6/25/2008 5:08:07 PM
Between 2000 and 2003, more than 20 prisoners under the age of 18 were held at Guantánamo. In early 2004, pressured by human rights organizations, Pentagon officials released most of the juveniles—first to a separate facility at the base, then to a rehabilitation program in Afghanistan. But the three that remain have spent a quarter of their lives behind bars and are subjected to the same harsh interrogation tactics as their adult cellmates, a policy that, according to a recent piece posted on Salon, “defies logic as well as international law.”
The story, written by Jo Becker, advocacy director for the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, begins with testimony from Mohammed Jawad, who faces the death penalty and is currently being tried as an adult at the naval base for throwing a grenade at a military convoy in Afghanistan on December 17, 2002, severely injuring two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan translator. A 17-year-old suicide risk when first interrogated, the still functionally illiterate Jawad described a “litany of abuses” on the stand, “including a sleep deprivation regime know colloquially as the ‘frequent flyer’ program.”
“Military records showed that during a 14-day period in May 2004, Jawad was moved from cell to cell 112 times, usually left in one cell for less than three hours before being shackled and moved to another,” Becker writes. “Between midnight and 2 a.m. he was moved more frequently to ensure maximum disruption of sleep.”
This sort of treatment, already out of bounds (the Department of Defense limits sleep deprivation to a maximum of four days), is especially disconcerting considering that Jawad’s court-appointed lawyer has long contended that his client was a child soldier protected by an international treaty signed by President Clinton in 2000. And it represents just “one of various ways in which the Bush administration's policies have tainted prospects for Guantánamo detainees ever to be brought to justice under U.S. law.”
Click here for Utne’s Special Online Project: Tracking Torture Coverage.
6/24/2008 4:26:42 PM
"Bush administration officials who pushed torture will need to be careful about their travel plans,” counsels New York attorney and Columbia Law School Professor Scott Horton in “Travel Advisory,” recently posted on the New Republic’s website.
For while it’s unlikely that the U.S. government can muster the political will to prosecute the likes of Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld for specifically discussing and, at the very least, tacitly approving the use of torture to interrogate suspected terrorists. It’s “reasonably likely” that another western democracy would assemble war crime charges against Bush’s puppetmasters, especially after the president leaves office in January.
According to an investigative magistrate in a NATO nation already assembling evidence against a “small group of Bush administration officials,” it’s unlikely anyone would be extradited on war-related charges.” But, the unnamed source tells Horton, “if one of the targets lands on our territory or on the territory of one of our cooperating jurisdictions, then we’ll be prepared to act."
Click here for Utne’s Special Online Project: Tracking Torture Coverage.
6/23/2008 1:15:02 PM
Do you have any bumper stickers on your car right now? What do they say? More importantly, what do they say about you? And how do you react when driving behind a car festooned with bumper stickers? These seemingly simple and harmless decals can have greater, unintended implications, and backfire in the messages they convey.
A recent study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (via Wise Bread) shows that people with bumper stickers on their cars are more prone to aggressive driving and road rage. The connection? Like any other animal, humans are territorial, and those who mark their territory—in this case, their car—with bumper stickers are more likely to defend and dominate the space they occupy on the road.
Furthermore, the study found that drivers who display peaceful or religious bumper stickers (“Follow Your Bliss,” the Ichthys “Jesus fish” symbol, etc.) were just as likely to drive aggressively as those who displayed other kinds. And the more stickers a car displayed, the more aggressively its driver behaved. By that logic, we should steer well clear of the car pictured above.
This study comes on the heels of a thoughtful essay in the most recent issue of Fourth Genre entitled “My Volvo, My Self: The (Largely Unintended) Existential Implications of Bumper Stickers,” by Leslie Hayworth (article not available online).
Bumper stickers enforce our instincts toward stereotyping and oversimplification. Hayworth cites her own tendency to assume the worst about anyone displaying a Bush/Cheney decal or yard sign, and touches on various news stories about bumper stickers exploding into road rage and even workplace terminations. She reasons that the root of the problem lies in a bumper sticker’s distillation of big, complex matters into a glib meme, divorced from the complicated human being who holds that opinion: “Bumper stickers just say too much too soon.... When you argue via a bumper sticker, your argument is dehumanized and decontextualized.”
