Monday, April 30, 2007

Day Changes His Story - Again

If you're an Albertan like me, you long ago had your fill of the extremely incompetent Stockwell Day. How that man rose through the ranks of the Conservative party to any position of responsibility is beyond me. His track record is outrageous and he continues to show exactly why he shouldn't be trusted to hold a position of power - especially one that affects the reputation of our country.

After insisting that allegations of torture and abuse were "false" this past week (even though none of the investigations into them had actually either happened or been concluded), we now discover this about Day:

OTTAWA (CP) - The Conservative government conceded Monday that it has received reports from Canadian officials about alleged torture in Afghan jails.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar have heard at least two first-hand allegations of abuse. "Yes, they have actually talked to detainees about the possibility if they were tortured or not," Day said early Monday in response to a reporter's question. "They actually had a couple of incidents where detainees said they were."

It is the first time a senior minister has admitted clearly that Canadian officials were informed of specific abuse allegations. Day said the claims came to light last week when he spoke by phone with staff overseas.

Corrections Canada has had two officers in Kandahar since early February, mentoring Afghan prison guards.

Day said the officers had no evidence to back up the abuse claims, but didn't say if an investigation had been conducted. "The officers saw no physical marks or anything else to substantiate the allegations," he said in a telephone interview late Monday.

There are so many investigations going on now with regards to these allegations that it's hard to keep track of them all. But there's CSI: Stockwell Day asserting again that there's nothing to see here, folks. Just move right along...

The Tories changed their strategy on Monday, toning down their claims that the allegations of abuse were fabricated.

Because they are proven liars. Period.

And check this out from this supposedly accountable "new" government that likes to sit on its high horse of moral superiority:

Liberal deputy leader Michael Ignatieff told the Commons that the government had lost control of the situation and again called for the resignation of Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, who was not in the Commons on Monday.

His absence renewed a flurry of speculation, which started last week, that O'Connor was about to step down.

Unsolicited, his communications officers issued this terse e-mail note to reporters: "If any of you give credit to the rumour that (the minister of national defence) will resign, (you) will look (stupid). It is not true, he will NOT resign."

I'm sorry but who's really looking "stupid" here? (Nice sense of professionalism those communications officers have.)

O'Connor is Canada's Rumsfeld. Day is Canada's George Tenet. Guergis is Canada's Condi. Van Loan is Canada's Tony Snow. And Peter Mackay is just so bloody clueless that he could match far too many Bushco sycophants to name here.

The difference is that this is Canada and these clowns are a minority government so, thankfully, we don't have to put up with their ignorant hubris any longer than the date of the next election. As far as I'm concerned, they should all go now. You don't screw around with human rights and expect to get off scott free. Our country is supposed to be better than that. Our country is supposed to stand for something - an example of how to do things right oversees while actually respecting people in the process.

What's it going to take to hold these arrogant politicans responsible for what is fast becoming a national disgrace?

Also, via CBC:

Day said the officers had no evidence to back up the abuse claims, but didn't say if an investigation had been conducted.

CBC News spoke to three former prisoners who all say they were mistreated by Afghan authorities, after being handed over by Canadian troops.

They claim they were beaten, and in once case, a guard subjected one man to electric shocks.

And if that isn't enough:

On Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintained that there was no evidence of abuse.

"As I've said many times, the government takes these allegations seriously," Harper said.

"We have agreements with the government of Afghanistan and also with the Afghan independent human rights commission. The knowledge we have at this point is that those agreements are operating as they should."

Members of the Afghan independent human rights commission were able to examine prison conditions in Kandahar on Monday, although they couldn't talk privately with the detainees.

"The place where these men are being held is not fit for humans," said Shamsudin Taweer, an inspector with the commission. "The conditions are terrible."

He said that inside the prison, 24 men are crammed into two cells. He said some detainees aren't allowed to sleep and that at times, there isn't enough food for everyone.


"In other countries, human rights are respected in prisons," he said. "But in Afghanistan, we don't always treat human rights in the same way."

Enough is enough.

Related: MPs reject NDP call for immediate end to Afghan mission

It's just one long, endless mess.

Need more proof?

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 30 — United States Special Forces said they killed more than 130 Taliban in two recent days of heavy fighting in a valley in western Afghanistan, but hundreds of angry villagers protested in nearby Shindand on Monday, saying dozens of civilians had been killed when the Americans called in airstrikes.
[...]
Forty-nine Taliban fighters, including two leaders of the group, were killed in the first bombardment on Friday, and 87 militants were killed in bombing during a second battle on Sunday that raged for 14 hours, the military said in a statement from the United States-led coalition headquarters at the Bagram air base.

But the local residents said that civilians were killed in the bombardment and that some drowned in the river as they fled, according to a local member of Parliament, Maulavi Gul Ahmad. News agencies reported that demonstrators said women and children were among the dead.

Mr. Ahmad condemned the bombing and said that the fighting angered local residents because the Americans raided their houses at night.

“They should not do that,” he said in a telephone interview. “The number that they claim — that 130 Taliban were killed — is totally wrong. There are no Taliban there.”

Raiding houses touches a nerve in Afghanistan, especially in conservative tribal areas, because the local custom dictates that men who are not family members cannot enter the parts of homes where the women stay. Such raids were upsetting local sensibilities so much several years ago that the American forces made an agreement with the Afghan government that they would not raid houses without the presence of Afghan elders or the police. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission says that the agreement is still in effect, but that American troops do not always adhere to it.

So much for any weight being given to agreements with Afghanistan's Human Rights Commission - like the one the Harper government has been touting as the new be all and end all of ensuring the safety and security of the detainees. It's just one big horror show.
 

Afghanistan: The Denials Continue

What the hell is going on?

During question period on Monday, Stockwell Day told parliament that Canadian corrections officers have been monitoring Afghan detainees in that country since February, 2007. That conflicts with what the Afghan ambassador to Canada said just this past weekend:

OTTAWA - Urging an end to the "political circus" over Afghan detainees, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada says no Canadians, including corrections officers, have monitored treatment of prisoners turned over by Canadian military forces.

However, Ambassador Omar Samad said in a Global National interview that Canadian officials will soon have "unrestricted access" to prisons under an agreement currently being worked out with Canada in the wake of political uproar over alleged torture of detainees.

Samad contradicted assertions by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day that Corrections Canada officers have been monitoring prisoner treatment - an assertion Day repeated in the Commons Friday, saying they are there "to see if there are cases of torture."

Samad said Corrections Canada officers have for many months, under their mandate to help build Afghan police capacity, had access to some prisons in Afghanistan and may have come across prisoners.

"It doesn't mean those were detention centres of people who were arrested by Canadian forces," Samad said. "So if this has created confusion, I think that we all need to take a step back and define what we're talking about and to bring some clarity to this instead of turning it into a political circus."

"From the Afghan point of view, it's clear there was no followup or monitoring of detainees caught by Canadian forces turned over to Afghans, especially to the NDS (National Directorate of Security) that took place prior to this current time."

Just how long will Day keep lying in the house? And where is O'Connor? He seems to have disappeared.

Day had said Thursday that corrections staff had made 15 visits to Afghan jails. But his spokeswoman, Melissa Leclerc, had said later they have no mandate to monitor prisoner treatment.

On Friday, Day told the Commons "they are there to support the Afghan officers by training them in the work that they do in the prisons and also to ensure, to see if there are cases of torture."

Pure fabrication.

Day needs to resign.

In fact, all of the tories who have spun these allegations since they were brought to light should be turfed immediately. An obviously angry Denis Coderre slammed Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Helena Guergis for smiling smugly when she answered a question about this situation in the house on Monday. And rightly so.

The Conservatives seem to think this is an opportunity to play political games - claiming they're somehow morally superior to the opposition parties because they are "dealing" with these allegations when they are actually doing everything they can to deny them and to offer political cover for their party colleagues. It's nothing short of disgusting - not to mention inhumane. If we had pictures, this would be their Abu Ghraib moment. They don't seem to get that.

