Friday, September 29, 2006

Where do we go from here?

Yesterday, Sept. 28th, Congress passed a bill which will give the President the right to determine what is and is not torture. The bill will eliminate habeas corpus protections for "unlawful combatants," and it seems that the executive will also have the power to determine who belongs in that category. The bill also provides retroactive legal cover immunizing interrogators — and Bush Administration officials — against prosecution for war crimes. It's not clear whether American citizens could be considered "enemy combatants" under this legislation, but there is a general consensus that this bill is poorly written and that all of its implications are not entirely apparent. It will almost certainly be challenged in court, and the Supreme Court at that, in spite of not-so-veiled threats by Republican legislators and Attorney General Abu Gonzales that judges should STFU and stay out of the President's business:
He said the Constitution makes the president commander in chief and the Supreme Court has long recognized the president's pre-eminent role in foreign affairs. "The Constitution, by contrast, provides the courts with relatively few tools to superintend military and foreign policy decisions, especially during wartime," the attorney general told a conference on the judiciary at Georgetown University Law Center.

"Judges must resist the temptation to supplement those tools based on their own personal views about the wisdom of the policies under review," Gonzales said.

And he said the independence of federal judges, who are appointed for life, "has never meant, and should never mean, that judges or their decisions should be immune" from public criticism...

...The attorney general did not refer to any specific case or decision but only to wartime, military and foreign affairs cases in general.
One of the truly depressing aspects of this situation — I mean, beyond the fact that our President has the power to torture with impunity and lock people away for life — is the unmitigated delight that many of his followers seem to take in this turn of events. At times I think I should just stay out of the comment section of many blogs, because it's enough to make one truly despair for humanity. Go on Digby or Glenn Greenwald, and you'll find posters who are happy that we get to torture people. Oh, they try to cover this up by going on about "the enemy" and how we need to defeat "the enemy who wants to hurt us," and cut off our heads and make us wear burkhas and convert the world to Sharia at swords' point — you know, whatever. But they're not even hiding it any more. They're not defending it by saying things like, "that's not torture, it's just harmless fraternity pranks" very much. They're glad we're doing it. They're thrilled these "detainees," many of whom it's been proven aren't terrorists in any way, shape or form, are going to be locked up indefinitely, without recourse.

What is one supposed to make of this?

There's always been a scary strain in American culture. It wasn't so long ago we had organized lynch mobs, institutionalized racism and systemic disenfranchisement of women and people of color. So I'm not going to say, oh, we've never seen anything like this before, it's unprecedented, we're utterly doomed.

But I guess I had the idea that we were making progress. And clearly, this authoritarian streak in American culture, John Dean's "Conservatives Without Conscience", has been in the ascendancy under George Bush.

It is an ugly, ugly thing, this group of leaders and followers who celebrate their ability to dominate others, to control, to hurt. Read this post by Glenn Greenwald for an example of how debased the discourse has become by this Administration's apologists and propagandists.

They are sadists and thugs.

I keep asking myself what the action is. In Blogworld, you've got people who are so disgusted with the lack of resistance put up by the Democratic Party and the out-and-out collaboration of some Democratic Congressmen and Senators with this Administration's authoritarian project that they're threatening not to vote, or threatening to vote for a third party. You've even got some people who are agitating for violent resistance of some sort — it's not clear what they're really proposing, what their goals are, and how, practically, their methods could ever achieve said amorphous goals. I'm guessing most of these folks are either naive, unbalanced or agent provocateurs. Because, you know, where's the logic in protesting a lawless, violent administration by advocating similar lawlessness and violence?

So what are we left with? Same old grind, I'm afraid. No matter what the Democrats have done, or more to the point, not done, regardless of the complicity of some and the corruption of the entire policial system, it's still a Republican war, it's the Republicans in the White House and in Congress who have legalized torture and spat on the Constitution, who are trying to dismantle social safety nets, environmental regulations and all notions of the government as a vehicle to promote the common good of all of us. They have to be stopped before anything positive or progressive on a larger scale can be accomplished.

First, we have to stop the bleeding.

So we vote. We donate some money or some time or both. We try and get a Democratic majority in either or both Houses of Congress. And we pressure them like hell to do the right thing.

