From this morning's New York Times there's a lot of news.
We'll start with Douglas Jehl's "Questions Left by C.I.A. Chief on Torture Use:"
Porter J. Goss, the director of central intelligence, said Thursday that he could not assure Congress that the Central Intelligence Agency's methods of interrogating terrorism suspects since Sept. 11, 2001, had been permissible under federal laws prohibiting torture.
Under sharp questioning at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Goss sought to reassure lawmakers that all interrogations "at this time" were legal and that no methods now in use constituted torture. But he declined, when asked, to make the same broad assertions about practices used over the last few years.
"At this time, there are no 'techniques,' if I could say, that are being employed that are in any way against the law or would meet - would be considered torture or anything like that," Mr. Goss said in response to one question.
When he was asked several minutes later whether he could say the same about techniques employed by the agency since the campaign against Al Qaeda expanded in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks in the United States, he said, "I am not able to tell you that."
[. . .]
Mr. Goss's comments came closer than previous statements from the agency to an admission that at least some of its practices might have crossed the legal limits, and had the effect of raising new questions about the C.I.A.'s conduct in detaining and questioning terror suspects, and in transferring them to foreign governments, in what remains one of the most secretive areas of the government's efforts to combat terrorism.
From yesterday's Democracy Now! Headlines:
Bush Defends Practice of Extraordinary Rendition
Meanwhile President Bush publicly defended the practice of extraordinary rendition for the first time on Wednesday. Extraordinary rendition is the name of a little-discussed practice by which prisoners in U.S. custody are sent for interrogation in foreign countries that practice torture. Until this past month the government had never publicly admitted such a practice existed. But news reports have shown that over 100 individuals have been rendered to foreign countries including Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan. President Bush was asked about rendition at a press conference Wednesday.
Question: Mr. President, can you explain why you've approved of and expanded the practice of what's called rendition, of transferring individuals out of U.S. custody to countries where human rights groups and your own State Department say torture is common for people under custody?
President Bush: The post-9/11 world, the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack. That was the charge we have been given. And one way to do so is to arrest people and send them back to their country of origin with the promise that they won't be tortured. That's the promise we receive. This country does not believe in torture. We do believe in protecting ourselves. We don't believe in torture.
European Nations Investigate CIA Abductions
The Washington Post is reporting that three European nations -- Italy, Sweden and Germany -- are all conducting investigations into renditions carried out by CIA agents in their countries.
In Italy, the CIA is suspected of seizing Egyptian cleric Abu Omar from the streets of Milan in 2003. He was last seen walking on a sidewalk near a mosque in Milan. He was then grabbed by two men, sprayed in the face with chemicals. He hasn't been seen since. Italian officials suspect he was the target of a CIA-sponsored rendition.
Also check out Jane Mayer's article (The New Yorker) entitled "Outsourcing Torture."
From the article:
During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of "the Special Removal Unit." The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board.
Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, "just began beating on me." They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. "Not even animals could withstand it," he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. "You just give up," he said. "You become like an animal."
A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism. Arar, it turned out, had been sent to Syria on orders from the U.S. government, under a secretive program known as "extraordinary rendition." This program had been devised as a means of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for interrogation and prosecution. Critics contend that the unstated purpose of such renditions is to subject the suspects to aggressive methods of persuasion that are illegal in America -- including torture.
Arar is suing the U.S. government for his mistreatment. "They are outsourcing torture because they know it's illegal," he said. "Why, if they have suspicions, don't they question people within the boundary of the law?"
Moving on to Sheryl Gay Stolberg's "In Blow to Bush, Senators Reject Cuts to Medicaid:"
The House and Senate passed competing versions of a $2.57 trillion budget for 2006 on Thursday night. The two chambers provided tens of billions of dollars to extend President Bush's tax cuts over the next five years, but differed sharply over cuts to Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor.
The votes, 218 to 214 in the House and 51 to 49 in the Senate, set the two chambers on a collision course. The House budget included steep cuts in Medicaid and other so-called entitlement programs. But in the Senate, President Bush's plans to reduce the explosive growth in Medicaid ran into a roadblock when lawmakers voted 52 to 48 to strip the budget of Medicaid cuts and instead create a one-year commission to recommend changes in the program.
[. . .]
While the tax cuts brought the Senate budget resolution closer in line with the one passed by the House, the Medicaid issue moved the two further apart.
That vote was a rebuke to both the White House and the Republican leadership, and it threatens to prevent Congress from adopting a final budget this year.
