor countries to dare lecture the rulers of the world about who they should or shouldn't be killing.”

The Obama administration has apologized for civilian casualties. Of course that doesn’t make them right, but it is not fair to pretend that he callously overlooks them. You have to look at it in the context of whether you believe we should fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda or not, and then consider the very important distinction between deliberately targeting civilians, which Al Qaeda and increasingly the Taliban does as a matter of policy, and the unforgiveable yet unintentional killing of civilians in the act of fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It is like if a police sniper misses a target in a hostage crisis, one in which the hostage taker has already killed several people, and the sniper kills a hostage, you berate the sniper as if there was no hostage crisis and that he/she intentionally killed the hostage while remaining eerily silent on the presence of and murders committed by the hostage taker.

“But then, any Middle Eastern country, no matter how tyrannous, which is willing to obey Washington (and perhaps tacitly support Israeli crimes against the Palestinians), is ipso facto considered "moderate".”

Look, I agree that the ties the US has with S.A., Egypt and Israel are terrible in many aspects in that there is a certain level of complicity in not standing up to them. But I also think that you can’t make that argument when you condemn the US for ‘imperialism’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan when it is fighting against tyrannical elements at least as bad as in any Middle East dictatorships (or democratic systems engaging in large scales crimes against humanity). And I think this type of argument was exploited in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. Because either they’re tyrannous and we do something about it (sanctions, or war, both of which I was opposed to) or we don’t and we have people do what is being done here, which is criticize for complicity in their tyrannous rule, ignoring what is in between the two extremes. I agree that more should be done, but don’t accuse Obama of being disingenuous on these issues, he has been clear about his intentions to support Israel from the start, but he also acknowledged that they will no longer be given a blank check. He has already worked to strengthen ties with Turkey, the flagship Islamic democratic republic. And he has softened the tone with regards to Iran, which he gets criticized for either way – complicity or arrogance, right? But in reality it is inclusion, engagement and dialogue that will bring progress. Look how well isolation has worked in North Korea, Burma and Cuba.

“Obama's "change" platform did, however, include one substantive issue. He virtually pledged that he would bomb Pakistan, and that is what he has been doing.”


This is another example of the invocation of the sovereignty uber alles argument and the ‘ignore the hostage taker’ syndrome. First of all the territory the U.S. has bombed is not administered by the Pakistani government, despite the name Federally Administered Tribal Areas. And more importantly they are bombing targets they believe are Al Qaeda and Taliban. Sometimes they are not correct. That does not excuse it. But it does explain it. People are being trained and armed in these areas of Pakistan to go and shoot up restaurants and hotels in Kabul, and blow up women and children doing their shopping (as well as fighting Coalition Forces [forgive me for use of that term I could not think of a better one]). As uncomfortable as it is as a supporter of non-violence I still find it imperative to draw the distinction of motive – in judging the purposeful killing of innocent civilians as worse than the unintentional killing of innocent civilians. You can argue then that ‘well we shouldn’t be there in the first place, and we should just leave’. And that is easy for you to argue if you’re not the president of the U.S. If we just leave Afghanistan and let the Taliban flourish there and provide safe-haven for Al Qaeda, there is a credible threat to U.S. national security that is created that, as president, Obama is responsible for. I say it is credible because it already happened once. It is different from Iraq, because the threat there was not credible. But that’s not what we’re arguing about here. Ultimately it comes to whether or not you cede control over an area to the Taliban (which Pakistan is doing increasingly). You can object to the US imposing its will on States it doesn’t like, and even tacitly supporting dictatorships, which I do, but it is a wholly different scenario when the authoritarian entity in question has the means motive and will to attack you. It is like a non-violence advocate saying that he wouldn’t stop someone from raping and murdering his wife and daughter. Some principles are more valuable than others – like the principle of not having your family raped and murdered (that is a principle right?) vs. the principle of non-violence. And it is Obama’s responsibility to the U.S. and Afghanistan in this situation; the Afghans who are not violent-religious-zealots, and the Americans – violent-religious-zealots and all.

“Plainly, Obama's "radical reversal" doesn't include worrying about the nagging of people in foreign countries. They fail to understand that they should not determine what happens in their own land.”


Again, it is certainly the case that the U.S. throws its weight around with less powerful nations to get policies it prefers. Sometimes that is actually a good thing – like human rights conditions for aid. A lot of the time though it is a bad thing – ignoring human rights for corporate access to markets, materials and labor. This example (U.S. military involvement in Pakistan) is a completely different species. And when you conflate them, you devalue the left’s arguments against U.S.-corporate exploitation because proponents can simply point out your implicit support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan by saying it's okay for them to have a safe haven there.

“The depressing continuities extend to US policy on Israel. Obama appointed Dennis Ross to his administration, making as plain as possible that he is going to continue America's support for the Israeli occupation.”

“Obama is also continuing the boycott of Hamas.”


I am with you on this. I am sure Obama will be mildly better on Israel than Bush was, but I’m not optimistic. You are right on in your criticism of David Ross appointment and the aid continuance. A couple of interesting points that I have heard recently are that the US support of Israel is solely a product of Israel’s current position as preeminent power in the Middle East, and that that could change accordingly; the other was that Israel is running out of concessions to leverage (the Golan Heights, and Palestinian Statehood being the two realistic options left), and that they are afraid that if they make those concessions they will lose their position of power and also their favored status with the U.S. That means that I hope they make those concessions and their prediction comes to be. But it also means that they will be less likely to make those concessions any time soon.

