Friday, April 28, 2006

U.S. prepares to face U.N. on torture as Amnesty report blasts 'war crimes'

As the United States prepares a team of 30 to defend its record on torture before a U.N. committee, Amnesty International has made public a report blasting the United States for failing to take appropriate steps to eradicate use of torture at U.S. detention sites around the world...
U.S. compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment will be the topic of May 5 and 8 U.N. hearings in Geneva.
...The Amnesty report reviews several cases where U.S. detainees held in Afghanistan and Iraq have died as a result of torture. The group also lambasts U.S. use of electro-shock weapons, inhuman and degrading conditions of isolation in "super-max" security prisons and abuses against women in the prison system -- including sexual abuse by male guards, shackling while pregnant and even in labor.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

U.S.: More Than 600 Implicated in Detainee Abuse

Two years after the Abu Ghraib scandal, new research shows that abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo Bay has been widespread, and that the United States has taken only limited steps to investigate and punish implicated personnel. A briefing paper issued today, 'By the Numbers,' presents findings of the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project... the first comprehensive accounting of credible allegations of torture and abuse in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo. The project has collected hundreds of allegations of detainee abuse and torture occurring since late 2001 – allegations implicating more than 600 U.S. military and civilian personnel and involving more than 460 detainees.

Google Releases Sketchup for All

Google has released a free version of SketchUp (video and tutorials), quite possibly the coolest and most intuitive 3D authoring tool. An added bonus of SketchUp is it's integration into Google Earth. Google has also provided a 3D Warehouse for the posting of your models, which can be downloaded into either application (SketchUp for editing, Earth for displaying). Kind of gives you some insight into their plans for using Google Earth as an Automotive (Honda and Volkswagen) GPS service. (Sidenote: how long until this is seen as a threat to national security?) [from]

SNL Funhouse: "Conspiracy Theory Rock" '98

This cartoon "Conspiracy Theory Rock" by Robert Smigel was shown on "Saturday Night Live" during the March 14, 1998 broadcast but edited out of reruns. For that broadcast, the host was Julianne Moore and the musical guest was the Backstreet Boys.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mary McCarthy ‘categorically denies’ being the source of the leak on agency renditions

McCarthy's lawyer, Ty Cobb, told NEWSWEEK this afternooon that contrary to public statements by the CIA late last week, McCarthy never confessed to agency interrogators that she had divulged classified information and "didn't even have access to the information" in The Washington Post story in question.
After being told by agency interrogators that she may have been deceptive on one quesiton during a polygraph, McCarthy did acknowledge that she had failed to report contacts with Washington Post reporter Dana Priest and at least one other reporter, said a source familiar with her account who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. McCarthy has known Priest for some time, the source said.
McCarthy, 61, a career CIA analyst who was working in the inspector general's office, was then told on Thursday that she was being fired. She was not escorted out of the CIA buiilding, the source said. She also had been assured that the CIA would protect her privacy--just one day before her name became publicly known as the agency official who had been dismissed for leaking to the press, the source said. Ironically, McCarthy, who presvously worked as chief intelligence official for the National Security Council during Bill Clinton's second term, was planning on retiring from the CIA soon to pursue a new career as a lawyer working on adoption and family cases.

FEMA's Dirty Little Secret: A Rare Look Inside the Renaissance Village Trailer Park, Home to Over 2,000 Hurricane Katrina Evacuees

"Turn it off man, I don't want no problems." Democracy Now attempts to interview Katrina evacuees at a FEMA trailer park. FEMA's private security guards claim that the residents don't have 'the privilege' of being able to speak freely on FEMA property without a FEMA 'minder' present. [from]

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Power of Nightmares

Part 1 - Baby it's Cold Outside (1.0 GB)
Part 2 - The Phantom Victory (1.0 GB)
Part 3 - The Shadows in the Cave (1.3 GB)

Summaries from Wikipedia:

Part 1 - Baby It's Cold Outside

In the 1950s Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian civil servant turned revolutionary, and Leo Strauss, an American professor of political philosophy, both came to see western liberalism as corrosive to morality and to society. Qutb had been sent to the U.S. to learn about its public education system but was disgusted by what he saw of its society. They each argued that radical measures, including deception and even violence, could be justified in an effort to restore shared moral values to society, and their arguments heavily influenced radical Islamism and American neo-conservatism, respectively. Senior American civil servants and politicians influenced by neo-conservatism came to believe anti-communist propaganda and saw communism as an evil force against which the U.S. should be presented as a force for good. This propaganda included Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney's formation of Team B, which over-estimated Soviet military technology, and the William Casey-led CIA assertion that various terrorist organisations were backed by the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Qutb became influential in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and was then jailed after some of its members attempted to assassinate President Nasser.

This was first broadcast on Wednesday 20 October 2004. Its title is taken from a popular song which Qutb heard played at a church-organised dance for young people, which he saw as symptomatic of the immorality of American society.

Part 2 - The Phantom Victory

In the 1980s the Islamist mujaheddin and the neo-conservative-influenced Reagan administration temporarily cooperated in fighting a common enemy, the Soviet Union and the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan. Although the Soviet Union was already on the verge of collapse, both groups came to believe that it was their actions in Afghanistan that had caused it to fall. However, other attempts by Islamists to incite popular revolution failed, and the neo-conservatives lost power in the U.S. as the presidency passed to George H. W. Bush and subsequently to Bill Clinton. Both groups, having failed to achieve lasting political influence, identified new targets to attack: the neoconservatives sought to demonise Clinton while the radical Islamists decided that those who had not aided their cause were legitimate targets for violence.

This was first broadcast on Wednesday 27 October 2004.

Part 3 - The Shadows in the Cave

In the late 1990s the Taliban set up military training camps in Afghanistan for Islamist fighters. Most were only interested in fighting in their home countries, but Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and follower of Sayyid Qutb, paid the Taliban to allow them to recruit volunteers for attacks on the U.S. from these camps. Prosecutors for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings believed bin Laden organised them and wanted to convict him in absentia by showing that he headed a criminal organisation. Jamal al-Fadl, a former associate of bin Laden, conveniently described just such an organisation to them, which the investigators called al-Qaeda. While bin Laden apparently aided the attacks he had no organisation through which he could command and control them; al-Fadl seems to have told investigators what they wanted to hear in return for money and witness protection. Similarly, while bin Laden provided funds and volunteers to carry out the September 11, 2001 attacks, they were actually planned by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

Following this attack, the neo-conservatives were able to convince George W. Bush to begin a War on Terror and to paint al-Qaeda as an international network of terrorists. The war in Afghanistan removed bin Laden's main source of recruits, but the U.S. military and the Afghan Northern Alliance also captured and killed many people in the Taliban camps that had nothing to do with him. The story circulated that bin Laden and the core of al-Qaeda had retreated to an underground complex in Tora Bora, but an exhaustive search revealed no sign of this. Al-Qaeda could not be found because it never really existed; Islamist terrorists are connected only by ideology and not by an organisation that can be cut off at its root.

The arrests of various groups of suspected terrorists in the U.S. following the September 11 attacks failed to find any substantive evidence, but did show a lot of imagination on the part of investigators. Similarly, in the U.K., arrests under new terrorism laws have resulted in only 3 convictions of Islamists, all for fundraising. Much of the media coverage of potential terrorist attacks is also highly speculative and sensational. For instance, a terrorist attack using a radiological weapon, referred to by the media as a dirty bomb, wouldn't kill many people from fallout because the radioactive material would be spread thinly by any explosion. However, the neo-conservatives had found they could use the threat of Islamist terrorism, and the claimed possibility of sponsorship by Iraq, as an enemy against which to unite the U.S., and other politicians such as Tony Blair claimed an important role in protecting their countries from attack. Politicians and counter-terrorist agents have decided that they must be proactive in imagining the worst possible attacks and in stopping those who seem likely to carry out attacks.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Richard Feynman: The Horizon/Nova Interview

"The 1981 Feynman Horizon is the best science programme I have ever seen. This is not just my opinion - it is also the opinion of many of the best scientists that I know who have seen the programme... It should be mandatory viewing for all students whether they be science or arts students"
- Professor Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel Prize for Chemistry