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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You'd Spy Too

Arthur Silber asks: Why wouldn't the Russians feel it necessary to spy on the United States?

Good question.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Op-Ed: Endless Occupation?

So Gen. Stanley McChrystal is out and Gen. David Petraeus is back at the helm in Afghanistan. I don’t like hackneyed phrases, but if this isn’t rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, what is it?
Read the full op-ed here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Not Sure I Like This Template

I may need to move the blog elsewhere.

Orwell on Nationalism

From George Orwell's Notes on Nationalism:
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage -- torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians -- which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side . . . The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.
HT: Glenn Greenwald, who HT'ed Hume's Ghost

Why They Commit Terrorism

See Update.
I want to plead guilty, and I’m going to plead guilty 100 times over because until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan, and stops the occupation of Muslim lands, and stops killing the Muslims, and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking U.S., and I plead guilty to that.
--Faisal Shahzad, on pleading guilty to attempting to set off a car bomb in Times Square

Asked by the judge why he would want to kill civilians, Shahzad said: "Well, the people select the government. We consider them all the same"

“Including the children?” the judge asked.

“Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children; they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children. They kill everybody. It’s a war. And in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims.”

Any further questions?

UPDATE July 3, 2010
The neocons work overtime to keep Americans from understanding why terrorists do what they do. See Glenn Greenwald's discussion of Charles Krauthammer's latest attempt.

Also see Greenwald's excellent deconstruction of the word terrorism. What distinguishes a terrorist from a freedom fighter is not some objective feature about reality.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Did Bush & Co. Do Medical Research on Detainees?

As time goes by, the record of the Bush administration gets worse and worse. It could turn out that the most egregious offense of the Bush-esque Obama administration will be that its Justice Department let Bush-Cheney & Co. off scot-free.

It’s not enough that the last gang to occupy the Executive Branch got us into two illegal wars, accumulated autocratic powers, violated our civil liberties, and tortured suspects. Now it appears that it kicked things up a notch.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) says it has unearthed “evidence that indicates the Bush administration apparently conducted illegal and unethical human experimentation and research on detainees in CIA custody.”

Read the full op-ed here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Firing Squad in Utah

The state government in Utah has executed a convicted killer by firing squad. Someday, let us hope, governments will be unable to find marksmen and physicians willing to participate in such barbarism. The State should not be allowed to execute.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Debate Over the 1964 Civil Rights Act

I will be participating in an online discussion about the appropriate libertarian position on the 1964 Civil Rights Act as part of the Cato Unbound series. David Bernstein of George Mason University Law School has kicked it off with his essay here. My response will be posted Friday, followed by other responses to Bernstein from Jason Kuznicki of Cato and Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University. After that there will be a series of short comments by the participants, beginning with Bernstein's rebuttal.

It should be a lively discussion. So get started now.

My previous writings on the subject appeared in the Christian Science Monitor and as a TGIF column here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Any Doubts about which is the Roguest Nation?

From Physicians for Human Rights:
In the most comprehensive investigation to date of health professionals' involvement in the CIA's "enhanced" interrogation program (EIP), Physicians For Human Rights has uncovered evidence that indicates the Bush administration apparently conducted illegal and unethical human experimentation and research on detainees in CIA custody. The apparent experimentation and research appear to have been performed to provide legal cover for torture, as well as to help justify and shape future procedures and policies governing the use of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques. The PHR report, Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the 'Enhanced' Interrogation Program, is the first to provide evidence that CIA medical personnel engaged in the crime of illegal experimentation after 9/11, in addition to the previously disclosed crime of torture.

This evidence indicating apparent research and experimentation on detainees opens the door to potential additional legal liability for the CIA and Bush-era officials. There is no publicly available evidence that the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel determined that the alleged experimentation and research performed on detainees was lawful, as it did with the "enhanced" techniques themselves.

"The CIA appears to have broken all accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War to protect prisoners from being the subjects of experimentation," said Frank Donaghue, PHR's Chief Executive Officer. "Not only are these alleged acts gross violations of human rights law, they are a grave affront to America's core values."

Physicians for Human Rights demands that President Obama direct the Attorney General to investigate these allegations, and if a crime is found to have been committed, prosecute those responsible. Additionally, Congress must immediately amend the War Crimes Act (WCA) to remove changes made to the WCA in 2006 by the Bush Administration that allow a more permissive definition of the crime of illegal experimentation on detainees in US custody. The more lenient 2006 language of the WCA was made retroactive to all acts committed by US personnel since 1997.

