Jon Stewart on the Rachel Maddow Show

Jon Stewart interviewed by Rachel Maddow:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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Posted in US Politics | Leave a comment

Cleopatra: A Power to be Reckoned With

This article about Cleopatra in the Smithsonian Magazine questions the image of her in subsequent Western literature as a mere seductress. The author argues that she was a canny and powerful monarch, a savvy street fighter, and a great queen in her own right, who presided over one of the more prosperous and powerful countries of antiquity.

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Posted in Egypt | Leave a comment

Bush-Cheney Use of Torture Derails Ghailani Prosecution

This is how George W. Bush and Dick Cheney got Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, suspected of involvement in the bombing of two US embassies in East Africa in 1998, off hundreds of murder charges: They had him tortured.

Ghailani was convicted Wednesday of conspiracy to damage US government property, for which he could well face life imprisonment, but was acquitted of murder charges stemming from the deaths caused by the blowing up of the embassies.

The US right wing is jumping up and down and denouncing Attorney General Eric Holder for trying Ghailani in a civilian court instead of in a military tribunal, and implying that he got off because civilian law is more lax than that of the tribunals would have been.

For instance, Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY) thundered, “This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama administration’s decision to try Al Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts.” King, defended Bush’s commitment to torturing people, saying “Bush deserves credit for what he did.” King should be aware that advocating war crimes itself was considered a crime at the Nuremberg trials.

In fact, the government case against Ghailani was undermined precisely by Bush and Cheney and their foaming-at-the-mouth supporters on the Right, which increasingly deserves to be called simply American Fascism. The case was undermined by the use of torture.

When Bush admitted in his memoirs to torturing people, he may as well have just grabbed the key from Ghailani’s prison guard and stuck it in the jail door and yelled for the Tanzanian to make a run for it.

Ghailani was waterboarded, i.e. tortured, into revealing his relationship with Hussein Abebe, who in turn provided the most damaging testimony against Ghailani.

As FDL perceptively wrote, it is possible that Abebe’s own testimony against Ghailani was itself coerced.

On Oct. 5, Judge Lewis Kaplan [pdf] excluded Abebe’s testimony, on the grounds that it was a a fruit of a poisonous tree, i.e. was only available to the prosecution because Bush had had Ghailani tortured (and maybe had had Abebe tortured, as well!)

That was why Ghailani could not be convicted of murder, as he from all accounts ought to have been. Had his connection to Abebe been discovered by ordinary questioning or by good police work, then the latter could have freely taken the witness stand. In fact, it seems to me very likely that Abebe would in fact have been discovered in other ways– from the record, e.g., of Ghailani’s cell phone calls, or even just from his own account of his activities.

King’s and others’ assertion that a military tribunal could have gotten a conviction on the murder charges is simply incorrect, as Judge Kaplan himself pointed out (h/t FDL):

‘ It is very far from clear that Abebe’s testimony would be admissible if Ghailani were being tried by military commission, even without regard to the question whether the Fifth Amendment would invalidate any more forgiving provisions of the rules of evidence otherwise applicable in such a proceeding.

Military commissions are governed by the Military Commissions Act, 10 USC 948a et seq. (the “MCA”). Evidence in such proceedings is governed by the Military Commission Rules of Evidence (“MCRE”). U.S. DEP’T OF DEFENSE, MANUAL FOR MILITARY COMMISSIONS (2010 ed.).

MCA 948r(a) and MCRE 304 preclude or restrict the use of “statements obtained by torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,” and evidence derived threrefrom, and could require exclusion of Abebe’s testimony. Even if they did not, the Constitution might do so, even in a military commission proceeding.’

The military tribunal still has to operate within the terms of the US Constitution, however much Bush and Cheney (and Peter King) may despise that document, and it is the constitution that would force any judge, military or civilian, to invalidate evidence obtained by torture.

It isn’t the fault of American civil justice, still among the best and most upright in the world. It isn’t Obama’s fault, or Eric Holder’s fault. It is the fault of the profound betrayal of American law and values by vapid thugs who want to take us back to absolute monarchy, to bills of attainder, star chambers, divine right of kings, and drawing and quartering and breaking at the wheel.

