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Month: September 2006

detainee bill passes senate

detainee bill passes senate

John Kerry (Democrat): This bill gives an administration that lobbied for torture exactly what it wanted.

No, this administration did not lobby for torture. It lobbied for a free and unfettered hand in conducting its “war on terrorism” by whatever means it deems necessary and effective … which may include means that most people would consider torture. The problem here is not leaders that advocate cruelty, but leaders that believe that they should be given “extraordinary” and unilateral latitude in getting the job done. Getting it done is more important than how it is done.

But one of the cornerstones of democracy is that how it is done is of utmost importance!


John Warner (Republican): Enemy combatants are unlawful by all international standards in the manner in which they conduct war, and yet this great nation … is going to mete out a measure of justice.

A measure of justice? Why just a measure? Is “liberty and justice for all” mere hyberbole? Is justice to be meted out conditionally, depending on the perceived merits of the accused? Depending on the accused’s presumed political allegiances … religious allegiance … nationality … race? Is our “lawfulness” contingent on the “lawfulness” of our enemies? Of whomever we say is our enemy?

Do you see the very dangerous road down which such rhetoric — and such legislation — is leading us? A road that leads us not toward, but away, from liberty and justice?

ny times on torture compromise: a bad bargain

ny times on torture compromise: a bad bargain

It is the rule of law that protects citizens and nations from tyranny. When we agree together to adhere to a law that binds both of us/all of us then we have a standard to which both of us/all of us are held accountable, and a means to address grievances with each other. When one party holds itself above the law or redefines the law unilaterally, then there is no longer any common standard and no means of holding anyone accountable. It simply becomes a matter of who is bigger, who is stronger, who can impose their will on the other. In other words, we have opened the doors to tyranny.

That is the danger in the present adminstration’s attempts to rewrite/redefine/circumvent the common standards for treatment of detainees outlined in the Geneva Conventions. If we can convict prisoners on the basis of undisclosed evidence, if we can indefinitely detain people we deem a threat, if we can use “extraordinary” means of interrogation when we have determined the threat warrants it, then anybody can. There is no rule of law, no common standard, no mutual accountability. Even if we may be safer — which itself is a highly debatable proposition — we will certainly be sorrier.

Read the New York Times editorial addressing the compromise reached between the present administration and the Republican senators who took issue with its proposed rules for detention and interrogation.

Published: September 22, 2006

Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession.

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush’s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence. (Although the administration’s supporters continually claim this means giving classified information to terrorists, the rules actually provide for reviewing, editing and summarizing classified material. Evidence that cannot be safely declassified cannot be introduced.)

This is a critical point. As Senator Graham keeps noting, the United States would never stand for any other country’s convicting an American citizen with undisclosed, secret evidence. So it seemed like a significant concession — until Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, briefed reporters yesterday evening. He said that while the White House wants to honor this deal, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, still wants to permit secret evidence and should certainly have his say. To accept this spin requires believing that Mr. Hunter, who railroaded Mr. Bush’s original bill through his committee, is going to take any action not blessed by the White House.

On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White House’s original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of “grave breaches” of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It’s not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.

Even before the compromises began to emerge, the overall bill prepared by the three senators had fatal flaws. It allows the president to declare any foreigner, anywhere, an “illegal enemy combatant” using a dangerously broad definition, and detain him without any trial. It not only fails to deal with the fact that many of the Guantánamo detainees are not terrorists and will never be charged, but it also chokes off any judicial review.

The Democrats have largely stood silent and allowed the trio of Republicans to do the lifting. It’s time for them to either try to fix this bill or delay it until after the election. The American people expect their leaders to clean up this mess without endangering U.S. troops, eviscerating American standards of justice, or further harming the nation’s severely damaged reputation.

the colors of the sea

the colors of the sea

Another favorite Monhegan Island photograph. Don’t miss the gulls at the upper left! I especially love the color — the colors! — of the sea.

Monhegan Island shoreline

Click on the photo to see an enlarged image.

well said …

well said …

A Christian View of War
By Oliver “Buzz” Thomas

“Pray for our troops.”