Via the Globe and Mail, we also learn that O'Connor is whining instead of taking responsibility for his duties as defence minister:

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has also complained privately that he felt that he was left isolated by other departments on the issue of the detainees.

Is that what qualifies as leadership in this so-called "new" government? No one seems to want to step up to deal with any of this. No wonder they have no idea what's going on.

Meanhwile, in a related story about how this government washes its hands of allegations of torture by other governments, the US Supreme Court refused to hear appeals on Monday on behalf of Canadian Omar Khadr and Salim Ahmed Hamdan (of the Hamdan v Rumsfeld case):

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear an appeal by two Guantanamo prisoners who face trial before a military tribunal and who sought review now of an anti-terrorism law that President George W. Bush pushed through Congress last year.

The high court sided with the Bush administration, which argued that the trials should be allowed to take place first before the two men could bring an appeal.

Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer said they would hear the appeal but it takes four votes for the nine-member Supreme Court to do so.

Just one vote shy. More conservatives who refuse to protect human rights.

And don't expect our tory government to intervene on Khadr's behalf. During question period, Harper and his cronies laughed at an opposition party suggestion that Taliban prisoners be brought to Canada. That would obviously include Khadr as well, despite the fact that he has repeatedly calimed he has been tortured in Gitmo.

The bottom line is that this government just doesn't care. This is all about politics to them and they seem to believe that this track they're on, which is so wildly off the mark, is actually going to boost their shoddy reputations. The more they open their mouths, the more they lie. While it's satisfying to watch their complete and utter ineptitude as they dig themselves deeper into a hole every day, it's also incredibly maddening that it's at the expense of people who are allegedly being abused and tortured. They need to stop immediately and face reality. This isn't going away no matter how hard they wish they could wave their partisan wand to make it so.

Related: The Globe and Mail has a quick review of just some of last week's tory statements:

The government's changing story

Officials of our government will be following up these allegations with officials of the government of Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday

[We're] taking this matter seriously

Brigadier-General Al Howard on Tuesday

We have heard these allegations. We always take these allegations seriously.

Primer Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday

... to make that suggestion [of torture] solely based on the allegations of the Taliban, I think is the height of irresponsibility.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper later on Wednesday

If they have a specific name, we'd be happy to have it investigated and chased down.

Government House Leader

Peter Van Loan yesterday

Life's Trials

Just some personal stuff...

My 80 year old mom had 2 heart attacks on the weekend. She's had heart problems for years resulting in bypass surgery some time ago and she now has occasional problems with rapid heartbeats to the point where they actually had to stop her heart (somehow) on Saturday and shock it into starting again. This also happened in 2005.

I called her on Sunday morning (she's in Saskatchewan) and she sounded quite weak but optimistic. I actually hadn't spoken to her in years - very dysfunctional family stuff in my past. So now I'm waiting for news. Things could go either way.

My daughter and her family headed out there by car on Sunday (grandherbs included) - just in case this might be the last time they'll see her. My daughter's mate was in a mountain bike accident on Saturday and developed blood poisoning via a huge gash in his arm - went to emerg and has to have IV antibiotics every day for at least a week, but he can also take care of that in Saskatchewan while they're visiting my mom (since they'll be in a hospital anyway).

I'm doing okay. Still scattered after moving last weekend and still have a lot to organize (between naps and bouts of pain). Haven't quite gotten back into the swing of blogging because I'm so unsettled, but that will come...

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
- John Lennon

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday Food for Thought: Living in the Moment

Buddha told a parable in sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

Saturday Nite Video Flashback: Counting Crows

Saturday, April 28, 2007

What did the Liberals know about detainee abuse?

La Presse (in French) is reporting that the former Liberal government knew about the mistreatment of Afghan detainees via annual reports between 2003-2005. The 2004 report, according to La Presse, includes allegations of torture by the Afghan police (who were supposed to be trained by war profiteers DynCorp, but weren't) and they were also accused of abusing women and children.

General Rick Hillier signed an agreement with the Afghan government in December, 2005 while the Liberals were still in power so, obviously, there was concern at the time about the handovers - most specifically that the detainess were being turned over to the American forces who did not have a good track record (to say the least).

«De 2002 à 2005, nous avons transféré nos détenus aux Américains. Mais cela est devenu intenable sur le plan politique à cause des histoires de Guantánamo et d'Abou Ghraib. Ces événements et la certitude que les choses allaient mieux dans le système carcéral afghan nous ont convaincus de signer une entente sur le transfert des détenus avec les Afghans», a expliqué cette source libérale.

The Liberal source explains that placing the detainees in the custody of the Americans became untenable after reports of abuse at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Therefore, the decision was made to deal directly with the Afghan authorities. As we all know now, the Hillier agreement was woefully inadequate since it offered no oversight of the fate of those detainees.

La Presse is also critical of the Harper government's mishandling of this grave situation and outlines the many contradictions it offered this past week in parliament to try to explain its incompetence. No matter what the Liberals did or did not do about these reports - and they share full responsibility if they didn't pay attention to them - it's now up to this so-called "new" government to fix the situation.

On Saturday, NATO's secretary general announced that his organization will now conduct an investigation as well.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the government in Afghanistan will investigate allegations that Afghan prisoners suspected of fighting for the Taliban have been abused, the head of NATO said on Saturday.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, speaking at a security forum in Brussels, praised the decision to investigate allegations that prisoners are being abused after troops hand them over to Afghan authorities.

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO forces are in Afghanistan to "defend universal values," including proper treatment of detainees.

During a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Oslo on Friday, de Hoop Scheffer stressed that the allegations are not facts and he saw no reason to suspend the transfer of detainees "on the basis of the allegations we have seen."

That's not exactly encouraging considering what the Globe and Mail uncovered:

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Afghans detained by Canadian soldiers and sent to Kandahar's notorious jails say they were beaten, whipped, starved, frozen, choked and subjected to electric shocks during interrogation.

In 30 face-to-face interviews with men recently captured in Kandahar province, a Globe and Mail investigation has uncovered a litany of gruesome stories and a clear pattern of abuse by the Afghan authorities who work closely with Canadian troops, despite Canada's assurances that the rights of detainees are protected.

Canadian forces regularly hold detainees for a few days of questioning at Kandahar Air Field, then give them to the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's feared intelligence police. Over and over, detainees described how Canadians tied their hands with plastic straps, marking the start of nightmarish journeys through shadowy jails and blood-spattered interrogation rooms.

If this was happening to Canadians, the outrage from the ruling Conservatives would be deafening. Instead, they're doing everything they can to take political cover while people are allegedly being tortured. We have a public safety minister (whose portfolio doesn't even cover this area) stating as a fact that these are "false allegations" despite all of the current investigations that have just been launched. We have a defence minister who wouldn't even answer questions at all during question period by the end of last week because he'd made such a damn mess of things. We have a very defensive prime minister whose main concern should be the plight of these people but who's focused on his image instead. We have a completely incompetent bunch of politicians who don't seem to care about anybody but themselves.

As I've written before, this is not a partisan issue. This is a human rights issue and if our country's reputation means anything (not that it isn't already severely suffering because of the way we treat our first nations people - but that's another shameful story), this government ought to be doing everything it possibly can as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of these detainees. Why is that so difficult for these politicians to understand? They need to put their egos aside and get on with it.
 

Friday, April 27, 2007

Video: Montana Republicans Behaving Badly

How to prove you have integrity: tell your governor to "stick it up his ass".


Via the AP:

Republican House Majority Leader Michael Lange made the comments Wednesday after leaving a meeting with Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Lange was speaking to a room of House Republicans, with reporters and a television camera present.

He said Schweitzer could "go straight to hell" and called the governor an "S.O.B."

The tirade attracted more than 17,000 views on YouTube and stalled talks to draft a state budget.

"I'm pissed off at that S.O.B. on the second floor that thinks he is going to run this state like a dictator," Lange said after comparing Democrats to "Communist Russia" and "Red China."

Lange, waving his arms with his face turning red, then shouted: "My message to the governor is stick it up your a--."

I think he was trying to channel Howard Beale but it obviously came out as a pale imitation of Howard Stern instead.
 

