Saturday, September 30, 2006

Political news of the week take 25

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Most Iraqis Favor Immediate U.S. Pullout, Polls Show:
A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers.

In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year. By large margins, though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled saying the United States intends keep permanent military bases in the country.

The stark assessments, among the most negative attitudes toward U.S.-led forces since they invaded Iraq in 2003, contrast sharply with views expressed by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Last week at the United Nations, President Jalal Talabani said coalition troops should remain in the country until Iraqi security forces are "capable of putting an end to terrorism and maintaining stability and security."


"Majorities in all regions except Kurdish areas state that the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) should withdraw immediately, adding that the MNF-I's departure would make them feel safer and decrease violence," concludes the 20-page State Department report, titled "Iraq Civil War Fears Remain High in Sunni and Mixed Areas." The report was based on 1,870 face-to-face interviews conducted from late June to early July.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes poll, which was conducted over the first three days of September for, found that support among Sunni Muslims for a withdrawal of all U.S.-led forces within six months dropped to 57 percent in September from 83 percent in January.

"There is a kind of softening of Sunni attitudes toward the U.S.," said Steven Kull, director of PIPA and editor of "But you can't go so far as to say the majority of Sunnis don't want the U.S. out. They do. They're just not quite in the same hurry as they were before."

The PIPA poll, which has a margin of error of 3 percent, was carried out by Iraqis in all 18 provinces who conducted interviews with more than 1,000 randomly selected Iraqis in their homes.

Using complex sampling methods based on data from Iraq's Planning Ministry, the pollsters selected streets on which to conduct interviews. They then contacted every third house on the left side of the road. When they selected a home, the interviewers then collected the names and birth dates of everyone who lived there and polled the person with the most recent birthday.


The director of another Iraqi polling firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being killed, said public opinion surveys he conducted last month showed that 80 percent of Iraqis who were questioned favored an immediate withdrawal. Eight-five percent of Sunnis in that poll supported an immediate withdrawal, a number virtually unchanged in the past two years, except for the two months after the Samarra bombing, when the number fell to about 70 percent, the poll director said.

Army Warns Rumsfeld It's Billions Short:
The Army's top officer withheld a required 2008 budget plan from Pentagon leaders last month after protesting to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the service could not maintain its current level of activity in Iraq plus its other global commitments without billions in additional funding.

The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely th the regular defense budget going to normal personnel, procurement and operational expenses, such as salaries and new weapons systems.

About $400 billion has been appropriated for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through emergency funding measures since Sept. 11, 2001, with the money divided among military branches and government agencies.

But in recent budget negotiations, Army officials argued that the service's expanding global role in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism — outlined in strategic plans issued this year — as well as fast-growing personnel and equipment costs tied to the Iraq war, have put intense pressure on its normal budget.


The Army, with an active-duty force of 504,000, has been stretched by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. About 400,000 have done at least one tour of combat duty, and more than a third of those have been deployed twice. Commanders have increasingly complained of the strain, saying last week that sustaining current levels will require more help from the National Guard and Reserve or an increase in the active-duty force.

Schoomaker first raised alarms with Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in June after he received new Army budget outlines from Rumsfeld's office. Those outlines called for an Army budget of about $114 billion, a $2-billion cut from previous guidelines. The cuts would grow to $7 billion a year after six years, the senior Army official said.


Army officials said that Schoomaker's failure to file his 2008 Program Objective Memorandum was not intended as a rebuke to Rumsfeld, and that the Defense secretary had backed Schoomaker since the chief of staff raised the issue with him directly.

Still, some Army officials said Schoomaker expressed concern about recent White House budget moves, such as the decision in May to use $1.9 billion out of the most recent emergency spending bill for border security, including deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops at the Mexican border.

Army officials said $1.2 billion of that money came out of funds originally intended for Army war expenses.

Musharraf: Iraq war makes world more dangerous:
The war in Iraq has not made the world safer from terror, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has told CNN, saying he stands by statements on the subject he makes in his new book, "In the Line of Fire."

In the book, Musharraf -- a key ally who is often portrayed as being in complete agreement with U.S. President George W. Bush on the war on terror and other issues -- writes he never supported the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"I stand by it, absolutely," Musharraf told CNN's "The Situation Room." Asked whether he disagreed with Bush, he said, "I've stated whatever I had to ... it [the war] has made the world a more dangerous place."

He also addressed allegations that Pakistan was a less-than-enthusiastic recruit into the war on terror and that former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told a Pakistani official that the United States would bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" if it did not cooperate with Washington after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Armitage has denied making the threat. He told CNN he gave Pakistan a tough message, telling the Muslim nation it was either "with us or against us."

"I have written whatever I heard, and my intelligence director did say that," Musharraf told CNN. "I would leave it at that. He didn't contact me. He didn't say that to me."

Iraqi Police Cited in Abuses May Lose Aid:
American officials have warned Iraqi leaders that they might have to curtail aid to the Interior Ministry police because of a United States law that prohibits the financing of foreign security forces that commit “gross violations of human rights” and are not brought to justice.

The Interior Ministry, dominated by Shiites, has long been accused by Sunni Arabs of complicity in torture and killings.

The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in an interview on Friday that “at this point” Iraq had not been formally notified that its national police were in violation of the legislation, known as the Leahy Law. He said he remained optimistic that Iraqi officials would “do the right thing” and resolve the matter. Nonetheless, he said American officials had begun reviewing programs that might have to be ended.

The issue centers on one of the most sensitive subjects within the Iraqi government: the joint Iraqi-American inspection in May and subsequent investigation of a prison in eastern Baghdad known as Site 4.

Within the prison there was clear evidence of systematic abuse and torture, including victims who had “lesions resulting from torture” as well as “equipment used for this purpose,” according to a human rights report later published by the United Nations mission in Iraq.

The prison, run by an Interior Ministry national police unit, had more than 1,400 prisoners crowded into a small area. An American officer said some had been beaten or bound and hung by their arms. At least 37 teenagers or children were in the prison.

White House refuses to release full terror report:
The White House refused Wednesday to release the rest of a secret intelligence assessment that depicts a growing terrorist threat as the Bush administration tried to quell election-season criticism that its anti-terror policies are seriously off track.

Press secretary Tony Snow said releasing the full report, portions of which President Bush declassified on Tuesday, would jeopardize the lives of agents who gathered the information.

It would also risk the nation's ability to work with foreign governments and to keep secret its U.S. intelligence-gathering methods, Snow said, and "compromise the independence of people doing intelligence analysis."

"If they think their work is constantly going to be released to the public they are going to pull their punches," Snow said.

In the bleak National Intelligence Estimate, the government's top analysts concluded Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach. If the trend continues, the analysts found, the risks to the U.S. interests at home and abroad will grow.


A separate high-level assessment focused solely on Iraq may be coming soon. At least two House Democrats -- Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Jane Harman of California -- have questioned whether that report has been stamped "draft" and shelved until after the Nov. 7 elections.

An intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the process, said National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told lawmakers in writing only one month ago that he ordered a new Iraq estimate to be assembled. The estimate on terrorism released Tuesday took about a year to produce.

Bush urges Senate to follow House, pass detainee bill (from CNN originally, currently on Forbes):
President Bush urged the Senate on Thursday to follow the House lead and approve a White House plan for detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects, saying, "The American people need to know we're working together to win the war on terror."

Bush met in the Capitol with Senate Republicans the day after the House passed the legislation that Republicans likely will use on the campaign trail to assert that Democrats want to coddle terrorists.

"People shouldn't forget there's still an enemy out there that wants to do harm to the United States," Bush told reporters after the closed-door meeting.

Barring any last-minute hiccups, a Senate vote Thursday would send the legislation to the president's desk by week's end. The House approved a nearly identical measure Wednesday on a 253-168 vote.


Senate Republicans agreed on the measure with the exception of whether to allow terrorists the right to protest their detentions in court. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, contends the ability to file a "habeas corpus" petition is considered a fundamental legal right and necessary to uncover abuse.

Other Republicans contend that providing terror suspects the right to unlimited appeals would weigh down the federal court system.

Four Democrats and Specter were being given opportunities to offer amendments Thursday, but all were expected to be rejected along party lines.


The legislation would establish a military court system to prosecute terror suspects, a response to the Supreme Court ruling in June that Congress' blessing was necessary. While the bill would grant defendants more legal rights than they had under the administration's old system, it nevertheless would not include rights usually granted in civilian and military courts.

The measure also provides extensive definitions of war crimes such as torture, rape and biological experiments, but gives the president broad authority to decide which other techniques U.S. interrogators may use legally. The provisions are intended to protect CIA interrogators from being prosecuted for war crimes.


After Wednesday's mostly party-line vote in the Republican-run House, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said in a statement that Democrats who voted against the measure "voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists."

He added, "So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan."

In response, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Democrats feared the House-passed measure could endanger U.S. soldiers by encouraging other countries to limit the rights of captured American troops, and be vulnerable to being overturned by the Supreme Court.

"Speaker Hastert's false and inflammatory rhetoric is yet another desperate attempt to mislead the American people and provoke fear," she said, adding that Democrats "have an unshakable commitment to catching, convicting and punishing terrorists who attack Americans."

Pelosi and other Democrats said the bill would give the president too much power to decide whether interrogation standards go too far.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said, "This bill is everything we don't believe in."

Overall in the House, 219 Republicans and 34 Democrats voted for the legislation, while 160 Democrats, seven Republicans and one independent voted against it.

Detainee Bill Shifts Power to President:
With the final passage through Congress of the detainee treatment bill, President Bush on Friday achieved a signal victory, shoring up with legislation his determined conduct of the campaign against terrorism in the face of challenges from critics and the courts.

Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them — albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment — beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners.

Taken as a whole, the law will give the president more power over terrorism suspects than he had before the Supreme Court decision this summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that undercut more than four years of White House policy. It does, however, grant detainees brought before military commissions limited protections initially opposed by the White House. The bill, which cleared a final procedural hurdle in the House on Friday and is likely to be signed into law next week by Mr. Bush, does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation.

And it broadens the definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” to include not only those who fight the United States but also those who have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” The latter group could include those accused of providing financial or other indirect support to terrorists, human rights groups say. The designation can be made by any “competent tribunal” created by the president or secretary of defense.

In very specific ways, the bill is a rejoinder to the Hamdan ruling, in which several justices said the absence of Congressional authorization was a central flaw in the administration’s approach. The new bill solves that problem, legal experts said.

White House Said to Bar Hurricane Report:
The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.

The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - part of the Commerce Department - in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes.

According to Nature, a draft of the statement said that warming may be having an effect.

In May, when the report was expected to be released, panel chair Ants Leetmaa received an e-mail from a Commerce official saying the report needed to be made less technical and was not to be released, Nature reported.

[California's] State's war on warming: Governor signs measure to cap greenhouse gas emissions:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Wednesday setting California on course to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, a major political victory for the governor and a step that environmental and political leaders predict will have worldwide ramifications.

In a ceremony on San Francisco's Treasure Island with the city's skyline as a backdrop, Schwarzenegger declared the beginning of "a bold new era of environmental protection in California that will change the course of history" as he approved AB32, which calls for the state to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases by 25 percent by 2020.

The new law, the first of its kind in the nation, could lead to a dizzying array of changes in industry and elsewhere that will be seen in cities, on farms and on freeways.

During the next decade, state regulators could require more public transportation, more densely built housing, a major new investment in projects that tap into the wind and sun to generate electricity, millions of new trees and even new ways for farmers to handle animal waste.

Aides to the governor said he also planned to sign legislation later this week that will prohibit the state's electric utilities from buying electricity from high-polluting out-of-state power plants, a key step toward cleaning up the state's power supply.


Despite a contentious legislative battle this year over the bill, the legislation leaves most of the heavy lifting to the state's Air Resources Board, which now is charged with numerous duties in achieving the state's 2020 goal -- a deadline that will occur long after Schwarzenegger and the lawmakers who voted for AB32 are out of office.

By January 2008, the board is expected to have developed new rules requiring most industries to report their current greenhouse gas emissions, a key first step. The board also must determine by that time the exact amount of gas that needs to be reduced; experts suggested it will be more than 170 million metric tons of gases.

That's more carbon dioxide than every car in the state combined produces now.

Other deadlines follow that, including creation of a fully spelled-out plan for meeting the target by January 2011 and enforcement beginning in 2012. The board also can consider implementing a so-called cap and trade system, which would allow companies to buy and sell credits for emission reductions, allowing one company that lowers emissions more than required to sell credits to another firm, for example.

Go visit a museum for free today!

Smithsonian Magazine is celebrating Museum Day by offering free admission to museums across the country. All you have to do is print out their coupon and go.

There are a number of participating museums here in Southern California. At the top of my list is the Museum of Creation and Earth History down in Santee (run by the Institute for Creation Research); I could actually get to go in and laugh (and cringe) without paying them anything. Unfortunately, however, I won't be able to make it down there today.

Actually, how did they manage to get the Smithsonian advertising them?

(via SlickDeals)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Increasing depth of field in closeup photos

My dad recently sent me a link to Helicon Focus, a shareware (free for 30 days, $70/year after that) program that can drastically increase the depth of field in closeup photographs. The program works by combining multiple images of the same subject into one image; the Helicon Focus website has some sample photographs, all of which are extremely snazzy (especially the fly).

I've love to use this technique to take closeup pictures of the insect and lichen specimens I've collected during my past two summers' field courses. All I need to do is figure out how to mount my digital camera on one of our dissecting scopes, and I think I'll have a new hobby.

Friday morning humor - tenure-review committee style

As the fall semester starts, tenure review committees fire up and start working on campuses across the country. A key portion of this process at community colleges are in-class evaluations of new faculty by tenured faculty and the dean of the division.