King and other members of Congress, who wish to make an end run around the constitution with their ‘military tribunals,’ are essentially violating the separation of powers, since the artificial tribunals operating beyond the bill of rights are a way for the legislative and executive branches to sidestep the judicial system so as to administer arbitrary ‘justice.’ This way of proceeding is essentially a bill of attainder:

“Bills of attainder . . . are such special acts of the legislature, as inflict capital punishments upon persons supposed to be guilty of high offences, such as treason and felony, without any conviction in the ordinary course of judicial proceedings. If an act inflicts a milder degree of punishment than death, it is called a bill of pains and penalties. . . . In such cases, the legislature assumes judicial magistracy, pronouncing upon the guilt of the party without any of the common forms and guards of trial, and satisfying itself with proofs, when such proofs are within its reach, whether they are conformable to the rules of evidence, or not.”

The actually existing constitution of the United States of American forbids bills of attainder (Article I, Section 9 ), as an abuse of the British Old Regime. If Tea Partiers had any integrity and actually stood for the values that their tricorner hats imply, they’d be denouncing arbitrary tribunals themselves.

Terrorism, like any other social pathology, can best be fought with a rule of law, not by trampling on the very framework of our democratic system. We don’t have to become al-Qaeda to fight al-Qaeda. In fact, in America’s struggle to win over the Muslims of the world, adherence to our constitution is among our most effective weapons. Gallup found that:

‘ When asked what they admire most about the West, citizens of Muslim countries ranked technology first and liberty and democracy second. They expressed widespread admiration for the freedom of expression and assembly, rule of law, and government accountability they see in the West. ‘

Muslims already know all about military tribunals and torture and arbitrarily tossing people in jail. They are yearning for something better, which we, at least used to, have.

Bush and the Bushies screwed up, and they are blaming it on the liberties enshrined in the constitution by men a thousand times their betters, for which generations of Americans have fought and died, and whose memory is being desecrated by the sad likes of George W. Bush, Richard Bruce Cheney, Peter King and the rest of our would-be Anglophone Francisco Francos.

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Posted in US Politics, Uncategorized, al-Qaeda | 16 Comments

Afvietnam

Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2010: “As NATO leaders meet in Lisbon this weekend, the U.S. is expected to endorse a plan for slow withdrawal and gradually handing over security responsibility by 2014.“:

“At a summit in Lisbon this weekend, Obama and other NATO leaders will endorse a plan to gradually turn combat responsibility over to the Afghan army and police by 2014, a timetable that will keep tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan well beyond the end of Obama’s first term.”

Chicago Tribune, Feb. 27, 1964: “future military maneuvers in South Vietnam would see government troops increasingly taking the initiative.”

Chicago Tribune 1964 Article on Vietnam
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Posted in Afghanistan, US Politics | 2 Comments

Allawi Predicts new Iraqi Government will Fall Quickly

Iyad Allawi in London is throwing cold water on the idea that a stable Iraqi government is now being formed. According to Reuters he is saying that the original power-sharing formula (presumably the one worked out with the Americans Nov. 6) has collapsed and is “dead.”

He told Reuters, “The formula for power sharing has been distorted and the issue of devolution has been distorted so I am not sure whether a coherent government (can be formed).”

Allawi says he will not serve in the new cabinet himself.

It is unclear that he will accept the proffered role as chairman of the national council for policies, a sort of national Security council. The US has pressed for the formalization of this body, which would require parliamentary legislation, which may not be forthcoming. So it is not clear that the council will actually be made into an institution with real power.

Allawi said that he does not expect the new government to last long if it is formed.

Allawi, an ex-Baathist secularist for whose party, the Iraqiya, some 80 percent of Sunni Arabs voted last March, does not actually sound like the head of a party going into a coalition government. He sounds like someone who was taken for a ride in order to get his assent to the election of Jalal Talabani president, after which he was cut out of the deal.

Since the US made most of its bets on Allawi, if he was cut out of the deal, then so was Washington.

This sort of successful outmaneuvering of the Obama administration by the Iran-backed Shiites and the Kurds is what makes me think it is unlikely that the Americans can actually convince the Iraqi parliament to let any significant number of US troops stay past December, 2011. There will likely be trainers and air force personnel, but Washington’s idea that the Mahdi Army would put up with 15,000 GIs in Iraq in 2012 seems to me a gross miscalculation. I’d fear for a repeat of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut if the administration tried to push through any such measure.

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Posted in Iraq | 1 Comment

4 Christians Killed in Mosul, Iraq, as Exodus Continues

From Monday evening through Tuesday, extremists launched several attacks on Iraqi Christians in the northern, mostly Sunni Arab city of Mosul (pop. 2 million), killing four.

It should be remembered that attacking Christians is a political tactic of the militants. Otherwise, the Christians were there because they had been tolerated by Muslims, and Iraqi Muslims for the most part have condemned the sectarian violence. Indeed, Turkey and Jordan, among the places to which Iraqi Christians have fled, are Muslim-majority societies. Depicting the conflict as simply a Muslim-Christian one is far too simplistic.

