The Talking Dog

January 31, 2009, Blogroll Amnesty

February is just loaded with great stuff... from the day we celebrate the births of our 1st and 16th Presidents, to Groundhog Day, to Blogroll Amnesty Day (February 3rd), the only holiday in blogtopia for blogtopia (yiksctt, skippy, etc.).

We in blog-world, even those of us who have been "blogging" since one week after 11 Sept. 2001 before the term "blog" or "web log" was even in wide parlance, all too often fall into the solipsism of thinking that what we do is terribly much more than a self-indulgent hobby. This is such an occasion. Prior to the first "blogroll amnesty," which was in fact, an act of self-absolution by the proprietor of progressive blogging behemoth eschaton to excuse himself for purging all but the most well-trafficked 50 or so progressive blogs (and 1 or 2 other token "lesser blogs" so that Duncan could try to deny, without credibility as far as I was and am concerned, that he was simply reverting to a "big-traffic" blog-roll), those of us who did not have tens of thousands of daily hits and advertising revenue and big media talk-show appearances could still feel part of a broader "community."

It was an illusion to be sure, but what did it cost Eschaton, or the Daily Kos (the latter never blogrolled this humble blog... but it did on occasion blogroll some "lesser" blogs) to pretend to reach out to disparate low-trafficked voices? Nothing... that's what. But "amnesty" was declared anyway, and.. well, here we are. It's a free country and no one is obliged to blogroll anyone else, of course, but we can at least hearken back to the days before 2-3-07 when any blog, no matter how humble, might get a permalink from a mega-blog.

And so, in this era of "Yes we can," when even a graduate of my own humble Ivy League college class can rise to the Presidency of the United States, the can-do spirit that imbued the blogosphere I knew is still alive, as we salute the heroic efforts of Jon Swift, skippy, and Blue Gal to keep this holiday alive, so that a true bottom-up, true-to-its-spirit-of-not-being-part-of-the-same-big-money-media-corporate-entertainment-military-industrial-complex spirit lives on, and we will never forget.

And thus ends today's outburst of solipsism. Hey, how 'bout that Blago?

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January 30, 2009, WWSGD?

That stands for "what would Steve Gilliard do?" Our old friend, the late Steve Gilliard was a one of a kind; mild-mannered and soft-spoken in person, while his on-line version told truth to power, kept it real, and took no prisoners.

Julia provided this moving tribute to Steve on the occasion of the election of our first Black President, something that, to put it bluntly, Steve just deserved to live long enough to see, but sadly, didn't get to.

The occasion of the selection of Michael Steele as the new Chairman of the Republican National Committee makes me get all nostalgic... for Steve. And not just because Steele beat out Chip "Barack the Magic Negro" Saltsman. No, no, no...
Mr. Steele takes us right back to perhaps Steve's most famous episode, the "Michael Steele in blackface" episode noted here on Jack and Jill Politics. Then Lt. Gov. of Maryland, Black Republican Michael Steele was running for an open Senate seat in Maryland against Jewish Democrat Ben Cardin; Steve opened rhetorical fire on Steele, accusing Steele of being an "Uncle Tom," and every possible version of "a sell-out to his race" (of course, in Steve's inimitable "no prisoners" style, God bless him and God rest his soul.) Steele, perhaps with Steve's help, eventually lost the race to Cardin; the right-wing blogosphere shed many a crocodile tear of outrage at Steve.

Anyway, Steele's back... "Uncle Tom" seems so...retro (and unlike Steve, I don't really have standing to use it). Maybe Steele warrants another term... like "RINO" (Republican In Name Only... which Mr. Steele is not)... a term such as "Black In Name Only" (BINO) or perhaps "Anti-Liberal Black In Name Only" (ALBINO)?

Don't know. My take on this is that it is simply cynicism by the Republicans: Steele is widely considered "too moderate" by a party whose epicenter is hastily retreating to an ellipse with focal points at Boise and Biloxi, and just not much resonance anywhere else. The Republicans selecting a perceived-as-moderate Black man as their front-man while on the ground they become an ever-more-extremist party (whose power couple might as well be Rush Limbaughand Sarah Palin) is just about as cynical as it gets. We can be quite certain that a party that is betting its electoral future (in an economic crisis widely believed to be of its own making) by being seen to oppose every move and spitting on any olive-branch extended by our thoughtful, gentlemanly, extroardinarily popular and utterly brilliant new Black President... just doesn't really show us much intention of reaching for a broad appeal among Black voters, or near as I can tell, anyone with a pulse and brain-wave activity.

I'm just not sure what a growth component of the electorate disgruntled male Limbaugh and Hannity listeners are... seems to me, the Republicans already have those locked up (many of them-- and Rush and Sean especially-- should be locked up... I'll be here all week, folks...) Latinos are appalled by the nativist racist wing of the party, working people of all ethnicities (hell, everyone not benefitting from tax cuts for the rich) have figured out that "tax cuts now, tax cuts forever" is not a policy capable of sustaining growth, and never has been, let alone jump-starting growth amidst the current deep recession/proto-depression we are now in, and fewer and fewer people are still buying the Republicans' general attitude to "You're on your own, Motherfuckers" rugged individualist social policy amidst these times of economic catastrophe uncertainty.

But just as Steve saw the use of Mr. Steele in a Senate race as little more than a dark-skinned prop for rich and overwhelmingly White people whose policies were antithetical to the interests of most Black people (and most human beings, and for that matter, most other living species on the planet) as cynical then... it certainly strikes me as cynical now. Then again, for a President whose term was as disastrous as George W. Bush to have concluded that his biggest mistake was the display of a banner... means this is a party that hasn't figured out that the country has figured out that "reality bites"... and all too often, it's Republicans that have caused that reality.

Well, good luck to you, Chairman Steele. You're going to need it. And watch your back, man... especially around members of your own party.

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January 28, 2009, Bipartisanship is just another word for date rape

It's really hard to characterize the kind of greeting that The President must have gotten from the (all-White) House Republican Caucus, whom he addressed the other day to try to garner some-- some...any at all-- Republican support for his massive ecnomic stimulus package, and so he listened politely, proposed removing some family planning expenditures and hearing them out on more tax cuts (for the super-rich)... and, unsuprisingly, if you ask me... he got reaction similar to that received by Sheriff Bart.

More specifically, the over $800 billion stimulus package passed the House with 11 Democrats voting against it and not a single Republican voting for it. This strikes me as Sheriff Bart's greeting. The message is quite loud, and quite clear. Gentlemen (and Michele Bachman)... you have made yourselves clear.

Things may well be a bit different in the Senate where the Republicans have, at least in theory, a filibuster if all 41 can hold the line, and where just a few weeks ago, The President and the Vice-President and the Secretaries of State and Interior were all colleagues in that august body... maybe the Republicans in the Senate will see the value in trying to reach out to The President on something "easy" so they can build some capital to do business on something that's "not so easy." But then again, maybe not.

It seems maybe not, indeed, as the Republicans seem to insist on no quarter on something that the Republicans regard as a core value-- not punishing criminality by high government officials (as long as they are Republicans, of course)... to wit, the Rev. Moon's paper claims that Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri was promised by nominee for attorney general Eric Holder that if confirmed Holder would absolutely not investigate or prosecute any member of the Bush Administration for torture, war crimes, or anything else... meanwhile, Josh Marshall's TPM is reporting that, in fact, an aide to Holder denies this. Could this be a signal for "filibuster coming"... absent such a promise? Well...

My point is simply that the stimulus package seems politically "easy": the economy is in shambles, the public is demanding that the Government "fix it"... and hence, something is on offer, in short order. There is no real principled opposition to the stimulus-- simply a crass, political one, consistent with Rush Limbaugh's stated desire that he wishes Obama to fail, just to vindicate his own hateful existence. (If this keeps up, an appropriate meme would be to question Limbaugh-- clearly the new leader of the Republican Party-- and the rest of his party on their patriotism... because surely, if "Obama fails," then our economy will fail, and our ability to be an international bully that national greatness conservatives seem to cream over will be gone too... we just won't be able to afford to keep troops and aircraft carriers everywhere. So Rush... why do you hate America? Boehner... who do you hate our troops?)