Millions of signs and bumper stickers carry the message, and part of me likes it. But part of me keeps waiting for another bumper sticker — the one I still haven’t seen. Whether Jesus would drive an SUV, I’m still not sure. Truth is he’d probably ride the bus. Or the subway. But if he had money for a car and didn’t give it all away to the hookers and the homeless before he got to the used-car lot, I’m pretty sure that his bumper sticker would say “pray for our enemies.”

Before you write me off as a left-wing crackpot, consider what we know. During his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said three things relevant to the subject of war:

• Blessed are the peacemakers.
• Turn the other cheek.
• Pray for your enemies.

Here’s something else we know. Three-quarters of the U.S. population consider themselves Christian. That translates into about 224 million Americans.

So why are so few of us taking the teachings of Jesus seriously when it comes to this latest war? Out here in the heartland, only a handful of churches are even talking about it.

Christian obligations

The most plausible explanation is that we’re scared. Some things, it seems, may trump religion. Fear is one of them. If Christians are afraid (and who could blame them after 9/11?), it’s not surprising that they’re listening to other voices besides Jesus’ when it comes to the war in Iraq. So what should the three-fourths of Americans who identify themselves as “Christian” make of the Iraq war?

We could spend a lot of time debating whether St. Augustine’s “Just War Theory” can be stretched to accommodate our invasion of Iraq, but at this late date it really doesn’t matter. We invaded. And, if the Just War Theory means anything, it means that we shouldn’t leave Iraq in a bigger mess than we found it. Americans of faith, it would seem, are obligated to do at least the following:

• Express concern for all suffering, including that of our enemies. That means more than paying lip service. As James, the brother of Jesus, said, it does not suffice to tell a hungry man “God bless you!” or “We will pray for you!” We must address his hunger. The same can be said for the additional food, health care, police and countless other things the Iraqi people need. And, though an immediate withdrawal would be precipitous, we must work diligently to respond to the Iraqis’ desire that our troops leave as quickly as possible.

• Recommit ourselves to the fundamental principles of justice and human rights that have been a hallmark of our faith, as well as of our nation. That means no more secret prisons, no more secret trials and no more torture. America cannot resort to the worst practices of the Gulag (where citizens were declared “enemies of the state” and whisked away to Siberian work camps without the benefit of a fair trial or the assistance of counsel) and expect to be an accepted member of the world community, much less a leader of it.

• Repudiate the statements of any religious or political leader who suggests that America has a special claim on God. He may have a special claim on us, but we do not have a special claim on him. Our beloved nation is a civil state, not a religious one. There are no references to God in our Constitution. The only reference to religion — other than in the First Amendment — is found in Article VI, which proclaims that there will be no religious test for public office in the USA. The Founding Fathers gave us a secular state in which all religions are free to flourish or flounder on their own initiative without interference by the government. Those running around claiming we are “in the army of God” or slapping up copies of the Ten Commandments on government buildings threaten to turn us into the very sort of society we are fighting against in this new war.

• Force our elected officials to address the conditions that have given rise to global terrorism in the first place. Terrorism exists for a reason. One of those reasons is that our society has been far too unconcerned about the plight of Muslim people around the world. Why, for example, have we not instituted a mini-Marshall Plan for the millions of Palestinians who have often gone without adequate land, roads, hospitals and schools since the 1967 war with Israel? Corruption among Palestinian leaders has squandered billions in the past, but responsible partners on the ground can and must be found. Private foundations with a long history of engagement might be a good place to start.

Tackling terrorism’s roots

We need not and should not repudiate our long-standing alliance with Israel to accomplish this. It’s simply that our religious traditions teach us that to whom much is given, much is required. The irony, of course, is that it’s in our best interest to relieve Palestinian suffering. True, some terrorist leaders come from affluent families and cite Western worldliness and decadence as their motivation for jihad, but the economic factor cannot be ignored. There is no better recruiting ground for the troops of terror than the maddening monotony and grinding poverty of a refugee camp.

