What's All This Then?

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Either we’re at war or we’re not. Let’s see. We invaded Iraq in 2003. Presumably that was an act of war even if there was no declaration. But the "war" was over in a matter of weeks. Total victory, after which we began an occupation that continues in some degree to this day. So it’s a little hard to consider our current Iraqi involvement as "being at war." But that’s what the current and previous administration calls it even though we don’t seem to be taking prisoners which is what you normally do when you are fighting a war.

We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 following the 9/11 attack, ostensibly to capture Osama Bin Laden and any Al-Qaeda members. We didn’t find Bin Laden but working with Afghan forces, we ousted the Taliban regime and then settled into still another kind of occupation during which we are trying to put down a never ending insurgency by the very same Taliban that apparently wasn’t entirely defeated , costing American lives on a regular basis and now we’re in the process of expanding our presence there at the same time as the president is telling us when our forces will be leaving.. I’m not sure what to call the state of our current Afghanistan involvement other than confusing, but President Bush called it a war and so does President Obama. I presume we take prisoners but I don’t know what they are called or where they are imprisoned and whether there is any program or protocol in place that would lead to their eventual freedom - as in the end of hostilities.

Then we have the "war on terror" which is really the "war" I’m questioning with the headline to this piece. Our enemies in this "war" are individuals who have performed or have attempted to perform acts of terror against us. Acts such as the attacks of 9/11/2001 and attempted acts, such as the now jailed "shoe bomber" and the now in custody "Christmas" or "underwear" bomber. These enemies apparently share a philosophy but not a nation. It is a "war" unlike any we have been engaged in in the past. And the question it poses is, when we capture someone who has committed or is about to commit an act of terror against us , how do we treat that individual? As a criminal or a prisoner of war?

Up to now, it seems that we have been using a mixture of both approaches. We have detained alleged terrorists at Guantanamo and have tried three of them with military tribunals and we have prosecuted and convicted a great many through the Federal court system. It’s hard to get a handle on exactly how many but the numbers one usually hears range from two to three hundred - almost all of them during the G.W. Bush administration. But now, the leaders of the Republican party are demanding that we treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so called Christmas bomber, as an enemy combatant and are complaining because he was awarded the sane rights as anyone arrested for an alleged criminal offense, instead of being interrogated for heaven knows how long, using torture if necessary.

To these complaining Republicans, there is nothing contradictory about their position, but to this observer, it would seem that they are trying to mix apples and onions. If we are "at war" and any of the enemy we capture we label "enemy combatants" - do they not become "prisoners of war" - and as such, do we have the right to put them on trial and sentence them to prison terms or even death under the rules of war as we have understood them in the past? The Geneva Convention for example. On the other hand, if they are criminals - and whatever else that may be, they are certainly criminals - should we not treat them as such, or is it perfectly O.K., as these Republicans maintain, to invent an entirely new way of dealing with their kind of crime without the benefit of any laws being enacted to legalize it.

Now we have the controversy over where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack should be tried and whether his trial should be in a Federal court or by a military commission. The fact that a "trial" is even being considered for this individual turns logic and the rule of law not just upside down but sideways into some unknown dimension except to writers of science fiction. After being held at Gitmo for years as - your guess is as good as mine but mine would be the handy "enemy combatant" rather than the awkward "prisoner of war" - we now propose to put him on trial, convict him and then put him to death. Our leaders have already said as much. Like The Queen of Hearts - sentence first, verdict afterwards.

But after being imprisoned for years and waterboarded hundreds of times , how on earth can the American tradition of a "fair trial" be realized and what can it accomplish? To demonstrate to the world that we are a nation that abides by "the rule of law?" And what does it accomplish for us? Putting Mohammed on trial anywhere after all these years isn’t going to provide any measure of "closure" to the families of 9/11/ victims.

Despite all the bluster from the right - led by the five time deferred from military service blusterer in chief Dick Cheney - we are really caught between a rock and a hard place over a matter of rhetoric. It should be a simple issue. If we are "at war" then any of the "enemy" that we capture should be prisoners of war. As such, we can’t put them on trial and lock them up in Federal jails as we have been doing. We need to hold them in POW camps until the "war" is "over." And indeed some of the people who were held at Guantanamo have been released, though the "war" continues. If we regard them as criminals, then trial, conviction and imprisonment is appropriate. Long term detention and torture without a trial is not.

I believe Attorney General Holder’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Federal court was an effort to clarify the status of those we have been calling terrorists and enemy combatants without ever calling them prisoners of war. If so, he seems to have failed. The "trial" may now be moved back to Gitmo and a military court, leaving the idea of the US being at "war" with "terror" intact and the status of those we capture in the act of committing or after they have committed an act of terror, up in the air. That may be all right for Dick Cheney who seems to endorse an approach of "hold and torture" - indefinitely. But for me and I suspect a majority of Americans, it remains a sad state of affairs that needs to be fixed before the terrorists can claim, rightly, that they have "won" by forcing us to change who we really are and what we believe in and what makes us unique among the nations of the world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Beginning with John McCain.

The more I see and hear from the Senator from Arizona, the more grateful I am that he is NOT the President of the United States. The election is long past but instead of assuming a dignified, patriotic role of a leader, if not the leader of his party - Rush Limbaugh permitting - he has assumed the role of permanent critic and presidential attack dog. In recent times, some of it might be attributed to the fact that he has an upcoming primary opponent from the far right and thus feels that he has to move in that direction. So much for "country first." But his latest antic is both revealing and inexcusable. This erstwhile military "hero" who has said that if the nation’s military chiefs say that they oppose and want to get rid of "don’t ask, don’t tell," Congress should consider doing just that. So when the nation’s military chiefs came before Congress a few days ago and recommend doing "just that" - McCain greets them with HOW DAREYOU. I assume that’s because the man who is the President isn’t for "don’t ask, don’t tell." Otherwise, based on his behavior over the past twelve months, I would assume that he would be fighting tooth and nail to get rid of it. Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe I’m misjudging him. But then, he gave the nation and the world Sara Palin.

Sara Palin. I really don’t give a damn what she writes on her hand. I don’t care if there are people willing to fork over big bucks to watch her perform. I can’t bring myself to call what she does for the money a "speech." She reminds me of a grade school class clown who says "naughty" things loud enough for the teacher to hear, resulting in giggles and laughter from his or her fellow students. In her case, it’s some ridiculous "talking points" phrase that evokes applause from her adoring, presumably adult acolytes. I don’t give a damn if she spouts nonsense about running for president, though I know Democrats are praying that the Republican party will be idiotic enough to n nominate her and some would be willing to pitch in financially to make this fantasy come to pass. I don’t care is she won’t criticize Limbaugh for using the word "retarded" multiple times on the air the way she has criticized Rahm Emmanuel for using it once in private. But in a televised interview, she suggested that President Obama would improve his chances of being reelected if he "played the war card." In other words, this woman who might have been one heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world and who some people would still like to see in that position, suggested for the whole world to hear that invading a foreign nation, perhaps sending thousands of Americans to their deaths, could be done to gain domestic political advantage.

I was about to continue writing about Mrs. Palin and the people who support her and look upon her as a "leader" - but I suddenly find myself overwhelmed by an attack of disgust and I will have to leave any further comment about her to another time. I will add just this plea. Please stop calling her "Governor." Anyone who quits to make money rather than complete the term in office to which she was elected, has no right to the honorific awarded to Governors who serve their states until their terms expire or do not win reelection.

The Illinois Democrats are well on their way to self destruction. They had the opportunity to select a pristine candidate to run for Obama’s Senate seat, one David Hoffman - former Inspector General of the City of Chicago - a man who stood up to Mayor Daley and the entrenched powers of that city. But the powers that be were behind Alexi Giannoulias - former banker, basketball buddy of Barrack Obama and currently Illinois State Treasurer. The Giannoulias family bank where he worked before becoming the youngest State Treasurer in Illinois history at the age of 30, was already a target for his opposition, having made loans to convicted fund raiser and Obama supporter Tony Rezko. And currently, thr bank is under Federal scrutiny and may be taken over by the Feds. You can be sure that the Republican candidate Mark Kirk, with years of experience in Washington, will make good use of Giannoulias’s youth, inexperience and past connections to "Chicago way" shenanigans. My prediction - and I hope I’m wrong because Kirk will join with the "NO" crowd in the US Senate to oppose anything and everything that the Obama administration proposes - is that he will defeat Giannoulias in November.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

I Pod, I Pad, I Pid, I Pidddle. And I can’t help it. Every time I hear about the Pods and the Pads, none of which I understand - I am transported back to my school days and Latin classes. Amo, Amas. Mensa, Mensae. It made about as much sense to me then as the Pods an Pads do today - but at least no one looked down on you as being "out of touch" if we didn’t walk around with a couple of Latin verbs and nouns prominently displayed. Today, one begins to feel like an outsider when everyone else is involved with Facebook and Twitter and I read about "texting while driving" becoming a ticketable offense." I will admit to owning a cell phone. But it’s not set up to text and though it has a minor photographic ability, I would be a poor excuse for a witness if I were to come across a crime in progress.

I use Google as my home page because it’s simple and convenient, but I am suspicious of that Internet juggernaut and I have described some of my suspicions here on more than one occasion.

I am not averse to progress in the worlds of communication and information storage and use, but I am concerned about the effect it is having on our ability to function without what that progress has created. For example - and if I’ve told this story before, I beg your indulgence - my wife and I were out to dinner some time ago - we had placed our order and were waiting to be served. And waiting and waiting. That wasn’t usually the case in this restaurant, so we finally hailed the waiter and asked what was going on. The computer had broken down or had stalled or in some other way wasn’t processing the orders. Without a functioning computer, the kitchen and wait staff were helpless!! You have to wonder how the world’s fine dining establishments were able to serve great food in a timely fashion before the age of the computer.

You may have experienced - as I have - an airline delay that wasn’t caused by weather or heavy travel days - but by a computer problem. How those planes got off the ground in the pre computer age is little understood by today’s travelers - or by airline employees for that matter!! In the computer age, you and I go grocery shopping and the check out process is dependent upon a computerized scanning system. No check out clerk who knows the price of everything you’re buying and is capable of punching buttons on a cash register. In most supermarkets, you don’t even need to deal with a check out clerk. The self check out scanner is quicker and easier.

If we live anywhere in the industrial world, we live in a world hugely dependent on computers and communication devices and it’s impossible to avoid all of them. The most we can do is to resist the measure of intrusion they try to impose on our lives. Obviously, I have been seduced by the lure of the blogosphere. The opportunity to create what amounts to a body of literary work that is permanently saved and can be read at any moment by any one of millions of people with computer access around the world is hard to resist for anyone with a lot of opinion and at least a smidgen of ego. But that’s as far as I am willing to go. I’ll use those items of communication that are useful to me - and obviously those that I cannot avoid. But I will not heed the siren call of Facebook or Twitter or Blagger or Bligger or whatever the next mind stifling gizmo that its promoters will insist you cannot live without will be called. I do not wish to access the Internet as I walk along the street. I do not wish to own a pod, a pad, a berry of any color or anything that turns my teeth blue.

As I’ve said, I’m not averse to progress in the age of the computer, but I’m concerned about how lost millions of us might become if we were suddenly deprived of all the aforementioned gizmos - even for a short time Will grocery clerks be able to tot up what we owe without scanners? Will cooks be able to cook and waiters wait at a formula chain restaurant? Will airlines be able know how many tickets have been sold for a particular flight and have it leave the departure gate close to an advertised time? How well would any of us function if we were figuratively transported back to a time before the things we rely on to function in today’s world did not yet exist? Will Twitters and Facebookers remember how to communicate without a computer?

I don’t claim that refusing to purchase a pod or a pad or declining invitations to be someone’s Facebook "friend" will stand me in better stead than one whose life is imbued with all of these things, but I’m pretty sure that while I don’t feel the slightest bit "lost" or confused without them - they would be if they were deprived of them for any length of time. I like feeling that way and I plan to continue to live as an outsider - padless, podless and unable to text my way out of a paper bag.