Which means, of course, that if the pattern is set that there is simply no point in The President even trying to work with the Republicans, he will stop trying. As he should, of course, immediately. And this most especially means investigating, and as appropriate, prosecuting, members of the Bush Administration for torture and war crimes, because the Republicans have made it clear there is no value in trying to appease them or horse-trade or cooperate with them on anything, whether "easy" or otherwise.

There is just no there there. President Obama would be working with a headless rump of a receding regional party taking its cues from a drug-addict millionaire demogogue whose power base is millions of disgruntled males who, to paraphrase Thomas Frank, rather than rail at the forces keeping them in penury or other misery, behave as if they were the mob storming the Bastille to demand more power for the aristocracy. In short-- there's nothing rational to talk about, and no one rational to talk with. The Republicans have decided that they are the "just say no" party now... or more accurately... the this party.

And so to my college classmate The President... on the subject of bipartisanship... I cannot urge you in strong enough terms... just say no.

Update: Al Giordano sees a method to what others might see as The President's madness, to wit, a Macchiavellian grandmaster move of setting up the Republicans to look unreasonable from the outset, a position which The President can exploit down the road for later massive partisan advantage, if the Republicans fall into the trap of slapping away Obama's outstretched hand... bait which they appear to have taken...

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January 27, 2009, "Closing Guantanamo" Necessary... Not Sufficient

The Grey Lady gives us this profile in snapshot of the Obama Administration's next Bush-created War-on-Terror detention headache, the nearly 600 men now being held beyond law at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. (Some background is available in my interview with Tina Foster of the International Justice Network, who is quoted in the Times piece).

The Times article does something fascinating-- it repeats Bush progaganda that everyone at Bagram was "captured on the battlefield"... and then notes that Ms. Foster has four clients, all of whom were moved there from outside of Afghanistan, but doesn't seem to highlight the obvious contradiction... just saying. In other words... here we go again. There seems no reason to believe that the defective process of packing Bagram (or the unnamed Pol-e-sharki, sometimes known as Guantanamo's Guantanamo, also in Afghanistan) was any less stupid than the defective process of packing GTMO.

Anyway... if anyone out there thinks that "closing Guantanamo" will somehow be hard just because they are too lazy, immature and stupid to know the difference between "terrorist" and "ACCUSED terrorist", there's really just no talking to you.

Anyway, that's my point: unless real, reliable evidence emerges, and fast, a prospect I believe is dubious to the point of non-existent, it will be necessary to conclude that, in fact, there are few if any "terrorists" at GTMO (I suppose that those like KSM and al-Shibh who insist that they are, can be screened by appropriate health professionals, and if determined in a proper court that they are confessing not out of mental illness, then they can duly plead guilty in said proper court, and seek their "martyrdom" that way). Accordingly, if we're not holding terrorists, and we're not properly holding POWs... then they've simply got to be released. Note again for those incapable of paying attention: they've got to be released not because we are being soft on terror, but because we have no basis to hold them. That's what our laws require. Not "permit": require.

And as hard as "closing GTMO" and then "closing Bagram" will be (both can be done with a mere stroke of a pen... Obama has got to realize that if he cured cancer, the common cold and baldness, established world peace, eliminated poverty and led the Cubs to a World Series title, the Republicans would still find some reason to attack him anyway as a soft-on-terror, tax and spend liberal elitist) ... the real political fire will commence when he undertakes what he is obliged to do by both treaty and decency: prosecute those responsible for violating our laws and Constitution, no matter how high ranking they may be.

The only way any of these things will happen, of course, is if "we the people" employ The President's own model of "community organizing" and pressure him to do the right thing, make sure we have his back when he does the hard stuff, and push push push for him to do it, Republicans and hate radio be damned. After all, as the President himself noted: he won, and that's the trump card.

So... it's up to us to make the President do the right thing. Starting yesterday.

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January 24, 2009, Backsliding will NOT be acceptable

I cannot emphasize that strongly enough: we MUST hold The President's feet to the fire with respect to what he has made one of the signal aims of his Administration, to wit, the closure of Guantanamo Bay and related illegal facilities. So, although it comes as no surprise to anyone that, as WaPo reports, the Government's files re the allegations against Guantanamo detainees are in disarray (hat tip to Candace), we simply cannot stand by and allow one of the possible permutations raised in the article, that the Obama Administration may attempt to blame its precedessor for delays in doing what it said it would, i.e. closing Guantanamo, and its companion and (far) more important promise, restoring the rule of law.

Let me make this easy, based on my extrapolating from Candace's representations and from the dozens more I am familiar with from the interviews conducted on this blog: there's simply no there there. The reason that the Government's "evidence" is "in disarray" is because if it were well-organized, it would be obvious to all that it is, as the courageous Col. Stephen Abraham called it, "garbage". Nothing more than a bunch of guilt-by-association accusations, often derived from torture, or from other sources that the Government itself believes unreliable.

Look people: why should we believe the Bush Administration ON ANYTHING? Of the decisions that have gone that far, in actual "on the merits" hearings, detainees are winning 90% of them, even in courts that have demonstrated their predisposition to be hostile to the detainees at every turn heretofore. Now why might that be? Might it be because there is no there there... that the Bush Administration held men not because they were or are dangerous, but because it would be embarrassing to release them?

The President has directed a stay of prosecutions for 120 days, and ordered a shut-down within a year. Both of those are way, way too long periods, given what everyone knows (i.e., there is simply no reason to believe anything the Bush Adminsitration did is reliable, so why should this be different). But, notwithstanding my unwavering support for my college classmate The President, we cannot allow any slippage on this: it's too important. To quote The President himself, we cannot compromise our principles in the interests of expedience.

The Bush Administration has, indeed, left a mess. But the default has got to be that if, after more than seven years, we cannot quickly ascertain a legal basis to hold someone... we probably don't have one. We must all be mature enough to know that there is a difference you can sail the Queen Mary through between someone being a terrorist because they are an actual terrorist and someone being a terrorist because the Bush Administration said they were. There is evidence, or there isn't. It doesn't matter how bad the acts of the accused are: what matters is whether we have reliable evidence of their guilt. Nothing short thereof, whether it be KSM or anyone else, will be acceptable.

And on this most critical of all issues-- literally the soul of our nation is on the line-- backsliding will NOT be acceptable.

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January 22, 2009, TD Blog Interview with Almerindo Ojeda

Dr. Almerindo Ojeda is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Davis, and the Director of that university's Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas and in particular, the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, which has compiled hundreds of statements of various kinds from those involved with or affected by Guantanamo Bay, including detainees, soldiers, attorneys and others; a number of those statements are interviews from this blog. On January 22, 2009, I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Ojeda by e-mail exchange.

The Talking Dog: The first question (to which my own answer is "across the street from the WTC"... and still the same answer on weekdays when I go to work in downtown Manhattan) is... Where were you on 11 September 2001?

Almerindo Ojeda: I was walking towards the Peet's Coffee in my
hometown of Davis, California. I walk there almost every morning (two
miles each direction) to think things over, plan the day, do a little exercise and, of course, have my morning espresso. As soon as I arrived to Peet's that day, I found my wife. She had driven to Peet's and proceded to give me the shocking news. By then, both towers had been hit. We jumped into the car and drove back home. No morning espresso that day...

The Talking Dog: As a professional in linguistics, what was
your source of interest in the area of human rights in the Americas? What was your interest in focusing on Guantanamo in particular?

