,Malaysia, Nicaragua,adultery

Friday, November 30, 2007


Sudanese Rabble

If there are sane voices in the Islamic world they are buried in the din of blood-thirsty Muslims seeking death sentence for Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher caught in the "teddy bear" case.

Half a chance and the Islamic mobs come out of the holes. Does not take much for them to perceive the Prophet being insulted -- Danish cartoons, knighthood for Salman Rushdie, writings of Taslima Nasreen, or a teacher who unwittingly permitted a teddy bear to be named Mohammed. The Islamic fanatics exist in all countries. Sudan has a large number of them. It is a country where there is strong resistance against steps to outlaw genital mutilation of women.


Thursday, November 29, 2007


Empire Building, Neocon Style

Or Bush's Parting Gift

The man who gave us the war under the grandiloquent title "Operation Iraqi Freedom", is now hatching a plot to leave a lasting legacy in Iraq. No surprise that the Iraqi profiteers are with him. They love him, and so do the American contractors raking in money.

Excerpts from Harold Meyerson's column in the Post: Bush's Next Preemptive Strike

George W. Bush is focusing now on his legacy. Duck. Run. Hide.

Some of his legacy-building, I'll allow, is commendable, if overdue -- most particularly, his efforts to resurrect the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which he ignored for seven long years. But the linchpin of Bush's legacy, it appears, is to make his Iraq policy a permanent fixture of American statecraft.

On Monday, Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a declaration pledging that their governments would put in place a long-term political and security pact sometime next year. "The shape and size of any long-term, or longer than 2008, U.S. presence in Iraq will be a key matter for negotiation between the two parties, Iraq and the United States," Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House official in charge of Iraq war matters, said at the briefing unveiling the agreement.

What Bush will almost surely be pushing for is permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, enshrined in a pact he can sign a few months before he leaves office. And here, as they used to say, is the beauty part: As far as Bush is concerned, he doesn't have to seek congressional ratification for such an enduring commitment of American force, treasure and lives.

"We don't anticipate now that these negotiations will lead to the status of a formal treaty which would then bring us to formal negotiations or formal inputs from the Congress," Lute said. The administration is looking to sign a status-of-forces agreement, which requires Senate ratification if it's classified as a treaty but not if it's classified as an executive agreement. One need not be able to solve the riddle of the Sphinx to guess which of those classifications the Bush White House will go for.

But if Bush tries to lock the next president into permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, he may also be locking in a Democrat as the next president. Ironically, just when events on the ground in Iraq aren't looking as disastrous as they did six months ago, Bush's efforts to make the U.S. presence permanent would drape the necks of the Republican presidential and congressional candidates with one large, squawking albatross.

Is the president personally going to profit from this after his term is over ? Don't ask.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Hate, Love: Four-letter Words

The Geography of Hate in NY Times is about the corrosive effects of hate. Prejudices exist in our society and they are not about to disappear. Generations of men and women who have grown up in households that encouraged racial slurs are not going to be able to brush off the deep-rooted prejudices by attending classes about diversity.

Immigrants who are making this country their home in large numbers are not blameless either. Some of them readily adopt long-standing fallacies about other communities.

The noose (Image)
  • FROM the 1880s to the 1960s, at least 4,700 men and women were lynched in this country. The noose remains a terrifying symbol, and continues to be used by racists to intimidate African-Americans (who made up more than 70 percent of lynching victims).
Those of us who do not nurse and condone such prejudices are not entirely free from strong sense of antipathy toward people and practices we don't agree with. There are times when such feelings hover close to hate. The fact that they are often directed toward individuals rather than communities does not make them OK.

Hate (n): Intense animosity or dislike; hatred.

The antonym is "Love" but perhaps "tolerance" -- live and let live is a more realistic goal.