While I try not to jump to any conclusions about drivers of cars bearing antagonistic bumper stickers, knee-jerk reactions are hard to resist—especially in rush hour traffic, and especially during presidential campaigns. It makes me wonder what people assume when they see my own car, which bears only a sticker for the local public radio station and the Apple Computers logo. For all I know, even those relatively innocuous symbols speak volumes about some dark corner of my psyche, or at least my occasional tendency to change lanes without signaling.
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6/19/2008 12:55:28 PM
Blackwater, the private-security firm winning a suspiciously high number of contracts in Iraq, has also been at the center of some of the war’s most horrific events. Yet the company continues to reap billions of dollars in government contracts and staff their highest positions with retired officials from the military, CIA, and other government agencies. They are uniquely positioned to reap the maximum benefit from both the public and private sector.
The agency is currently embroiled in a lawsuit brought by the widows of three soldiers killed when a plane operated by sister company Presidential Airways crashed in Afghanistan. Last year Blackwater attempted to have the case dismissed under a provision that soldiers can’t sue their government, at whose behest Blackwater was serving. When that didn’t work, the firm took a strange new tack: Rather than be tried in an American court, it requested that the case be tried under Islamic law, or Sharia, which doesn’t hold companies in its jurisdiction responsible for their actions. If this request is honored, it would effectively dismiss the lawsuit.
Talking Points Memo highlights the obvious irony of an ostentatiously patriotic company with well-known right-wing ties preferring Muslim law to the good old-fashioned U.S. legal system, and AlterNet snarks: “If this becomes well-known, the GOP's corporate base will become fundamentalist Muslims faster than you can say Mecca Oil & Gas.” Meanwhile, DailyKos posts the mock-hysterical headline, “Blackwater Wants to Establish A Sharia Caliphate Here in the U.S.A.”
Erik Prince, Blackwater’s CEO, argues that his company’s request is a reasonable one since the plane—carrying U.S. military personnel and operated by a U.S. corporation—crashed in Afghanistan, which is governed by Sharia. This logic is patently absurd, but Blackwater has proven it can get away with murder in the past, and this is just more evidence that the agency wants it both ways: When it’s to Blackwater’s advantage, it’s a governmental entity, acting on behalf of the U.S. Armed Forces; as soon as that becomes inconvenient, it plays the private-sector card and attempts, often successfully to circumvent the law. Pretty slippery, and plenty scary.
6/19/2008 11:04:18 AM
It’s an unrelentingly grim global forecast for activists and protestors worn down by decades of recurring injustices. But thanks to the human rights website New Tactics, activists needn’t rely on stale techniques to create change. Coordinated by the Minneapolis-based Center for Victims of Torture, New Tactics helps human rights defenders share stories of successful strategies, like text messaging to stop torture, an action by the human rights group Amnesty Netherlands that mobilized thousands of young people to demand the release of an imprisoned journalist in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Activists can also discuss how successful techniques can work in other countries and communities.
Starting June 25, New Tactics members will discuss the use of video in human rights advocacy, which, incidentally, was the subject of a recent Utne Reader story on creating participatory video to combat gender-based violence.
Also check out Utne.com's new special project, "Tracking Torture Coverage," a regularly updated roundup of the best torture coverage from around the globe.
6/18/2008 2:48:37 PM
The end-of-summer Republican and Democratic conventions are attracting millions in corporate donations, report Paul Demko and Anna Pratt for the Minnesota Independent, with companies like Cargill and Qwest taking advantage of “the biggest loophole in U.S. campaign finance law: the absence of any limits on what corporations and individuals can give in support of presidential conventions.”
They aren’t required to disclose dollar amounts to the public, either, and the Minnesota Independent’s attempts to find out—staffers contacted 53 organizations listed as donors on the RNC host committee’s website—were mostly ignored or declined. (Just eight companies agreed to disclose how much they’ve donated to the convention.)
The Republican get-together may be celebrated on broadcast television as an exercise in democracy but it will serve as a unique opportunity for special interests to buy access to influential people without the public much the wiser. Ditto for Denver. The delegates will vote on floors paved with money.
I wonder how much of the money is going toward special convention attire.