Almerindo Ojeda: None as a linguist. But I am a human being
before I am a linguist. To answer your question, I got interested in doing something about human rights as soon as the worthiness of torture began to be debated in polite company in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I had some experience, to be sure, with human rights violations. Even if only indirect ones. I was born and raised in Peru, which had its own human rights nightmare in the 1980s and 1990s. At this time, a brutal insurgency movement (the Shining Path) provoked the Peruvian Armed Forces into a savage response. After the insurgency was quelched, an old Philosophy professor of mine got appointed to head the
truth commission
charged with investigating the human rights violations
of those decades. That appointment was profoundly inspiring for me. I also lived through the Central American wars of the 1980s. During these wars, a good friend of mine was murdered in Salvador. His name was Ignacio Martín Baró. He was one of the six Jesuits whose murder led
to the end of the conflict. That too, left a mark. Having said that, I must admit that giving testimony is a verbal act--so testimonies are familiar territory for a linguist. I must also admit that I am enjoying the linguistic specimens of Guantanamo propaganda I am collecting. Take for example the noun 'detainee,' which suggests a minor inconvenience, like being detained in traffic. Or the verb 'captured.' It describes what happens to fugitives, possibly of justice, and hence to criminals. Or the locution 'total voluntary fasting'. It's Guantanamese for 'hunger strike'. It places the discussion in a religious (if not fundamentalist) context. Or 'reservation,' which is Guantanamese for 'interrogation.' It makes it sound like you are about to go to a restaurant. The list is endless. DoD manuals instruct Guantanamo personnel to refer to suicides as 'self-harm' incidents--an understatement that places suicides in the same category as biting your nails or slapping your forehead.

Interestingly, language is not entirely pliable, and sometimes fights back. Guantanamo personnel speak of 'going to reservation,' a phrase which we would never use for making good on a reservation made at a restaurant (and betrays the attempt to veil the reference to interrogations, which are something one would 'go to').

The Talking Dog: Part of my own thinking in doing my interviews (albeit as they evolved... the original thought was to try to increase traffic to and interest in my blog... and because I was very interested in Padilla's case) is to provide a timely, if not "real-time," historical record from the standpoint of first-person accounts of what I hope we will all consider a rather troubling part of our history that we will rightly be ashamed of, using the new media of
internet publication and somewhat older media (I often interview subjects by telephone and take notes long hand) to come up with an epistelary product. That said... as the Testimonials Project seems to be on that track (albeit doing a much more thorough job!) can you describe the philosphical underpinnings of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project?

Almerindo Ojeda: The immediate goals of the Guantanamo
Testimonials Project are to gather testimonies of prisoner abuse at
Guantanamo, to organize them in meaningful ways, to make them widely
available online, and to preserve them there in perpetuity. At a more
fundamental level, its goal is to shed light on human nature by plumbing the depths of human cruelty and triangulating the heights of the human spirit. And to begin the process of reconciliation with the rest of the world by the simple act of paying attention to what a victim--even an alleged one--has to say. At an epistemological level, the Guantanamo Testimonial Project renders a credible picture of the Guantanamo interrogation camp. This credibility emerges from
the volume, detail, independence, and consistency of the testimonies it comprises, as it contains hundreds of testimonies from the prisoners and their lawyers; from a chaplain and a translator; from a marine and several guards; from physicians and psychologists; from prosecutors and other tribunal officials; from interrogators and their logs; from the FBI and the Red Cross; from foreign officials and intelligence services; from the Departments of Justice and Defense; from manuals of Standard Operating Procedures and even from a CIA mole.

The Talking Dog: How big an endeavor is the Guantanamo
Testimonials Project, in terms of staff, in terms of internet traffic, or whatever other criteria you find relevant? Do you find that (particularly the traffic part and general public interest) to be gratifying... or disappointing?

Almerindo Ojeda: Financially, the Guantanamo Testimonials Project runs on empty. Yet, it is richly endowed by the dedication of a small number of volunteers (our valued Research Affiliates) and by the awesome possibilities of computer technology. Immense thanks are also due to the widening circle of protagonists of the Guantanamo drama, be they prisoners, lawyers, guards, government officials, journalists, or fellow human rights workers, who have contributed to the project by providing testimony, sometimes embarrasing to themselves, and sometimes even in detriment to themselves. Currently, our website gets over 2000 visits a month from over 80 countries. The bulk of them come from the United States, Western Europe, Canada, and Australia. I think this is amazing. But I am sure we can get much better exposure. If there are
public relations specialists willing to add their expertise to our pool of volunteers, we would love to hear from them...

The Talking Dog: Following up on that-- and noting that a disproportionate source of testimonials, especially in the defense lawyer category, come from me, a singleton blogger not purporting to have journalism credentials, doing this entirely as a hobby-- can you tell me your view of overall media coverage of Guantanamo and war on terror issues, from the standpoints of local, national - USA and international... and would you describe it as "adequate", "inadequate," informative, misleading... something else?

Almerindo Ojeda: This is interesting. On the one hand there is the investigative reporting like that of Jane Mayer, who has done more than most to make sense of the dark side we have embraced since 9/11. Then there has been the media that has been on the Guantanamo beat. The best of them made their best to be honest witnesses (by traveling to
Guantanamo to visit the facilities and cover the public portions of the trials) and to provide context to the story of the day. Where I think they missed out was in seeking out witnesses, be they prisoners or their captors, that would tell a more personal story. The kind that human rights organizations focus on. Although much can be gleaned from what the figures of authority, military or civilian, have to say, much is lost as well, particularly in how policy translates into fact.
Notable exceptions are Andy Worthington's Guantanamo Files, Amy
Goodman's Democracy Now!, the British Guardian and the Independent, and
the massive but belated McClatchy interviews. Bloggers like The Talking Dog and Candace Gorman's Guantanamo Blog played a major role too in getting more of the "ordinary" voices out.

The Talking Dog: You and the Guantanamo Testimonials
Project recently brought to light information concerning the specific role of health care providers vis a vis aiding interrogations (part of the violations of both the ethics of their professions and the laws of war, in part discussed in my interview with Dr. Steven Miles). Can you describe your findings, how you came to that conclusion, and if the government has responded in any way?

Almerindo Ojeda: The piece you are referring to provided evidence that, contrary to statements by the Department of Defense, interrogations at Guantanamo did affect the medical treatment of the prisoners. The evidence I provided came from military medical records that indicated that interrogators intervened in the medication and the recreation regime of Mr. Salim Hamdan (ISN 149). I also found a passage in the Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures which said that the officer in charge of the interrogation section of Guantanamo could prevent, in conjunction with the Secretary of Defense, the administration of medical attention to prisoners in isolation. There are of course, many testimonies from prisoners and their lawyers that this kind of interference of interrogators in medical attention. But I decided to focus on information from military sources proper. The Department of Defense did not respond to this in any way. Things were a bit different on a more recent occasion, though. In May of last year we organized an event in which Amy Goodman interviewed, via videoconference, three former Guantanamo prisoners from Sudan. In that interview, Mr. Salim Mahmoud Adem (ISN 710) claimed that fellow prisoners were drugged for interrogation purposes:

SALIM MAHMOUD ADEM: But I saw my neighbor, who was from Uzbekistan, they would inject into him, and he would sleep for three or four days on the metal in the cell, and then after that he became addicted. His name is Abu Bak [phonetic spelling]. And then Abdurahman from Afghanistan and Sultan al-Joufi from Saudi Arabia, and Yaghoub [phonetic] and Koleidad [phonetic] from Kazakhstan, Koleidad [phonetic] from Afghanistan, and others from Pakistan, and Dr. Eymen [phonetic] from Yemen who was a surgeon...

AMY GOODMAN: What about all of them?

SMA: All of them became addicted to the injections. Yaghoub, from
Kazakhstan, left Guantanamo, and he became insane.

AG: Where were they injected?

SMA: In their arms or thighs, most in their arms. Once he was injected, he would sleep for days. He would eat and then sleep. He would eat and sleep. This injection might be monthly or semi-monthly. What I saw, one who left before me – Guantanamo before me – was in the chamber who became completely insane, and despite that they would punish him harshly. And because of all of this, we all became afraid of dealing with psychologists. Recently, when I was transferred to the sixth prison [Camp 6?], isolation, it was very cold and [there] were bright lights. We were cut off from the world, a great wall like the Wall of China, and we could not see the sun. Even if they took us to walk out, this room that we are in right now is much bigger than it. Two could barely walk in it.

The office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense got wind of that interview and contacted us to see if we had any further information on the matter. I believe we do: Abu Bak from Uzbekistan is probably Abu Bakir Jamaludinovich (ISN 452), and Yaghoub from Kazakistan is probably Yakub Abahanov (ISN 526).

The Talking Dog: You also uncovered underreporting of the number of juveniles held at Guantanamo. Again, can you describe your findings, how you came to that conclusion and how the government has responded (my understanding is that you actually forced them to do a "re-count"?) Have you come across any other "scoops" in the course of the project that you'd like to discuss?

