Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama’s Presser: "Waterboarding is Torture"

Photo credits: CNN

I watched Obama’s full press conference this evening and was left wondering how anyone serving as president of the United States could declare unequivocally that waterboarding is torture without acknowledging that according to international law, the higher ups in the previous administration must be prosecuted.

The AP’s Jennifer Loven reports:

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday night that waterboarding authorized by former President George W. Bush was torture, and the information gained from terror suspects through its use could have been obtained by other means.

"In some cases it may be harder," he conceded at a White House news conference marking a whirlwind first 100 days in office.

Obama also expressed optimism that Chrysler could remain a "going concern," possibly without filing for bankruptcy. He said "unions and creditors have come up with a set of potential concessions that they can live with," adding, "All that promises the possibility that you can get a Chrysler-Fiat merger."

The prime-time news conference was the third of Obama's presidency, and the first not dominated by the economy that has thrown millions of Americans out of work.

Read more:

The NY Times’ Gail Collins and David Brooks on the Specter Earthquake

Note to Katalusis readers: Hi all, I’m sorry I haven’t posted for awhile as I’ve been busy working on a couple of freelance writing projects and meeting a few other obligations.

It’s always entertaining and informative to read the dialog between The NY Times’ Gail Collins and David Brooks on current political issues. Today, Collins and Brooks discussed Arlen Specter’s switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. Brooks is no doubt suffering from this latest blow to his party, but he reveals his take on the situation with a sense of humor:

Here are a couple of excerpts:

David Brooks: In the meantime, I do have to salute Specter’s deft ability to survive. I thought he was cooked. He would have lost the G.O.P. primary. I’ve been told he no longer has the physical stamina to run two tough campaigns — primary and general. I figured he couldn’t get the Democratic nomination, because Democrats do after all prefer to vote for Democrats. And it’s tough to run as an Independent.

And yet the odds are that now he’ll keep his job. He did it by winning over the Obama administration, and, I presume getting Gov. Ed Rendell to clear the field for him. What a savvy dude!

Gail Collins: David, if the question is whether the Democrats are happy because: A.) They have the potential 60th Senate vote or B.) They’re looking forward to the opportunity to spend more quality lunch time with Arlen Specter, I think we can all agree with your assessment.

And you sound so sad and discouraged that I don’t have the heart to wallow in this latest Republican disaster.

To read the Conversation in its entirety, go here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Taliban Gunmen Brutally Execute Couple for Alleged Adultery (video)

In the Telegraph UK, Saeed Shah reports from Islamabad on Taliban gunmen “executing a surprised couple whom they repeatedly shot for the alleged crime of adultery.” Shah’s report continues after the video posted below:

Their deaths {the couple’s} were squalid, riddled with bullets in a field near their home by Taliban gunmen as the execution was captured on a mobile telephone.

In footage which is being watched with horror by Pakistanis, the couple try to flee when they realise what is about to happen. But a gunman casually shoots the man and then the woman in the back with a burst of gunfire, leaving them bleeding in the dirt.

Moments later, when others in the execution party shout out that they are still alive, he returns to coldly finish them with a few more rounds.

Their "crime" was an alleged affair in their remote mountain village controlled by militants in an area that was only recently under the government's sway. It was the kind of barbarity that has become increasingly familiar across Pakistan as the Taliban tide has spread.

But this time, with black-turbaned gunmen almost at the gates of Islamabad, the rare footage has shown urban Pakistanis what could now await them.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, has warned that Islamic extremists could take over the nation.

Read more:

Jon Stewart’s Interview with Budget Director Peter Orszag: Laugh while You Cry

Peter Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office. Getty Images.