Dean Dad, who is now embarking upon his seasonal faculty evaluation tour, has posted a list of hypothetical evaluation comments for faculty, titled You Know the Class Observation Went Horribly Wrong When.... Here's a choice snippet to let you know what you're in for:
"Although some of Prof. X's observations about Brett Favre had merit, their relation to differential equations was, at best, obscure."


Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Tripoli Six

Orac has posted a call for help regarding six nurses who have been accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with AIDS. The women have arleady been sentenced to death once (in a verdict that was overturned; a second trial is proceeding currently), even though the charges appear to be entirely without merit.
During the first trial, the Libyan government did ask Luc Montagnier, whose group at the Pasteur Institute in Paris discovered HIV, and Vittorio Colizzi, an AIDS researcher at Rome's Tor Vergata University, to examine the scientific evidence. The researchers carried out a genetic analysis of viruses from the infected children, and concluded that many of them were infected long before the medics set foot in Libya in March 1998. Many of the children were also infected with hepatitis B and C, suggesting that the infections were spread by poor hospital hygiene. The infections were caused by subtypes of A/G HIV-1 — a recombinant strain common in central and west Africa, known to be highly infectious.

But the court threw out the report, arguing that an investigation by Libyan doctors had reached the opposite conclusion. Montagnier believes the judgement was based at least partly on mistranslation from English to Arabic of the term 'recombinant' — instead of referring to natural recombination of wild viruses, as intended, it was interpreted to mean genetically modified, implying human manipulation.

According to Alexiev [a defense lawyer for the women], the decision to throw out the report removed all scientific content from the case, leaving a series of prejudgements, and confessions extracted under torture.
That quote was from a Nature editorial, which has helped bring more attention to the case. If you want more information, Orac's two posts (Libya's miscarriage of justice and The Tripoli Six: The blogosphere keeps up the pressure) have more details on the story, including links to an online documentary and information on how you can help.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

For those of you watching House last night

Last night's House episode (Lines in the Sand) featured an autistic child with strange medical problems (on House? Never!) Long story short, a part of the episode centered around the child possibly eating something poisonous. Foreman went through the child's yard and picked a small weedy-looking plant, which they later identified as jimsonweed, a psychoactive (translate: poisonous) plant.

I've worked with caterpillars that feed on jimsonweed (Datura wrightii) in the western US, and thus knew immediately that the plant they showed was not Datura wrightii. Datura wrightii's leaves are a distinctive gray-green and have smooth or undulate margins (edges), whereas the plant they picked was light green and had what appeared to be lobate or dentate (i.e., pointy) margins. Thus, I was about to write a snarky post saying "HAH! They got it wrong!" wherein I'd proudly show pictures of Datura wrightii (like the one below) and brag about my immense knowledge.

Datura wrightii
Datura wrightii, jimsonweed. Picture by poeticdarklove, shared under a creative-commons license.

Unfortunately, however, it turns out that those weird people on the east coast call another plant (Datura stramonium) jimsonweed:

Datura stramonium
Datura stramonium, jimsonweed. Photo by urtica, shared under a creative commons license.

And, of course, Datura stramonium's leaves are more of a standard green color, and don't have smooth or undulate margins. In fact, Datura stramonium looks much like the plant Foreman picked.

Oh well, another post down the drain.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fake smiles

The BBC has a fun self-quiz that lets you test how well you can differentiate between real and fake smiles. I thought I was doing awfully, but ended up getting 17 out of 20 right.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Non-icy lassi

Nearly two years ago my SO and I posted our lassi recipe. While we love that recipe (and have made it dozens of times since posting it), we've noticed that we've never gotten a lassi like ours at an Indian restaurant. Instead, restaurant lassis are always smooth, and much frothier than our ice-based recipe (which is filled with ice particles and has almost no froth). Today we finally tried making lassi with cold water instead of ice, and the secret of non-icy lassis was revealed.

So, if you want a sweetened yogurt drink with lots of little ice particles in it to cool you off on a hot summer's day, try our ice-based lassi; if you instead want a light, airy lassi that isn't quite as cold, but may be more like what you've had at Indian restaurants, try this recipe. Since we enjoyed this lassi just as much as our ice-based one, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

2 cups whole-milk plain yogurt (we use Trader Joe's "Cream Line")
7 tablespoons (scant 1/2 cup) sugar
3/4 cup cold water

1. Mix yogurt and sugar together in a blender.
2. Add water, and blend until well combined and frothy (~1 minute).
3. Serve.

This recipe is a modified version of our ice-based lassi.

[Updated February 2007 to change the proportions to better reflect what we're currently making. The old recipe was 1 1/2 cups whole-milk plain yogurt, 6 tablespoons sugar, and 1/2 cup cold water]

Political news of the week take 24

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Fuels Terror
The war in Iraq has made global terrorism worse by fanning Islamic radicalism and providing a training ground for lethal methods that are increasingly being exported to other countries, according to a sweeping assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The classified document, which represents a consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, paints a considerably bleaker picture of the impact of the Iraq war than Bush administration or U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged publicly, according to officials familiar with the assessment.

"They conclude that the Iraq war has made it worse," said a government official familiar with the document who spoke on condition of anonymity because of its classified nature.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly have described the war in Iraq as the central front in the war on terrorism and argue that Americans are safer as a result of the administration's policies.

The report, titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States," was completed and described to U.S. government officials in April but not made public. The document is what is known as a National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, which is designed to represent the U.S. intelligence community's most comprehensive treatment of a subject.

The 30-page report documents an array of disturbing trends in the war on terrorism and focuses on forces that are contributing to the evolution of Islamic terrorist networks from centralized structures to an increasingly fragmented ideological movement.

"It paints a fairly stark picture of what we all know, and that this is a movement that is spreading and gaining momentum around the world," said the official familiar with the document. "Things like the Iraq war have given the terrorists recruiting tools and places to ply their trade and a training ground."

The official said the estimate touches on a number of factors fueling the jihadist movement, but that "the reference to Iraq was the main one."


In public testimony and unclassified documents, U.S. intelligence officials have for several years been pointing to the more troubling consequences of the drawn-out conflict in Iraq. In particular, officials have highlighted the anger that Muslim extremists feel about the U.S. presence in the region — which has also been one of Osama bin Laden's rallying cries.

Intelligence officials have also pointed to the flow of Muslims from other countries, including Europe, to Iraq to join the insurgency. Those who survive the fighting often leave and return to their home countries with dangerous new experience in urban fighting, bomb-making and — perhaps most important — credibility with other potential Muslim recruits.

Last week, the House Intelligence Committee warned in a report that the danger from terrorists faced by the U.S. was "more alarming than the threat that existed" before Sept. 11. The document also warned that Iraq had become a breeding ground for terrorists who might target other countries.