"In their attempt to justify the war crime of torture, the CIA appears to have committed another alleged war crime – illegal experimentation on prisoners," said Nathaniel A. Raymond, Director of PHR's Campaign Against Torture and lead report author. "Justice Department lawyers appear to never have assessed the lawfulness of the alleged research on detainees in CIA custody, despite how essential it appears to have been to their legal cover for torture."

PHR's report, Experiments in Torture, is relevant to present-day national security interrogations, as well as Bush-era detainee treatment policies. As recently as February, 2010, President Obama's then director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, disclosed that the US had established an elite interrogation unit that will conduct "scientific research" to improve the questioning of suspected terrorists. Admiral Blair declined to provide important details about this effort.

"If health professionals participated in unethical human subject research and experimentation they should be held to account," stated Scott A. Allen, MD, a medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights and lead medical author of the report. "Any health professional who violates their ethical codes by employing their professional expertise to calibrate and study the infliction of harm disgraces the health profession and makes a mockery of the practice of medicine."

Several prominent individuals and organizations in addition to PHR will file a complaint this week with the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) and call for an OHRP investigation of the CIA's Office of Medical Services.

The PHR report indicates that there is evidence that health professionals engaged in research on detainees that violates the Geneva Conventions, The Common Rule, the Nuremberg Code and other international and domestic prohibitions against illegal human subject research and experimentation. Declassified government documents indicate that:

  • Research and medical experimentation on detainees was used to measure the effects of large- volume waterboarding and adjust the procedure according to the results. After medical monitoring and advice, the CIA experimentally added saline, in an attempt to prevent putting detainees in a coma or killing them through over-ingestion of large amounts of plain water. The report observes: "'Waterboarding 2.0' was the product of the CIA's developing and field-testing an intentionally harmful practice, using systematic medical monitoring and the application of subsequent generalizable knowledge."
  • Health professionals monitored sleep deprivation on more than a dozen detainees in 48-, 96- and 180-hour increments. This research was apparently used to monitor and assess the effects of varying levels of sleep deprivation to support legal definitions of torture and to plan future sleep deprivation techniques.
  • Health professionals appear to have analyzed data, based on their observations of 25 detainees who were subjected to individual and combined applications of "enhanced" interrogation techniques, to determine whether one type of application over another would increase the subject's "susceptibility to severe pain." The alleged research appears to have been undertaken only to assess the legality of the "enhanced" interrogation tactics and to guide future application of the techniques.

Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the 'Enhanced' Interrogation Program is the most in-depth expert review to date of the legal and medical ethics issues concerning health professionals' involvement in researching, designing and supervising the CIA's "enhanced" interrogation program. The Experiments in Torture report is the result of six months of investigation and the review of thousands of pages of government documents. It has been peer-reviewed by outside experts in the medical, biomedical and research ethics fields, legal experts, health professionals and experts in the treatment of torture survivors.

The lead author for this report was Nathaniel Raymond, Director of the Campaign Against Torture, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the lead medical author was Scott Allen, MD, Co-Director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University and Medical Advisor to PHR. They were joined in its writing by Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, PHR Senior Medical Advisor; Allen Keller, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, Director, Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture; Stephen Soldz, PhD, President-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and Director of the Center for Research, Evaluation and Program Development at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis; Steven Reisner, PhD, PHR Advisor on Ethics and Psychology; and John Bradshaw, JD, PHR Chief Policy Officer and Director of PHR's Washington Office.

The report was extensively peer reviewed by leading experts in related medical, legal, ethical and governmental fields addressed in the document.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Free Bradley Manning!

SPC Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer in the vicinity of Baghdad, was arrested two weeks ago for having supposedly sent Wikileaks the “Collateral Damage” video of US troops shooting Iraqi civilians.
Justin Raimondo has the full story here.

As Mike Gogulski notes in the comments, he has set up a website dedicated to bringing attention to Bradley Manning's cause.

Prosecute Bush

From Dan Froomkin:

George W. Bush's casual acknowledgment Wednesday that he had Khalid Sheikh Mohammed waterboarded -- and would do it again -- has horrified some former military and intelligence officials who argue that the former president doesn't seem to understand the gravity of what he is admitting.

Waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning, is "unequivocably torture", said retired Brigadier General David R. Irvine, a former strategic intelligence officer who taught prisoner of war interrogation and military law for 18 years.

"As a nation, we have historically prosecuted it as such, going back to the time of the Spanish-American War," Irvine said. "Moreover, it cannot be demonstrated that any use of waterboarding by U.S. personnel in recent years has saved a single American life."

More at the Huffington Post.

