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June 30, 2005

Small Glimmer of Reason in Congress

Quote of the Day from CQ Midday Update:

"Supporters have had a hard time selling this agreement. Its supposed benefits are murky, in the distance, while its flaws are all too obvious.... Late last evening I finally had to come to the conclusion that the problems with CAFTA as we have it before us clearly outweigh the very small benefits." — Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Say it again, brother. Say it again.

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June 28, 2005

My Congressman Rocks!

Okay, we all know that politicians give up their moral compasses when they walk into Congress. Or at least that's what some people believe. If you're a walk-the-party-line Republican, you might also believe that "politics" is a dirty word. Anyway, through one of the many online activist websites where you click and they send emails to your Congress people for you, I wrote to my new Congressman about Abu Ghraib. Here's his response, minus my address and today's date:

Thank you for your recent letter concerning prisoner abuse and torture. I share your concerns about this situation and I believe it is vital that Congress play a strong role in maintaining oversight in the actions and policies of our armed forces.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given rise to several well-publicized cases of prisoner abuse and inhumane treatment by representatives of the United States government. Congress must act to prevent such incidents in the future, and make it clear that torture and human rights violations are not to be tolerated in the United States Armed Forces.

I recently supported Congressman Curt Weldon's amendment, H.Amdt.534, to the 2005 Defense Appropriation Bill, H.R. 4200, which would destroy the Abu Ghraib prison and replace it with a modern detention facility. This amendment is a step toward ensuring that the human rights abuses suffered there will end. I also joined an overwhelming bipartisan majority in supporting Congressman Duncan Hunter's amendment, H.Amdt 535, which expresses concern for the abuse of persons in custody in Iraq.

Additionally, I have co-sponsored Congressman Henry Waxman's bipartisan bill, H.R. 2625, which establishes an independent commission to investigate pre-war intelligence gathering. Unfortunately this bill did not pass in the 108th Congress, but as the 109th Congress convenes I will push for the passage of this and all similar measures. I will keep your thoughts in mind if I have an opportunity to act on H.R. 952.

Again, thank you for sharing your views about this important matter. Please check my website at www.house.gov/emanuel for continued updates on my work, and do not hesitate to contact me again about those issues that are important to you. It is an honor to serve you in the U.S. Congress.


Rahm Emanuel
Member of Congress

For a Congressman, that is one amazing statement, don't you agree?

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June 23, 2005

Religious Discrimination is A-Okay With the Airforce

Evangelical Christians rule the roost at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. They get the best promotions, are looked on most favorably by faculty, and have the least problems fitting in with the "all Evangelical Christian thought process, all the time" mentality of that "academy."

It is disgusting that the Air Force refuses to condemn the academy. Instead, in a mealy-mouth report, they say they're sure everyone involved meant no harm. As a human who believes in the separation of church and state, I am appalled at the state of our union. Further, the fact that a Republican Senator condemned Democrats as haters of Christianity on the Senate floor for daring to question the Air Force on the issue makes me wonder how we can trust any of the so-called leaders of this country. (He eventually withdrew his outrageous comment from the record; but, only after Republicans and Democrats urged him to re-think his statement.)

More info:
NYT editorial,"Obfuscating Intolerance"

"Intolerance Found at Air Force Academy: Military Report Criticizes Religious Climate but Does Not Cite Overt Bias," by Josh White in WaPo

I heard the Republican inflammatory remark on NPR and can't find an online article about it

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June 20, 2005

Demolishing Houses to Build Peace

SecState Rice brokered an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians over the weekend. They agreed that the Israeli army should destroy homes built by Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip and Palestinians should be paid to clear the rubble after the Israeli army and settlers leave. Apparently, the middle class homes barricaded on the most fertile land in the area were deemed a waste of space by Palestinian Authority officials. They want to build multi-family homes, schools, and other buildings on the land. The Gaza Strip is one of the most over-populated areas in the world - 1.3 million Palestinians live there without adequate housing, so the fertile land being given back by Israelis should help.

The Israelis, by the way, didn't want to see "militants" taking over their former homes and Israeli politicians thought the site of Palestinians raising Palestinian flags in the abandoned homes on national television would spur the ultra-right wing.