I do agree with Obama’s decision not to recognize Hamas. It is selective memory to pretend that because they were democratically elected that legitimizes them. Milosevic was democratically elected. It doesn’t change the fact that they commit acts of terrorism. And while I absolutely sympathize with Palestine, I do not support and strongly oppose Hamas, as I oppose the Israeli government for their terrorist policies.

“And finally, to Iraq, and what the Australian's Geoff Elliot interpreted as Obama's "radical reversal". In his article from last month, Elliot tells us that Obama will withdraw 12,000 American troops by September. However, this news doesn't constitute any substantial change.”


That is true, but it ignores the fact that Obama has outlined a plan to withdraw all troops by 2011. I am with you in that I don’t think it’s fast enough, but I don’t claim to have the intelligence insight that I am sure Obama has that prompted him to expand with withdrawal target by three months.

“In an interview with Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill noted that when Obama was questioned on the campaign trail about ending the occupation, Obama declared he would not support a withdrawal that included the new "embassy" that the US has just unveiled in Baghdad. As Scahill says, it is the "largest of any nation anywhere in the history of the planet", and defending it will require a "sizeable armed presence in Baghdad".


I’m with you 100%. Mercenaries are bad. The embassy is ridiculous. End of story.

“Consider also the opinion of regional expert Juan Cole. Cole has consistently opposed the war on Iraq, and is convinced that Obama is ending the occupation. Yet he also notes that Obama's plan includes leaving up to 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of 2011. Cole recognises also that Maliki remains dependent on US military support, so the "caveat about Obama's pledge to remove troops by the end of 2011 is that he cannot possibly be including the US Air Force, which is almost certainly in for a longer mission".

I have to call you out on a word choice here where you say BY instead of UNTIL in the sentence “Obama's plan includes leaving up to 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of 2011”. What you wrote suggests that by the end of 2011 there will still be 50,000 troops in Iraq (which by the way is less than the number of US troops in Germany). While it may be true that there will be 50,000 US troops present until the end of 2011, BY the end of 2011 Obama has pledged to withdraw all troops. Yes, Iraqi forces are still dependant on US forces at this point in time, but using that to argue that Obama is just a continuation of Bush in Iraq is, well it’s like what Juan Cole said in the article you referred to –

“Some Republicans claimed that Obama's plan vindicated their Iraq policies, which is sort of like claiming that Captain Sullenberger's water landing in the Hudson vindicated the geese that knocked out the jet engines.”

“Obama was elected promising change. But in all the U.S.'s recent actions — in everything from a new series of embarrassing gaffes right down to a new Guantanamo — the changes are noticeable to anyone but the victims of US foreign policy.”


You leave out that the gaffes are from Clinton and the ‘series’ consisted of pronouncing a Spanish name Solano instead of Solana, and proclaiming that US democracy was around a lot longer than in Europe which is actually true for most parts of Europe.

But I will grant you that Obama’s position on Bagram airbase is a major disappointment. So is the continuation of extraordinary rendition which you didn’t mention. It is deplorable, and hopefully will be reversed soon, because I have to believe that that is the kind of person Obama is. He is the one that has decommissioned CIA Black Site prisons, he is the one who IS closing Guantanamo Bay, he is the one who has repudiated torture and removed it from US policy (your assertion that just because torture happened at Bagram and Bagram still exists so torture continues is unsound and repudiated by the public policy change Obama made declaring an end to US torture. He does have a genuine concern for human rights demonstrated by his experience as a comunity organizer and a civil rights lawyer.

There are many keen observations and valid points in this article. But they were undercut, by the often confused and sometimes false accusations made toward Obama. It is absolutely important to hold Obama’s feet to the fire. But it is also important to encourage the encouraging and not ignore it.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bub's Public Joke File Vol. 2


I would like to dedicate the folowing post to the recently murdered General Batiste Tagme na Waie of Guinea-Bissau. Hopefully this dedication will prevent any rash reprisals against the sitting president Joao Bernardo Viera.

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I think this is a little hypocritical; everyone loves candy when it tastes sweet. But, nobody likes candy when it is an accessory to rape.

If polygamist means many spouses and bigamist means two spouses, then that makes me a unigamist, which makes me sound like I like one-legged women or am racist.

Jesus walked on the water. I have to admit that is pretty impressive. But you know what’s more impressive? Four guys walking on the fucking moon. That’s why I am a follower of the Unification Church, it is my understanding of the faith that they thought it was pretty cool when those guys walked on the moon and they make real good falafel.

Whenever you see LSD in movies it’s always a gay old time, you see funny things and get a case of the giggles. They never tell you that LSD will tell you to murder someone.

In Kazakhstan, horse meat is a delicacy. That’s crazy right? It’s like if in America, they ate cows.

I went to the ‘12 items or less’ grocery line the other day. I had 13 items. I went up to the counter and the grocery clerk said I would have to go to a regular grocery line because I had too many items. I said, ‘What? Is this a racist grocery line?’ And the grocery clerk said, ‘Not officially’.

I wear my sunglasses at night, so I can, so I can, stare at crotches in jeans (either sex).

I did a bench press last night. I stopped when the homeless man yelled that he couldn’t breathe.

Where do all these Human Rights keep coming from? Weren’t they all covered when we decided it was fair and best to pursue the accumulation of wealth at the exclusive use of others?

I don’t know why ghosts are always doing laundry. Don’t they just have that one sheet with the holes for eyes? Can’t they just die already??

I always thought it was funny how Kremlin sounded like Gremlin. It would be like if White House sounded like the Russian word for ‘house that slaves built where currently resides a man of African descent whose ancestors were never enslaved.’

The three most linguistically diverse areas in the world have been the Caucasus Mountain region, the Highlands of Guinea, and Pre-colonial California. The least linguistically diverse? Terry Schiavo’s house circa 2005.

I saw this guy in the Ped. Mall the other day pretending to be a statue. I looked at him with quiet appreciation.

Two racists walk into a bar, one orders a beer, the other leaves when he realizes the first one is white.

And finally, I picked up a pizza from the pizza store the other night. When I brought it home I was surprised to find out that I had taken LSD and murdered somebody.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Torture

Can torture ever be justified?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights condemns torture in Article 5 – “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (United Nations, 1948)”. The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights condemns torture in Article 7 – “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (United Nations, Dec. 1966)” and Article 4 further stipulates that “no derogation may be made (United Nations, Dec. 1966)...” from Article 7. In the Convention against Torture it is explicit in Article 2 (2) that “(n)o exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. (United Nations, 1984)” The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms condemns torture in Article 3 – “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Council of Europe, 1987)” And under the first Geneva Convention of 1949 it is stated in Article 3 that “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... 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 (United Nations, 1949)...” Yet even though torture is extensively and universally prohibited by the letter of international law indeed in “… all circumstances, even in cases of national emergency, even in cases that threaten the life of a nation and even in cases of warfare against enemies that don’t obey the laws of war (Martinez, 2006)”, many states, including democracies, continue to practice torture. According to Steiner, Alston and Goodman, some torture is aberrational but most is a result of policy or willful ignorance. That is, while states may wish to lay the blame at the feet of ‘a few bad apples’, it is often the case that the torture was instigated or sanctioned by the state. It is often assumed that those that practice torture are sadists. But torture is often applied by people as an interrogational tactic with the mind-set that they are serving their country by performing these abhorrent acts (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007). And in very rare circumstances they might actually be doing so. However, torture is also routinely used to suppress dissent (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007) and the line where protecting national interest loses out to protecting human dignity is not very easily distinguished. According to the current U.S. administration, the paradigm has shifted in regards to how we need to view the world (Bush, 2001). The threat we face is so novel that we can’t be unduly tied to the mindset of the past. But is this really the case? Torture has been prohibited by legislation as far back as the 1400s (Martinez, 2006) in England. While, across the channel in continental Europe torture was routinely employed, often required even, to extract confessions, England held to a lower threshold of evidence due to its common law and jury system. But the King still retained emergency powers of which would allow him to order the torturing of a suspect in a very serious case (in reality at the whim of the king), in essence allowing him to order torture warrants. But by 1640 the Court of Star Chamber, where the king would make these decisions, was abolished (Martinez, 2006). So this illustrates that four hundred years ago, not only had torture already been outlawed for hundreds of years, but in the interest of civil society it was rejected that the executive of the government be able to retain the right to order torture in cases of national emergency.

In 1863 in the United States, President Lincoln oversaw the passage of the Lieber Code which was the precursor to many international conventions such as the Hague Conventions and Geneva Conventions, in which it was insisted that “military necessity does not admit of cruelty--that is, the infliction of suffering for the sake of suffering or for revenge, nor of maiming or wounding except in fight, nor of torture to extort confessions (Martinez, 2006).” This illustrates that 150 years ago in America during the Civil War when that nation’s existence had never been more imperiled and at a time when the executive had no qualms in breaching constitutional directive for the sake of national security, decided that even in this circumstance torture was to still be prohibited. This ought to deflate the argument that rests on the notion that threats to national security are novel and in extreme circumstances it is necessary to utilize torture. Still, it is an argument that gets made, however un-compelling.

Ticking Bomb Scenario

What is more compelling is the argument that deals with a very specific situation. The ticking bomb scenario essentially states that ‘there is a criminal that has planted a bomb that is about to go off; you have this criminal in custody; you know with 100% certainty that he knows where the bomb is and that it will kill innocent people; he refuses to talk; therefore you must torture.’ Bagaric takes this argument even further:

“Torture is permissible where the evidence suggests that this is the only means, due to the immediacy of the situation, to save the life of an innocent person. The reason that torture in such a case is defensible and necessary is because the justification manifests from the closest thing we have to an inviolable right: the right to self-defence, which of course extends to the defence of another. Given the choice between inflicting a relatively small level of harm on a wrongdoer and saving an innocent person, it is verging on moral indecency to prefer the interests of the wrongdoer … The analogy with self-defence is sharpened by considering the hostage-taking scenario, where a wrongdoer takes a hostage and points a gun to the hostage's head, threatening to kill the hostage unless a certain (unreasonable) demand is met. In such a case it is not only permissible, but desirable for police to shoot (and kill) the wrongdoer if they get a 'clear shot".

This is especially true if it is known that the wrongdoer has a history of serious violence, and hence is more likely to carry out the threat.

There is no logical or moral difference between this scenario and one where there is overwhelming evidence that a wrongdoer has kidnapped an innocent person and informs police that the victim will be killed by a co-offender if certain demands are not met.

In the hostage scenario, it is universally accepted that it is permissible to violate the right to life of the aggressor to save an innocent person. How can it be wrong to violate an even less important right (the right to not be tortured or physical integrity) by torturing the aggressor in order to save a life in the second scenario? (Bagaric, 2005)”

It is acceptable to torture according to the ticking bomb argument, because if you do not torture the culprit then you would bear some of the responsibility for the deaths caused by the danger that you could have presumably prevented. On its face it is a very compelling argument. How can you justify not taking action to save lives? Arguments that range from ‘it is morally wrong’, to ‘it will damage the moral fabric of society’, to ‘it will dehumanize the torturer’, to ‘it is illegal’ don’t seem to have as much weight as the possibility of saving another person’s life. In part, it goes to Bagaric’s second argument, that if we are willing to end criminal’s lives in order to save innocent lives, how can it be wrong to impose an arguably less serious intervention such as torture.

The ticking bomb argument prima facie seems pretty straightforward. You have the culprit in custody, there is no question to his/her culpability, there is no humane way to get the necessary information from the culprit, and torture will definitely get the necessary information. In this explicit situation then it would make no sense not to torture – there would be no excuse. However, this type of case is indeed very rare, and to the explicit degree, may never even exist. You have to be certain you have the right person. How can you glean this certainty? A confession seems like the best argument, but even then there are many circumstances that can lead to a false confession. Some types of surveillance may also lend to this end in which case a good lawyer would question the reliability of those techniques or mechanisms as well. So let us agree that you cannot determine with absolute certainty, in any case, that you have the correct person and therefore cannot determine with absolute certainty that a person can deliver the information that you deem necessary. Next, there is no way of knowing what kind of interrogation or appeals to the person are going to work so you cannot rule out every kind of humane interrogation – you have to accept that there is simply not enough time to go through more humane interrogation techniques and move straight into torture. Finally, torture will produce just about any information you want from anybody, factual and fantastic. The fact is that most people would be compelled to say any information they thought their interrogators would want to hear in order to cease torture. So there is no guarantee that you would get reliable information this way. In addition to that, since you already cannot tell with certainty that you have the correct individual in custody, there is no way of telling whether the culprit is resisting confession or simply does not know the information that is being sought. Even in the case where you have the real culprit there is no guarantee that torture would produce anything other than the shame and anguish of the torturer. This deconstruction rests on the ontological argument that nothing empirical can be determined absolutely. But legally, we determine a threshold of certainty and exercise judgement based on that threshold. It would be entirely appropriate to do here, but in doing so we have to accept that we are no longer dealing with the pristine ticking bomb scenario. And once we get outside the theoretical, many problems follow.

Jeremy Bentham addressed some of these concerns three centuries ago. He wrote that torture is something where pain is afflicted in order to incite action and is ceased upon the completion of the desired action. However, punishment is the infliction of pain for its own sake after the fact of an action and that “Torture considered in itself is in this point of view less liable to exception than punishment is (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007)”. He writes that there are two cases for torture. “The first is where the thing which a Man is required to do being a thing which the public has an interest in his doing, is a thing which for a certainty in his power to do (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007)”. The second case is “...where a Man is required what probably though not certainly it is in his power to do; and for the not doing of which it is possible that he may suffer, although he be innocent; but which the public has so great an interest in his doing that the danger of what may ensue from his not doing it is a greater danger than even that of an innocent person’s suffering the greatest degree of pain (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007).” Bentham lays out rules for each of these cases. For the first case: there has to be proof of the person’s power to perform the action; the proof has to be as strong as it would be to subject him to the worst punishment under law; the threat has to be imminent (“admit of no delay (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007)”; if the threat is not imminent then less severe methods need to be used; even in cases where the threat is immediate, the threat must warrant the worst punishment under law. The rules for the second case are: there has to be an imminent threat; it should not be used unless the safety of the whole state is at risk; the power to torture can only be granted to persons best qualified to judge its necessity, and they are to be accountable for their judgment; and there must be “…as many and as efficacious checks… (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007)” as possible without deterring the efficacy of the coercion. Bentham says defining torture this way is works because it should be used rarely, if ever. He also points out that judges determine death sentences or life sentences both of which are arguably worse in the opinion of the condemned. And he ends with this marvelous line, “There is no approving it (torture) in the lump, without militating against reason and humanity: nor condemning it without falling into absurdities and contradictions”.

So, as has already been argued there can never be an absolute certainty as one alluded to in Bentham’s first case. However there can be a legal certainty which could be decided by a judge or other official with relevant qualifications. The second case gets into even more uncomfortable territory by leaving open ended the question of how it is supposed to be determined that the “...danger of what may ensue from his not doing it (torturing) is a greater danger than even that of an innocent person’s suffering the greatest degree of pain (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007).” How many innocent people is it justifiable to torture in order to avert a car-bombing, an assassination or even a nuclear attack? Is it still justifiable to torture, knowing that it may yield no results? Is it justifiable to torture even one innocent person? As you can see this ticking bomb scenario is nowhere nearly as clear cut as the a priori argument would seem. And are we going to grant the right to judges to decide who to torture? Alan Dershowitz talks about the concept of torture warrants. In his scheme, if there was an extreme case, law enforcement officials could go before a judge with pertinent evidence and if it was compelling enough the judge would grant a warrant to torture. Dershowitz argues similar to those that advocate legalizing drugs, that it is better to bring this frowned-upon but persistent practice into the legal fold to be better able to regulate it. Yet as far back as the 1600s we saw civilized society reject the notion of granting such awesome powers even to their own king. Bentham’s ideas are very interesting and indeed prescient to the arguments of today. But I am not of the mind to trust government to be able to make the kinds of decisions that Bentham was advocating. Jean Bethke Elshtain said that even when dealing with extreme cases we shouldn’t codify the use of torture in order to prevent its normalization. The codifying and normalizing of torture will no doubt lead to abuses of power, and will lead to the justification of torture by other nations whose motives we do not view as pure as our own (Martinez, 2006).