Tolerance (n) - a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior

Piet Hein - 1905-1996

Sunny morning. Birds are chirping. Fall bulbs have started sprouting. Bach's Art of the Fugue on the CD player. Not all is right with the world but I'm not going to let news about war, politicians, and preachers affect my mood......not today.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Die Kunst der Fugue, BWV 1080 (The Art of the Fugue)
Musica Antiqua Köln
Reinhard Goebel
Archiv Produktion

Saturday, November 24, 2007


A Fresh Wind Down Under

Exit for FOB (Friend of Bush) John Howard

Good news. Voters in Australia sent a clear message and ended the era of Prime Minister John Howard.

To my friends in Perth and Melbourne, I say "Bonza".

"Down came a jumbuck to dri-ink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he stuffed that jumbuck in his tucker-bag
You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me"

--From Australian National Song "Waltzing Matilda", 'Banjo' (A.B.) Patterson, c. 1890


Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Thanksgiving 2007


Heading toward 5th year of the war in Iraq

The number of casualties has dropped. Fewer soldiers and Iraqis are losing their lives and limbs. That is reason to rejoice.

I feel that it is appropriate to repeat what I wrote last year:

Let's hope that by next Thanksgiving most of the soldiers will be home and that never again will Americans permit an untruthful, egomaniac president to begin a war without just cause.

Every Thanksgiving Day, a column by Jon Carroll appears in The San Francisco Chronicle. Except for names of people he offers thanks to, the column has remained unchanged over the years. Excerpts from the column dated Thursday November 23, 2006.

Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It is comfortably free of the strident religious and/or militaristic overtones that give the other holidays their soft emanations of uneasiness.

At Christmas, for instance, we are required to deal with the divinity of Jesus -- I know some of you folks have made up your minds about that one, but not me -- and on the Fourth of July we must wrestle with the question of whether all those simulated aerial bombardments represent the most useful form of nationalism available.

At Thanksgiving, all we have to worry about is whether we can wholeheartedly support (a) roasted turkey, (b) friends and (c) gratitude. My opinions on these matters are unambiguous; I am in favor of them all. I understand that there's another story attached to Thanksgiving, all about a meal that may not have happened at all and certainly didn't happen on the fourth Thursday of November. (Check the New England weather reports. Does it sound like a good day for alfresco dining?)

Thanksgiving provides a formal context in which to consider the instances of kindness that have enlightened our lives, the moments of grace that have gotten us through when all seemed lost. These are fine and sentimental subjects for contemplation.

First, there are the public personalities, artists and entertainers and philosophers, who have been there when they were needed, whether they knew it or not. Let us think kind thoughts about Nancy Pelosi and Helen Mirren, Barbara Lee and Frank Gore, Al Gore and David Milch, David Simon and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tom Stoppard and Keith Olbermann, Jennifer Egan and Peter Carey, Van Morrison and Clarence Fountain, Don Asmussen and Judith Martin, Duncan Black and Joshua Micah Marshall, Dan Savage and Masi Oka -- this is my partial list; feel free to create your own.

And the teachers, the men and women who took the time to fire a passion for the abstract, to give us each a visceral sense of the continuity of history and the adventure of the future. Our society seems determined to denigrate its teachers -- at its peril, and at ours. This is their day as well.

Even closer. Companions. We all learned about good sex from somebody, and that person deserves a moment. Somebody taught us some hard lesson of life, told us something for our own good, and that willingness to risk conflict for friendship is worth a pause this day. And somebody sat with us through one long night, and listened to our crazy talk and turned it toward sanity; that person has earned this moment too.

And a moment for old friends now estranged, victims of the flux of alliances and changing perceptions. There was something there once, and that something is worth honoring as well.

Our parents, of course, and our children; our grandparents and our grandchildren. We are caught in the dance of life with them and, however tedious that dance can sometimes seem, it is the music of our lives. To deny it is to deny our heritage and our legacy.

And thanks, too, for all the past Thanksgivings, and for all the people we shared them with. Thanks for the time the turkey fell on the floor during the carving process; for the time Uncle Benny was persuaded to sing "Peg o' My Heart"; for the time two strangers fell in love, and two lovers fell asleep, in front of the fire, even before the pumpkin pie.