Video: Sen. Mike Gravel - "These people frighten me."


Don't you just want to wipe the smirks off their faces? Seriously... they frighten me too.

You can see more of Gravel from Thursday's debate here and here. You'll find his site here.

Canadians take note: "Mike Gravel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, to French Canadian immigrants."

What's not to like?

During his first term in the Senate, Gravel authored a book titled Citizen Power. In it, he advocated the implementation of numerous populist ideas, including a guaranteed annual income (dubbed the "Citizen's Wage"), public financing of elections, a progressive tax with no deductions or exemptions, steps against the military-industrial complex (which he calls the "Warfare State"), a national law to do away with voter registration and other barriers to voting, abolition of the death penalty, universal health care, school vouchers, a drastic reduction in government secrecy, and an end to what he viewed as an imperialistic foreign policy. The book also contained the complete text of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the complete platform adopted by the Populist Party during the 1892 presidential election.

Of course, he's just too librul to ever actually win the US presidency. As much as many Americans favour liberal ideas, they seem to be too scared to actually place people in power who smack of anything left of being centrist. Must be those old, ingrained fears of communism and scary socialism that they've had pounded into their psyches for decades ("freedom fries", anyone?) and the Democrats are offering several centrists who'll fill the bill nicely to ensure that actual progressive policies, like those endorsed by Gravel and Kucinich (who the supposedly "left-wing media" treats like a joke), never see the light of day.

This is already shaping up to be a long, tedious and boring campaign. Wake me when it's over.

Plus ca change...

Related: Mike Gravel's Campaign for President - Finally, a Populist Antiwar Candidate
 

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Omar Khadr's Defence Team is Angry

Here's a text of a letter they released to the Miami Herald:

``We have just learned that our client, Omar Khadr, has been charged by the United States government with several offenses that are not even valid war crimes, for which he will be tried by military commission under The Military Commissions Act of 2006. This is the third set of charges laid against Omar. Yet, no matter how many times the government issues new charges, the military commissions system will continue to be an illegitimate one. Indeed, the system is virtually indistinguishable from the one previously invalidated by the Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld just last year.

'The recent plea agreement accepted by David Hicks after less than a day of military commission proceedings and after significant negotiations between Australia and the U.S. demonstrates that the resolution of these cases is political and not the result of a legal process. Clearly, the U.S. is using the case of Omar in an attempt to rehabilitate the military commissions, which Hicks' plea demonstrated is a tainted process. In doing so, the U.S. will be the first country in modern history to try an individual who was a child at the time of the alleged war crimes. Indeed, the charge of conspiracy against Omar is based on alleged acts some of which occurred when Omar was less than 10 years of age.

``Omar Khadr was taken into U.S. custody at the age of 15 and has been detained at Guantánamo since he was 16, in conditions equal to or worse than those given to convicted adult criminals, such as prolonged solitary confinement and repeated instances of torture. After nearly 5 years in such conditions, the government is now demanding his appearance before what can only amount to a kangaroo court. The fact that this Administration has seen fit to designate this youth for trial by military commission is abhorrent.

``Now is the time for Canada and the U.S. to negotiate a political resolution because the commissions system is incapable of justice. Otherwise, Omar, just barely twenty years of age and a minor at the time of the alleged crimes, is guaranteed to be convicted in one of the greatest show trials on earth. This should not be the legacy of America or Canada.''

Signed,

Muneer Ahmad
Kristine Huskey
Richard Wilson
American University College of Law
Washington D.C.

Lt. Col. Colby Vokey
U.S. Marine Corps.

Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler
U.S. Navy

The Washington Post has more:

Opponents of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay criticized authorities for subjecting Khadr to the same military trial system as adult terror suspects. In any other conflict, he would have been treated as a child soldier, said Jumana Musa, advocacy director of Amnesty International.

"This was, in fact, a child," Musa said. "From the beginning, he was never treated in accordance with his age. He was treated like any adult taken into custody."

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said Khadr must be held accountable.

"The Defense Department will continue to uphold the law and bring unlawful enemy combatants to justice through the military commissions process," he said.

In other words, the US government doesn't care who it goes after or how - even children.

Khadr has already lost a civil suit filed against him:

The U.S. military said Khadr hurled a grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N.M., and wounded Army Sgt. Layne Morris, of West Jordan, Utah. The charges say those acts were carried out "in violation of the law of war," but did not elaborate.

Speer's widow and Morris filed a civil lawsuit against Khadr and his father. In February, a judge awarded them $102.6 million.

And what do the families of innocent civilians killed by Americans receive as compensation from the US military? A maximum of $2500, while torture victims like Maher Arar and Khaled al-Masri have had their civil suits against the US government thrown out on the grounds of "national security".

Meanwhile, Gonzales' justice department has decided to limit Gitmo detainees' access to their lawyers. The noose around their necks is tightening with every right Bushco tries to strip away from them.

Lawyers representing some of the hundreds of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay have angrily condemned efforts by the Bush administration to make it more difficult for them to visit their clients. The lawyers say restrictions already in place make their jobs all but impossible.

The US Justice Department has requested that a federal court impose tighter restrictions on the lawyers, claiming their visits with prisoners have "caused intractable problems and threats to security at Guantánamo". In a brief to the court the department claims information passed from prisoners to their lawyers and then given to the media.

Lawyers representing some of the 385 prisoners still held at the US Naval base on Cuba yesterday reacted angrily to the accusations leveled by the department. They said what was really driving the request was the US government's desire to further diminish the already severely limited scrutiny that Guantanamo receives.

Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of the UK-based group Reprieve which represents several dozen prisoners, said of the claims: "They say the lawyers have caused unrest, they say we have caused hunger strikes. This is monumental crap. They say we are inciting them. Of course, we have talked to them about their hunger strikes – that is our jobs. But the hunger strikes are done in reaction to their treatment. And any information we gather has to go through the censors."

He added: "This is being done to stop information coming out of Guantanamo. It's being done to stop any journalists finding out what they did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others." Under the proposals, filed earlier this month in Washington DC, lawyers would be restricted to just three visits with an existing client, correspondence they sent to their clients would be vetted by military intelligence officers and government officials would be empowered to prevent lawyers from having access to secret evidence used by military tribunals to decide whether the prisoners were "enemy combatants".

Gitmo is definitely a "legal black hole" as are the rest of the secret prisons the CIA still maintains around the world where untold numbers of people we've never even heard of have been tortured and disappeared.

And don't expect any changes coming from the US senate any time soon either:

Senate skirmish over detainees at Guantanamo Bay ended in a draw Thursday, with Democrats urging action on the prisoners' behalf but running into stiff opposition from Republicans.

"What is the hurry?" Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. The indefinite detention of nearly 400 prisoners without charges is "unconstitutional. It's un-American," said the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), one of half a dozen witnesses.

CNN's Jack Cafferty has more:



As for Khadr's case:

On Friday, Khadr and fellow Gitmo prisoner Salim Hamdan have an appeal to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue is whether they have a right to certain constitutional guarantees before a military tribunal in a case where they face the possibility of life imprisonment or death upon conviction.

A law passed by the U.S. Congress limits the right of appeal for Gitmo prisoners.

If the court decides to accept their case, oral arguments could follow within a few months and delay Khadr's tribunal.

Still stuck in legal limbo after all of these years with no end in sight. I guess that's the new American Way™.
 

War Crimes Allegations Against Hillier & O'Connor

Via CTV:

Chief of Staff Gen. Rick Hillier and Defence Minsiter [sic] Gordon O'Connor have both been named in a 14-page letter to the International Criminal Court by Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia and William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway.

The professors claim "possible war crimes" have been committed by Hillier and O'Connor, resulting from the prisoner transfer agreement between Canada and Afghanistan, and have asked the ICC to investigate.


More via the Globe and Mail:

The chief of Canadian defence has dismissed calls that he and Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor be investigated for “possible war crimes” in light of revelations Afghan prisoners handed to the local authorities are being abused.

General Rick Hillier dismissed the letter, sent to the International Criminal Court, during an appearance on CTV's Canada AM on Thursday.