On October 31, a major attack by extremists on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad left over 50 dead. In the past two weeks, “al-Qaeda in Iraq” has announced that Christians are a legitimate target not only in iraq but throughout the Middle East. Attacks and bombings and especially threatening letters and posters have impelled a new exodus. The Australian Broadcasting Co.’s intrepid Ben Knight reports from Amman on Iraqi Christian refugees in neighboring Jordan. He interviews Nijem Abdallah, whose cousins perished in the attack on the cathedral, and who received a visit from Muslim extremists:

‘ (Nijem Abdallah speaking): “They came into my shop and demanded I give it to them,” he says. “So I did. Then they followed me home and demanded a thousand dollars a month or they would kill me and my son.”

Nijem Abdallah says the men were from the Mahdi Army. It’s the military wing of one of the main power blocs in Iraq’s new Government.

Nijem Abdallah says he spoke to his brother in Baghdad two day ago, who told him that Christians are now finding posters on their houses, telling them they have three days to get out.’

It is alarming that both Shiite and Sunni extremists have apparently taken up the call to force the Christians out. These techniques are exactly the ones that Shiite militants used to ethnically cleanse Baghdad of most of its Sunnis in 2006-2007. When I did interviewing with (mostly Sunni) Iraqi refugees in Jordan, they mentioned receiving letters threatening them with being killed if they did not leave their neighborhood. The threats were among the things keeping them from returning to Iraq. If such techniques could chase hundreds of thousands of Sunnis out of the capital, they hold the potential of forcing all Christians out of Iraq.

That is the reason Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki protested against Western nations offering asylum to Iraqi Christians on a large scale, since he fears that such policies will empty Iraq of its vibrant Christian community.

France,which has taken in over two dozen Christian Iraqi refugees, has attempted to reassure al-Maliki and others that Paris has no intention of emptying the region of its Christians. Some observers detect hypocrisy in the grandstanding of President Nicolas Sarkozy, since Sarkozy has been busily deporting Roma (“Gypsies”) to Eastern Europe this summer.

France24 has a video report on Iraqi Christian refugees in Istanbul, Turkey:

Arwa Damon of CNN did a report on the aftermath of the Halloween attacks on Christians in Baghdad:

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Posted in Iraq, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jahanpour: In Israel-Palestine Dispute, Obama Must Start Putting US Interests First

Farhang Jahanpour writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:

According to the U.S. media, after eight hours of pleading with Netanyahu to extend the freeze on illegal building work in the occupied territories for a merely 90 days, the Secretary of State gave an undertaking

Not to request further extensions of the freeze (what happens if an agreement is not reached during that period?)

To shield Israel against hostile resolutions in the United Nations (nothing new there)

To prevent the discussion of the UN report on Israeli war crimes in Gaza as set out by a distinguished Jewish judge, or the attacks on the aid flotilla (that says a lot for the US respect for the United Nations and the rule of law)

And to top it all, give Israel $3 billion worth of advanced F-35 jets, in addition to billions already given on a regular basis. These would supplement the 20 F-35s Israel already plans to buy for $2.75 billion drawn from annual grants it gets from Washington (does it mean that President Obama has given Israel a free hand to attack Iran with its new toys?).

Meanwhile, the commitment to the Palestinians: To force Israel to implement UN resolutions and get out of the occupied territories; to allow the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes; to declare East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state; to free nearly 8,000 Palestinian prisoners; to lift the siege of Gaza; to call on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and give up her arsenal of illegal nuclear weapons; and finally to stop the US subsidy to Israel and to support UN resolutions to force Israel and threaten to attack her if she does do any of the above (not a chance in hell). If that is how the US Administration decides to get tough with Israel and act as an honest broker, then God help the Palestinians!

It is possible to force an unfair settlement on the Palestinians at the moment of their weakness, but such a deal would not last and the festering wound would continue to poison the entire Middle East. It is time for the US Administration to put US interests first, support a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and thus win the respect and admiration of the international community.

——–
* Dr Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, Iran, and a former Senior Fulbright Research Scholar at Harvard. He is Associate Fellow at the Faculty of Oriental Studies and tutor in Middle Eastern Studies at the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford

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Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Cole in Truthdig: Kandahar the Invisible Campaign

My column in Truthdig is out, on the invisible Kandahar campaign in the invisible Afghanistan War– and the Karzai/ Petraeus soap opera.

Read the whole thing.

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Posted in Afghanistan, Uncategorized | 3 Comments