And the final bead on the string is for this very Thanksgiving, this particular Thursday, and the people with whom we will be sharing it. Whoever they are and whatever the circumstances that have brought us together, we will today be celebrating with them the gift of life and the persistence of charity in a world that seems bent on ending one and denying the other. Thanks. A lot.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Tolls of War: PTSD and Blake Miller, the Marlboro Man

Reports about Iraq war veterans suffering from PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) are appearing more frequently than in the past. It takes time for the symptoms to manifest themselves and as the war continues the number of afflicted grows.

Luis Sinco's article in The Observer about Marine Lance Corporal James Blake Miller, who became known as the Marlboro Man after Sinco's photograph of him at Falluja in November 2004 was published in newspapers across the world, takes readers into Blake Miller's battle with PTSD. A superb piece of writing.

Am I to blame for his Private War? - Luis Sinco


Desertion Rate Climbs


WASHINGTON - Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Religious Fundamentalists - Islamic and Christian

Recent reports by the BBC leave no doubt that some Islamic nations practice strange, repressive laws based on the Koran.

Our Friends, the Saudis


"An appeal court in Saudi Arabia has doubled the number of lashes and added a jail sentence as punishment for a woman who was gang-raped."

Although the State Department's human rights report for 2006 mentions undesirable practices and conditions, the U.S. treads softly where Saudi Arabia is concerned. It is a major supplier of the oil we consume.

The victim was initially punished for violating laws on segregation of the sexes - she was in an unrelated man's car at the time of the attack.

When she appealed, the judges said she had been attempting to use the media to influence them. The attackers' sentences - originally of up to five years - were doubled.But the victim was also punished for violating Saudi Arabia's laws on segregation that forbid unrelated men and women from associating with each other. She was initially sentenced to 90 lashes for being in the car of a strange man.

Fundos Ascendant in Egypt

Egypt, the second largest beneficiary of our foreign aid program (Israel is first) passed a law to discriminate against those who convert from Islam.
  • Rights groups have criticised Egypt for forcing converts from Islam and members of some minority faiths to lie about their true beliefs in official papers.
  • Egyptians over 16 must carry ID cards showing religious affiliation. Muslim, Christian and Jew are the only choices.

In Iran, the Mullahs Ban a Garcia Marquez Novel

How do Iranians feel about living under such rulings? It is not only censorship of books and films but also the constant fear of incurring the wrath of religious zealots who have nothing better to do but act as moral guardians based on their interpretation of outdated scriptures.


The latest novel by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez has been banned in Iran - but only after censors noticed its title had been sanitised.

The book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, was published in Farsi as Memories of My Melancholy Sweethearts.

The first edition of 5,000 had sold out before the authorities realised.

The novel tells the story of a man who wants to mark his 90th birthday by sleeping with a 14-year-old virgin in a brothel and ends up falling in love.

Iran's culture ministry said a "bureaucratic error" had led to permission being granted for the book's publication, the Fars news agency reported. The official responsible had been sacked, Fars said.

The book sold out within three weeks of arriving in Iranian bookshops.

But the book angered religious conservatives who drew the authorities' attention to its original title and content.

Christian Fundamentalists

Here in America there is no dearth of members of fundamentalist churches who would love to have the power that Mullahs in Islamic nations enjoy. The late Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority, and Rev. Pat Robertson talked about "moral decay" and loss of God's protection for what took place on 9/11. Later, they both backed off from what they had said. See transcript of comments September 13, 2001, edition of the 700 Club.

Fortunately, while the Bush administration has encouraged attacks on secular positions, American fundos remain far from being a dominant force.

"Bigotry is the sacred disease."

Friday, November 16, 2007


John McCain's Shameful Descent

Was that "an excellent question", Senator McCain ?

John McCain showed that he was ready and willing to cater to scumbags to win the Republican Party's nomination. Sad to see a man that I once respected stoop so low.
  • Rhymes with Front Runner

The expletive in question is a highly derogatory word used by rappers to describe the scantily clad women who gyrate in the background of racy music videos. It's the word that former first lady Barbara Bush was hinting at when someone asked her opinion of Geraldine Ferraro and she replied, "I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich."