In the May 4th issue of the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza’s piece on Jon Stewart’s back and forth with Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag would be funny if it were not so tragic. Lizza reveals Stewart’s cunning as despite Orszag’s intimidating resume, superior height, and pinstriped suit, he proceeds to flummox his guest in the numbers game

Stewart was not satisfied. “Is it hard to talk to someone who doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about?” he said. “Because I’m watching you calculate, like, ‘Am I gonna go second grade on this guy? Do I have to go seventh grade on this guy? How do I do this?’ ” He asked Orszag why the government didn’t just bail out borrowers who have defaulted. “The problem is, if you just focused on the people who defaulted you create this huge incentive to default,” Orszag replied. Stewart looked at Orszag with an astonished grin. Before Stewart could finish pointing out that the government is creating an equally huge incentive by bailing out the financial firms Orszag realized that he had been backed into a corner: “Yeah, none of this is perfect!”

Stewart responded with high-pitched laughter, seeming to suggest that if Obama’s budget director doesn’t know the answer to these questions we are all doomed.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Media Bias Revealed in Coverage of Secretary Clinton’s Trip to Iraq Today

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, shakes hands with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, during their meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, April 25, 2009. Photo released by the Iraqi Presidential Press Office.

Did we expect the media to forego the bias it demonstrated toward then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in its coverage of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Dream on.

On Google News today, there’s a link to the Times Online titled Obama Gets His Hands on a New Blackberry; there is, however, on the big news aggregate no mention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s surprise trip to Iraq this Saturday morning. Just a matter of priority, folks.

At the Washington Post Mary Beth Sheridan mentioned Clinton’s trip in a story titled Clinton Gets Red Carpet Treatment in Iraq that described in detail the Air Force 2 plane - “dinner served on china with cloth napkins” - in which she traveled to Kuwait to be picked up by an Air Force cargo jet for the trip to Baghdad. The brief article also recalled Clinton’s reference to Bosnia in the campaign before describing the red carpet treatment she received on arrival in Iraq, but offered not a word regarding the diplomacy she delivered during her packed schedule of meetings. (Sheridan posted a second article at Wapo later today on Clinton's trip to Iraq that was a little more newsworthy.)

Mark Lander at the NY Times felt compelled to slander Secretary Clinton in his supposed news coverage of her Iraq trip:

At times, her analysis echoed that of former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Mr. Cheney spoke of the insurgency being in its “last throes” during a period of extreme violence; Mr. Rumsfeld talked of “dead-enders” who kept fighting a lost cause.

After quite a search of online news sources, I wound up at Reuters, where Arshad Mohammed covers the story of Secretary Clinton’s trip to Iraq with - surprise! - the objectivity of a professional journalist.

Mohammed writes:

In a whirlwind visit, Clinton met Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari and was briefed by Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq.

Zebari said he found Clinton's message of continued U.S. support reassuring and said the relationship between the two countries would evolve to one of more normal, economic dealings from one been based on security and military concerns.

"There is no doubt that there are serious security and economic challenges that are facing Iraq. We will continue to rely on ... U.S. commitment and support," he said.

Clinton also made time to meet ordinary Iraqis invited to the massive, heavily fortified U.S. embassy, speaking privately to a group of Iraqi women, some of whom were widowed in the last six years of strife.

In her public meeting there, she answered question after question from Iraqis about what the United States could do to help them with everything from education and agriculture to the empowerment of women and the rights of minorities.

At one point, Clinton said she knew that it would not be easy to knit together Iraqi society.

"I know how hard this will be," she said. "My own country has struggled for many years with all kinds of divisions and yet, as you know, we have just elected an African American president, someone who is leading all Americans, not just one group or another group."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Making the Case for Retributive Justice for High-ranking Officers Guilty of Torture

Torture at Abu Ghraib, Iraq

Dr. Sharon Tan’s interpretation of retributive justice in her recently published book The Reconciliation of Classes and Races fits well with Paul Krugman’s op-ed in the NY Times this Thursday titled Reclaiming America’s Soul.

Although Dr. Tan is not speaking specifically about the Bush Administration, both she and Krugman address the necessity for prosecuting the perpetrators of the crime of torture even though the crime occurred in the previous regime or administration.

