Saturday, September 30, 2006

A true message of Islam

One will not find a true message of Islam from an al-Qaeda tape. People like al-Zawahari ignore the truth because it would get in the way of their terrorist agenda.

From the Quran (emphasis added):

4:29 O ye who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: But let there be amongst you Traffic and trade by mutual good-will: Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves...

4:92 Never should a believer kill a believer; but (If it so happens) by mistake, (Compensation is due): If one (so) kills a believer, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased's family, unless they remit it freely.

4:93 If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever): And the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.

How can al-Zawahari and those who follow his lead even pretend to be Muslims given their suicide bombings and daily murders of Muslims in Iraq?

Al-Qaeda has hijacked more than planes. They've hijacked a religion, and are preventing, for now, the truth of that faith from being fully understood and realized. We can only hope that the true Muslims will be able to take back their faith, just as has been done in other religions over time.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Left Incredulous by the Hypocrisy

Al Qaeda No. 2: Bush a liar, 'spiller of Muslim blood'

Thursday in Iraq there were 60 bodies found on the streets of Baghdad. They were all tortured and executed because of the Islamic group (Sunni or Shia) that they belonged to. None of them were killed by Bush or the troops under his command.

CNN reported yesterday that the leading cause of death in Baghdad is execution-style murder. These are Muslims killing other Muslims.

As a point of fact, the raging sectarian violence in Iraq was intentionally started by the then-leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Zarqawi.

President Bush has received criticism- here and elsewhere- for his failed policy in Iraq, and the death and danger it has caused. He has deserved that criticism and more.

That said, the Muslim world needs to show the same sort of outrage (w/o the violence) against the slaughter of Muslims by other Muslims that they save for cartoons of the Prophet or comments by the Pope.

If I thought that Ayman al-Zawahiri's comments didn't play in the Muslim world, I wouldn't even make note of them. They do, however. People- too many- do listen to such radical nonsense and do accept it as true.

The Bush Administration has blood on it's hands because of it's Iraq invasion. No question.

But Al-Qaeda is covered from head to toe in blood for what it has done in Iraq and elsewhere that has caused the death of Muslims. No question.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

From my inbox...

By behaving as though other people are as important as yourself, you could "close the gap between Heaven and Earth" and become a divine force for good in the world.
~ Karen Armstrong

Added to my personal boycott list

Ann Coulter. Glenn Beck. Nancy Grace.

Now add Michael Savage.

On the September 21 edition of his nationally syndicated talk show, Michael Savage claimed that the "average prostitute" is "more reliable and more honest than most U.S. senators wearing a dress." As Media Matters for America documented, Savage recently stated that the U.S. Senate "is more vicious and more histrionic ... specifically because women have been injected into [it]."

SAVAGE: I have more respect for a crack dealer than I do for some of these politicians. They're up front about it. I have more respect for a prostitute than I do for most senators. You take an average prostitute, let's say, in a city. Probably they're more reliable and more honest than most U.S. senators wearing a dress.

Listen here, if you wish.

Come to think of it, the name Savage rather fits. Perhaps Neanderthal would be better.


Great Quote

Source: Andrew Sullivan

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent," - Isaac Asimov.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Democracy in Iraq?

The people are speaking. Is our government willing to listen?

Most Iraqis Want US Troops Out Within a Year
Say US Presence Provoking More Conflict Than it is Preventing
Approval of Attacks on US-led Forces Rises to 6 in 10

A new WPO poll of the Iraqi public finds that seven in ten Iraqis want US-led forces to commit to withdraw within a year. An overwhelming majority believes that the US military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing...

A large majority of Iraqis—71%—say they would like the Iraqi government to ask for US-led forces to be withdrawn from Iraq within a year or less. Given four options, 37 percent take the position that they would like US-led forces withdrawn “within six months,” while another 34 percent opt for “gradually withdraw[ing] US-led forces according to a one-year timeline.” Twenty percent favor a two-year timeline and just 9 percent favor “only reduc[ing] US-led forces as the security situation improves in Iraq.”

Well, they were promised 'democracy and freedom' by President Bush. Is he willing to truly give it to them?

Apparently the Iraqis recognize what President Bush refuses to admit, and too few Americans are willing to acknowledge- that the US occupation of Iraq provokes more terrorism than it prevents. The Iraqis cannot possibly stick their heads in the sand on this as Americans can. There are too many bodies to ignore.

So, what if a 'free' Iraq doesn't want us there? Did President Bush mean that sort of democracy?


Absence of Conscience

Well, my 'Conscience Republicans' hopes did not materialize. Neither did my 'Conscience Democrats' hopes. Both sides simply played election year politics. Neither was guided by a moral compass.

The Democrats mostly sat out the debate on the President's torture proposals. Every once in a while someone fired a political shot, but I've heard nothing of any real efforts to hold our nation to the highest moral standards.

The 'Conscience' Republicans turned out to be rather spineless. It looks as if their 'deal' is to simply maintain the status quo. The President may not get to re-define Geneva, but the Congress is failing to identify what is currently being done to detainees (waterboarding, hypothermia treatment, etc.) as a violation of law, which it is, and as morally wrong, which it also is. The 'deal' is an abandonment of principle.

Both sides have failed.