“First of all, much attention has been paid to what is a very, very small part of our mission,” Gen. Hillier said. “I concentrate on setting our young men and women up for success . . . on reducing the risk to them.

“So I just let the theatrics, if you will, of these kinds of things go on around me. I've got a job to do. I'm going to do that job.”

"Theatrics"...."a very, very small part of our mission".

Since when is protecting the rights of detainees, which is required under the Geneva Conventions, something to be minimized? Once again, Hillier's absolute arrogance is on display for all to see.

In March, Hillier said he had "no regrets" about the 2005 detainee agreement he signed with the Afghan government - an agreement we now know was so fundamentally flawed and inferior to those signed by other countries that it offered no protections to the detainees handed over to Afghan officials.

In fact, this story in the Globe and Mail earlier this week shows exactly why the continual trail of lies told by our so-called defence minister Gordon O'Connor is so damaging to all involved:

The Harper government knew from its own officials that prisoners held by Afghan security forces faced the possibility of torture, abuse and extrajudicial killing, The Globe and Mail has learned.

But the government has eradicated every single reference to torture and abuse in prison from a heavily blacked-out version of a report prepared by Canadian diplomats in Kabul and released under an access to information request.

Initially, the government denied the existence of the report, responding in writing that "no such report on human-rights performance in other countries exists." After complaints to the Access to Information Commissioner, it released a heavily edited version this week.

Among the sentences blacked out by the Foreign Affairs Department in the report's summary is "Extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common," according to full passages of the report obtained independently by The Globe.

The Foreign Affairs report, titled Afghanistan-2006; Good Governance, Democratic Development and Human Rights, was marked "CEO" for Canadian Eyes Only. It seems to remove any last vestige of doubt that the senior officials and ministers knew that torture and abuse were rife in Afghan jails.

On Wednesday, O'Connor insisted that Canada now has a new agreement with the Afghanistan government that would allow members of the RCMP and Corrections Canada to monitor detainee treatment in Afghanistan. During question period on Thursday however, Stephen Harper said "no formal agreement" has been signed yet.

First that was the ICRC's job. Then the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission was supposed to oversee their treatment. Now, it's the RCMP. Who's next?

Murky, shady, shifty and completely incompetent.

A very defensive Harper also tried his damn best during question period to accuse the opposition parties of disrespecting the troops by bringing up allegations of detainee abuse - a handy Bushco tactic. Don't like questions? Just attack the questioner's patriotism and insist they're attacking the troops. Don't like allegations? Claim they're false (repeatedly) even before they're investigated (and there are 4 investigations currently underway). Stockwell Day even had the nerve to repeat the Rumsfeld talking point that detainees are taught to lie about abuse. If that's what this tory government believes, why are they even investigating?

This should not be a partisan matter. If Canada's military is involved in possible war crimes, if detainees handed over by our soldiers are being abused, tortured or executed, if the Geneva Conventions have been violated, this government owes all Canadians a serious dose of humility - not defensiveness - and a promise to act on this country's behalf to resolve this situation as soon as possible while leaving no stone unturned in order to get to the truth. These tories seem to forget that they work for us and that their jobs require them to work for all of us and that means they need to get past playing politics - now - before more people suffer and die.

There are peoples' lives on the line here.

Both Hillier and O'Connor must be held to account. If this government won't do its job, perhaps a war crimes investigation at The Hague will, but we have to ask ourselves if that's what we've been reduced to - a country that refuses to take responsibility for its actions during a time of war.


Related: Irish Centre for Human Rights
Michael Byers, UBC (bio/contact info)
 

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Oh, how George and Laura suffer...


Yes, that's right. No one suffers more than George and Laura...

Watch them suffer:

George and Laura with the Kankouran West African Dance Company, April 25 2007


But no one suffers more than they do...

Monday, April 23, 2007

catnip has left the building...

...and has moved into another one.

Well, as I told everyone at the beginning of April, the time had come for a new transition in my life - time to find a new place to live. I moved on Saturday and I'm now working on getting settled in.

After I added the Paypal donation button to my site, I was overwhelmed and very humbled by the generosity of the people who responded. You came through for me and everything fell together within about one week. So, the past couple of weeks have been absolutely frantic - sorting, packing and finally moving. I couldn't have done it without all of you who gave me lots of love and support.

I was also very fortunate to find movers who help out the "less fortunate" and who mainly focus on helping new Canadian immigrants (which I'm not). As a result, I was able to donate a lot of stuff (clothes, linens, furniture, books etc.) to their cause which they took when they moved me. The 2 men who run that service, Al & Al, do it on their own and find people to assist via word of mouth in their extended community. I had posted a request for affordable movers on a Yahoo group and Al #1 responded immediately when he saw that I was ill and on permanent disability.

The other Al had the truck, which he bought specifically for the charitable work they do, and hired a couple of homeless guys to do the moving. That was an added bonus since I used to work with the homeless and was really glad that the money I received via my Paypal donations would go to people in need. I also had enough money to give them both tips after they did a great job. The actual moving costs were unbelievably cheap compared to what I would have faced in the real market - enough for the guys and to cover the gas. The 2 Als don't take any overhead above that and they're both really great guys as well - very friendly and caring.

All in all, I'm very grateful for the way this has worked out. I certainly don't see myself as being "less fortunate" considering how incredibly lucky I've been since I was also able to help others through this experience.

Time to unpack and get organized. At least that won't require as much of a rush as the pre-moving period did. That was rough. Now I can relax a bit - as can my cats who are slowing adjusting. They've been troopers through all of this and they thank you too.

The new shared place is quiet and comfortable and the people are welcoming and friendly. I feel like I could sleep for about 3 days and my body's a hurting unit but my stress level has definitely decreased.

A huge Thank you!!! to all of you and, as I promised, here's cheesecake for everyone.


A heartfelt thank you to Kelly as well, without whom I couldn't have gotten through this. Love and hugs...

One more thing: If you live in the Calgary area and have good, usable stuff you'd like to donate to the 2 Als, e-mail me and I'll put you in touch with them. The 2 Als were also instrumental in setting up a new school in Pakistan and they work with Afghan refugees. I've offered to share the stories of any who are interested in telling me about their experiences. Stay tuned.
 
 

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Write Your Own Caption

One more question from you senator and you're going to Gitmo.

 

Video: McCain Sings "Bomb Iran"

To the tune of "Barbara Ann".



I wonder if he sang that when he went for his leisurely stroll through that Baghdad market.

Campaign spokesman Matt David said the question was asked somewhat in jest and that the Arizona senator was adding some levity to the discussion.

liberal catnip spokesherb catnip said the Arizona senator's chances of becoming the next US president just rose 1000% among those who love dubya.
 

Quote du Jour: Rove - The Iraq War is bin Laden's Fault

Yes, really.

Karl Rove pontificates lies:

In a question-and-answer period after his speech, Rove was asked whose idea it was to start a pre-emptive war in Iraq.

``I think it was Osama bin Laden's,'' Rove replied.

Gonzales Under Fire

Having sat through and liveblogged Alberto Gonzales' confirmation hearings, watching a man at that time who made it a point to appear soft-spoken and congenial in order to impress those who would ultimately be responsible for giving him the job of US attorney general, I have to note that the Gonzales' persona I'm witnessing today in front of the senate judiciary committee is one of a desperate but still egotistical man - crossed arms, raised voice, quick talking, combative, defensive, sticking to his belief that all of the US attorneys who have been fired should have been regardless of what anyone else thinks.

He has only one thing going for him: the fact that Bush will most likely keep him on until the end of his term, no matter what. He's The Decider™, after all. It seems that unless Gonzales can be nailed for perjury, he has a get out of the hearings free card, despite the fact that numerous Republicans as well have already expressed the desire to throw him overboard - where he obviously belongs.

What's come out of the hearing thus far is the very strong opinion that even if there isn't any evidence of political motives for the attorneys' firings on Gonzales' part (and few believe there isn't), Gonzales' performance - the very thing he claims the attorneys were fired for - has been so incompetent and has so damaged the image of the justice department that he should resign for those reasons alone. Americans of every stripe have a very staunch belief in tradition and honour and both Democrats and Republicans on the committee have stated that Gonzales' behaviour has tarnished the office.

Gonzales' very questionable ethics and practices have been on view internationally since it was revealed that, as Bush's White House counsel, he found legal loopholes to justify torture. He should never have been confirmed as US Attorney General in the first place, but the Republicans and the president got their way. Those who voted for his confirmation share responsibility for what is happening today. As with so many decisions made when the Republicans controlled congress, necessitating major damage control and new investigations by the Democrats who now hold power, Gonzales' situation is endemic of the corruption inherent in narrow-minded partisan politics.

He's no scapegoat - he's a symbol of blind fealty to skewed political principles and is a reflection of the hubris and arrogance so in evidence since Bush became president: the trashing of the constitution, the refusal to comply with international treaties and courts, the sanctioning of secret kidnappings, prisons and torture practices, the belief that this administration is above the law - any law which doesn't suit its political purposes.

Bush knew exactly what he was doing when he nominated Gonzales - a man whose legal mind he has known since the days of his tenure as governor in Texas. Bush knew Gonzales would be his yes man - a person who would find ways to skirt laws to further Bush's agenda. He's not going to let go of him now. Unfortunately, today's hearings will serve as nothing but political theatre in the end. That's symbolic of the entire Bush presidency: the theatre of the absurd where the court jesters are the stars.

Related:

CSPAN has video archives and live coverage of the hearings.
Specter vs. Gonzales -- Round 1 (Video at Crooks and Liars.)
Gonzales Defends Actions on U.S. Attorney Firings
Gonzales: Criticism Damages DoJ Employees (Video of Dick Durbin's questioning of Gonzales.)
Video of Patrick Leahy's opening statement.
Gonzales' opening statement. (.pdf file)

More updates as they come in... by the way, I heard a reporter on CSPAN after the morning's testimony say that Gonzales said "I don't recall" 55 times. By the end of the day, I'm sure he'll have set a new world record.
 

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

NBC News Receives Communications From Va Tech Shooter

Just in:

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Sometime after he killed two people in a Virginia university dormitory but before he slaughtered 30 more in a classroom building Monday morning, Cho Seung-Hui sent NBC News a rambling communication and videos about his grievances, the network said Wednesday.

Cho, 23, a senior English major at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, killed 32 people in two separate attacks Monday before taking his own life.

Network officials turned the material over to the FBI and said they would not immediately disclose its contents beyond characterizing the material as “disturbing.” It included a written communication, photographs and video.

Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News,” said in a posting on the program’s “Daily Nightly” blog that the communication was received earlier Wednesday. He described it as a very long “multi-media manifesto.”

The network said it would release a statement shortly.

The Calgary Herald's print story headline today reads: "US Asks 'Why'?". I think some of those answers are already apparent considering all of the background information now coming out and this material will add to that knowledge. The next question should be: "What now?"

The Roanoke Times: Remembering the Victims

Update: MSNBC now has one of the 29 photos Cho sent to them posted on their site. I'm not posting it here because I don't want it staring back at me whenever my site loads. MSNBC has also revealed more about the contents of Cho's mailing.

The package included an 1,800-word manifesto-like statement diatribe in which he expresses rage, resentment and a desire to get even.

The material is “hard-to-follow ... disturbing, very disturbing — very angry, profanity-laced,” Capus said in an interview late Wednesday afternoon.

The material does not include any images of the shootings Monday, but it does contain “vague references,” including “things like ‘this didn’t have to happen,’ ” Capus said.

“You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today,” Cho says on one of the videos. “But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off.”
[...]
Among the materials are 23 QuickTime video files showing Cho talking directly to the camera, Capus said. He does not name anyone specifically, but he mentions “sin” and “spilling” his blood and talks at length about his hatred of the wealthy.
[...]
The package also includes 29 photographs. He looks like a normal, smiling college student in only the first two. In the rest, he presents a stern face; in 11, he aims handguns at the camera that are “consistent with what we’ve heard about the guns in this incident,” Capus said.

Other photographs show Cho holding a knife, and some show hollow-point bullets lined up on a table...

Bottom line: there were many warning signs.
 

Will Bush Attend These Memorial Services?

Baghdad Bombings Kill at Least 131

BAGHDAD, April 18 -- Four car bombs killed 131 people and wounded 164 others across Baghdad Wednesday, the U.S. military said, as bloodshed spiked two months into a U.S.-led crackdown meant to placate the Iraqi capital.

Some news accounts suggested the death toll may be higher. The Reuters news agency, quoting local officials, said as many as 170 people had been killed, and the Associated Press said at least 183 had been killed.

Cue the talking points:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, on a tour of the Mideast, called the bombings "horrifying" and accused al-Qaeda of being behind the attacks, the AP reported. He said the attackers were trying to demonstrate that the U.S. security plan for Baghdad was failing.

I think they've successfully demonstrated that fact.

The deadliest attack Wednesday occurred when a car bomb ripped through the Sadriyah market in a predominantly Shiite area of central Baghdad, killing 115 Iraqis and wounding 137 others, the U.S. military said in a statement. The blast also damaged 40 vehicles. The same market was the site of a Feb. 3 bombing that killed more than 125 people, the gravest single bombing since the war in Iraq began.

And what was it Rep Pence said about Baghdad markets? Oh yes:

And so it went, up and down the street, in between tents and tables, squeezing past pedestrians to inspect the offerings in one booth after another, we milled around this marketplace in downtown Baghdad for more than an hour. I told reporters afterward that it was just like any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime. I didn’t mean that Baghdad was as safe as the Bargersville Flea Market; I just meant that that was what it looked and felt like…lots of people, lots of booths and a friendly relaxed atmosphere.

And bombs and dead people, unlike Indiana's.

Reuters has photos of the aftermath of today's carnage and is now reporting that "nearly 200" people were killed.

"The street was transformed into a swimming pool of blood," said Ahmed Hameed, a shopkeeper near the carnage in Sadriya.

As for whether Bush will attend those memorial services, the answer if obviously "NO". Just as well because if he did and quoted from the Bible as he did on Tuesday at the Va Tech convocation, his absolute hypocrisy would be met with the scorn it so obviously deserves.

Bush: As the Scriptures tell us, "Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

I'd sure like to know what his definition of "good" is when it comes to waging a pre-emptive war against a country that was not a direct threat to the United States.

Just how "good" is it to end up being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of millions more while children - and every Iraqi - will suffer from this endless trauma for their entire lifetimes due to the ignorant arrogance of a small group of PNAC neocons whose only concern was oil profiteering?

P.S.: You will not see wall-to-wall coverage of these bombings on any of the cable news networks. This is just another day in Baghdad, after all.
 

Quote du Jour: Absurdity on Display

The second-largest group, the Gun Owners of America, went on the attack and argued if students or faculty had been allowed to carry guns on campus, they might have been able to stop the killer.

"The latest school shooting at Virginia Tech demands an immediate end to the gun-free zone law, which leaves the nation's schools at the mercy of madmen," said Larry Pratt, the director. "It is irresponsibly dangerous to tell citizens that they may not have guns at schools."

link

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Random News & Views Roundup

- Wanker of the Day: John Derbyshire. Runner-up (in a close race): Nathaniel Blake.

- What is going on with N Korea's nuclear reactor?

- Obvious headline of the day: Stressed army makes U.S. vulnerable: retired general

- General Peter Pace (sockpuppet brigade) spouts talking points:

But Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military has the ability to take on a major new conflict, despite the strain of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I try to speak very precisely publicly about this because the worst thing you can do is you have some country sitting out there miscalculating the enormous residual capacity of the United States military and think that they can do something because we are currently tied up," Pace told reporters in Washington.

"We are focused on Iraq. We are focused on Afghanistan. We do have a lot of our assets there. But we do have enormous residual capacity that's available to the nation," he said.

Shorter Pace: Iran, here we come.

- Bush at the Va Tech convocation on Tuesday:

As the Scriptures tell us, "Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

"Good". Like war, for example.

- "No kidding!" headline of the day: 'Rampage may not influence '08 presidential race'. It's all lip-flapping anyway. Does anyone really think their gun laws will change?

- The tories are feeling the heat over their attempts to screw with Canada's gun registry in the meantime.

- A Canadian veteran comes to terms with his past. (All the best to you Dave and thank you for that courageous post.)

- Juan Cole: Iraq Has Two Virginia Techs Every Day

- Also, "about 70% of primary school students in a Baghdad neighborhood suffer symptoms of trauma-related stress such as bed-wetting or stuttering, according to a survey by the Iraqi Ministry of Health." And with the constant barrage of violence they continue to witness, there will no doubt be many more long-lasting symptoms to come.

- Meanwhile, the UNHCR is calling on the west to help Iraq's 4 million refugees. As I wrote elsewhere yesterday, the refugee situation in Iraq is akin to the horrendous coverage we saw of stranded hurricane Katrina victims in NOLA - except that these refugees have been stuck in their virtual convention center begging for help for years. The BBC has 4 Iraq refugee stories.

- Dennis Kucinich intends to file articles of impeachment against Cheney. Go Dennis!

- It's the 25th anniversary of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Chretien shared his thoughts with CTV's Mike Duffy on Tuesday. Meanwhile, in a totally unsurprising move: "The current Conservative government has no plans to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Charter." Yes, that's Canada's "new" government for you. Rights? Freedoms? Eh?
 

The Va Tech Massacre: A Roundup of News

It's just all very overwhelming and sad.

- One of the victims was Canadian: Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, who taught French in Virginia Tech's department of foreign languages.

- Another Canadian tells his story.

- Several other victims' names have been released as well.

- On the heels of yesterday's shootings comes a bomb threat at St Edward's University in Austin, Texas. That campus has been evacuated.

- The shooter has been identified as 23 yr old Cho Seung Hui, a South Korean immigrant who lived in the US since he was a child.

Investigators worked through the night gathering and removing evidence from the Norris Hall, including a 9mm handgun and a .22 caliber handgun, officials said.

Virginia Tech police chief Wendell Flinchum said ballistics tests showed that one of the weapons was also used in the shooting deaths of two people more than two hours earlier at West Ambler Johnston Hall, a dormitory building.

"It is reasonable for us to assume that Cho was the shooter in both, but we don't have the evidence to take us there," Flaherty said.

Officials said they are still talking to an acquaintance of the female student killed in the residence hall, who was detained off-campus after the shooting and has been labeled a person of interest.

- Students ask: Why the Delay?

- Thanks to someone's rush to judgment yesterday, a completely innocent Asian Va Tech student was rumoured to be the shooter and has received death threats as a result. The Drudge Report linked to his live journal site and labeled it as a "hoax" site set up after the shootings. In fact, the site had been up for years.

- Va Tech will hold a convocation at 2pm ET.



Related: Those interested in Canada's gun laws can find information here.

- An editorial post I wrote this past Sunday: Unanswered Wake-up Calls

Update: The ripple effect - Threats Rattle Schools in 7 States
 

Monday, April 16, 2007

Potential Columbine-like Massacre Copycat Pre-empted in Calgary

As if today's news about the massacre in Virginia wasn't enough to digest, I just discovered that a similar tragedy has been avoided in Calgary this week thanks to the potential shooter's parents:

CALGARY (CP) - Authorities say it was the parents of a teen charged with threatening to kill teachers on the anniversary of the Columbine massacre who tipped police that he posed a danger.

The 14-year-old student, whose name can't be published under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was charged April 2 with uttering death threats against two teachers at a junior high school in Calgary. However, police made no public announcement about the charges until Friday.

A number of weapons were seized from his home. Reports have suggested one of them was an assault rifle, although police have not confirmed that.

A letter was sent to parents two days later that said "implied threats" had been made against the teachers.

"We're really attributing this to the great open communication between this student and his parents as a factor in how this was identified," said Dawn Delaney of the Calgary Catholic Board of Education.

"This just goes to show how important it is to have open communication with (your) children and, if you observe a change in your child's behaviour, don't ignore it. Talk to them about it and encourage them to talk freely to you."

Everything appeared almost normal Monday at the school where the 14-year-old had been attending class. The exception was the presence of a few plainclothes police officers.

Delaney said the officers were there to assure everyone at the school that they were safe, although there was no longer any threat to students or staff.

The youth is not allowed on school property and won't be coming back to classes, she said.

It's believed the teen was planning an attack to coincide with the April 20 anniversary of the 1999 Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colo., in which 12 students and one teacher were shot to death by two teenagers.

Kudos to the parents for paying attention and doing the right thing. I'm sure this will send chills through the community as so many of us remember what happened in Taber, Alberta as well.

As one expert on CNN reiterated today, the massacre in Virginia may also spur copycat attacks just as the Columbine shootings did. On top of that, April 19th is also the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.

A very tense week indeed.
 

The Va Tech Massacre: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Via the White House press briefing today:

Q Any talk that President might go to Virginia to comfort the families?

MS. PERINO: I spoke to the President at 12:35 p.m., I was the first to alert him to the tragedy and I think that it's a little bit premature to talk about any other travel arrangements, or anything else. But if that changes, we'll let you know.

The White House press secretary was the first person to tell Bush what happened? And at 12:35 pm when the first shooting incident began just after 7 am this morning followed by the second one just after 9 am?

MS. PERINO: I would point you back to the fact that President, along with Secretary Spellings, hosted last October -- October 10, 2006 -- a conference on school gun violence after the Amish school shooting and the other shootings that had happened, because the tragedies are the ones that just collectively break America's heart and are ones that we deeply feel, because all of us can imagine what it would be like to have been at your own school, your own college, and to have something happen. And those of us who are parents, or brothers or sisters of people at the schools have to take that into consideration.

As far as policy, the President believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed.

That's right. Never miss a chance to shill for the NRA. Charlton "from my cold dead hands" Heston must be so proud of his president.
 

Massacre in Virginia

It was just yesterday that I wrote about America's unanswered wake-up calls, including the Columbine massacre. Today, tragically, according to early news reports a now dead gunman managed to kill 21 people at Virginia Polytechnic Institute - leaving at least another 21 wounded.

"Polytechnic". We Canadians have our own sad memories of another massacre at a school with the same designation. That wound still bleeds.

The unidentified shooter was among the dead, according to officials, who also said that several were injured in the shootings, at West Ambler Johnston, a dormitory, and Norris Hall, which houses the College of Engineering. Authorities said the first shooting was reported shortly after 7 a.m.

"We have a ballpark figure on fatalities," Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum, said at a news conference broadcast by CNN. "It's at least 20 fatalities."

Flinchum said he did not know whether the shooter was a student. Some of those killed were in a classroom, he said.

Horrendously sad. I just don't know what else to say at this point other than to offer comfort to all who lost a loved one and to wish that those who are wounded will not perish as well.

Update via the NYT:

The shooting was the second in the past year that forced officials to lock down the campus. In August of 2006, an escaped jail inmate shot and killed a deputy sheriff and an unarmed security guard at a nearby hospital before the police caught him in the woods near the university.

The capture ended a manhunt that led to the cancellation of the first day of classes at Virginia Tech and shut down most businesses and municipal buildings in Blacksburg. The accused gunman, William Morva, is facing capital murder charges.

ABC News is now reporting 29 confirmed dead. Also:

ABC News has confirmed that there were two separate bomb threats last week at Virginia Tech that targeted engineering buildings. The first was directed at Torgersen Hall, a classroom and laboratory building, while the second was directed at multiple engineering buildings. Students and staff were evacuated, and the university had offered a $5,000 reward for information into the threats.

Update:

CNN is now saying there are 31 dead according to the AP and that this is the “worst shooting incident in US history” - not only as far as school shootings go.

Bush will hold a live press conference at 4:15 ET, in what has already been promoted (by CNN reporter Suzanne Malveaux, iirc) as an “emotional” message.

Will Bush dare to call this "terrorism"? I doubt it.

