Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nipple ring search procedures faulty, TSA admits

Apparently a woman, Mandi Hamlin, recently had an embarrassing incident in airport security screening. She has several body piercings, including nipple rings, which set off the metal detectors in the airport screening. The TSA officials forced her to remove the nipple rings so they could inspect them and determine that she isn't a dangerous terrorist. Geez.

I have metal rods in my legs and almost every time I go through screening the metal detector goes off, giving me a detour into the area for extra screening. I can sympathize with the lady. It's not the nicest place to go regardless that usually the TSA agents are very friendly, respectful, helpful, and considerate.

"Ms. Hamlin did not want to remove her nipple piercings," Allred said, reading from a letter she sent TSA. "After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove. In addition, once removed, the pierced skin may close up almost immediately, making it difficult and painful to reinsert the piercing."

More officers were called over, and the group grew to four male and two female TSA officers, according to Hamlin. Also, a small crowd of onlookers had started to gather. The officers insisted that Hamlin remove the nipple rings...Had she been told that she had a right to a pat-down, she would have chosen that option.

What usually happens to me is a "pat down", though this does vary from officer to officer. Because in my case my metal is buried inside my legs it's impossible to remove the metal, giving them no option to request, as they did for this woman, to directly inspect the metal.

The TSA Travel Assistant has guidelines on traversing the airport screening with the least pain. The key is "dress the part", which means wearing clothes and shoes which are most easily removed for screening, to not wear jewelry or piercings, etc. So they would tell Ms. Hamlin to remove her nipple rings before travel and reinsert them after travel. However the article says:

"After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove. In addition, once removed, the pierced skin may close up almost immediately, making it difficult and painful to reinsert the piercing."

This implies nipple rings are in the same category as the rods in my legs. They are essentially nonremovable and it's best if the TSA learns to accomodate these accessories.

External Media

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side, a documentary about Torture

Media Matters, March 2, 2008, This week our guest is Alex Gibney, 2008 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature for his film Taxi to the Dark Side. The interview makes this sound like a very important documentary about the U.S. move to the dark side. In 2001 V.P. Dick Cheney told us that in pursuing the war on Terror we, that is the U.S., would have to engage in dark activities and to work with nasty people. So here we are with a country that is now committing torture, a country who has an idealism that is being ignored by U.S. leaders like V.P. Cheney.

In December 2002, an Afghan named Dilawar had scraped together enough money to buy a taxi. He was fingered by a paid informant as a terrorist connected with a rocket attack. Taken to the American prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, he was tortured so violently that he died after five days. An autopsy showed that his legs were so badly mauled, they would have had to be amputated, had he lived. Later, the informant who collected U.S. money for fingering him was proven to be the terrorist actually responsible for the crime the innocent Dilawar was charged with.

An official report said Dilawar died of "natural causes." The New York Times found an autopsy report describing the death as a homicide. After a belated investigation, a few U.S. soldiers were accused of the murder. No officers were involved. Dilawar was the first casualty after we started to "work the dark side." In all the torture scandals since, few officers have ever been charged. If all of these crimes took place without their knowledge, they would appear to be guilty of dereliction of duty, if nothing else.

-- Taxi to the Dark Side

In the Media Matters interview the director discusses several forms of cost related to the practice torture. The above is one cost, an innocent man who was fingered by another, and who died during "interrogation". This cost is the loss of life. However he also discussed another instance, one of the "high value detainees" who was transferred from FBI interrogation at Bagram Air Base through the CIA Extraordinary Rendition program to Egypt and officials who are more amenable to, ahem, cough, cough, enhanced interrogation techniques. The same sort of techniques which Pres Bush wants to allow (see: Bush veto limits on torture? Or did Bush say he supports use of torture?). That high value detainee was providing useful and actionable intelligence, but it was not the story which VP Cheney and Pres Bush wanted to hear, hence the transfer to the Egyptians. Under torture this high value detainee told the interrogators a pack of lies and those lies were later used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

That's the cost.. the blunderbuss of the wrong war at the wrong time against the wrong people which has visited upon the Iraqi's untold pain and suffering.

In the interview he discussed how, after World War II, the German military elite were prosecuted for war crimes under the doctrine of "command responsibility". Think about the Abu Ghraib scandal, supposedly perpetrated by some bad apples in the lowest ranks. However it was committed in the context of an administration who was investigating all the legal angles to justify the use of torture. They wrote many memo's discussing anti-torture laws as "quaint" and old-fashioned, and were they doing that just to hone their legal skills, or were they doing so to provide cover for a program of committing torture?

KENNETH ROTH: The Bush administration very deliberately doesn’t promote human rights. It promotes this soft fuzzy concept of democracy. And the reason it does that is because it’s too embarrassing to talk about human rights when it’s been responsible for so many human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism. So it falls back on this feel-good concept.

- Taxi to the Dark Side: Oscar-Nominated Documentary Film Explores U.S. Abuses in “War on Terror”

Article Reference: 
Sorry, you need to install flash to see this content.

Bush veto limits on torture? Or did Bush say he supports use of torture?

Pres. Bush a couple days ago veto'd a bill which included a provision that would have required all U.S. agencies to abide by the Military Interrogation manual. This would have required all U.S. agencies to not torture. That would be a great thing, it would be a move towards restoring some of the respect the U.S. used to have. But instead he veto'd the bill ... some press reports I've heard describe it in very bland terms, as if the government really is being hindered with limited interrogation techniques. Okay, that's one way to look at this event, and the other way to look at it is that Bush has acted in support of interrogation techniques abhorred worldwide and which are highly illegal. But this is par for the course for this president who has committed one illegal act after another.

Text: Bush on Veto of Intelligence Bill is the text of his weekly news address, in which he explains the veto thusly:

...Unfortunately, Congress recently sent me an intelligence authorization bill that would diminish these vital tools. So today, I vetoed it....The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror — the C.I.A. program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives. This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us prevent a number of attacks....The main reason this program has been effective is that it allows the C.I.A. to use specialized interrogation procedures to question a small number of the most dangerous terrorists under careful supervision. The bill Congress sent me would deprive the C.I.A. of the authority to use these safe and lawful techniques. Instead, it would restrict the C.I.A.’s range of acceptable interrogation methods to those provided in the Army field manual. The procedures in this manual were designed for use by soldiers questioning lawful combatants captured on the battlefield. They were not intended for intelligence professionals trained to question hardened terrorists....
In other words he's defending the use of torture (calling it lawful) because of the ticking time-bomb defense. The idea is you know there is a bomb somewhere, due to explode at a given time, you don't know where the bomb is, you don't know precisely when it will explode, but you have in your hands the person who planted the bomb. What do you do. If you're the star of the TV show 24 you don't let a little thing like laws stop you, you instead gird up your loins and commit torture in the name of God and Justice and Truth. But the real world experience with torture is the torturee often lies, or rather they get into a state of mind where they'll say anything just to get the pain to stop. You don't end up with truth, you end up with confusion.

The ACLU says:

"It is fundamentally un-American when our president vetoes laws against torture," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The president's veto sends a message to the world that despite Congress' actions, our country will continue to engage in this inhumane and heinous conduct when we should be affirming unequivocally and in one voice that torture and abuse will stop and never happen again. No one is above the rule of law, including the president. Congress should hold firm and persist in trying to get an anti-torture bill signed into law."

However the International Herald Tribune, in Bush vetoes bill to limit CIA interrogation methods, says:

President George W. Bush further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to halt a congressional effort to limit the CIA's latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques.

Oh, gee, he's fighting for the Presidency to have more power? How noble of him! Um, should that extend to the right for the President to authorize or commit illegal acts? Because that's exactly what's going on here, is the President is acting to support illegal acts (torture) which are abhorrent worldwide.

The director of the CIA, Mike Hayden, was swift to praise the Bush veto, arguing that the field manual was inappropriate as a guide for the CIA as the two institutions "have different missions, different capabilities and therefore difference procedures".

Uh, does a specific law become invalid in specific circumstances? In other words, if you're a trained race car driver is it then legal for you to drive 100 miles/hr in rush hour traffic? No, it's just as illegal to break the speed limit if you're a race car driver or if you're an 80 yr old half blind retiree. Therefore CIA Director Hayden is, uh, full of it.

The veto throws the spotlight back on to America's use of so-called coercive interrogation methods like waterboarding, the simulated drowning technique invented by Spanish inquisitors and adopted by regimes such as the Khmer Rouge.

Put's us in great company... eh? NOT. Look, if America is to live up to the ideal we believe in then we must outlaw torture and make it stick. We cannot let this "President" run roughshod on the law.

Article Reference: