Sunday, February 26, 2006

Guantanamo in Afghanistan

The New York Times (requires subscription) is reporting that the U.S. military has established another detention camp holding "enemy combatants" in Bagram, Afghanistan at the site of a former machine shop on an American military base.

These detainees have been charged with no crimes, have no access to legal representation, or to hear the allegations against them. Their living conditions are bleak.

The population of the prison has grown from 100 in 2004 to over 600 at times. The population has grown rapidly because such prisoners are no longer being moved to Guantanamo--not since the Supreme Court ruled that Gitmo prisoners has basic rights to due process, according to the NYTimes.

One particular paragraph from the NYTimes is striking: "Military officials with access to intelligence reporting on the subject said about 40 of Bagram's prionsers were Pakistanis, Arabs, and other foreigners; some were previously held by the C.I.A. in secret interrogation centers in Afghanistan and other countries. Officials said the intelligence agency had been reluctant to send some of those prisoners on to Guantanamo because of the possibility that their C.I.A. custody could eventually be scrutinized in court."

For me, the take away of this is that the United States government, military, and spy agencies fail to work within the proscribed dictates of U.S. law. Fearful that their actions are unlawful, they've now established a detention camp in a foreign country that is, theoretically outside of the boundaries of that law.

When does this stop?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Guantanamo Detainees: The Facts

In a prior post, I had mentioned government statistics that suggested that less than half of Guantanamo Bay detainees likely committed "hostile" acts against the United States, and that about 5% had Al Qaeda ties.

I couldn't find exactly what government documents indicated this until I read an editorial in the Times Union yesterday that identified a source, a pretty good one.

On February 8th, Mark Denbeaux, a Professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, and and Joshua Denbeaux, a lawyer, along with several of Mark Denbeaux's students analyzed Combatant Status Review Board Letters to determine how many of Guantanamo Bay's prisoners are likely terrorists and enemy combatants against the United States.

The report (A PDF Document) indicated that 55% of Gitmo prisoners likely did not commit hostile acts. Hostile acts, was defined as being as broad as beign "associated with" a terrorist group, fleeing a camp that had been bombed, or even wearing a Casio watch (those watches being possible to convert into remote bomb triggers).

At least eighty-six percent of the detainees were NOT captured by the United States (and it may be as high as 93%). Instead, they were captured either by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over the the United States, often for substantial payment. A flyer distributed in Afghanistan, for example, declares: "Get wealth and power beyond your dreams . . . . You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forced catch al-Qaida and Taliban murders. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life . . ." (p. 14). This raises real concerns about the motives people had for turning in people who were subsequently handed over to the United States, and the quality of the evidence that such people were engaged in hostile acts.

Even more interesting and distressing is that over 25 of the detainees are Uighers, Chinese Mulsims who fled China for Afghanistan fleeing religious persecution. After the United States began bombing Afghanistan, they then fled to Pakstan, where they were captured by bounty hunters and turned over to the United States. These men have been deemed by the military to NOT be enemy combatants. Yet, they remain detained.

Lest one think this is just a bunch of lefty lawyers who are making up numbers about the Gitmo detainees, the data comes from the Combatant Status Review Tribunals that were conducted in 2004 by the military. These tribunals were used to determine "enemy combatant" status for the detainees.

The authors of the report write "Although the Government's public position is that these detainees are 'the worst of the worst' . . . the data demonstrates that the Government has already concluded that a majority of those who continue to be detained at Guantanamo have no history of any 3(b) hostile act against the United States or its allies" (p. 9).

After four years of detention it is high time that another review be conducted to earnestly determine who engaged in hostile acts against us. The rest should go free.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Never Ending Outrage

The number of stories circulating in the media that fill me with outrage seems to have reached a new high this week.

It started with the questioning of Attorney General Gonzalez, and the remarkable claims by the administration that the NSF spying program is constitutional and requires no oversight by the judicial branch.

It continued with the story that a lead NASA scientist was being muzzled by the Bush administration for his claims that the earth is at a critical tipping point. Within ten years, Dr. Hansen predicts that without a correction in greenhouse gases, we will enter a point of no-return in preventing a global environmental catastrophy.

This was followed by the announcement that a 24 year old NASA appointee who was one of the primary muzzlers of Dr. Hansen, a man with the distinguished name of George Carlton Deutsch III, lied on his resume that he had a Bachelor's degree from Texas A&M, had no experience in science or technology, and was appointed by the administration because he had been a good fundraiser in the 2004 election.

Added to that was the news that Muslims have resorted to spectacular violence over offensive Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, with as many as 12 dead from violent protests.

You'd think that would be enough, but no. Today's news brought two more stories that make me wonder if indeed, we are going to hell in a handbasket.

The first is that the White House knew that the levees in New Orleans had collapsed August 30th (the day of the hurricance), not days later as reports indicated when the nation began questioning where the hell the government was to help in the rescue operations of those trapped in the city. "Brownie" knew that night, though he won't indicate who else he notified. By his actions, Bush didn't seem to know of the news, since he was on vacation declaring that New Orleans had "dodged a bullet." Tomorrow, Brownie will testify to Congress about what he knew and what he did. Documents gathered by Congress suggest that Brownie believed the President knew about the levee breach. This, of course, raises the question of why no one at the White House, especially the president (and ol' Brownie himself), seemed to care all that much.

The second story today that made my teeth grind was the story that several of the "enemy combatants" held at Guantanamo Bay have gone on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detentions. The military has resorted to strapping them into a restraint chair, forcing tubes down their throats, and holding them for several hours while being fed and prevented from vomiting.

On the face of it, this sounds to be a humane action--preventing the detainees from killing themselves through a necessary force-feeding. The New York Times reports two problems with the humanitarian vision. Lawyers of the detainees allege that "the feeding tubes [have been] inserted and removed so violently that some bled or fainted." Other lawyers report that their clients were fed so much food that they had diarrhea and were forced to defecate on themselves while in the restraint device.

Now, one might say, "Well, they're terrorists. They are Al-Qaeda, and they fought against Americans in Afghanistan. They get what they deserve." The problem with this justification for harsh treatment is that Pentagon documents indicate that only 45% of the detainees likely were fighting against the United States, and only about 8% of the fighters were members of Al-Qaeda. That means that half of the men being detained are innocent.

Imagine being held in a military camp in a foreign country indefinately for crimes you didn't commit, with no end in sight, no opportunity for justice. It is time these men get their day in court, and the innocent released.

David Brooks in today's column criticized Muslims for rioting over silly cartoons, for failing to appreciate the values of democracy and freedom. But, as I've said before, we cannot stand for righteousness when we fail to uphold those values ourselves.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Exxon Mobile

Speaking of Exxon in my last post, I just found this little gem of a movie about the company..

National Debt

One of the things that gives me a queasy feeling is the level of debt in the United States. Headlines over the past few weeks have announced the bad news that not only are Americans not saving, they're borrowing. The national savings rate this year was in the ballpark of -.05%. These savings levels rival those of the Great Depression. But, back then, they had a good excuse for not saving.

Now, as the income gap widens, as more people earn stagnant or fewer wages, as the cost of medical care increases, and as oil prices surge (thanks to ExxonMobile, which made $10 billion in profit last year) it should not be a surprise that fewer Americans are saving. But, the lack of savings across the board can't be explained solely by these factors. Economists speculate that the housing bubble (Thanks, Alan Greenspan) has created a false sense of security in Americans. They use the hypothetical equity in their houses to take out home equity loans and to rack up credit card debt (a crippling equation if there ever was one) in order to buy cheap goods coming from other countries--the same countries (especially China) that are buying all of our debt.

Our federal government isn't exactly setting a good example of fiscal responsibility. President Bush claimed in his State of the Union that he has reduced the amount of non-war-related spending, but that spending only comprises 16% of the budget. The rest of the budget is balooning at 42%, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a spectacular increase. This year's deficit will be, check this, an estimated $337 billion dollars. The President hearalded that by 2009 the deficit would be reduced to $241 billion dollars, but as Factcheck.org points out, that doesn't include what would happen if his tax cuts were made permanent.

All of this news makes me want to stuff my money in a mattress, buy guns, unhook from the grid, grow a vast vegetable garden, learn Mandarin, and prepare for the inevitable economic disaster. If only the rest of America were as concerned.