Friday, December 02, 2005

Abuse of prisoners in Iraq widespread, officials say

Iraqi authorities have been torturing and abusing prisoners in jails across the country, current and former Iraqi officials charged.
Deputy Human Rights Minister Aida Ussayran and Gen. Muntadhar Muhi al-Samaraee, a former head of special forces at the Ministry of the Interior, made the allegations two weeks after 169 men who apparently had been tortured were discovered in a south-central Baghdad building run by the Interior Ministry. The men reportedly had been beaten with leather belts and steel rods, crammed into tiny rooms with tens of others and forced to sit in their own excrement.
A senior American military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said he suspected that the abuse wasn't isolated to the jail the U.S. military discovered.

Refusal to present ID sparks test of rights

Federal prosecutors are reviewing whether to pursue charges against an Arvada woman who refused to show identification to federal police while riding an RTD bus through the Federal Center in Lakewood.
Deborah Davis, 50, was ticketed for two petty offenses Sept. 26 by officers who commonly board the RTD bus as it passes through the Federal Center and ask passengers for identification.
During the Thanksgiving weekend, an activist who has helped publicize other challenges to government ID requirements posted a Web site about the case, which he said had logged more than 1.5 million visitors by lunchtime Monday.

Gulf of Tonkin intelligence called 'deliberately skewed'

The National Security Agency has released hundreds of pages of long-secret documents on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that played a critical role near the beginning of the Vietnam War. ... The most provocative document is a 2001 article [PDF] in which an agency historian argued that the agency's intelligence officers "deliberately skewed" the evidence passed on to policymakers on the crucial question of whether North Vietnamese ships attacked U.S. destroyers on Aug. 4, 1964. Based on the mistaken belief that such an attack had occurred, President Lyndon Johnson ordered air strikes on North Vietnam, and Congress passed a broad resolution authorizing military action.
...In his 2001 article, an elaborate piece of detective work, Hanyok wrote that 90 percent of the intercepts of North Vietnamese communications relevant to the supposed Aug. 4, 1964, attack were omitted from the major agency documents going to policymakers.
"The overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack had happened," he wrote. "So a conscious effort ensued to demonstrate that an attack occurred." [from]

Army ethics inspector's death in Iraq ruled suicide

After a three-month inquiry, investigators declared Westhusing's death a suicide. A test showed gunpowder residue on his hands. A shell casing in the room bore markings indicating it had been fired from his service weapon, a 9mm pistol.
Then there was the note.
Investigators found it lying on Westhusing's bed. The handwriting matched his.
The first part of the four-page letter lashes out at Petraeus and Fil. Both men later told investigators that they had not criticized Westhusing or heard negative comments from him. An Army review undertaken after Westhusing's death was complimentary of the command climate under the two men, a U.S. military official said.
Most of the letter is a wrenching account of a struggle for honor in a strange land.
"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied," it says. "I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. Death before being dishonored any more."

SETI and Intelligent Design

What many readers will not know is that SETI research has been offered up in support of Intelligent Design.
The way this happens is as follows. When ID advocates posit that DNA—which is a complicated, molecular blueprint—is solid evidence for a designer, most scientists are unconvinced. They counter that the structure of this biological building block is the result of self-organization via evolution, and not a proof of deliberate engineering. DNA, the researchers will protest, is no more a consciously constructed system than Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Organized complexity, in other words, is not enough to infer design.
But the adherents of Intelligent Design protest the protest. They point to SETI and say, "upon receiving a complex radio signal from space, SETI researchers will claim it as proof that intelligent life resides in the neighborhood of a distant star. Thus, isn’t their search completely analogous to our own line of reasoning—a clear case of complexity implying intelligence and deliberate design?" And SETI, they would note, enjoys widespread scientific acceptance.
If we as SETI researchers admit this is so, it sounds as if we’re guilty of promoting a logical double standard. If the ID folks aren’t allowed to claim intelligent design when pointing to DNA, how can we hope to claim intelligent design on the basis of a complex radio signal? It’s true that SETI is well regarded by the scientific community, but is that simply because we don’t suggest that the voice behind the microphone could be God?

Electronic Voting Examined; Deadline Nears

Even in this election off-year, the potential perils of electronic voting systems are bedeviling state officials as a Jan. 1 deadline approaches for complying with standards for the machines' reliability.
Across the country, officials are trying multiple methods to ensure that touch-screen voting machines can record and count votes without falling prey to software bugs, hackers, malicious insiders or other ills that beset computers.
This isn't just theoretical — problems in some states already have led to lost or miscounted votes.
One of the biggest concerns surrounding computerized ballots — their frequent inability to produce a written receipt of a vote — has been addressed or is being tackled in most states.
Still, an October report from the Government Accountability Office predicted that overall steps to improve electronic voting machines' reliability "are unlikely to have a significant effect" in next year's elections, partly because certification procedures remain a work in progress.

Flight Logs Reveal Hundreds of CIA Flights to Europe

More than 300 CIA flights have landed at European airports, a British newspaper said, adding a new element to claims that Washington has been transporting terrorist suspects to secret prisons in Europe.
The Guardian daily said it had seen flight logs documenting the flights by 26 planes operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The information showed an "unprecedented" amount of travel by the agency but did not reveal which planes took part in alleged prison transfers, it said.
The CIA has been accused in reports of using European countries for the transport, illegal detention and torture of suspected Islamist terrorists in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Outrage over the reports mounted in Europe this week as EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini threatened sanctions on Monday for any member nation hosting CIA prison camps on their soil.

Global Warming Triggers Dramatic Weakening Of Gulf Stream

The powerful ocean current that bathes Britain and northern Europe in warm waters from the tropics has weakened dramatically in recent years, a consequence of global warming that could trigger more severe winters and cooler summers across the region, scientists warn today.
Researchers on a scientific expedition in the Atlantic Ocean measured the strength of the current between Africa and the east coast of America and found that the circulation has slowed by 30% since a previous expedition 12 years ago.
The current, which drives the Gulf Stream, delivers the equivalent of 1m power stations-worth of energy to northern Europe, propping up temperatures by 10C in some regions. The researchers found that the circulation has weakened by 6m tonnes of water a second. Previous expeditions to check the current flow in 1957, 1981 and 1992 found only minor changes in its strength, although a slowing was picked up in a further expedition in 1998. The decline prompted the scientists to set up a £4.8m network of moored instruments in the Atlantic to monitor changes in the current continuously.

Justice Staff Saw Texas Districting As Illegal

Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by The Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.
The memo, unanimously endorsed by six lawyers and two analysts in the department's voting section, said the redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts. It also said the plan eliminated several other districts in which minorities had a substantial, though not necessarily decisive, influence in elections.

Rights groups lists 'ghost detainees' held by US overseas

The prisoners, suspected of involvement in such acts as the September 11, 2001, attacks, the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia, are being held indefinitely and incommunicado, with no access to counsel, Human Rights Watch alleged.
According to the New York-based monitor, US government officials, speaking anonymously to journalists, have suggested that some of the detainees have been tortured or otherwise seriously mistreated in CIA custody.
"President (George W.) Bush speaks about bringing terrorists to justice, yet not one of these suspects has actually been brought to justice," said John Sifton, the watchdog's terrorism and counter-terrorism researcher.

Grandma's Little Helper

The following are among the 1,200 statements in the repertoire of “Yumel,” a talking doll for sale in Japan. The doll is marketed as a “healing partner” for nighttime use by the lonely elderly. According to Tomy, the doll’s manufacturer, over 8,000 have been sold to date. Translated from the Japanese by W. David Marx.

I love you!
Won’t you sleep with me? Promise!
Did you brush your teeth?
Ask me a lot about my dreams.
I had a dream where Mr. Squirrel ate a huge cake.
I had a dream where a chicken was washing dishes.
I had a dream about a beach . . . Never mind, it’s a secret!
Even though I slept a lot, I’m still sleepy.
Are you waking up in the middle of the night?
I want to help out around the house.
I’d be very happy if you played with me.
It feels good when you sing in a loud voice.
[thanks, Mint]

Grandma's Little Helper

The following are among the 1,200 statements in the repertoire of “Yumel,” a talking doll for sale in Japan. The doll is marketed as a “healing partner” for nighttime use by the lonely elderly. According to Tomy, the doll’s manufacturer, over 8,000 have been sold to date. Translated from the Japanese by W. David Marx.

I love you!
Won’t you sleep with me? Promise!
Did you brush your teeth?
Ask me a lot about my dreams.
I had a dream where Mr. Squirrel ate a huge cake.
I had a dream where a chicken was washing dishes.
I had a dream about a beach . . . Never mind, it’s a secret!
Even though I slept a lot, I’m still sleepy.
Are you waking up in the middle of the night?
I want to help out around the house.
I’d be very happy if you played with me.
It feels good when you sing in a loud voice.
[thanks, Mint]

Free Press: The White House's Assault on the Press

The current administration is more inhospitable to truth and an informed citizenry than any before it. In fact, the administration seeks the opposite: a public that buys a carefully constructed myth over reality. This deception has manifest in seven lines of attack:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Original Intent

Revisionist rhetoric notwithstanding, the founders left God out of the Constitution–and it wasn't an oversight.

When the Supreme Court, in one of its most important decisions of 2005, ordered two Kentucky counties to dismantle courthouse displays of the Ten Commandments, Justice Antonin Scalia declared that the Court majority was wrong because the nation's historical practices clearly indicate that the Constitution permits "disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists."
The Constitution permits no such thing: It has nothing to say about God, gods, or any form of belief or nonbelief—apart from its absolute prohibition, in Article 6, against any religious test for public office and the First Amendment's familiar declaration that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." From reading Scalia, a Martian (or polytheist) might infer that the establishment clause actually concludes with the phrase "free exercise thereof—as long as the faithful worship one God whose eye is on the sparrow." The justice's impassioned dissent in McCreary County v. the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky is a revealing portrait of the historical revisionism at the heart of the Christian conservative campaign to convince Americans that the separation of church and state is nothing more than a lie of the secularist left.
For the 21st-century apostles of religious correctness, the godless Constitution—how could those framers have forgotten the most important three-letter word in the dictionary?—poses a formidable problem requiring the creation of tortuous historical fictions that include both subtle prevarication and bald-faced lies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

U.S. Military Covertly Pays to Run Stories in Iraqi Press

Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism," since the effort began this year.
The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group's Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.
The military's effort to disseminate propaganda in the Iraqi media is taking place even as U.S. officials are pledging to promote democratic principles, political transparency and freedom of speech in a country emerging from decades of dictatorship and corruption.
It comes as the State Department is training Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics, including one workshop titled "The Role of Press in a Democratic Society." Standards vary widely at Iraqi newspapers, many of which are shoestring operations.
Underscoring the importance U.S. officials place on development of a Western-style media, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday cited the proliferation of news organizations in Iraq as one of the country's great successes since the ouster of President Saddam Hussein. The hundreds of newspapers, television stations and other "free media" offer a "relief valve" for the Iraqi public to debate the issues of their burgeoning democracy, Rumsfeld said.
The military's information operations campaign has sparked a backlash among some senior military officers in Iraq and at the Pentagon who argue that attempts to subvert the news media could destroy the U.S. military's credibility in other nations and with the American public.
"Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it," said a senior Pentagon official who opposes the practice of planting stories in the Iraqi media.
The arrangement with Lincoln Group is evidence of how far the Pentagon has moved to blur the traditional boundaries between military public affairs — the dissemination of factual information to the media — and psychological and information operations, which use propaganda and sometimes misleading information to advance the objectives of a military campaign.

Phone Tree Cheat Sheet

Do you hate having to wade through phone mazes when you call a company for customer service? So did Paul English so he put together this nice list of shortcuts to get to a live person quickly.
American Express is simple (press 0 for operator) but others, like Discover, are tricky (press ****) and Dell Service is downright cryptic (option 1, xt 7266966, option 1, option 4, option 4). [from Thanks, Kris]

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

'Trophy' video exposes private security contractors shooting up Iraqi drivers

A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.
The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on "route Irish", a road that links the airport to Baghdad.

Supreme Court Denies FBI Sibel Edmonds's Case

A former FBI translator failed Monday to persuade the Supreme Court to revive her lawsuit alleging she was fired for reporting possible wrongdoing by other linguists involved in counterterrorism investigations.
The high court also rebuffed a request by Sibel Edmonds and media groups to rule on whether an appellate court improperly held arguments in the case in secret without being asked to do so by either side.
"When courts are sealed, the public may suspect the worst and lose faith in their government simply because they are prohibited access," wrote lawyers for media groups, including The Associated Press.

Sy Hersh: Where is the Iraq war headed next?

In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation that President George W. Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq next year. The Administration’s best-case scenario is that the parliamentary election scheduled for December 15th will produce a coalition government that will join the Administration in calling for a withdrawal to begin in the spring. By then, the White House hopes, the new government will be capable of handling the insurgency. In a speech on November 19th, Bush repeated the latest Administration catchphrase: “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” He added, “When our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraqi forces can defend their freedom, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.” One sign of the political pressure on the Administration to prepare for a withdrawal came last week, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News that the current level of American troops would not have to be maintained “for very much longer,” because the Iraqis were getting better at fighting the insurgency.
A high-level Pentagon war planner told me, however, that he has seen scant indication that the President would authorize a significant pullout of American troops if he believed that it would impede the war against the insurgency. There are several proposals currently under review by the White House and the Pentagon; the most ambitious calls for American combat forces to be reduced from a hundred and fifty-five thousand troops to fewer than eighty thousand by next fall, with all American forces officially designated “combat” to be pulled out of the area by the summer of 2008. In terms of implementation, the planner said, “the drawdown plans that I’m familiar with are condition-based, event-driven, and not in a specific time frame”—that is, they depend on the ability of a new Iraqi government to defeat the insurgency. (A Pentagon spokesman said that the Administration had not made any decisions and had “no plan to leave, only a plan to complete the mission.”)