The Helen Thomas Affair

I've got to say something about the Helen Thomas affair. (See this article too.) I hope no one will need a further demonstration of the power of Israel's amen chorus in the United States. Her snarky extemporaneous remark was ill-advised, and she apologized. (It was also vague; she might have been referring to settlements in the West Bank rather than pre-1967 Israel.) But no one ever got fired or blacklisted for believing the Palestinians should "go back" to where they came from -- allegedly, Jordan, Egypt, etc. (They didn't really come from there. They were always in Palestine.) Indeed, lots of people believe -- with impunity -- that the Palestinian people are a fiction! ("There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.... It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn't exist." --former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, to The Sunday Times, 15 June, 1969.)

Helen Thomas, unlike the sycophants who make up the White House press corps, at least had the courage to ask hard questions of power (also this one), such as, Why attack Iraq? Or, What motivates Muslim terrorists? Might it have something to do with America's brutality and callousness in the Middle East? As a woman of Christian Lebanese heritage, she has every justification for being critical of Israel. Silencing her is something many people have wanted to do for a long time.

I'll end this with a quotation from David Ben Gurion, a founder of Israel and the Jewish State's first prime minister. Don't bother to doubt its authenticity. It has been quoted many times, and I am not aware of anyone's even claiming it is not genuine. It comes from a respected Jewish source. There are many similar quotations from Israel's founders, going back to Herzl. They are not hard to find. Compare it to Meir's statement above.

Ben Gurion:
Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. [A patently false statement. --sr] We come from Israel, it's true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations' time, but for the moment there is no chance. So, it's simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out. [Emphasis added. Nahum Goldmann, The Jewish Paradox, p. 99]
Does this mean that anyone should "go back" to anywhere? No, it does not. Much time has passed. But it does give some perspective on who ultimately are the aggrieved parties. Before you can get perspective, however, you have to take your friggin' head out of the sand. You cannot do history a priori.

Here are a few links to articles I wrote nearly 20 years ago:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Terrorism: Made in the U.S.A.

U.S. policy — no matter who’s in power — couldn’t be better tailored to recruit terrorists. We can keep pretending we are innocent victims. Or we can finally put the responsibility where it belongs: in Washington, D.C.
The rest of my latest op-ed is here.

Letter to the Editor

Sent to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today in response to Paul Greenberg's editorial (and probably next syndicated column) on Helen Thomas and Israel:
Paul Greenberg’s selective history of Israel left out something his readers might find interesting. From the start of the Zionist movement at the end of the nineteenth century, respected Reform and Orthodox Jews opposed the founding of an exclusive Jewish state in Palestine. Besides fearing that a political movement would distort Judaism, they pointed out that a Jewish state would threaten the indigenous Arab population as well as Jews living in other countries. As Judah Magnes, founder of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, put it in 1942, “The slogan ‘Jewish state’ (or commonwealth) is equivalent, in effect, to a declaration of war by the Jews on the Arabs.” The Grand Mufti notwithstanding, Jewish and Arab communities coexisted in Palestine until the Zionist movement was launched and Arabs began to be removed from land they had lived on and worked for generations.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Natalee Holloway and Rachel Corrie

Scott Horton, the superb host of Antiwar Radio, raises a great point. There is something wrong with a society in which most people know who Natalee Holloway is, but few know who Rachel Corrie is.

How many know who Leon Klinghoffer is? How many know who Furkan Dogan is? Many people will recognize the first of these names even now, 25 years after it first hit the news. Can we say the same for the second today? How about 25 years from now? I think I know the answer.

Gaza Blockade Not about Weapons

As Israel ordered a slight easing of its blockade of the Gaza Strip Wednesday, McClatchy obtained an Israeli government document that describes the blockade not as a security measure but as "economic warfare" against the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory.
Read the rest.

We'll Never Know

Maybe even without Western colonialism and U.S. intervention Muslims in the Middle East would "hate us for our way of life."

But we'll never know, will we?

Limited Government ... with a License to Kill

Last week U.N. investigator Philip Alston delivered a report on "targeted killings" in which the U.S. government plays a starring role. Under a policy secretly initiated by George W. Bush and expanded by Obama, the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command track and kill people, including U.S. citizens, based on their alleged ties to Al Qaeda or its allies. The killings, typically carried out by missiles fired from drone aircraft, dangerously blur the line between warfare and summary execution.
Read Jacob Sullum's piece here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Furkan Dogan, 19, R.I.P.

