August 30, 2009

Torture Doesn’t Work

Just Read the CIA Reports.

The CIA has finally released the documents that Dick Cheney claimed would vindicate the Bush administration’s torture—excuse me, “enhanced interrogation”—policy. According to Cheney, these documents demonstrate that the administration’s harsh methods yielded valuable, life-saving information. Not surprisingly, they demonstrate nothing of the sort.

The most important document released, a 2004 CIA Inspector General Report [.pdf], concludes that interrogation yielded valuable information—but nowhere in its 109 pages does it say that any of this information was obtained through enhanced interrogation. To the contrary, it claims that measuring the effectiveness of enhanced techniques is a “subjective process and not without some concern” (85), that “there is limited data on which to assess” the “individual effectiveness” of such techniques (89), that, although interrogation in general proved effective, “[t]he effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured” (100).

Indeed the report never gives a specific instance of enhanced techniques producing valuable information. The most it tells us is that Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became more talkative after being waterboarded. Well of course they became more talkative after being waterboarded—but so what? As Jesse Ventura has quipped, “You give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.” The question we need to ask is, not whether waterboarding made these individuals more talkative, but whether it impelled them to say anything true, anything life-saving.

It seems clear that torture did not elicit any valuable intelligence from Zubaydah. As the Washington Post reported this past March:

…not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida—chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Similarly, al-Nashiri and Mohammed later admitted that they made all sorts of false confessions while being tortured. As Mohammed told [.pdf] the International Red Cross:

During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told the interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the U.S.

Whether al-Nashiri and Mohammed also made true confessions under torture and whether these true confessions in turn saved American lives is something that we simply don’t know. But even if such were the case, it would still be possible that the same, or perhaps better, information could have been obtained through legal methods. Regarding Mohammed, Jane Mayer from The New Yorker recently told Keith Olbermann:

[A]s anybody knows who knows anything about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he was dying to tell the world, when he was interviewed by Al Jazeera before he was in US custody, about everything he knew and everything he did. He was proud of his role as the mastermind of 9/11. He loves to talk about it. So there’s no evidence that I see in this that these things were necessary. I spoke to someone at the CIA who was an advisor to them who conceded to me that “We could have gotten the same information from tea and crumpets.”

But of course we shouldn’t expect Cheney to admit any of this. For he realizes that the public’s demand to investigate Bush administration wrongdoing will only increase if more people understand how completely ineffective these torture policies were. And Cheney knows that, if such happens, he could very well be prosecuted for war crimes.

August 28, 2009

Profiting from the Israeli War Machine

(Updated below)

If I treated my dog as viciously as Israel treats the Palestinians, I’d be thrown into prison. And rightly so. For this is a government that regularly bombs civilian neighborhoods, steals water resources, and blocks basic humanitarian goods—things like pasta, school notebooks, and hearing aids—from entering the Gaza Strip.

All this death and destruction is made possible by numerous American corporations. Most of the usual suspects are to blame. For instance, Boeing (NYSE: BA), Raytheon (RTN), and Lockheed Martin (LMT) have long provided Israel with bombs, missiles, fighter jets, and attack helicopters. But there are many other American companies, some which you’d least expect, that also profit from the Israeli War Machine.

For example, there’s Motorola (MOT). Yes, you heard me right Motorola, maker of all those nifty little gadgets for your cell phones. Motorola, it turns out, also makes fuses for bombs. Those cluster bombs which Israel indiscriminately dropped in Lebanon in 2006 (many of which continue killing Lebanese children)—made with Motorola fuses. And those bombs it dropped throughout Gaza during Operation Cast Lead—also made with Motorola fuses. [After writing this post, I learned that Motorola no longer makes bomb fuses. See update below for more info.]

But more than just making bomb fuses, Motorola, which once supplied South Africa’s apartheid government with mobile radios, supplies Israel’s military with a state-of-the-art communications system. And just as South Africa’s police used their radios to “suppress demonstration against the government,” Israeli soldiers are currently using their fancy “Mountain Rose” system to suppress the nonviolent demonstrations in Bil’in. (Bil’in, in case you don’t know, is a small Palestinian village where activists regularly protest the construction of the Separation Wall.)