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cites, Dr. Tan holds both a Doctor of Philosophy in Religion from Emory University and her Juris Doctor from the Emory University School of Law. Dr. Tan writes (emphases mine):

Thus, retributive criminal prosecution is appropriate within the context of societal reconciliation for high-ranking officers that have committed gross violations of human rights…Gross abuses of human rights include genocide, arbitrary, summary or extra judicial executions, forced or involuntary disappearance, torture or other gross physical abuses, prolonged arbitrary deprivation of liberty. As the underlying purpose of retributive justice is to declare that a moral wrong has been committed that society cannot tolerate, it is especially appropriate with gross abuses of human rights committed in the name of the state. As there purportedly can be no cultural excuse for such violations, committed in the name of society, it is appropriate for society to declare its stance otherwise by prosecution.

In fact, there is substantial and growing international law that requires the prosecution of those who committed gross violations of human rights. There has been increasing use of international law treaties to require punishment by a state of its own nationals in cases of genocide and torture. For example, the Genocide Convention, and the Convention Against Torture require punishment of offenders in applicable situations. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not explicitly require states to punish offenders, but does require them to investigate alleged offences. If there is a duty on a state to punish serious violations of international law, that duty falls on successor regimes even if the successor regime is democratically elected, or a transitional regimes. It is possible that an amnesty under domestic law can violate international obligations. However, as retribution is not revenge, punishment, like all human rights policies, must itself conform to international law standards. When punishment is pursuant to international law, not unbridled discretion, it is less likely to be a political affair.

In keeping with Tan’s description of retributive justice in human rights matters, Paul Krugman effectively rebuts each of the Obama Administration’s excuses for not pursuing at a minimum an investigation of the Bush Administration’s violations of human rights as detailed in the recently released torture memos:

“Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” So declared President Obama, after his commendable decision to release the legal memos that his predecessor used to justify torture. Some people in the political and media establishments have echoed his position. We need to look forward, not backward, they say. No prosecutions, please; no investigations; we’re just too busy.

And there are indeed immense challenges out there: an economic crisis, a health care crisis, an environmental crisis. Isn’t revisiting the abuses of the last eight years, no matter how bad they were, a luxury we can’t afford?

No, it isn’t, because America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.

And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.

What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration’s abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true — even if truth and justice came at a high price — that would arguably be a price we must pay: laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability?

For example, would investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?

Read More:

Incidentally, as copied and pasted below, the first reader’s comment following Krugman’s column received 490 recommendations by other Times readers.

If we do not investigate the allegations of torture and the lies that led up to the Iraq war we are telling all future presidents they are above the law and the Constitution does not apply anymore. We are destroying our nation when we allow powerful politicians to disregard the Constitution and international treaties. These are the same people that questioned the patriotism of any American citizen that disagreed with them and tried to stifle dissent. I don't want my patriotic voice silenced any longer. I want the Constitution enforced, now!

— Jim Harrington, San Diego, CA

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Gets the Last Laugh!

In response to a member’s comment, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton laughs on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 22, 2009, prior to testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Huffington Post readers were invited to suggest captions for the above photo of Hillary Clinton. Here’s my entry: "In carrying out her role as secretary of state, Hillary gets the last laugh on all of her detractors."

What do Katalusis readers think?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Watch Secretary Clinton Question Dick Cheney’s Credibility (VIDEO)

The Huffington Post reports today:

Secretary Clinton testified today before Congress about President Obama's anti-terrorism strategy, saying the main goals are to prevent al-Qaida's resurgence in Afghanistan and to limit the progress of Islamic extremists in Pakistan.

The sensitive topic of the release of the torture memos came to the forefront when Republican Rep. Dana Rohrbacker asked Clinton if she agreed with Dick Cheney's request that documents ostensibly showing the efficacy of the torture programs should be declassified. Clinton ultimately replied that she believes "we ought to get to the bottom of this entire matter" and that it "is in the best interest of our country" to do so, but not before she took a shot at Cheney's credibility, saying "I don't consider him to be a particularly reliable source of information."

Read more and watch video: