Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The United States does not torture. Much.

Our new Attorney General, Michael "Thumbscrews" Mukasey, testified before Congress today about torture. Specifically, waterboarding. In most cases, he avoiding saying anything of substance about it.

There has been a lot of legal sophistry in reference to torture in the past few years. First, there was John Yoo's torture memo that defined torture as only that which "death, organ failure or the permanent impairment of a significant body function." What I didn't realize until today was that that memo also said any law that prohibited the President from ordering the torture of an al Qaeda fighter would be unconstitutional. Seriously. That's what the memo says. Page 31.

Thumbscrews is now claiming that "reasonable people" can disagree about whether waterboarding is torture. No, I'm sorry. They can't. When a torture technique is used by the Spanish Inquisition, the Nazis, and the Khmer Rouge, it's torture. When Japanese soldiers are prosecuted for war crimes because they performed it, it's torture. When the fact that managing to withstand it for all of two-and-a-half minutes actually impresses the CIA interrogators, it's torture. Reasonable people can not disagree on this subject.

We all know why there is so much hand-wringing on this subject: because it is torture and because we now know for sure that the United State has used it. We've passed a legal point of no return. That's why the new torture memo had to say that all the interrogations performed under John Yoo's definition of torture we all legal. Because admitting that CIA interrogations had broken the law would require investigations and prosecutions. That's why Thumbscrews is now saying that waterboarding doesn't "shock the conscience", or doesn't shock the conscience unless it's used to "discover information that could not be used to save lives and was simply of historical value." In other words, Thumbscrews is actually arguing that waterboarding isn't torture. And even if it were torture, it wouldn't be torture if we really, really wanted to find out some information.

I've had a hard time writing this and I hope I was at least semi-coherent. This is just one of those things that makes me almost blind with righteous anger and that makes it hard to focus my thoughts into good writing. Other people do not have such problems. Balkinization has some good posts, with legal analysis from someone actually qualified to pass it. Specifically: How Can the Legality of Waterboarding Depend on the Circumstances? and Yes, It's a No-Brainer: Waterboarding Is Torture. TPM Muckraker has video of Thumscrews's testimony as well as transcripts. There are quite a few posts, so I won't link to them all. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin's question and non-answer period is especially interesting.

One last note: Marty Lederman, a former lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, makes a very interesting speculation:

Mukasey would probably have no problem telling the Senators that waterboarding is unlawful, except that in order to reach such a legal conclusion, he would almost certainly have to repudiate the legal rationale underlying OLC's contrary opinion -- and such a repudiation would undermine the legal basis for other of the "enhanced" CIA interrogation techniques...

In other words, they know that the "extreme interrogation techniques" are built on a legal foundation of sand. And if you wash one away, you wind up washing away all the others.

UPDATE: Dr Fig links to a guy that waterboarded himself to understand what it was like. I suggest everyone read it. Remember, he's doing this to himself, he's not in any danger, and he is in full control. Here is some of what he described:

It seems that there is a point that is hardwired in us. When we draw water into our respiratory tract to this point we are no longer in control. All hell breaks loose. Instinct tells us we are dying.

I have never been more panicked in my whole life. Once your lungs are empty and collapsed and they start to draw fluid it is simply all over. You [b]know[b] you are dead and it's too late. Involuntary and total panic.

There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It would be like telling you not to blink while I stuck a hot needle in your eye.


So, is it torture?

I'll put it this way. If I had the choice of being waterboarded by a third party or having my fingers smashed one at a time by a sledgehammer, I'd take the fingers, no question.

It's horrible, terrible, inhuman torture. I can hardly imagine worse. I'd prefer permanent damage and disability to experiencing it again. I'd give up anything, say anything, do anything.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

This random chain of coolness has been brought to you by the Internet

A-list blog Eschaton links to a video of "Republican-style bipartisan negotiation and compromise".

That machinima video is based on a Creative-Commons-licensed song by Jonathan Coulton and made via World of Warcraft. It's one of a series of movies avilable at SpiffWorld.

Johnathan Coulton has been friends with John Hodgman since college. Hodgman is a writer and is the author of The Areas of My Expertise.

Hodgman is also the PC from the "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" commercials.

And he has a blog.

Just how cool is the Internet?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Set my primaries free!

John Bambenek is at it again. He's "filed a complaint with" (i.e. written a letter to) the Michigan Attorney General complaining about the suggestion made by kos of Daily Kos that Michigan Democratic voters vote for Romney in Michigan's open primary. TheSquire pretty much eviscerated his complaint by looking at what Michigan law actually says, as does lawyer Adam B.

I'm not posting about the silliness that is Mr. Bambenek's latest attempt at notability, but rather about some things he's said elsewhere. He is also a "freelance columnist" at a Kankakee paper, where he wrote this about a possible Illinois Constitutional Convention:

Open ballot access should be implemented. Every person should have equal ballot access regardless of political affiliation or nonaffiliation and a true democracy requires nothing less. The freedom to vote does not mean much if there is no real choice.

So I find that difficult to reconcile with what Mr. Bambenek says here:

FYI, open primaries are unconstitutional, see:
NAACP v. Alabama
Gitlow v. New York
Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut
Miller v. Brown

So he's arguing that open primaries are unconstitutional based on federal cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and therefore based on the U.S. Constitution.

But then there's this:

In theory, parties could open up of their own accord, but forcing by law is unconstitutional... so fine, to be strictly technical, a legally-imposed open primary is unconstitutional which is exactly what you came up with. Thanks for doing the footwork.

On one hand, he's arguing that we need an Illinois state constitutional convention to require open primaries, but on the other hand, he's arguing that the U.S. Constitution prohibits making open primaries mandatory.