Sanford Levinson argued that torture should have to be proven justified to a jury. This would move the responsibility away from a government official which is an attractive option. But in the extreme cases where torture may be thought necessary, how would there be enough time to properly assemble a jury and present it with sufficient evidence, as well as providing for a defense?


Enhanced Interrogation through Torture

According to the Convention against Torture, torture is strictly prohibited. However, parties are only required to “undertake to prevent cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (United Nations, 1984)”. John Parry argues that this wording grants some leeway to those that would push the boundaries of acceptable forms of punishment. This gets to the argument that torture is not something strictly of a kind but of degrees. Some nations such as the U.K., Israel and the U.S. have attempted to justify actions that would otherwise be known as torture this way.

In the case of Ireland v. U.K. in front of the European Court of Human Rights, Ireland accused the U.K. of employing five tactics that they argued amounted to torture against suspected member of the I.R.A. The tactics were; stress positions, hooding, noise subjection, sleep deprivation and starvation (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007). The court ultimately ruled that they amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment but weren’t so severe as to constitute torture. This is the loophole that Parry cited. The court also noted that it was not done with the intention of torture. And even though the court conceded that there was to be international supervision over derogations of right, it judged that “…national authorities are … in a better position than the international judge to decide … on the nature and scope of derogations necessary to avert (a national security threat) (Lillich et al, 2006)”. This decision was a harrowing precursor to future justification of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.

The Public Committee against Torture in Israel brought a case against the Government of Israel that was heard before the Israeli Supreme Court where the Court ruled on Israeli tactics that were argued amounted to torture. The tactics the Israelis employed were shaking suspected terrorists, and subjecting them to the “shabach position (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007)” which was a form of stress positioning in addition to hooding and noise subjection, sleep deprivation, and other physical violence or punishment. The government argued that the acts were excused because of the ‘necessity defence’ – that the acts were necessary for Israeli security. But the court dismissed that notion because the defence was meant to be applied ‘ad hoc’ in extreme cases, and not predeterminately used in administrative policy. All of the coercive tactics were prohibited (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007).

In 2002 the Bybee memo was circulated in Washington D.C. which redefined torture for the Bush administration. In this memo, torture was redefined to include acts causing physical pain so severe as to cause “death, organ failure or impairment of bodily functions.” Also, the mental suffering component was stretched out to only include permanent or long term emotional damage such as a mental disorder like post-traumatic stress disorder. Plus, this outcome had to be the interrogators intent (thanks, European Court of Human Rights). The justification for this new definition was the fact that the CAT arguably left room for exception for cruel and inhuman treatment. In 2004 The Bybee memo was stricken as policy and in 2006 the Military Commission Act was passed that had much more encompassing definitions of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, however still allowed for the admission of evidence obtained through coercion (Steiner, Alston, Goodman, 2007).
The Convention Against Torture defines torture as “... any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions (United Nations, 1984).” This definition of torture seems pretty explicit and only disingenuous lawyering would lead to the definitions put forward by the U.K., U.S. and Israel. Even though in kind, all of these actions do amount to torture, that doesn’t mean that there are not ‘degrees’ of torture. In viewing torture this way these nations’ ‘enhanced interrogations’ should be seen as a lesser degree of torture than what may come into mind as a popular definition of torture such as thumb-screwing, teeth-pulling or mutilation. This is only an important point to consider if we do find any circumstance which torture would be morally permissible because at that point we may decide that it is only permissible to a lesser degree.
Oren Gross argues that there should be an official ban on torture but that there should be some kind of “official disobedience” in extreme cases such as the ticking bomb scenario. It is necessary to absolutely ban torture in society in order to prevent its normalization and legitimization. Torture cannot be employed wholesale as in the case of the United States in its so called War on Terror. In this instance the United States is pushing the ticking bomb argument much further than can be done reasonably. As has already been discussed, even the purest form of the ticking bomb argument cannot hold up under intense scrutiny and any form of the ticking bomb argument that departs from this original form moves further away from validity. The U.S. has said that while they reserve the right to torture in actual ticking bomb scenarios, they also find it necessary to do so in a number of related scenarios that are not as cut and dry. Maybe it is not one ticking bomb that’s hidden right now, about to blow up, but maybe it is fifty, or a thousand bombs that are in the process of being built for future dissemination. It does not take much to go even further from here on this slippery slope. Maybe it is not the existence of bombs that is the threat, but the propagation of information on how to build bombs. Maybe it is not the propagation of information on how to actually build bombs that is the threat, but maybe it is the propagation of information that might make someone consider wanting to blow up a bomb. Maybe it is not even information about bombs that is the threat but it is fact-based criticism of government actions. And the certainty claim has gone done the same slope. Maybe they are not certain this guy is a terrorist but he probably is one. Maybe it is not probable that he/she is a terrorist but it is possible that this person is a terrorist. Maybe this person was just someone that someone else had a grudge against and turned him into the authorities for a cash reward. How long is it until the administration declares that ‘they all ought to be rounded up just in case?’ These are exactly the conditions that lead to totalitarianism and genocide. I am not accusing the U.S. of either but as you can see they are only steps away. And it has all been done ostensibly with good intentions. We have no reason to believe that Donald Rumsfeld and company are sadists and enjoy torture for its own sake. We have to believe that they truly had their love of country at heart when authorizing these atrocities.

