Friday, November 02, 2007

Can I Be Attorney General Now? - Bush: No Mukasey, No Attorney General - : WASHINGTON — President Bush sought to save Michael Mukasey's troubled nomination for attorney general Thursday, defending the retired judge's refusal to say whether he considers waterboarding torture and warning of a leaderless Justice Department if Democrats don't confirm him.

"If the Senate Judiciary Committee were to block Judge Mukasey on these grounds, they would set a new standard for confirmation that could not be met by any responsible nominee for attorney general," Bush said.

Hey, wait a minute. I can meet that standard. I can say, unequivocally, that waterboarding is torture. Especially after reading this article by a guy who actually does it. Malcolm Nance has the unenviable job of waterboarding candidates for the US Navy SEALS. Why? To teach them how to resist...say it with me...TORTURE. His assessment of the technique?

1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one’s duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

Nance recalls meeting a victim of the technique from Cambodia:

He told his interrogators everything they wanted to know including the truth. They rarely stopped. In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. He remembered “the Barrel” version of waterboarding quite well. Head first until the water filled the lungs, then you talk.

So, again. I can say it clearly. Waterboarding is torture. Ask the guy who does it.

Seeing as how I can meet the standard the Congress has set, I am ready to take my position as Attorney General of the United States.

Your move, Mr. Bush.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Eric Clapton Might Be a Redneck

If you've ever been too drunk to might be a redneck.
-Jeff Foxworthy

"Clapton," book review from Salon Books

His drinking was now out of control, and almost killed him: An ill-advised attempt to go cold turkey for the weekend led to his having a grand mal seizure. But even that didn't stop him. What did, tellingly, was a fishing mishap. "I'm a country boy, and I've always thought of myself as a reasonably good fisherman," Clapton writes. When some professional fisherman witnessed him fall drunkenly onto a brand-new reel, breaking it in two, "That was it for me. The last vestige of my self-esteem had been ripped away. In my mind being a good fisherman was the last place where I still had some self-esteem." Shortly afterward he checked into Hazelden, the world-renowned clinic for alcoholics in Minnesota. It was 1982 and he was 36 years old.

Happy Hallowe'en!

And in the spirit of sharing that makes the season so special, let me offer you a book recommendation: Alexandra Sokoloff's THE HARROWING. I've been running a bit behind, reading-wise, but I really wish I'd gotten to this one sooner. I picked it up while hanging out with Alex at the Cape Fear Crime Festival this past weekend. (Full disclosure time: Alex is a friend, and we do a lot of events together. It's still a great book. Trust me.) Lynn got to it first, and stayed up til 1:00 reading it...and she NEVER stays up that late reading. I started it on the drive back, and couldn't put it down either. Damn, this book is good.

The plot's a classic one for Horror...several college students are stranded by circumstance in a creepy old house. The house in this case is an old mansion converted into a dorm, and the kids, for their own reasons, are staying there over the Thanksgiving break. Of course there's a storm, of course the lights go out, and scariness ensues. Not gore or splatter-type scariness. I mean REAL creepy-crawly, gathering-dread, check-over-your-shoulder-and-go-to-bed-with-the- lights-on scariness.

For purposes of mystery fiction, you can call it a "What Dunnit."Is there really a supernatural baddie out there or is someone in the group screwing with the others? The climax of the book, when the students face the answer, is breathtaking.

THE HARROWING rules. Check it out.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

You Want to Leave Decisions on Torture to THESE Guys?

Latest Newspaper Column:

Boy, those Republicans do love their torture.

Of course, they don't call it that. President Bush insists that "we don't torture" -- and backs it up by the simple expedient of redefining the word.

"Oh, simulated drowning? That's not torture! That's, uh, enhanced interrogation! Yeah, that's it, that's the ticket."

Anyone who thinks so-called "waterboarding" isn't torture, by the way, is invited to try it. Let's start with the Republican presidential candidates who, in one debate, seemed to be trying to outdo one another in claiming how far they'd go to emulate Jack Bauer, the torture-happy government agent on TV's "24."

I'm not sure why they have this fixation on "24." Despite all the finger-chopping, plastic bags on the head, and such, the bad guys in the show still seem to manage to pull off stuff like detonating a nuke in Valencia, Calif. Seems to me, the message of "24" is that torture doesn't keep us safer.

The problem with all this torture mania is that it assumes that everyone who's in custody is actually a terrorist.

Abdallah Higazy, an Egyptian studying engineering in America, is the classic example of a guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- specifically, the Millennium Hotel, across the street from the World Trade Center, on Sept. 11, 2001. During the attack on the WTC, Higazy and the other guests were evacuated, leaving their luggage behind.

Later, as hotel staff were inventorying guests' belongings, they found, supposedly in Higazi's room safe, a radio which could be used to communicate with airliners in flight. When Higazi came to get his stuff, he was taken into custody by the FBI.

Higazi at first denied owning the radio or knowing anything about it. So the FBI ratcheted up the pressure by threatening his family. If he didn't come clean, the agents said, the U.S. would "make sure Egyptian Security gives [his] family hell." Everyone knew exactly what that meant, including the agent doing the questioning, who later stated that he was talking "yeah, probably about torture."

Higazi's parents are in their 60s. He has a young sister in Egypt, and Egyptian security is reputed to be particularly creative with female prisoners. Faced with that threat, Higazi broke. He confessed and signed a statement written by the FBI saying he'd stolen the radio from the Egyptian military.

Three days later, an airline pilot showed up at the hotel. He wanted his radio back.

The FBI verified that the radio belonged to the pilot, not Higazi. The hotel began backpedaling about the radio being found in Higazi's safe. The government released him after 34 days in custody and dismissed all charges.

Where does all this information come from, you may ask? Some liberal blog? Nope, the above information is taken directly from the text of the opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which dismissed some of Higazi's claims in his lawsuit against the agents and the hotel who'd originally reported the radio. Not, it should be noted, because the claims were untrue, but because the government, even if dead wrong, is entitled to "qualified immunity" from consequences for some of their actions in the case.

At least that's what the original opinion said. Later the court issued a so-called "redacted" opinion that took all the details of Higazi's ordeal out for "national security" reasons, replacing them instead with a bland "the government has stipulated that the confession was coerced." Guess threatening an innocent man's family is some sort of top-secret government technique we can't let the bad guys find out about.

In some respects, Higazi was lucky. At least he got a lawyer, a bail hearing, and some reasonable chance to contest the charges, something that suspects were still entitled to at the time, before the Bushistas started asserting that the government could lock anyone up for national security reasons.

He's certainly luckier than Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was picked up while passing through Kennedy Airport, then "deported" -- not to Canada, but to Syria. There, he was tortured for months by being lashed with steel cables, then released without ever being charged. A Canadian investigation found no evidence that Arar had any ties to terrorists.

Here's the thing: Jack Bauer is fictional and thus is never wrong. But no government is infallible, and this one is much less infallible than most. When you're thumping your chests and talking about how you'd be tough like Jack Bauer, you might think of Abdallah Higazi and Maher Arar and wonder how many others like them are undergoing "enhanced interrogation" right now, without ever having done anything wrong.