David Brin -- hoping to rescue modernity

Quote: -- "... I have spoken before of the blatant -- and yet never-reported -- pattern shown by more than a hundred members of the United States Congress, appointing young cadets to the US Military Academies according to one criterion above all others -- their depth of religious zealotry. This infusion of young officers who believe in a coming apocalypse is discreetly worrisome at West Point and Annapolis, but it has already had newsworthy effects at the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs. A town that is also now known as a main locus and training center for fanatics bent on dominating American civilization. (see) This coincidence... one of many that simply cannot be coincidence... should be tallied and noted. See also this in recent -- 11/26 -- news "... Among the steps already taken by the Pentagon that enhanced its domestic capabilities was the establishment after 9/11 of Northern Command, or Northcom, in Colorado Springs, to provide military forces to help in reacting to terrorist threats in the continental United States. Today, Northcom's intelligence centers in Colorado and Texas fuse reports from CIFA, the FBI and other U.S. agencies, and are staffed by 290 intelligence analysts. That is more than the roughly 200 analysts working for the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and far more than those at the Department of Homeland Security...." [from]

Former Canadian Minister Of Defence Asks Canadian Parliament Asked To Hold Hearings On Relations With Alien Civilizations

On September 25, 2005, in a startling speech at the University of Toronto that caught the attention of mainstream newspapers and magazines, Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Defence Minister from 1963-67 under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prime Minister Lester Pearson, publicly stated: "UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head."
Hellyer revealed, "The secrecy involved in all matters pertaining to the Roswell incident was unparalled. The classification was, from the outset, above top secret, so the vast majority of U.S. officials and politicians, let alone a mere allied minister of defence, were never in-the-loop."
Hellyer warned, "The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. He stated, "The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide."
Hellyer’s speech ended with a standing ovation. He said, "The time has come to lift the veil of secrecy, and let the truth emerge, so there can be a real and informed debate, about one of the most important problems facing our planet today."

CIA Prisons Could Threaten EU Participation of Nations

EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini warned on Monday that any EU nation found to have operated secret CIA prisons could have their EU voting rights suspended.
Frattini's comments came as the Council of Europe -- the continent's main human rights watchdog -- is investigating reports that the CIA set up secret jails in some European nations and transported terror suspects by covert flights. It has urged governments to provide information on the issue.

FEMA Rejects Paper's FOIA Request on 2004 Hurricane Survey Data

Federal emergency officials say they won't release information from a survey of people who had home inspections after last year's hurricanes.
The News-Press of Fort Myers had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the data, which under the federal Freedom of Information Act was seeking information on how well the victims of hurricanes thought FEMA performed. The newspaper asked for data from a FEMA survey of about 3,000 people whose homes were inspected by FEMA inspectors to assess damage after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan hit the state in 2004.

Moyers Has His Say

You are the exemplar of liberal PBS bias, according to Ken Tomlinson. Was your show liberally biased?

Right-wing partisans like Tomlinson have always attacked aggressive reporting as liberal.
We were biased, all right—in favor of uncovering the news that powerful people wanted to keep hidden: conflicts of interest at the Department of Interior, secret meetings between Vice President Cheney and the oil industry, backdoor shenanigans by lobbyists at the FCC, corruption in Congress, neglect of wounded veterans returning from Iraq, Pentagon cost overruns, the manipulation of intelligence leading to the invasion of Iraq.
We were way ahead of the news curve on these stories, and the administration turned its hit men loose on us.
Tomlinson actually told The Washington Post that he was irate over one of our documentary reports from a small town in Pennsylvania hard-hit by outsourcing.
If reporting on what's happening to ordinary people thrown overboard by circumstances beyond their control and betrayed by Washington officials is liberalism, I stand convicted.

Ex-Powell Aide Criticizes Bush on Iraq

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff says President Bush was "too aloof, too distant from the details" of post-war planning, allowing underlings to exploit Bush's detachment and make bad decisions.
In an Associated Press interview Monday, former Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson also said that wrongheaded ideas for the handling of foreign detainees after Sept. 11 arose from a coterie of White House and Pentagon aides who argued that "the president of the United States is all-powerful," and that the Geneva Conventions were irrelevant.
Wilkerson blamed Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and like-minded aides. Wilkerson said that Cheney must have sincerely believed that Iraq could be a spawning ground for new terror assaults, because "otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard."