The true measure of power is how much you can get away with, which makes the gangsters running the U.S. effectively all-powerful.
The true measure of power is how much you can get away with, which makes the gangsters running the U.S. effectively all-powerful.
Leave it to New Labour, which has done so much to encourage the Big Brothering of the U.K., to come up with a new way to meddle in people's lives: Anti-Social Behavior Orders, civil orders against trespasses so broadly defined that any mildly irritating behavior or general mischief would seem to qualify. The legislation enabling ASBOs was introduced in 1999 as part of the Crime and Disorder Act and is increasingly implemented:
The number of orders made has escalated over the six-year period that ASBOs have been available. During the first eight months in 1999, only 104 orders were made. However, there has been a significant escalation with more than 2,600 orders made since November 2003.
So, for example, ASBOs have been served on people---frequently kids: 4/10 are under 17---for begging, posting flyers, shouting or swearing, ringing doorbells and running away, repeatedly playing the same song, playing games in the street or on various green areas, and hoarding stuff, as well as other slightly shadier activities such as throwing empty bottles, public urination, or street solicitation for (legal) prostitution.
Grounds for serving an ASBO don't need to meet the usual standards: hearsay evidence and anonymous testimony are admissible as evidence; complaints do not have to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, merely judged on the balance of probability. Those served with ASBOs are subject to various restraints and conditions: besides stopping the offending activity, one may be subject to police check-ups, curfews, etc. And even when (as in the vast majority of cases) the original offense wasn't criminal, violation of the restraints (e.g., continuing to play that record or violating curfew) is, so one can go to jail for up to 5 years for "anti-social" behavior; in fact, 50% of those receiving ASBOs end up in jail.
The Parliamentary Answers reveal that the breach rate has been 39% for 10-15-year-olds, 38% for 16-20-year-olds, and 31% for those aged over 21. However, figures are only available on numbers jailed for the years 2001 and 2002. In 2001, 114 persons breached by the courts following the imposition of an ASBO were jailed out of 322 issued. In 2002, 212 were jailed out of 403 issued. These figures would suggest that around 50% of those who are the subject of an ASBO eventually end up in jail.
Moreover, unlike criminal offenses, those served with orders needn't be kept anonymous and on the contrary the usual strategy is to "name and shame" offenders (yes, including the kids), putting their name and pictures on flyers (humiliation posting is allowed, I guess) and the backs of buses. You can imagine how this affects their lives, and futures. This article provides some details; don't miss the gallery.
It appears that the U.S. government has successfully driven Jose Padilla insane.
Apparently some UCLA cops were doing an ID check at a computer cluster last night; a student named Mostafa Tabatabainejad didn't have his ID, and when the cops grabbed at Tabatabainejad to rush him out, he started loudly complaining. One thing led to another, and the cops ended up shocking Tabatabainejad with tasers five times, at least a few times because he wouldn't, or couldn't, stand up. This was all in full view of at least a dozen other students. Most of this was caught on video, which you can see here.
The cops' self-serving press release is here. Central claims in this press release are contradicted by the witness reports I cite above, but in any case, for chrissakes, why is anything Tabatabainejad did worthy of being tortured?
If you're interested in giving the folks at UCLA a piece of your mind:
Interim Chancellor Norman Abrams
UCLA PD: (310) 825-1491
This will lead to a very high level resignation -- any parent
becoming aware of this torture video, and they will become aware of it,
will fear that the renegade campus torture cops will do this to their
Josh Marshall digs this out of the archives:
One nasty morning Comrade Stalin discovered that his favorite pipe was missing. Naturally, he called in his henchman, Lavrenti Beria, and instructed him to find the pipe. A few hours later, Stalin found it in his desk and called off the search. "But, Comrade Stalin," stammered Beria, "five suspects have already confessed to stealing it."
