Monday, January 31, 2005

Not chasing the bait
I don’t have a lot to say about the Iraqi elections because it’s way too early to know exactly what happened and what its ultimate effect will be. Yes, the pictures are moving, but really, a little perspective please. Reporting out of Baghdad in 2005 mirrors reporting out of San Salvador in 1984. That was said to be a magnificent success and an expression of a people’s willingness to brave violence in order to express their commitment to Western style democracy. We heard the same stories; people waiting on long lines; telling off guerrillas, walking miles for the right to exercise their democratic rights. Most of this turned out to be an illusion, created by the U.S. military and intelligence forces there, and the voting percentages turned out to be a fraction of what a quiescent media reported at the time. U.S. supported (and perhaps created) death squads continued to exercise their campaign of mass murder, unconcerned with the results of meaningless elections. ...

U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote : Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror
by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times (9/4/1967: p. 2)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3-- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here....

...important insights from author Greg Boyd
regarding what I believe is the major problem that confronts the Christian
community today: the tragic lack of love [and grace] among us. (Critics of Boyd's
Open Theology: I know it is hard for you, but please put that aside for a moment
and hear him on a point that has nothing to do with that debate. Thanks.) He

"How much harm has been done to the church and to the cause of Jesus Christ
because Christians have placed other considerations alongside or above the command
to love as God loves? In the name of truth, Christians in the past have
sometimes destroyed people, even physically torturing and murdering them. In the name
of holiness, Christians have often pushed away and shamed those who don't meet
their standard, creating their own little holiness club to which struggling
sinners need not apply. And in the name of correct biblical doctrine, Christians
have frequently destroyed the unity of the body of Christ, refusing to minister
or worship together because of doctrinal differences, sometimes viciously
attacking those who disagree with them."

"The unsurpassable worth of the person who doesn't share our truth, doesn't
meet our definition of holiness, or doesn't agree with our "correct biblical
doctrine" has all too often been neglected or denied. Which means that in such cases
the truth, holiness, or correct doctrine we have defended was altogether
worthless: clashing cymbals, resounding gongs, religious noise, nothing more. Such
noise tarnishes the reputation--the glory--of God. It also explains why the
church generally has been known for many things other than love and many things that
contradict love."

...There is something terribly wrong with people who call themselves "born again"
believers in America today. Greg Boyd (above) nails it: we are judgmental,
moralistic and almost completely lacking in the grace and love that mark God's
character. As Christians, we fail to heed the most basic truth that marks the
breaking in of the new age:

For the law was given through Moses;
but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

I have seen it first hand on almost a daily basis for years -- especially since
opening our book ministry five years ago. Judgment. Accusation. Vindictiveness.
"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." It is most notorious in Reformed
circles -- the people who love "the Law." But it tends to mark all too many of
those who are conservative and evangelical in their beliefs. And it makes me angry.
Sometimes irrationally so. For that I do apologize. Most sincerely. ...

Counting Sheep?
The proselytizing zeal of American missionaries knows no slack even in tsunami aid

Are American Christian evangelists using the devastation wreaked by the tsunami to spread the word of God – their God? Disturbing stories from the region and fund-raising appeals from religious leaders in the US who want to "plant Christian principles as early as possible" in the orphans of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India have raised profound questions about proselytisation of vulnerable people in times of tragedy. Some groups send help along with Bibles – in Bhojpuri – to increase the fold in affected countries, making it harder for others to provide relief. By lacing help with questions of faith, however delicately, evangelical groups can deepen religious faultlines at a time when talk of civilisational wars rages in e-chat rooms.

The controversy surfaced earlier this month when Vernon Brewer, president of the Virginia-based missionary group World Help, told journalists he wanted to airlift 300 'tsunami orphans' from Banda Aceh to raise them in a Christian children's home. He quickly retracted when the Indonesian government banned adoptions by non-Muslim groups. From India surfaced a story about Samanthapettai, a fishing village in Tamil Nadu hit by the tsunami, where some Christian missionaries reportedly refused to distribute biscuits and water unless the Hindu recipients agreed to change their faith. When TV reporters approached the nuns, they refused to comment and left.

Local missionaries in India and other non-Christian countries are funded to a large extent by resource-rich American groups – powerful multi-million dollar corporations complete with TV channels and private planes. The websites, updated with fervent appeals for funds and tearful photos of tsunami survivors, are a window to their incredible organisation and explicit agendas for touching the "unreached people" or non-Christians with the hand of God. They look at India and Indonesia as "opportunities" for spreading the gospel. India is often described as a land of darkness, of idol worshippers and an area ripe for redemption. ...

... "This kind of proselytisation demeans the idea of religious conversion, for it uses helplessness to spread a religion," says Ashutosh Varshney, political science professor at Michigan University. "A genuine change in conviction remains the best basis for religious conversion and should not be stopped. Few people in abysmal distress can exercise sound judgement."...

... When religious passions are high, it's important to analyse the role of all religious fundamentalists. While Muslim extremists are commonly denounced in the US media, Christian hardliners are rarely challenged. Leading evangelists routinely smear other religions, specially Islam, on mainstream networks and still receive grants from President George Bush. Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority, called Prophet Mohammad "a terrorist" on CBS on October 6, 2002. The insult sparked a riot all the way out in Solapur, India, killing eight people and injuring 90 others.

At a time when America is increasingly viewed as waging a war against the Muslim world, hateful speech and charity with an ambiguous agenda from zealous Christians can only add to the tension.

Friday, January 28, 2005

SpongeBob, Part 2
...Is the position of Christianity really that we shouldn't have respect for other people, including those with whom we disagree? What happened to "love your neighbor as yourself" from the Sermon on the Mount? What happened to the phrase that's become a mantra for social conservatives, "hate the sin and love the sinner"? Please keep in mind the Tolerance Pledge doesn't say that we should respect the differences, it says that we should have respect "for people".

To be honest with you, I think things are getting pretty crazy out there when our side attacks a cartoon character for appearing in a video that's produced by a company that has a Tolerance Pledge on it's website (not in the video) for a statement of respect (not agreement, endorsement or approval) of cultural, religious and sexual differences. It's becoming increasingly clear to me that homosexuality has become, to some degree, an obsession of the religious right. After all, where are the complaints about respecting differences in beliefs in the Tolerance Pledge? We're all worked up about something that might imply respecting homosexuals but don't seem to have any concern whatsoever that tells us we should respect atheists and Islamists. I think for many in our tribe who say homosexuality is a sin (which indeed it is), they actually believe that it is more than a sin. It's kind of like a Protestant Evangelical version of mortal and venial sins.

Guantanamo Soldier Details Sexual Tactics
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man's face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider's written account.

A draft manuscript obtained by The Associated Press is classified as secret pending a Pentagon (news - web sites) review for a planned book that details ways the U.S. military used women as part of tougher physical and psychological interrogation tactics to get terror suspects to talk.

It's the most revealing account so far of interrogations at the secretive detention camp, where officials say they have halted some controversial techniques.

"I have really struggled with this because the detainees, their families and much of the world will think this is a religious war based on some of the techniques used, even though it is not the case," the author, former Army Sgt. Erik R. Saar, 29, told AP. ...

Turin shroud 'older than thought'
The Shroud of Turin is much older than suggested by radiocarbon dating carried out in the 1980s, according to a new study in a peer-reviewed journal.

A research paper published in Thermochimica Acta suggests the shroud is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old.

The author dismisses 1988 carbon-14 dating tests which concluded that the linen sheet was a medieval fake.

The shroud, which bears the faint image of a blood-covered man, is believed by some to be Christ's burial cloth.

The radiocarbon sample has completely different chemical properties than the main part of the shroud relic

It was this material that was responsible for an invalid date being assigned to the original shroud cloth, he argues.

"The radiocarbon sample has completely different chemical properties than the main part of the shroud relic," said Mr Rogers, who is a retired chemist from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, US.

Fire damage

He says he was originally dubious of untested claims that the 1988 sample was taken from a re-weave.

"It was embarrassing to have to agree with them," Mr Rogers told the BBC News website....

The secret list of ID theft victims
Consumers could be warned, but U.S government isn't talking

Linda Trevino, who lives in a Chicago suburb, applied for a job last year at a local Target department store, and was denied. The reason? She already worked there -- or rather, her Social Security number already worked there.

Follow-up investigation revealed the same Social Security number had been used to obtain work at 37 other employers, mostly by illegal immigrants trying to satisfy government requirements to get a job.

Trevino is hardly alone. research and government reports suggest hundreds of thousands of American citizens are in the same spot -- unknowingly lending their identity to illegal immigrants so they can work. And while several government agencies and private corporations sometimes know whose Social Security numbers are being ripped off, they won't notify the victims. That is, until they come after the victims for back taxes or unpaid loans owed by the imposter. ...

...Frustration can mount for victims of this kind of fraud. Eventually, the government agencies involved do catch up with the legitimate consumers; but often, not until they are looking for money. Victims can have trouble getting disability or unemployment benefits, Utah's Hamp said.

Others find the Internal Revenue Service on their backs, looking for payment of back taxes for wages earned by their imposters. Some see refunds held up by the confusion; others see their wages garnished.

Trevino found herself in a financial nightmare. All those imitators made a mess out of her work history, her Social Security benefits records and her credit report. She was haunted by bills and creditors. She received threatening letters from the IRS, asking her to pay taxes on money earned by her imposters. She was told to re-pay unemployment benefits she had received, after the government discovered she was "working" while drawing benefits.

"At the time I'm thinking, 'I'm unemployed. I wish I could have at least one job, let alone all these different jobs,’" she said.

"This is total purgatory that this puts U.S. citizen taxpayers into," said Marti Dinerstein, president of Immigration Matters, a public-policy analysis firm in New York. "It's a nightmare to get it stopped. And when they do get it stopped, it is only for that particular year. The whole mess could begin anew next tax season."

But neither the Social Security Administration nor the IRS tells consumers that something unusual is happening with their Social Security numbers. It seems consumers are the last ones in on the joke.

“This is the schizophrenia of the federal government," Huse, the former Social Security inspector general said. "The Homeland Security people are screaming about the accuracy of records, and you have the IRS taking money from wherever it comes."

Since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, workers must produce a Social Security card or similar identity verification when obtaining employment. Employers are supposed to verify that the card is legitimate, but many don't.

By creating a black market for counterfeit Social Security cards, the law may have inadvertently kicked off the identity theft crisis, experts say.

"It's truly an unintended consequences of the 1986 immigration law," said Marilanne Hincapie of the National Immigration Law Center....

Criminals the lot of us
The invasion of Iraq was a crime of gigantic proportions, for which politicians, the media and the public share responsibility

The White House's acknowledgement last month that the United States has formally ended its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq brought to a close the most calamitous international deception of modern times.

This decision was taken a month after a contentious presidential election in which the issue of WMD and the war in Iraq played a central role. In the lead-up to the invasion, and throughout its aftermath, President Bush was unwavering in his conviction that Iraq had WMD, and that this posed a threat to the US and the world. The failure to find WMD should have been his Achilles heel, but the Democratic contender, John Kerry, floundered, changing his position on WMD and Iraq many times.

Ironically, it was Kerry who forced the Bush administration to acknowledge that it was WMD that solely justified any military action against Iraq. Before the US Senate in 2002, secretary of state Colin Powell responded to a question posed by Kerry about what would happen if Iraq allowed UN weapons inspectors to return and they found the country had in fact disarmed.

"If Iraq was disarmed as a result of an inspection regime that gave us and the security council confidence that it had been disarmed, I think it unlikely that we would find a casus belli." ...

Thursday, January 27, 2005

We Are All Torturers Now
At least since Watergate, Americans have come to take for granted a certain story line of scandal, in which revelation is followed by investigation, adjudication and expiation. Together, Congress and the courts investigate high-level wrongdoing and place it in a carefully constructed narrative, in which crimes are charted, malfeasance is explicated and punishment is apportioned as the final step in the journey back to order, justice and propriety.

When Alberto Gonzales takes his seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for hearings to confirm whether he will become attorney general of the United States, Americans will bid farewell to that comforting story line. The senators are likely to give full legitimacy to a path that the Bush administration set the country on more than three years ago, a path that has transformed the United States from a country that condemned torture and forbade its use to one that practices torture routinely. Through a process of redefinition largely overseen by Mr. Gonzales himself, a practice that was once a clear and abhorrent violation of the law has become in effect the law of the land....

...The war in Iraq and the war on terrorism are ultimately political in character. Victory depends in the end not on technology or on overwhelming force but on political persuasion. By using torture, the country relinquishes the very ideological advantage - the promotion of democracy, freedom and human rights - that the president has so persistently claimed is America's most powerful weapon in defeating Islamic extremism. One does not reach democracy, or freedom, through torture.

By using torture, we Americans transform ourselves into the very caricature our enemies have sought to make of us. True, that miserable man who pulled out his hair as he lay on the floor at Guantánamo may eventually tell his interrogators what he knows, or what they want to hear. But for America, torture is self-defeating; for a strong country it is in the end a strategy of weakness. After Mr. Gonzales is confirmed, the road back - to justice, order and propriety - will be very long. Torture will belong to us all.

The Widening Chasm Among Conservatives
The machinery of state decision-making is rarely exposed to public scrutiny. The cover of representative government is a scrupulously maintained fiction concealing the nuts-and-bolts of real statecraft. Normally, politicians and their accomplices in the media can keep the illusion of representative government intact; avoiding the embarrassing implication that the current order is really upheld by the decision-making of elites. It's only when a major rift appears between the members of the ruling class that we have the opportunity to marvel at the moving parts of the imperial apparatus.

The deteriorating situation in Iraq has precipitated this very scenario. The rift we allude to, has, in fact, developed into a yawning chasm; pitting one faction of conservative elder statesmen against their antecedents in the Bush administration. This battle of the giants can be expected to grow exponentially as the principle characters clash over the future of the Iraq occupation.

On the one hand, we have perhaps the most widely respected (conservative) policy experts alive today, advising the administration to withdraw from Iraq. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker have joined the ranks of anti-war Leftists in calling for an immediate withdrawal of all American troops. They have noted the failed attempts by the Bush administration to establish even minimal security or to achieve the overall objectives of the invasion. With Iraq tilting precipitously towards civil war, and with America's prestige irreparably damaged, their protestations should be regarded as an appeal for a return to political sanity.

Clearly these staunch supporters of American supremacy would never accept such a humbling defeat if there was even the remotest possibility of success. This gives us some idea of the extent to which the media has been concealing the crucial details of the disaster in Iraq from the public. Even those who are most likely to benefit the most from regional domination are jumping-off the sinking ship-of-state....

The Military is Nowhere; the Press is Nowhere; the Congress is Nowhere...
We've Been Taken Over By a Cult

Editors' Note: This is a transcript of remarks by Seymour Hersh at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York.

About what's going on in terms of the President is that as virtuous as I feel, you know, at The New Yorker, writing an alternative history more or less of what's been going on in the last three years, George Bush feels just as virtuous in what he is doing. He is absolutely committed -- I don't know whether he thinks he's doing God's will or what his father didn't do, or whether it's some mandate from -- you know, I just don't know, but George Bush thinks this is the right thing. He is going to continue doing what he has been doing in Iraq. He's going to expand it, I think, if he can. I think that the number of body bags that come back will make no difference to him. The body bags are rolling in. It makes no difference to him, because he will see it as a price he has to pay to put America where he thinks it should be. So, he's inured in a very strange way to people like me, to the politicians, most of them who are too cowardly anyway to do much. So, the day-to-day anxiety that all of us have, and believe me, though he got 58 million votes, many of people who voted for him weren't voting for continued warfare, but I think that's what we're going to have.

It's hard to predict the future. And it's sort of silly to, but the question is: How do you go to him? How do you get at him? What can you do to maybe move him off the course that he sees as virtuous and he sees as absolutely appropriate? All of us -- you have to -- I can't begin to exaggerate how frightening the position is -- we're in right now, because most of you don't understand, because the press has not done a very good job. The Senate Intelligence Committee, the new bill that was just passed, provoked by the 9/11 committee actually, is a little bit of a kabuki dance, I guess is what I want to say, in that what it really does is it consolidates an awful lot of power in the Pentagon -- by statute now. It gives Rumsfeld the right to do an awful lot of things he has been wanting to do, and that is basically manhunting and killing them before they kill us, as Peter said. "They did it to us. We've got to do it to them." That is the attitude that -- at the very top of our government exists. And so, I'll just tell you a couple of things that drive me nuts. We can -- you know, there's not much more to go on with.

I think there's a way out of it, maybe. I can tell you one thing. Let's all forget this word "insurgency". It's one of the most misleading words of all. Insurgency assumes that we had gone to Iraq and won the war and a group of disgruntled people began to operate against us and we then had to do counter-action against them. That would be an insurgency. We are fighting the people we started the war against. We are fighting the Ba'athists plus nationalists. We are fighting the very people that started -- they only choose to fight in different time spans than we want them to, in different places. We took Baghdad easily. It wasn't because be won. We took Baghdad because they pulled back and let us take it and decided to fight a war that had been pre-planned that they're very actively fighting. The frightening thing about it is, we have no intelligence. Maybe it's -- it's -- it is frightening, we have no intelligence about what they're doing. A year-and-a-half ago, we're up against two and three-man teams. We estimated the cells operating against us were two and three people, that we could not penetrate. As of now, we still don't know what's coming next. There are 10, 15-man groups. They have terrific communications. Somebody told me, it's -- somebody in the system, an officer -- and by the way, the good part of it is, more and more people are available to somebody like me.

There's a lot of anxiety inside the -- you know, our professional military and our intelligence people. Many of them respect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as much as anybody here, and individual freedom. So, they do -- there's a tremendous sense of fear. These are punitive people. One of the ways -- one of the things that you could say is, the amazing thing is we are been taken over basically by a cult, eight or nine neo-conservatives have somehow grabbed the government. ...

“You cannot understand history without understanding Divine Providence. The whole of history can be looked at from a Biblical philosophy, because there is an overall purpose that unifies all the specific events of history. From a humanistic standpoint, there is no purpose in history and hence no unifying theme that ties the events of history together. Many modern educators deny the Providential view of history and would have us believe that their promotion of one of several ‘secular’ views of history is simply the recounting of brute facts.

“God’s plan for the nations has been unfolding in a specific geographic direction. This geographical march of history is called the Chain of Christianity or the Chain of Liberty. It seems as if God’s direction is westward. ‘Christian’ geography (which is true geography) is the view that the earth’s origin, end, purposes, and physiography are for Christ and His glory. Like individuals, nations have a unique purpose. We will see throughout this book how God has raised up and put down nations of the world for His purposes.

“Arnold Guyot, a nineteenth-century scientist and professor of geology at Princeton University, noted that God had arranged the structure of the earth to assure that the Chain of Christianity would move not south into Africa or east into Asia but westward into Europe. That which originated in Asian and developed in Europe has had its greatest fulfillment in America. Now, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, travel and climatic barriers are being conquered by air travel and air-conditioning. It appears that the internal preparation is taking place so that the Chain of Liberty and all its external blessings might continue their westward march from America around the globe.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Religious Freedom Day ‘05: unknown holiday for a forgotten freedom
Jan. 16 is officially “Religious Freedom Day.” I know this because the president of the United States dutifully proclaims it so every year.

If this is news to you, don’t feel too bad. Presidential proclamations are a dime a dozen. In fact, 110 were issued in 2004 alone, ranging from the obvious (Independence Day) to the obscure (Leif Erikson Day, Oct. 9).

But if I could nominate just one of these many proclaimed days to join the pantheon of major American holidays, Jan. 16 would be it. Why? Because on that fateful date in 1786, the Virginia Assembly passed the Statute for Religious Freedom — the first legislation in history to guarantee religious liberty for every citizen....

...Forgive the history lesson. But with more and more churches lining up these days to get government dollars for social services, and growing numbers of Americans calling for more government endorsement of religion, it is worth remembering what many of us seem to have forgotten: Religious freedom in America means keeping the government out of religion and protecting the right of all people to follow the dictates of conscience in matters of faith.

Proclaiming “Religious Freedom Day” isn’t enough — only an abiding commitment to the principles enacted on Jan. 16, 1786, will keep us free.

Blackaby says tsunamis God's judgment; missions experts question theology
DALLAS (ABP) --"Experiencing God" author Henry Blackaby believes the tsunamis that hit South Asia were God's punishment of an area where Christians have experienced particularly intense persecution. But some missions experts with links to the region question both his theology and his assertions about persecution.

Blackaby told a Kentucky pastors' conference workshop he recognized God's hand of judgment in the tsunami after he saw a map published by Voice of the Martyrs showing areas of intense persecution of Christians worldwide.

Many of the areas highlighted on that map "match to a T" the tsunami's impact, he said.

He later told a reporter for Baptist Press: "If you read the Old Testament, especially, God is very concerned how the nations treat his covenant people. The nations that persecuted, offended and killed his people, God came down and destroyed them. And he's the same God today. He's just as concerned about his people."...

...Regardless whether persecution is more intense in South Asia than in other parts of the world, Stan Parks, international liaison with the Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated WorldconneX missions network, said he would "categorically disagree" with Blackaby's assessment.

"If anybody deserves judgment, it's Christians who hoard the gospel and who lavish God's blessings on themselves with bigger buildings and finer homes," he said, adding if God gave people what they deserved, American Christians would have more to fear than non-Christians in South Asia....

Make no mistake—Captain Kirk and his crew were cowboys and they treated the universe like the Wild West. There was always a lot of solemn talk about the Prime Directive and not interfering with native cultures, but that went right out the window the moment Kirk laid eyes on the first attractive female of whatever species they came across. Sure, they solved a lot of problems, but half the time they were solving problems they created. The crew of the original Enterprise wasn’t trying to unite the universe, they weren’t trying to right the universe’s many and sundry wrongs—they were looking for kicks.

And alcohol played and essential role in that quest. It was a beautiful situation—you not only got to drink, you got to drink ales, wines and liquors the human race couldn’t even imagine. And they always seemed stronger than our silly earthling libations, every alien race bragged their booze would floor a human if he so much as looked in the bottle’s direction. Klingon Blood Wine, Romulan Ale, Saurian Brandy—they came on harder than a photon torpedo barrage and when you woke up, if you woke up, you’d be nursing a nebula-sized hangover the fastest warp drive in the universe couldn’t outrun. Humans were considered the lightweights of the universe, a bunch of Bartle-and-James swilling high school punks among whiskey-chugging dilithium-crystal miners.

Then Kirk and his boys came along. Kirk could not only hold his own with the extraterrestrial hooch, he was backed up by a hard-pounding crew. Spock wasn’t much help (Vulcans are the designated drivers of the Universe), but Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy thought so little of the potent alien liquors he administered them as cough syrup. And he had skills too, when he wasn’t wiping out planetary epidemics and pronouncing any number of security crewmen dead, he was concocting cocktails that that would become infamous from one end of the galaxy to the other. And Scotty, don’t get me started on that beautiful son of bitch. Born and bred to it like bird dog, this Aberdeen son could drink a transporter room full of aliens under the table then whistle Tura-lura-lura all the way back to his private stash of scotch. These three walk in a Klingon pub and half an hour later Klingon heads are hitting tables like Bacchus’s own drum roll.

And why shouldn’t they have been boozy philanderers? Their creator, Gene Rodenberry certainly was. So was the inventor of the Warp Drive, Zefram Cochrane. Zeph refused to pilot a starship sober, under any circumstances, and was even able to coerce that super-PC empath Counselor Troi into getting hammered on shots of tequila.

It was because of the hard (yet somehow enjoyable) work of the original crew that earthlings soon enjoyed a universal reputation as being the hardest drinking wild-asses who ever rode a rocket into space. Then everything went to hell....

How the U.S. Became the World's Dispensable Nation
In a second inaugural address tinged with evangelical zeal, George W. Bush declared: "Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world." The peoples of the world, however, do not seem to be listening. A new world order is indeed emerging - but its architecture is being drafted in Asia and Europe, at meetings to which Americans have not been invited....

...That the rest of the world is building institutions and alliances that shut out the US should come as no surprise. The view that American leaders can be trusted to use a monopoly of military and economic power for the good of humanity has never been widely shared outside of the US. The trend toward multipolarity has probably been accelerated by the truculent unilateralism of the Bush administration, whose motto seems to be that of the Hollywood mogul: "Include me out."

In recent memory, nothing could be done without the US. Today, however, practically all new international institution-building of any long-term importance in global diplomacy and trade occurs without American participation.

In 1998 Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of state, said of the U.S.: "We are the indispensable nation." By backfiring, the unilateralism of Mr Bush has proven her wrong. The US, it turns out, is a dispensable nation.

Europe, China, Russia, Latin America and other regions and nations are quietly taking measures whose effect if not sole purpose will be to cut America down to size.

Ironically, the US, having won the cold war, is adopting the strategy that led the Soviet Union to lose it: hoping that raw military power will be sufficient to intimidate other great powers alienated by its belligerence. To compound the irony, these other great powers are drafting the blueprints for new international institutions and alliances. That is what the US did during and after the second world war....

Sticker stuck in cop's craw
A Denver police sergeant is under investigation for allegedly threatening to arrest a woman Monday for displaying on her truck a derogatory bumper sticker about President Bush.

"He told her that this was a warning and that the next time he saw her truck, she was going to be arrested if she didn't remove the sticker," said Alinna Figueroa, 25, assistant manager of The UPS Store where the confrontation took place. "I couldn't believe it."...

..."He said, 'You need to take off those stickers because it's profanity and it's against the law to have profanity on your truck,' " Bates said. "Then he said, 'If you ever show up here again, I'm going to make you take those stickers off and arrest you. Never come back into that area.' "

McCrimmon, who had followed the officer into the store, said Karasek wrote down the woman's license-plate number and then told her: "You take those bumper stickers off or I will come and find you and I will arrest you." ...

...Colorado ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein said that the alleged threat of arrest clearly violates First Amendment protection.

"The Supreme Court considered a case about 30-some years ago where a person was prosecuted for wearing a jacket that said, 'F--- the draft,' on the back. The Supreme Court said states could not prohibit people from wearing such a jacket," he said. "They said, 'One man's profanity is another man's lyric.' " ...

Making Tolerance a Sin; Intolerance a Virtue
The Intolerance of Christian Conservatives

...I've noticed that liberal and moderate writers make the same mistaken assumption about what's causing rightwing Christians to become more actively intolerant towards people who are different from themselves: that intolerance and persecution fly in the face of Christian teachings, hence represent hypocrisy. And if that's all it is, then we need only alert them to this fact and they, being Christians, will be horrified to realize that they've been led astray, repent, and change their ways.

My friend, the truth hurts: Intolerance has become a standard "Christian" teaching in conservative circles and is now a badge of honor. When Antonio Scalia exhorted conservative Christians to "Be a fool for Christ!", he was speaking in the longstanding tradition of sacrificing one's pride and risking ridicule with gratitude for Christ's ultimate sacrifice for us (even semi-atheistic Mark Twain once wrote, "I'm God's fool"). But Scalia was also alluding to the proud-to-be-intolerant theme.

Scalia was urging his listeners to hold onto their intolerance even when others (liberal Christians included) accused them of being persecutory, hostile, or bigoted. They must remain intolerant because intolerance has been given a makeover: It's now the most readily observable hallmark of the virtuous and courageous conservative Christian. While intolerance was considered a grave sin back when America was marching towards civil rights instead of away from them, today that vice has become-presto!-a virtue. This means that conservative Christians must become increasingly intolerant in order to demonstrate their faith, and the more in-your-face the intolerance is, the better.

No room here for wishy-washy-"Well I don't like gay marriage but I guess it doesn't bother me; I don't even know any gay people"-if you want to win God's approval and that of your conservative Christian friends, by golly you'd better start letting gay people know you mean business...

...Some progressive Christians are trying to win the hearts and minds of conservative Christians, believing that with just the right words and scripture they can be won back from this new antagonistic, highly political version of Christianity. I hope they succeed, and perhaps they will-but there are no guarantees.

Because intolerance is now a virtue to be acquired rather than a vice to be cast away, there is nothing that you or I can say to awaken the conscience of conservative Christians. They're too far gone, for their beliefs have changed radically over the last few years. They worship a different God than the one we grew up with; perhaps it's more accurate to say that they worship the Old Testament God, without the moderating influence of Jesus, who's considered symbolic and sweet and nice-but nobody whose teachings must be obeyed.

Ask a conservative Christian about Jesus' teachings, and you'll be told that they're wonderful spiritual teachings-for the inner life, not the outer.

Conservative Christians have adopted the warrior mentality of Onward Christian Soldiers, and intolerance is nothing to be hidden under a white robe and pointed white hood: it's to be waved proudly as a flag demonstrating Christian rigor and personal rightness. Indeed, their conscience, their moral values, and their spiritual priorities have been altered, but not by hypocrisy. They've been reversed.

What was wrong is now right. What was down is now up. What was evil is now good. As one writer has pointed out, rhetoricians of Hobbes' day called this reversal of values "paradiastole": the method of rhetorical redescription by which what had been defined as vices could be redescribed as virtues, and vice versa. The radical right has turned paradiastole into an art form.

And in case you think this situation is all George W. Bush's doing, think again. Christians, even conservative ones, can't be swayed by politicians unless preachers pave the way first. Being more authoritarian than liberal Christians, conservatives are all the pickier about learning only from those who are considered respectable church authorities by other conservative Christians.

This is not to say that they won't learn from a Rush Limbaugh or an Ann Coulter-they certainly do, and with uncritical enthusiasm-it just means that they must hear those same views endorsed, specifically or generally, by a proper member of the clergy. That's why you can watch Fox News or listen to the rightwing kingdom of talk radio, then watch the TV preachers (all conservative, of course) on Sunday morning, without hearing a single contradictory word....

..."The word 'tolerant' means 'liberal,' 'broad-minded,' 'willing to put up with beliefs opposed to one's convictions' and 'the allowance of something not wholly approved.' Tolerance, in one sense, implies the compromise of one's convictions, a yielding of ground upon important issues. Hence, our tolerance in moral issues has made us soft, flabby and devoid of convictions. We have become tolerant about divorce; we have become tolerant about the use of alcohol; we have become tolerant about delinquency; we have become tolerant about wickedness in high places; we have become tolerant about immorality; we have become tolerant about crime and we have become tolerant about godlessness."
From The Sin of Tolerance by Rev. Billy Graham

Holy Matrimony
The Moose wonders whether the religious right will break out of its abusive relationship.

Are religious conservatives just a cheap date? It appears that GOP faithful flock and the President might require some professional counseling to keep their relationship on a sound footing. It could be dawning on the religious right that the Bushies take them for suckers. ...

...If the religious right leaders had been reading the musings of the Moose they would know that those suave and debonair Republican casanovas only want the religious right for their bodies on election day. After that, they abandon them for the true lovers - the money men. Isn't it always that way?...

Professor Fritz Stern
Honoree of the Leo Baeck Medal

...We who were born at the end of the Weimar Republic and who witnessed the rise of National Socialism—left with that all-consuming, complex question: how could this horror have seized a nation and corrupted so much of Europe?—should remember that even in the darkest period there were individuals who showed active decency, who, defying intimidation and repression, opposed evil and tried to ease suffering. I wish these people would be given a proper European memorial—not to appease our conscience but to summon the courage of future generations. Churchmen, especially Protestant clergy, shared his hostility to the liberal-secular state and its defenders, and they, too, were filled with anti-Semitic doctrine.

Allow me a few remarks not about the banality of evil but about its triumph in a deeply civilized country. After the Great War and Germany’s defeat, conditions were harsh and Germans were deeply divided between moderates and democrats on the one hand and fanatic extremists of the right and the left on the other. National Socialists portrayed Germany as a nation that had been betrayed or stabbed in the back by socialists and Jews; they portrayed Weimar Germany as a moral-political swamp; they seized on the Bolshevik-Marxist danger, painted it in lurid colors, and stoked people’s fear in order to pose as saviors of the nation. In the late 1920s a group of intellectuals known as conservative revolutionaries demanded a new volkish authoritarianism, a Third Reich. Richly financed by corporate interests, they denounced liberalism as the greatest, most invidious threat, and attacked it for its tolerance, rationality and cosmopolitan culture. These conservative revolutionaries were proud of being prophets of the Third Reich—at least until some of them were exiled or murdered by the Nazis when the latter came to power. Throughout, the Nazis vilified liberalism as a semi-Marxist-Jewish conspiracy and, with Germany in the midst of unprecedented depression and immiseration, they promised a national rebirth.

Twenty years ago, I wrote about “National Socialism as Temptation,” about what it was that induced so many Germans to embrace the terrifying specter. There were many reasons, but at the top ranks Hitler himself, a brilliant populist manipulator who insisted and probably believed that Providence had chosen him as Germany’s savior, that he was the instrument of Providence, a leader who was charged with executing a divine mission. God had been drafted into national politics before, but Hitler’s success in fusing racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity was an immensely powerful element in his electoral campaigns. Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics, but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas.

German moderates and German elites underestimated Hitler, assuming that most people would not succumb to his Manichean unreason; they didn’t think that his hatred and mendacity could be taken seriously. They were proven wrong. People were enthralled by the Nazis’ cunning transposition of politics into carefully staged pageantry, into flag-waving martial mass. At solemn moments, the National Socialists would shift from the pseudo-religious invocation of Providence to traditional Christian forms: In his first radio address to the German people, twenty-four hours after coming to power, Hitler declared, “The National Government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. They regard Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life.”

Let me cite one example of the acknowledged appeal of unreason. Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker, Nobel-laureate in physics and a philosopher, wrote to me in the mid-1980s saying that he had never believed in Nazi ideology but that he had been tempted by the movement, which seemed to him then like “the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” On reflection, he thought that National Socialism had been part of a process that the National Socialists themselves hadn’t understood. He may well have been right: the Nazis didn’t realize that they were part of an historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world found deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason. German elites proved susceptible to this mystical brew of pseudo- religion and disguised interest. The Christian churches most readily fell into line as well, though with some heroic exceptions....

Dear Mister Answer Man: I am confused about the correct usage of the term “bait and switch.” Specifically, I am unclear as to how Paul Batura of Focus on the Family can object to a SpongeBob SquarePants video on “tolerance” as “a classic bait and switch." In a bait and switch, doesn’t something have to be switched for something else? Or is it possible, given Dr. Dobson’s well-documented obsession with physical punishments for small children, that “bait and switch” has a special meaning for Focus on the Family employees? --D.P. Schreber, Dresden

Mister Answer Man replies: You have no basis for confusion; Mr. Batura is using the phrase correctly. What Focus on the Family is objecting to is the fact that songwriter Nile Rodgers created a music video ostensibly to teach schoolchildren about multiculturalism and inclusiveness, but, through characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, is actually helping to spread the homosexual agenda to our children. The “bait,” then, is the promise that the video promotes tolerance. Christian conservatives have nothing against tolerance; they have long argued, for example, that liberals should be more tolerant of Christian conservatives. However, they draw the line at tolerating individuals whose lifestyles are in conflict with God’s word. It is literally a sin to “tolerate” people who, in satiating their own lusts, have chosen eternal damnation. Therein lies the “switch.” Therefore, Dr. Dobson and his group are correct to complain that an apparently innocuous music video about “tolerance” is secretly suggesting that we should tolerate not only groups who deserve tolerance but also animated gay male sponges who often hold hands with their male sidekicks. ...

Poll Says Church-Going Americans are Less Tolerant Than Others
Religious voters are less tolerant of other views on issues they consider important now than they were four years ago, according to a new study.

A Public Agenda survey on religion in public life released Sunday found significant shifts in the percentages of Americans who believe elected leaders should vote based on their own religious views rather than compromise on issues like abortion and gay rights.

The trend is strongest among voters who say they attend church once a week or more.

Just under three fourths of Americans (74 percent) said the following statement comes close to their view: “Even elected officials who are deeply religious sometimes have to make compromises and set their convictions aside to get results while in government.” That is 10 percent fewer than the 84 percent who answered the question that way in 2000.

Among those identifying themselves as evangelicals, support for political compromise dropped from 79 percent in 2000 to 63 percent in 2004. Fewer than two in three (63 percent) people who attend church once a week said they agreed with the statement, down from 82 percent.

Barely half (55 percent) of those who attend church more than once a week thought politicians should compromise their religious convictions in order to get results. That compares to three fourths (75 percent) who said so four years ago.

Sixty percent of frequent church attenders (more than once a week) said politicians who are deeply religious should vote based on their own religious views when it comes to gay rights, while 29 percent said they should be willing to compromise with those holding another view. Sixty-nine percent of frequent worshippers opposed compromise on abortion, while 23 percent said compromise on the issue is acceptable.

“Compromise has a long and important history in American politics,” Ruth Wooden, president of Public Agenda, a non-partisan public policy research firm, said in a news release. “But in 2004 there were more Americans who wanted elected officials to keep their religious principles in mind when they vote on issues like abortion and gay rights.”

Wooden told Reuters the trends could indicate that religion has become “more prominent in American discourse,” but it could also indicate “more polarized political thinking.”...

...“The truth is, many Christians now think intolerance is virtuous,” Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists wrote in a Weblog. He quoted from writings of R.J. Rushdoony, whose “Christian Reconstructionism” is popular among some conservative Christians, as a possible influence.

“In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal and the adherents of other religions,” Rushdoony, who died in 2001, wrote in his Institutes of Biblical Law.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of World War
George W. Bush is the liberventionists' dream president, minus, perhaps, some differences on a few domestic issues. But he talks the privatization and tax-cut talk (even as he walks the corporate-social-democratic welfare-state walk) and he is fond of waging war in the name of freedom. War in the name of freedom is the most valued policy in the agenda of the pro-war libertarian. War in the name of freedom inspires the liberventionist to tolerate virtually anything else the government does at home. And yet, war in the name of freedom has been the largest cause of America's decline in liberty, as well as safety, in all its history, or at least since the War Between the States....

Wake Up! Bush Is Serious
...The neoconservatives are Jacobins. The neocons are the greatest threat America has ever faced, and they have the reins of power. Americans need to wake up to this fact and stop indulging their macho "kick their Muslim butts" fantasies and their "end times" Rapture fantasies.

The Bush administration is not establishing any democracies. It is starting a war that will last a generation. That is the neocon plan. They have put their intentions in writing just as Hitler did. It is no protection that their plan is detached from reality. Robespierre was detached from reality, and that did not stop him. So were Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. People with power in their hands who are detached from reality are the most dangerous people of all. The delusional quality of their rantings disarms people from taking them seriously: "Oh, they couldn't mean that." But they do.

Torture treaty doesn't bar `cruel, inhuman' tactics, Gonzales says
WASHINGTON - Alberto Gonzales has asserted to the Senate committee weighing his nomination to be attorney general that there's a legal rationale for harsh treatment of foreign prisoners by U.S. forces.

In more than 200 pages of written responses to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who plan to vote Wednesday on his nomination, Gonzales told senators that laws and treaties prohibit torture by any U.S. agent without exception.

But he said the Convention Against Torture treaty, as ratified by the Senate, doesn't prohibit the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading" tactics on non-U.S. citizens who are captured abroad, in Iraq or elsewhere.

Gonzales, White House counsel and a close Bush adviser, described recent reports of prisoner abuse as "shocking and deeply troubling." But he refused to answer questions from senators about whether interrogation tactics witnessed by FBI agents were unlawful.

He warned that any public discussion about interrogation tactics would help al-Qaida terrorists by giving them "a road map" of what to expect when captured. ...

... Cal Jillson, a constitutional scholar who's followed the careers of Gonzales and Bush since they were in Texas, said Gonzales was following basic Bush administration policy: Don't admit mistakes or re-evaluate decisions.

"They are very loath to reconsider actions in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks," said Jillson, a professor at Southern Methodist University. "The message is, the president never approved of torture, but the question is, did you play with the definition so that almost nothing qualified as torture?" ...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Mass Suicide Bid at Guantanamo
Twenty-three inmates at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay staged a mass suicide attempt in 2003 by trying to hang or strangle themselves.

US military confirmation of the mass suicides came yesterday as the families of four Britons detained without charge for three years by the US authorities waited for their loved ones to arrive home from the prison on Cuba. The four will be arrested by anti-terrorist police officers as soon as they are released from American custody.

The US Southern Command yesterday admitted that, between 18 and 26 August 2003, the detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves with pieces of clothing and other items in their cells. However they played down the incidents, saying that one - on 22 August - was "a coordinated effort to disrupt camp operations and challenge a new group of security guards from the just-completed unit rotation"....

Cancer: (June 22—July 22)
You may think of yourself as a victim of horribly tragic circumstances, but God put a lot of time and effort into making sure things happened just so.

A Powerful Tale Unravels
On July 21, 2003, The Post published a wrenching front-page story about a 41-year-old Iraqi woman, Jumana Michael Hanna, who said that during the mid-1990s she had endured torture and rape inside the prison cells of Saddam Hussein's "police academy." The headline over the 2,800-word story by correspondent Peter Finn read, "A Lone Woman Testifies to Iraq's Order of Terror."

The story was very detailed, with lots of quotes from Hanna, her mother and others. Human rights officials said hundreds and possibly thousands of women had been tortured or sexually assaulted by Hussein's agents. But survivors left much unsaid. Hanna spoke out and became the face of this horror. After the Post story appeared, Hanna was taken into protective custody and honored by the Coalition Provisional Authority, then taken to the United States with her family. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told a Senate committee about her courage in providing "what is very likely credible information."

The problem, however, as The Post and Peter Finn reported Thursday in a follow-up article, is that her claims were false. But the only reason we now know this is because of an even lengthier article in the January edition of Esquire magazine by Sara Solovitch, who had contracted to do a book about Hanna and who, in the course of interviewing her, uncovered what first seemed like exaggerations, then crippling doubts and then untruths in her story.

The Esquire piece focused heavily on the impact of the Post piece, and readers who saw the magazine late in December wrote to ask whether The Post was going to retract or correct its reporting. The initial internal reaction here, and from Finn, was to point out that many of the claims Hanna made to Solovitch that proved false had not been made to The Post. Hanna never told Finn, for example, that she went to Oxford University. She never spoke of the killing of fellow female prisoners, or said that one of them was the sister of a well-known cleric, or that the word "traitor" had been branded on her breast, or that she knew Hussein's first wife and counseled her on how to romance him.

Nevertheless, Finn said, the Esquire report that Hanna's husband was still alive and had not been shot and killed in an Iraqi prison, as Hanna had told The Post, was clearly serious and required new investigation. ...

Decoding Bush's God-Talk
Beliefnet provides an annotated guide to the president's inaugural speech.

President Bush delivered his second inaugural address Thursday after being sworn in for a second term. This is a transcript of his remarks, with annotations by Beliefnet senior editor Deborah Caldwell, who examines the speech's "God-talk."...

Backers of Gay Marriage Ban Use Social Security as Cudgel
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 - A coalition of major conservative Christian groups is threatening to withhold support for President Bush's plans to remake Social Security unless Mr. Bush vigorously champions a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The move came as Senate Republicans vowed on Monday to reintroduce the proposed amendment, which failed in the Senate last year by a substantial margin. Party leaders, who left it off their list of priorities for the legislative year, said they had no immediate plans to bring it to the floor because they still lacked the votes for passage.

But the coalition that wrote the letter, known as the Arlington Group, is increasingly impatient.

In a confidential letter to Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top political adviser, the group said it was disappointed with the White House's decision to put Social Security and other economic issues ahead of its paramount interest: opposition to same-sex marriage.

The letter, dated Jan. 18, pointed out that many social conservatives who voted for Mr. Bush because of his stance on social issues lack equivalent enthusiasm for changing the retirement system or other tax issues. And to pass to pass any sweeping changes, members of the group argue, Mr. Bush will need the support of every element of his coalition.

"We couldn't help but notice the contrast between how the president is approaching the difficult issue of Social Security privatization where the public is deeply divided and the marriage issue where public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side," the letter said. "Is he prepared to spend significant political capital on privatization but reluctant to devote the same energy to preserving traditional marriage? If so it would create outrage with countless voters who stood with him just a few weeks ago, including an unprecedented number of African-Americans, Latinos and Catholics who broke with tradition and supported the president solely because of this issue."...

Pentagon Files Reveal More Allegations of Abuse in Iraq
Documents contain descriptions of severe detainee mistreatment beyond Abu Ghraib.

WASHINGTON — Pentagon documents released Monday disclosed that Iraqi prisoners had lodged dozens of abuse complaints against U.S. and Iraqi personnel who guarded them at a little-known palace in Baghdad converted to a U.S. prison. Among the allegations was that guards had sodomized a disabled man and killed his brother, whose dying body was tossed into a cell, atop his sister.

The documents, obtained in a lawsuit against the federal government by the American Civil Liberties Union, suggest for the first time that numerous detainees were abused at Adhamiya Palace, one of Saddam Hussein's villas in eastern Baghdad that was used by his son Uday. Previous cases of abuse of Iraqi prisoners have focused mainly on Abu Ghraib prison.

A government contractor who was interviewed by U.S. investigators said that as many as 90 incidents of possible abuse took place at the palace, but only a few were detailed in the hundreds of pages of documents released Monday.

The documents also touch on alleged abuses in other U.S.-run lockups in Iraq. The papers include investigative reports linking some abuses to ultrasecret Pentagon counter-terrorism units.

The latest allegations add to a pattern that human rights activists said suggested systematic abuse of prisoners at U.S. military detention facilities across the globe. ACLU officials, who have obtained and released thousands of documents in recent months, on Monday accused the Pentagon of a "woefully inadequate" response to hundreds of incidents of alleged abuse.

"Some of the investigations have basically whitewashed the torture and abuse," said the group's director, Anthony D. Romero. "The documents that the ACLU has obtained tell a damning story of widespread torture reaching well beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib."

Responding to the latest allegations, U.S. military officials maintained that a few low-level troops had committed the abuses, independent of senior commanders. They noted that more than 300 criminal investigations had examined allegations of prisoner mistreatment and subjected 100 soldiers to court-martial proceedings and administrative punishments.

"The Army and Department of Defense have aggressively investigated all credible allegations of detainee abuse and held individuals accountable," said Lt. Col. Gerard Healy, an Army spokesman.

Few of the alleged abuses at the Adhamiya palace have previously received attention from Pentagon investigators or human rights groups. The palace is a prison overseen by the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, with interrogations conducted at least in part by members of the 5th Special Forces Group of Ft. Campbell, Ky.

The alleged abuse at the palace included forced sodomy, electric shocks, cigarette burns and severe beatings. Some allegations by prisoners were corroborated by U.S. civilian military contractors hired to help interrogate detainees, according to the Pentagon documents.

One prisoner held at the palace during 2004 said an Iraqi security officer had burned him with cigarettes and struck him repeatedly, the documents state. Another said Iraqi interrogators had pinched his nose and poured water in his mouth, raped him with a wooden stick and shocked his testicles.

In one of the more detailed cases, Iraqi security troops arrested several members of a family accused of supplying arms and money to members of the fedayeen, paramilitaries who had been allied with Hussein's regime.

A woman whose name was blacked out from the documents claimed in interviews with U.S. Army investigators that the bloody, bruised body of her brother had been tossed into her cell on top of her sister. Her brother died shortly afterward, according to her account.

Another brother, who is disabled, said guards pulled him around by his penis. The guards forced a water bottle up his rectum, he told investigators....

Pentagon Files Reveal More Allegations of Abuse in Iraq
Documents contain descriptions of severe detainee mistreatment beyond Abu Ghraib.

WASHINGTON — Pentagon documents released Monday disclosed that Iraqi prisoners had lodged dozens of abuse complaints against U.S. and Iraqi personnel who guarded them at a little-known palace in Baghdad converted to a U.S. prison. Among the allegations was that guards had sodomized a disabled man and killed his brother, whose dying body was tossed into a cell, atop his sister.

The documents, obtained in a lawsuit against the federal government by the American Civil Liberties Union, suggest for the first time that numerous detainees were abused at Adhamiya Palace, one of Saddam Hussein's villas in eastern Baghdad that was used by his son Uday. Previous cases of abuse of Iraqi prisoners have focused mainly on Abu Ghraib prison.

A government contractor who was interviewed by U.S. investigators said that as many as 90 incidents of possible abuse took place at the palace, but only a few were detailed in the hundreds of pages of documents released Monday.

The documents also touch on alleged abuses in other U.S.-run lockups in Iraq. The papers include investigative reports linking some abuses to ultrasecret Pentagon counter-terrorism units.

The latest allegations add to a pattern that human rights activists said suggested systematic abuse of prisoners at U.S. military detention facilities across the globe. ACLU officials, who have obtained and released thousands of documents in recent months, on Monday accused the Pentagon of a "woefully inadequate" response to hundreds of incidents of alleged abuse.

"Some of the investigations have basically whitewashed the torture and abuse," said the group's director, Anthony D. Romero. "The documents that the ACLU has obtained tell a damning story of widespread torture reaching well beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib."

Responding to the latest allegations, U.S. military officials maintained that a few low-level troops had committed the abuses, independent of senior commanders. They noted that more than 300 criminal investigations had examined allegations of prisoner mistreatment and subjected 100 soldiers to court-martial proceedings and administrative punishments.

"The Army and Department of Defense have aggressively investigated all credible allegations of detainee abuse and held individuals accountable," said Lt. Col. Gerard Healy, an Army spokesman.

Few of the alleged abuses at the Adhamiya palace have previously received attention from Pentagon investigators or human rights groups. The palace is a prison overseen by the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, with interrogations conducted at least in part by members of the 5th Special Forces Group of Ft. Campbell, Ky.

The alleged abuse at the palace included forced sodomy, electric shocks, cigarette burns and severe beatings. Some allegations by prisoners were corroborated by U.S. civilian military contractors hired to help interrogate detainees, according to the Pentagon documents.

One prisoner held at the palace during 2004 said an Iraqi security officer had burned him with cigarettes and struck him repeatedly, the documents state. Another said Iraqi interrogators had pinched his nose and poured water in his mouth, raped him with a wooden stick and shocked his testicles.

In one of the more detailed cases, Iraqi security troops arrested several members of a family accused of supplying arms and money to members of the fedayeen, paramilitaries who had been allied with Hussein's regime.

A woman whose name was blacked out from the documents claimed in interviews with U.S. Army investigators that the bloody, bruised body of her brother had been tossed into her cell on top of her sister. Her brother died shortly afterward, according to her account.

Another brother, who is disabled, said guards pulled him around by his penis. The guards forced a water bottle up his rectum, he told investigators....

Torture Still Routine in Iraqi Jails, Report Says
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi authorities routinely torture prisoners, a leading human rights group said on Tuesday, citing examples of abuse which will sound all too familiar to those who suffered under Saddam Hussein (news - web sites). Prisoners have been beaten with cables and hose pipes, and suffered electric shocks to their earlobes and genitals, the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said. Some have been starved of food and water and crammed into standing-room only cells.

"The people of Iraq (news - web sites) were promised something better than this after the government of Saddam Hussein fell," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the group's Middle East and North Africa division....

..."Detainees report kicking, slapping and punching, prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body ... and being kept blindfolded and/or handcuffed continuously for several days," the group said in a report.

"In several cases, the detainees suffered what may be permanent physical disability."

The report also said Iraq's intelligence service had violated the rights of political opponents.

It highlighted the systematic use of arbitrary arrest, pre-trial detention of up to four months, improper treatment of child detainees and abysmal conditions in pre-trial facilities.

The report follows a scandal over U.S. treatment of prisoners in the American-run Abu Ghraib prison, which erupted last year after the discovery of photographs showing prisoners being tortured and sexually abused.

While the Human Rights Watch report looked solely at Iraqi institutions and did not address torture of prisoners by U.S. soldiers, it said international police advisers, mostly Americans, had turned a blind eye to Iraqi abuse....

Living with the hammer and sickle
How the West doesn't mind the SovIet era symbol, but abhors the swastika

...It is truly one of the strangest distortions of our times, this selective myopia concerning the legacy of Soviet-style communism. Perhaps the most incisive analysis of this phenomenon comes to us in Applebaum's aforementioned study of the Soviet system of exile and labour camps, Gulag.

Applebaum examines the strange mix of idealism and selective memory that gives rise to what amounts to a collective apologia for among the worst crimes of the 20th century. She recounts, for instance, a conversation with the current lord mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, known affectionately among his constituents as "Red Ken" for his dalliances with pure laine socialism. Livingstone patiently explains that, while it is appropriate to describe the Nazis as "evil," one must understand that the Soviet Union was, by contrast, "deformed."