Bully Boy, I rebuke you. (Say it like Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. Which, come to think of it, may be rather appropriate.)
Somebody tell Tom Zeller Jr. that the Times has on the tinfoil hats in "For Zimbabwe, Peaceful Vote, but Is It Fair?" (by Michael Wines and Sharon LaFraniere). Issues raised over the vote in Zimbabwe? Well it must be conspiracy time! It's all so positively Ukranian! Exactly why is it that the Times is so damn comfortable questioning elections results everywhere but in the United States? I'm sure there are problems with Zimbabwe's votes. I'm sure that if you go through the article and see the evidence Wines and LaFraniere lay out, you'll ask the questions any reasonable person would. But why is it, that with all the problems in Ohio, the Times assigned Tom Zeller Jr. to mock serious questions? Why is it that the Times can look at any election elsewhere and ask the obvious with the exception to this country? (I think we all know the answer why.)
Monica Davey's "Un-Volunteering: Troops Improvise to Find Way Out" is worth reading. It even features a photo of Camilo Mejia. We all know Mejia . . . from Democracy Now! of course.
(There have been many stories mentioning Mejia on Democracy Now! but we'll recommend
"Jailed War Resister Camilo Mejia Speaks Out After Spending Nine Months in Military Prison"
from February 23rd where Amy Goodman interviews Mejia.)
From the article:
The night before his Army unit was to meet to fly to Iraq, Pvt. Brandon Hughey, 19, simply left. He drove all night from Texas to Indiana, and on from there, with help from a Vietnam veteran he had met on the Internet, to disappear in Canada.
In Georgia, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, 40, whose family ties to military service stretch back to the American Revolution, filed for conscientious-objector status and learned that he will face a court-martial in May for failing to report to his unit when it left for a second stint in Iraq.
One by one, a trickle of soldiers and marines - some just back from duty in Iraq, others facing a trip there soon - are seeking ways out.
Soldiers, their advocates and lawyers who specialize in military law say they have watched a few service members try ever more unlikely and desperate routes: taking drugs in the hope that they will be kept home after positive urine tests, for example; or seeking psychological or medical reasons to be declared nondeployable, including last-minute pregnancies. Specialist Marquise J. Roberts is accused of asking a relative in Philadelphia to shoot him in the leg so he would not have to return to war.
Did Brandon Hughey disappear in Canada or at least fall off the American media radar? Maybe to Davey and the paper, but Amy Goodman spoke with him face to face on Democracy Now! -- see that program's story from October 15, 2004's "From Vietnam to Iraq: American War Resisters Seek Refuge in Canada."
AMY GOODMAN: Brandon Huey, why did you go into the military?
BRANDON HUEY: My story basically starts off almost the same way. I enlisted when I was 17 years old with basically the promise of a way to better my life financially. Again, it is a way to get a college education without amassing thousands of dollars of debt.
AMY GOODMAN: Where did you grow up?
BRANDON HUEY: I grew up in San Angelo, Texas. So, also when I signed the contract, I wasn't naive to the fact that I could be deployed to fight in a war, but I did have this image growing up that I would be sort of – a good guy, if you will, and fighting for just causes and fighting to defend my country, and after I got out of basic training, and when I realized that basically the U.S. had attacked a country that was no threat to them, in an act of aggression, it shattered that myth, I guess you could say.
AMY GOODMAN: How old were you when you signed up?
BRANDON HUEY: I was 17.
[. . .]
AMY GOODMAN: Brandon, when did you leave?
BRANDON HUEY: I left in March of 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: What was that like, that day?
BRANDON HUEY: That day – I was relatively calm and collected, which a lot of people may not expect. I had thought about the decision for months, and I had talked to my superiors, my Sergeant Major, about why I had misgivings about the war. It came out of it for me, when I got out of basic training. It came out of a personal desire to know what I would be fighting for. If I was going overseas and point my rifle at someone and pull the trigger, I can’t speak for all soldiers, but I wanted to know what it would be for, and for the right reasons. And after looking into the Iraq War, I couldn't find any justifiable basis for doing so, as Jeremy mentioned. No weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al Qaeda, and I didn't want to kill anyone for lies, if you will.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how did you come into Canada?
BRANDON HUEY: I basically drove myself out of the base. Halfway to Canada from Ft. Hood, Texas, to Louisville, Kentucky. A peace activist out of Indianapolis drove me the rest of the way, and before we got up into Canada, he had connections with the Quaker community. I guess in the Toronto area. He had found people in St. Katherine’s that would be willing to take me in.
AMY GOODMAN: That's where you are staying now?