This is why torture cannot be authorized by law. Because it is not sadists that we have to worry about the most (though we do have to worry about them as well), it is those that think they are serving the interests of their country over the interests of humanity. Once we start to put ‘country first’ then there is no boundary to the atrocities that can be committed against ‘foreigners’. Yet we do put ‘country first’. Just as I put my family first before other families. There has to be strict limitations to this notion however. And with strict limitations comes exceptional circumstances. For instance, I am not going to kill anyone to gather resources for my family. I have other avenues. But if my family was on a desert island and my daughter was starving, I may be prepared to do some otherwise unthinkable acts. At the same time I have to face the reality that I am not, have never been, and in all likelihood will never be on a desert island in that exact circumstance, so dwelling on that circumstance is unhelpful - as is dwelling on the ticking bomb scenario. Surely, there is a weighty argument for the justification of torture in a very rare circumstance that almost never happens. That should not be the focus of the debate. The fact remains that torture is one of the most universally reviled human acts and everything possible should be done to minimize its occurrences. In extreme cases torture can be justified. I believe that, as in one of the ideas Bobbitt pointed to, if there is a case resembling a real-life ticking bomb scenario, and the interrogator feels that there is no other option but torture – he/she is certain that this person can halt the murder of an innocent person or of many innocent people, but chooses not to, and will not break under interrogation, and the mortal danger is imminent, then I think that interrogator is morally justified to torture that individual. I do not believe that that person should be legally justified in doing so. In this case as in the Bobbitt case I believe that the interrogator should be held accountable after the fact by a jury of peers (Bobbitt, 2008). Perhaps they will find the interrogator’s actions justifiable also. This will ensure that the consideration of undertaking to torture is never taken lightly and that abuses of authority to commit torture will be punished. Arguments can be made that instead of justification after the fact, it would be more prudent to issue torture warrants as discussed earlier. The key differences between the two methods of justification are that torture warrants place the authority in someone removed from the situation, it removes accountability from the perpetrator of torture and it legitimizes, in some form, the torturing of individuals under law. And we should also note the argument that allowing torture in this circumstance could lead to recognition jus cogens. Although I disagree with this argument, because the strict scenario that torture would be forgiven in would not occur enough for it to become customary in my opinion , does not mean that will certainly be the case. So, can torture ever be justified? Yes. Torture can be justified morally, but never legally.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good Morning from OYIT [Feb 26]

By Bub
This was Cross Posted at One Year In Texas


Today’s Silent Film Star


Buster Keaton! Buster Aziz Abdul Abdullah Keaton was known for his physical comedy, porkpie hats and overt racism until late in his life when he converted to Islam and switched his views to racial equality and religious bigotry. Mr. Keaton’s family ran the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company growing up, where they would perform vaudeville sketches and sold medicinal syrup made from cocaine, honey and oil extracted from Mohawk Indian Pineal glands. His family’s traveling Medicine Company was known for having employed Harry Houdini for a short time before he managed to escape… Buster Keaton went on to make pioneering comedic masterpieces such as The General and Sherlock Jr. before ruining his legacy with pathetic commercial ploys co-starring Jimmy Durante such as The Passionate Plumber and What? No Beer! The latter was based on Keaton’s religious conversion to Islam.

Today’s Winning Lotto Number

14

Today’s Fish

Butterfish. Sure, you still have bones in you but you cost 20 cents less than garfish at the local Barnacle Bill’s and taste exactly the same. It makes me feel like a real man to work for that 20 cents by picking out the bones. Also, Barnacle Bill’s, get some f-ing ketchup, or, I’m sorry, Tomato Sauce, not EVERYTHING goes with f-ing tartar sauce. Not even the Tatars believe that.

Today’s Weight Loss Drug

Ephedrine. This drug played a major role in my losing nearly 100 pounds during high school. I would take just enough to make me cry with pleasure but not be able to process pain. This feeling led to several arrests and the regaining of the weight I had lost plus a bowling ball or two. It was quite an enjoyable period of my life, but I can no longer bring a spoon-full of soup to my mouth without spilling it. I call it a draw.

Today’s Weather

Folks from Salem down to Medford will be sad to find out they will be crushed to death by a giant car. It will rain potatoes over the middle third of the state of Oregon and the sun will rise from beneath the top-soil in Oregon’s Northeast corner.

Today’s Football Club

Collingwood. This is Australian Rules Football. Collingwood is the Bobby Brown to decent society’s Whitney Houston. Their star player gets arrested for running down an old lady while drunk and gets a stern reprimand. They deliberately set most of the tragic Victorian bushfires that caused the largest natural disaster in Australian history and they get a bye week to rest up before taking on Geelong. Collingwood is like the asshole I thought it was possible to be when I was in junior high and threw Drano bombs at parked cars and stole cartons of cigarettes from Super-Value. I eventually learned that this was not a sustainable lifestyle. Collingwood continues burning homemade napalm to this day.