Detainee Deal Comes With Contradictions:
The compromise reached on Thursday between Congressional Republicans and the White House on the interrogations and trials of terrorism suspects is, legal experts said yesterday, a series of interlocking paradoxes.

It would impose new legal standards that it forbids the courts to enforce.

It would guarantee terrorist masterminds charged with war crimes an array of procedural protections. But it would bar hundreds of minor figures and people who say they are innocent bystanders from access to the courts to challenge their potentially lifelong detentions.

And while there is substantial disagreement about just which harsh interrogation techniques the compromise would prohibit, there is no dispute that it would allow military prosecutors to use statements that had been obtained under harsh techniques that are now banned.


Changes to the procedures for the military commissions established to try terrorism suspects for war crimes also met with mixed responses. Revisions that would let defendants see the evidence against them were welcomed by military defense lawyers and human rights groups.

But some voiced concern that using statements obtained through coercion, even coercion forbidden by the McCain Amendment to Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, would still be allowed in many circumstances. So would be hearsay evidence, as well as a combination of the two.

“You create a situation,” Ms. Daskal said, “in which someone could be convicted based on a second- or third-hand statement from a detainee during an abusive interrogation.”

The issue that most engaged administration critics was the new bill’s aggressive and possibly constitutionally suspect efforts to keep the courts from hearing many detainees’ challenges or claims based on the Geneva Conventions. Though people charged with war crimes would receive trials before military commissions that largely resemble courts-martial and criminal prosecutions, the administration has announced plans to use just a score of those.

About 430 people are being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and there is no guarantee that they will ever be tried. The legislation, unchanged by the compromise, would prohibit habeas corpus challenges to these indefinite detentions.

“You’re creating a system,” Ms. Daskal said, “where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed,” called the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, “will have more rights than the low-level detainee who was sold into U.S. custody by bounty hunters.”

Indeed, the propriety of indefinite detentions at Guantánamo will continue to be decided by combatant status review tribunals, or C.S.R.T.’s. The revised rules for military commissions do nothing to alter the tribunals’ unorthodox procedures.

"The C.S.R.T. is the first time in U.S. history in which the lawfulness of a person’s detention is based on evidence secured by torture that’s not shared with the prisoner, that he has the burden to rebut and without the assistance of counsel,” said Joseph Margulies, author of “Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power” (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Secrets in the Mountains of Afghanistan:
GARDEZ, Afghanistan — After completing their deployment to this remote firebase, the Green Berets of ODA 2021 left for home [in 2003] covered in glory.

Apparently unknown to Army officials, two detainees had died in the team's custody in separate incidents during the unit's final month in eastern Afghanistan. Several other detainees allege that they were badly beaten or tortured while held at the base in Gardez.

One victim, an unarmed peasant, was shot to death while being held for questioning after a fierce firefight. The other, an 18-year-old Afghan army recruit, died after being interrogated at the firebase. Descriptions of his injuries were consistent with severe beatings and other abuse.

A member of the Special Forces team told The Times his unit held a meeting after the teen's death to coordinate their stories should an investigation arise.


What distinguishes these two fatalities from scores of other questionable deaths in U.S. custody is that they were successfully concealed — not just from the American public but from the military's chain of command and legal authorities.

The deaths came to light only after an investigation by The Times and a nonprofit educational organization, the Crimes of War Project, led the Army to open criminal inquiries on the incidents. Two years later, the cases remain under investigation and no charges have been filed.

The Times has since reviewed thousands of pages of internal military records showing that prisoner abuse by Special Forces units was more common in Afghanistan than previously acknowledged.

More than a year before the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal broke in Iraq, top officers worried that harsh treatment and excessive detentions could lead to criminal prosecutions.

In one November 2002 correspondence, a high-ranking Special Operations official said military police were detecting "an extremely high level of physical abuse" of detainees transferred from Special Forces field bases to a prison in Bagram.

An operations officer with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, the command supervising Special Forces teams in Afghanistan, complained in a memo that prisoners were being held for so long without charges that it "may be implied as kidnapping, a federal crime."

Early in 2003, the chief Special Forces intelligence officer in Afghanistan warned in a note to the task force commander, Col. James G. "Greg" Champion, and his top aides: "As you are all aware, alleged assaults and kidnapping [have] been occurring for quite some time. Again, I want to emphasize, this is not isolated."

The same officer reported another improper detention less than two weeks later, notifying Champion's staff in a memo that reflected his exasperation. "Today is Day 5 of this hostage crisis," wrote the intelligence officer, Maj. David Davis. He said that such unauthorized detentions amounted to "criminal conduct in my book."

CIA ‘refused to operate’ secret jails
The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators’ refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished.

When Mr Bush announced the suspension of the secret prison programme in a speech before the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, some analysts thought he was trying to gain political momentum before the November midterm congressional elections.

The administration publicly explained its decision in light of the legal uncertainty surrounding permissible interrogation techniques following the June Supreme Court ruling that all terrorist suspects in detention were entitled to protection under Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions.

But the former CIA officials said Mr Bush’s hand was forced because interrogators had refused to continue their work until the legal situation was clarified because they were concerned they could be prosecuted for using illegal techniques. One intelligence source also said the CIA had refused to keep the secret prisons going.

U.N. rights envoys condemn Bush plan on interrogation:
United Nations human rights investigators said on Thursday that legislation proposed by U.S. President George W. Bush for tough interrogations of foreign terrorism suspects would breach the Geneva Conventions.

In a joint statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, the five independent envoys also said that Washington's recent admission of secret detention centres abroad pointed to "very serious human rights violations in relation to the hunt for alleged terrorists".

The investigators called again for the United States to close down the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of foreign terrorism suspects are being held, alleging that violations including torture and religious discrimination continued to occur.

"...the Government has not only taken no step to close Guantanamo, but it has recently proposed draft legislation to the Congress which is in breach with United States' human rights obligations ... and with the requirements of article 3 of the Geneva Conventions," the statement said.

A License to Abuse - an editorial in the Washington Post
PRESIDENT BUSH made crystal clear Friday that he has one overriding concern about the legislation on foreign detainees before Congress. His "one test," he said, was whether Congress would authorize what he repeatedly called "the program" -- that is, the CIA's network of secret prisons and its brutal treatment of the people in them. "Congress has got a decision to make," Mr. Bush declared during a news conference. "Do you want the program to go forward or not?"

That is indeed the most important question before Congress and the nation. So allow us to elaborate, again, exactly what Mr. Bush means by "the program." He's talking about the practice of sequestering terrorist suspects indefinitely and without charge in secret foreign locations and holding them incommunicado even from the International Red Cross. Until recently, such "disappearances" were the signature of Third World dictatorships. U.S. adoption of them has roiled relations with our closest European allies and impeded collaboration with foreign police and intelligence services.

Mr. Bush also wants the CIA to be able to treat its detainees to such practices as "cold cell," or induced hypothermia, in which detainees are held naked in near-freezing temperatures and repeatedly doused with water; "long standing," in which prisoners are handcuffed in an uncomfortable standing position and forced to remain there for up to 40 hours; and prolonged sleep deprivation.

