Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Oops, They Did It Again!

The Associated Press reports that for the second time since August, the Army has announced that they will be extending the tour of duty for troops in Iraq, past the twelve month period that they were promised. Soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division will have their tour extended an extra 46 days in order to give their replacements more training time. Last month, members of the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade had their tour extended by up to four months. Additionally, several units are being sent to Iraq ahead of schedule.

It should go without saying that these changes are incredibly disruptive to the lives of the men and women who serve, as well as to their families. We don't really get to hear their voices and more likely than not, they'd be reluctant to complain.

The news illustrates just what a cluster-insert F-Bomb here- George Bush and company, have made of our military situation.

• Years after proclaiming, "Mission Accomplished," the situation in Iraq has gotten more unstable and more violent. It is almost at the point where administration officials are willing to refer to it as a civil war.

• Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban is making a resurgence because we have diverted the majority of our military assets to Iraq. What once appeared to be a slam dunk, suddenly is looking like a ball game. And then there's the small matter that we never bothered to actually get Bin Laden, which was the prime motivation for going there in the first place.

• The administration continues to talk tough about Iran and nuclear weapons, which may be the most tangible threat that we actually face. How we are going to fight the Iranians, should it be necessary, is anybody's guess.

With all this in mind, is it any wonder that troops are being kept in harm's way for longer and longer periods of time? Can a draft be far behind? To those who would say that a draft will never happen and that mine is the voice of a defeatist, I ask this:

Are you willing to sacrifice the lives of your children or grandchildren to this cause?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


The Associated Press is reporting today that the United States shipped a Canadian citizen to Syria for interrogation, where he was imprisoned and allegedly subjected to torture. After a year, he was released and now has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

How Could This Have Happened?

In the early 2000's, Mr. Maher Arar met with a man who was under surveillance by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The meeting, Arar maintained, was about how to find inexpensive computer equipment. Without double checking the facts, which is standard RCMP procedure, the Canadians instead asked the United States to put Mr. Arar on a watch list as an "Islamic Extremist Individual."

On September 26, 2002, Mr. Arar was returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia. His flight went through New York's Kennedy Airport, where he was detained. It should be noted that he was traveling on a legal Canadian passport at the time. From there, the United States government shipped Mr. Arar to Syria, against his will, where he was imprisoned and subjected to extensive interrogation. This included beatings and whippings with electrical cables. In 2003, the Syrian government released him, with none of the allegations ever proven or charges being filed.

Mr. Arar had his case heard by the Canadian government and Justice Dennis O'Connor gave the following report, "I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada." Additionally, Justice O'Connor concluded:

• That the U.S. government sent Mr. Arar to Syria despite his assertions that he would be tortured.

• That the U.S. government had not been forthcoming with Canadian officials regarding Mr. Arar's case.

• That the RCMP had no basis or grounds for describing Mr. Arar as an "Islamic Extremist Individual."

• That inaccurate information supplied by the RCMP to the U.S. government "very likely" led to the decision to send Mr. Arar to Syria.

• That Mr. Arar had in fact been tortured in Syria and was entitled to compensation.

This Is A Disgrace!

The story of Maher Arar is one rife with missteps by the Canadian government, over-zealousness on the part of the U.S. government to extract information by any manner it deems necessary, and a willingness by the Syrian government to use torture to do so.
It is a deep mark of shame that serves to underscore just how out of control the "War On Terror" has become.

Situations like these must not be allowed to continue. You know who to write.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Farewell To One Of The Greats

There's so much that could be written about today. In fact, it's a veritable cornucopia of topics ranging from Republican Representative Bob Ney's guilty plea to corruption charges (get in line, Bob), to prominent Republicans such as John McCain and Colin Powell coming out against the President's proposed detainee bill. Yep, it's a treasure trove, for sure. But these weighty topics will have to wait.

This one belongs to an American original, Ann Richards.

