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The Daily Journal: January 18, 2007

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The Dismal Discipline
Torture for Dummies

Plus ça change…

Torture is—has been—a sizzler of a topic. It’s the U.S. government’s new normal. It’s the passtime of choice from Bagram to Guantanamo for troops and interrogators who discovered sometime in 2002 that they’d been sold a false bill of goods called the “war on terror,” and so must find ways to justify their existence and while away the time entertainingly. Back home torture is the reactionaries’ big tool, even moral tool, in so-called ticking-bomb scenarios no matter how frequently and effectively those scenarios are shown to be as stupidly reasoned as they are unlikely. The issue has been front-page news to the extent that the Bush administration has spent millions of dollars in “public diplomacy” (the reigning euphemism for propaganda) to make us believe that its brand of torture is humane, a credit to its practitioners, a great service to its victims, and an absolute necessity in the “GWOT,” as the infantile acronym-lovers love to call their global war on us (terror is just the layover). The problem is that there’s never been such a thing as a study, let alone a set of studies, that might explore the question: does torture work? On Tuesday, on page 17 of its main news section—page 17!—the Washington Post reported on a new 374-page report by the Pentagon-funded National Defense Intelligence College that essentially says this: The U.S. government is clueless when it comes to torture. From the Post story:

There is almost no scientific evidence to back up the U.S. intelligence community's use of controversial interrogation techniques in the fight against terrorism, and experts believe some painful and coercive approaches could hinder the ability to get good information, according to a new report from an intelligence advisory group. The 374-page report from the Intelligence Science Board examines several aspects of broad interrogation methods and approaches, and it finds that no significant scientific research has been conducted in more than four decades about the effectiveness of many techniques the U.S. military and intelligence groups use regularly. Intelligence experts wrote that a lack of research could explain why abuse has been alleged at U.S. facilities in Afghanistan, Cuba and Iraq.

Note that indemnifying nuance in the very last sentence: lack of research could explain why abuse has been alleged, a sentence that should more plainly, more accurately read, lack of research could explain why torture has occurred, and why it continues. More worrisome: The report’s experts “find that popular culture and ad hoc experimentation have fueled the use of aggressive and sometimes physical interrogation techniques to get those captured on the battlefields to talk, even if there is no evidence to support the tactics' effectiveness. The board, which advises the director of national intelligence, recommends studying the matter.” And how does the Washington Post, the empire’s lead vocals, counter those popular perceptions? By burying the story on page 17. Don’t expect too much from the report itself though: It’s called “Educing Information: Interrogation: Science and Art,” thus using a word—educing-that even Alexander Theroux might be hesitant to use, especially in this context (you might “educe” an idea out of a reluctant student, you might “educe” plans to build a mall, you might “educe” no information whatsoever from the Bush administration’s trumped up statistics, but to call torture “educing information” has to be one of those new Pentagon lows in the annals of euphemisms). Using the word “art” in the title, in conjunction with torture, is a different kind of low.

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Out of Sight, Out of Budget
How to Eradicate Poverty By Ignoring It

In its slow, sure degradation into the two Americas John Edwards spoke about—an America by and for the rich, an America of everybody else—the idea of battling poverty appears on no agenda, because the agendas are driven by chambers of commerce and a political establishment living in a gated community of its own. Anti-poverty in the United States is euphemized in business’ favor as “opportunity” programs, as “enterprise zones.” Hunger is erased in favor of “food insecurity.” And the catch-all solution, if and when matters of poverty are turned into an issue, is lower taxes, less regulation, less government. Here we are into the third decade of that sort of minimalist approach (at least on behalf of social programs). And where are we exactly, if not on pace to return to that pre-New Deal era when the country was a Darwinian incarnation of economic survivalism for most—and government support for business? It’s odd to turn to the Manila Bulletin and find this lead headline: “Anti-poverty summit starts today.” So the story goes:

A two-day anti-poverty summit aimed at drawing up plans and strategies to reduce poverty incidence in the Luzon Urban Beltway, the country’s biggest super region, will open today, Jan. 18, at the Clark Museum, Clark Special Economic Zone, in Angeles City. The summit seeks to unify the efforts of various government agencies, basic sectors, private and business organizations and institutions involved in poverty reduction programs and implement a more focused parallel socio-economic program within the LUB starting this year up to 2010. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who will deliver the keynote address tomorrow, is expected to show the directions of her administration’s poverty alleviation program.” The full story…

When’s the last time an American president led an anti-poverty summit? The closest the current Dear Leader came to that was when the G-8 summit two years ago forced the issue. And where did that go? Here’s how the White House saw its way through poverty: “promoting economic freedom and entrepreneurship as key drivers of job creation and poverty reduction,” “developing local mortgage and municipal bond markets,” “increase lending and technical assistance for small businesses,” and my favorite—which has nothing to do with fighting poverty and everything to do with abetting corporate greed—“combat piracy and counterfeiting of intellectual property.” Not a word about actual direct aid to the poor, a concerted effort to make poverty an actual focus of national policy. But what crdibility would the administration have considering that the ranks of the uninsured, in sheer numbers, is now at a record in the United States, or that poverty has been nudging up every year except the last during the Bush administration, or that the gap between rich and poor has been widening? Maybe the Philippines could teach the Dear Leader something. If he knew where to find the Philippines on a map.

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Live and Let Die
The Disturbing Case of Mario Riccio

Piergiorgio Welby, who owes his death, gratefully, to Dr. Mario Riccio

From Peter Singer at Project Syndicate: “On December 21, an Italian doctor, Mario Riccio, disconnected a respirator that was keeping Piergiorgio Welby alive. Welby, who suffered from muscular dystrophy and was paralyzed, had battled unsuccessfully in the Italian courts for the right to die. After Riccio gave him a sedative and switched off the respirator, Welby said "thank you" three times to his wife, his friends, and his doctor. Forty-five minutes later, he was dead. Welby's request to die was widely publicized in Italy, where it led to heated debate. At the time of writing, it is unclear whether Riccio will be charged with any offense. At least one Italian politician has called for his arrest on a charge of homicide. Welby's death raises two questions, which need to be distinguished. One is whether a person has a right to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment. The other is whether voluntary euthanasia is ethically defensible. A patient's informed consent should be a prerequisite for all medical treatment, as long as the patient is a competent adult in a position to make a decision. Forcing medical treatment on a competent adult patient who does not want it is tantamount to assault. We may think that the patient is making the wrong decision, but we should respect his or her right to make it. That right is recognized in most countries, but not, apparently, in Italy. […] Riccio was doing what anyone should have been prepared to do for Welby, who was paralyzed and unable to implement his refusal of a burdensome medical treatment. […] Many countries recognize a legal right to refuse medical treatment. But only in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and the American state of Oregon are physicians permitted to assist a patient in ending his or her life by means other than withdrawing life-sustaining medical treatment. […] The Dutch know how voluntary euthanasia is practiced in their country, they know that legal euthanasia has improved rather than harmed their medical care, and they want the possibility of assistance in dying, if they should want and need it. Isn't that a choice that everyone should have?”

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The Doomsday Clock
Nuclear Threat to World ‘Rising’

For 60 years, it has depicted how close the world is to nuclear disaster. Today, scientists will move its hands forward to show we are facing the gravest threat in at least 20 years Rupert Cornwell in the UK Independent: Wednesday, “the Doomsday Clock, devised by the Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947 at the dawn of the nuclear age, will make official what most thinking citizens feel in their bones - that the world has edged closer to nuclear Armageddon than at any time since the most precarious moments of the Cold War in the early 1980s.” The clock had stood at seven to midnight since 2002, and had gone as far as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, its best year. Its worst year was 1953, when it was at two minutes to midnight. It was at three minutes to midnight in 1984. Oddly, no time recorded around the time of the Cuban missile crisis. “At the start of 2007,” the Independent writes, “The nuclear threat has also acquired an added and unquantifiable dimension, thanks to global warming - prompting the Bulletin to warn of a "Second Nuclear Age". The existing dangers could not be more obvious: the problem is where to start. What about Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, and the thinly veiled warnings from the undeclared but assumed nuclear power Israel that it will strike first to remove what it sees as an existentialist threat comparable to the Holocaust? Or the nuclear test last year by North Korea, a member of George Bush's "axis of evil", which could have neighbouring Japan and South Korea seeking protection with nuclear weapons of their own? Or the nuclear arsenal of unstable Pakistan, where Islamic extremists have staged several assassination attempts against President Pervez Musharraf? Or - perhaps the greatest danger of all - that having visited conventional terror on an unprecedented scale upon New York City on 11 September 2001, al-Qa'ida or some similar organisation will either get hold of a ready-made nuclear device or build one of its own, and then use it?”

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The Great White Father Writes
Jefferson Launches Lewis & Clark

On this day in 1803, Thomas Jefferson sent a secret letter to Congress asking for money to underwrite an expedition—what would come to be known as Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery. The United States still hadn’t officially bought the vast territory of Louisiana. That wouldn’t happen until April 30. But Jefferson knew the virtue of well-reasoned impatience. Congress approved the funds. Lewis & Clark set out on May 14, not to return until more than three years later, on September 23, 1806. Here’s the letter Jefferson sent Congress:

[…] The Indian tribes residing within the limits of the United States, have, for a considerable time, been growing more and more uneasy at the constant diminution of the territory they occupy, although effected by their own voluntary sales: and the policy has long been gaining strength with them, of refusing absolutely all further sale, on any conditions; insomuch that, at this time, it hazards their friendship, and excites dangerous jealousies and perturbations in their minds to make any overture for the purchase of the smallest portions of their land. A very few tribes only are not yet obstinately in these dispositions. In order peaceably to counteract this policy of theirs, and to provide an extension of territory which the rapid increase of our numbers will call for, two measures are deemed expedient. First: to encourage them to abandon hunting, to apply to the raising stock, to agriculture and domestic manufacture, and thereby prove to themselves that less land and labor will maintain them in this, better than in their former mode of living. The extensive forests necessary in the hunting life, will then become useless, and they will see advantage in exchanging them for the means of improving their farms, and of increasing their domestic comforts. Secondly: to multiply trading houses among them, and place within their reach those things which will contribute more to their domestic comfort, than the possession of extensive, but uncultivated wilds. Experience and reflection will develop to them the wisdom of exchanging what they can spare and we want, for what we can spare and they want. In leading them to agriculture, to manufactures, and civilization; in bringing together their and our settlements, and in preparing them ultimately to participate in the benefits of our governments, I trust and believe we are acting for their greatest good. […] Duty has required me to submit these views to the judgment of the Legislature; but as their disclosure might embarrass and defeat their effect, they are committed to the special confidence of the two Houses.

[…] The river Missouri, and the Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered desirable by their connexion with the Mississippi, and consequently with us. It is, however, understood, that the country on that river is inhabited by numerous tribes, who furnish great supplies of furs and peltry to the trade of another nation, carried on in a high latitude, through an infinite number of portages and lakes, shut up by ice through a long season. […] An intelligent officer, with ten or twelve chosen men, fit for the enterprise, and willing to undertake it, taken from our posts, where they may be spared without inconvenience, might explore the whole line, even to the Western Ocean, have conferences with the natives on the subject of commercial intercourse, get admission among them for our traders, as others are admitted, agree on convenient deposits for an interchange of articles, and return with the information acquired, in the course of two summers. Their arms and accoutrements, some instruments of observation, and light and cheap presents for the Indians, would be all the apparatus they could carry, and with an expectation of a soldier’s portion of land on their return, would constitute the whole expense. Their pay would be going on, whether here or there. While other civilized nations have encountered great expense to enlarge the boundaries of knowledge by undertaking voyages of discovery, and for other literary purposes, in various parts and directions, our nation seems to owe to the same object, as well as to its own interests, to explore this, the only line of easy communication across the continent, and so directly traversing our own part of it. The interests of commerce place the principal object within the constitutional powers and care of Congress, and that it should incidentally advance the geographical knowledge of our own continent, cannot be but an additional gratification. The nation claiming the territory, regarding this as a literary pursuit, which is in the habit of permitting within its dominions, would not be disposed to view it with jealousy, even if the expiring state of its interests there did not render it a matter of indifference. The appropriation of two thousand five hundred dollars, “for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States,” while understood and considered by the Executive as giving the legislative sanction, would cover the undertaking from notice, and prevent the obstructions which interested individuals might otherwise previously prepare in its way.

TH. Jefferson
Jan. 18. 1803.

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Billboard of the Day
Sniff-Sniff
An ad for Australia's version of the ASPCA, as seen in Melbourne; thanks to Cherry Flava & The Cool Hunter
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Crumbs & Quickies

In the Blogosphere

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