Today’s Tasty Treat

Turkish Delight. That guy from Harry Potter likes this shit. SO do Australians. It’s like jello covered in coconut covered in ketchup. No wonder what we consider torture is legal in Turkey. Maybe that explains why water-boarding doesn’t sound so bad to some people after they hear about Dove bars.

Today’s Prediction

You’re going to eat a Dove bar and whine about how it’s not as bad as being water-boarded. Of course it’s not, you’ve never been a TERRORIST! You will cheer Ben Cousins’ triumphant return to AFL against the Collingwood Magpies. This will make you a ‘bloody poof’. After all that Butterfish and Turkish Delight you will accidentally overdose on ephedrine and be posthumously rewarded an Oscar for your role as The Joker in the latest Batman feature film. Your Australian family will accept the award on your behalf and acts surprisingly nonchalant and unaffected by your untimely death. You will haunt them in the fourth installment of the Adams Family series. MC Hammer will rap the plot of the movie over the end credits. Your death and this movie will go unavenged.


Good Morning from OYIT [Feb 25]

By Bub
Cross Posted at One Year In Texas

Good Morning denizens of the autonomous Okrug of One Year In Texas in the administrative Oblast of Kamchatka. For those of you who aren't Russian political geography fans or Risk nerds, good morning to you as well. It appears I have overslept by a little over one hour, as you all are used to receiving your good mornings at 7AM central standard time. My deepest apologies. I have been working with a life coach to try to become a better person, but I didn't have a lot of money so I had to settle for the guy that hangs out in the self-help section of the public library all day. Turns out he's not as reliable as Susan Powter's eternal quest to defeat mental illness, and he forgot to wake me up in time. When I called him at 7:30 AM at the pay phone down at the library he just yelled at me to not harass him at his place of business.



Today's Quote
"It ain’t men roaming the aisles of the grocery store every week…it’s you... Queen of the Aisle, you just gotta get your royal groove on and realize just how power-filled you are, Ms. C.E.O of the food industry!"


The quote is from Susan Powter's least successful book venture, The Politics of Stupid. In this book she apparently writes a satirical portrayal of some very stupid ideas about politics.

Today's Weather

Unfortunately this forecast of post-Soviet Russia was still made with soviet-era icons resulting in only three variations of weather: sunny, behind where it is cloudy; cloudy with clouds dropping balls of sadness; and cloudy with clouds dropping candy-corn made out of blue cabbage.

Today's Daughter
Is Iris who keeps peering around the corner from the kitchen as I write this to see if I am in bed yet so she can sneak into my bedroom and sleep on the floor. Not gonna happen, sister! (Of course it will).

Today's Religious Festival
Trndez - Armenia

Trndez occurs annually and was originally an Armenian pagan festival celebrating through fire-worship the God Myr, who stood for compassion and love. Today it has been easily incorporated into Christian tradition because of similarities between Jesus' and Myr's teachings and in the burning of heretics.

Today's Prediction
Several of you will go to Armenia hoping to enjoy a good Trndez parade or burning at the stake, and will be disappointed to learn that the celebrations ended a week ago. You will be reassured however when you observe how superior your standard of living is to the majority of Armenians. Then you will become depressed when you realize that none of those material advantages make you happy and you will uproot your family and move to Armenia where you can enjoy the simpler joys in life, like walking through fire and hating Azerbaijanis.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This Week In Hate: "Petition to get the group "Soldiers are not heroes" off Facebook!"

This week’s edition of ‘This Week in Hate’ involves a little hatin’ of our own! Inspired by the rapid growth of the Facebook Group 'Petition to get the group "Soldiers are not heroes" off Facebook!' I decided to start my own petition group on Facebook. Since this group exclusively refers to ‘Coalition Forces’ in Afghanistan and Iraq, I wanted to expand their breadth of hate of people who question the use of violent force, to cover both sides of these wars. Unfortunately there were no counterparts to the original “Soldiers Are Not Heroes” Group so I had to create my own, in order to petition to have it removed:

The Taliban / Iraqi Insurgents Are Not Heroes!
Global
Basic Info
Type: Common Interest - Politics

Description: The purpose of this group is to decry the violence committed by The Taliban in Afghanistan and Iraqi Insurgents in Iraq. I don't think killing people in the name of their beliefs makes them heroes, do you?
Contact Info
Website: http://bghbmarl55.blogspot.com/

Location: Mean Streets, Americatown USA
Members
Displaying 1 memberSee All


Brandon Henander



There. Now that’s established I can try to get these unpatriotic assholes kicked off of the face of the planet with this group:

Petition To Get The Group "The Taliban... Are Not Heroes!" Off Facebook
Global
Basic Info
Type: Common Interest - Politics

Description: The full name of the traitorous group is 'The Taliban / Iraqi Insurgents Are Not Heroes!' How dare they insult the service and sacrifice of these individuals in the name of their ideals, country and religion.
Contact Info
Website: http://bghbmarl55.blogspot.com/

Location: Mean Streets, Americatown, USA
Members
Displaying 1 memberSee All


Brandon Henander

Let’s get these buggers out of here before they challenge us to think critically about our governments’ military actions worldwide. As our founding fathers would have wanted, let’s shut them the hell up!!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Movie Reviews of Movies I Haven't Seen Yet: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Harris lived across the courtyard from Michael Millionaire in an apartment complex in Lucknow, India. Lucknow is in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous sub-national government unit in the world – if it were an independent nation it would be the world’s sixth largest country. That wouldn’t stop Michael from asking Slumdog if she wanted to go sledding with him. It was early winter, 100 years in the future, a time when global warming inexplicably caused it to snow in the immediate sub-tropics during winter, and the hill at the park down the block was a popular sledding destination.