We could be spitting in the wind, for all I know. I in no way think that having more Democrats in office is magically going to transform our increasingly militarized, increasingly hollow empire into a model of a sane, just, sustainable democracy. I don't know if this country can be fixed. But if this is a culture war we're in, then let's fight it. I truly believe we have the better weapons. We have tolerance, justice, inclusion. We have open minds, a belief that we can create a better way of living on this planet, with each other, even if we forget that sometimes, even if we're not sure what that is.

What do they have to offer? Fear. What is their vision? Lives that have to be lived behind walls. Protection from the Other. The evil-doers.

So, here's what I think. Maybe the action, part of it anyway, is just to live our lives in the open.

Speak out. Make your art, recycle your trash, ride a bike instead of drive when you can.

And look around you with clarity. See what it is we're up against. Look at its ugly, blood-soaked face and call it by its name.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The End of the Shanghai Gang?

The Los Angeles Times's Ching-Ching Ni reports that the head of Shanghai's Communist Party and protege of former President Jiang Zemin has been charged with corruption:
Chen Liangyu, who served as party secretary of Shanghai and as a member of Beijing's ruling Politburo, is the highest ranking official in more than a decade to be targeted in a campaign against corruption.

The investigation into Chen centered on the misuse of Shanghai's social security funds for illicit investments in real estate and other infrastructure projects, according to the New China News Agency. Chen is accused of shielding corrupt colleagues, and abusing his position to benefit family members...

...Analysts say Chen's downfall also appears to be part of a carefully orchestrated plan by President Hu Jintao to consolidate his power ahead of next year's party congress and to clip the ambitions of his predecessor's allies.

"The Jiang Zemin era is over, the Shanghai Gang is being dismantled," said Cheng Li, a China expert at the Brookings Institution.
Unlike deadly factional rivalries past, the slow-motion purge of Jiang Zemin's allies seems to have been acomplished as much through consensus as struggle:
Hu most likely consulted the 80-year-old Jiang and won his tacit agreement to sacrifice his protege and preserve his own legacy, Li said.

"Remember when he agreed to publish Jiang's biography last month and launched all those study sessions of Jiang Zemin thought?" Li said. "This is part of that deal."

In June, Beijing made a high-profile example out of one of its own. Liu Zhihua, a Beijing vice mayor who was overseeing construction for the 2008 Olympics, was fired on corruption charges. A succession of other leaders at the provincial level has also faced dismissal or jail.
Perhaps as important as consolidating power here is providing a high-profile example that Hu and his administration are serious about dealing with the corruption endemic to today's China in general and the CCP in particular. But whether a CCP without any political competition or watchdog other than its own interests and some tenuous notion of the Greater Good can actually rein in expressions of its unfettered power seems somewhat akin to asking an alcoholic to manage a liquor store and expecting the books to balance at the end of the month.

Monday, September 25, 2006

At the risk of sounding repetitive...

You gotta check out Keith O's special comment tonight. I'm not kidding. Go watch.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Global Voices

I haven't been doing a lot of China-related posts lately — American politics and my own personal politics seemed to have overwhelmed that impulse. But I'd like to call your attention to Global Voices Online. If you followed the Hao Wu story (here and here) you might recall that Hao served as one of Global Voices' editors before his detention. Global Voices is "a non-profit global citizens’ media project, sponsored by and launched from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School." It uses citizen journalists from around the world, “bridge bloggers:”
people who are talking about their country or region to a global audience. Global Voices is your guide to the most interesting conversations, information, and ideas appearing around the world on various forms of participatory media such as blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, and videoblogs.
A China Digital Times email reminded me about the site, with this roundup from the world of Chinese blogs, including entries from a new blog focusing on Chinese women's views of sex and sexuality (and porn), and how the Wikipedia entry on "National Security" should be updated, from a Chinese dissident's point of view.

Check it out.

Friday, September 22, 2006

National Pastime

I'm sitting on the couch, listening to the San Diego Padres play the Pittsburgh Pirates. I love baseball — football too, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit. I have a few friends who wonder why I like sports, why I participate in the American sports culture, with its overpaid, entitled athletes and crass commercialism, when there are so many other ways to use one's time, so many better causes for which the resources sucked up by professional sports could conceivably be used.