Throughout the world and for decades, such practices have been called torture. That's what the United States called them when they were used by the Soviet KGB. As the president himself tacitly acknowledges, they violate Geneva and other international conventions as well as current U.S. law. News that the United States has used these techniques -- as well as waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that simulates drowning -- has gravely damaged U.S. standing in the world and the fight against terrorism. It increases the danger that captured U.S. servicemen will be exposed to similar treatment by nations that might otherwise feel obliged to respect the Geneva standards.

When Mr. Bush was asked Friday whether he wasn't in effect seeking sanction for torture, he responded with an evasion. He claimed that the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3 is "very vague" and that his proposal would provide "clarity" for CIA professionals. In fact, the opposite is true.

Common Article 3, which prohibits cruel treatment and humiliation, is an inflexible standard. The U.S. military, which lived with it comfortably for decades before the Bush administration, just reembraced it after a prolonged battle with the White House. The Army issued a thick manual this month that tells interrogators exactly what they can and cannot do in complying with the standard. The nation's most respected military leaders have said that they need and want nothing more to accomplish the mission of detaining and interrogating enemy prisoners -- and that harsher methods would be counterproductive.

Iraq says kidnappers use victims as unwitting bombers:
Insurgents are no longer using just volunteers to drive suicide car bombs but are instead kidnapping people with their cars, rigging the vehicles with explosives, and blowing them up remotely, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.

In what appears to be a new tactic for the insurgency, the ministry said the kidnap victims do not know their cars have been loaded with explosives when they are released.

The ministry issued a statement saying that first "a motorist is kidnapped with his car. They then booby trap the car without the driver knowing. Then the kidnapped driver is released and threatened to take a certain road."

The kidnappers follow the car and when the unwitting victim "reaches a checkpoint, a public place, or an army or police patrol, the criminal terrorists following the driver detonate the car from a distance," the Defense Ministry statement said.

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military. In the past, U.S. officials have said insurgents often tape or handcuff a suicide driver's hands to a car, or bind his foot to the gas pedal, to ensure that he does not back out at the last minute.

Thailand's king gives blessing to coup:
Thailand's long-reigning king endorsed the bloodless military coup that ousted the country's prime minister, according to a televised statement, and the general who seized power promised to restore civilian rule within a year.

The statement from King Bhumibol Adulyadej came after he met Thai army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who has declared himself the country's interim leader.

Sonthi ousted embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra while Thaksin was in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

In a nationally televised address Wednesday, he declared the coup d'etat complete and promised power would be returned to the people as soon as possible.

Officials Wary of Electronic Voting Machines:
A growing number of state and local officials are getting cold feet about electronic voting technology, and many are making last-minute efforts to limit or reverse the rollout of new machines in the November elections.

Less than two months before voters head to the polls, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland this week became the most recent official to raise concerns publicly. Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said he lacked confidence in the state’s new $106 million electronic voting system and suggested a return to paper ballots.

Dozens of states have adopted electronic voting technology to comply with federal legislation in 2002 intended to phase out old-fashioned lever and punch-card machines after the “hanging chads” confusion of the 2000 presidential election.

But some election officials and voting experts say they fear that the new technology may have only swapped old problems for newer, more complicated ones. Their concerns became more urgent after widespread problems with the new technology were reported this year in primaries in Ohio, Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland and elsewhere.


Paperless touch-screen machines have been the biggest source of consternation, and with about 40 percent of registered voters nationally expected to cast their ballots on these machines in the midterm elections, many local officials fear that the lack of a paper trail will leave no way to verify votes in case of fraud or computer failure.


In the last year or so, at least 27 states have adopted measures requiring a paper trail, which has often involved replacing paperless touch-screen machines with ones that have a printer attached.

But even the systems backed up by paper have problems. In a study released this month, the nonpartisan Election Science Institute found that about 10 percent of the paper ballots sampled from the May primary in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, were uncountable because printers had jammed and poll workers had loaded the paper in backward.


A Princeton University study released this month on one of Diebold’s machines — a model that Diebold says it no longer uses — found that hackers could easily tamper with electronic voting machines by installing a virus to disable the machines and change the vote totals.

Mr. Radke dismissed the concerns about hackers and bugs as most often based on unrealistic scenarios.

“We don’t leave these machines sitting on a street corner,” he said. “But in one of these cases, they gave the hackers complete and unfettered access to the machines.”

Warren Stewart, legislative director for VoteTrustUSA, an advocacy group that has criticized electronic voting, said that after poll workers are trained to use the machines in the days before an election, many counties send the machines home with the workers. “That seems like pretty unfettered access to me,” Mr. Stewart said.

Why the Numbers Don't Add Up in Iraq (Sept. 10):
In this besieged capital, it was a rare good-news story: Killings had plummeted by as much as 50% since U.S. and Iraqi forces hit the streets last month in a show of strength after the sectarian bloodbath of July.

"We're actually seeing progress out there," Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the chief military spokesman here, said when making the announcement.

Not so fast.

Last week, Iraqi officials released new figures showing the city morgue had received more than 1,500 victims of violent death in August — a significant drop of about 17% from the record of more than 1,800 killings in July, but hardly a great leap forward.

How the U.S. military arrived at the 50% figure remains a mystery. Commanders won't release the raw data, saying such specifics could help the enemy.


During weekly news briefings deep inside barricaded compounds, commanders regularly display slick charts, multicolored bar graphs and PowerPoint presentations, all heralding good news.

"One more indicator that operations are in fact reducing the amount of attacks on civilians is shown here on this graph," Caldwell assured reporters the other day, pointing to a bar chart dutifully placed on an easel by a stone-faced uniformed subordinate. But all the numbers had been carefully scrubbed. They were classified.

"We typically characterize trends in ways that do not divulge raw data," explained a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson.

Commanders have consistently declined to say how many civilians have been killed by U.S. forces, although officials have acknowledged tracking the number. Avoiding the Vietnam-era stigma of "body counts," authorities also refuse to divulge "kill" totals for suspected insurgents.

U.S. excluded car, suicide bombs from Iraq murder toll (Sept. 11):
The U.S. military did not count people killed by bombs, mortars, rockets or other mass attacks when it reported a dramatic drop in the number of murders in the Baghdad area last month, the U.S. command said Monday.

The decision to include only victims of drive-by shootings and those killed by torture and execution, usually at the hands of death squads, allowed U.S. officials to argue that a security crackdown that began in the capital August 7 had more than halved the city's murder rate.

But the types of slayings, including suicide bombings, that the U.S. excluded from the category of "murder" were not made explicit at the time. That led to confusion after Iraqi Health Ministry figures showed that 1,536 people died violently in and around Baghdad in August, nearly the same number as in July.

The figures raise serious questions about the success of the security operation launched by the U.S.-led coalition. When they released the murder rate figures, U.S. officials and their Iraqi counterparts were eager to show progress in restoring security in Baghdad at a time when Iraq appeared on the verge of civil war.

