Torture Q&A

Q. Whose side of the torture issue is Jesus on?
 
Artist: Gary A. Duncan
 
Artist: Constantina Wood
 
Artist: Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia
 
A. He’s on the side of the tortured.
 

The Hopeful Khadr

An appalling introduction to an otherwise uplifting article:

Intelligence documents accidentally released to journalists by U.S. officials [emphasis added] at a military hearing have cast further doubt on U.S. allegations against Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. An unusual mix-up by U.S. officials resulted in the distribution of top-secret documents to courtroom reporters attending Omar Khadr’s hearing in February 2008.

New revelations outlined in intelligence documents have led lawyers for the Canadian citizen to call for all charges against Khadr to be dropped. U.S. officials have charged Khadr with murder, claiming that Khadr – 15 years old at the time – threw a hand-grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during a firefight occurring in the context of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002.

Documents accidentally released include an interview with a U.S. intelligence agent who was at the scene of the battle, revealing that Khadr was shot twice – in the back – by the U.S. soldiers, a striking new detail in the case. An anonymous U.S. agent whose interview appears in the document additionally outlines that Khadr wasn’t witnessed throwing the grenade and that – contrary to previous claims by U.S. military officials – Khadr was not the only person alive at the time U.S. forces stormed the building in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how much of an issue the Omar Khadr case is in American media. From a Canadian perspective, it’s one of the many downplayed issues that could come to haunt our current government’s legacy if the majority of the population were ever to wake up and smell the (certainly not fair-trade) coffee.

When I saw this article on Rabble, I was both overjoyed and disgusted. The disgust hit first, resulting in small part because of the fact that it took an “accident” for the US government to finally come clean about the  situation, and in large part because this means that Khadr has quite possibly been sentenced to a half-dozen years in the horror-filled Guantanamo detention facilities for nothing. Not only is it now an issue of morality — whether it is just to detain a minor for throwing a hand-grenade — but an issue of facts. If Khadr has been through this without even having thrown the grenade that killed a US soldier, then what can we trust from our governments?

It’s not mentioned in the article whether or not the Canadian government knew about the information held by the Americans. But their lack of zeal in attempting to free Khadr thus far points to complacency or conspiracy — neither of which look good on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives (or  the Liberals, who were in power for the first portion of Khadr’s imprisonment).

The uplifting information contained in the article is that the new information may force the Canadian government into action. At least there’s hope for the young man! Hopefully Harper really didn’t have the information, and steps up to the plate to bring this whole issue home. I don’t know if I believe it’ll happen… but crossing one’s fingers never hurt!

Obama’s Iraq speech

Obama has made a series of major speeches this week:  one on race and religion and two on Iraq.

I haven’t listened to the race and religion speech in its entirety yet, and I want to do that before I offer a detailed response. But, in brief, I will say that I had mixed feelings about it.

I think it’s great that Obama didn’t handle the issue (his former pastor’s anti-American pronouncements) like a typical politician. Most politicians would try to present as small a target as possible — like a boxer in a crouch, with his chin tucked into his chest and his gloves up. Instead, Obama offered an intelligent, wide-ranging speech which gave lots of material to supporters and detractors alike. He took a risk, which is a political no-no. But I’m glad he did.

However, I’m not sure what Obama’s overall message was. If your audience can’t summarize your core message in a sentence or two, you haven’t delivered an effective speech.

Mind you, the chattering classes don’t see it that way. The speech received very positive reviews from the major newspapers and most political leaders.

But let’s turn to the other topic:  Iraq. Today is the five-year anniversary of the war. Obama didn’t just criticize Bush (and McCain and Clinton), he also laid out his own policy prescriptions.

Do you think Obama is all rhetoric, no substance? Do you think he lacks foreign policy chops? Here’s my bullet-point summary of his policy prescriptions:

  • Begin immediately to remove the troops from Iraq, at the rate of 1 or 2 combat brigades per month. Almost all of the troops would be out within 16 months.
  • Leave enough troops in Iraq to guard the American embassy and U.S. diplomats; also a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy.
  • Help Iraqis reach a meaningful accord on national reconciliation. Engage every country in the region, and the United Nations, to support the stability and territorial integrity of Iraq. Launch a major humanitarian initiative to support Iraq’s refugees and people. “It is precisely this kind of approach – an approach that puts the onus on the Iraqis, and that relies on more than just military power – that is needed to stabilize Iraq.”
  • Shift the military focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “This is the area where the 9/11 attacks were planned. This is where Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants still hide.” … “We have a security gap when candidates say they will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but refuse to follow him where he actually goes.”
  • On Afghanistan:  “We cannot prevail [in Afghanistan] until we reduce our commitment in Iraq, which will allow us to do what I called for last August — providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our efforts in Afghanistan. This increased commitment in turn can be used to leverage greater assistance — with fewer restrictions — from our NATO allies. It will also allow us to invest more in training Afghan security forces, including more joint NATO operations with the Afghan Army, and a national police training plan that is effectively coordinated and resourced.”
  • Also, provide an additional $1 billion in non-military assistance to support education, basic infrastructure, human services, and alternative livelihoods for Afghan farmers (i.e., alternative to the opium trade).
  • On Pakistan:  “If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot. Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, and President Bush have all distorted and derided this position, suggesting that I would invade or bomb Pakistan. This is politics, pure and simple. … It was months after I called for this policy that a top al Qaeda leader was taken out in Pakistan by an American aircraft.”
  • Restore “the rule of law that helps us win the battle for hearts and minds. This means closing Guantanamo, restoring habeas corpus, and respecting civil liberties.”
  • Double America’s foreign assistance while demanding more from those who receive it. Build the capacity of regional partners in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and the reconstruction of ravaged societies.
  • Lead collective action on the global climate crisis, thereby ending America’s dependence on oil-rich states (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela), and creating millions of new jobs in America.
  • Make better use of diplomacy:  “It is time to present a country like Iran with a clear choice. If it abandons its nuclear program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, then Iran can rejoin the community of nations — with all the benefits that entails. If not, Iran will face deeper isolation and steeper sanctions. When we engage directly, we will be in a stronger position to rally real international support for increased pressure. We will also engender more goodwill from the Iranian people.”
  • Reduce the strain on U.S. troops “by completing the effort to increase our ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines,” and ensuring adequate training and time home between deployments.
  • Undertake a National Strategy and Security Review, to help determine an integrated, 21st Century inter-agency structure.
  • Double the size of the U.S. Peace Corps:  “Instead of letting people learn about America from enemy propaganda, it’s time to recruit, train, and send out into the world an America’s Voice Corps.”

In a word, this is a strategy. That is, Obama has multiple, specific proposals which cohere around a unifying theme. Obama introduces a distinction between strategy and tactics as a key criticism of McCain:

If you believe we are fighting the right war, then the problems we face are purely tactical in nature. That is what Senator McCain wants to discuss — tactics. What he and the Administration have failed to present is an overarching strategy: how the war in Iraq enhances our long-term security, or will in the future. That’s why this Administration cannot answer the simple question posed by Senator John Warner in hearings last year: Are we safer because of this war? And that is why Senator McCain can argue — as he did last year — that we couldn’t leave Iraq because violence was up, and then argue this year that we can’t leave Iraq because violence is down.

When you have no overarching strategy, there is no clear definition of success. Success comes to be defined as the ability to maintain a flawed policy indefinitely.

I think that’s an excellent characterization of the issue:  McCain offers tactics whereas Obama offers a strategy.

All style, no substance? — hardly!

Too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief? — I’ll take less experience with sound judgment over more experience with unsound judgment any day.

It’s a compelling, brilliant speech. Read the whole thing.

Facebook Riot!

Isn’t Internet activism funny?

Mr. Avenir was singled out by the university for his role as the administrator of an online study group that attracted more than 140 members looking for help with chemistry homework assignments that accounted for 10 per cent of their mark.