I could talk about what a beautiful game baseball is, the strategy and athleticism of it. I could talk about how going to a ballpark makes me happy, the green grass, the atmosphere, how almost everyone in the crowd seems happy too. There were the games I used to go to when I was a kid, my mom, my sister and I, when baseball was cheap entertainment, something a divorced mother could afford. I remember my mom and me, lying on her bed, listening to the Padres on scratchy AM radio, with announcer Jerry Coleman (who still calls about half the games) and his malapropisms, his humor and signature shout of "Oh, doctor!" when the team did something good.

On a night like tonight, I think I love baseball for its escapism as much as anything else.

The so-called "dissident" G.O.P. senators made their deal on the "terrorism detention bill" with Bush. As predicted by Digby, who called the negotiations "an elaborate Kabuki," the whole exercise seemed suspiciously choreographed, with Bush getting to look all tough on the terr-ists and that maverick McCain appearing like he has some actual principles, thus reassuring some portion of wavering Republican supporters that things haven't gone too far, that the grownups are in charge, that America the Beautiful still maintains some shred of dignity, of honor, of worthiness.

As for the Democrats, their strategy was to sit the debate out, betting that the GOP "rebels" actually were putting up a real fight, that they would either force the White House to back down or be unable to craft an agreement. Speaking out on torture, the Democratic leadership calculated, was a losing hand, giving the Republican strategists yet another opportunity to paint Democrats as being "weak on terror," untrustworthy with national security. Because of course, we aren't actually talking about torture here, right? Just "alternative techniques." "The program." The one that "keeps America safe from evil-doers."

Though details of the compromise are not fully available, and I'm not the person to provide a comprehensive legal analysis in any case (check out Glenn Greenwald for that kind of heavy-lifting), the consensus at this moment is that the White House got what it wanted — namely, that "the Program" will continue, only now with the legal blessing of federal legislation. Maybe not every aspect of "the Program" — no one is saying yet what "enhanced techniques" will be permitted — but essentially it still seems to be an argument about what kind of torture is okay, and what kind is just a tad too harsh. I'm assuming that the "compromise" also provides the retroactive legal cover desired by the Adminstration — you know, so Bush, Cheney, Rummy and Abu Gonzales don't end up in the dock for war crimes.

It's important to note that this is not a done deal. I heard Congresswoman Jane Harman interviewed on my way into work this AM. Harman is a conservative Democrat, one with whom I frequently disagree. She's also the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. The gist of her comments was, no Democrat has seen the bill, this thing isn't passing without extensive clarification, including, just what "techniques" are we talking about and why are such "techniques" even necessary (she was very insistent on these points). And also that the bill requires Congressional oversight, that this president in particular(due to his track record) will not be able to just redefine Article 3 by his own interpretation. But she put a particular emphasis on "why do we even need to do these things?" and also, that she did not see it as a blank check to cover all past behavior. She stated that this bill would require extensive discussion before a vote (the implication being that it might not get voted upon until after the recess). She said that it was this Administration's own fault that they and their operatives had put themselves in a position of legal ambiguity by not asking for Congressional oversight/clarification in the first place.

I felt a little better after hearing this. I called my Senators to express my opposition to any legislation that would legalize torture. I said stuff like, "we should just change our name to the Soviet States of America if this thing passes." I was perhaps a little shrill.

(Amnesty International has a campaign in which you can participate. Go here for details)

Who knows if it does any good? I'm really not sure. The mood in Left Blogostan is pretty bleak. There's a lot of excoriating the Democrats for not speaking up, and all the wayyy Lefties are in full-cry, you know, the kind for whom any mainstream political activism is useless appeasement, whose comments are generally about the dark, blood-drenched heart of the American genocidal beast. I got slammed for saying I was still supporting Democrats because this whole attitude that there's no difference between the parties is a big reason Bush is in the White House, and you can't tell me we'd be in Iraq and arguing about whether it's okay to torture prisoners if Al Gore were President.

For this I was told I was "unable to think through the fog," "unserious," and "a namby-pamby Democratic party apologist." Which considering the kinds of flack I've gotten from right-wingers when I've posted on Peking Duck, you know, being a wild-eyed, stupid, naive psuedo-intellectual who doesn't take the grave threat of Islamo-fascist-nazis seriously — well, maybe there is some consensus there. Because I find it hard to take extremists on either side seriously.

