Thursday, April 23, 2009

7GEN #3: On torture, Electric motorcycles, Earth day, and more

Torture, by the U.S. Government

It saddens me the recent revelations of torture committed in our name by the Bush Administration. It also saddens me the reluctance to make a serious stand against that torture. But first a bit of context..

It is now understood that beginning in early 2002 the Bush Administration's fight against terrorism included the use of torture supposedly to extract information not otherwise available. Remember that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said clearly that the war against this terrorist threat will include dealings with dark people. Apparently some of those dark people were himself, Cheney and others in leadership positions in the U.S. Administration. In that period we were told those terrorists were dangerous people and essentially everybody was made to be scared out of their minds, and in the name of salving that terror atrocities were committed.

Stories were coming out all along about the torture as well as the illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens. In terms of torture my earlier coverage included:-

Waterboarding = Drowning = Torture = Illegal = Immoral,

Redefining torture, or "The Constitution is just a piece of paper",

Taxi to the Dark Side, a documentary about Torture,

The U.S. and torture,

Jeremy Scahill: On CNN The Real Abu Ghraib Scandal is The Photos, Not the Torture | The Huffington Post,

"extraordinary rendition" - Outsourced torture?,

Sinking to our enemies' level,

Secret CIA Prisons in Your Backyard ...

However only the barest inkling of the story had been told. Much of the story was kept under the cover of being labeled Top Secret. Yes, U.S. forces were using illegal interrogation tactics, torture, and using Top Secret clearances to hide the fact. The torture tactics were ones the U.S. has several times convicted & sentenced others for war crimes. By international legal standard the tactics used are illegal as war crimes. The choice of prosecuting war crimes is not optional. Political expediency doesn't let you say "we should be looking forward and not backwards" as Pres. Obama recently said. These war crimes rise to the highest level of requirement to prosecute just as the world prosecuted war crimes committed by Nazi Germany, and others such as the leaders of various factions in the former Yugoslavia.

Some Bush Administration memos were recently released which confirmed my deepest fears. That the conduct of torture by the Bush Administration went beyond all legal standards, went beyond reason, and is a dark stain on America's reputation. The ACLU has published copies of The Bush Administration's Secret Legal Memos along with a call to action.

In addition to Pres Obama's "looking forward" statement I'm completely irked at the call from Cheney and others to release other memos, the ones that show that the torture worked and produced useful information. Uhm.. gosh. This sounds like a repeat of "The ends justify the means" so Cheney do you want to be lumped with the evils of the U.S.S.R.?? To hide behind "it provided useful evidence" is to claim that it doesn't matter how illegal this is, the tactic "worked". Just because it may have produced useful information at one time or another does not justify its use.

What's most shocking is there seems to be very little in the avalanche of news coverage that explores this very obvious connection. I'm dumfounded at news presenters who are simply repeating Cheney's assertion that the torture worked and because it worked it is okay to have done it. No, as I said that is backwards. It is an illegal tactic labeled by international law as a war crime. Period.

I understand that in regular prosecution of regular crimes one way a conviction can be overturned is to show prosecutorial misconduct. A famous recent case was Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens who was convicted for gross corruption, but the conviction was overturned when it was shown the prosecutors witheld some evidence. Similarly police torture is widely recognized as a reason to overturn convictions, therefore any information the U.S. interrogators learned through their use of torture should have itself been tossed out. Such as: Decision in Manisa Children Torture Case: Teenagers in Turkey had been convicted of membership in leftist organizations, their sentences later overturned because of police torture.

In Harpers Magazine, Scott Horton laid it out very well in Justice after Bush: Prosecuting an outlaw administration. The issue is much bigger than the use of torture, it is:-

This administration did more than commit crimes. It waged war against the law itself. It transformed the Justice Department into a vehicle for voter suppression, and it also summarily dismissed the U.S. attorneys who attempted to investigate its wrongdoing. It issued wartime contracts to substandard vendors with inside connections, and it also defunded efforts to police their performance. It spied on church groups and political protesters, and it also introduced a sweeping surveillance program that was so clearly illegal that virtually the entire senior echelon of the Justice Department threatened to (but did not in fact) tender their resignations over it. It waged an illegal and disastrous war, and it did so by falsely representing to Congress and to the American public nearly every piece of intelligence it had on Iraq. And through it all, as if to underscore its contempt for any authority but its own, the administration issued more than a hundred carefully crafted “signing statements” that raised pervasive doubt about whether the president would even accede to bills that he himself had signed into law.

... There can be no doubt that torture is illegal. There is no wartime exception for torture, nor is there an exception for prisoners or “enemy combatants,” nor is there an exception for “enhanced” methods. ...

The question I was asking all through the Bush II years was: Is this the kind of governance we want? Clearly in many ways the Obama administration was an answer to that collective yearning for just governance. Now I am asking what do we do about the sins of the Bush II Administration? Do we simply look forward and move forward and that's it? That's what Obama is suggesting.

It seems to me that if the Bush II Administration people are left to go free the wrong lesson will be engraven in history. Some of the leaders of the Bush II Administration, Rumsfeld and Cheney in particular, were present in earlier Administrations where misconduct had happened for which there was little legal effect. They learned it's possible to break the law and get away with it, and that's what they've done. These acts by the Bush II Administration cannot be left unpunished, because future leaders may look back on these years and decide they can do even more heinous acts in our names.

Electric motorcycles

After that I want to cover something more pleasant.

In early April 2009 I had the privilege to attend an electric motorcycle endurance race. The race was sponsored by Zero Motorcycles, and conducted at a dirt bike track in south San Jose. It lasted for 24 hours and as a long time electric vehicle advocate I found it totally awesome that their motorcycle could do this. I've been to other electric vehicle races which had to be kept short because, well, the range issue. Some electric vehicle advocates say that if an electric vehicle can't go far it might as well go fast. But at the Electricross race they were able to do both, go far and go fast, because of quick change battery packs.

The following is over 30 minutes of video going over the event.

Technosanity #25: 24 Hours of Electricross - Interview with Neal Saiki

Technosanity #26: Interview w/ Don Amador at 24 Hours of Electricross

Technosanity #27: Zero X Motorcycle demo ride

Earth day

It came around again this week. For me it's like any other day because I basically live that ideal every day of the year. It's nice that there is an effort to raise awareness as to the need for a better environment, but it strikes me as being akin to new years resolutions. Every year people make promises on Jan 1 only to forget those promises after a few days.

What keeps the environmentally unsound practices going is habit. One day each year isn't enough to break or change habits. Changing ones habits takes much more effort than setting aside one day to change a few lightbulbs. It takes continual practice, awareness, and patience with the process of change.

The social environment around us does not support environmentally sound living. Especially in the U.S. where the cities have been built to the convenience of cars, it is very difficult to live a low impact lifestyle. Hence just as it's difficult to break a smoking habit when you hang out with smokers, it's difficult in modern U.S. society to practice environmentally sound living when there are so many environmentally unsound opportunities around us.