It appears the Va Tech president will be holding another presser at 4:30 ET as well.
 

Tuesday is 'Watch Gonzales Sweat" Day

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (or, as I like to call him: the smirking asshole from hell) will be testifying before the senate judiciary committee on Tuesday. You can catch it live online on CSPAN.

Earlier this month, we learned that Gonzales was busy practicing his testimony for what he had referred to as an "overblown personnel matter." On the weekend, he put that practice to the test in a Washington Post editorial in which he declared he did "nothing improper" and has "nothing to hide". I imagine he actually believes that. Many people don't, however.

In what could prove an embarrassing new setback for embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the eve of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a group of influential conservatives and longtime Bush supporters has written a letter to the White House to call for his resignation.

The two-page letter, written on stationery of the American Freedom Agenda, a recently formed body designed to promote conservative legal principles, is blunt. Addressed to both Bush and Gonzales, it goes well beyond the U.S. attorneys controversy and details other alleged failings by Gonzales. "Mr. Gonzales has presided over an unprecedented crippling of the Constitution's time-honored checks and balances," it declares. "He has brought rule of law into disrepute, and debased honesty as the coin of the realm." Alluding to ongoing scandal, it notes: "He has engendered the suspicion that partisan politics trumps evenhanded law enforcement in the Department of Justice."

The letter concludes by saying, "Attorney General Gonzales has proven an unsuitable steward of the law and should resign for the good of the country... The President should accept the resignation, and set a standard to which the wise and honest might repair in nominating a successor..." It is the first public demand by a group of conservatives for Gonzales' firing. Signatories to the letter include Bruce Fein, a former senior official in the Reagan Justice Department, who has worked frequently with current Administration and the Republican National Committee to promote Bush's court nominees; David Keene, chairman of the influential American Conservative Union, one of the nation's oldest and largest grassroots conservative groups, Richard Viguerie, a well-known GOP direct mail expert and fundraiser, Bob Barr, the former Republican congressman from Georgia and free speech advocate, as well as John Whitehead, head of the Rutherford Institute, a conservative non-forit[sic] active in fighting for what it calls religious freedoms.

I don't recall any of these "influential conservatives" calling for Gonzales' resignation after they found out that he wrote a legal opinion for Bush justifying torture. It seems this episode has proved to be sufficiently embarassing though that they felt the need to act. Twisted principles. What else is new?

Gonzales can't go soon enough.

Update: From the "guess who's reading this post?" file. It's the US Department of Justice.


You'd think that people at the DoJ would have something better to do today besides reading blog posts about their boss, considering that the biggest school massacre in US history happened this morning.

Update: Gonzales's testimony has been postponed until Thursday.
 

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yes, things can get worse in Iraq...

And they are...

Via the AP:

BAGHDAD - Cars, minibuses and roadside bombs exploded in Shiite Muslim enclaves across the city Sunday, killing at least 45 people in sectarian violence that defied the Baghdad security crackdown, while a radical anti-U.S. cleric raised a new threat to Iraq's government.

Two officials close to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said his followers would quit their six Cabinet posts Monday — a move that could leave Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's already weak administration without enough support to stay in power.

And in a rare gesture of dissent from America's partners in Baghdad, dozens of Iraqi policemen demonstrated in front of their station, accusing U.S. troops of treating them like "animals" and "slaves."

The so-called "surge" isn't working, obviously. How long has a "political solution" been touted as being necessary in Iraq?

Just keep sending those troops in though...

The U.S. military command announced the combat deaths of three more Americans. Two British service members died when their helicopters crashed in midair north of Baghdad, and hours later a U.S. helicopter was hit by ground fire near Mosul but landed safely with no injuries.

Six powerful bombs, gunfire and artillery blasts enveloped Baghdad in a near-constant din that seemed a setback for the 9-week-old U.S.-Iraqi military campaign to pacify the capital.

Juan Cole has much more.
 

Sunday Food for Thought: Unanswered Wake-up Calls

One of the most over-used phrases in American media today is the over-hyped "wake up call". Someone famous has a heart attack. That's a wake-up call for everyone else to live a healthier lifestyle. A politican doesn't use his seatbelt and is seriously injured in a car accident. That's a wake-up call for people who don't use seatbelts. Millions of cans, pouches and bags of pet food are recalled because they're tainted. That's a wake-up call for a stronger regulatory process. Don Imus uses a racist and sexist slur against the women of Rutger's basketball team. That's a wake-up call for a "national dialogue" on racism and sexism.

The problem with these wake-up calls is that the message is too often picked up and noted but then the recipients quickly throw the covers right back over their heads and go back to sleep. Wake-up calls are met with very short attention spans coupled with weak attempts at acknowledgement and even poorer attempts at anything resembling real action.

Take some of the loudest so-called wake-up calls of recent years in the United States:

- the bombing of the WTC in 1993.
- the Oklahoma City bombing.
- the Columbine school massacre.
- 9/11.
- the dictatorial powers seized by the Bush administration.
- torture at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and in secret CIA prisons around the world.
- the failure to successfully manage the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- the refusal of the Bush administration to further the ME peace process.
- Hurricane Katrina's horrendous aftermath.

Wake-up calls met with lukewarm and mismanaged responses.

The US is no safer from terrorism today than it was years ago because the government has failed to provide even the most basic protections for the ports, roadways, chemical companies, nuclear facilities - the list goes on. Instead it has focused on oppressing American (and foreign) citizens by systematically stripping them of their human and civil rights while pouring multi-billions of dollars into wars that have only incensed more would-be enemies while also refusing to engage in anything resembling a robust peace process through diplomacy. Everyone is a potential terrorist now and must be dealt with as harshly as possible.

Is it any wonder then that schools are still full of bullies, some of whom choose to settle their differences via violent massacres, when that's what promoted by their so-called leaders? Kids get the message: killing is supposed to fix things. Violence is the norm. It's socially acceptable. Even the police and prison guards employ it frequently, so it must have some worth because those are some of society's heroes.

Meanwhile, behavioural lessons are still left to their parents because schools just aren't the place to actually teach something about having decent relationships. Or, if they are, it's only after a crisis, then it's back to reading and writing (at which many students fail miserably and too many others scoff at and just drop out.) Too many children are definitely left behind and, for many, that will continue throughout life but it's just, well, "liberal" to address things like feelings and actions at any sort of institutional level. After all, the children also have so-called moral religious leaders who can also teach them "the way" (when they're not busy being morally bankrupt, money-grubbing hypocrites).

So, it shouldn't be surprising that yet another "crisis" in the form of a wake-up call has come in the form of racist and sexist comments by a person like Don Imus who has, by the way, been getting away with these types of pronouncements for years with nary the blink of an eye. Oh there is outrage expressed once every month or two at some popular commentator, celebrity or politician who goes beyond that "pale" and utters something offensive. But as soon as that can be replaced by the new sensational story of the day, it's quickly forgotten and nothing in the broader dialogue changes. It stagnates, once again.

A hat tip to blogger Madman in the Marketplace for pointing the way to this post at Kung Fu Monkey that gives an astute analysis about what happened to Imus:

Humorists don't use jokes to establish power. We use jokes to steal power. We use jokes to steal power from the audience. We use jokes to steal power from smarter, better looking people. We use jokes to steal power from powerful men and women, politicians and celebrities. I do believe that this balance, these scales are hardwired into us culturally. This is why we tolerate celebrity-bashing humor -- the comedian is our proxy in levelling the playing field. "Britney may be rich and beautiful but she's still a redneck" ... and therefore not better than I am. This is also why shock humor tends to work. The boundaries of polite, acceptable behaviour are set by society, which is immensely powerful. When you break those boundaries, you are stealing power from society at large. It does help, however, if you have a larger purpose in mind than petty larceny.
[...]
For all these years, Imus stayed, barely, on the right side of the power equation. Always gone after public figures, or his bosses ...

... but then he screwed up. He didn't steal power, he used it. Used it to say just shitty things about people who, in our minds, just didn't deserve it. He broke the power equation. And when he did, we balked, even if we don't quite understand why this one got under our skin. The wiring goes both ways. It's actually heartening, because it confirms one of the admirable things about American society at large:

America loves a rebel.

