Monday, August 07, 2006

Political news of the week take 18

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Charity Wins Deep Loyalty for Hezbollah - An excellent article in the New York Times showing a side of Hezbollah few news outlets have discussed.
Hezbollah paid for his wife’s Caesarean section. It brought olive oil, sugar and nuts when he lost his job and even covered the cost of an operation on his broken nose.

Like many poor Shiites across southern Lebanon, Ahmed Awali, 41, a security guard at an apartment building in this southern city, has received charity from Hezbollah for years. He says he is not a member. He does not even know the names of those who helped him.

Hezbollah fighters move like shadows across the mountains of southern Lebanon; its workers in towns and villages, equally as ghostly, have settled deeply into people’s lives.

They cover medical bills, offer health insurance, pay school fees and make seed money available for small businesses. They are invisible but omnipresent, providing essential services that the Lebanese government through years of war was incapable of offering.

Their work engenders a deep loyalty among Shiites, who for years were the country’s underclass and whose sense of pride and identity are closely intertwined with Hezbollah.


The group is at once highly decentralized and extremely organized. Mr. Awali, whose job as a guard pays $170 a month, far lower wages than average, ran out of money for food shortly after his second daughter was born. He mentioned this to one of his neighbors, and days later, people with bags of groceries showed up at his tiny one-room apartment.

“They just put it down in the middle of the room and left,” said Yusra Haidar, Mr. Awali’s wife, sitting on a stoop outside their building, her young daughters, now 6 and 9, eating grapes at her feet.

But it was the health insurance, when Ms. Haidar was facing a difficult pregnancy, that saved the family. They applied for and received the insurance by submitting photographs and filling out paperwork. Someone from Hezbollah — he did not identify himself — came to inspect their apartment, and ask about their finances, checking their application.

They were issued a medical card that they can use in any hospital in Lebanon, Mr. Awali said. The $1,500 needed to pay for Ms. Haidar’s Caesarean section was now taken care of. Mr. Fayadh’s brother also is covered by the insurance, an alternative to state insurance that the group has made available to poor people for only about $10 a month.

Israel Halts Bombing After Deadly Strike: (July 30)
An Israeli air raid on the southern Lebanese town of Qana killed dozens of civilians on Sunday, many of them children, marking the bloodiest day of this conflict and putting enormous pressure on Israel and the United States to move rapidly toward a cease-fire.

Late Sunday, Israel agreed to suspend its airstrikes for 48 hours while it investigates the bombing of Qana, a State Department spokesman said. The spokesman, Adam Ereli, told reporters in Jerusalem that Israel would coordinate with the United Nations to provide a 24-hour period during which residents of southern Lebanon could leave area safely.

“Israel has, of course, reserved the right to take action against targets preparing attacks against it,” he said.

Israel said the Qana strike was aimed at Hezbollah fighters firing rockets into Israel from the area, but an explosion caused a residential apartment building to collapse, crushing Lebanese civilians who were spending the night in the basement, where they believed they were safe. The Israelis raised the possibility that munitions stored in the building blew up hours after the airstrike, destroying the building.

Israeli Air Raids Destroy Bridges North of Beirut: (August 5)
sraeli airstrikes destroyed four bridges along Lebanon’s main north-south highway in the Christian heartland north of Beirut on Friday, and killed more than 30 people in other areas far from Hezbollah-controlled territory.

With the Beirut-Damascus road already cut at several points, the attacks seemed aimed at arms routes from Syria. But because those same routes bring supplies and aid into the country, the strikes tightened Lebanon’s sense of siege.


An eight-truck United Nations convoy carrying tons of supplies was stuck north of the blown-out bridge. Other aid convoys from Beirut were unable to travel south.

“The whole road is gone,” said Astrid van Genderan Stort, a United Nations official here. “It’s really a major setback because we used this highway to move staff and supplies into the country.”

In the Bekaa Valley, hard against the Syrian border, an airstrike killed at least 28 seasonal farm workers, most of them Syrian Kurds, loading fruit and vegetables into a refrigerated truck.

In Asylum, Another Kind of Casualty:
The war closed in. The doctors fled the asylum. The patients took over.

At the Fanar Hospital for Psychiatric Disorders, 250 patients are languishing through this hallucinatory summer of war. The phone lines have been bombed to silence. Family members can't get here. Food is running out. Only a few nurses remain.

And the drugs that hold the patients' shattered psyches together will be gone by the time this newspaper is in print.


With a quarter of the population driven from their homes and the death toll inching toward 1,000, Lebanon has sunk into despair. At the Fanar, the desperation is more pointed. They painted an enormous red cross on the roof in hope of protecting themselves from warplanes. But below that crude shield, the patients need medications.

Three exhausted nurses in a panic sift through the dregs of their psychiatric medicine. Straining to make the drugs last a little longer, they carefully sliced each pill in half Friday.

Everybody had been getting a little less than needed. Fights already had begun to erupt among under-medicated patients.

"This is all the medicine we have," 26-year-old nurse Hossam Moustapha says, showing off a tray with a paltry collection of halved pills arranged in paper cups. "Without the medicine, they will be completely lost."