Not because I think they're funny. Well, not most of the time. Sometimes the overwrought melodrama of their rhetoric gives me a bit of a giggle, I'll admit (and I'll cop to not being entirely blameless in prompting their scorn of me — sometimes I have to poke 'em a little).

It's the essential unseriousness of extremist philosophies as engines of progress that gets to me. Not that extremists can't accomplish big things, they can and they do, but their programs are almost exclusively destructive, even when their stated aims are for advancing social justice. It's very difficult to get people to willingly go along with extreme change, because face it, most people aren't extreme, and a lot of them won't agree with what's being proposed. You don't typically have a revolution because a bunch of idealists have gotten together with this great utopian program that the masses enthusiastically adopt. Big changes tend to happen quickly when there's some negative cause — chaos, war, economic and social collapse.

I don't know about you, but I'm not real anxious to see that happen here, unlike those who cheer destruction and pray for revolution. Generally the people who end up getting hurt aren't the ones who deserve it the most.

But it's not clear that the political system can be fixed, at this point. Beyond Democratic co-option and weakness, the corruption of corporate money, comes the simple, appalling fact that the Republican Party has so rigged the electoral process that even an extremely unpopular President may not be enough to tip the balance in either House of Congress. Even if the Democrats do take the House or Senate, it's not clear that they will have enough power to turn the tide or stay in control long enough to make a real difference.

Or whether the vision and political will exist for the fight.

But what will it take to change this country for the better? What kind of movement might arise that can help shift us away from this path we're on, this war without end, on other countries, on the planet, on ourselves? Is it even possible, or is it too late?

I'm not an extremist. But my question is not so much, when do you have to make a stand? I'd say the time is now, or very soon.

My question is, what does that stand consist of? What is the action?

What does one do?

I'd really like to know.

Well, the Padres won the game tonight. Chris Young took a no-hitter into the 9th. It would have been the first no-hitter in franchise history, but after one out, Joe Randa hit Young's pitch over the center field wall for a home run. There went the no-hitter. The shut-out too. But the Padres are still in first place in the National League West. The race continues.

Baseball, I'm willing to state, is good.

I'm not so sure about America.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Proud to be a Californian

Well, not always. I mean, it's a little embarrassing to have a fading action hero with orange hair as your Governator. But still. Sometimes California does me proud.

Check out this very long article in the New York Times about California's efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
In the Rocky Mountain States and the fast-growing desert Southwest, more than 20 power plants, designed to burn coal that is plentiful and cheap, are on the drawing boards. Much of the power, their owners expected, would be destined for the people of California.

But such plants would also be among the country’s most potent producers of carbon dioxide, the king of gases linked to global warming. So California has just delivered a new message to these energy suppliers: If you cannot produce power with the lowest possible emissions of these greenhouse gases, we are not interested.

“When your biggest customer says, ‘I ain’t buying,’ you rethink,” said Hal Harvey, the environment program director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in Menlo Park, Calif. “When you have 38 million customers you don’t have access to, you rethink. Selling to Phoenix is nice. Las Vegas is nice. But they aren’t California.”

California’s decision to impose stringent demands on suppliers even outside its borders, broadened by the Legislature on Aug. 31 and awaiting the governor’s signature, is but one example of the state’s wide-ranging effort to remake its energy future.

The Democratic-controlled legislature and the Republican governor also agreed at that time on legislation to reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent by 2020, a measure that affects not only power plants but also other large producers of carbon dioxide, including oil refineries and cement plants.

The state’s aim is to reduce emissions of climate-changing gases produced by burning coal, oil and gas. Other states, particularly New York, are moving in some of the same directions, but no state is moving as aggressively on as many fronts. No state has been at it longer. No state is putting more at risk.

Whether all this is visionary or deluded depends on one’s perspective. This is the state that in the early 1970’s jump-started the worldwide adoption of catalytic converters, the devices that neutralize most smog-forming chemicals emitted by tailpipes. This is the state whose per capita energy consumption has been almost flat for 30 years, even as per capita consumption has risen 50 percent nationally.

Taking on global warming is a tougher challenge. Though California was second in the nation only to Texas in emissions of carbon dioxide in 2001, and 12th in the world, it produced just 2.5 percent of the world’s total. At best, business leaders asked in a legislative hearing, what difference could California’s cuts make? And at what cost?