"That view," writes Applebaum, "echoes the feeling that many people have, even those who are not old-fashioned left wingers: the Soviet Union simply went wrong somehow, but it was not fundamentally wrong in the way that Hitler's Germany was wrong."

In other words, the teleology of a classless society based on the principle "to each according to their need from each according to their ability" mitigates the most heinous crimes, whereas Nazi Germany's race-based ideology does not.

And while it seems a gossamer thread on which to hang an analysis of the perceived differences between these two Satans, Applebaum bravely pushes past righteous indignation into a sustained discourse on the subject. She points out that both the Soviet and Nazi systems of concentration camps were born of a common fin de siècle European "colonial" experience.

"The notion that some types of people are superior to other types of people was common enough in Europe," writes Applebaum. "Both regimes legitimated themselves, in part, by establishing categories of `enemies' or `sub humans' whom they persecuted or destroyed on a mass scale."

For the Nazis, this began with the crippled and the retarded and moved on to gypsies, homosexuals and, above all, the Jews. And the Soviets? At different times, Stalin systematically persecuted Poles, Chechens, Tartars, and, on the eve of his death, Jews.

In the end, Applebaum draws a fine and chilling distinction between the two systems, both on the basis of intent and result. Whereas the Nazi concentration camps were designed specifically to eradicate the Jews and other "undesirables" from Europe, the gulag prisoners were exploited for economic ends.

"They were, to use Marxist language, exploited, reified, and commodified. Unless they were productive, their lives were worthless to their masters." From each according to his ability to each according to their need, indeed.

And still for all that, the hammer and sickle, the symbol of this "deformed" ideology, raises nothing like the hackles and discomfort one feels at the sight of the much loathed swastika. At least in the West, the Soviet symbol is a signifier for a kind of folie de grandeur.

"While the symbol of one mass murder fills us with horror," writes Applebaum, "the symbol of another mass murder makes us laugh."...

Jacobin to the Core
After listening to his inaugural speech, anyone who thinks President Bush and his handlers are sane needs to visit a psychiatrist. The hubris-filled megalomaniac in the Oval Office has promised the world war without end.

Bush's crazy talk has even upset rah-rah Republicans. One Republican called Bush's speech "God-drenched." It has begun to dawn on the formerly Grand Old Party that a bloodless coup has occurred and Republicans have lost their party to Jacobins, who cloak themselves under the term "neoconservatives."

What is a Jacobin? Jacobins ushered in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The Jacobins saw themselves as virtuous champions of universalist principles that required them to impose "liberty, equality, fraternity" not merely on France by a reign of terror, but also on the rest of Europe by force of arms.

Unlike America's Founding Fathers, who exhorted their countrymen to cultivate their own garden, Jacobins were not content with revolutionizing France. They were driven to revolutionize the world.

President Bush's second inaugural speech is Jacobin to the core. It stands outside the American tradition....

...Kagan calls America's moral crusade against the world "the higher realism that Bush now proclaims."...

...Bush and the Republican Party have morphed into a Jacobin Party. They sincerely believe that they have a monopoly on virtue and the obligation to impose U.S. virtue on the rest of the world. This Jacobin program requires the supremacy of executive power and is dependent on an unwarranted belief in the efficacy of force.

There is nothing American or democratic about this program. Bush speaks as Robespierre when he invokes "a fire in the minds of men" that "warms those who feel its power." Bush possesses Robespierre's "pure conscience" as he destroys Iraq's infrastructure and the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, levels cities, and practices torture....

...Led by Bush, the Republican Party now stands for detainment without trial and war without end. It is a party destructive of all virtue and a great threat to life and liberty on earth.

Army Closed Many Abuse Cases Early
Few Detainee-Treatment Inquiries Led to Penalties, Documents Show

Army personnel have admitted to beating or threatening to kill Iraqi detainees and stealing money from Iraqi civilians but have not been charged with criminal conduct, according to newly released Army documents.

Only a handful of the 54 investigations of alleged detainee abuse and other illicit activities detailed in the documents led to recommended penalties as severe as a court-martial or discharge from military service. ...

... The newly released reports detail allegations similar to those that surrounded the documented abuse at Abu Ghraib -- such as beatings with rifle butts, prolonged hooding, sodomy, electric shocks, stressful shackling, and the repeated withholding of clothing and food -- but they also encompass alleged offenses at military prisons and checkpoints elsewhere in Iraq. The elite soldiers with Army Special Forces and other Special Operations personnel stationed in various parts of Iraq were also implicated in some of the abuse but did not admit involvement, according to the documents.

The reports, drawn directly from Army case files, also explain for the first time exactly how many of the abuse allegations were investigated and adjudicated.

A January 2004 probe, for example, found that nine soldiers in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Carson, Colo., and deployed in Iraq "were possibly involved in a criminal conspiracy to rob Iraqi citizens of currency" at traffic-control points. Two members of the unit affirmed the plan in sworn statements and named its participants. But the investigation was terminated after the commander "indicated an intent to take action amounting to less than a court proceeding," the report said. ...

... Another case involved a 73-year-old Iraqi woman who was captured by members of the Delta Force special unit and alleged that she was robbed of money and jewels before being confined for days without food or water -- all in an effort to force her to disclose the location of her husband and son. Delta Force's Task Force 20 was assigned to capture senior Iraqi officials.

She said she was also stripped and humiliated by a man who "straddled her . . . and attempted to ride her like a horse" before hitting her with a stick and placing it in her anus. The case, which attracted the attention of senior Iraqi officials and led to an inquiry by an unnamed member of the White House staff, was closed without a conclusion.

The military eventually released her and reimbursed her "for all property and damage" after her complaints, the report said; details of the Delta Force investigation remain classified. ...

... Another detainee said he was whisked off a Baghdad street by two U.S. soldiers, blindfolded and taken to an unknown location, where he was beaten by wooden sticks, sodomized and given electric shocks during an interrogation session. He was also one of three detainees who said in separate cases that he was forced to drink urine.

"They made me take a picture with the captain giving me a hundred-dollar bill," the detainee said. "They then threatened to show the picture to the Iraqis and say I was working with them."

Medical examinations corroborated the injuries to the detainee's wrists and noted injuries to his anus. Military lawyers ruled that the "investigation did not further diminish the integrity or credibility of [the] allegation," according to a report dated Aug. 5, but they closed the case.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Just Another Word For Everything Left to Lose
In his second-term inaugural address on Thursday, George W. Bush used the words freedom or liberty, in some form, 49 times. Say this for the president: He can hammer home a message.

Among these instances was this declaration: “We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner ‘Freedom Now’ -- they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.”

Freedom. Liberty. God. Bush’s emphases on these, so consistently highlighted in his public communications over the past four years, both lay bare and obscure underlying truths about the administration. Regarding the former, the president’s linkage of freedom and liberty with divine wishes is indicative of how central an evangelical worldview is to his conception of the United States’ role in the world, particularly in the struggle against terrorism. At the same time, emphasis on these values masks the reality that the administration is determined to define what counts as freedom and liberty and who will have the privilege to experience it. Let’s consider each of these points. ...

...The certitude present in Bush’s rhetoric and in the support for Bush by Falwell (and by other Religious Right leaders such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Gary Bauer) is emblematic of fundamentalists’ confidence that their understanding of the world provides what religion scholar Bruce Lawrence terms “mandated universalist norms” to be spread across cultural and historical contexts. For Bush and the Religious Right, those norms first and foremost are U.S. conceptions of freedom and liberty. Since September 11, 2001, these values have gained a special resonance among Americans -- and the administration, both because of genuine ideological as well as strategic reasons, has capitalized. Since the attacks, Bush has consistently claimed that the freedom and liberty he seeks to spread is God’s will for the world....

...The claim that the U.S. government is doing God’s work may appeal to many Americans, but it frightens those who might run afoul of administration wishes-cum-demands. This is particularly so when one considers how declarations of God’s will have been used by European-Americans in past eras as rationale for subjugating those who are racially and religiously different, most notably Native Americans, Africans, Chinese, and African Americans.

Indeed, scholar R. Scott Appleby in 2003 declared that the administration’s omnipresent emphasis on freedom and liberty functions as the centerpiece for “a theological version of Manifest Destiny.” Unfortunately, this twenty-first century adaptation of Manifest Destiny differs little from earlier American versions: The goal remains to vanquish any who do not willingly adopt the supposedly universal norms and values of Protestant conservatives. The result, by implication in the president’s rhetoric, is that the administration has transformed Bush’s “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” policy into “Either you are with us, or you are against God.”

To the great misfortune of American democracy and the global public, such a view is indistinguishable from that of the terrorists it is fighting. One is hard pressed to see how the perspective of Osama bin Laden, that he and his followers are delivering God’s wishes for the United States, is much different from Bush’s perspective that the United States is delivering God’s wishes to the Taliban or Iraq....