I'm not convinced all the settlers will leave. I watched "Israel's Next War?" - an extremely disturbing Frontline program on the racist right-wing radicals who are determined to use their guns to stay in Gaza. To be clear: my fervent hope is for Israel and Palestine to exist as fully recognized countries, living as peaceful neighbors. I harbor no ill-will towards Israelis, Jews, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, or any particular ethnic or national group. I detest violence, I detest violent people, and I detest people who sully the beliefs of good people by saying "G'd wants me to be a racist killer."

In related news, Israel agreed to not sell updates to unmanned aircraft it sold to China. From WaPo:

The United States has expressed concern over Israeli weapons sales to China for the past 15 years. But the issue came to a head five years ago when U.S. pressure scuttled Israeli plans to sell Phalcon reconnaissance aircraft to China, a deal valued at between $250 million and $1 billion.

The most recent dispute arose last year over Israel's plans to provide spare parts for a fleet of Harpy armed drone aircraft it originally sold to China in the late 1990s with U.S. approval. U.S. defense officials complained that the spare parts constituted a significant upgrade of the aircraft, possibly including the addition of sensors able to detect radar sites even when turned off. In protest, the Pentagon froze cooperation with Israel on several joint weapons projects.

Good to know the weapons the USG subsidizes for Israel are being put to good use in China.

More info:
"Settlers' Homes on Gaza Strip Will Come Down, Rice Says," by Glenn Kessler and Scott Wilson in WaPo

"Israelis and Palestinians Agree On Demolishing Houses in Gaza," by Steven Weisman and Greg Myre in NYT

"Israel, Palestinians Agree That Settlers' Homes Will Be Razed: Secretary of State Rice announces the decision in Jerusalem, erasing one issue in the Gaza withdrawal. It is unclear who will foot the bill." by Ken Ellingwood and Tyler Marshall in LAT

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June 15, 2005

Rape Victim Illegally Arrested in Pakistan

Nikolas Kristof, the amazing NYT columnist, reports today that Mukhtaran Bibi was arrested and sent to an undisclosed location without access to her lawyer in Pakistan. Her crime is accepting a speaking engagement in the United States. Last year, a tribal council ruled that her brother allegedly committed a crime by having sex with a woman of a higher caste. The punishment meted out was Mukhtaran being gang-raped and having to walk home almost naked, passing a crowd of 300 people. With the help of an Islamic leader, she testified against the disgusting filth and six were convicted.

In conjunction with her house arrest, her attackers were released from prison. Then, she was arrested and taken to an undisclosed location, unable to speak to anyone.

From "Raped, Kidnapped and Silenced," by Nicholas Kristof:

"This is all because they think they have the support of the U.S. and can get away with murder," Ms. Jahangir [Bibi's lawyer] said. Indeed, on Friday, just as all this was happening, President Bush received Pakistan's foreign minister in the White House and praised President Musharraf's "bold leadership."

So, Mr. Bush, how about asking Mr. Musharraf to focus on finding Osama, instead of kidnapping rape victims who speak out? And invite Ms. Mukhtaran to the Oval Office - to show that Americans stand not only with generals who seize power, but also with ordinary people of extraordinary courage.

From the NYT editorial "With Friends Like This...":
Being allies with Pakistan should go beyond just selling F-16 fighter jets to General Musharraf in the hope that he will one day get serious about finding Osama bin Laden and stop allowing recruiters for the Taliban to operate in Pakistan. It should also include pressing Pakistan to adopt minimum standards of human rights.

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Quote of the Day

From CQ Midday Update:

“America is at war. It is not a metaphorical war. It is as tangible as the blood, the rubble that littered the streets of Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.” — Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway, in defending practices at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp during a hearing today by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
I wonder if Hitler's deputies used the same excuse during the Nuremberg Trials?

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USG Helps Ethnic Cleansing in Kirkuk

It is almost impossible to believe today's lead story in the Washington Post. "Kurdish Officials Sanction Abductions in Kirkuk: U.S. Memo Says Arabs, Turkmens Secretly Sent to the North," by Steve Fainaru and Anthony Shadid explains the contents of a confidential State Department memo regarding the abduction of Arabs and Turkmens and their secret transfer to other cities.