Caterpillar (CAT) also profits from Israeli death and destruction. For years now the Israeli army has used [.pdf] Caterpillar bulldozers in its major military operations. A bulldozer, you see, is the perfect weapon for leveling Palestinian orchards and homes. It also comes in handy if you ever need to mow down a peace activist. It was with a Caterpillar D9R armored bulldozer, you might remember, that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) killed American Rachel Corrie in 2003 while she tried to stop a Palestinian home from being destroyed.

For several years now, and especially since Corrie’s death, numerous human rights organizations have petitioned Caterpillar to stop selling this equipment to Israel. Not surprisingly, Caterpillar has refused, claiming that it has “neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of that equipment.” What this really means, of course, is that it has neither the will nor decency to stop doing business with what very well might be its most lucrative client.

Next on the list is Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), followed by Ingersoll Rand (IR) and L-3 Communications (LLL). Hewlett-Packard’s subsidiary EDS-Israel built and continues to maintain biometric access control systems at several Israeli checkpoints, while the latter two companies have worked on various components for the systems. (See here for more about Ingersoll Rand, here for L-3 Communications.) Israel claims that it needs this technology to keep terrorists out, but the truth is that it’s been keeping all sorts of people out—including patients needing urgent medical care and law-abiding individuals trying to be reunited with their spouses.

Israel has even prevented many Palestinians who’ve been traveling abroad from returning to their homes in the Occupied Territories. And why, you might be wondering, would it do that? Because it seems to believes that all the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea belongs to it. Thus, it continues building settlements in the West Bank. Bad news if you’re an Arab. Not such bad news if you’re a RE/MAX broker selling one of the many beautiful properties available in Occupied East Jerusalem. (RE/MAX is not publicly traded).

Other US companies that profit from the settlements include Celcom (CEL), Cemex (CX), General Mills (GIS), Unilever (UN), and Veolia Environnement (VE). For a complete list, see WhoProfits.Org.

[Originally posted at Divest from Death.]

Update: After writing this post, I learned that Motorola no longer makes bomb fuses. As the Global BDS Movement reported on April 3: “Motorola has sold a controversial unit that produced bomb fuses and other equipment for the Israeli military, according to the Israeli financial newspaper Globes. The sale rids Motorola of some activities that had made it the target of a growing boycott in the US and worldwide. No explanation was offered in the media reports for the sale by Motorola Israel - a wholly owned subsidiary of Motorola - of its unit called Government Electronics Department (GED) to the Israeli company Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd.”

August 25, 2009

Flanders Does Islam

Why does just about every Evangelical blogger on the planet think he’s an expert on Islam? Have you ever noticed that? Any mention of Islam in the news and they’ll go off on the Qur’an and all the evil things it supposedly teaches. What’s so crazy about this is that these shmendriks can’t even agree about their own scriptures. Just get a group of them together and ask what the Bible says about, say, baptism or eschatology, and you’ll be amazed at all the fights that erupt. And yet they think they have credibility when telling us, with the utmost of confidence of course, that they understand the Qur’an?

Now I myself have never read the Qur’an. I’d like to. Just as I’d like to one day read Finnegan’s Wake. But you know how it is: too much to read, not enough time.

Nonetheless, I have a suspicion that most of what these Evangelicals say is total crap. More than anything else, I base this suspicion on the way I’ve seen them butcher their own holy book. Prooftext, prooftext, prooftext—’tis the mantra of most Christians today. Never mind understanding a passage’s historical context. Never mind trying to get at the author’s original intent. Your average Evangelical can twist almost any verse of Scripture to justify pretty much anything he does.

Now I know the Qur’an has some problem passages. But so does the Bible. In the Old Testament, for instance, Yahweh repeatedly commands his people to commit genocide, sometimes even demanding that they slaughter innocent children. And in the New Testament, we find Jesus commanding his followers to hate their parents and spouses and children. And we find the Apostle Paul telling women to submit themselves to their husbands. Yet these Evangelical bloggers, with all the chutzpah humanly possible, claim that it is Islam, not Christianity, that is the religion of violence, hatred, and injustice.

I’m not trying to impugn Christianity. And I’m not suggesting that there aren’t adequate explanations for the above passages. But, for crying out loud, why don’t these Christians extend the same charity to Muslim apologists that they would like for themselves? Why all the energy spent slandering Islam? It’s not like discrediting Islam will somehow prove Christianity.

If these Evangelicals want to see their numbers increase, if they want to lead others to Jesus, then they should try showing a little restraint, exercising a little humility. Because, when you get down to it, people join religious communities, not because of dogmas, not because of arguments, but because those communities make them feel loved and accepted. And this, it seems to me, is why so many young people are turned off of Christianity and why church attendance continues to fall.

[Originally posted at Skeptical Eye.]

August 23, 2009

Divest from Death

Some sound financial advice from Jim Davidson:

I think investing in defense stocks is a terrible idea. Try gold or silver for physical delivery if you want a good deal with high return, low risk…Or invest in education—a great many people are going to need to upgrade their skills in this economic depression as they look for work. Buy a farm and grow some food—there’s always a big market for food when people are starving…

Stop investing in the military. Withhold your support. Don’t send your children into the military. Stop investing in the death merchants. Sell your defense contractor stocks. Resolve never to buy them again.

Okay, so maybe it’s not the best financial advice. Given President Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan, investing in the likes of Boeing and Lockheed Martin would probably yield a decent profit. But morally and spiritually speaking, Jim’s advice is, of course, spot on, and it could very well force an end to these wars.

He continues:

Divestment worked for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Americans stopped investing in companies that supported the Jim Crow system of racial discrimination. Companies got the picture, and stopped being racist, or went under.

Divestment worked for the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s. Americans and people around the world stopped investing in South African companies, and in those doing business there. The South African government ended its racist policies.

Divestment works. So, stop investing in evil. You want fewer wars this century, stop investing in military contractor companies. You want fewer death camps this century, stop investing in companies that support the current authoritarian regime. Put your money where your philosophy is.

If you haven’t done so already, check out Jim’s new site, Divest from Death, where you’ll find information on the nation’s leading defense contractors, as well as alternative places to invest. And, of course, make sure to divest from death. Perhaps it won’t make a difference. I don’t know, I can’t predict the future. But we at least have to try.

August 18, 2009

Mike Huckabee Visits East Jerusalem, Gets His Eschatology Wrong

During his recent trip to East Jerusalem, Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate, longtime friend of Chuck Norris, made a point of criticizing President Obama’s demand that Israel halt settlement expansion. According to Huckabee, the US government shouldn’t “be telling Jewish people in Israel where they should and should not live.”

Though Huckabee’s statements have shocked much of the blogosphere, he’s previously made it clear that he doesn’t think Israel should return any of the West Bank to the Palestinians. In his opinion, it’s all Israel’s land, and if the Palestinians want a state of their own they should see if they can establish one somewhere in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

Needless to say, Huck’s views aren’t based on international law. As the International Court of Justice declared in 2004, all of the West Bank is Occupied Palestinian Territory and therefore all Israeli settlements there are illegal. And I don’t see how Huck’s views could be based on American national interests. By now it seems beyond dispute that America’s nearly unwavering support of the Israeli occupation has fueled anti-American terrorism.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Huck’s views on the matter are derived from his theology. I could be wrong here, but, given his close association with the likes of John Hagee and Tim LaHaye, it seems clear that he’s a dispensationalist.

Dispensationalism, in case you don’t know, is the end times theology made popular by the Left Behind series.

Best known for its literal reading of certain Old Testament prophesies, as well as its belief that the secret rapture of the Church is drawing near, dispensationalsim contends that God has separate plans for the Church and for Israel. To be more specific, it rejects the traditional Christian view that God’s promises to Abraham have found their fulfillment in Christ. Among other things, this means that the modern State of Israel is entitled to the land promised to Abraham (never mind all the Arabs living there now, never mind all the Arabs living there before 1948), and that the United States, or any nation for that matter, cannot be blessed unless it blesses Israel (even if blessing Israel involves turning a blind eye to IDF war crimes).

The problem with dispensationalism is that it’s woefully ignorant of the Bible. Nothing against Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins; I understand they’ve written some spellbinding books—but their end times scheme is clearly unbiblical. As biblical scholar Loraine Boettner notes, God’s promises to Israel “were always conditioned on obedience, either expressly stated or clearly implied. Time and again the people were warned that apostasy would cancel the promise of future blessing, that promised blessing could be forfeited. The land of Palestine, for instance, was given to Abraham and to his seed ‘for an everlasting possession’ (Gen. 17:8). But the same thing is said of the perpetual duration of the priesthood of Aaron (Ex. 40:15), the Passover (Ex. 12:14), the Sabbath (Ex. 31:17) and David’s throne (2 Sam. 7:13, 16, 24). But in the light of the New Testament all of those things have passed away.”

Boettner’s latter point finds support in such passages as Hebrews 8:7-13, which states that, because the Jews were disobedient, God made a new covenant with humanity and in so doing rendered the old covenant “obsolete.” The new covenant, of course, is between God and all people, not just God and the Jews. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise [which God made to Abraham].”

Now I’ll be the first to admit that dispensationalists know how to make good movies. Anyone remember this one from the early 1970s?

But they’re obviously not getting any of this from the Bible. Because, again, it just ain’t there. If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to go to the Bible yourself. Show me that I’m wrong.

But once you’ve seen that I’m not making this up, do me a favor, will you? Somebody, anybody, I don’t care who—somebody just make sure you have a talk with the Huckster.

August 15, 2009

Does Hamas Want a Second Holocaust?

I received the following email last Friday:

In your blog post "Hamas Wants to Talk Peace", you said that the terms seemed reasonable to you.

My question is, do you understand that the "right of return" means that Israel would cease to exist? That the Palestinians, who voted in Hamas, whose charter calls for the worldwide extermination of the Jews would be a majority in Israel and could simply (once again) vote in a government with a platform of "exterminate the Jews"?

The Hamas terms are like being offered a deal to end a fight between you and someone else "if you'll just sit down and have a beer with me", when the other person knows you are fatally alergic to beer. To those ignorant of the facts, the term "have a beer" seems reasonable, to the person being offered an icy cold bottle of death, it is not only unreasonable, it is insulting.

So basically, are you someone who wants to see a second Holocaust, or did you just not understand what Hamas was "offering"?

For the remainder of the weekend, I exchanged a few emails with this individual, and though neither of us changed the other’s mind, I think our debate was profitable, if nothing else enabling me to better understand where “his side” is coming from. Far from simply having a callous disregard for the Palestinian people, I now see that many conservative Zionists favor maintaining the status quo because they genuinely fear that Hamas has its heart set on bringing about the Final Solution.

But even though these fears may be sincere, I think they’re entirely unwarranted. For instance, as far as I can tell, there is only one passage in Hamas’ 1988 charter that could even conceivably be interpreted as sanctioning genocide:

...Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim) [I.7].

Now, taken by itself, this passage certainly makes it sound like Hamas wants to wipe out the Jewish people. But before jumping to this conclusion we should make sure we read the entire charter. For we don’t have the right to say that we understand this passage, or any passage in any piece of literature for that matter, without understanding its context. And if we keep reading the charter, we find these words:

Hamas is a humane movement, which cares for human rights and is committed to the tolerance inherent in Islam as regards attitudes towards other religions. It is only hostile to those who are hostile towards it, or stand in its way in order to disturb its moves or to frustrate its efforts. Under the shadow of Islam it is possible for the members of the three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism to coexist in safety and security. Safety and security can only prevail under the shadow of Islam, and recent and ancient history is the best witness to that effect. The members of other religions must desist from struggling against Islam over sovereignty in this region. For if they were to gain the upper hand, fighting, torture and uprooting would follow; they would be fed up with each other, to say nothing of members of other religions. The past and the present are full of evidence to that effect [IV, 31].

So how do we make sense of these two seemingly contradictory passages, one which foresees fighting (and killing) “the Jews” and the other which outlines the possibility of peaceful coexistence? On the one hand, we could argue that both passages mean what they seem to mean and that the charter is simply incoherent, wildly incoherent, essentially the work of someone with multiple personality disorder. But this view seems incredibly improbable. The charter, though morally reprehensible at times, is certainly not illogical.

So instead we must try to reconcile the two passages. The most logical way to do this is to understand that when the first passage speaks of “the Jews” it can’t mean all Jews but rather those Zionists who, in Hamas’ view, refuse to return Palestine to the Palestinian people. As stated in the charter, this is the ultimate goal of Hamas, to return Palestine to the Palestinian people. After World War II, let’s recall, there were twice as many Arabs as Jews in Palestine. But then in 1947 the UN voted to give 55% of the land to the Zionists; the following year, 750,000 Arabs fled their homes as a result of war and were subsequently prevented from returning by the newly-formed Israeli government. So the stated goal of Hamas is simply to right this wrong, not to kill the Jews, but to force Israel to give the Palestinians their land back.

The second passage makes it clear that Hamas doesn’t mind Jews living in Palestine; again, it simply wants to right the wrongs of 1947 and 1948. But realizing that Israel will not right these wrongs on its own accord, Hamas feels it has no choice but to fight “the Jews,” or at least those Zionists who refuse to grant justice to the Palestinians. Once these Zionists are defeated, once Palestine is “liberated,” then there can be peace and those Jews who want to stay and live under this new Muslim government will be free to do so.

Now I’m certainly not defending the charter. I wholly reject its promotion of violence, as well as its anti-Semitism (which finds its clearest articulation in III.22). I’m just pointing out that it obviously doesn’t call for the “worldwide extermination of the Jews.”

I should also point out that Hamas has since evolved, a point which is often ignored in the Western media. For obvious reasons, most Israelis found its 1988 charter unacceptable. But over the past few years the organization has radically moderated many of its positions—for instance, gradually resigning itself to a two-state settlement. The International Crisis Group began chronicling this transformation in its 2004 report Dealing With Hamas and followed up on it with its 2006 report Enter Hamas: The Challenges of Political Integration.

And since then the situation has only improved. After its 2006 parliamentary victory, for instance, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh indicated that Hamas would be willing to recognize Israel, and last month Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told the Wall Street Journal that Hamas would accept a peace agreement with Israel provided it merely agreed to a prisoner swap and complied with international law. (It’s also significant, I think, that Hamas Health Minister Bassem Naeem has publicly condemned the Holocaust.)

Now this all seems very promising to me. It’s just a shame that the Israeli government doesn’t seem willing to sit down and negotiate with the Palestinians. And it’s a shame that so much of this debate is being fueled by faleshood and irrational fear.

August 14, 2009

Why again have we spent $200 billion in Afghanistan?

Oh, that’s right, to give them freedom.

From Human Rights Watch:

(New York) - Afghanistan's influential international supporters should insist that President Hamid Karzai act to amend the notorious law that formalizes discrimination against Shia women, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch learned today that the amended bill was published in the official Gazette on July 27, 2009 (Gazette 988), bringing the law into force.

"Karzai has made an unthinkable deal to sell Afghan women out in return for the support of fundamentalists in the August 20 election," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "So much for any credentials he claimed as a moderate on women's issues."

A copy of the final law seen by Human Rights Watch shows that many regressive articles remain, which strip away women's rights that are enshrined in Afghanistan's constitution. The law gives a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey his sexual demands. It grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. It requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying "blood money" to a girl who was injured when he raped her.

Read the rest of the article