California, in fact, is making a huge bet: that it can reduce emissions without wrecking its economy, and therefore inspire other states — and countries — to follow its example on slowing climate change.
I learned a few things that surprised me. California, a state synonymous with car culture, uses less gasoline per capita than all but six states. California, thanks to stringent energy-saving requirements, uses the lowest amount of electricity of any state in the US and has in fact kept its consumption flat since the mid-1970s, when the average American's has gone up by 50%.

California is building solar roofs, mandating renewable energy supplies, capping carbon dioxide emissions. Though some business interests have resisted mightily, others are signing up and making money.
California businesses and investors, public and private, are getting into the act. The state’s huge pension fund, Calpers, is committing just under $1 billion to renewable-energy investments. Among the early incentive-driven ventures in solar power are the homes in the Carsten Crossings subdivision in Rocklin, a Sacramento suburb. In August, Mr. Schwarzenegger signed legislation making solar panels a standard option for new-home buyers by 2012 and ensuring that utilities reduce homeowners’ bills based on the electricity returned to the grid.

Some of those incentives were available when construction started. Now four families have moved in. They see themselves as pragmatists, not crusaders. “This is the next logical step” in construction, said one of the homeowners, Lt. Col. Thomas Sebens, a specialist in drone aircraft at Beale Air Force Base.

Their roofs show how public and private decisions, markets and government, have meshed. T. J. Rodgers, a fiercely anti-regulatory entrepreneur, underwrote the solar cells’ production. The PowerLight Corporation, based near San Francisco, bought the cells from Mr. Rodgers’s company, the SunPower Corporation, and turned them into roof tiles. The tiles ended up on houses built by Grupe Homes, based in Stockton, because state utility regulators established a $5,500 state-financed rebate for builders who install similar systems, which cost $20,000. Federal law gives home buyers a $2,000 tax credit; state law guarantees lower electric bills as utilities buy back power homeowners do not need.

The July utility bills, the new homeowners’ first, were the talk of the neighborhood.

Larry Brittain, an office products salesman with a four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot home, was the winner at $73.27 for electricity in the month ending July 25 — the hottest July on record. For the last 10 June days in a similar house nearby, his bill was $103.

“This is a bet with a winning hand,” Mr. Brittain said. “You can’t lose.”
There are so many inspiring things in this article – all illustrations of the visionary impulse that has always separated California from the rest of the pack. The idea that the government has a positive role to play — that it can drive industry and technology by imposing certain requirements — is to me the definition of what government can and should do. And if the Bush Administration's America can't lead by example...well, maybe the Governator's Kuh-lee-foe-nee-uh can.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Watch this if you have the stomach for it. Bush throws a hissy fit when challenged by reporter David Gregory over his bill which would "clarify" Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. It's another truly stunning performance by an increasingly unhinged man-child.

Though this earlier interview with Matt Lauer certainly is another strong entry in "Bush's Craziest Home Videos." In it, Bush practically jabs Lauer in the chest as Lauer presses him about the "legality" of water-boarding (follow the link to watch - it's worth it):
Matt Lauer: And yet you admitted that there were these CIA secret facilities. OK?

President Bush: So what? Why is that not within the law?

Matt Lauer: The head of Amnesty International says secret sites are against international law.

President Bush: Well, we just disagree with him. Plus, my job is to protect you. And most American people, if I said [to them] that we had who we think is the mastermind of the 9/11, they would say, “Why don’t you see if you can’t get information without torturing him,” which is what we did.

Matt Lauer: I don’t want to let this “within the law issue” slip though. I mean, if, in fact, there was water boarding used with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and for the viewers, that’s basically when you strap someone to a board and you make them feel as if they’re going to drown by putting them underwater, if that was legal and within the law, why couldn’t you do it at Guantanamo? Why did you have to go to a secret location around the world?