This joke, whispered among those who trusted each other when I was a kid in Moscow in the 1950s, is perhaps the best contribution I can make to the current argument in Washington about legislation banning torture and inhumane treatment of suspected terrorists captured abroad. Now that President Bush has made a public show of endorsing Sen. John McCain's amendment, it would seem that the debate is ending. But that the debate occurred at all, and that prominent figures are willing to entertain the idea, is perplexing and alarming to me. I have seen what happens to a society that becomes enamored of such methods in its quest for greater security; it takes more than words and political compromise to beat back the impulse.
This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed, with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our planet (hence there are so many conventions against it). Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.
Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.
So, why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? Why would anyone try to "improve intelligence-gathering capability" by destroying what was left of it? Frustration? Ineptitude? Ignorance? Or, has their friendship with a certain former KGB lieutenant colonel, V. Putin, rubbed off on the American leaders? I have no answer to these questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" (CID) treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.
Even talking about the possibility of using CID treatment sends wrong signals and encourages base instincts in those who should be consistently delivered from temptation by their superiors. As someone who has been on the receiving end of the "treatment" under discussion, let me tell you that trying to make a distinction between torture and CID techniques is ridiculous. Long gone are the days when a torturer needed the nasty-looking tools displayed in the Tower of London. A simple prison bed is deadly if you remove the mattress and force a prisoner to sleep on the iron frame night after night after night. Or how about the "Chekist's handshake" so widely practiced under Stalin -- a firm squeeze of the victim's palm with a simple pencil inserted between his fingers? Very convenient, very simple. And how would you define leaving 2,000 inmates of a labor camp without dental service for months on end? Is it CID not to treat an excruciatingly painful toothache, or is it torture?
Now it appears that sleep deprivation is "only" CID and used on Guantanamo Bay captives. Well, congratulations, comrades! It was exactly this method that the NKVD used to produce those spectacular confessions in Stalin's "show trials" of the 1930s. The henchmen called it "conveyer," when a prisoner was interrogated nonstop for a week or 10 days without a wink of sleep. At the end, the victim would sign any confession without even understanding what he had signed.
I know from my own experience that interrogation is an intensely personal confrontation, a duel of wills. It is not about revealing some secrets or making confessions, it is about self-respect and human dignity. If I break, I will not be able to look into a mirror. But if I don't, my interrogator will suffer equally. Just try to control your emotions in the heat of that battle. This is precisely why torture occurs even when it is explicitly forbidden. Now, who is going to guarantee that even the most exact definition of CID is observed under such circumstances?
But if we cannot guarantee this, then how can you force your officers and your young people in the CIA to commit acts that will scar them forever? For scarred they will be, take my word for it.
In 1971, while in Lefortovo prison in Moscow (the central KGB interrogation jail), I went on a hunger strike demanding a defense lawyer of my choice (the KGB wanted its trusted lawyer to be assigned instead). The moment was most inconvenient for my captors because my case was due in court, and they had no time to spare. So, to break me down, they started force-feeding me in a very unusual manner -- through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.
The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man -- my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the morning and did it all over again, for 10 days, when the guards could stand it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around. They surrounded the doctor: "Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the bowl, let him sip it. It'll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool." The doctor was in tears: "Do you think I want to go to jail because of you lot? No, I can't do that. . . . " And so they stood over my body, cursing each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose. On the 12th day, the authorities surrendered; they had run out of time. I had gotten my lawyer, but neither the doctor nor those guards could ever look me in the eye again.
Today, when the White House lawyers seem preoccupied with contriving a way to stem the flow of possible lawsuits from former detainees, I strongly recommend that they think about another flood of suits, from the men and women in your armed services or the CIA agents who have been or will be engaged in CID practices. Our rich experience in Russia has shown that many will become alcoholics or drug addicts, violent criminals or, at the very least, despotic and abusive fathers and mothers.
If America's leaders want to hunt terrorists while transforming dictatorships into democracies, they must recognize that torture, which includes CID, has historically been an instrument of oppression -- not an instrument of investigation or of intelligence gathering. No country needs to invent how to "legalize" torture; the problem is rather how to stop it from happening. If it isn't stopped, torture will destroy your nation's important strategy to develop democracy in the Middle East. And if you cynically outsource torture to contractors and foreign agents, how can you possibly be surprised if an 18-year-old in the Middle East casts a jaundiced eye toward your reform efforts there?