Detainee Abuse Charges Feared (plus commentary at Balkinization ):
An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.


Language in the administration's draft, which Bradbury helped prepare in concert with civilian officials at the Defense Department, seeks to protect U.S. personnel by ruling out detainee lawsuits to enforce Geneva protections and by incorporating language making U.S. enforcement of the War Crimes Act subject to U.S. -- not foreign -- understandings of what the Conventions require.

The aim, Justice Department lawyers say, is also to take advantage of U.S. legal precedents that limit sanctions to conduct that "shocks the conscience." This phrase allows some consideration by courts of the context in which abusive treatment occurs, such as an urgent need for information, the lawyers say -- even though the Geneva prohibitions are absolute.

The Supreme Court, in contrast, has repeatedly said that foreign interpretations of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions should at least be considered by U.S. courts.


The Defense Department's deputy general counsel at the time declared at the sole hearing on it [the War Crimes Act] in 1996 -- attended by just two lawmakers -- that "we fully support the purposes of the bill," and urged its expansion to cover a wider range of war crimes. The Republican-controlled House passed the bill by voice vote, and the Senate approved it by unanimous consent.


Jones and other advocates intended the law for use against future abusers of captured U.S. troops in countries such as Bosnia, El Salvador and Somalia, but the Pentagon supported making its provisions applicable to U.S. personnel because doing so set a high standard for others to follow. Mary DeRosa, a legal adviser at the National Security Council from 1997 to 2001, said the threat of sanctions in U.S. courts in fact helped deter senior officials from approving some questionable actions. She said the law is not an impediment in the terrorism fight.

Top Military Lawyers Oppose Plan for Special Courts:
The military's top uniformed lawyers, appearing at a Senate hearing yesterday, criticized key provisions of a proposed new U.S. plan for special military courts, affirming that they did not see eye to eye with the senior Bush administration political appointees who developed the plan and presented it to them last week.

The lawyers' rare, open disagreement with civilian officials at the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the White House came during discussions of proposed new rules for the use of evidence derived from hearsay or coercion and the possible exclusion of defendants from the trials in some circumstances.


The basis for the lawyers' concerns about administration policy, which they first articulated in private memos in 2002 and 2003 for top Defense Department political appointees, is that weak respect for the rights of U.S.-held prisoners eventually could undermine U.S. demands for fair treatment of captured U.S. service personnel.

"The United States should be an example to the world, sir," Maj. Gen. Scott C. Black, judge advocate general of the Army, told Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "Reciprocity is something that weighs heavily in all of the discussions that we are undertaking as we develop the process and rules for the commissions, and that's the exact reason, sir. The treatment of soldiers who will be captured on future battlefields is of paramount concern."

Police spies chosen to lead war protest:
Two Oakland police officers working undercover at an anti-war protest in May 2003 got themselves elected to leadership positions in an effort to influence the demonstration, documents released Thursday show.


The documents showing that police subsequently tried to influence a demonstration were released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union, as part of a report criticizing government surveillance of political activists since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The ACLU said the documents came from the lawsuit over the police use of force.

Jordan, in his deposition in April 2005, said under questioning by plaintiffs' attorney Jim Chanin that undercover Officers Nobuko Biechler and Mark Turpin had been elected to be leaders in the May 12 demonstration an hour after meeting protesters that day.


Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Lockyer, said the attorney general had not yet read the ACLU report. But he said his boss "won't abide violations of civil liberties. There's no room in this state or anywhere in this country for monitoring the activity of groups merely because they have a political viewpoint."

Following the Oakland port protest and disclosures about the monitoring of activists, Lockyer issued guidelines in 2003 stating that police must suspect that a crime has been committed before collecting intelligence on activist groups.

But Schlosberg said the ACLU had surveyed 94 law enforcement agencies last year and found that just eight were aware of the guidelines. Only six had written policies restricting surveillance activities, he said.

Wage Bill Dies; Senate Backs Pension Shift:
Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked legislation tying the first minimum wage increase in almost a decade to a decrease in the federal estate tax, denying Republicans a legislative victory as lawmakers head into a crucial month of campaigning before the November elections.


Mr. Frist and his allies in business viewed the wage increase, stretched over three years, as an acceptable trade-off for a permanent reduction in the estate tax and $38 billion in tax breaks and federal aid that constituted the third part of the measure. But they could not overcome intense opposition from Democrats and organized labor.


The opposition was aided by a dispute over a provision that would allow employers in a handful of states to begin counting employee tips against minimum wage increases, an approach Democrats said could end up cutting the pay of some workers. Republicans disputed that contention, but the prospect was enough to deter some Democrats Republicans had hoped would vote for the bill.

“Cutting the salaries of Washington tip workers by more than $5 an hour is horrible,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, who called the legislation “a cynical ploy on the part of the Republican leadership in an election year.”

Under the estate tax proposal, the amount of an individual’s estate that would be exempt from taxes would rise to $5 million by 2015, with $10 million exempt for a couple.

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