Michael knew he would be heading off to the army the following summer to fight in India’s fifth war against Bhutan over the worlds’ most precious resource, used tires, and he needed to get as much sledding under his belt as possible before heading into battle.

Slumdog adored Michael. Boys in Lucknow 100 years in the future are given family names that reflect their economic status. Apart from being rich, Michael would always ask Slumdog along whenever he would descend a hill on a recreational instrument, be it used tire, toboggan, greased trash-bag, or sled. Also, Slumdog hadn’t met very many men because she had grown up in a strangers’ cellar, held against her will, speaking a made up language of grunts and pops.

Slumdog sounds in English like something sad and diseased, but it actually translates from Hindi very loosely to ‘chickpea and lotus paste used for brushing teeth and hair’. This is in the tradition of naming children after Hindu Gods, whereas Slumdog is the keeper and protector of the aforementioned paste and used tires.

After the narrator ignored him the first time, Michael asked Slumdog to go sledding again. This time she consented. But, she was terrified. The slope on the hill was steep, and her parents were killed in a sledding accident; when a Lear jet crashed into the hillside where her parents were sledding.

Michael mounted the sled and motioned for Slumdog to grab on. She sat between Michael’s legs and wrapped her arms around his biceps as his arms reached forward to grasp the string. Michael nudged his body-weight forward and the sled took off like a used tire rolling down a hill.

Snow shot up into Michael and Slumdog’s faces. Wind whipped their hair into their eyes, cheeks and noses. It was exhilarating. Half-way down the hill Michael leaned forward and whispered to Slumdog, ‘Slumdog, I love you’. He leaned back and remained silent the rest of the decent.

When the noise and excitement died down as they slowly slid to a stop at the bottom of the hill Slumdog was left with the question ‘did Michael just say that he loved me?’ Michael asked her to go down again, and she again agreed. He whispered his love into her ear again, and again, his lack of acknowledgment afterward left Slumdog confused. She began to question whether or not Michael was even the source. Perhaps it was the wind. It did not matter either way at this point; for she yearned that sweet declaration like the world economy yearned used tires.

After the second time down the hill Michael walked her home. He made no mention of any quiet confessions of love. Slumdog had begun questioning her own grasp of reality. Surely what she heard were words of a human. Wind could not declare a love for anyone? How nice would it be though if it could and did? What if it did? What if it was Michael? It would sort of be nice, but it would kind of make him a creep for whispering that into my ear and then pretending like nothing happened. Also, what if I’m schizophrenic?

Michael asked her sledding again the next day. She went expectantly and again she heard those sweet words in her ear. Of course, it was Michael whispering them but Slumdog became less interested in the source and more enamored in the concept. Something loved her. And it was telling her so. Heck, if she discovered the source at this point she would only be left to face some uncomfortable realities like, if it was Michael he would obviously only have been joking or at the very least too weird to date, and if it was the wind, well, that would mean that nature had the power to communicate with her but chose to ignore her for twenty-two years and she didn’t think she was ready to deal with what that would mean. She went sledding with Michael several more times over the course of that winter and had the same experience each time. But she never got up the nerve to ask Michael or the wind what exactly was going on.

The snow melted. Sledders on the hill in the park down the road were replaced with children inside used tires. Slumdog grew lonely. Michael prepared for Army.

Slumdog in her lonely fantasies would imagine that it was indeed Michael that professed his love to her and they would be married and she would become Slumdog Millionaire and how that would be funny to share the name of a movie that won a best picture Oscar 100 years ago. Then she would imagine being married to the wind. In her imagination the wind was surprisingly abusive. But that made her want it even more.

One night, the night before Michael would be shipped off to the trenches of Thimpu, Michael observed Slumdog standing outside in the courtyard. He saw her looking to the sky in a mournful yearning and agitated expectation. She was waiting to hear those words again, from whomever was willing to give them to her. She begun to need them more than air or used tires. It burned a hole in her stomach.

Michael whispered, “Slumdog, I love you,” without revealing his location or his heart. Slumdog’s face lit up then quickly retracted into dignified appreciation. Her heart swelled up to her tonsils. She still didn’t know where the words came from, but she would no longer have to bear the silence. Michael realized in that moment that he did indeed love her.

Michael was killed when he sled into a pile of used tires which was an Armenian neck-tie ambush, where a person is trapped inside a pile of tires and then set alight. Armenia was the last country to join the Coalition of the Grudgingly Consented with Bhutan and all other countries except India, Iraq and Afghanistan. Slumdog married a nobleman, Henry Hundred-Thousand. She may have married for love, she may have married for security, she may have married for the spacious cellar at Henry’s compound. What she knew for certain was that she was never happier than when something whispered it loved her to her and made her confused because she wasn’t sure if it was a person or a natural phenomenon. Sure, she had a husband and children, but when they told her they loved her, they never made her feel crazy.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Iris-O-Matic

video

Now that I'm here I can post shamelessly personal content. So enjoy this video of my daughter Iris dancing to her favorite song "Electric Feel" by MGMT.