(Updated June 9) It may seem tribal to single out the one American among the nine killed by Israeli forces during the raid on the humanitarian flotilla headed toward Gaza. But nation-states usually make a big deal when someone holding one of their passports is harmed by a foreign government. So it's worth pointing out that, to date, the U.S. government has lodged no protest with the government of Israel. Of course the White House did have time to criticize journalist Helen Thomas's remarks about Israel as "offensive and reprehensible." How many people did Thomas murder?

Saturday, June 05, 2010


[Updated June 7]
Defenders of Israel say things would be different if people in Gaza didn't fire rockets into Israeli towns. I agree. Firing rockets into civilian areas is immoral. It is criminal. It is atrocious. It's also hopelessly impractical, in the sense that in no way will it get the Gazans the lives they want to live. The Palestinians would have been better off if long ago they adopted a policy of strict nonviolent noncooperation and resistance. Forswearing violence would have won the sympathies of many Americans and would have put Israel's heavy-handed anti-Palestinian conduct in the worst light.

But although Palestinians have often adopted violent tactics that tragically ceded the moral high ground, this does not the change the fact that Israel's political leaders from the beginning have been the main instigators of strife in Israel/Palestine. It was the founders of the future Jewish state who encroached on Arab farmers and other just occupants of Palestine. (I first learned this as a teenager from my orthodox grandfather, Sam Richman, who was foursquare in the tradition of Jewish anti-Zionism, a tradition alas forgotten.) The Palestinians, especially those in the territories seized in the 1967 war (Gaza and the West Bank), have always been regarded as, at best, a nuisance and usually something far worse. They were living on the land of the Jewish People, after all, land that had to be "redeemed." The number of Israeli children and innocent civilians killed by Palestinians over the years is minuscule compared to the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli government and armed forces. (Read about the 2008-09 22-day Operation Cast Lead in Gaza here.) Add the injuries and the misery from government control over economic life, and there just is no contest. I say this in no way to excuse Palestinian violence against innocents. But let's keep things in perspective, please.

If you want details, consult David Hirst's The Gun and the Olive Branch or the works of Rabbi Elmer Berger and Alfred Lilienthal.

Hamas now stands as the mortal enemy of Israel, but it was Israel's leaders who nurtured Hamas in the late 1970s. Arafat's PLO, which was supported by the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, was secular. Hamas is religious. The Israeli objective in aiding Hamas financially was to divide the Palestinians by promoting a religious rival to the secularists. Today Hamas strikes fear into Israelis. Such is how blowback works.

I don't think it's too late for Israel's leaders to change their policies -- beginning with an end to the devastating starvation embargo against Gaza -- and reach an accommodation with the the various factions of the Palestinians. This will require a willingness to really set the Palestinians free: no bogus arrangements in which Israel retains key powers and territory; no using settlement expansion (in areas other than Gaza) as a cover for aggression. Gaza was not set free when the Israeli military and settlements were removed. (See this.)

And of course, all transfers of money from the American taxpayers should cease at once. (The money to Egypt should also stop.) Which raises a rather urgent question: Considering that American taxpayers bankroll Israel, how many anti-American terrorists were recruited thanks to the events off the coast of Gaza last week, when Israeli forces stormed the aid flotilla? It was the U.S.-financed Israeli assault on Lebanon in 1996, Operation Grapes of Wrath, that prompted Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, to seek vengeance (according to author Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower), and Osama bin Laden declared jihad against the United States during the onslaught.

The Palestinians could help things along by reading some Gandhi and taking up the tactics of strict nonviolence. I really believe they have nothing to lose by this and much to gain.

Background on the siege of Gaza is available here and here ("The siege on the Gaza Strip: 1.5 million people imprisoned") from B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization. For the record, B'Tselem has demanded the release of the Israeli soldier hostage, Gilad Shalit, who has been held in incommunicado by Hamas since June 2006. Hamas said it would free Shalit in exchange for Palestinians held by Israel.

B'Tselem has also condemned the rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilian areas as war crimes.

Friday, June 04, 2010

TGIF: Fixing Global Warming for Fun If Not Profit

Amateur global-warming skeptics can make me uncomfortable.... I sense that under the surface some of them are saying, “Global warming had better not be happening because if it is I see no way for the free market to fix it. Therefore I would have to accept major government intervention, and I don’t want to have to do that.”
Read TGIF here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

This Can't End Well

Israel is going to keep stopping ships headed for Gaza. Turkey promises military escorts for future convoys. If Israel and Turkey duke it out, wouldn't the U.S. have to go to the aid of its NATO ally Turkey?

Question of the Day

Killing civilians who may have tried to defend themselves when their aid ship was boarded by an armed force on the high seas is the new self-defense?