At the end of August, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, said violence had dropped significantly because of the operation. Caldwell said "attacks in Baghdad were well below the monthly average for July. Since August 7, the murder rate in Baghdad dropped 52 percent from the daily rate for July."

However, Caldwell did not make the key distinction that the rate he was referring to excluded a significant part of the daily violence in and around the capital. On Monday, for example, at least 20 of the 26 people slain in the capital were killed in bombings.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Help Radagast spend his birthday present!

I'm back from my conference (which was great fun), but the semester's trend of featuring bad news shows no sign of abating (my proposed online course was rejected by the curriculum committee, my spring schedule looks awful, etc. etc.). But I'm tired of thinking about that stuff, so I've decided it's time to think about something fun.

One of my birthday presents this year (from my SO!) is a perfect fit for this semester: it's an all-expense-paid weekend vacation to a destination of my choice. All I have to do is pick the location and the date, and we're gone. The only restriction is that I must take the trip before the end of the semester. I can't wait.

I only have one problem: I don't know where we should go. We're not the weekend vacationing type, so we don't even really know what our options are.

So, I thought I'd open this question up to my readers. If you were in southern California and were able to take a weekend trip somewhere this fall, where would you go?

Here are a few guidelines to help with suggestions:
  • The destination should be no more than a 4-5 hour drive away from the LA area.
  • I'm not interested destinations that requires flying (a special thank you to the TSA for making my choice easier).
  • We'd probably be leaving LA midday Friday and need to be back by late Sunday night or early Monday, though if the destination was cool enough we could potentially leave on Thursday or return on Monday night or Tuesday morning.
  • I'm more interested in locations that focus on peaceful relaxation, natural settings, and tasty food than urban sprawl and nightlife (shocking, I know). In fact, sitting next to my SO in a cozy room all weekend while reading Science News and the Count of Monte Cristo would count as an amazingly fun weekend in my book.
Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Conference ahoy!

I'll be out of town for the next few days while I attend a conference, and thus my low-posting streak will last for at least a few more days (as I don't know if I'll have regular net access or not, and will likely be too busy to post anyway). I should be back to my regular posting frequency sometime next week (after our house guests leave and once I've stopped being bitter over the recent bad news).

Monday, September 11, 2006

The semester just gets better and better ...

Regular readers will probably remember that for the past two summers I've taught a field course up in Canada. The course was taught at a site my campus recently acquired, and now owns and operates; it's provided a unique opportunity for our program to be able to expose biology majors to field research and field biology.

I've dedicated much of my spare time for the past two years to working on projects related to this site. I've led two groups of students on research trips to the site, written two NSF grants to partially fund work at the site, written a large internal grant (at the last minute) to fund planning for the site, and done many smaller tasks in an attempt to spread knowledge about the site. I was not compensated for any of this work except the time and travel involved in actually teaching the two courses (even the time I spent each year working with students to plan the courses went uncompensated). And I'm not alone; many other professors and administrators at my campus have also worked tremendously hard on tasks relating to the site.

Early this year, before writing our second NSF grant, I was told by our president (a great advocate for our work) that while the long-term financial future of the site was in doubt, we had about five years of funding to count on. That was what we needed to hear before dedicating time to last year's courses and grant proposals; five years would be enough time to find out if we could create a financially sustainable program at the site.

However, last week we met with the president, who told us that the administrative body that runs the site is now seriously considering selling it. A committee (which no faculty will reportedly be on, and which I was told didn't even want to hear from us) will be created to evaluate the financial condition of the site, and to recommend whether to sell it or not. The president has informed us that it is likely the committee will recommend the site be sold; while we can probably count on one more year there, we shouldn't plan for anything further.

Tip to administrators: If you want to rip out your faculty members' hearts in one easy step, follow the procedure above. It'll work wonders.

While I've had two great years at the site, and have had some amazing experiences with some of the best students I've ever had, a large part of my motivation for working on the site was the knowledge that the research we were starting now would be able to help other researchers 5, 10, 20, or 40 years down the line. The site has been virtually untouched by humans and relatively unstudied; thus we were working on trying to figure out what types of animals, plants, and fungi were there. It was hard (and fun) work that was going to take years (especially since none of our faculty or students have time to do the research or are experts in the required fields), but the real payout was going to be in a few years when we could start using our taxonomic knowledge to facilitate more complex studies at the site (and hopefully entice more researchers to work at the site), as well as in a few decades as we watched what happened to the site over the long term.

Now we have one more year left.

All is not lost yet, as no decisions have been made for certain. But what we've been told is that unless we can show that the site can be sustainable financially within about a year, it's going to be sold. Given that the administration has apparently done relatively little to create a financially stable operations model at the site (most planning I've seen has focused around teaching money-losing courses at the site), this will be a virtually impossible task.

We're being told that we should be excited about this last year; I'm not. I didn't spend hundreds of hours of my spare time these last two years working on this site just to have everything washed away before we've even had a chance to try to make the site sustainable.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Political news of the week take 23

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 22, 21, 20, 19, 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Bush admits the CIA runs secret prisons:
President Bush on Wednesday acknowledged for the first time that the
CIA runs secret prisons overseas and said tough interrogation forced terrorist leaders to reveal plots to attack the United States and its allies.

Bush said 14 suspects — including the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and architects of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania — had been turned over to the Defense Department and moved to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for trial.

Bush said the CIA program "has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they were able to kill." Releasing information declassified just hours earlier, Bush said the capture of one terrorist just months after the Sept. 11 attacks had led to the capture of another and then another, and had revealed planning for attacks using airplanes, car bombs and anthrax.

Nearing the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, Bush pressed Congress to quickly pass administration-drafted legislation authorizing the use of military commissions for trials of terror suspects. Legislation is needed because the Supreme Court in June said the administration's plan for trying detainees in military tribunals violated U.S. and international law.


With the transfer of the 14 men to Guantanamo, there currently are no detainees being held by the CIA, Bush said. A senior administration official said the CIA had detained fewer than 100 suspected terrorists in the history of the program.

Still, Bush said that "having a CIA program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting lifesaving information."


"I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture," Bush said. "It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it."


The administration had refused until now to acknowledge the existence of CIA prisons. Bush said he was going public because the United States has largely completed questioning the suspects, and also because the CIA program had been jeopardized by the Supreme Court ruling.

Senate: Hussein Wasn't Allied With Al Qaeda:
The Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday said it had found no evidence that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda or provided safe harbor to one of its most notorious operatives, Abu Musab Zarqawi — conclusions contradicting claims by the Bush administration before it invaded Iraq.

In a long-awaited report, the committee instead determined that the former Iraqi dictator was wary of Al Qaeda; repeatedly rebuffed requests from its leader, Osama bin Laden, for assistance; and sought to capture Zarqawi when the terrorist turned up in Baghdad.