Almerindo Ojeda: Our findings there were that the State Department underreported to the United Nations the number of children seized and sent to Guantanamo. The number they reported was 8. Yet, according to their own data, the actual number is 12--an undercount of 50%. The way I arrived at this conclusion was simply to look at the in-processing dates and the birthdates of all the Guantanamo prisoners (as released by the Department of Defense) and do the math. I reported these findings to the Associated Press, who asked the Pentagon for a response. They said, for the first time publicly, that they had already sent their revised figures to the United Nations. The Associated Press
asked when they had done this. They responded "it was hard to say. . ."

The Talking Dog: Which category of the testimonials do you personally find the most compelling? Are there any particular testimonials that you find the most compelling, and why?

Almerindo Ojeda: This is a really hard question. Every testimony is compelling for the witness that gives it. From the outside, I guess that the most compelling ones are the ones given by those that have nothing to gain from giving it--the testimonies of the captors, who speak out at considerable risk to themselves and their careers. But then there are the heart-wrenching testimonies of the victims, whose first person, detailed and dignified narratives
overwhelm you.

The Talking Dog: Where do you see the Guantanamo situation
going now that we have inaugurated as President (my college classmate) Barack Obama? Do you see any possibility the framers of the prior policies might be brought to account for their actions?

Almerindo Ojeda: President Obama issued four amazing executive orders just today regarding our responses to the war on terror. Much to celebrate about that, especially (1) the recognition of Common Article Three of
the Geneva Conventions
as a minimum baseline standard of treatment (2)
subordination of all interrogation practices to those authorized by the
Army Field Manual, (3) the elimination of extraordinary rendition (or
torture by proxy), (4) the closure of all CIA-run black sites, (5) the
universal access to detainees by the International Committee of the Red
Cross, (6) the suspension of the discredited trials by military commission and, last but not least, (7) the closure of Guantanamo in a year or less.

My only concern with these orders are that they leave open what to do with the Guantanamo prisoners (of which there now are, if we believe official documents, exactly 242). Here I believe there are only two possibilities: charge or release. Those charged should be prosecuted in regular federal courts or regular military courts, and under exactly the same procedures as anyone else, including the inadmissilbility of tortured confessions. Those released should be returned to their native countries if there is no risk that they will be abused there. If so, we should ask (not demand) allied nations take some. The rest, we should grant asylum to until the conditions in their countries allow for their
safe return. September 11 changed many things, but not the Constitution. Love this country? Live up to it.

As to the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, its goals will not be met once Guantanamo is closed for good. The goals of the project will be met only when all the abuse that took place there has been entered. In a way, the closure of Guantanamo may initiate a period of growth for the project, as it should creat ean environment in which more people will come forth with critical testimony. I am looking forward, for example, to visual testimony of abuse. Every IRFing, for example, was taped. The ACLU is trying to get those tapes. Without much luck. I would also like to take a look at medical records. Or interview psychologists, interrogators, and guards. Not to mention all the newly released prisoners.

I think it is unlikely that the architects of the policies and practices of detention develped in the wake of the war on terror will be tried. At least in the immediate future. I find it much more likely that the Obama administration would launch a commission of inquiry that will gather evidence of abuse committed in the name of our security. Having history record the crimes these individuals may have committed is already a form of accountability. And may lead the way to others. The Guantanamo Testimonials Project may both make a contribution to--and benefit from-- any such commissions of inquiry.

The Talking Dog: How do you anticipate the contents of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project will be viewed by Americans of the future in, say, 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, 100 years... or any other framework you prefer? Answer in any context-- a useful tool to see the moment, will people cringe at our willingness as a society to embrace "the dark side" (as many do over Japanese internment and slavery), or will we look back and decide "we weren't tough enough"... or is there any other way you'd like to answer.

Almerindo Ojeda: If you look to history to predict the future, respect for human rights will only widen and deepen. Consequently, if only a fraction of the testimonies we have gathered in our project are truthful, the veredict on Guantanamo will only grow harsher with time. This means that our project may become a resource for anyone who wants to delve into the abuses that once took hold at Guantanamo and a cautionary tale for those that might want to revive it.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked
you but didn't, or anything else that my readers and the public should
know about these critically important issues?

Almerindo Ojeda: I think your readers might be interested in a
book I edited called The Trauma of Psychological Torture. It gathers historians, psychologists, ethicists, physicians, and one linguist (myself) around the topic of psychological torture. In that book I wrote an article called "What is Psychological Torture?" In it I try to lay the conceptual foundations for a legally binding definition of psychological torture. As I see it, the key is to avoid intractable problems like defining mental pain and gauging how much of it is necessary to reach to the level of torture, focusing instead on strictly verifiable practices like isolation, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, nudity, severe humiliation, and so on. Ban them and you have banned psychological torture.

The Talking Dog: I join all my readers in thanking Professor Almerindo for that fascinating interview.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, and with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch to be of interest.

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January 22, 2009, Bolt the doors...

It seems The President (yes!) has signed an executive order directing the closure of GTMO and all CIA prisons whereever they may be within a year.

The devil may be in the details... but for the moment, this is good.

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January 21, 2009, More change... this not so good...

Exxon Mobil will have to pay its professional U.F.O. observersHolocaust deniers global warming skeptics a wee-bit more cold hard cash to get them to insist that the world isn't getting un-colder... particuarly as new evidence of temperature/climate observations in Antarctica, held out by said professional skeptics as "evidence" that their paid positions were somehow justified by actual data... shows, in fact, that Antarctica is warming (because of human activity) just like the rest of the planet.

Again, human activity has certainly been exacerbating this problem for a long, long time, and certainly, it is unreasonable to suggest that the entire problem was caused during eight years of the Bush Administration. But we have really only had the technology to observe these trends for a relatively short time, and in the last eight years, the Bush Administration, regardless of what one thinks of the merits of the Kyoto Protocols, has gone out of its way in every conceivable area to exacerbate this problem as fast as possible, just as it went out of its way to exacerbate every problem, or to destroy whatever it could that heretofore hadn't been a problem.

Anyway, President Obama has pledged to lead the way to combat global warming. For those who believe, btw, that those who are not paid to deny global warming but are still skeptical may come round to reality by virtue of "the actual evidence", I strongly suggest consulting the work of George Lakoff (interviewed by me here)... some people prefer to believe the existing arc and story-line they had going in ("global warming is hoax touted by liberals to get me to give up my beloved SUV")... reality just won't faze them... only a lengthy, ongoing process of developing new frames can do that.

The good news is that I don't think President Obama will be fazed either by morons and cretins (Sen. Inhofe, I most specifically mean you) who insist that our policy must be designed to make human life on this planet as unpleasant as possible as fast as possible, and thereby insist that nothing should be done about global warming. Pres. Obama, I believe, means what he says in this area, and will adjust policy accordingly.

One more thing for which, we can only hope, that President Obama has arrived just in time to deal with, and that there is enough that he as President can actually do; we can only hope he has not come too late.

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January 21, 2009, Change out of the starting blocks

Although no explicit mention of Guantanamo was made in President Obama's most excellent inauguration address, it does seem that The President (!) is putting his money where his mouth is, as in his very first 24 hours in office, he has directed prosecutors at GTMO to move to stay all prosecutions for 120 days, while the new Obama Administration ascertains how it wishes to proceed from here. [And National Palestine Radio (NPR)! reports that a GTMO judge has granted that request, seconds ago, just before 0900.]

I have my own thoughts, of course, on what to do with the GTMO detainees, as well as those also held in comparable gulags in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, but I have no doubt that The President is sincere in his desire to end this stain on our nation's moral integrity, and in his particularly stern words toward his predecessor's policy, with this:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Wow. Just... wow. The confident young man I encountered (though sadly, never got to know) in my youth as a political science major at Columbia College is now the leader of the Free World. And, dare I say it, he may well believe that the "Free" is more important than the "leader" part.

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January 20, 2009, The Day We've Been Waiting For

It's finally January 20, 2009; while we're all excited as hell to have Barack Obama, our first African American (and TD's first college classmate) to be inaugurated as President... even more exciting is the cessation of pain... pain in the form of the Bush Administration, coming to an end in a little over three hours.

Interestingly, like Darth Vader before him, it seems the President has little to offer for his minions; at least so far, those pardons for torture for such denizens as Rumsfeld, Cheney, Tenet, etc.... just ain't coming. To quote a character from (IIRC) Unforgiven, "Day Ain't Over Yet." But at the end of the day... the Bush Administration will be over.

I will spend a portion of the day (I hope) listening to the peals of the bells at Trinity Church (Wall Street); Trinity is, IIRC, where George Washington worshiped around the time of his own first inauguration, and the original site of Barack's (and TD's) alma mater, Columbia College, and final resting place of fellow Columbia alum and first SecTreas Alexander Hamilton.

Well, it's going to be a great day. For a change.

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January 19, 2009, Rosa sat, Martin marched, Barack ran...

Times, they are a changin'. My own feelings on this sui generis day, when on a day commemmorating the 80th birthday (plus four days or so) of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., coming as it does the day before the inauguration of our first African American President, Barack Hussein Obama (and yes, he'll be using all three names) are... sui generis. In fact, I find it hard to characterize them... I am excited, to be sure... I expressed my support for Mr. Obama on this blog fairly early on (albeit still in calendar '08), but certainly while it was still "a contest". And I did the precious little I could to assist with his candidacy. And certainly, I support his policies, which I hope will be as bold and soaring as his rhetoric will be, rather than as cautious and "prudent" as the man himself has been. (We'll probably get somewhere between the two, which, with luck, will be what we need.)

As I look back to "the Mesozoic" era of my life, when, had I had so much as a lengthy conversation with the then college junior and senior during our two shared undergraduate years as political science majors at Columbia, Barack (or was it still Barry?) Obama, perhaps his life, or mine, would have come out differently... and who's to say... we'd have a different outcome... President Talking Dog? No, not a chance. I didn't have the confidence (the one thing I remember about the young Mr. Obama, if I remember accurately, was his confidence), nor did I have the ambition, nor the vision to see the path chosen by Mr. Obama. I'm glad we do have someone with confidence based on reality... the genuine confidence of someone who can back it up, and right now. I will say that I'm glad I didn't say something to the young Mr. Obama that might have set his life down a different road! I wouldn't want that responsibility!

One cannot reasonably predict the next four, or eight years, either. Well... who knows? If we have any significant fraction of the "change" we have been promised, and the enthusiasm out there for Mr. Obama is even remotely justified, then these will be heady times indeed, and a rather dark (IMHO, the darkest and most backward looking ever) period in American history will be replaced with one of the lightest and most forward looking as we overcome the immense challenges laid before us. One man had a dream. Maybe another man will be up to the job of implementing that dream. And that dream can become a reality.

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January 17, 2009, The Unbearable Heaviness of Being

It does not merely depress me that two weeks ago, in my post entitled "Time Warp", I wrote:

IMHO, Israel's government has, for its own domestic political purposes (how widely reported here is it that an Israeli general election is scheduled for February 10, 2009?) decided to "get tough on Hamas," which, of course, has certainly been trying to provoke something like this for as long as it has controlled Gaza. And so, much will be blown up, many will be killed or wounded, and at some point (presumably before January 20th), "military objectives will have been achieved," and, well... "calm" will be restored, which, of course, is the same utterly psychotic "status quo"

And, of course, today, less than three days from the moment Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th American President, Israel has unilaterally declared a cease-fire (Hamas promises to fight one)... the Grey Lady's report notes:

After 22 days of war against Hamas, and the deaths of more than 1,200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted that “we have reached all the goals of the war, and beyond.”

And so... Israel has reached all the goals of the war. And notwithstanding this, Hamas has pledged to fight on... and presumably, will do so.

And so one must ask just what those goals were... now that there are over 1,200 Gazans (and 13 Israelis)dead (and thousands of Gazans wounded)... one must ask again when among the dead are three daughters and a niece of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, whose house came under Israeli fire... Abuelaish, a peace activist, is one of the few Gazans permitted to regularly cross to the Israeli side to work as a physician on both sides of the Israel/Gaza border.

Congratulations, geniuses. One of the few Palestinians of any stature who genuinely believes in the prospects for peaceful coexistence, and you've gone ahead and targeted his house, and killed three of his daughters. Way to go.

No one has suggested that Israel should simply permit Hamas to launch rockets willy nilly at Israeli civilians and do nothing about it... but most (not all, but nearly all), hit nothing... and now, weeks into an all-out bombardment by air, sea and ground-forces on a densely packed Third World enclave... and Hamas is still launching rockets at Israel... one must ask again of Israeli leadership... just what exactly have you all accomplished here with this kind of wildly disproportionate response? This is exactly the same question asked after the Lebanon war of a couple of years ago... it seems that under the soon-to-be-out-of-office Bush Administration, is either the United States or Israel capable of acting in their own interests any more?

That question just has to be asked. You'all might consider making peace with Syria (where both Hamas and Hizbollah are headquartered)... if you're seriously interested in an actual long-term normalcy ("peace" seems too much to ask for.) Or... feel free to go on with the insanity.

Just saying.

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January 17, 2009, The 22% Solution

It seems there is a consensus among the living: George W. Bush is the worst President in the history of polling, leaving office with a miserable 22% approval rating. His trusted sidekick, Richard Bruce Cheney, Vice President for Torture, leaves office with an even more astounding 13%.

As a natural contrarian, I tend to think that most people have things wrong most of the time; indeed, 'twere it not otherwise, everyone would have invested in the right stocks, bet on the right horse, made the right career decisions, and so forth... or voted for the right candidate. As you know, these things rarely ever happen. But in this case, the question has to be, just who are these 22% incapable of assessing reality? Even accepting that they might just like Dubya personally... who are the 13% who like Cheney? I mean, just how large is Halliburton's management corps?

Admittedly, nearly 40% of the country voted for Herbert Hoover in 1932, of course, just four years after he garnered 58% of the vote and relegated Al Smith and the Democrats to only 40%... A Depression will do that, after all.

We'll have the rest of history to discuss just how bad George W. Bush's Presidency has been... we still need to remember that it's not even over: there's still plenty of time, for example, for him to pardon his upper echelon members responsible for his Administration's crimes against humanity and crimes agaist the Constitution (Lynndie England... sorry, we don't mean you), and who knows... maybe get us in another war somewhere...

But at this point, I just want to comment on all the wonderful emotions that the Bush Presidency has brought to bear: paranoia, xenophobia, fear, anger, denial, helplessness, intolerance... in short, all of the underpinnings of the Great Southern Strategy that has kept the Republican Party going since Reagan: racism masquerading as "family and moral values," now finally brought out into the open, thanks to traumatic events. It seems, however, that this envelope got pushed so far... it finally got torn apart.

And now it seems, only a 22% share of the nation is still willing to be so moved... Progress? Or just national exhaustion...

Who knows? The 78% of us who are at least capable of recognizing that there is not a single aspect of George W. Bush's Presidency, other than its ending, of which we approve... we've got an awful lot of clean-up to do. Best, quite frankly, we not waste too much energy on our well-justified anger at those who are, thankfully, leaving.

Because they have surely earned that anger.

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January 15, 2009, Do you believe in miracles?

Faith in the miraculous (whether or not one accepts the premise of some "higher being" responsible) was rewarded today in my fair city when, just a few miles from my office (downtown, conveniently nestled between Ground Zero and the Stock Exchange) a U.S. Airways jet bound for Charlotte crash-landed in the Hudson River... and all 155 people on board survived.

Obviously, the events of the last seven years (culminating in the degrading, possibly irreparably, of our economy, our military, our standing in the world, our Constitutional protections and our environment largely because the Bush Administration was reelected in 2004) were set in motion by another New York area aviation disaster, when two jets were crashed into the World Trade Center, where those pilots were trying to kill themselves and everyone around them... it's not just me who sees it that way... George W. Bush himself sees it that way...

Today... the pilot, Capt. C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, was trying to save everyone, and let's just say, many people owe their lives to his fancy flying.

On this, the actual 80th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., five days before the first Columbia College graduate (and African American) is inaugurated as our 44th President, in the river just a few hundred yards from where our next President (and your talking dog) went to college a quarter century ago... we had a miraculous, happy ending.

May it be the harbinger of many more to come.

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January 13, 2009, More of same

And so it continues... the heroic Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld of the Army Reserve [seventh GTMO prosecutor to resign!] submitted an affidavit in federal court challenging proceedings against GTMO detainee Mohammed Jawad, in which Vandeveld asserts that the evidence against GTMO kangaroo court military commission defendants is in a state of complete chaos. Videotapes of confessions are missing, written confessions for illiterate men are written in languages the men don't speak (let alone read!), and of course, many of the statements were made under coercion, or outright torture, often at the hands of the Afghans or others who turned them over.

The lead prosecutor Col. Lawrence Morris (the prior one, Col. Morris "Moe" Davis himself resigned over what he believed to be untoward political pressure to take legally untenable positions, such as relying on evidence obtained by torture), dismissed Vandeveld's contentions as those of a disgruntled former employee. Vandeveld's response is that anything Col. Morris says itself should be dismissed... which, thus far, is pretty close to what military judges have been doing.

It also appears that the Government may have "accidentally" withdrawn all pending charges against all defendants... in which case, all of the commission defendants (even KSM!) may have to be re-arraigned and all proceedings re-started from square one... this is pretty much a gift to President-elect Obama, who can basically rely on this as evidence that the commission system is more trouble than its worth, and, since, nothing will be pending, he may as well start over either in proper courts or courts-martial, and, as John McCain might say, "cut the bulls***."

Just another day at the office... if the office is Guantanamo Bay, that is.

Update (1-14-09): The chief of GTMO prosecutions, "convening authority" Susan Crawford has given an interview in which she admits that detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured (which is why she didn't refer his case-- that of the so-called "20th highjacker"-- for prosecution).

Yes, boys and girls, not abuse, not enhanced interrogation, but she used "the T word," and said that "the buck stops in the Oval Office." Strong words from a Cheney/Addington protege... covering herself, perhaps? And Mr. Rumsfeld himself was personally briefed on the ongoing progress of al-Qahtani's tortures. Pardons to follow? Stay tuned...

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January 12, 2009, Turning tides...

First, we'll start with this news from Candace, to wit, the United States Supreme Court, just as it accepted (though ultimately denied) an original habeas corpus petition on behalf of her client Abdul al-Ghizzawi, now has ordered the government to respond to Candace's petition for certiorari review, a petition to which Candace was kind enough to let me make some suggestions. The current petition seeks the Supreme Court's intervention to compel the Government to turn over al-Ghizzawi's medical records so that an independent medical evaluation may be made, a request that the Bush Administration has vehemently resisted (and the lower courts have denied).

This comes the same day that it seems President-elect Obama wants us to know that he intends to sign an order closing Guantanamo Bay's detention facility early in his presidency, perhaps on the very first day. The devil, of course, will be in the details, as it seems, he will "ask his Administration" what should be done with GTMO's 250 or so prisoners, some of whom (perhaps as many as 5, maybe 10%) are actually guilty of something. Stay tuned...

And the Independent Institute often sends me fascinating articles for possible posting; today, I'm finally going to post some... this from Ivan Eland, noting the immense cost saving from dismantling America's overseas empire that our current financial debacle may bring about sooner rather than later... and that such dismantling would not be a bad thing (a proposition with which I heartily agree), and this from Robert Higgs noting that we have, pre-new-stimulus-package, already incurred an inconceivable $1.2 trillion deficit, roughly 8.3% of the GDP, or as Higgs correctly terms it, "banana republic" numbers. Higgs notes amusingly that America has never been very good at either growing bananas, or at having a republic...

And so we come full circle... the same mindset that lets us arbitrarily lock up people in a tropical dungeon without another thought... is the same mindset that let "our leaders" destroy our economy (that's our life's work boys and girls) because so many people, you know who and where you are, just say "I'll vote for these people and their party because they hate Black gay people just like me, and they hate and fear powerful and independent womenoppose "abortion," just like me and they won't give any of my hard-earned money to Black people will lower taxes on rich people, and after all, I might win the lottery or something and actually benefit from those policies myself..." which is what got us where we are now (to wit, "fucked".)

And while the Democrats aren't exactly good, and are incredibly complicit in where we are right now, let's face it: the Republicans have proven hopelessly worse, to the point that they should never be entrusted with our governance again. Of course, that's just me.

For those who rignt now insist on being too critical of Barack Obama (sometimes, even m'self)... I beg you... please recognize that he didn't cause any of this. He'll have quite a job to do to even begin to clean all of this up. So... let's all get behind him, and give him whatever he needs to get it done. And let's be careful out there.

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January 11, 2009, Mistakes, though never admitted, were made

Jacob Weisberg gives us a Slate piece that tries to ask the meta-question not so much about how catastrophic Bush's mistakes in office were... but about how the mistakes were made. As Weisberg notes, right now, it's virtually impossible to name so much as a single area in which Bush left things better than he found them, capped with the triple threat of disasters looming: a bogged down war in Iraq, a world-wide so-called "war on terror" that has debased our standing in the world and yet still managed not to capture one guy, and fiscal mismanagement of a scale heretofore unprecedented in human terms that has led us to the financial precipice we are now in. We won't even talk about Katrina, the environment, or what state "the education president (TM)" has left children with "no child left behind." Or, of course, the torture. No, no, no. Or Guantanamo Bay, of which today is ignominiously the seventh anniversary.

One possible exception to Bush's dynasty of doom, is, as The Onion noted, that things got so bad, that at least the genuine social progress of electing a Black man to the Presidency became possible. But that's it... other than being good at creating disaster, this is not a man who succeeded at anything in his entire life other than getting Poppy to get his friends to bail him out... and unfortunately, it's no longer Junior who needs bailing out, but the 300,000,000 of us, and even Poppy's friends just ain't that rich.

With around 10 days left of the debacle known as the Bush Administration, Weisberg goes beyond merely cataloging the disasters and asks what kind of deranged ideology would enable not a mere mediocrity, but an unqualified legacy hire hack to take command and then ram our ship of state into the ground over and over again... and then go full astern... and then ram it aground again. Weisberg asks about the specifics, given how secretive the Bush Administration, of specifically why, how, and by whom such decisions were made, and when we may ever learn the specifics.

With due respect to Mr. Weisberg, the answers are either that we know already-- the ideology is the good old Reagan legacy of telling us government doesn't work and then making it a self-fulfilling prophesy by filling government with cronies and hacks-- or else... who cares? In the end, for example, we must note that the Vice President has no Constitutional authority or power to do anything... that the Decider defaulted and dithered, and Cheney simply acted to fill the vacuum... is the responsibility of the Decider, and not Cheney... or Rice... or Tenet... or Laura or Barney the dog, for that matter. Whether the Decider "decided" by affirmatively trying to make intentionally bad decisions, by being an incompetent and making bad decisions because he was unqualified for office, George W. Bush gets to take full credit blame for everything that happened on his watch, from Abu Ghraib to Zimbabwe.

By rights, George W. Bush [and, for enabling him to be President by legacy, George H.W. Bush] should both be stripped of their presidential pension and Secret Service detail and any other privileges and emoluments of office, and they should be forced to live out here, in the country they have wrecked... with the rest of us. But that's not how we do things here in America, of course.

A wise man recently pointed out to me that the human condition is such that accountability requires patience: the Bushmen, led by George W. Bush himself, will not be brought to account quickly... if they are brought to account at all, a slow, painstaking process of data gathering must first occur, and eventually, maybe, some of them will be treated as Pinochet-Pariahs in their old age, before God gets to give them their final reward. We can only hope that such will eventually be... the Bush legacy, and that we will live long enough to see it.

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January 7, 2009, The Top Ten Judges of 2008

Or, Praise for Those Defending Rights and Liberties in the “War on Terror”

A Talking Dog/Andy Worthington co-production

Andy suggested that he and I team up on a top ten list of what we felt after at least seven years of winter in the American judicial system, when we now have some semblance of the sun breaking through. And so, we have nominated ten cracks in the judicial ceiling last year, from all levels of the judiciary, and, in one case, from a foreign court.

So I'm going to start with my own nominees. Andy's list may be different, or overlap, or he may have different rationales. The judgments are entirely subjective, and are entirely mine, from the perspective of an attorney making his living in the American legal system here in New York, and his, from the perspective of a historian and journalist looking at this from London. Maybe we'll let commenters or others suggest their favorites, or their preferences. Who knows? My five are below.

The Talking Dog’s Top Five Judges of 2008

1. The U.S. Supreme Court. The Supremes’ nomination covers two cases this year. One is from the start of December, for accepting review in the case of Ali al-Marri, better called “The Case of the Executive Override of the Rest of the Constitution,” and the second most important case of our life-times after the eerily similar Jose Padilla case. The other is for their courageous, albeit 5-4, holding in June, in Boumediene v. Bush, that habeas corpus is actually still a Constitutional first principle even if terrorists get lucky and George W. Bush happens to be the President. And on the basis of Boumediene, we immediately garner two more nominations, both for judges on the District of Columbia federal district court.

2. The first of these is Judge Ricardo Urbina, who ruled that 17 Uighur detainees from China were not “enemy combatants” at all. Urbina ordered their release to human rights groups within the United States, cutting through the red tape that “legislation is needed” to enforce a remedy that the Supreme Court says is required by the Constitution. The government has appealed and obtained a stay from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the government is not going to return them to China (where they would almost certainly be tortured and/or killed), and unless they join their fellow Uighur former detainees in Albania (who were sent there in May 2006), it is not clear where they will go, as the Bush administration refuses to permit them to be admitted to the United States and insists they rot in solitary confinement in GTMO. In addition, it has, of course, become difficult to get other countries to take the political risk of accepting the Uighurs, when the Bush administration insists (against all facts, btw) that they are terrorists.

3. The second of these D.C. District Court judge heroes is, oddly enough, Judge Richard Leon, a habeas judge, who found that five of the six Boumediene plaintiffs themselves -- Algerian/Bosnian detainees -- were not “enemy combatants,” despite the government's contesting this fact. Leon, a judicial conservative appointed by George W. Bush himself, had famously found that the detainees had no rights of legal redress in an earlier, pre-Boumediene round of legal proceedings.

And now I'm going to go to the two most courageous judges of all, IMHO, those being military judges who, like military defense attorney Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Swift and others, have ostensibly put their military career at risk by trying to do the right thing by Guantánamo detainees, even those charged in the Military Commissions (aka the worst of the worst of the worst).

4. The first is Captain Keith Allred of the US Navy, for courageously sticking to his guns despite pressure (unlawful pressure, as our next entrant will show) from the Bush administration to do what it wanted. Specifically, after managing the show trial of Salim Hamdan, at which angels dancing on the head of a pin were parsed to establish that carrying a weapon potentially used against American military forces (i.e. being part of a force that opposes the United States military) is now defined as a war crime. Despite the ludicrousness of the conviction, the military jury imposed a five and a half year sentence (sustained by Judge Allred), who concluded that, less the nearly five years Hamdan had already served, he would be released on December 26.

Notwithstanding the fact that its own kangaroo court had adjudicated an outcome and determinate sentence, the Bush administration insisted that it could still nonetheless hold Mr. Hamdan -- just as it can hold Mr. al-Marri, Mr. Padilla, or, if it felt like it, Mr. Worthington or Mr. Talking Dog -- for as long as it feels like, up to and including for the rest of our lives. Fortunately, Judge Allred held the line and would not alter the sentence.

5. The second, rounding out my top five, is Air Force Col. Steve Henley, who, in the prosecution of a detainee named Mohamed Jawad, held that Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, chief legal advisor to “the convening authority” (the official in charge of the entire Guantánamo military commissions process, Cheney/ Addington protégé Susan Crawford) was intrinsically biased, insisting on the use of coerced evidence and demanding that all cases end in conviction. Hartmann also outraged former chief prosecutor Col. Morris Davis, who resigned in October 2007, and confronted skeptical prosecutors (such as Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who resigned in September 2008) by demanding that they comply with the program.

Andy Worthington’s Top Five Judges of 2008

1. I’m with the Talking Dog on the importance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, reinforcing the habeas rights the justices first granted in June 2004, only to watch as Congress than passed legislation purporting to strip the prisoners of these rights. By making the prisoners’ habeas rights constitutional, and by ruling that parts of the legislation passed by Congress were unconstitutional, five of the nine highest judges in the land asserted their powers in an ongoing struggle with a compliant Congress and an executive branch besotted with claims of unfettered Presidential authority. For the record, Justices Anthony Kennedy, John P. Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer ruled in favor of the prisoners, while Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

Just as significant, however, is what happened shortly after Boumediene, when Parhat v. Gates, a case that had been frozen during three years of wrangling over the prisoners’ rights, was heard in a Washington D.C. Appeals Court. My first nomination, therefore, is for Chief Judge David B. Sentelle, Judge Merrick B. Garland, and Judge Thomas B. Griffith (two Conservatives and a Liberal), who, after looking at the government’s material to support its claim that Huzaifa Parhat (one of the Uighurs) was connected in any way with terrorist activity, concluded that the material supposedly proving that he was an “enemy combatant” who could be held without charge or trial was in fact groundless, and resembled the reasoning used in “The Hunting of the Snark,” a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Parhat verdict was an enormous blow to the administration. Within months, the government gave up trying to prove that any of the other 16 Uighurs were “enemy combatants,” which led, as the Talking Dog has pointed out, to Judge Urbina’s eloquent assertion of constitutional rights in the Uighurs’ case in October.

2. My second nomination follows swiftly on from the first. When the government appealed Judge Urbina’s ruling to release the Uighurs into the care of communities in the United States, and the court accepted the government’s appeal, one of the three judges, Judge Judith W. Rogers, made a sweeping defense of the Uighurs’ rights -- and the government’s lies -- that earns her this nomination. The full story is available here, but what was particularly striking about her dissent was the way in which she repeatedly attacked the government for failing to demonstrate that the Uighurs were a danger to anyone, and also condemned the government’s lawyers for attempting to undermine the court’s powers as endorsed in Boumediene.

3. My third nomination is Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, the valiant dissenting judge in the 4th Circuit Appeals Court review of the case of US “enemy combatant” Ali al-Marri in July. With the support of three other dissenting judges, M. Blane Michael, Robert B. King and Roger L. Gregory, Judge Motz comprehensively demolished the other judges’ assertions that an American -- whether a citizen or a resident -- could be seized and held indefinitely as an “enemy combatant.” The full story is here (and an update on al-Marri is here), but Judge Motz’s most critical passages are worth reproducing in full.

In the first, Judge Motz wrote,

With regret, we recognize that this [dissenting] view does not command a majority of the court. Our colleagues hold that the President can order the military to seize from his home and indefinitely detain anyone -- including an American citizen -- even though he has never affiliated with an enemy nation, fought alongside any nation’s armed forces, or borne arms against the United States anywhere in the world. We cannot agree that in a broad and general statute, Congress silently authorized a detention power that so vastly exceeds all traditional bounds. No existing law permits this extraordinary exercise of executive power.

And this is Judge Motz’s conclusion:

To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the President call them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution -- and the country. For a court to uphold a claim to such extraordinary power would do more than render lifeless the Suspension Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the rights to criminal process in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments; it would effectively undermine all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. It is that power -- were a court to recognize it -- that could lead all our laws “to go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces.” We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.

4. My fourth nomination is for a number of judges in the case of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident and a victim of “extraordinary rendition” and torture. Seized in Pakistan in April 2002, Mohamed was rendered by the CIA to Morocco, where he was tortured for 18 months, and was then rendered to the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul, where his torture continued for another five months, at the end of which he falsely confessed to being involved with al-Qaeda and being part of the spectral “dirty bomb” plot in which Jose Padilla had also become entangled.

For most of the year, Mohamed’s lawyers, at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, have been engaged in reviews of his case on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, this took place when a judicial review was granted after Mohamed’s lawyers sued the British government for refusing to provide exculpatory evidence in its possession regarding British knowledge his rendition and torture.

In the British High Court, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones earned this nomination for their handling of Mohamed’s judicial review, in which they were clearly appalled by the behavior of the British intelligence services, and were also shocked by the lawlessness of the Bush administration’s Military Commissions trial system, even though it was outside their remit to comment directly on its shortcomings.

When they delivered a judgment at the end of August, they condemned the British intelligence services for sending agents to interrogate Mohamed in May 2002, while he was being held illegally in Pakistan, and also for providing and receiving intelligence about him from July 2002 until February 2003, when they knew that he was being held incommunicado, and should not have been involved without receiving cast-iron assurances about his welfare. “[T]he relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the United States authorities,” they wrote, “went far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing.”

Also in August, as a result of Boumediene, Mohamed’s habeas review began in the United States, when Judge Emmet G. Sullivan pressed the US government to reveal all exculpatory evidence in the case. Sullivan shares the nomination for asking, when the Justice Department suddenly dropped the allegation about the “dirty bomb” plot, “That raises a question as to whether or not the allegations were ever true,” and for then ordering defense secretary Robert Gates to testify that all exculpatory evidence had been provided. As I pointed out in a recent article, although Gates complied, his assertion that all the required evidence had been handed over was patently untrue, as the government has never once acknowledged that Mohammed was rendered and tortured in Morocco and Afghanistan, and cannot conceivably defend its allegations without providing an opportunity for Mohamed’s lawyers -- or Judge Sullivan -- to ascertain the circumstances in which his “confession” was produced.

5. My final nomination, with a nod to Col. Henley and especially Capt. Allred, who appeared to steer Salim Hamdan’s trial towards a just conclusion that was then endorsed by the military jury, is Col. Peter Brownback, the judge in the case of Omar Khadr, the Canadian who was just 15 when he was seized in Afghanistan in July 2002. Brownback’s finest hour actually came in June 2007, when, with Capt. Allred, he temporarily derailed the entire Commission process by ruling that the Military Commissions Act, which revived the Commissions after the Supreme Court ruled them illegal in June 2006, had empowered them to try “illegal enemy combatants,” whereas the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (the military review boards that had authorized the prisoners to be put forward for trial) had only decided that they were “enemy combatants.”

After the government hastily convened an appeals court to indicate that the judges could overrule themselves, Brownback continued to cause trouble by publicly lambasting the prosecution for not handing over evidence that was necessary for Khadr’s defense. The high point came in May last year, when, noting that the prosecution, led by Maj. Jeffrey Groharing, had failed to provide Khadr’s lawyers with records of his interrogations at Guantánamo, despite repeated requests to do so, Brownback declared, “I have been badgered, beaten and bruised by Maj. Groharing since the 7th of November to set a trial date. To get a trial date, I need to get discovery done.”

Three weeks later, Brownback was gone, and although there may be an innocent explanation -- involving Brownback coming out of retirement to serve as a Commission judge, and reaching the end of his contract -- the timing struck many observers as suspicious. Whatever the truth is, Col. Brownback’s “badgered, beaten and bruised” speech concludes my review of liberty’s judicial defenders in 2008.

The New Year, as the Talking Dog explained, brings some semblance of the sun breaking through, but is clear that much work needs to be done to do away with the abominations of the Bush years. This time next year, both TD and I hope that the Supreme Court will once more be nominated, this time for ruling, in Ali al-Marri’s case, that the President has no right to seize and indefinitely detain Americans as “enemy combatants” on the US mainland, but we also both wonder whether any of the administration’s other crimes -- approving the use of torture by US forces, implementing “extraordinary rendition” on an industrial scale, holding foreign prisoners neither as criminals nor as prisoners of war, but as “enemy combatants” without rights -- will also have been addressed. We sincerely hope so, as, without some sort of accountability, the message that the new President will send to America and the wider world is that you can break whatever laws you feel like, and get away with it, so long as you get voted out of office at the end.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press).

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January 3, 2009, Time warp

Regardless of what else happens anywhere else on Earth, even in the same generalized region of the Middle East (where no less a figure than the former Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi, that great savior of American military-imposed democracy as the man first installed before Nouri al-Maliki was eventually tapped, termed Bush and his policy toward Iraq complete failures)... little ever seems to change viz the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Currently, Israel has just commenced a ground offensive into Gaza, after a week of aerial bombardments. The results will inevitably be significant casualties to Hamas and to Gazan civilians, and there will almost certainly be casualties on the Israeli side.

The usual suspects offer the usual opinions, such as Victor Davis Hanson more or less channeling George W. Bush here, conveniently forgetting that non-state Third World shithole Gaza (literally administered by a terrorist organization) is not exactly in a fair fight with Israel, even if Gazan rocketeers do occasionally hit something or someone in Israel with their home-made rockets (of which over 6,000 have been launched thus far in recent months.)

As an American Jew with what are usually thought of as liberal leanings, I am, as usual, upset that Israel always seems to find itself in the position of having to incur the world's ire. I admit that even I am annoyed at those who would assert that there is moral equivalence between terrorist attacks designed to murder civilians and retaliation-- even disproportionate retaliation, which, btw, I believe that the current Gaza assaults constitute, and even where civilians are killed and wounded. Israel is far more fastidious than, say, the United States, in trying to minimize civilian casualties, even as Hamas uses the population as human shields. But there is a context. Israel could have responded to Gazan-based rocket launches on its Southern towns for a long time... but why now? With Bush as a lame duck, and Obama due to be installed in less than three weeks...

IMHO, Israel's government has, for its own domestic political purposes (how widely reported here is it that an Israeli general election is scheduled for February 10, 2009?) decided to "get tough on Hamas," which, of course, has certainly been trying to provoke something like this for as long as it has controlled Gaza. And so, much will be blown up, many will be killed or wounded, and at some point (presumably before January 20th), "military objectives will have been achieved," and, well... "calm" will be restored, which, of course, is the same utterly psychotic "status quo" in which settlements expand, Hamas consolidates in Gaza, Hizbollah consolidates in Southern Lebanon, and, thanks to the genius Neo-cons (who were often American Jews who thought they were helping Israel), Iran has been both incentivized by American aggression (yes, that's the word) and freed up by American stupidity (yes that's the word) in removing Iran's number one counter-balance (that would be Saddam Hussein), duly enabled to develop nuclear weapons which, unlike Hamas's rockets (notwithstanding possible unwelcome surprises), would most seriously threaten Israel's very existence.

And so here we are. Amidst its own soldiers taking casualties in the ground assault, Israeli public opinion will probably harden, and likely, regardless of a decisive victory or not (and no one seriously expects Hamas to formally surrender, now, do they?)... Bibi Netanyahu will likely find himself PM around 3 weeks after Barack Obama is sworn in as President. Or perhaps (current foreign minister) Tzivi Lipni and (current defense minister) Ehud Barak will manage to pull this out after all.

Either way... somehow, we just know... nothing will really change.

Update (1-5-09): A voice crying out for some moral thinking here, and just what is "too much" against the scope of a hardened Israeli public coming, unsurprisingly, from within Israel itself.

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January 1, 2009, Happy new year

I should probably just leave it at that, and say, welcome to 2009.

I should probably not mention a pair of great FDL pieces (one by Jane Hamsher and one by bmaz on Empty Wheel's line), both discussing the wonderful conundrum that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has placed the worthless slugs known as the Senate Democratic Caucus in, by forcing them to block Roald Burris, former comptroller and attorney general of Illinois, a universally respected 71 year old man (did I mention he's a Black man?) from taking an office to which he was lawfully appointed because they have decided to find him guilty of association with Blagojevich, who, btw, is guilty of having a foul mouth, and thus far at least, accepting the press release and public statements of the Bernard Madoff of prosecutors U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, not much else.

I should note that while not weighing in on issues raising from the possible appointment of, um, you know, his um, vice-presidential vetter, um, what's her name, Caroline, um, Kennedy Schlossberg Kennedy to the New York Senate seat, or the massive Israeli military assault on Gaza (which has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded so far), or even the economy and that evidently critical "stimulus" package... President-elect Obama did use the opportunity between rounds of golf in Hawaii to comment that he was critical of Blago and Burris and that he supported the blatantly unconstitutional high-minded intent of Senate Democrats to block his being seated as Illinois's junior senator.

No... we'll have the rest of the year... if not the next several years... for all of that. For now... just... happy new year.

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