Both sides deserve our scorn. I suppose we'll have to settle for Stephen Colbert mocking them.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NIE Declassified

Portions of the National Intelligence Estimate that has made news can now be read as they are now declassified. It appears the entire document is not declassified, however. So, while the President says that the leaking of the NIE was political- and, quite frankly, that is almost certainly true- we also have to consider the fact that releasing some but not all of the NIE is also likely political. Whatever is held back is very possibly kept from public eyes to protect that Administration. Sure some things would remain classified to protect 'sources and methods', but it's hard to know for sure what else may have been withheld.

In the document (it's only 4 pages, so you can read the whole document easily here) sections that relate to Iraq and the news of the past couple of days:

United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations; however... [w]e also assess that the global jihadist movement—which includes al-Qa’ida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells—isspreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts.

We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
• The Iraq conflict has become the .cause celebre. for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.

Al-Qa’ida, now merged with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.

The President denies that Iraq has made the world more dangerous. It's pretty clear his intelligence leaders don't agree.


Monday, September 25, 2006

A "Deal" Regarding Torture?

I haven't had an opportunity to truly digest the 'deal' that appears to be brewing between the Bush Administration and members of Congress, but I am concerned about reports of a 'deal.'

I thought that when it came to the issue of torture- a basic moral issue- that there was right, and then there was wrong. Torture is wrong. Where is the room to make a deal?

If practices such as waterboarding, hypotermia treatment, beatings, and prolonged stress positions are not wrong, then nothing is wrong (to borrow from Abraham Lincoln's comment on slavery).

If we claim the right to define for ourselves what constitutes humane treatment under Geneva, then how can we object if other nations do the same? And how can we look our soldiers in the eyes if they end up tortured?


A World Less Safe

The New York Times has reported some details from a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)created by individuals within the government's intelligence agencies that confirms what I have believed and argued about Iraq from the very beginning: President Bush's decision to invade Iraq has made us less safe rather than more safe.

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

[The report] asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastisized and spread across the globe.

The report 'says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,' said one American intelligence official.

All of this is in direct contradiction to statements from the White House about the war in Iraq and about how they have 'degraded' al-Qaeda.

When added to the recent dishonesty regarding the use of torture, the terms 'credibility' and 'Bush Administration' have become completely incompatible.

I do not see any credible argument to challenge the notion that the Bush Administration has been anything short of a disaster in terms of American foreign policy. The evidence is coming in too clearly. Our nation's reputation has been severly damaged. Our security has been compromised.

President Bush has presided over a government which has condoned torture as a tactic to 'protect your family,' and now this NIE has made it clear that not only has he failed to do that, he has actually heightened the risk we face by providing radical Islamist with the greatest recruitment tool they could ever hope for. With his incomplete effort to deal with a terrorist state in Afghanistan (read this article which describes a resurgent Taliban) and his failure in Iraq- not a failure of execution, but a complete failure in policy- we now are in a more hazardous world than we were in 5 years ago, and one where not only is the Taliban resurgent in Afghanistan, but Iraq has become the new Afghanistan.

We must endure two more years of this sort of devastating decision making. And as a history teacher, I will be forced to relive it for decades. A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly said that the true measure of how bad a president has been is how long it takes to recover from his mistakes. I fear we have a long, slow, and perhaps painful recovery ahead of us.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Been away

Been away on a camp out with my son's scout troop. The Grey Pilgrim doesn't like sleeping on the ground much, and likes it less in the rain, but a good time was had by all.

I've been away from TV and internet connections, so I'm out of touch with the news. I don't know what's going on with the 'deal' over treatment/trial of detainees, the Pope's meeting with Muslim envoys, or anything else.

But, that's a good thing, once in a while. Henry David Thoreau wrote once how we- and here he seems to have been looking forward in time to me- focus to much on the 'news' and not enough on the life immediately in front of us. It's easy to lose balance. A little time in a tent for me- like a little time in a cabin on Walden Pond for Thoreau- perhaps restores the balance.

So, I'll savor that, and save the headlines for tomorrow.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pat Robertson's Prophesy

How fitting that on International Peace Day I find that Pat Robertson would predict the following:

"[A] holy war between Islam and Christianity" is "going to come"

From the September 19 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club:
ROBERTSON: When somebody gives the clear, historic record and just says, "Let's have a dialogue," that person is set up for death. And now we understand the leaders of Al Qaeda are calling for a holy war between Islam and Christianity. It's going to come, ladies and gentlemen, and I hope that those of you who care about this pope will support him. He's a wonderful man.

If people like Robertson keep stoking the fires, well, it may well happen.

I would think that a 'man of the cloth' would place greater faith in the promotion of peace than the prophesy of war.

I don't have the video to the segment above, but if you follow the link, you can watch it at media matters. But that clip isn't unique to Robertson.

Here he shows his hostility to Islam by comparing it to Hitler and Nazism.

And here he demonstrates his ignorance of the Quran.

Just another example of a public figure who unnecessarily, and ignorantly, antagonizes Muslims, and thus fueling the anger that lies at the heart of terrorism.

To have peace, we must be peace. Insulting our Muslim brothers and sisters is no way to be peace.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Radical Over-reaction

I've said I think the Pope made a mistake in what he said regarding Islam. And I can understand why Muslims are upset. But... killing a nun? And now this-

An Iraqi insurgent group threatened the Vatican with a suicide attack over the Pope’s remarks, according to a statement posted yesterday on the Web.

“We swear to God to send you people who adore death as much as you adore life,” said the message posted in the name of the Mujahedeen Army on a Web site frequently used by militant groups. The message’s authenticity could not be independently verified. The statement was addressed to “you dog of Rome” and threatens to “shake your thrones and break your crosses in your home.”

This is an example of the hate that fanaticism produces. It's also an example of how radical Islamists don't even understand the faith they pretend to be defending.


A couple of blogs to examine

I've recently found a couple of blogs that people interested in religious issues may be interested in.

One is called "God's Politics." It's from Jim Wallis at Sojourners- the author of a book entitled- surprise, surprise- God's Politics (I've linked to it at Amazon because I've actually read it and think it's pretty good). This week the blog has featured a debate between Ralph Reed (who may be trying to resurrect his image as a religious thinker after being tainted by crude money-politics in the Jack Abramoff scandal) and Jim Wallis.

Another is called "Imitatio Christi." I don't know anything about the people behind this one, but on an initial glance, it looks like it warrants attention.

Give them a look, when you get a chance.


A Comparison

Listen to the double-talk and evasions in this response to the topic of torture by the President, and compare it to the quote below in the preceding post. Who would you like setting the standards for just treatment?

Notice how the President's call for clarity produces anything but clarity.

I think it is important that we listen to the President's words, and hear clearly what he is saying. Then we can understand why the 'Conscience' members of Congress are so important.

General standards of human rights apply to the people of all countries because, regardless of their cultural background, all humans share an inherent yearning for freedom, equality and dignity. Democracy and respect for fundamental human rights are as important to Africans and Asians as they are to Europeans and Americans.

HH Dalai Lama
[Emphasis added. GP]

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bush Needs Geneva Redefinition

In an earlier post I argued that President needed to redefine Geneva to cover-up for mistreatment of detainees.

On MSNBC constitutional lawyer John Turley offers a very similar analysis. Watch his devastating analysis.


"We don't torture...

... we outsource that to Syria."

Canadian was falsely accused
Muslim held by U.S. was sent to Syria for interrogation

Canadian intelligence officials passed false warnings and bad information to American agents about a Muslim Canadian citizen, after which U.S. authorities secretly whisked him to Syria, where he was tortured, a judicial report found Monday.

[Maher Arar] was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan -- where he never has been -- and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found.

The article goes on to provide more information about CIA 'renditions' and possible abuses- including Italian efforts to prosecute CIA members.

The President's statements about not using torture and acting withing the law now can be said to be completely exposed as falsehoods. This exposure is devastating to any US claim to moral leadership and gives more aid and comfort to our 'enemies' than any war critic ever could.

This article also shows why it is so necessary for 'Conscience' members of Congress to reign in the President and his desires for expansive authority. He simply cannot be trusted with it.


Monday, September 18, 2006

When rage becomes murderous

In an earlier post I indicated that I thought the Pope had made a mistake in his speech regarding Islam, but said that the sorts of violent protest we witnessed in reaction to the cartoons in the Danish press would be uncalled for. Well...

Italian nun slain in Somalia, speculation of Pope link

Gunmen shot and killed an Italian nun at a children's hospital in Mogadishu on Sunday in an attack that drew immediate speculation of links to Muslim anger over the Pope's recent remarks on Islam.

She was shot three times in the back.

Such violence is absolutely outrageous. The fact that there are those in the leadership of Muslim communities who stoke the anger of people during such controversies does not bode well for the future of the Islamic faith, or for relations between people of different faiths.

If the Pope's words were wrong, how much more evil are the actions of those who would shoot a nun in the back at a children's hospital?


Power Corrupts...

... and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

An old lesson, but one not always heeded.

In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.
(Source: Religion News Blog)

Before we allow ourselves to think that all of these 14,000 held without assurances of humane treatment and anything that resembles due process of law are criminal terrorists, we must remember that unknown numbers of them may have done nothing wrong at all. Remember, it is due process that determines whether a criminal activity has occurred. Even the government has, at unguarded moments, admitted its errors.

Seventy to 90 percent of the Iraq detentions in 2003 were 'mistakes,' U.S. officers once told the international Red Cross.

Others have been released from Gitmo with no charges filed against them. More 'mistakes,' apparently.

Through its use of secret prisons, double-talk about torture, and the periodic disclosures of actual torture despite denials, the US is confirming a stereotype of it held by too many people of the Middle East.

The Congress of the United States has an opportunity to reverse this trend by rejecting President Bush's proposals for the treatment and trial of detainees. 'Conscience' Republicans like Warner, McCain, and Graham have stood up to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld blitz. Democrats have held- at least in committee- relatively solid on a partisan basis. If people of conscience on Capital Hill act, then, slowly, the US may begin again to provide moral leadership in the world.

The Congress must stand on conscience now, for too much damage could be done over the final two years of this Administration if they fail to do so. Our nation cannot wait for a new president to bring a new moral climate. Congress must change the moral climate NOW.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Pope and Islam 3

Pope ‘deeply sorry’ for comments on Islam

“These (words) were in fact a quotation from a Medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought,” Benedict told pilgrims at his summer palace outside Rome.

Right now, I think we can do little except take the Pope at his word. He says the views quoted aren't his. It is unclear to me why he would have chosen to quote them.

I also have to admit, I'm generally a little suspicious of 'apologies' for statements of this sort. When Pat Robertson said, after 9/11, that it was some sort of divine retribution for American sins (homosexuality, etc.). After an uproar, he apologized. He followed the same pattern when he made statements seeming to support the assassination of Pres. Chavez of Venezuela. What do these apologies mean? He said it. He thought it. He must have meant it.

I can see apologies when one expresses a thought poorly, leading to a misunderstanding. Most of these types apologies strike me more as, "I'm sorry I got caught" apologies.

Perhaps the Pope's is different. He says the views he quoted aren't his. Perhaps his apology falls into the 'unartful statement' category. Perhaps he just wasn't clear in what he was trying to say.

But, he has thrown himself under a cloud of suspicion in the Muslim world- and not just the radical Islamist world. If his heart is right on our Muslim brothers and sisters, then this will pass.


Pope and Islam 2

By chosing to quote this passage, and not explicitly contradict it the Pope did substantial harm to any effort to create brotherhood:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

This was a serious mistake. And, as I said in the previous post, it either shows a serious lapse in judgement on his part, or it is a sign of real bias.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pope and Islam (Preliminary)

I've been following the stories in the past couple of days about the uproar regarding the Pope's speech in Germany. I haven't had a chance to read the speech yet, so I'm not ready to express much of an opinion, except to say two things:

1. By quoting extenisively from a source that seems pretty clearly to have been hostile to Islam, the Pope at minimum made a mistake, and at worst demonstrated a real bias.

2. Any violence or destruction along the lines of what happened when the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed were published would be completely uncalled for and unacceptable. We do not need to repeat that ugliness.

Tensions are high, and I would hope that public figures- secular and religious- would use great care in chosing their words in order to not increase the strain.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Another 'Conscience' Nominee

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine).

She voted w/ McCain, Graham, and Warner on the Armed Services Committee to block the President's measure (or, more accurately, to support McCain's alternative).

Nice to see the list grow.
(Original 'Conscience' post here.)


School Shooting Prevented

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, disaster was avoided.

Two young men were arrested who had stored up "... nine rifles and shotguns, a handgun, about 20 "crudely made" explosive devices, camouflage clothing, gas masks, two-way radios and hundreds of rounds of ammunition ..." were arrested today, according to news reports (see here for an example).

In an earlier post, I remarked that if we demonstrated our concern for young people in a very tangible way, that they would be more likely to reach out to us when there was danger of some sort of attack at school.

In Green Bay, someone did the job. A student stepped forward. "If someone hadn't come forward, we'd be talking about funerals instead of charges," said Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski. Authorities have made it clear that the 'someone' was a student.

I'm very happy for that school and community that, despite all the pressures that may have prevented a student from coming forward, an adult- and some of the reports I've read imply it was an adult at the school- presented that child with the means to do the right thing. Authorities have called the child a hero. Rightly so. Heroes also are the adults who created the environment that made that child feel comfortable in coming forward.


'Conscience' Nomination

I don't know his political party, but for bucking the Administration's military policy a nomination for...

Retired Major General John Batiste.

He says:

"This country abides by the rules of war. Period. Period."
"We must maintain the moral high ground."

See the video of his interview on CNN's American Morning (below or here).

(Original post on 'Conscience Republicans' here)

President attempts to globalize 'signing statements'

Long ago I criticized the Bush Administration's use of 'signing statements' to create some sort of legal cover for the Administration to fail to 'faithfully execute' the laws passed by Congress and signed by the President.

I see the effort by the President to have the Congress 'clarify' the Geneva Conventions on humane treatment of prisoners as a similar strategy to his use of signing statements and his redefinition of the word 'torture'.

Apparently President Bush believes that as the 'decider' of how best to protect the American people that our current understandings of justice and humanity are no longer good enough. He wants to be able to substitute definitions that are more suited to his immediate goals.

Moral leadership cannot be built of shifting rhetorical sands. If America wishes to spread freedom and democracy around the world, then this nation must demonstrate what is best and most moral about our institutions to the world. There is no better way to provide such a demonstration than to uphold the highest standards of justice for those who have declared themselves the mortal enemies of the US. We can provide moral clarity for ourselves and the world by extending to those individuals who are involved in terrorism the very protections they would deny to us.

When the Puritans came to America, they sought to be a 'City on a Hill.' Their goal was to provide leadership by example, not coercion. As they failed to live up to this goal- through their violence towards Native Americans, Quakers, Anglicans, and even each other- they failed also to be the shining example that would lead people in the direction they thought was right.

If we fail to shine forth as an example of the very best moral principles that democracy and freedom can offer, then our disappointment will be as great as that of the Puritans. Except the stakes are so much higher.


"Conscience" Republicans

In the years before the Civil War, America tore itself apart politically (before it tore itself apart geographically) over the issue of slavery. Political parties split. Some didn't survive.

Amongst the Whig party- the party that Abraham Lincoln originally saw as his- this split proved fatal. The Whigs split between 'Southern' Whigs, who were proslavery, and 'Northern' Whigs who were at least opposed to the spread of slavery, if not actually abolitionists. These 'Northern' Whigs were often referred to as Conscience Whigs.

Today, we may be seeing the development of the 'Conscience' Republicans.

The President is pushing for legislation which would allow for military tribunals to try terrorism suspects, and for legislation that would allow him broad latitude for his wireless wiretapping program (which was recently declared a violation of the Constitution by a federal court).

The Conscience Republicans are refusing to go along. The believe the President's proposals are at best a threat to the US position in the world and the overall effort to deal with terrorism.

This is a blow to the White House mid-term election strategy ('The Threat is Always Greatest Before an Election'). The White House would like to put the "War on Terror" rather than the Iraq War on the front pages, and paint the Democrats as soft on terror. Conscience Republicans muddy the waters and make this a hard sell for the White House.

Among the Conscience Republicans I have seen: McCain, Sen. Warner of VA, Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Sec. of State Colin Powell. (See Powell's letter here.)

I'm sure there are others, because such a small number would not be causing the Administration such difficulties.

Do you know of others? I'll happily take nominations for the 'Conscience Republican Party.'

It takes courage to follow conscience over party. After all, following conscience killed the Whigs, cost the Republicans the election of 1912, and may even have cost the Democrats the White House in the last election (with Nader bleeding off Kerry supporters). It's not an easy choice.

The people who make the choice (even if we don't agree with them in some cases) deserve our admiration for doing so.



Life is swept along,
next-to-nothing its span.
For one swept to old age
no shelters exist.
Perceiving this danger in death,
one should drop the world's bait
and look for peace.

Samyutta Nikaya II

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Read my lips..."

"... we torture."

Watch the video (below or here). Look at his body language and defensiveness.

He says 'we act within the law' but simply dismisses anyone who says the governments actions don't conform to the law, and uses and ends-justify-the-means argument that he's protecting Matt Lauer's family.

He won't deny waterboarding- that's torture.

He won't really answer the question as to whether he knew of and approved methods used in the secret prisons.

I never watch the morning shows, but there's no question that Matt Lauer deserves some credit on this one.

The President's words say no torture...

but his body language and the photographic evidence lead me to think otherwise.


'Afghanistan in danger of unravelling'

It's still somewhat beyond my comprehension how we in the US can feel anything other than complete embarrassment over the fact that our government has- in a mere 5 years- been responsible for two such monumental failures as the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today in Iraq, at least 60 dead bodies turned up on the street- the victims of death squads. In addition, at least 24 people died in bombings. There is no security in that nation, and that failure lies squarely at the feet of the US government.

Attracting less attention is the failure in Afghanistan, which is reverting to it's warlord and opium past. We are also seeing that the Taliban is still there and capable of mounting periodic attacks on the troops that are there.

The situation is bad enough in Afghanistan that it is even beginning- just barely- to break through the wall to wall coverage of the all imporant seating of Katie Couric at CBS News, the movement of Merideth Vieira to the Today Show, and the celebrity babies for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, and Britney Spears.

In the UK, a bit more attention is paid. From the Independent:

US and British strategy in Afghanistan was in danger of unravelling last night after appeals for Nato partners to volunteer more troops fell on deaf ears.

Tony Blair joined Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, in warning that Afghanistan could become a "failed state" unless Nato members provide more troops to combat the resurgent Taliban forces.

Their appeal to Nato countries meeting in Mons, Belgium, produced no immediate promises of extra troops.

This is a triple failure for the Rumsfeld doctrine. Failure one is that, once again, we see that the approach of sending a minimum number US troops results in instability rather than success. Failure two is the result of the fact that because the US military is up to its neck in Iraq, it cannot put more troops on the ground in Afghanistan to create security and stability. Finally, failure three is found in the fact that given the debacle in Iraq, other nations don't want to touch a military policy formulated (or, if you prefer, get involved in a mess caused) by the US government.

I've been watching some of the primaries around the country and listening to the various campaigns, and it appears that this election is, in some ways and in at least a fair number of places, turning in to a referendum on the war in Iraq. Well, it's just too late for that. The real question is...

What now?


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Reason Bush Needs Military Tribunals?

From the Washington Post on Sept. 10th:

Worried CIA Officers Buy Legal Insurance
Plans Fund Defense In Anti-Terror Cases

The new enrollments reflect heightened anxiety at the CIA that officers may be vulnerable to accusations they were involved in abuse, torture, human rights violations and other misconduct, including wrongdoing related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. ... The White House contends the methods were legal, but some CIA officers have worried privately that they may have violated international law or domestic criminal statutes.

As part of the administration's efforts to protect intelligence officers from liability, Bush ... asked Congress to bar federal courts from considering lawsuits by detainees who were in CIA or military custody that allege violations of international treaties and laws governing treatment of detainees.

It's beginning to sound to me like the Bush Administration may really need military tribunals for any trials that might take place in order to avoid thorough exploration of the treatment of people detained at Guantanamo Bay and in the CIA 'secret prisons' that the President has admitted exist. If it were so clear that torture did not happen, as the President insists, then why do CIA operatives feel the need for insurance policies? Why does the President believe it is necessary to protect the CIA against lawsuits- to the point of asking Congress to completely bar such lawsuits?

I actually fear the revelations that may come at some point from the conduct of this Administration and its treatment of detainees. The efforts being undertaken to prevent information from coming to light makes me suspect that the President has good reason to keep that information under wraps- he hasn't told us the truth.


A Hate Crime?

A follow up to the post 'Unnecessary Provocation' below.

If someone had hung an effigy of an orthodox Jew outside a synagogue, or of an African-American outside of an AME Church in the south, wouldn't that have been considered a hate crime in the US?

Shouldn't it be when done outside a mosque as well? Is there really any moral difference?


Potentially interesting book

Former Senator Danforth is an Episcopal priest and he has written a book entitled Faith and Politics. Sounds like an interesting read. What sounds interesting about it to me is that he appears to do some real soul searching. Not a typical political memoir- which are generally about an effort to influence history with self-justifications.

There's a Newsweek article about the book at MSNBC. You can also find an excerpt from the book there.

A couple of quotes that show the potential in the book to me:

Real faith is about searching for answers, not presuming to know them, he says, and "an assumption that ... I am God's chosen messenger to deliver a certain political message is divisive."

Christians have a choice between reconciliation and divisiveness. Those who have chosen the latter course are getting all the attention. They are the talking heads of television, the subjects of magazine articles, the forces in American political life. In getting media attention, they have the advantage of clear positions, certainty that they possess the truth and the natural attraction of a confrontational style. By contrast, people seem boring who believe that the ministry of Christians is reconciliation.

I'm hoping to get a chance to look at this book. The school year is a tough time for me to do reading that's not directly related to my classes, however. So, if you look at it first, send me a message.


Monday, September 11, 2006


In some parts of the Buddhist tradition there is a word, Metta, which represents undertaking to send feelings of loving-kindness in the direction of others.

Today this is my objective for all of the people who were touched so deeply the the 9/11 attacks 5 years ago.

Earlier today I saw a picture of a little girl who was observing a moment of silence at the ceremony in New York this morning. She had lost her mother- I believe the caption said her mother had been in the NYPD- on that horrible day. She looked to be around 10 years old.

My heart goes to her and to all who have suffered so cruelly over the last 5 years because of the heartless attacks on 9/11.



The Gospel of Wealth

There's an interesting article from Time (find the article here) magazine in which they explore the recent phenonmenon of preachers and churches that may be loosely grouped together as the 'Prosperity Theology' churches.

To me, it sounds like a lot of these megachurch pastors are simply trying to justify their expensive suits and fancy homes.

For them to take a verse like John 10:10 ("I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly") and twist it into a justification of using religion for riches seems quite a stretch when there are so many more specific examples in the New Testament of Jesus and his followers suggesting that we put aside worldly goods and pursuits to focus on the spiritual.

It seems to me quite clear, just in a practical sense, that we cannot serve both God and the dollar.

If the mega-pastors keep feeding people their message to the contrary, then the dollars will keep rolling in, and those pastors will continue to live in luxury. Will the people in the pews be so lucky? Or is 'Prosperity Theology' really only properity for the preacher?


Unnecessary provocation

I have repeatedly pointed out on this blog actions or events which I believe produce heightened hostility and tension between Muslims and the rest of America. There is no peace to be found by antagonizing the Muslim community in our nation, or elsewhere in the world. Here's just another example of a counter-productive demonstration from MSNBC.

Mock hanging of bin Laden held near mosque

Activists protesting radical Islam conducted a mock hanging of Osama bin Laden across the street from a mosque on the eve of the anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks. With a crowd of about 100 people shouting "Remember 9-11!" and "No more Jihad!" two men on the back of a pickup truck Sunday slipped a noose around the neck of a dummy wearing a bin Laden mask and strung it up, while the crowd pelted the effigy with shoes.

About 70 counter-protesters described the mosque as a peaceful center for area Muslims and yelled "Racists go home!" during the ritual. A group of clergy joined hands with some of the mosque's worshippers and stood in a circle in front of the mosque. "I think it's crazy," said mosque spokesman Usman Madha. "We have never encouraged extremism. We were the first mosque that condemned the Sept. 11 atrocities and we kicked out a few people that protested that condemnation."

Now I cannot corroborate the claims of the mosque spokesman about their position on terrorism, but I also have no evidence to the contrary. The article goes on to say that the 9/11 Commission believes that two of the highjackers 'visited' the mosque. Such a visit says absolutely nothing of whether they found support in the mosque- material or spiritual. Targeting this mosque with a protest seems completely without basis.

Furthermore, while some might argue that hanging effigies harkens back to the birth of our republic during the protests against Britain, I would argue that it calls to mind a more recent (and criminal) history- that of the lynching of African-Americans for nearly 100 years after the end of the Civil War. In that context, the mock hanging of bin Laden could easily be construed as threatening behavior, and likely racist as well.

I will continue to stress this point to all who may hear it: we will find greater security in reaching out to the Muslim community and drawing them in to the mainstream to the fullest extent possible than we will ever find by venting anger, encouraging stereotypes, and alienating people who could be our friends. I hope this is a message that will find an audience- and soon- so that we may be more likely to find peace in our communities.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pretty remarkable change in the 'Old Soviet Union'

Putin Marks Consecration Of Kaliningrad Cathedral

President Vladimir Putin hailed today's consecration of a newly built Russian Orthodox cathedral in Kaliningrad.

After all of the damage done to religion by the old USSR, it is amazing to see a Russian head of state recognizing religion in this way.

The fact that, after all the efforts, religion in Russia was not completely wiped out is a very positive sign for places like China, Vietnam, Cuba, etc. Some day all of these places may find room for people of faith, and, when that happens, perhaps the treatment of people in those places may more closely resemble their ideological rhetoric in terms of justice, fairness, and equality.

Sometimes we have to look hard, but there are positive developments out there in our world.


Friday, September 08, 2006

False Denial

The NY Times, using public documents, demonstrates that the President's statement that torture is not used against terror suspects is not all that it seems.

Mr. Bush described the interrogation techniques used on the C.I.A. prisoners as having been "safe, lawful and effective," and he asserted that torture had not been used. But the Bush administration has yet to make public the legal papers prepared by government lawyers that served as the basis for its determination that those procedures did not violate American or international law.

The president said the Department of Justice approved a set of aggressive interrogation practices for C.I.A. detainees in 2002 after milder ones proved ineffective on Abu Zubaydah, the first of the Qaeda leaders taken into custody.

Current and former government officials said that specific interrogation methods were addressed in a series of documents, including an August 2002 memorandum by the Justice Department that authorized the C.I.A.'s use of 20 interrogation practices.

The August 2002 document, which was leaked to reporters in 2004, said interrogation methods just short of those that might cause pain comparable to "organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death" could be allowable without being considered torture.

One prisoner is known to have died in Afghanistan after interrogation by a C.I.A. contract employee, but the agency has distanced itself from that episode, and the former employee was convicted on assault charges last month in federal court in North Carolina.

How is it possible that methods that are causing pain 'comparable' to organ failure and the impairment of bodily function could be considered anything less than torture? Death? Causing death in an interrogation is not torture?

What the President has done in his speech is positively Clintonesque. He has simply tried to define his behavior out of existence- or define it into respectability. His administration has written a definition of torture in such a manner as to keep what they are doing from meeting the definition. This, however, is so much worse than Clinton's wagging his finger at the American people ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman..."), as this is not about a private affair, but the public policy of our nation.

By sanctioning torture, this administration is weakening America's position in the world, damaging the cause of human rights in the world, and putting US soldiers at risk.

The word that I used the other day regarding the President's speech is still the only word that seems to fit: appalling.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Democrats rethinking religion?

Democrats Push for Own Religious Voice

With a leading poll showing only one in four Americans viewing the Democratic Party as friendly to religion, [David] Wilhelm and a broad-based group of Christian Democratic activists are starting an Internet effort to organize religious voters whose views might be compatible with Democrats.

The site,, will go online Tuesday and showcase theologians, party strategists, political leaders and bloggers in hopes of conducting a national discussion on politics and faith.

I'm generally not very interest in political party issues or in political organization. But I think there is a broader point in this article, and the article could signal an important development.

As the article points out later, the 'left' , in the words of Barack Obama, 'cannot abandon the field of religious discourse' and expect to be successful nationally. I believe he has been proven right in recent national elections.

There is a religious left in America, but they don't really have a home. Much of the political left in this country is hostile toward religious groups and arguments. I believe this is largely do to the issue of abortion. A key argument from the left- that the 'religious right' is attempting to 'force' their religious perspective on the rest of America- causes left leaning activists and politicians to be uncomfortable with religious dialogue in politics. To embrace religious groups and views would undermine a key argument- although not a very powerful one- of the 'pro-choice' crowd.

The religious left has a natural home in the Democratic party on issues of the environment, economic justice, and opposition to the unecessary use of war in foreign policy. But, the Democrats- at least those Democrats that seem to have overwhelming influence in the party organizations and in primary voting- are not willing or capable of reaching out to this religious left.

At times people have accused the Republicans of being a litmus test party on the issue of abortion. I'm not sure that the same argument would not apply to the Democrats. Can an anti-abortion (at least opposed to abortion as a method of birth control) Democrat rise through the party? It does not appear so- even if that Democrat is really a member of the religious left on all the other issues. So long as the Democrats continue to hold religion at arm's length, I do not believe they will, with any consistancy- be able to achieve national political success.

This is a weakness in the Democratic party. But, more important, because the religious left are left homeless, it is a weakness for the nation. If this weakness is overcome, it is to the good of the nation and our political process.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Additional Denial

More from CNN:

Though Bush said the United States never tortures suspects, "alternative" interrogation methods are used to glean information from them. These procedures "were tough, and they were safe and lawful and necessary," he said.

When it comes to justice and morality, there is no alternative.


An Admission-But Still In Denial

From CNN:

Bush: CIA kept terror suspects in secret prisons

President Bush on Wednesday for the first time acknowledged the use of secret CIA prisons outside U.S. borders to hold top suspects captured in the war on terrorism.

The CIA program has "saved innocent lives," the president said.

Bush said torture was not part of the program and he had not authorized any form of torture, saying American law forbids it.

Bush said locations of the prisons will remain secret.

While he admits the existence of the prisons, he conveniently avoids the subject of their legality (or illegality) under international law. Remember that we invaded Iraq because the refused to comply with UN declarations. We feel somehow that it is acceptable to hold others to international obligations, and yet ignore them ourselves.

He says torture is not used, but we've seen the pictures of torture in prisons in Iraq. How much confidence can we have regarding the secret locations?

He says the locations will remain secret, which I read as saying that "We're transferring some people out, but the facilities remain in place." The secret prison system is not closed.

President Bush somehow felt proud enough of this program to discuss it in a speech as we near mid-term elections.

The existence of these programs is not a matter of pride, but a national embarrassment- and another example of self-defeating policies. We cannot hold others to a higher standard than we will live up to. We cannot claim moral high-ground when we are hiding prisoners from our justice system, the world, and any possible opportunity to evaluate whether torture was in fact used. We cannot win the fight against terrorism when we fail to live to the basic standards of justice that we claim to represent to the world.

This admission by the President is appalling.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More of the same in Baghdad

From Informed Comment

33 bodies, most showing signs of torture, were found in the streets of Baghdad on Monday. The victims were likely victims of reprisal killings from the opposite branch of Islam.

12 Coalition troops have been announced killed in the past two days.

No progress. None on the horizon. Rumsfeld still on the job.


On God's Side??

Religion can never justify war, Pope says

ASSISI, Italy — Pope Benedict said Monday that religion should never be used as a justification for war and appealed to hundreds of religious leaders to use their faiths to bring about peace.

“No one is therefore permitted to use the motive of religious difference as a reason or pretext for bellicose behaviour toward other human beings,” Benedict said in a message that was read to 200 leaders of different faiths meeting in this central Italian town for a summit held every year since the late pope John Paul II started it 20 years ago.

Ahmad al-Tayyeb, rector of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's most important seat of learning, echoed the Pope's appeal to use religion as an instrument of peace.
“When the guides of humanity and the builders of human history turn their backs on religions and on their sublime philosophies, they become like a group of blind people who are incapable of guiding themselves, let alone others,” Mr. al-Tayyeb said, speaking in Arabic.

The headline mentions only the Pope, but I think it is a very important part of the story that a Muslim leader and the Pope agreed on the fundamental issue that the key purpose of religion is to promote peace, not war.

We criticize, rightly, the jihadist viewpoint that killing is justified by Allah. But here in the US many come to a very similar point of justifying war with religion.

During the Civil War in the US, both sides often claimed, in some way, that 'God is on our side.' Abraham Lincoln wisely said that the issue was whether 'We are on God's side.'

I have trouble seeing God as often on the side of war.

Both the Pope and Mr. al-Tayyeb do well to remind of us that.


Monday, September 04, 2006

What's it worth?

The value of your child's education, that is.

I'm not one of those teachers that complains about how much I get paid. I knew the score when I entered the profession. But I get a little annoyed by those who say teachers make too much- and get their summers off.

From the NY Times:

According to the American Federation of Teachers, the state with the highest average pay for teachers in 2003-04 was Connecticut, at $56,516; the lowest was South Dakota, at $33,236.
Or look at it this way: Pick a corporate chieftain — say,
Jeffrey R. Immelt of General Electric. He earns $15.4 million a year. Every single day — including Thanksgiving and Christmas — he makes almost what the average teacher does for a year of taming wild children, staying up nights planning lessons, and, really, helping to shape a generation.

Also from MSNBC:

Torii Hunter [pitcher for the Minn. Twins] has taken whining about money to a new level. After losing to the Yankees for the second time in three games, the Twins center fielder whined that, “The Yankees have a $200-million payroll, and we play for minimum wage.”

Let’s see. Hunter is making $10.75 million this year, which works out to $66,358 for each of the 162 games in the season.

Hunter makes $10,000 more per game than the teacher's in the highest paid state make per year (and remember he pitches only 1 out of every 4 or 5 games).

As we begin a new school year, value education, and do what you can to support it. That value and support will result in a better education for our children- and a better future.


Al-Qaeda is Not Islam

I read an article today which came from Reuters and has the headline:

Al-Qaeda: convert to Islam or suffer

Al-Qaeda called on non-Muslims especially in the United States to convert to Islam and abandon their 'misguided' ways or else suffer....

"To Americans and the rest of Christendom we say, either repent (your) misguided ways and enter into the light of truth or keep your poison to yourself and suffer the consequences in this world and the next," [Adam] Gadahn said in English.

To me this is a very clear example of how Al-Qaeda and other members of radical Islamist factions distort Islam, and convince many Americans, falsely, that Islam is a religion of coercion. The Quran says specifically that Islam is not to use force to cause people to convert.

'There is no compulsion in religion' (Sura 2:256).

This is just one way among many (such as prohibitions on suicide- which bombers use as a tactic- or prohibitions against killing other Muslims) that radical Islamists simply ignore because they conflict with the ideological agenda such radicals have.

My fear is that because the influence of radical Islamist ideals has grown, and because Americans are somewhat more focused on Islam in the world since 9/11/01, that Americans are getting a distorted vision of what Islam is about, and will fail to recognize and foster relationships with the moderate Muslims of this country and around the world.

As growing numbers of Americans begin to believe that the Bush policy of simply making war to stop terrorism is not working (see here and here), then perhaps we can begin to move, through the next presidential election, in the direction of policies that not only see justice for those who are terrorists, but also strengthen the position of moderates who oppose the terrorists as well. Movement in this direction may be a movement towards peace.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Good Cartoon and Photo

Rumsfeld's speech to the American Legion last week was just arrogant enough to deserve this...

...and a reminder of this...

Morally/Intellectually confused when your were shaking the hands of this 'fascist' in 1983, Mr. Rumsfeld? Did you forget about the history you said we'd forgotten last week when you had your Chamberlain moment- appeasing Saddam to defeat Iran?


No Progress

I see no signs of progress in Iraq, and no reason for optimism in the short term.

From CNN:

Pentagon: Cold-blooded carnage soaring in Iraq

Death squads and terrorists have ramped up attacks on civilians in Iraq, killing more than 1,600 people in cold-blooded "execution-style" slayings in July alone, a Pentagon report said Friday.

Iraqi casualties up 51 percent in June-August; attacks up 15 percent.

From the Washington Post:

Iraqi Hospitals Are War's New 'Killing Fields'
Medical Sites Targeted By Shiite Militiamen

Mounthir Abbas Saud, whose right arm and jaw were ripped off when a car bomb exploded six months ago, must have thought the worst was over when he arrived at Ibn al-Nafis Hospital, a major medical center here.

Instead, it had just begun. A few days into his recovery at the facility, armed Shiite Muslim militiamen dragged the 43-year-old Sunni mason down the hallway floor, snapping intravenous needles and a breathing tube out of his body, and later riddled his body with bullets, family members said.

Authorities say it was not an isolated incident.

More than 2,6oo American soldiers have died. An unknown number if Iraqis have died. Billions of dollars have been spent. Legitimate objectives (such as capturing Bin Laden) have been moved to the 'back burner.' And yet Iraq is not safe. In fact, it is getting less safe.

I'm neither morally or intellectually confused, Mr. Rumsfeld. The decision to invade Iraq was demonstrably bad. Your management of that invasion, worse.