BRANDON HUEY: For the time being. There’s actually – now that I have my work permit granted by the Canadian government. There's actually plans for me to move into Toronto.
[. . .]
AMY GOODMAN: Have you both been in touch with other U.S. Soldiers who are possibly thinking of doing what you have done?
BRANDON HUEY: I have been in touch with some U.S. Soldiers. Some have e-mailed me. Basically asking what they should do – it's hard. When you get that question, you obviously don't want to say, “Come right up,” because the implications of this decision are so huge, not being able to go back and see your family, and having an uncertain future. So, I think that everyone has to do what they feel to be right, and obviously, that – this isn’t a decision that they should exercise if they don't sincerely believe in it.
Note, Davey interviews Huey by phone. (Goodman interviewed him face to face in Canada.) The point isn't that she couldn't find him for this story (she did), the point is that the Times couldn't find this story forever. What changed?
Let's note Democracy Now! two stories on Tuesday: "AWOL in America: Why Over 5,500 U.S. Soldiers Discharged Themselves" (Goodman's interview with Kathy Dobie who wrote on this topic for this month's Harper's) and "Three U.S. Soldiers Refusing to Fight Speak Out Against the Iraq War" (Goodman's interviews with Carl Webb, Kevin Benderman, one anonymous soldier and Kathy Dobie). From the last of the two stories:
AMY GOODMAN: We don't, Kathy Dobie, hear very much about this number. It may have surprised a lot of people listening and watching right now, 5,500, what, near 6,000. The Pentagon doesn't talk about it very much. Why not? And we don't see a lot of people being rounded up, Carl. We don't see the military coming for you, at least at this moment.
KATHY DOBIE: Well, the military doesn't have the manpower to go after deserters. But I also think they do not want other soldiers to know that this number of people leave and that also when they leave that they -- it is often possible after going AWOL, once you drop from the rolls, to get out, to be processed out with an other than an honorable discharge. They are trying the best they can. It's -- recruiting is down, that's why they put in stop-loss orders. They're trying to keep this military intact, and if they let soldiers know that people do leave and they do manage to get out and get on with their lives, I think they’re afraid that there’s going to be droves of soldiers leaving at that point.
AMY GOODMAN: And as you listen to these men speak, your final thoughts.
KATHY DOBIE: Well, my final thoughts are that they need to straighten out the recruiting process, the military does. If the only way you can keep the end strength, the troop strength we need is to lie to kids and their parents, then maybe what you have to say is that we have to have a smaller military. And if you have a smaller military, then you have to look carefully at the countries we invade and where we go to war.
AMY GOODMAN: On that note, Kathy Dobie has the cover story of Harper's magazine called "AWOL in America." Kevin Benderman, I want to thank you for joining us, sergeant who has applied for conscientious objector status. Carl Webb in the studio with us here in New York, planning to speak out at the protest on the anniversary of the invasion and to the anonymous soldier on the phone, thank you very much for joining us, as well.
Anything else change? From Editor & Publisher (this Wednesday), "'WP'/ABC Poll Shows Most Americans Think Iraq War Wasn't Worth It:"
In a surprising finding that comes after the Iraqi election and some decline in U.S. combat deaths, a clear majority of Americans now feel the war in Iraq was not “worth fighting,” according to a new Washington Post/ABC News Poll.Asked if the war was worth it, considering all the costs and benefits to the United States, 53% said no and 45% said yes.
The Times has done a lot of superficial reporting on the war from our soil (some of those stories have carried Moncia Davey's byline -- though that doesn't mean she's responsible for the final product, she may have been rewritten). But with the polls showing a strong shift, the Times can finally find this story.
Look, I'm thrilled that they're reporting on it now. Would have been great if they could have before. (Which was the point of the reference to Davey and finding Brandon Hughey.) I'll pass on Davey's article to friends. I'll say here that it's well written. (I will note that no reporter for the Times has ever contacted to this site to 'clarify' that a praised story needed a cautionary note of "it may have been rewritten.") Good for Davey, good for the editorial staff.
But, as Sam Cooke, Al Green & Tina Turner have sung at various times, been a long time coming ("Change Is Gonna' Come") and is this shift a sign of stronger "homefront" coverage in the paper or merely a reflection of the polling data? I don't know. Today Davey deserves praise so I will give it to her: Well done, important story and you wrote it very well.
[The site e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and if anyone's confused about Davies' past stories that we've dealt with here, please say so and we'll cite at least one. Possibly more depending upon time constraints and blogging conditions.]