In ancient times, particular gods were associated with particular nations. “Tribal deities,” we call them. Today we know better. God is not the mascot of Republicans, Democrats or, for that matter, Americans. God transcends all national and political affiliations. His precinct is the universe.

America is in the deep woods. Never have we been less popular in the eyes of the world. Never have we faced so unsettling an enemy. But before we circle the wagons, Christians should get serious about following the teachings of the one by whose name we are called. He might just know the way out.

Oliver “Buzz” Thomas is a minister in Tennessee and author of an upcoming book, 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can’t Because He Needs the Job).

the face in the mirror

the face in the mirror

You should review the short documentary film made by a New York City high school student: A Girl Like Me. A September 19 editorial by Leonard Pitts led me to the site. As he writes, Be warned: if you have a heart, the new doll test will break it.

Our culture does a very poor job at recognizing and affirming real beauty. I believe beauty is there to be found, in many different sizes and shapes … and colors. So many fail to see beauty when they look into a mirror — or look into their own souls — because they have been convinced that they are too fat, too dark, not athletic enough, not smart enough, not good enough.

And God looked at all that God had made, and God saw that it was good!

more debate over interrogation guidelines

more debate over interrogation guidelines

From the Boston Globe, September 18, 2006:

In the fight over rules for the interrogation and trials of terrorism suspects, there is a split — not so much between Republicans and Democrats or the White House and the Senate, but between leaders like President Bush with no combat experience and those like Colin Powell who know combat and want to maintain the Geneva Conventions as a protection for US troops. Powell prefers the bill before Congress sponsored by Republican Senators John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham, all of whom have considerable military experience. Their bill, which the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Thursday, has deep flaws of its own, but it is a better basis for legislation than Bush’s proposal to gut the Geneva Conventions.

The military has to take the long view because it knows that if the United States strays from the Geneva Conventions, other countries will, too. As McCain said yesterday on ABC-TV, “We are more exposed than any other nationality because we have more people all over the world.” The military also knows that harsh interrogations often yield false information from prisoners eager to say anything to win better treatment. One terrorism suspect, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, “confessed” knowledge of links between Al Qaeda and Iraq after the Central Intelligence Agency handed him over to Egyptian authorities. According to the recently released Senate report on prewar intelligence, Libi had made up the information to avoid cruel treatment by the Egyptians.

Neither Bush’s bill nor the Senate committee’s deserves passage as written. Each would strip the 400 or more detainees at Guantanamo of any right to appeal their cases to federal courts. Except for a handful of them, none has been charged with war crimes or terrorism. Some undoubtedly would present a threat if released and should be held longer, but others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of them deserve recourse to courts to challenge their continued detention.

At his press conference Friday, Bush challenged Powell’s statement that Bush’s redefinition of the Geneva Conventions would encourage the world to “doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.” Bush construed this to suggest a comparison between US behavior and that of “Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.” The proper comparison, though, is not with the conduct of terrorists but with the principles the United States has maintained in every war it has fought since adoption of the Geneva Conventions.

Those are the principles the Supreme Court upheld in June. Congress should follow suit by passing an amended version of the Senate committee bill that does not subject detainees to the limbo of Guantanamo with no access to the courts.

new interrogation guidelines

new interrogation guidelines

Yesterday the Pentagon released a set of revised guidelines for the interrogation of all detainees. It amounts to a formal acknowledgement that in the “war on terror” we have sometimes overstepped the boundaries of decency and humanity, and have not provided our field operatives a clear sense of what where those boundaries are.

This is a step in the right direction, a reaffirmation of our historic commitment to the rule of law and to the basic rights of all human beings. It’s about doing it right, not just about winning.

However, there are still gaping loopholes. The rules only cover Department of Defense officials on Department of Defense property. There are no prohibitions of secret detention facilities (indeed President Bush affirmed that such secret prisons will continue to be used), no legal oversight for these “unofficial” detention centers, and nothing to prevent government officials from transferring detainees to and from such facilities.

For more on the new guidelines, see the article by Josh White in the Washington Post: New Rules of Interrogation Forbid Use of Harsh Tactics