America loves a bad boy.

But America hates a fucking bully.

While that last line may be true, it's also just as valid to note that too many Americans actually admire the bullies - whether it's Coulter, Limbaugh or a president who refuses to stop acting like a dictator in a system that is supposed to be a democracy. America itself is seen as the biggest bully nation in the world right now - a fact that is a matter of pride for some. Bullies believe that they cannot be crushed. Anyone who has ever read history knows just how false that belief is. They rise to their own level of corruption and begin crumbling from there and it's usually a very hard fall.

So, people do rail against power imbalances for various motives and reasons but too often those who abuse it in the most egregious ways are simply given a free pass for years before some point of extreme tolerance for that type of behaviour is finally crossed. It's just too hard to fight the system. Or is it?

Society-wide wake-up calls are useless unless they are answered with a committment to change - not the kind of band-aid infused change that seeks to calm the masses until the next instance rises up on the radar screen. Internal, individual change. If you ignore your own power to be that change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi said, you deserve the corrupt society you inhabit. If you compromise your principles in the name of political party fealty, willful ignorance of how you contribute to your society's problems, joining in on bashing the powerless just because it's easier that way or by choosing to be apathetic, all of the wake-up calls in the world won't make one bit of difference and things will continue to be just as they are which, at this point, are startingly bleak and far too depraved.

Those of us who watched the poor, old, destitute, ill, and stranded on our teevee screens following hurricane Katrina could not help being absolutely horrified at what that torrent of wind and water washed away - leaving a very stark human reality for all to see. The reality that people who have no power are horribly forgotten and are sometimes just left to suffer and die. It shouldn't have taken the biggest natural disaster in US history to uncover all of that pain - pain that is still ongoing in that region and elsewhere while the rest of the country has moved on. Perhaps that's why it matters more now (or should, at least) when someone like Imus singles out African-American female athletes for totally unacceptable scorn.

The uneven balance or power that we all witnessed after hurricane Katrina did, for some at least, reveal a gaping, bleeding wound in a society that likes to pride itself as being charitable and democratic. Democracy means that everyone matters - not just the priviliged. Democracy means that equality is to be strived for and that that concept is not just some far-fetched ideal left in the hands of lawmakers, but that it is a challenge to be accepted and acted upon by all citizens. Tolerance of anything less is cowardice and the people with power who perpetuate insensitivity and indifference towards those they feel are somehow "lesser than" ought to be receiving the biggest wake-up call of the day.

But, alas, they always have others to answer their phones for them so they can get on with whatever they may deem to be important in the scheme of things. And what's important to them is their power, not yours.

 

Saturday Nite Video Flashback: Chain of Fools

Aretha and Mariah live...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Don't Rip Off Hackers

Don't screw with hackers - even the white hats (good guys). They don't like that.

Case in point: When an insurance company run by a guy named Stephen Sills, who donated money to Joe Lieberman last election ('nuff said about that) decides to use the dataloss rss feed of a site like attrition.org whose members spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours scouring for news about personal data lost by the government, corporations and individuals without the site's permission there are going to be consequences.

Voila: All attrition.org had to do was add a story about that very violation to its rss feed to make it show up on the offender's site:

Darwin Professional Underwriters / Tech-404.com data loss circa 2007/04/14
Darwin Professional Underwriters is ripping off Attrition.org's Data Loss RSS feed without permission

You can see a screen capture here.

Darwin has apparently been promoting this new service of theirs via press releases and has been asked repeatedly by attrition.org to cease using the feed. I wonder if they underwrite insurance for pompous asses, because that's exactly how Sills' company is behaving.

It is survival of the fittest out there, as Darwin's name implies, and you'd think that a company with such a damn huge balance sheet could actually hire someone of their own to research dataloss instead of ripping off the volunteers at attrition.org if they thought that service was so valuable (which it is).

Then again, who ever said the insurance industry was ethical?

Bad form. Very bad form.
 

Bloody Saturday Indeed

Via antiwar.com: 168 Iraqis Killed, 180 Injured, 26 Kidnapped

Via Reuters:

KERBALA, Iraq (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber killed at least 40 people and wounded scores at a crowded bus station near a Shi'ite shrine in the Iraqi holy city of Kerbala on Saturday, police and hospital sources said.

In Baghdad, police said a suicide car bomber detonated his device near a checkpoint at the southern Jadriyah bridge, killing 10 people and setting fire to cars in the second major attack on a bridge in the capital in the past three days.

Television footage of the aftermath of the Kerbala explosion showed a distraught man cradling the charred body of a small child, and witnesses said the blast sent body parts flying into the air. Ambulances rushed to the scene.

"I suddenly heard a horrifying explosion. I had never expected that Kerbala would see an explosion of that size because it is a safe city," said Ali Mussawi, 30, a store owner who was 50 meters (yards) from the blast.

Not anymore.

Meanwhile, Bush and Cheney continue their whinefest because no one's letting them get their way, although they may certainly get their demands met when it comes to Iran - thanks to the Democrats.

Back to Iraq though...

And, while Bush keeps insisting that he is guided by the commanders on the ground, it seems more than a bit odd that General Petraeus, according to the Army Times, was "surprised" by the announcement of troop extensions by Gates this past week.

The Pentagon was forced to announce the shift, which includes extending the deployment of every active Army unit already in Iraq to 15 months, “a couple of days” earlier than planned because the information had been leaked to the news media, the senior military official said.

The Pentagon had planned to send news of the pending announcement down through official channels so that military personnel and their families would have advance notice, the official said. “Somebody in the Pentagon leaked it, [and] that forced [the Office of Defense Secretary Robert Gates] to go early,” the official said.

Right. Like we're supposed to believe what some unnamed military official says. The MSM has been more than willing to sit on stories much more important than this one when they've been asked to by the government in the past.

Saber-rattling Turkey is still threatening to cross the Iraq border to attack the Kurds and since al Maliki has obviously failed to gain control of his country, it remains to be seen how he can possibly handle another incursion. The EU Commission is the intermediary in that dispute. Where's Condi?

And I have some good news...and some bad news...:

BAGHDAD - Iraqi civilian deaths have fallen in Baghdad in the two months since the Feb. 14 start of the U.S.-led offensive, according to an Associated Press tally.

Outside the capital, however, civilian deaths are up as Sunni and Shiite extremists shift their operations to avoid the crackdown.

And the sweeps have taken a heavy toll on U.S. forces: Deaths among American soldiers climbed 21 percent in Baghdad compared with the previous two months. [ed. the US death toll is inching close to 3,300].
[...]
Figures compiled by the AP from Iraqi police reports show that 1,586 civilians were killed in Baghdad between the start of the offensive and Thursday.

That represents a sharp drop from the 2,871 civilians who died violently in the capital during the two months that preceded the security crackdown.

Outside the capital, 1,504 civilians were killed between Feb. 14 and Thursday, April 12 compared with 1,009 deaths during the two previous months, the AP figures show.

The insurgents have adjusted and the so-called coalition of the surging has yet to catch up.

As Joseph Galloway writes:

It will be costly and painful to prolong the war in Iraq for another 21 months so that those who started it can hand off the harder decision of how to end it to the next occupant of the White House.

President Bush isn't extending and expanding the war in a search for victory. His dream of victory in Iraq cannot be achieved. Not by sending 30,000 more American troops. Not by making parts of Baghdad temporarily safer by billeting American troops in violent neighborhoods and pushing the slaughter into the northern and southern suburbs - or into the Green Zone where U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work.

Not by letting American soldiers bear the brunt of combat, targeted not only by our enemies, the Sunni Muslim insurgents but also by our supposed allies, the Shiite majority and the murderous militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In March, more American troops died in Iraq than Iraqi soldiers.

This is a search for a fig leaf to cover the emperor’s nakedness - a way for Bush to go home to Texas with a ringing but hollow declaration that "Iraq wasn't lost on my watch."

And there's no guarantee that whoever occupies the White House next will end the Iraq war anytime soon either.