Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The "Church of Fools"

For those of you who love both Jesus and The Sims, there is finally a way to do both at the same time: A virtual church called the Church of Fools, that exists entirely on-line.

You can pick an identity, go to sermons, invoke gestures, like genuflecting, kneeling, raising your hands, yelling “hallelujah” – everything you ever wanted to do, but were too shy or white to do in public with real people. It apparently has real sermons delivered by simulated preachers and allows real-time interaction with others who are logged in.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to actually load the software that lets me enter the church on either of my computers. I’ve long suspected my computers are demon-possessed, and now I finally have proof. Thanks, Church of Fools!

Despite the tongue-in-cheekness of it all, it is actually a serious effort by the Methodist church to examine whether an on-line community can do “church”. It will be interesting to see how the experiment develops.

Any church that was able to banish Satan in its first week is off to a pretty good start, though.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Ignominious Close to Torture Week

Since this is "Torture Week" here at MMM, it is appropriate to close with the compromise deal reached yesterday within the Republican party. I had wondered about the term "compromise", and how that would apply to torture and secret evidence. Only torture people somewhat? Only sometimes admit secret evidence?

Unfortunately, that pretty much seems to be the deal that was reached. I don't pretend to know how the language of the bill is supposed to be applied, but I do know that the NY Times, the Washington Post, and various other observers see it as a bad deal.

Below is the NYTimes take on it. Their call to the Democrats to develop some spine on the issue is sorely needed. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that Democrats won't simply roll over again, like they usually do.

Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession.

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush’s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence. (Although the administration’s supporters continually claim this means giving classified information to terrorists, the rules actually provide for reviewing, editing and summarizing classified material. Evidence that cannot be safely declassified cannot be introduced.)

This is a critical point. As Senator Graham keeps noting, the United States would never stand for any other country’s convicting an American citizen with undisclosed, secret evidence. So it seemed like a significant concession — until Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, briefed reporters yesterday evening. He said that while the White House wants to honor this deal, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, still wants to permit secret evidence and should certainly have his say. To accept this spin requires believing that Mr. Hunter, who railroaded Mr. Bush’s original bill through his committee, is going to take any action not blessed by the White House.

On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White House’s original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of “grave breaches” of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It’s not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.

Even before the compromises began to emerge, the overall bill prepared by the three senators had fatal flaws. It allows the president to declare any foreigner, anywhere, an “illegal enemy combatant” using a dangerously broad definition, and detain him without any trial. It not only fails to deal with the fact that many of the Guantánamo detainees are not terrorists and will never be charged, but it also chokes off any judicial review.

The Democrats have largely stood silent and allowed the trio of Republicans to do the lifting. It’s time for them to either try to fix this bill or delay it until after the election. The American people expect their leaders to clean up this mess without endangering U.S. troops, eviscerating American standards of justice, or further harming the nation’s severely damaged reputation.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When It Rains, It Pours

It has been a busy week for torture and secret imprisonment stories. Here's yet another one.

A Canadian man was stopped by US agents in New York while changing planes, and whisked away to Syria to be beaten and tortured because he was misidentified as a terrorist. He was kept in a coffin sized room for 10 months, and under torture, confessed to having been trained in Afganistan, where he had never been.

This story combines all the worst elements of torture with all the worst elements of secret imprisonment. I don't know what else to say. We are ensuring there will be a full pipeline of enemies for at least the next generation.

Update: Here's a much more impassioned response by Glenn Grenwald

So on top of operating secret torture gulags in Eastern Europe, we also kidnap people, charge them with no crime, give them no opportunity to defend themselves, deny them contact with their consulate in violation of international treaties (as the Canadian report complained about), send them off to be tortured for months, and then when it turns out that they are completely inncoent, we block them from obtaining compensation in our courts because our Government claims that national security would be jeopardized if they were held accountable for their behavior.

How can you be an American citizen and not be completely outraged, embarrassed, and disgusted by this conduct? What the Bush administration is doing on so many levels is a grotesque betrayal of every national value and principle we have always claimed to embrace and for which we have fought, and which we claim we are defending as part of our current "war".