While you might expect that without international help, an ethnic minority would seek retribution from their neighbors for Saddam Hussein's actions, it is amazing that the USG has done absolutely nothing to prevent the wide scale abuse of human rights. Indeed, the DOD is complicit in the kidnappings, since the US military aids the politically controlled Kurdish military in these abductions. Further, despite all of the evidence that these Kurdish military groups are corrupt, American commanders continue to call them extremely reliable allies.

Background info from the article: Hussein practiced ethnic cleansing during the 80s, and moved Arabs and Turkmens north into Kurdish cities.

Kurds, who are just shy of a majority in the city and are growing in number, hope to make Kirkuk and the vast oil reserves beneath it part of an autonomous Kurdistan.

You wonder why people distrust the USG? It's because of statements like this:
Blagburn, the intelligence officer, said that even though the Emergency Services Unit is largely responsible for the secret transfers, it continues to provide valuable assistance in the counterinsurgency. Blagburn termed the unit "a very cooperative, coalition-friendly system."

"We know we can drop a guy in there and he'd be taken care of and he's safe," Blagburn said. "That's the reason why the ESU is used most of the time. That's basically the unit we can trust the most."

Good to know torturers are willing to help out the US Occupation forces when they're needed.

I am thoroughly disgusted by this administration and their horrible abuse of power and mockery of democracy. I am grateful someone at State leaked the memo to WaPo and hope that it will soon be available to the public in its entirety.

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June 14, 2005

This Just In: Airports Are More Important Than Human Life

The Department of Defense (DOD) has determined that airplane traffic supercedes concern regarding a dictator massacring unarmed political demonstrators. The State Department (State) believes in standing firm in opposition of flagrant violations of human rights, but since State has so little actual influence in this administration, DOD's choices remain the de facto official U.S. government (USG) policy.

Here's the deal: Europeans wanted to include a call for an independent inquiry into the massacre of citizens in Uzbekistan in a communique from NATO. Russia disapproved, but was willing to be persuaded to allow the language. DOD decided to block the language, offering the b.s. excuse that it shouldn't be part of a military alliance's policy statements.

Human beings everywhere should be outraged.

More info:
"U.S. Opposed Calls at NATO for Probe of Uzbek Killings: Officials Feared Losing Air Base Access," By R. Jeffrey Smith and Glenn Kessler with contributions by Ann Scott Tyson and Robin Wright in WaPo

From the aforementioned article:

There are stirrings of dissent on Capitol Hill about placing access to the air base at the center of U.S. policy, however. Six senators warned Rumsfeld and Rice in a letter last week that "in the aftermath of the Andijan massacre, America's relationship with Uzbekistan cannot remain unchanged."

The senators -- Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), John McCain (R-Ariz.), John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) -- added that "we believe that the United States must be careful about being too closely associated with a government that has killed hundreds of demonstrators and refused international calls for a transparent investigation." They suggested that the administration explore alternative basing arrangements "in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and elsewhere in the region" to give Washington more flexibility.

When even the Republicans in Congress think human rights are more important than a military base, you know DOD's gone too far in their "war on terror." It disgusts me that we even need the debate.

Yesterday's LAT also had an article on Uzbekistan which gives easy to read background info: "Uzbekistan Tests U.S. Policy Goals: Bush's aim of spreading democracy appears to clash with need to keep strategic military bases." by Sonni Efron

articles found via Today's Papers by Eric Umansky in Slate

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June 8, 2005

Even Contractors are Being Treated Inhumanely by American Troops in Iraq

From Slate's Today's Papers, by Eric Umansky:

The LAT for some reason only teases a fascinating but murky incident in Iraq during which some American security contractors appear to have mistakenly fired on Marines, who then tossed the roughly two dozen contractors in jail for a few days, where apparently they didn't get the best treatment. The contractors' lawyer said they were stripped and "slammed around." As they were being tossed about, one of the Marines reportedly shouted, "How does it feel to be a big rich contractor now?" The contractors say they never fired on the Marines, who in turn say they never abused the contractors. (Last year, Slate's Phil Carter looked at the "legal murkiness" that contractors operate in.) It's clear that the LAT has independent reporting on the story, but FYI, a site called CorpWatch had a more detailed piece yesterday.
Turns out, mercenaries make a helluva lot more money than enlisted men. Shocking, eh? According to a sidebar on the CorpWatch article, Zapata mercenaries make between $520,000 and $700,000 a year. Which rankles the feathers of enlisted folks, who eke out a living and get hassled by the government for filing health insurance claims for the many mental and physical injuries they incur while on duty.