The findings are the latest in a series of high-profile studies to dispute some of the Bush administration's key arguments for invading Iraq — mainly that the Hussein regime possessed stockpiles of banned weapons and had cultivated ties to terrorist networks. Presenting these since-discredited allegations as fact, President Bush and other high-ranking officials argued that Hussein's government posed an intolerable risk in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.


Bush on Thursday again asserted that the battle in Iraq was inextricably linked to Al Qaeda, and disparaged those who considered it a "diversion" from the war on terrorism.


In one of its main conclusions, the report said that "postwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of Al Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from Al Qaeda to provide material or operational support."

According to the report, Hussein has told U.S. interrogators that "if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the U.S., he would have allied with North Korea or China." His former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, told U.S. interrogators that "Saddam only expressed negative sentiments about Bin Laden."

The report's disclosures include a classified assessment by the CIA last year that Hussein's regime "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates."

The committee, made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, said U.S. intelligence agencies before Sept. 11 "accurately characterized" Bin Laden's intermittent interest in pursuing assistance from Iraq, but were largely wrong about Hussein's attitudes.

The Iraqi leader, according to the report, was so wary of the terrorist network that he "issued a general order that Iraq should not deal with Al Qaeda."


[T]he most significant new information in the report focuses on Baghdad's alleged ties to Al Qaeda.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies were generally skeptical that Hussein had significant links to the terrorist group. But Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior administration officials have persistently highlighted isolated intelligence reports suggesting a relationship between Hussein and Bin Laden. The Senate report contradicts many of those assertions.

The report concludes, for instance, that it is true that Zarqawi was in Baghdad for about seven months in 2002. But Hussein was initially unaware of his presence in the country and later ordered his intelligence services to capture Zarqawi, according to the report.

The attempt was unsuccessful, and Zarqawi escaped to Iran. He also hid in areas of northern Iraq beyond Hussein's reach. After Hussein was overthrown, Zarqawi led the deadly insurgency against U.S. forces before he was killed by a U.S. airstrike in June.


Overall, the document portrays Hussein and his underlings as alarmed by U.S. accusations linking him to Al Qaeda.

At one point, the report said, Hussein was warned by the director of Iraq's intelligence service "that U.S. intelligence was attempting to fabricate connections between the [Iraqi intelligence services] and Al Qaeda" to justify an invasion.

Revised Army Rules to Prohibit Torture:
Bowing to critics of its tough interrogation policies, the Pentagon is issuing a new Army field manual that provides Geneva Convention protections for all detainees and eliminates a secret list of interrogation tactics.

The manual, set for release today, also reverses an earlier decision to maintain two interrogation standards — one for traditional prisoners of war and another for "unlawful combatants" captured during a conflict but not affiliated with a nation's military force. It will ban the use of such controversial methods as forcing prisoners to endure long periods of solitary confinement, using military dogs to threaten prisoners, putting hoods over inmates' heads and strapping detainees to boards and dunking them in water to simulate drowning, defense officials said.


Under the new guidelines, prisoners of war — defined as members of uniformed militaries captured on a battlefield — may receive certain extra considerations as mandated by the Geneva Convention, such as being allowed to retain their personal effects and to refuse to answer detailed questions. But ceding to congressional demands, the manual establishes a single baseline standard of care and treatment for all detainees, regardless of their status.

"All detainees will be treated consistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention," said a military official, who was not allowed to discuss the manual before it was made public and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Common Article 3 — found in each of the four Geneva pacts approved in 1949 — prohibits torture and cruel treatment. Unlike other parts of the Geneva agreements, it covers all detainees, whether they are unlawful combatants or traditional prisoners of war.

Interrogation Methods Rejected by Military Win Bush’s Support:
Many of the harsh interrogation techniques repudiated by the Pentagon on Wednesday would be made lawful by legislation put forward the same day by the Bush administration. And the courts would be forbidden from intervening.

The proposal is in the last 10 pages of an 86-page bill devoted mostly to military commissions, and it is a tangled mix of cross-references and pregnant omissions.

But legal experts say it adds up to an apparently unique interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, one that could allow C.I.A. operatives and others to use many of the very techniques disavowed by the Pentagon, including stress positions, sleep deprivation and extreme temperatures.


In effect, the administration is proposing to write into law a two-track system that has existed as a practical matter for some time.

So-called high-value detainees held by the C.I.A. have been subjected to tough interrogation in secret prisons around the world.

More run-of-the-mill prisoners held by the Defense Department have, for the most part, faced milder questioning, although human rights groups say there have been widespread abuses.

The new bill would continue to give the C.I.A. the substantial freedom it has long enjoyed, while the revisions to the Army Field Manual announced Wednesday would further restrict military interrogators.


In June, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that a provision of the Geneva Conventions concerning the humane treatment of prisoners applied to all aspects of the conflict with Al Qaeda. The new bill would keep the courts from that kind of meddling, Professor Yoo said.

“There is a rejection of what the court did in Hamdan,” he said, “which is to try to judicially enforce the Geneva Conventions, which no court had ever tried to do before.”

Indeed, the proposed legislation takes pains to try to ensure that the Supreme Court will not have a second bite at the apple. “The act makes clear,” it says in its introductory findings, “that the Geneva Conventions are not a source of judicially enforceable individual rights.”


The proposed legislation would provide retroactive immunity from prosecution to government agents who used harsh methods after the Sept. 11 attacks. And, as President Bush suggested on Wednesday, it would ensure that those techniques remain lawful.


The intent of the legislation, they said, is to prevent the prosecution of interrogators under amendments to the War Crimes Act that were passed in the 1990’s.


The bill proposed by the White House would also amend the War Crimes Act, which makes violations of Common Article 3 a felony. Those amendments are needed, the administration said, to provide guidance to American personnel.

The new legislation makes a list of nine “serious violations” of Common Article 3 federal crimes. The prohibited conduct includes torture, murder, rape, and the infliction of severe physical or mental pain. By implication, some legal experts said, the bill endorses the use of those interrogation techniques that are not mentioned.

The proposed legislation in any event represents a further retreat from international legal standards by an administration already hostile to them, some scholars said. “It’s strong evidence that this administration doesn’t accept international legal processes,’’ said Peter J. Spiro, a law professor at Temple University.

Senator leaders back Bush detainees plan despite opposition:
Senate leaders are throwing their weight behind a White House plan to prosecute terrorism detainees despite dissent among some Republicans and the military's top lawyers.

Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, has placed on the Senate calendar the administration's legislation establishing military commissions, a move that would allow debate to begin as early as Tuesday. It also puts pressure on Sen. John Warner and others with serious concerns about the bill to produce by then an alternative that would satisfy leadership and the White House.

Warner, R-Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Thursday night that he hopes to generate consensus by Tuesday so his panel can review the bill and send a bipartisan proposal to the floor.


Also sounding alarms on Bush's legislation were the Pentagon's top uniformed lawyers. Testifying before a House panel, the service's judge advocates general said the plan could violate treaty obligations and make U.S. troops vulnerable.

"While we seek that balance" of fairness and security, "we also must remember the concept of reciprocity," said Brig. Gen. James Walker, staff judge advocate for the Marine Corps. "What we do and how we treat these individuals can, in the future, have a direct impact on our service men and women overseas."

Their objections echoed criticism military lawyers levied in July, when they publicly challenged earlier Bush administration proposals to limit the rights accused terrorists would have during trials. In the past, some military officials have expressed concerns that if the U.S. adopts such standards, captured American troops might be treated the same way.

The president's legislation would authorize the defense secretary to convene military tribunals to prosecute terrorism suspects and omit rights common in military and civil courts, such as the defendant's right to access all evidence and a ban on coerced testimony. Bush has said the plan is both fair and tough enough to ensure dangerous terrorists can be brought to justice.


The hearing came a day after Bush acknowledged for the first time that the CIA had secret prisons overseas and defended the practice of tough interrogations to force terrorists to reveal plots to attack the United States and its allies. Bush said 14 detainees would be transferred out of CIA custody to the military's Guantanamo Bay prison.

The announcement, however, did not signal an end to the controversial program. State Department legal adviser John Bellinger III told reporters Thursday that if additional members of the al Qaeda terror network were captured, "we reserve the right to have those people questioned by the CIA."

Ahmadinejad calls for university purge:
Iran's hard-line president urged students Tuesday to push for a purge of liberal and secular university teachers, another sign of his determination to strengthen Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

With his call echoing the rhetoric of the nation's 1979 Islamic revolution, Ahmadinejad appears determined to remake Iran by reviving the fundamentalist goals pursued under the republic's late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Ahmadinejad's call was not a surprise -- since taking office a year ago, he also has moved to replace pragmatic veterans in the government and diplomatic corps with former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners.

Iran still has strong moderate factions but Ahmadinejad's administration also has launched crackdowns on independent journalists, Web sites and bloggers.

Speaking to a group of students Tuesday, Ahmadinejad called on them to pressure his administration to keep driving out moderate instructors, a process that began earlier this year.

Dozens of liberal university professors and teachers were sent into retirement this year after Ahmadinejad's administration named the first cleric to head Tehran University, sparking strong protests from students.

Three From Clinton Administration Urge Disney to Cancel or Revise 9/11 Mini-Series:
Three members of the Clinton administration have written the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, ABC’s parent, to complain that the network’s coming two-part miniseries “The Path to 9/11” is fraught with factual errors and fabrications.

The letters ask that the five-hour movie, scheduled for broadcast Sunday and Monday, be either edited for accuracy or canceled, and ABC gave a small indication yesterday that some changes might be made.


In their letters, dated Tuesday, both Mr. Berger and Ms. Albright object to scenes in which they are shown adding obstacles to efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. In particular, Ms. Albright said a scene in which she refuses to support a cruise missile strike against Mr. bin Laden without first alerting the Pakistani government was untrue. Ms. Albright (played by Shirley Douglas) also said the suggestion that she had alerted the Pakistani military to an imminent strike was “false and defamatory.”

“Sept. 11 is not ‘entertainment,’ it is reality,” Ms. Albright wrote Mr. Iger. “Before you air your broadcast, I trust you will ensure you have the facts right.”

Mr. Berger (played by Kevin Dunn) said a scene in which he is shown refusing to authorize a strike to kill Mr. bin Laden in Afghanistan “flagrantly misrepresents my personal actions” and will serve “only to grossly misinform the American people.”

Mr. Berger’s character is also seen abruptly hanging up during a conversation with a C.I.A. officer at a critical moment of a military operation. In an interview yesterday with KRLA-AM in Los Angeles, Cyrus Nowrasteh, the mini-series’ screenwriter and one of its producers, said that moment had been improvised.

“Sandy Berger did not slam down the phone,” Mr. Nowrasteh said. “That is not in the report. That was not scripted. But you know when you’re making a movie, a lot of things happen on set that are unscripted. Accidents occur, spontaneous reactions of actors performing a role take place. It’s the job of the filmmaker to say, ‘You know, maybe we can use that.’ ”

Gov. Vows to Veto Health Care Bill:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced today that he will veto a universal health care bill that is headed for his desk, claiming the measure would set up a "vast new bureaucracy" that would be too expensive.

The Republican governor said the single-payer system proposed by Sen. Sheila Kuehl would "cost the state billions and lead to significant new taxes on individuals and businesses, without solving the critical issue of affordability.

"I won't jeopardize the economy of our state for such a purpose," the governor said in a statement.

Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, said Schwarzenegger's comments indicated he "has not read the bill, doesn't understand the bill or is being completely misdirected by his handlers." She said the measure would save money.

"Where there are no cost controls at all now, and enormous administrative overhead and profit for insurance companies, there would have been a transparent system that actually would succeed in making health care coverage affordable in California," she said in a statement issued today.

The bill would provide every California resident with health insurance through a system controlled by a new entity called the California Health Insurance Agency. It would be under the control of a health insurance commissioner appointed by the governor.

The legislation also would establish a state commission to recommend to the governor and Legislature how much to charge patients and businesses in premiums to help pay for the system.

Kuehl said the premiums would have "taken the place of all premiums, copays and deductibles we now pay, saving every person who now pays for health care significant money."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gaim - an open source instant messaging client

My SO and I have used ICQ to communicate with each other for nearly 10 years (my original ICQ number had only 7 digits in it; new numbers have 9 digits in them). ICQ is still my SO's preferred instant messenger, primarily because it allows users to send messages to contacts even when those contacts are not online (the messages are stored on a central server, and then delivered when the contact comes online).

However, when my SO attempted to start ICQ a few weeks ago, a message popped up giving my SO the choice between closing the program and upgrading it. Upon clicking "close," ICQ did just that. In fact, it completely refused to run without being upgraded. This is not a way to keep your customers happy (especially when your customers don't have administrator access to their work computer and thus can't upgrade their software).

This forced upgrade, combined with the ever-present ads, motivated my SO to finally switch to an alternative: Gaim. Gaim is an open-source instant messaging client that connects with most major IM networks (MSN, AOL, ICQ, Yahoo, Jabber, and Google). It is completely free, has no ads, and neatly integrates all of your IM accounts into one single interface. It comes installed by default on Ubuntu (where I'm happily using it as I type).

Unfortunately, promptly after switching to Gaim, my SO started getting spam ICQ messages. Based on some quick searching it seemed like this was a long-known bug in Gaim (the privacy settings seem to have problems in the Windows version), and thus my SO gave up on Gaim for Windows. My SO went back to ICQ (and upgraded), but if I get back to using Windows at home I'll probably try Trillian, another free instant messaging client.

So, if you're looking for an alternative to ad-filled, proprietary IM clients, go take a look at Gaim or Trillian; they may not be perfect, but they'll be ad-free and will completely lack forced upgrades.