Can it even be debated at this point that the Bush administration has so plainly, as Billmon described it the other day, "forfeit(ed) forever its ability to chastise the human rights abuses of others without triggering a global laughing fit"? Who would ever take seriously the notion that a Government that engages in this behavior can lecture anyone on human rights abuses or import democratic values around the world?

Trust Us, He's Guilty

Full story at

The US military has been secretly holding a Pulitzer Prize winning Iraqi AP photographer for five months, and have not officially charged him with anything. He had published a lot of photographs of the destruction of Fallujah, and was also able to photograph insurgents.

His crime? The US military believes he has “close relationships” with bad guys.
Are his pictures evidence of collusion with bad guys? Or, is he locked up because he takes pictures that embarrass or undermine the US Military?

This is exactly why secret detentions and secret evidence are so insidious. People can be locked up forever for pretty much any reason, and we’ll never know whether it is an abuse of power or a legitimate security concern.

After the WMD rationale fell apart, secret detentions and torture was the given reason we invaded Iraq. We used to call the Soviet empire evil because of it. It is a defining characteristic of totalitarian government.

Why do we continue to fight for values that we no longer uphold?

This also underscores how far Iraq has to go before it really has sovereignty. I presume the Iraqi constitution doesn't allow foreign soldiers to imprison their own citizens in their own country without the benefit of the rule of law, and yet that is where we apparently stand today.

<snark>If we are now going to start locking people up for having relationships with bad guys, maybe the guy shaking hands with Saddam in this picture should be locked up too.</snark>

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Party of Torture

Torture is back in the news this week, with Democrats opposed, and Republicans mostly in favor. Bush is essentially saying: We don’t do torture, but we vitally need legislation that gives us permission to do it. Trust us when we say these techniques have borne fruit – after all, we’ve never exaggerated things that were untrue for mere political convenience.

Actually, some military-minded Republicans (McCain, Warner, Graham, Powell) are against it, while civilian, never-personally-been-in-war administration leaders remain very gung-ho. This makes sense, since torture as policy ends up hurting our own soldiers in the end, and those with actual experience in war would be more attuned to the issue.

It is fascinating that we continue to debate this. The only way for Republicans to justify it is to believe it is not torture. Simulated drowning, stripping people naked and exposing them to extreme heat or cold, sleep deprivation, hooking electrodes up to privates, extended periods in “stress positions” – these are merely “fraternity pranks”. Deaths that happen during interrogations are merely mistakes, not torture. Inmates suicides are “asymmetrical warfare”. One wonders if there is any depravity we could commit that would not be immediately rationalized. Ideology is indeed a powerful thing.

But pictures are worth a thousand words. I don't mean to be crass by printing these, but it is vitally important that we understand what we are talking about here. These are the kinds of behaviors that so many Republicans consider “fraternity pranks”:

Here’s a good test to determine whether something is torture or not. It is torture if we would call it torture when applied to our own captured soldiers. Because that is what it comes down to – whether we are willing to live by our own standards. Imagine our own soldiers being stripped naked, beaten, put into stress positions for long periods of time, and almost drowned, and then try to argue that it is an appropriate method of interrogation.

I seem to remember Jesus saying something about treating others like we would like to be treated. He also knew a thing or two about torture. It isn’t very politically correct to follow his advice these days, but I honestly can’t see how Christians can support policies like the ones Bush is advocating.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Pal Gandhi

I usually don't take much stock in internet quizes, since they usually reveal some secret shame, like I'm an Eeyore and not a Pooh or a Tigger. Nonetheless, I will risk it in this case, and share my results from the Political Compass quiz:



Now, before you deride me as the pinko-liberal-commie-anarchist that I am, please note that I am actually in some pretty good company:

Any quiz that puts me in the same quadrant as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama, and opposite quadrants from George Bush, is obviously a wise and truth-telling quiz.