I'm not condoning what the Marines did. I'm simply pointing out that the vast difference in pay makes enlisted soldiers wary of mercenaries. All humans should be wary of mercenaries - they operate outside the control of national and international law and waste a lot of taxpayer money that would be better used to increase social services (education, healthcare, etc.) at home and abroad.

FYI, the CorpWatch article is part of their War Profiteers microsite. CorpWatch works to hold corporations accountable in a variety of fields - from education to labor issues to war. The original War Profiteers website was created by the Ruckus Society.

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June 7, 2005

Keep Your Laws Off Our Bodies

I was reading Heretical Ideas today, which reminded me of the battles we continue to face to keep politics and morals out of personal health decisions. Then I read the Hardball email (not sure why I still read this, since I haven't had cable in four months), and found Thomas Oliphant's op-ed "My journey into darknes."

Oliphant's essay is worth reading from beginning to end. It's a personal story that could be anyone's story. So, I don't think I'm giving anything away by relaying the last graph:

This place where I have been is a dark one. The one thing I know is who belongs there -- your family and the pros. No one else, especially not the government. You want the loving hands and the healing ones to bring you home or let you go.
Whether we're talking about creating life, ending life, or anything in between, the decisions should be made by you with help from your family and doctors.

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June 6, 2005

Courageous Iraqis Leading the Way to Change

Despite the many setbacks, courageous Iraqis are re-building and maintaining a national oil pipeline while others report on current events despite repeated death threats.

Of course, the USG doesn't want you to know about these people. Particularly the General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE), whose members outperform private sector employees and maintain their refineries to a far better degree than the private corporations preferred by the Bush administration/coalition forces/"Iraqi government." Details in "Iraq's other resistance: Oil workers in Basra are ready to fight privatisation," a commentary by Greg Muttitt in The Guardian.

And if you listened to the Shrub administration, you'd think all independent Iraqi journalists were working for the insurgency. "Press in Iraq Gains Rights But No Refuge: 85 Workers Killed in 2 Years," by Jonathan Finer with contributions from Omar Fekeiki and Bassam Sebti in today's WaPo explains how important Iraqi journalists are to creating a truly democratic society in Iraq, and how dangerous the work is.

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June 3, 2005

What Could Be More Pressing Than Genocide?

A fellow Chicago WILPFer pointed me to this Open Letter to President Bush on Darfur: Specific Actions to Stop the Ongoing Genocide, on the Black Commentator website.

The Open Letter to the President on Darfur asserts the need for an urgent international intervention to support the African Union’s mission in Darfur, in order to:

  1. stop the killing and provide security for millions of internally displaced people (IDPs);
  2. facilitate the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance;
  3. enforce the cease fire and provide a stable environment for meaningful peace talks to proceed; and
  4. facilitate the voluntary return of IDPs to their land and the reconstruction of their homes by providing a secure environment.

The letter calls on the Bush Administration to:

  1. work through the United Nations (UN) to achieve a stronger civilian protection mandate for the African Union mission and for a broader international force, and
  2. encourage the UN to quickly approve and assemble a robust international force to integrate or co-deploy with the African Union and reinforce its efforts.
It is vitally important that we demand more action from the U.S. Government and the international community to stop the genocide in Darfur.

More information:
Nikolas Kristof of the NYT
Responding to readers - ways to help and more info on his current work in Darfur
"Day 141 of Bush's Silence," op-ed (with online multimedia presentation) from Sunday's NYT

Sudan: The Passion of the Present" blog recommended by Kristof for daily updates on the genocide

Eric Reeve's Sudan website, also recommended by Kristof. Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts.
cross-posted from the US WILPF blog.

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