It was with great sadness that I heard about the passing of the former Texas governor, this past Wednesday. Most of us were introduced to Ann Richards during the 1988 Democratic convention, where she delivered a memorable keynote speech. She wasn't governor yet but when she uttered the line, "Poor George Bush. He can't help it if he was born with a silver foot in his mouth," we knew that she was a force to be reckoned with. She was real, with both grace and a disarming humour that let us know she was one of us. She used her humour, to affirm the rights of women and stand up for equality when she reminded us that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, "only backwards and in high heels."

But Ann Richards was so much more than a quip and a well placed punch line.

Ann Richards walked the talk. She was a champion of human rights and of the human spirit. As governor, she appointed the first black University of Texas regent, the first crime victim on the state Criminal Justice Board, the first disabled person on the human services board and the first teacher to lead the State Board of Education. She pinned stars on the first African-american and female officers in the history of the Texas Rangers. As governor, she vetoed legislation that would allow people to carry concealed handguns, automatic weapons and "cop-killer bullets." She preserved the environment by vetoing a bill that would have allowed the destruction of the environment over the Edwards Aquifer. The last two items it's been postulated cost her re-election.

Still, when she left office, it was with a 60% approval rating.

Ann Richards never stopped working for the greater good, never lost her keen sense of humour, or willingness to tell the truth. She was a democrat and American of the Harry Truman variety: A type that comes along all too rarely.

Sadly, her passing reminds us that in times like these, we need her and those like her, more than ever.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bush Paves The Road To Legalised Torture

The Associated Press is reporting today that some Republican lawmakers are pushing forward a White House endorsed bill that would not only legalize certain interrogation techniques defined by many as torture, but would retroactively protect anyone who has engaged in said techniques since 2001. Strongly supported by President Bush, Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist is expected to open debate on the bill within the next week. According to reports, the techniques would be used on "high value" terror suspects, though “high value” remains undefined.

55% of respondents in a recent Time poll indicated that they support the use of harsh interrogation techniques. But what does harsh torture really mean?

Let's take a look. Practises that this bill would be sanctioned either by omission or legal definition include;

• Hypothermia – a state where the body's core temperature is less than or equal to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The normal human body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Hypothermia is essentially is the rapid loss of body heat. Symptoms include; shivering, cold, pale, or blue-gray skin, lack of interest or concern (apathy), poor judgment, mild unsteadiness in balance or walking, slurred speech, and numb hands and fingers and difficulty performing tasks. WebMD defines hypothermia as "an emergency condition and can quickly lead to unconsciousness and death if heat loss continues."

• Stress Positions – a technique where a prisoner is put in a stance that is designed to focus discomfort on a specific area of the body. While usually not lethal, it should be noted that this practise has been denounced by organisations such as Amnesty International as constituting torture.

• Waterboarding - the practise of restraining a prisoner and either dunking him/her or pouring water over him/her to simulate the experience of drowning. It is a technique with origins that can be traced back to the Inquisition. Complications from this form of interrogation can include; damage to the lungs, brain damage, broken bones and death.
In a 2005 report, ABC News was told by current and former CIA officers that, they were trained to handcuff the prisoner and cover his face with cellophane to enhance the distress. Interestingly enough, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a torture victim during the Vietnam War, has described the water board technique as a "very exquisite torture" and one that should be outlawed.

This Is What President Bush Is Asking Congress To Legalize. Would You Be Proud To Say That Your Country Endorses And Engages In These Practises?

There is little empirical evidence to suggest that torture works and even if it did, is it ethically or morally acceptable? Sadly, in the mindset of our current President, it appears as though end justifies the means. In case you’re unconvinced, let me break it down some more.

• According to Elisa Massimino, the Washington director for Human Rights First, if passed, we would be the first nation in the history of the world to legally reduce the protections of the Geneva Conventions. That's right, not China, not Vietnam, not Iran, North Korea or even the old Soviet Union. But rather, the United States of America.

• Once we decide to lower the threshold as to what constitutes torture, it can be argued that American POWs will be subjected to the same treatment.

So Here's What I'd Like To Ask President Bush

If you woke up tomorrow and saw on the news that the Iranian or North Korean President was advocating the legalisation of these practises in his country, and that the legislative body had approved them, would it be o.k.?

My guess is not so much.

So why then do George Bush, Dick Cheney and Bill Frist (a medical doctor, no less) believe that they are acceptable in the United States? There is no sane answer that I can think of.

In my end analysis, this bill is an affront to the bedrock values of our country. Please write President Bush as well as, your Senators and Congressional Representative and tell them what they should already know:

Torture in any form is unacceptable!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Worst Kept Secret, The Worst Sin Yet!

George Bush has finally done it. He's finally admitted to what those of us with a conscience, with a sense of right and wrong, with a belief in human rights had hoped wasn't true. He's admitted that the United States government has willfully flaunted the Geneva Conventions and even sidestepped our own laws. Yesterday, George Bush publicly, and without shame or remorse, admitted that our government has sent prisoners to secret prisons in other nations. No one knows where these prisons are, the condition of the incarcerated, or even who they are for certain. They have not been charged with formal crimes, nor given access to legal representation. Every liberty and right that we as citizens of the United States enjoy, has been stripped from these individuals. Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that we are likely to find good people in these places. But what disturbs me is this:

Our government, and far too many of our fellow citizens, are readily willing to cast aside the bedrock rights upon which our nation was founded, in the name of security.

I've said this before. The United States is the greatest beacon of hope, determination and experiment in democracy the world has ever seen. Every time that we fail to live by our values, every time that we disregard our laws, because they are inconvenient or because we are afraid, we become a caricature of freedom instead of the embodiment of it.

There is no acceptable excuse.

George Bush can now add to his record yet another staggering abuse of human rights. He can count among his attributes the very qualities that he claims to despise in leaders such as; Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong-Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

How is the world supposed to differentiate? How are we?

Instead of entering the Presidential pantheon of luminaries such as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, Bush is likely to find himself viewed by historians in the company of James Buchanan, perhaps the most ineffectual president in our history. They share a striking similarity; the inability to rise to the challenge of their time. The result in both cases was severe: Death, suffering, destruction and war.
In Buchanan's case, the damage was to our nation. In Bush's case it is to our nation and to our world.

There's not a damn thing that I can do to stop George Bush, save write and do my part to see that Congress turns to the Democrats this mid-term election. Perhaps with Congressional checks we can begin to stem the wounds that ooze our liberty and rights one drop at a time. Perhaps. But when the President's term is over, I hope that the world will hold him accountable. Because of this I am certain.

George Bush should stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tsk, Tsk, Bill Frist

The Associate Press recently reported that Senate Majority Leader, Dr. Bill Frist (MD) is likely to be fined by the Tennessee Department of Health for failing to complete continuing education that is required of physicians with active licenses. It appears that the Senator will receive a fine of $40 for every hour that he failed to complete and be required to make up the hours within 6 months.

Understandably a United States Senator, particularly when that person is the Majority Leader, is busy. I can see how hours might not get completed in the manner that they should have. Things happen in life sometimes. But here's the kicker.

Senator Frist on his license renewal form certified that he HAD fulfilled the requirement.


The explanation from the Frist camp is that a representative signed the renewal papers and that this person was "apparently unaware" of the continuing education requirement.

Really? That's the best spin they could find?

Let's see if I understand.

• In Tennessee, if you are a licensed medical doctor, someone other than yourself can sign your license renewal form? The Frist camp claims this is so. If it is, Tennessee really needs to look at their licensing procedures.

• The Tennessee license renewal form is apparently so obtuse that it is unclear that continuing education is required. I'm sure that there is no section where a physician has to, oh I don't know, document what they did and for how many hours.

It brings to mind the old Steve Martin comedy bit where his explanation for not paying his taxes is, "I forgot."

Mistakes happen in life. We'd like to believe that our physcians are less prone to making them, but they're just people. What is troubling about this is that Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader and a man who trots out his medical credentials liberally, allowed this to happen. It troubles me that he has been so cavalier with his medical license. If the person who filled out Frist's application wasn't aware of the continuing ed requirement, shouldn't Senator Frist at least know about it. Did he not think that personally reviewing HIS own license renewal application was a good idea? Hello, McFly?

In the end, it serves to make the Senator look either stupid or shady. Neither look wears well in a contentious election year.