Finally, think what effect your attitude has on the rest of the world, particularly in the countries where torture is still common, such as Russia, and where its citizens are still trying to combat it. Mr. Putin will be the first to say: "You see, even your vaunted American democracy cannot defend itself without resorting to torture. . . . "
Off we go, back to the caves.
Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities, is the author of several books, including "To Build a Castle" and "Judgment in Moscow." Now 63, he has lived primarily in Cambridge, England, since 1976.
America's leaders "must recognize that torture [. . .] has historically been an instrument of oppression -- not an instrument of investigation or of intelligence gathering" -- indeed they must.
This multi-media news-reel re-mixes news clips, protest footage, phone conversations, our President explaining his respect for the Constitution, an interview with blogger/author Glenn Greenwald and a 1946 school documentary concerning the dangers and warning signs of despotism--all set to an incessant rock-and-roll beat. This project is dedicated to Stephen Colbert for his ballsy truth-telling at the Whitehouse Correspondants Dinner.
It's not exactly clear what sort of political beast the U.S. is remaking itself into these days, but by the lights of this undogmatic 1946 Encyclopedia Brittanica film it appears to be moving steadily from democracy towards despotism. Among the many indications are these pertaining to economic inequity, power, and information:
If a community's economic distribution becomes slanted, its middle income groups grow smaller, and despotism gains a foothold. [...]
A power scale is another important yardstick of despotism. It gauges the citizen's share in making the community's decisions. Communities which concentrate important decision-making rate in a few hands rate low on the power scale, and are heading toward despotism. [...]
The test of despotic power is that it can disregard the will of the people. It rules without the consent of the governed. [...] When legislators become ceremonial assemblies only, and have no real control over lawmaking, their community rates low on a power scale. [...]
A community rates low on an information scale when the press, radio and other channels of communication are controlled by only a few people [...].
And let's not forget the real test of a democracy:
How far along the despotism scale are we? The proof will be in the pudding this November. Unsurprisingly, the majority of US-ers want the Democrats to regain control of Congress; but if the Democrats regain control, they're liable to start investigating Republican misdeeds and (notwithstanding Pelosi's disclaimers) may even try to impeach Bush et al. What will happen?
The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery... – Thomas Paine
A Canadian federal agency has denied funding to a science-education researcher partly because of its doubts about the theory of evolution.
Brian Alters, director of the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University in Montreal, had proposed a study of the effects of the popularization of intelligent design — the idea that an intelligent creator shaped life — on Canadian students, teachers, parents, administrators and policy-makers.
More precisely, the project, titled Detrimental effects of popularizing anti-evolution's "intelligent design theory" on Canadian students, teachers, parents, administrators and policymakers, aims to study how the rising popularity in the United States of Intelligent Design (or as I prefer to think of it: Mysterious Interference) is eroding acceptance of evolutionary science in Canada. UPDATE: From the proposal:
The purpose of this study is to measure the extent to which the recent large-scale popularization of Intelligent Design is detrimentally affecting Canadians’ teaching and learning of biological evolution at high school, university, and educational administration. If, as suspected, this proposed study results in measurements data that indicate a significant disadvantageous interaction, we would then develop a proposal to other funding programs with the aim of researching, designing, and implementing pedagogical techniques to counteract the detrimental effects of Intelligent Design.
Alters's project was rejected by a committee (largely composed of "expert" non-scientists), who pronounced as follows on the proposal:
The committee found that the candidates were qualified. However, it judged the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularization of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects on Canadian students,teachers, parents and policy makers. Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct. It was not convinced, therefore, that research based on these assumptions would yield objective results. In addition, the committee found that the research plans were insufficiently elaborated to allow for an informed evaluation of their merit. In view of its reservations the committee recommended that no award be made.