Image by A Siegel, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/11/2008 5:26:34 PM
Top-secret government documents outlining confidential information about al-Qaeda were accidentally left on a train in Great Britain, BBC News reports. A civil servant apparently left them there accidentally, before the papers were found by fellow passengers, who turned them over to the BBC, who turned them over to the police. “Such confidential documents should be locked away,” said Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the powerful Home Affairs select committee, “they should not be read on trains.” And they definitely shouldn’t be left there.
It reminds me of the trailer for the upcoming film by the Cohen brothers, Burn After Reading:
6/10/2008 12:36:22 PM
Last century ended with a series of shameful failures by UN peacekeepers to save lives in Somalia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. In the beginning of the 21st century, we face another round of tenuous peacekeeping assignments in Africa: in Sudan’s Darfur, Chad, the Central African Republic, and, again, Somalia.
For many, the allocation of forces from the African Union, European Union, and United Nations to these volatile spots is cause for relief. François Grignon and Daniela Kroslack, the director and deputy director respectively of the International Crisis Group’s Africa program, however, see reason for concern.
Writing in Current History’s April issue on Africa (subscription only), the two warn that the world has come to regard peacekeeping missions as Band-Aids—forces that emptily assuage human rights concerns with a show of military muscle that is in fact impotent in the face of danger. Unlike many others, Grignon and Kroslack aren’t taking aim at peacekeeping regulations that limit engagement. Rather, the teeth they say are missing from peacekeeping missions are diplomatic, not fire-power, related.
“The military component of a peacekeeping mission is only as effective as the mission’s political masters make it,” they write. Without “viable peace agreements to implement,” peacekeepers are simply biding their time amidst social collapse.
Intensive political negotiations, diplomatic pressure, and commitments to address the root causes of conflicts are what’s most needed and—not surprisingly—what’s most difficult.
Despite peacekeeping missions’ shortcomings, though, Grignon and Kroslack do point to some unexpected successes:
Recent peacekeeping operations have indeed achieved notable successes in Africa. Yet, paradoxically, their success has not been in the area of civilian protection. The UN Mission in Congo (Monuc) efficiently supported the peace process in the DRC [the Democratic Republic of Congo] and deserves considerable credit for the successful organization of Congo’s 2005 constitutional referendum and 2006 general elections.
It seems that the bureaucrats and soldiers might be more effective if they switched places. It’s time to marshal our diplomatic forces for the fight and train armed peacekeepers in the tedious work of democracy building.
Image of African Union peacekeepers in Darfur by Patrick-André Perron, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/6/2008 10:36:10 AM
A 12-year-old wearing an anti-abortion T-shirt is suing his school in Hutchinson, Minnesota, after being told by the administration to remove it, reports Minnesota Monitor. This selective enforcement of free speech is troubling—as much as I might disagree with his politics and find his actions offensive, I do believe this student should be protected by the First Amendment. Eventually, a student might be punished for wearing a NARAL or Planned Parenthood T-shirt, and I’d like him or her to be able to cite precedent.
It reminds me of the minor controversy that arose lo these many years ago at my own high school when students were banned from wearing their horribly tacky Co-Ed Naked and Big Johnson T-shirts. Obnoxious and vulgar? Definitely. Protected by the First Amendment? Absolutely. Unfortunately, public schools are often the places where free speech is prohibited most frequently and arbitrarily, in the interest of a “disruption-free” classroom.
Though it’s a stand we may take reluctantly, our commitment to free speech should supercede our own tastes and politics; limiting speech with which we disagree defeats the whole purpose of the First Amendment. Wendy Kaminer argues as much in last month’s Free Inquiry, lamenting the results of a recent Freedom Forum survey where 74 percent of respondents disapproved of public school students being allowed to wear T-shirts with offensive words or pictures, and reminding us that “the right to speak is nullified when made contingent on the willingness of people with opposing views to listen.”
6/4/2008 5:27:27 PM
What’s next for Hillary? The blogosphere speculates:
Ben Smith over at Politico lays out the fallout from last night’s historic primary finale in broad strokes:
Clinton is the strongest runner-up in the history of Democratic politics, a status that gives her an unusual amount of leverage on her rival, Barack Obama. But she’s also hemmed in by the reality that to be seen as a half-hearted campaigner for Obama, or worse, as causing his defeat, would be political suicide.
She especially needs help restoring support from an African-American community that had been her base – assistance that can only come from Obama’s fulsome embrace. She could use Obama’s help raising money to retire her debts, something she signaled with an aggressive online appeal for cash last night. Her supporters assume she has earned the prime speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention that Obama can bestow.
Those around her say that beyond the mundane negotiating points – a half hour in Denver, help raising money – there is a more personal, less tangible demand that she be accorded the respect she feels she earned in an historic bid that brought her closer to the nomination than any other second-place Democratic finisher.
TPM Election Central has a handy little round-up charting which players are saying what about the VP question. As for Hillary’s non-VP options, Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish puts his money on a health czar–type position:
My bet: The presumptive nominee will publicly offer Senator Clinton the lead role in his administration for healthcare reform. He may have to doll up the title to make it appear grander than HHS but some kind of cabinet level health czar position might work. Her fallback position is to offer to spearhead the legislation in the Senate - why not name the bill after her? - and campaign on this subject for the ticket through the fall. Offering her healthcare may be too petty for her privately; but that's why it calls her bluff on the whole "I'm-just-doing-it-for-the-little-people" schtick. How can she be seen to treat healthcare reform as an insult to her stature? If it's her cause celebre, how can it be beneath her?
Fantasy Team Of Rivals time: Clinton gets healthcare; Edwards gets poverty; Gore gets the environment; the other Clinton is made secretary of state.
He can offer, can't he?
And here’s David Corn at MoJoBlog:
It could well be that party leaders--out of kindness, respect, and worry (over whether her supporters will eventually swing behind Obama)--afford Clinton a few days to process her defeat. After all, this historic race was damn close, as so few nomination contests are. But this is politics, not therapy. So the grace period won't be long.
Understandably, the Senator from New York who almost became the first woman to win a major party's presidential nomination has put off this decision for as long as she could. And her performance in the final weeks of the campaign has strengthened her future presidential prospects. Should Obama lose to McCain, Clinton and her supporters could use these late-contest wins to bolster an I-told-you-so argument that would come in handy for the 2012 campaign. But if she does not play nice soon, she puts her future within the party at great risk.
As for myself, I’m having a tough time even conceiving of Hillary as the VP nominee. My thoughts are too clouded by resentments at all the underhanded and potentially damaging jabs she’s thrown at Obama and all the political maneuvering she and her surrogates are orchestrating right now. I do think, though, that it’s important to take a step back and consider the plain question of whether or not she’d be a good vice president. You wouldn’t know it from her campaign, but way back before Election ’08 got rolling, the woman was well respected for her expert maneuvering in the Senate, how she nurtured people’s trust, built consensus, and crafted meaningful legislation. And Bosnia trip or no, she does have important foreign policy experience and knowledge. Call me naïve, but I think it would be interesting to have a conversation not about what her candidacy as vice president would mean politically, but what it would mean qualitatively.
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6/4/2008 12:15:39 PM
Here’s a pretty darn good photo of a Minnesotan from the Barack Obama rally in St. Paul last night, doncha know.
Oh, fer cute.
Photo courtesy of David Schwartz.
6/3/2008 12:15:51 PM
Where are the worst countries to be a woman? Haiti, Yemen, Sierra Leone, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Moldova. That's according to Foreign Policy, which put together this regionally organized roster of shame by culling information from the United Nations Human Development Report. Highlighted indicators of women’s standing include national political representation, female-to-male income ratio, and the female literacy rate. The magazine offers short profiles of the inequality facing women in each of these countries, and in each women’s sexual and reproductive health comes to the forefront, whether the issue is rape, HIV infection, maternal health, or human trafficking.
Reading these depressing descriptions as the dates of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions loom presents an opportunity to act. The reproductive health site RH Reality Check is examining how to prioritize women’s health in party platforms. This afternoon at 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST, discuss global women’s health in U.S. policy at RH Reality Check with Anika Rahman, President of Americans for UNFPA. (If you miss the conversation, you can still read the exchange in the comments section of the article.)
Image by Humanitarian and Development Partnership Team in the Central African Republic, licensed under Creative Commons.
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