'Braveheart' Becomes Role Model for Christian Men
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Movies like "Braveheart" and "Legends of the Fall" are on the viewing list for men in a growing Christian movement that calls for them to throw off their "nice guy" personas and emulate warriors. ...

...The movement has stirred controversy, attracting criticism from some Christian leaders who fear he may just be reinforcing stereotypes.

While some women have welcomed suddenly receiving flowers and more attention from their husbands, in the long-term there are concerns about the impact on marriages.

"The basic premise that men need a princess to rescue has set back male female relationship in the church by 30 years. He sanctifies a mythological view of 1950s malehood," said Chapman Clark, associate professor of youth, family, and culture at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.

"It is destructive (to marriages) in the long-term," Clark said, adding that treating women as a figurine rather that the personal image of God will hurt relationships over time.

Clark said Eldredge had tapped into an angst among middle-aged white men who are dissatisfied with their lives and for whom depression had become a very serious problem. ...

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Mix of Quake Aid and Preaching Stirs Concern
MORAKETIYA, Sri Lanka, Jan. 19 -A dozen Americans walked into a relief camp here, showering bereft parents and traumatized children with gifts, attention and affection. They also quietly offered camp residents something else: Jesus.

The Americans, who all come from one church in Texas, have staged plays detailing the life of Jesus and had children draw pictures of him, camp residents said. They have told parents who lost children that they should still believe in God, and held group prayers where they tried to heal a partly paralyzed man and a deaf 12year-old girl.

The attempts at proselytizing are angering local Christian leaders, who worry that they could provoke a violent backlash against Christians in Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist country that is already a religious tinderbox.

Last year, Buddhist hard-liners attacked the offices of the World Vision Christian aid group and vandalized or threatened churches and pastors 75 times. They accuse Christians of using money and social programs to cajole and coerce conversions.

Most American groups, including those affiliated with religious organizations, strictly avoid mixing aid and missionary work. But scattered reports of proselytizing in Sri Lanka; Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim; and India, with large Hindu and Muslim populations, are arousing concerns that the good will spread by the American relief efforts may be undermined by resentment.

The Rev. Sarangika Fernando, a local Methodist minister, witnessed one of the prayer sessions in Sri Lanka and accused the Americans of acting unethically with traumatized people. "They said, 'In the name of Jesus, she must be cured!' " he said. "As a priest, I was really upset."

The Americans in Sri Lanka belong to the Antioch Community Church, an evangelical church based in Waco, Tex. Two members of the church were arrested, and accused of proselytizing, by the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2001. When the United States invaded the country several months later, pro-American Northern Alliance forces freed the women, who church officials say did speak with Afghans about their personal "relationship with Jesus."

The Antioch Community Church is one of a growing number of evangelical groups that believe in mixing aidgiving with discussing religion, an approach that older, more established Christian aid groups like Catholic Relief Services call unethical. ...

...The Rev. Duleep Fernando, a Methodist minister based in Colombo, the capital, brought the Americans to the camp here. Mr. Fernando said they had described themselves as humanitarian aid workers. He and other Sri Lankan Christian leaders say raising religion with traumatized refugees is unethical.

"We have told them this is not right, but now we don't have any control over them," said Mr. Fernando, who called the group's Web site postings "unnecessarily explosive."

"This is a dangerous situation," he said....

...W. L. P. Wilson, 38, a disabled fisherman with a sixth-grade education, said he allowed the Americans to pray three times for the healing of his paralyzed lower leg because he was desperate to provide for his wife and three children again. Mr. Wilson, a Buddhist, said that he believed that the Americans were trying to convert him to Christianity but that he was in "a helpless situation now" and needed aid.

"They told me to always think about God and about Jesus and you will be healed," he said. "Whenever I ask for help they always mention God, but they do not give any money for treatment."

An Interview with Army Medic, Patrick Resta
... The thing that is most troubling to me about what is going on in Iraq is the public's reaction, or lack thereof, to it. It seems to me that the public is a little too accepting of whatever the media feeds them and unwilling to research things for themselves. I think the misconceptions harbored by the public about how things are going in Iraq are dangerous. By this I refer to the following ideas: that the Iraqi people want us there, that we are rebuilding the country, that we are helping the Iraqi people, that the Iraqi security forces are anywhere near capable of taking over, and the list goes on and on. I cover each of these topics extensively in my comments I have readied for public speaking engagements. (Contact Patrick Resta at

There are also the troubling ideas the American public still harbors about soldiers in Iraq. A huge one is that most soldiers support the war and are happy to be there. During my time in Iraq, "The Stars and Stripes", which is a military newspaper, released a poll that showed a clear majority of soldiers in Iraq as unsupportive of the policies. The paper also ran many letters to the editor that were critical of the administration and the war in general. The lack of armor on vehicles continues to be a problem that costs soldiers their lives and limbs. My unit had a huge problem with this issue. I have plenty of pictures of our vehicles with plywood "armor" being sent into combat (see these pictures here:

You said that it was troubling to you that most Americans still believe that a most soldiers still support the policies our government is carrying out in Iraq. Soldiers' opinions on the war vary, naturally. You were in Iraq for several months, and now you're involved with Iraq Veterans Against the War. Are a good number of soldiers questioning the war and occupation and getting fed up with what's going on?

I feel that plenty of soldiers don't see the point of the efforts they're making in Iraq. As my time wore on in Iraq more and more people were getting increasingly frustrated with being there. It becomes even more frustrating when you're getting attacked pretty frequently, having people get injured, and even members of other units get killed. For a while after I first got there I would try to think of a reason for being in Iraq before I went to bed every night. I couldn't think of one. I finally saw two pictures in National Geographic that made it pretty clear why I was there, and I taped them above my cot as a reminder. The first picture shows about 30 Marines guarding the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad. The second picture shows Navy personnel escorting an oil tanker through the Persian Gulf.

Being placed in that situation is only made worse by the lack of equipment. I realized rather quickly what my life was worth to this administration and to the American public. That being said, we all took our mission seriously and tried to have some positive impact to make our time in Iraq worth something. However, this was made pretty difficult with the rules that were put in place, such as only being allowed to treat Iraqis that were in danger of losing life or limb. It's depressing to realize that for the next several months or even year of your life you will be risking your life for nothing. Any rocket or mortar coming in could take your life, or arms, or legs and there is little point to it. The vast majority of the Iraqi people don't want you there, the reasons given for the war have proven false, and your continued presence only inflames the situation. ...

...Most Iraqi's are not overtly confrontational with American soldiers. However, if you engage them in conversation and ask their opinion (as I often did) they will not hesitate to tell you that you are not wanted in Iraq by anyone. After the WMD story turned out to be a hoax the war was then sold as a humanitarian mission. Shortly after arriving in Iraq we were instructed that we could not treat Iraqi's unless they were in danger of losing life or limb. Basically, the local nationals had to be in danger of dying before we could treat them. This was the official guidance that we received in writing, repeatedly, from way up the chain of command. The excuses ranged from not having the money/supplies to wanting the Iraqi's to get used to using their own healthcare infrastructure. Why were we there then? It was little things like this that served to quickly turn our opinion about what this war was really about.

Most of the sentiment voiced publicly by the local nationals all focused on the same few ideas. The war was sold to them as a way to get rid of Saddam, which they favored. But, it quickly became evident that that's not what this war was really about. They were lied to by this administration too. They are now being occupied and they know the war is all about oil.

Not only are they being occupied, but they still have no security. I was told again and again that at least under Saddam they didn't have roadside bombs littering the country and gangs of insurgents roving and ravaging the country with impunity. Again, I could talk about this for hours. I will leave my contact information ( and people can contact me with individual questions and/or requests to speak about my opinions and experiences in Iraq....

... When I joined the military I took an oath that I took seriously. I just wish that my elected officials took it as seriously as I did. But, why should they? Few if any of them have ever taken it before themselves. In my oath I swore to defend the Constitution and the people of America, clearly that is not what I did in Iraq. In fact, if the Constitution needs defending anywhere it is in Washington, DC.

No one in the military signs up to die for nothing, I know I surely didn't. Soldiers aren't assembled at the Pentagon, they are real people with real families. Most come from poor and working class families and I believe that has something to do with the public's sick view that the life of a soldier is worth inherently less than the life of an average American citizen.

If you're going to commit hundreds of thousands of troops for something this ridiculous, at least equip them so they have a fighting chance of surviving and keeping all of their limbs. Supporting our troops? Hardly. Let me break it down for you real easy: most of the kids dying in Iraq, and they are kids, are between 18 and 22. These kids will never go to college, never get married, never have kids, never have grandchildren, never retire, and never get to enjoy life. They leave behind children that will never know their fathers and widows that will never know peace.

Too many people have suffered way too much already. I will continue to speak out until the last soldier leaves Iraq and the last veteran gets the care they are owed. Not another Vietnam....