Wow. One rarely sees, even in early undergraduate papers, such suicidal argumentation. Besides the "insufficiently elaborated" research plans, there are two stated reasons for rejection. The first appears to be that the proposal doesn't establish the conclusion of the not-yet-conducted study... presumably not reasonable grounds for rejection.
But supposing some evidence of such detrimental impact is needed, then wonderfully, the review provides it, via the second reason for rejection, concerning Alters's not having sufficiently justified the assumption that evolution rather than Intelligent Design is correct.
Thus the stated reasons for the project's rejection stand as good reasons for its acceptance! Clearly Alters should resubmit, including the committee's review as part of his proposal.
SSHRC officials are being strangely cagey about this issue:
Janet Halliwell, the SSHRC's executive vice-president and a chemist by training, acknowledged that the "framing" of the committee's comments to Alters left the letter "open to misinterpretation."
Halliwell said confidentiality obligations made it difficult for her to discuss Alters's case in detail, but she argued that the professor had taken one line in the letter "out of context" and the rejection of his application should not indicate that SSHRC was expressing "doubts about the theory of evolution."
These remarks do not serve to comfort. To say that SSHRC is not expressing "doubts" is not the same as saying that it endorses evolution as scientific fact. Maybe SSHRC isn't expressing "doubts" about intelligent design either. And indeed, Halliwell goes on:
However, Halliwell added there are phenomena that "may not be easily explained by current theories of evolution" and that the scientific world's understanding of life "is not static. There's an evolution in the theory of evolution."
What does the fact that there are phenomena that "may not be easily explained by current theories of evolution" have to do with whether---as the committee's review clearly states---applicants need to justify that evolution, as opposed to Mysterious Interference, is correct? That's a big 'ol non-sequitur, Halliwell.
Moreover, as David Guttman (who among other honors is a Canada Research Chair in Comparative Genomics and Director of the U of T Centre for the Analysis of Genome Evolution & Function) notes in a letter to Stan Shapson, the president of SSHRC (email Shapson here), there is no substance to Halliwell's claim that the remark about evolution is being "taken out of context":
Dear Dr. Shapson,
I was extremely distressed to learn of the alarming statement coming out of SSHRC concerning the relative scientific merit of evolutionary biology vs. intelligent design. Although I will not be so presumptuous as to claim to be qualified to evaluate Dr. Alters’ grant proposal, I am certainly qualified to evaluate the statements made by the grant review committee. The statement, “Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct” is simply egregious and outrageous. Obviously, the committee itself harbors a narrow-minded fundamentalist with a political agenda, or it has been swayed by a reviewer with such an agenda. Either way it is entirely unacceptable.
There is clearly a problem when a major federal granting agency demands that scientists prove the validity of evolution as part of their proposals. Evolution is the single most important unifying principle in biology. It is a well established fact, supported by thousands of peer reviewed studies. Any respectable scientist knows this. Either this SSHRC committee knows something that the rest of us don’t, or perhaps the quality of their work needs to be reevaluated.
Let’s make it clear that this is not about the funding of Dr. Alters’ proposal. This is about the position taken by your review panel in the evolution v. intelligent design debate. The justifications coming out of SSHRC for these statements are simply laughable. Janet Halliwell’s claim that the "framing" of the committee's comments left the letter "open to misinterpretation." is ridiculous. Nothing that I or other scientists are objecting to has been taken out of context. [Guttman then quotes the comments from the review panel in their entirety, as per above.]
Guttman goes on to note:
Clearly SSHRC has a serious problem to deal with. This story will reverberate in the international press for a long time to come and permanently tarnish the reputation of SSHRC. Unfortunately, it may also bring disrepute to all of Canadian Science.
No kidding. Thankfully, McGill has protested the decision:
Jennifer Robinson, associate vice-principal for communications at McGill, says the university will ask the council to review its decision. "In our view it is a factual error," she says. "The theory of evolution is a well-established science, and intelligent design is a religious belief.
For the moment reason largely reigns in Canada. But for how long? The dogs of capitalism are already peeing on every corner up here. Now here come the fundamentalists. What I would give for some really intelligent design.