Obama and Egypt: clues and warnings in his 2009 Cairo speech

January 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Obama administration is in a tough spot – navigating the treacherous diplomatic and political waters of Egypt’s uprising is no easy task. Supporting the Egyptian people without doing or saying something that could destabilize the region is a careful balancing act.

Still, many Americans and Egyptians yearn for a more forceful stance from the U.S. president.

In June of 2009, I wrote a post about President Obama’s Cairo speech and I’m posting it below to offer some context on how the administration is handling today’s events:

Let Women Wear the Hijab: The Emptiness of Obama’s Cairo Speech
June 4, 2009

I know many will gush over President Obama’s Cairo speech and I’m likely swimming against the tide of the media and my fellow Democrats and progressives. But reading the transcript, I was struck by two things:

1. Aside from a few platitudes, it is disappointingly weak on human rights and specifically women’s rights.

2. It betrays a naiveté, perhaps feigned, about how the Arab world works.

I sometimes preface my posts by explaining that my Mideast perspective is that of an American-Lebanese-Christian-Jew who grew up in Muslim West Beirut at the height (or should I say depth) of the Lebanese civil war. The tumultuous and bloody intersection of religions and geopolitical interests is painfully real to me.

Yes, Obama is targeting the Arab ‘street’ and global public opinion – but to the corrupt regimes that dominate that region of the world, his oration means virtually nothing. Repression and suppression will go on uninterrupted. And to those whose abiding hatred of Israel (and thus America) is absolute, Obama’s words will be seen as empty and hypocritical.

Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy explains:

Right before he took off from DC, on what the media has been depicting as some “odyssey,” to address the Muslim World from Cairo, President Obama had described the 81-year-old Egyptian President Mubarak as a “force for stability.” This week Cairo and its twin city Giza have been a showcase of what this “stability” cost.The capital is under occupation. Security troops are deployed in the main public squares and metro stations. Citizens were detained en masse and shops were told to close down in Bein el-Sarayat area, neighboring Cairo University, where Obama will be speaking. In Al-Azhar University, the co-host of the “historical speech,” State Security police raided and detained at least 200 foreign students, held them without charges in unknown locations.

Is there an overarching purpose to Obama’s speech? Is it to repair our image after eight years of a radical rightwing administration? Of course. But if the goal is to repair our image, then how about shunning the barbaric concept of indefinite detention? How about heeding the increasingly distressed calls of those who view the new administration’s actions in the realm of civil liberties as a dangerous, disturbing, and precedent-setting affirmation of Bush’s worst excesses?

Glenn Greenwald writes:

The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 — that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.”What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people? Read the language of the bill; it doesn’t even hide the fact that its only objective is to empower the President to conceal evidence of war crimes.

That this exact scenario is now happening in the U.S. is all the more remarkable given that the President who is demanding these new suppression powers is the same one who repeatedly vowed “to make his administration the most open and transparent in history.” After noting the tentative steps Obama has taken to increase transparency, the generally pro-Obama Washington Post Editorial Page today observed: “what makes the administration’s support for the photographic records act so regrettable” is that “Mr. Obama runs the risk of taking two steps back in his quest for more open government.”

What makes all of this even worse is that it is part of a broader trend whereby the Government simply retroactively changes the law whenever it decides it does not want to abide by it.

Glenn has been documenting – and railing against – dozens of similar instances. I echoed his concerns in a recent post:

Setting aside all the campaign slogans about hope and change, what Obama really signifies is a razor sharp break from Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rice, Rumsfeld, Addington, Libby, Bybee et al. After eight years of damage to the fabric of our Constitution and our nation, the entire point of a new face, a smart, youthful, inspiring Democratic president is to completely and totally reject the Bush years, to reject the lawless behavior, the Orwellian rationales, the blatant disregard of the Constitution. Neglecting to do so, and leaving any doubt about where Democrats stand on these issues, is profoundly detrimental to the country.

Take the issue of women’s rights, addressed in Obama’s Cairo speech with the most tepid language:

“The U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.””I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.”

“Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.”

“Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.”

Is that a joke?

With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters.

I return to the example of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow:

13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped. Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died. When some of the people at the stadium tried to save her, militia opened fire on the crowd, killing a boy who was a bystander.A witness who spoke to the BBC’s Today programme said she had been crying and had to be forced into a hole before the stoning, reported to have taken place in a football stadium. … She said: ‘I’m not going, I’m not going. Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.’ “A few minutes later more than 50 men tried to stone her.” The witness said people crowding round to see the execution said it was “awful”.

Enough with the perpetual campaign. True justice, true peace, these are earned through courageous decisions and bold actions. Real truth to power.

If we are to fix America’s image in the world and if we are to heal the planet’s myriad ills, it will not be done through contrite kumbaya speeches about how we are all one world and how we should all coexist peacefully, no matter whether the remarks are delivered in Cleveland or Cairo. It will be done by leading through example, by righting the many wrongs here at home, by seeking justice and fairness for all, by doing what is right, not saying what sounds pleasing to the media elite and the pliable punditocracy.

The most important person in the world

December 18, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Do some people matter more than others? In a tabloid culture, an inordinate premium is placed on anyone rich or popular, the antics of celebrities and millionaires receiving more attention than the mortal struggles of women and children.

In the U.S., the gap between fame and obscurity, wealth and poverty, power and powerlessness manifests itself most starkly in centers of influence like Washington, Los Angeles and New York, where jockeying for position is an obsession.  Being invited to the right party, getting the right table at the right restaurant, having the right address, owning the right accoutrements, getting name-checked in the right publication or seen with the right person is of paramount importance.

America is based on the noble idea of equality, but principle and practice are two very different things and some people are more equal than others, with disproportionate privileges and prestige. This holds true across the planet.

Counterintuitively, the most important people in the world are those who have the least, those who are the most oppressed, those who are victims of the worst violence.

We are only as strong and powerful and important as the weakest link in the human chain. When a little girl is gang-raped, when a child wastes away from preventable hunger, when a man is silenced for his beliefs, when a woman dies needlessly in childbirth, when a little boy lives in agony from a preventable disease, we are all weakened, our worth diminished.

When the resources of the rich and famous are put to use to help those in need, it is because the highest moral calling is to give to others, to extend a hand to those who need one.

If character is built on compassion and generosity of spirit, the most important person in the world is the one who most needs our compassion, care and generosity, the person who enables us to improve ourselves by helping them, who gives us value because we value them.

With all the hobnobbing, backslapping, namedropping and idol-worshiping served to us by the media, with the dazzling displays of money and fame and power, let’s never forget who matters most in this world: it is the person to whom we give something of ourselves — and from whom we derive our moral power.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

December 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Worth reading in full on Human Rights Day.

PREAMBLE

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

* All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

* Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

* Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

* No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

* No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

* Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

* All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

* Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

* No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

* Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

* (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
* (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

* No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

* (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
* (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

* (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
* (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

* (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
* (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

* (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
* (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
* (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

* (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
* (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

* (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
* (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

* (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
* (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
* (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

* Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

* (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
* (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
* (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
* (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

* Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

* (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
* (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

* (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
* (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
* (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

* (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
* (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

* Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

* (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
* (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
* (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

* Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Asia Bibi faces death penalty for “blasphemy” [Updated]

December 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sick:

In this village in Pakistan’s Punjab province a tearful 12-year-old girl ponders if the Pakistani government will soon hang her mother. “Whenever I see her picture I cry,” Isham Masih told CNN. “I want my mother back. That’s what I’m praying for.” This month a Pakistani court sentenced Isham’s mother, 45-year-old Asia Bibi, to death, not because she killed, injured or stole, but simply because she said something. Prosecutors say Bibi, who is a Christian, broke Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law by insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment according to Pakistan’s penal code.

UPDATE: Falsely accused:

A preliminary investigation shows that a Pakistani Christian woman has been falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed, a government official said Monday.

“The president asked me to investigate her case and my preliminary findings show she is innocent and the charges against her are baseless,” Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told CNN.

Asia Bibi, who has been jailed for nearly 15 months, was convicted in a Pakistani court earlier this month of breaking the country’s controversial blasphemy law, a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan’s penal code. She was sentenced to death.

Bibi filed a petition for mercy Saturday, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari asked Bhatti to investigate the case, Bhatti said. Bhatti emphasized Monday that he has reached only preliminary conclusions and will submit a final report Wednesday to Zardari’s office.

UPDATE II: Protesters oppose pardon for Pakistani Christian:

Around 250 hard-line Muslims staged a demonstration in the central Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, warning the president not to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting Islam.

They also denounced any attempt to change Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which critics say is often misused to persecute Christians like Asia Bibi and other minorities. Her case has prompted outrage from human rights groups and a personal appeal from Pope Benedict XVI for her release.

But hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan have pushed back and some have even threatened officials in the past who suggested reforming or repealing the blasphemy law. These groups have significant power since politicians from the major parties rely on them for votes.

UPDATE III: Pardon denied:

A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country’s blasphemy law.

Pakistan mother denied presidential pardon for ‘insulting Islam’

Asia Bibi, a Christian, has been sentenced to death after falling foul of the country’s blasphemy law

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan been sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam. Photograph: Str/APA Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country’s blasphemy law.

Bush is getting a pass for torture, but could he face legal problems outside the U.S.?

November 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been following the astonishing callousness and carelessness with which George W. Bush admits to having authorized torture:

The U.S. media long ago determined that George W. Bush’s transgressions have ceased to be newsworthy. One of the reasons is that the Obama administration made the disastrous decision not to investigate Bush. That cop-out allows Bush to freely admit he approved torture…

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said, “Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting.”

M. Cherif Boussiani, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University who co-chaired the U.N. experts committee that drafted the torture convention, said that Bush’s admission could theoretically expose him to prosecution. But he also said Bush must have presumed that he would have the government’s backing in any confrontation with others’ courts.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, a long-standing critic of Bush’s interrogation and detention policies, called prosecution unlikely. “The fact that he did admit it suggests he believes he is politically immune from being held accountable. . . . But politics can change.”

Here’s an interesting perspective:

Now that President Bush is back with an autobiographical book defending his tenure, so are those who want him arrested for torture. In this article from France’s Rue 89, Jean-François Lisee informs that every country – all 146 of them – that are signatories to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, are obliged to arrest Mr. Bush, and Lisee points out that a few have already begun proceedings against Bush Administration officials.

For the Rue 89, Jean-François Lisee writes in part:

If no action is taken against Bush in his home country, that opens the possibility of indictment in a third country.

A total of 145 other countries, including Canada, are signatories to the U.N. Convention Against Torture. And all signatories have committed to enforcing its provisions, even against offenders residing in other territories.

Therefore, with varying degrees of success, proceedings have been initiated in Spain and Belgium against foreign heads of state, notably the Chilean Pinochet. Water boarding is now considered a form of torture worldwide, and those responsible must be prosecuted.

In fact, a court in Madrid last January opened proceedings against Bush advisers who wrote memos illegally authorizing the use of torture. The case is pending, but the issue was pursued precisely because no American authority took action against the officials responsible.

It’s a safe bet that George W. Bush is now in the crosshairs of the Spain tribunal. If it were to condemn him, even in absentia, he would then be subject to the mutual extradition treaty in force among 24 European countries. In other words, Bush couldn’t travel to any of these countries without incurring the risk of being deported to Spain to serve out his sentence.

Inspiring: Anuradha Koirala fights trafficking of Nepal’s women and girls

November 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A true hero:

Anuradha Koirala is fighting to prevent the trafficking and sexual exploitation of Nepal’s women and girls. Since 1993, she and her group, Maiti Nepal, have helped rescue and rehabilitate more than 12,000 victims.

Koirala: I would like to urge all the human beings around the world: Please close your eyes and imagine these girls are your daughters, and you will feel the pain of being trafficked.

Don’t watch this video of Afghan women

November 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A terrible reality for Afghan women:

Even the poorest families in Afghanistan have matches and cooking fuel. The combination usually sustains life. But it also can be the makings of a horrifying escape: from poverty, from forced marriages, from the abuse and despondency that can be the fate of Afghan women. “If you run away from home, you may be raped or put in jail and then sent home and then what will happen to you?” asked Rachel Reid, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who tracks violence against women.

Returned runaways are often shot or stabbed in honor killings because the families fear they have spent time unchaperoned with a man. Women and girls are still stoned to death. Those who burn themselves but survive are often relegated to grinding Cinderella existences while their husbands marry other, untainted women. “Violence in the lives of Afghanistan’s women comes from everywhere: from her father or brother, from her husband, from her father-in-law, from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law,” said Dr. Shafiqa Eanin, a plastic surgeon at the burn hospital, which usually has at least 10 female self-immolation cases at any one time.

The most sinister burn cases are actually homicides masquerading as suicides, said doctors, nurses and human rights workers. “We have two women here right now who were burned by their mothers-in-law and husbands,” said Dr. Arif Jalali, the hospital’s senior surgeon. Doctors cited two recent cases where women were beaten by their husbands or in-laws, lost consciousness and awoke in the hospital to find themselves burned because they had been shoved in an oven or set on fire.

Unless you’re prepared to be shocked and enraged, don’t watch this video:

Bush’s bombshell: I broke the law

November 4, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

This story should be as big as the midterms, but it won’t be. The U.S. media long ago determined that George W. Bush’s transgressions have ceased to be newsworthy. One of the reasons is that the Obama administration made the disastrous decision not to investigate Bush. That cop-out allows Bush to freely admit he approved torture:

Human rights experts have long pressed the administration of former president George W. Bush for details of who bore ultimate responsibility for approving the simulated drownings of CIA detainees, a practice that many international legal experts say was illicit torture. In a memoir due out Tuesday, Bush makes clear that he personally approved the use of that coercive technique against alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an admission the human rights experts say could one day have legal consequences for him.

In his book, titled “Decision Points,” Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was “Damn right” and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives, according to a someone close to Bush who has read the book.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said, “Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting.”

M. Cherif Boussiani, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University who co-chaired the U.N. experts committee that drafted the torture convention, said that Bush’s admission could theoretically expose him to prosecution. But he also said Bush must have presumed that he would have the government’s backing in any confrontation with others’ courts.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, a long-standing critic of Bush’s interrogation and detention policies, called prosecution unlikely. “The fact that he did admit it suggests he believes he is politically immune from being held accountable. . . . But politics can change.”

The disparate threads of 2009/2010 politics come together in this admission:

First, it reminds us how radical Bush really was and why America recoiled in disgust, lurched left and elected a Democratic president.

Second, it highlights the irresponsibility of the press, who should be blasting this on every front page. Remember, the media still has agenda setting power and tells the public what matters.

Third, it bring into stark relief the political and moral tone-deafness of the Obama White House. If you can’t hold an American president accountable for breaking the law on a matter as grave as torture, then you have no moral authority — and questionable political acumen.

Fourth, it explains why someone like Sarah Palin can get elected president.

Fifth, it is yet another vindication of the progressive community, whose warnings about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bybee, Yoo, Rove, Rice, Ashcroft, etc. have proven to be prescient.

The final insult is that it takes Darrell Issa to threaten investigations of Bush while Democrats mope around after their midterm drubbing:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) pledged on Wednesday to investigate both Barack Obama and George W. Bush with his newfound subpoena power when he takes over as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“I’m going to be investigating a president of my own party, because many of the issues we’re working on began [with] President Bush or even before, and haven’t been solved,” Issa said during an interview on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown.”

America is not America if we lose our moral compass. It matters not one iota if round-the-clock indoctrination by the rightwing noise machine numbs the majority of our citizens and makes the unacceptable acceptable to them. The rest of us must speak out forcefully in defense of the fundamental principles that undergird our nation.

Don’t listen to me, listen to the Bible: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

UPDATE: Marcy raises an intriguing point about Bush’s confession:

At least from Smith’s description, it appears that Bush says nothing about approving the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (nor the reported waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi). Mind you, Ron Suskind has reported that Bush was intimately, almost gleefully, involved in ordering torture for Abu Zubaydah. But Bush doesn’t cop to that in his book. Now, there may be good reason for that. After all, John Yoo had not yet written the memo claiming that waterboarding did not amount to torture at the time Abu Zubaydah was first tortured.

According to multiple reports, the White House–Alberto Gonzales at least, if not his boss–approved the torture of Abu Zubaydah on a daily basis. And when you read the Bybee Memo and the OPR Report on it, it’s very clear that the memo carved out legal authorization specifically for the torture directly authorized by the President. Indeed, the White House’s prior approval for torture–potentially up to and including waterboarding–may explain the urgency behind the memo in the first place, to provide retroactive legal cover for Bush’s unilateral disregard for US laws prohibiting torture.

White House focuses on domestic violence

October 27, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

This is good:

The White House will announce several policy initiatives on Wednesday that are aimed at reducing domestic violence, including pilot programs targeted at children and pregnant women, financial and housing assistance for victims of abuse and a national campaign to reduce sexual violence, according to a memo about the plans.

There are programs targeted at children, including a fund to assist pregnant women who are victims of domestic violence in five states — North Carolina, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and Washington — and Head Start centers in six states – Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico and South Carolina – will launch a program to help staff members identify signs of domestic violence in children and respond appropriately.

HUD will release guidelines for housing authorities and landlords who have tenants who may be victims of domestic violence, a move that codifies protections outlined in the Violence Against Women Act. The FDIC will expand its Money Smart financial literacy curriculum on Friday to include information for victims of domestic violence.

The Justice Department will announce the start of a pilot program intended to get more private lawyers to offer services to domestic violence victims pro bono.

Here are some stats for context:

Of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third were killed by an intimate partner.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.

More than 600 women are raped every day.

The Justice Department estimates that one in five women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years, and that less than five percent of these rapes will be reported.

Bill O’Reilly and Juan Williams reveal a terribly warped set of priorities

October 21, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

The blow-up du jour is Juan Williams’ termination by NPR for insensitive comments about Muslims:

NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel.

From my perspective, this is the most notable portion:

Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.” Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.

The biggest threat? Bigger than preventable hunger and disease that kills millions of women and children? Bigger than the scourge of sexual violence and domestic abuse that endangers our mothers, sisters and daughters? Bigger than the wholesale ravaging of our planet and global warming? Seriously?

This reveals a terribly warped set of priorities. I’m not surprised O’Reilly said it. I would have expected better of Juan Williams.

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