President Bush: I’m not going to talk about techniques. And, I’m not going explain to the enemy what we’re doing. All I’m telling you is that you’ve asked me whether or not we’re doing things to protect the American people, and I want the American people to know we are doing so.
Bush is fond of using terms like "techniques" and "alternative set of techniques" to describe the interrogation practices that he wants to legalize. That's typical of torturers:
"Torture develops its own sardonic slang through which to further distance the torturer from the effects of his actions. The parrot.. suspension head down from a broom-handle suspended between two chairs; the telephone...blows with the palms of the hands to both ears at once; the bath..a euphemism for holding the victim's head under water filled with excrement and vomit..
You know, like "waterboarding":
The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in.
(before anyone rushes in with a "ticking time bomb scenario" and how useful a 14 second confession might be, here's a reminder that such confessions are notoriously unreliable)

Since it's tough to hear in the video, here's the question from David Gregory that set Bush off:
If a CIA officer, paramilitary or special operations soldier from the United States were captured in Iran or North Korea and they were roughed up and those governments said, "Well, they were interrogated in accordance with our interpretation of the Geneva Conventions," and then they were put on trial and they were convicted based on secret evidence that they were not able to see, how would you react to that as commander in chief?
Bush's reaction? Well, watch the video for the full effect. But he either doesn't understand the potential implications of his own program for captured American soldiers, or he doesn't care. Either way, he wants what he wants, and damn the consequences.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Okay, I'm burned-out. I can't think about Bush's torture regime, about the Chinese government's arbitrary detentions of activists and journalists, about global warming, the destruction of the world's oceans, poverty, exploitation, genocide.

I need pandas, dammit.

Here is a site devoted entirely to pandas. The last update was in August, but there are a lot of pandas here, and panda links, photos, videos.

And if you need more, here is the San Diego Zoo's Panda Cam...


Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.


Monday, September 11, 2006

"How Dare You, Mr. President?"

Keith O.
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

I know I've been pushing Keith Olbermann these last two weeks, but as great as his last two commentaries have been, this one left me speechless. I don't know when a mainstream TV journalist has ever called out a US President like this. Go see it right now at Crooks and Liars.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's come to this...

On a day when we prepare for the broadcast of a piece of Rovian propanda disguised as docudrama, this NY Times article feels like a cold, hard slap to the face:
Abu Zubaydah, the first Osama bin Laden henchman captured by the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was bloodied and feverish when a C.I.A. security team delivered him to a secret safe house in Thailand for interrogation in the early spring of 2002. Bullet fragments had ripped through his abdomen and groin during a firefight in Pakistan several days earlier when he had been captured...

...According to accounts from five former and current government officials who were briefed on the case, F.B.I. agents — accompanied by intelligence officers — initially questioned him using standard interview techniques. They bathed Mr. Zubaydah, changed his bandages, gave him water, urged improved medical care, and spoke with him in Arabic and English, languages in which he is fluent.

To convince him they knew details of his activities, the agents brought a box of blank audiotapes which they said contained recordings of his phone conversations, but were actually empty. As the F.B.I. worked with C.I.A. officers who were present, Mr. Zubaydah soon began to provide intelligence insights into Al Qaeda.Abu Zubaydah, the first Osama bin Laden henchman captured by the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was bloodied and feverish when a C.I.A. security team delivered him to a secret safe house in Thailand for interrogation in the early spring of 2002. Bullet fragments had ripped through his abdomen and groin during a firefight in Pakistan several days earlier when he had been captured.

For the C.I.A., Mr. Zubaydah was a test case for an evolving new role, conceived after Sept. 11, in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator for terrorism suspects.

According to accounts by three former intelligence officials, the C.I.A. understood that the legal foundation for its role had been spelled out in a sweeping classified directive signed by Mr. Bush on Sept. 17, 2001. The directive, known as a memorandum of notification, authorized the C.I.A. for the first time to capture, detain and interrogate terrorism suspects, providing the foundation for what became its secret prison system.

That 2001 directive did not spell out specific guidelines for interrogations, however, and senior C.I.A. officials began in late 2001 and early 2002 to draw up a list of aggressive interrogation procedures that might be used against terrorism suspects. They consulted agency psychiatrists and foreign governments to identify effective techniques beyond standard interview practices.

After Mr. Zubaydah’s capture, a C.I.A. interrogation team was dispatched from the agency’s counterterrorism center to take the lead in his questioning, former law enforcement and intelligence officials said, and F.B.I. agents were withdrawn. The group included an agency consultant schooled in the harsher interrogation procedures to which American special forces are subjected in their training. Three former intelligence officials said the techniques had been drawn up on the basis of legal guidance from the Justice Department, but were not yet supported by a formal legal opinion.

In Thailand, the new C.I.A. team concluded that under standard questioning Mr. Zubaydah was revealing only a small fraction of what he knew, and decided that more aggressive techniques were warranted.

At times, Mr. Zubaydah, still weak from his wounds, was stripped and placed in a cell without a bunk or blankets. He stood or lay on the bare floor, sometimes with air-conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, Mr. Zubaydah seemed to turn blue. At other times, the interrogators piped in deafening blasts of music by groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sometimes, the interrogator would use simpler techniques, entering his cell to ask him to confess.

“You know what I want,” the interrogator would say to him, according to one official’s account, departing leaving Mr. Zubaydah to brood over his answer.

F.B.I. agents on the scene angrily protested the more aggressive approach, arguing that persuasion rather than coercion had succeeded. But leaders of the C.I.A. interrogation team were convinced that tougher tactics were warranted and said that the methods had been authorized by senior lawyers at the White House.

The agents appealed to their superiors but were told that the intelligence agency was in charge, the officials said. One law enforcement official who was aware of events as they occurred reacted with chagrin. “When you rough these guys up, all you do is fulfill their fantasies about what to expect from us,” the official said.

Mr. Bush on Wednesday acknowledged the use of aggressive interview techniques, but only in the most general terms. “We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking,” Mr. Bush said. He said the C.I.A. had used “an alternative set of procedures’’ after it became clear that Mr. Zubaydah “had received training on how to resist interrogation.

“These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations,’’ Mr. Bush said. “The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful.’’

In his early interviews, Mr. Zubaydah had revealed what turned out to be important information, identifying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — from a photo on a hand-held computer — as the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Zubaydah also identified Jose Padilla, an American citizen who has been charged with terrorism-related crimes.

But Mr. Zubaydah dismissed Mr. Padilla as a maladroit extremist whose hope to construct a dirty bomb, using conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials, was far-fetched. He told his questioners that Mr. Padilla was ignorant on the subject of nuclear physics and believed he could separate plutonium from nuclear material by rapidly swinging over his head a bucket filled with fissionable material.
According to a Salon interview with "The One Percent Doctrine" author Ron Suskind, though Zubaydah provided some useful intelligence, he was not the Al Qaeda mastermind the Bush Administration depicted. Moreover, "at least one top FBI analyst considered Zubaydah an "insane, certifiable, split personality" and that he was mainly responsible only for logistics like travel arrangements. According to Suskind's reporting, the interrogation methods used on Zubaydah -- waterboarding and sleep deprivation, among others -- only yielded information about plots that did not exist." Suskind:
I say in the book that we did get some things of value from Abu Zubaydah. We found out that "Muktar" -- the brain, that's what it means in Arabic -- was Khalid Sheik Mohammed. That was valuable for a short period of time for us. We were then able to go through the SIGINT [signal intelligence], the electronic dispatches over the years, and say, "OK, that's who 'Muktar' is." Zubaydah, of course, is showing up on signal intelligence as Zubaydah.

Also, we essentially said, "You've got to give us a body, somebody we can go get," and he gave us [Jose] Padilla. Padilla turned out to not be nearly as valuable as advertised at the start, though, and I think that's been shown in the ensuing years. So that's what we got from Zubaydah.

At the same time, I think we oversold [Zubaydah's] value -- the administration did -- to the American public. That's indisputable. As well, what folks inside the CIA and FBI were realizing, even as the president and others inside the administration were emphasizing the profound malevolence and value strategically to the capture of Zubaydah, is that Zubaydah is psychologically imbalanced, he has multiple personalities. And he was not involved in various events that we thought he was involved in. During various bombings in the late '90s, he was not where we thought he would be. That's shown in the diaries, where he goes through long lists of quotidian, nonsensical details about various people and what they're doing, folks that he's moving around, getting plane tickets for and serving tea to, all in the voices of three different characters; page after page of his diary, filled, including on dates where, I'm trying to think, it was either the Khobar Towers or the Cole, where we thought he was involved in the bombing and he clearly wasn't.

So that's the real story of Zubaydah, more complicated than the administration would like, and maybe more complicated than the president at this point feels comfortable saying in an election season. It's one of the many instances where you could shine a light through this prism and see an awful lot about some of the dilemmas of the war on terror.