Blackwater USA and the Brothers Krongard

The names sound right out of a story about the underworld -- Howard "Cookie" Krongard of the State Department and his brother Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, formerly with the CIA. Dana Milbank's report in the Post makes interesting reading.

O Brother, Who Art Thou?
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, November 15, 2007; A02

"I am not my brother's keeper," Howard "Cookie" Krongard, the State Department's inspector general, testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday.

As Cookie surely must know, that excuse hasn't worked since Genesis. But it was a fitting contribution to the modern-day Cain-and-Abel tale that unfolded before lawmakers' eyes in the Rayburn Building. In this case, the players weren't Cain and Abel, but Cookie and his brother Buzzy. Biblical scholars believe the first fratricide was committed with an ass's jawbone, but the weapon in this case was a uniquely Washington cudgel: the conflict of interest.Cookie, under fire for allegedly quashing probes of the infamous Blackwater security contractor, began his testimony by angrily denying the "ugly rumors" that his brother, former CIA official Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, is on Blackwater's advisory board. But during a recess, Cookie called Buzzy and learned that -- gulp -- the ugly rumors are true: His brother is on the board.

When the lawmakers returned, Cookie revised and extended his testimony. "I had not been aware of that," Cookie told the congressmen. "I hereby recuse myself from any matters having to do with Blackwater."

Despite the investigations, and findings by the FBI that Blackwater employees had no justification for the killings (murders) at Nisoor Square on September 16, 2007, it is unlikely that they will face punishment; they have friends in high places.


Thursday, November 15, 2007


A Man, his Doll, and a Town with a Big Heart

Celluloid dreams

Once in a while a fairy-tale like movie is what the audience needs. Among the current films, Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl is refreshingly different. Not a box office hit but certainly worth watching. As the story moves along, Bianca, the doll, begins to feel like a human being and you find yourself admiring the good people who gave their support to Lars and Bianca.

Rendition made us feel battered when JHL and I left the theater two weeks ago. Gillespie's film had just the opposite effect. Check it out.

Lars and the Real Girl
Emily Mortimer, Craig Gillespie, Ryan Gosling, Nancy Oliver, Kelli Garner and Patricia Clarkson
Photo Credit: Jeff Vespa- Yahoo.com

Bright Thursday morning. No rain in the long range weather forecast. Listening to Ostinato by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI.

Monday, November 12, 2007


The Devil and Alaska's Republican Legislators

Money Speaks, Oil Companies Win * Erectile Dysfunction and Insomnia

Venal politicians on the take are nothing new. They have always existed. The news about Republicans caught in a FBI sting in Alaska made me gloat because of the sham front they have a habit of putting on. If Democrats wielded power it could have been them taking bribes but it was unlikely that they would have gone around preaching moral values. That is a specialty of the Republicans. As the Queen said to Alice: "Off with their heads". (Lewis Carroll, The Mock Turtle Story) . But there might not be need for such drastic measures; they might self-destruct by mixing impotency drugs and sleeping pills.

The Washington Post (Karl Vick)

Not Sermons and Soda-Water, ED and Insomnia

This is going to enliven many cocktail parties in Washington, DC, and elsewhere:

The Washington Post

The probe has delivered low humor as well as bad behavior. In one exchange the FBI captured by wiretap, Allen handed a sexual potency pill and a sleeping pill to Kott -- who later phoned, confused and upset, after mixing them up.

"Sometimes you try to come up with an exaggeration to make a point," said Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat. "It's hard to do that here."

Ah, the travails of the Grand Old Party!

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Televangelists Facing Scrutiny

Duping the Flocks ?

It would appear that the flocks -- most of them -- really do not care what the televangelists do with their money. So, $23,000 marble commodes, Rolls-Royce cars, and jet-set lifestyles mean nothing to the people who fatten the coffers of the hucksters. There is, however, the question of tax exempt status enjoyed by the smooth operators, and that is a different can of worms.

It is to be seen how far Senator Grassley's investigation will go. Interesting, that a Republican politician decided to pursue this issue a year before presidential election when every Republican contender is bending over backward to gain support of conservative Christian voters. Not all members of the so called Christian Right donate to the televangelists but Jesus peddlers on TV channels collect big bucks. They have reason to be concerned.

Excerpts from CBS46.com News Atlanta, Nov.6, 2007

  • Senate To Investigate Six Televangelists
  • WASHINGTON -- The ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee is investigating the financial dealings of six TV evangelists, saying donors deserve to have their "money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent letters Monday asking media-oriented ministers around the country to provide documents detailing their finances by Dec. 6.

They include Joyce Meyer, one of America's wealthiest and most powerful TV preachers who has built a $124-million-a-year empire headquartered in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton.

A 2003 series in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch detailed her lavish lifestyle and blunt fundraising pitches.

"I'm following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries," Grassley said in a statement.

"The allegations involve governing boards that aren't independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and Rolls-Royces.

"I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more. People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code."

Grassley's letter asked Meyer to provide his staff with documents detailing the finances of the Joyce Meyer Ministries, including the religious group's compensation to Meyer, her husband and other family members, as well as an accounting of their housing allowances, gifts and credit card statements for the last several years.

Among other things, the letter asked for a "detailed accounting" of all her and her husband's expense-account items, including clothing and cosmetic surgery, information about any overseas bank accounts and deposits, and the tax-exempt purpose of items at her ministry's headquarters, such as a $23,000 marble-topped commode, a $30,000 conference table and an $11,219 French clock.

Federal law grants churches tax-exempt status and excludes them from reporting requirements, but prohibits their leaders and founders from dipping into the organizations' accounts for their own personal use. Expenses of any tax-exempt organization are supposed to further the cause or goals of that entity.

Grassley's staff and other ministry watchdogs said that media-oriented ministries, once known simply as televangelists, are now a billion-dollar industry with little to no oversight from an overburdened IRS.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Kucinich battles to Impeach

Richard B. Cheney * "Bliss", A Film about Honor Killings

Details of the sordid affair between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky are now common knowledge. In pithy terms, he diddled with Ms Lewinsky in the White House...and lied about it. Impeachable ? It was an example of partisan politics at its worst. One can also think of envy -- Bubba getting it was like a red flag in the face of hypocrites like Gingrich. Cost of Special Counsel Starr's investigation exceeded $40 million !

Monday, November 05, 2007


Three Score Years and Ten, Plus a Few More

For those who believe in zodiac signs it is the time of the scorpion. I never pay attention to the signs and what they mean but when November comes around it makes me think of where I am and of years gone by. For me it is autumn in more sense than one. The late Norman Maclean wrote:

"As I get considerably beyond the biblical alllotment of three score years and ten, I feel with increasing intensity that I can express my gratitude for still being around on the oxygen side of the earth's crust only by not standing pat on what I have hitherto known and loved. While the oxygen lasts, there are still new things to love, especially if compassion is a form of love."

--Norman Maclean (Notes written as a possible foreword to Young Men and Fire, December 4, 1985)

Compassion......and a sense of humility. Hope they remain strong as long as my heart keeps beating.

A star looks down at me
And says: "Here I and you
Stand,each in our degree:
What do you mean to do--
Mean to do?"

I say: "For all I know
Wait,and let Time go by
Till my change come."--"Just so,"
The star says: "So mean I-- So mean I."

---Thomas Hardy "Waiting Both"

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Pakistan's Uneasy Autumn

What next? General Musharraf defied the Bush administration and declared a state of emergency, Provisional Constitution Order (PCO), in effect imposed martial law. While American officials are huddling about what to do, Benazir Bhutto, head of the Pakistan People's Party, flew back from Dubai.

From Saudi Arabia, Nawaz Sharif condemned General Musharraf. "ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Exiled former President Nawaz Sharif said on Saturday Pakistan was heading towards anarchy and described President Pervez Musharraf's decision to invoke emergency powers as a form of martial law." At this time it appears doubtful that his Pakistan Muslim League N (Nawaz Group) can emerge as a powerful force. It incurred displeasure of both conservative religious groups and moderate (secularist) Pakistanis.

Seven justices of the supreme court who defied PCO are reported to be under house arrest. Pro-Musharraf Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar has been named as chief justice.

And the mullahs -- heads of religious groups who wield tremendous power -- which side are they going to support ?

Musharraf quotes Abe Lincoln

New York Times

Speaking in English, General Musharraf began his discussion of Lincoln as follows:

“I would at this time venture to read out an excerpt of President Abraham Lincoln, specially to all my listeners in the United States. As an idealist, Abraham Lincoln had one consuming passion during that time of crisis, and this was to preserve the Union… towards that end, he broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary power, he trampled individual liberties. His justification was necessity and explaining his sweeping violation of Constitutional limits he wrote in a letter in 1864, and I quote, ‘My oath to preserve the Constitution imposed on me the duty of preserving by every indispensable means that government, that Nation of which the Constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the Nation and yet preserve the Constitution?’”

A good touch, that. As the people of Pakistan face this crisis we can only hope that violence and loss of lives do not become every day occurrence. It is unfortunate that the records of Benazir Bhutto's previous premierships are far from clean. She talks the talk but does not inspire trust.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Season of Falling Leaves

Hindi, the national language of India, is not one of my favorites. Unlike Urdu and Bengali it lacks sweetness, does not have a lilting sound. Urdu is spoken by many residents of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India. Patjhar, an Urdu word, means falling leaves, a very apt description of autumn.

It was while researching the word patjhar that I found Qurratulain Hyder and her book of short stories Patjhar ki Awaaz -- Sound of Autumn (Falling Leaves) which won India's Sahitya Akademi award in 1967. Wonderful stories. Qurratulain Hyder died on August 21, 2007, at the age of 81.

Azra Raza's tribute to Qurratulain Hyder in the August 27th issue of 3quarksdaily is a must read for those who want to pursue writings of the great author.

Source: 3quarksdaily.blogs.com/


The winds that blow--
Ask them, which leaf of the tree
Will be next to go !

--Soseki (translated by Harold Henderson)

Images of Fall




Wild Turkeys at Ed R. Levin County Park

©Arundhati Bhowmick


Friday, November 02, 2007


The United States and Torture

A few days back a friend and I went to see "Rendition", the movie based on the experience of Canadian citizen Maher Arar. Both of us came out of the theater feeling depressed. We knew what the movie was about and didn't expect it to make us feel good but we had no idea how deeply the film would affect us

It is one thing to read about what our government is doing in the name of fighting terrorism, watching depiction of the nefarious activities on a big screen is something else. The film-makers adapted the basic facts; some liberties were taken. The movie made me feel as though I emerged from a sewer, I felt ashamed.

Jacobo Timmerman's 1981 book "Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number" described his incarceration and torture for 30 months during Argentina's dirty war. In the 1970's the U.S. actively assisted juntas in Latin American nations to carry out atrocities against their citizens.

It is not my first post about torture and the United States' cozy relationships with brutal regimes. It has happened under Democrats too. The Extraordinary Rendition program began during the Clinton administration. Republicans, however, are more zealous when it comes to dark and secretive programs. They seem to have a warped outlook about oppression; rulers of some countries can do no wrong, while others face threats and punitive actions.

It is a strange world. Syria is on our "enemies list" and yet it was Syria where Maher Arar was renditioned for torture. No doubt the Syrians were rewarded in cash and kind. According to Radio Free Europe, Poland and Romania cooperated with CIA in setting up illegal detention centers. Airports in UK were used during Blair's premiership for flights ferrying "renditioned" prisoners.

The True Purpose of Torture
Naomi Klein
The Guardian - Saturday May 14, 2005

Guantánamo is there to terrorise - both inmates and the wider world

I recently caught a glimpse of the effects of torture in action at an event honouring Maher Arar. The Syrian-born Canadian is the world's most famous victim of "rendition", the process by which US officials outsource torture to foreign countries. Arar was switching planes in New York when US interrogators detained him and "rendered" him to Syria, where he was held for 10 months in a cell slightly larger than a grave and taken out periodically for beatings.