Inconsistency, thy name is Bambenek.

UPDATE I: I see he has published the same column in the Daily Illini.

UPDATE II: Moon_grrl tells us how she really feels.

I've got mail!

A few weeks back, I had a letter to the editor published in the Austin American-Statesman about the firing of the pro-evolution director of the science curriculum. While I was away over Christmas, I actually got a letter in the mail from someone that read it. (A postcard, anyway.) It wasn't exactly friendly. There was no return address, so I can't respond directly to the brave person that looked up my address. Here's the postcard:

Let's leave aside that this guy felt strongly enough to track me down and actually knows my street address. (Creepy.) It's interesting that he claims the creationists on the Texas Education Agency are fighting the idea of Darwin's "inerrancy". You find this notion all over when it comes to creationists. It was a major part of Ann Coulter's thesis in her last book, Godless. Here is Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council claiming scientists "declaring Darwinism to be inerrant dogma." It's as if they think biologists get up in the morning and genuflect before an altar to Charles Darwin before heading off to work and a long day of harvesting embryonic stem cells.

The other thing you'll notice about this letter is that it has the attitude that the creationists are the stalwart defenders of skeptical inquiry against the forces of dogmatic "Darwinism", when nothing could be further from the truth. It's not as if a lot of cutting-edge scientific research happens in 5th grade science classrooms. I think the last paper I read from such an institution was Cootie Contagion: A Longitudinal Analysis of the 2007 Outbreak.

Sigh. It's just not easy being a candle of rationality in all this dark.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

And so it begins

Remember how I said the whole Barak-Obama-is-a-Muslim thing was going to start spreading? Well, it has.

  • Bill Cunningham, who broadcasts a syndicated radio program on over 300 stations and is a regular guest on FOX's Hannity and Colmes, referred to Obama as "Barack Mohammed Hussein Obama."
  • Ross Mackenzie said in a nationally syndicated column on that Obama was educated in a "madrassa school."
  • Nationally syndicated radio show host and professional douchebag Michael Savage referred to Obama as "Senator Barack Madrassas Obama."

Those are just examples from the past couple of days. These aren't just fringe kooks ranting in a mimeographed newsletter handed out on streetcorners. These are all syndicated commentators with nationwide audiences. They are all putting out the idea that Obama is a Muslim and/or that he was indoctrinated into the violent aspect of Islam. It's not just that they're just making stuff up, they're trying to create in people's minds a reflex association between Barak Obama and radical, violent Muslims.

This is the right-wing media machine doing what it does best. I expect we can look forward to seeing more of this as the race heats up. Lots more.

UPDATE: Illinois Reason deconstructs an even more extreme scare-mongering "Obama is a Muslim!" email.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Why don't they just call him the Manchurian Muslim?

It was about a year ago that I wrote this post saying why I didn't think Obama could win the Presidency. This, of course, was before his win in Iowa, which probably makes him the one to beat for the Democratic candidacy.

A few days ago, my mother forwarded to me the following email she had from her cousin, who she described as "as far right as you are left." I don't know if the email coming so soon after the Iowa caucus is coincidence or if it reflects a new urgency in the Republican smear machine.

Obama mentioned his church during his appearance with Oprah. It's the Trinity Church of Christ. I found this interesting. Obama's church: Please read and go to this church's website and read what is written there. It is very alarming... If you look at the first page of their website, you will learn that this congregation has a non-negotiable commitment to Africa. No where is AMERICA even mentioned. Notice too, what color you will need to be if you should want to join Obama's church... B-L-A-C-K!!!

Doesn't look like his choice of religion has improved much over his (former?) Muslim upbringing.

Are you aware that Obama's middle name is Mohammed? Strip away his nice looks, the big smile and smooth talk and what do you get? Certainly a racist, as plainly defined by the stated position of his church! And possibly a covert worshiper of the Muslim faith, even today. This guy desires to rule over America while his loyalty is totally vested in a Black Africa!

I've bolded the lies and distortions in the email. Obama is a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ, which describes itself as being committed to a 10-point vision. The point that this email makes reference to is #4, that it is a "congregation with a non-negotiable commitment to Africa." Nowhere does the church require you to be black to be a member. It seems clear from the rest of the website and the church pastor's Wikipedia entry that this is a church committed to valuing the African heritage of its congregants, rather than claiming racial superiority. Americans celebrating their background is hardly racist, as anyone that's marched in the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade can tell you.

It's very clear that this email is pandering to the predjudices of its readers, in that it makes the insiduation that Obama is a Muslim no fewer than three times. It brings up a "Muslim upbringing", claims his middle name is "Mohammed," and claims he might just be a covert Muslim. All three of these things is a lie. Hell, his middle name is Hussein, not Mohammed, so the idiot writing this couldn't be bothered to even get his smears right.

Obama lived in Indonesia for a few years when he was very young. Yes, that's a predominantly Muslim nation, but that hardly counts as a Muslim upbringing. Whenever it's referenced by the right-wing, his education is always implied as being somehow "Muslim-focused," and his school is often referred to as a "madrassa." Oddly, they never refer to it as an "Asian education."

This piece is circulating all over the internet. A quick search shows it posted in the comments sections of many blogs. The mouthbreathers over at Free Republic posted it, as well as over at White Nationalist News.

Whoever wrote this is obviously trying to pander to blatant racists but also the unconcious racist feelings of many Americans. The thing that I find most frustrating is that the whole "Muslim upbringing" nonsense was debunked over a year ago. And yet here it is again.

If Obama does win the Democratic candidacy, I think things are going to get very ugly.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I guess he's not a slacker after all

TheSquire is back and blogging over at Speaking Liberally. Creationists everywhere are probably shaking in their boots already.