In the case of Zubaydah, when it comes to some of the harsh interrogation tactics he was put through, what occurred then was that he started to talk. He said, as people will, anything to make the pain stop. And we essentially followed every word and various uniformed public servants of the United States went running all over the country to various places that Zubaydah said were targets, and were not.

Ultimately, we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered.
So there you have it. George Bush has defended with every breath American's right torture, to detain without trial, to make a mockery of our Constitution and rule of law, for this:

The indefinite detention of a Chicago street punk who thinks you can get weapons-grade plutonium by swinging a bucket over your head, and a schizophrenic Al Qaeda hospitality director's confessions of plots that didn't exist.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

KO k.o.'s again

And this time, he clobbers Bush...

Monday, September 04, 2006


Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been singularly uninspired, which may have been the function of this sinus/allergy thing which now I'm thinking might be an actual cold (in the summer?! This is just wrong).

Anyway, two friends sent me great New York Times articles which between them are a good illustration of where China finds itself in the world and why.

The first, "The World According To China," is both a lengthy profile of China's ambassador to the United Nations, and an examination of how China sees its role in international relations and in the world at large. The basic arguments presented here — that China regards national sovereignty as an issue that overrides nearly all other concerns, including humanitarian crises, and as an emerging superpower, still "punches below its weight," is not willing to use the full extent of its power on the world stage, strikes me as essentially correct.

Two quotes from the article stood out in particular.
China and the United States are the twin bĂȘtes noires of the U.N.: the U.S. insists on enlisting the organization in its crusades, while China refuses to let any crusade get in the way of national interest. Washington is all blustering moralism; Beijing, all circumspect mercantilism. Both can afford to defy the consensus view.
On my first stay in China I had the sense of China and the US as being opposites engaged in an interdependent dance (although we didn't know it yet), two huge countries that were nothing alike and yet oddly the same, in a way mirror-images of the other.

The second comes in a conversation journalist James Traub comes with Ambassador Wang Guangyu:
Wang told me he believed that blunderbuss diplomacy is the American way “because America is a superpower, so America has a big say.” China would appear to have a big say of its own, but that’s not Wang’s view. At the end of our second conversation, he returned to a favorite theme. “The Americans have muscle and exercise this muscle,” he said. “China has no muscle and has no intention of exercising this muscle.”

I said that, in fact, China had a great deal of muscle but punched below its weight. Wang smiled at the expression and said, “It’s not good?” Well, I said, that depends. And then Wang said something quite startling: “China always regards itself as a weak, small, less powerful country. My feeling is that for the next 30 years, China will remain like this. China likes to punch underweight, as you put it.”

Why was that? Why did China want to punch underweight? Wang spoke of China’s peaceful rise, of the need to reassure all who fear its growing clout. “We don’t,” he said, “want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”
My hope is that when the Bush Administration slinks out of office in two years, America's "blunderbuss" diplomacy will be replaced by something more nuanced and considerate, and that China may come to see that failed states represent an instability which is to the detriment of all, not just the unfortunate "citizens" perishing under the pretext of national sovereignty.

The second article
illustrates the internal instability that Traub feels constrains China's external diplomacy. This is an all too familiar story, where local officials ignored environmental regulations, leading to an entire village being swamped in toxic waste. Reading this same story taking place over and over all across China gives credance to Ambassador Wang's portrayal of China as less than a full-fledged superpower, in spite of the efforts of American militarists to build up China as the next great enemy (a rival state being much better suited to justify the sort of military upon which our defense industry depends).

Of course, we in the US also have a great deal of work to do regarding our own internal stability. Our infrastructure is in tatters, our health care system failing, and the vast majority of wealth created in recent years going to the already richest Americans, with real wages falling for the majority (see here and here). Both Kevin Philips and Chalmers Johnson have written at length about the ominous hollowing of the American economy and its increasing militarization. The problem is that our internal weakness expresses itself in external actions, in the invasion of Iraq, for example. For I do believe there is a global competition for energy resources, and that China is a prime competitor. However, the Chinese have chosen, so far, to conduct the competition on the field of diplomacy.

As I see it, the choice that faces us as nation becomes increasingly stark: a rebuilding from within, a genuine renaissance of American ingenuity to free us from an oil and defense-based economy, a renewal of spirit and community.

Or war without end.

Take your pick.

(hat-tip to my good friends for the articles)