Arar was being honoured for his courage by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, a mainstream advocacy organisation. The audience gave him a heartfelt standing ovation, but there was fear mixed in with the celebration. Many of the prominent community leaders kept their distance from Arar, responding to him only tentatively. Some speakers were unable even to mention the honoured guest by name, as if he had something they could catch. And perhaps they were right: the tenuous "evidence" - later discredited - that landed Arar in a rat-infested cell was guilt by association. And if that could happen to Arar, a successful software engineer and family man, who is safe?

In a rare public speech, Arar addressed this fear directly. He told the audience that an independent commissioner has been trying to gather evidence of law-enforcement officials breaking the rules when investigating Muslim Canadians. The commissioner has heard dozens of stories of threats, harassment and inappropriate home visits. But, Arar said, "not a single person made a public complaint. Fear prevented them from doing so." Fear of being the next Maher Arar.

The fear is even thicker among Muslims in the United States, where the Patriot Act gives police the power to seize the records of any mosque, school, library or community group on mere suspicion of terrorist links. When this intense surveillance is paired with the ever-present threat of torture, the message is clear: you are being watched, your neighbour may be a spy, the government can find out anything about you. If you misstep, you could disappear on to a plane bound for Syria, or into "the deep dark hole that is Guantánamo Bay", to borrow a phrase from Michael Ratner, president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights.

But this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. This helps explain why the defence department will release certain kinds of seemingly incriminating information about Guantánamo - pictures of men in cages, for instance - at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. And it might also explain why the Pentagon approved a new book by a former military translator, including the passages about prisoners being sexually humiliated, but prevented him from writing about the widespread use of attack dogs. This strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a state of mind that Argentinians describe as "knowing/not knowing", a vestige of their "dirty war".

'Obviously, intelligence agents have an incentive to hide the use of unlawful methods," says Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "On the other hand, when they use rendition and torture as a threat, it's undeniable that they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it to be credible."

And the threats have been received. In an affidavit filed with an ACLU court challenge to section 215 of the Patriot Act, Nazih Hassan, president of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor in Michigan, describes this new climate. Membership and attendance are down, donations are way down, board members have resigned - Hassan says his members avoid doing anything that could get their names on lists. One member testified anonymously that he has "stopped speaking out on political and social issues" because he doesn't want to draw attention to himself.

This is torture's true purpose: to terrorise - not only the people in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also, and more importantly, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist - the individual prisoner's will and the collective will.

This is not a controversial claim. In 2001 the US NGO Physicians for Human Rights published a manual on treating torture survivors that noted: "Perpetrators often attempt to justify their acts of torture and ill-treatment by the need to gather information. Such conceptualisations obscure the purpose of torture ... The aim of torture is to dehumanise the victim, break his/her will, and at the same time set horrific examples for those who come in contact with the victim. In this way, torture can break or damage the will and coherence of entire communities."

Yet despite this body of knowledge, torture continues to be debated in the United States as if it were merely a morally questionable way to extract information, not an instrument of state terror. But there's a problem: no one claims that torture is an effective interrogation tool -least of all the people who practise it. Torture "doesn't work. There are better ways to deal with captives," CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate intelligence committee on February 16. And a recently declassified memo written by an FBI official in Guantánamo states that extreme coercion produced "nothing more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques". The army's own interrogation field manual states that force "can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear".

And yet the abuses keep on coming - Uzbekistan as the new hotspot for renditions; the "El Salvador model" imported to Iraq. And the only sensible explanation for torture's persistent popularity comes from a most unlikely source. Lynndie England, the fall girl for Abu Ghraib, was asked during her botched trial why she and her colleagues had forced naked prisoners into a human pyramid. "As a way to control them," she replied.

Exactly. As an interrogation tool, torture is a bust. But when it comes to social control, nothing works quite like torture.

Michael Mukasey, the attorney general designate, is dodging questions about his position on torture, specifically waterboarding. President Bush is, of course, strongly supportive of his nominee. And so it goes.
"We do not torture"
--President Bush (White House Press Release Nov 7,2005)

"The United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured.
--Secretary of State Rice (Press Release USINFO.STATE.GOV - Dec.5, 2005).

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