When the course’s professor — who had stipulated that work be done independently — found the site, he gave Mr. Avenir a failing grade for the course and charged him with academic misconduct.

The case has created a groundswell of online support for the 18-year-old, including an online petition, a Facebook support group and a website, chrisdidntcheat.com, that among other things is selling T-shirts, hats and buttons with the slogan.

Is Chris Avenir in the right? It’s hard to see sharing homework answers as cheating, assuming each kid then had to do their own rendition of the work, since no one would have complained had it been face-to-face. There are surely more semantics there, but the question is really irrelevant considering the students’ response.

It’s kind of insulting that this is my generation’s form of resistance. I have many friends who use Facebook “causes” to fight for ideals. But in so doing, it seems that on-campus petitions, protests, or boycotting the school becomes completely overlooked!

Here’s a tip, people my age: If there isn’t going to be any financial damage, the school won’t give a lick. I don’t think they’re shaking in their booties that you are creating angry “Groups”. Internet activism, though good for garnering attention, needs to result in action, not more e-rants!

Thanks to your e-support, the punishment has been decreased for Mr. Avenir. Now he won’t be expelled — he’ll just get a 0 on the assignment. That kind of minor alteration is exactly the type of effect Internet activism brings about.

Now what’re you going to do about it?

Obama speaks from the heart

This speech is a superb response to the challenges the Obama campaign has faced this past weekend.

Obama acknowledges the recurrent tendency of Americans to be polarized into racial camps. And he returns to the one of the core messages of his candidacy, which is to repudiate that sort of racial polarization — with reference to the example of his personal, biracial history.

As somebody who was born into a diverse family — as somebody who has little pieces of America all in me [applause] — I will not allow us to lose this moment.

To use a homely illustration, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has handed Obama a lemon, and he’s making lemonade of it. I think this weekend may be a turning point in Obama’s march to the presidency.

Obama doesn’t resort to soaring rhetoric in this address. He speaks from the heart in unadorned, at times disjointed, phrases. But the message resonates nonetheless, and people are lifted out of their seats; or they respond, as to a sermon, “That’s right!” (Though Obama is not speaking in sermon-like cadences.)

Let me speak to an issue raised by one of my long-time commenters. Jack keeps insisting that Obama is “not ready” to be President of the United States of America.

Jack — with respect — you’re wrong. Obama has been tested in the past few weeks, and he has shown his mettle.

Obama doesn’t yield to discouragement when times get tough. He doesn’t give way to anger and start lashing out at his critics. He doesn’t sink into self-pity. He retains his emotional equilibrium; he responds thoughtfully and intelligently; he keeps coming back to first principles.

Obama doesn’t appeal to fear, blood-lust, or the politics of division. Nor does he engage in political triangulation, the way a Clinton would. Instead, he invites Americans to hope, to pursue unity and justice — the road less taken. He keeps appealing to the best, noblest aspects of human nature.

Obama is manifestly unflappable. That’s why, when that 3:00 a.m. phone call inevitably comes, I want him to be the person answering it. Obama is not going to panic, not going to overreact, not going to view the crisis through a political lens. He’s going to reflect on the issue, examine it from all sides, consider what’s best for the country, and arrive at a principled, non-partisan decision. And then he’ll implement that decision, following through on it consistently but not blindly.

That approach will go a long way toward keeping America out of the kind of trouble it has stirred up for itself during the Bush years. That’s why Obama is ready to be President — whatever the naysayers may suppose.

Test Your Awareness

A great PSA that I came across recently on Digg!

 

Good point. Sad that I didn’t notice, since I myself am a cyclist! ;)

Only criticism is that the colouration of the bear. If they had made it white, I may have been more adept at seeing him, because I was deliberately avoiding looking at black. Because of this, they kind of cheat you out of it, instead of making it something that you really had a fighting chance of seeing. Hopefully on the road you’re at least not deliberately failing to see cyclists!

Still, as a regular biker, I appreciate the support!!!

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