advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about politics, economics, and more…

DADT Update: The Service Chiefs Report, The Republicans Fret April 11, 2011

There’s been a great deal of concern around here about the effort to prepare the US military for the full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), and I’ve had a few words of my own regarding how long the process might take.

There was a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee last Thursday that had all four Services represented; with one exception these were the same Service Chiefs that were testifying last December when the bill to set the repeal process in motion was still a piece of prospective legislation.

At that time there was concern that the “combat arms” of the Marines and the Army were going to be impacted in a negative way by the transition to “open service”; the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Army’s Chief of Staff were the most outspoken in confirming that such concerns exist within the Pentagon as well.

We now have more information to report—including the increasing desperation of some of our Republican friends—and if you ask me, I think things might be better than we thought.

The Governments of the States Parties to this Constitution on behalf of their peoples declare:

That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed;

That ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war…

–From the Constitution of the United Nations Educational,
Scientific, And Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

So let me start with the good news; I’ll do that by telling you what I though would happen, compared to what the Service Chiefs are now saying is going to happen:

My guess was that, due to all the process involved, we could be looking at a full year for implementation, and if the Services felt that they had to rotate all the overseas deployed forces back to the USA before they could complete training, you could easily be looking at 18 months.

That, as it turns out, was wildly inaccurate.

The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Peter W. Chiarelli, reported Thursday that his Service might be able to report they’re ready to certify by May 15th of this year; to make that happen they are going to train the troops overseas and at home, both at the same time, and they wanted us to know that they’ve already completed much of the “train the trainer” work already. They also expect to certify after about 50% of the training is complete instead of waiting for 100%, and that’s because the leadership believes they’ll know of any implementation problems that are likely to crop up by then.

The most outspoken opponent of the change in December, Marine Commandant General James Amos, says that he’s seeing far fewer problems than he expected, and he believes the move to open service won’t have any serious impact on his force.

Here’s how the Defense Department reported Amos’ testimony:

A department [of Defense] survey last year showed that about 60 percent of Marines in combat units had concerns about the repeal, Amos noted, but those concerns seem to be waning. The general visited with Marines in Afghanistan over Christmas and spoke with their commander this morning on the issue, he said.

“I’m looking specifically for issues that might arise out of Tier 1 and Tier 2 and, frankly, we just haven’t seen it,” Amos said. “There hasn’t been the recalcitrant push back, the anxiety about it” from forces in the field.

Amos said the Marines’ commander told him, “’Quite honestly, they’re focused on the enemy.’”

The Navy says they expect to complete their Tier 3 training (the final phase of training) as soon as the end of June; Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead told the Committee that he foresees no problem achieving a successful transition to open service.

(A quick note to the reader: I have been known to write satirical stories with crazy made-up character names, but the actual name of the actual Admiral who is tasked with leading the Navy into the era of open service is actually…Roughead. Some may consider this to be evidence of Intelligent Design; I continue to disbelieve.)

Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz, who also seemed to suggest, back in December, that trouble might be waiting on the road ahead, seemed far more confident this week; it looks like the Air Force might have Tier 3 training wrapped up by the July 4th holiday.

The Service Chiefs also announced that those who have been discharged under DADT will be eligible to petition to return to the military.

There is today a mechanism in place within the Defense Department to consider the petitions of those who voluntarily leave the military and wish to reapply; that system looks at what jobs are available, and, if it meets the needs of the Services, a job offer is extended to the applicant. (The individual might not return at the same grade or rank they held when leaving, however, and that would also depend on the military’s interpretation of what best fits military “force structure” requirements.)

At the hearing the Committee members were told that those who were discharged under DADT could reapply under the same rules that exist today for those who leave voluntarily; the same system that’s in place today will “work” those applications.

There was some not unexpected bad news: Republican Members of the House are just so over the top on objecting to this one that it’s ridiculous and funny and maddening and just awful, all at once.

There was begging (“if there was just some way the Service Chiefs could convince the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs not to certify, then we could all be saved” was the gist of that one), and fake expertise (“when I served we were all afraid of ‘em, and I can’t believe today’s troops still aren’t” is the rough outline of how that argument went and California’s Duncan Hunter was an example of one Congressman who fit into that “genre”); there was even an offer to do another survey so we can “do what the troops really want” (I can save y’all the time and trouble: what they really want…is to get the hell out of Afghanistan).

If the Grim Weeper had been in the room, I’m sure he would have had a big ol’ blubbery cry over the tragedy that’s befallen the Nation on this somber occasion—and it’s a good thing he wasn’t, because I have no doubt such a display would have once again caused Tonstant Weader to fwow up, just like that time back at Pooh Corner.

Among the Republicans there was a lot of preoccupation with the potential for men, in combat, in those close, confined, spaces…men who are depending on each other, night and day…to be subject to the advances of other strong, powerful, muscular, men in a variety of manly uniforms—I mean, as far as I can tell, there are Republicans who see this as some kind of eventual “Livin’ La Vida Loca” kind of situation, only, you know, a bit more butch, and I would love to know what in the world they think life aboard a Ballistic Missile Submarine or on a Forward Operating Base in Southeastern Afghanistan is really like?

Oddly enough, the predominantly male Committee didn’t seem as concerned about the possibility of female same-sex relationships impacting military readiness and unit cohesion in a negative way; if anyone has a guess as to why that might be the case I’m sure I’d love to hear it.

The military, to their credit, did a lot of pushing back against the Republicans. For example, at one point there were questions as to whether this would cause an unacceptable number of troops to leave the all-volunteer military. The response: right now the real problem is that as we withdraw from Iraq and troopers come home to a bad economy, too few want to leave.

They also spent a lot of time pointing out that “standards of conduct” already exist to manage sexual contacts and harassing behaviors between opposite-gendered persons, and that those very same rules will be used to manage issues of conduct in a same-sex context.

Risk mitigation is suddenly very important for some Republicans, and they do not want to repeal if there is any risk at all that the move could impact combat readiness or pose a hazard to the force.

That line of logic led to one of the most stupid questions I have ever heard asked in a hearing, ever, in decades of actually paying attention, and it came from Republican Vicky Hartzler (MO-04).

What she was trying to do was to show that the Generals would not want to recommend policies that add to the risk facing the troops. What she had been told was that the future risks of open service were as yet unknown (hard to know today with 100% certainty what the future holds), but that, based on progress made so far, the risks seemed to be low and that mitigations seemed to be in place for currently identified potential problems.

But what she asked the commanding officers of four military services was…wait for it…whether they had ever recommended sending their troops into heightened risk environments?

They actually all kind of seemed a bit stunned by the question—but they kept their poker faces—and then they reminded her that sending troops into combat is actually a bit of a high-risk activity.

The deer then jumped out of the way of the headlights, and the hearing resumed.

Look, folks, I am not passing along any news when I tell you that DADT still scares the loose buttons off a bunch of suits in Washington and that they still want to have this out anyplace they can—but it is news to find out that they are ahead of where they could have been over at the Pentagon, and that all the Service Chiefs do really seem to be on board, at least publicly, and that they are all reporting fewer problems than they expected as this process moves forward.

In a tough week it’s nice to report good news, and I think this qualifies—and if things continue at this pace, we could see certification and full open service before Labor Day.

Now I know we don’t usually give Labor Day presents, and to make it worse, we’re hard to shop for…but if there’s one thing everyone loves to get, it’s a More Perfect Union—and I bet once we try it on, there’s no way it’s going back.

Advertisements
 

On Actually Ending DADT, Or, “Could It Really Take Another Year?” December 20, 2010

So we got the good news that legislative repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that kept LBGT folks from openly serving in the military has occurred, as the Senate voted Saturday to first cut off debate on the question (that’s the vote that required 60 Senators to pass) and then to pass the actual repeal legislation (which also garnered more than 60 Senate votes, even though it only needed 51).

Most people would assume that once Bill (remember Bill, from “Schoolhouse Rock”?) made it out of Congress and over to the President to for a signature that the process of repeal will be ended—but in fact, there’s quite a bit more yet to do, and it’s entirely possible that a year or more could go by before the entire process is complete.

Today we’ll discuss our way through why it’s going to take so long; to illustrate the point we’ll consider an actual military order that is quite similar to the sort of work that will be required from the Department of Defense (DOD) before the entire “DADT to open service” transition is complete.

“You cannot eliminate even one basic assumption, one substantial part of this philosophy—it is as if it were a solid block of steel—without abandoning objective truth, without falling into the arms of bourgeois-reactionary falsehood.”

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin)

To set things up, let’s define, exactly, what “transition” is: the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the President all have to certify that the military is ready for the change; 60 days after that certification is made, full repeal occurs.

Soooo…now that Congress has cracked the block of steel, why is it going to take so long for full repeal to take place?

The answer, I’m afraid, is all about being way too organized.

In order to make the move to open service, there will have to be a series of official actions taken that will include developing an entire infrastructure around identifying new standards of conduct, deciding who exactly will be the “evangelizers” that go out and talk to commanders and troops, and who will be involved in supporting enforcement of the new policies.

You may recall that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was associated with a sudden spike in sexual assaults among servicemembers; this required the military to develop solutions (and yes, the controversy around how effective those solutions have been could easily be their own story, but not today).

The reason sexual assault interests us today is because the kinds of orders that were created for commanders then are quite similar to what will be needed now, and we have one of those orders readily available so that we can really visualize what kind of thing we’re talking about.

It’s too long to include in its entirety, but here’s a selected sample:

6. THIS PARAGRAPH PROVIDES DETAILS FOR APPOINTING AND TRAINING DEPLOYABLE SARCS.

A. COMMANDERS AT BRIGADE LEVEL AND HIGHER ECHELONS (DIVISION, CORPS, AND ARMY COMPONENT COMMAND) WILL IMMEDIATELY APPOINT, ON COLLATERAL DUTY, A MINIMUM OF ONE SOLDIER/CIVILAIN TO SERVE AS THE COMMAND S DEPLOYABLE SEXUAL ASSAULT RESPONSE COORDINATOR (SARC). COMMANDERS WILL SELECT QUALIFIED PERSONNEL FOR DUTY AS DEPLOYABLE SARC IN ACCORDANCE WITH PARAGRAPH 7 OF THIS MESSAGE.
B. DEPLOYABLE SARCS SHOULD NOT BEGIN RESPONDING TO SEXUAL ASSAULTS UNTIL THEY RECEIVE TRAINING. INITIAL TRAINING FOR DEPLOYABLE SARCS WILL OCCUR THROUGH ONE OF THE FOLLOWING METHODS.
1. FROM THE INSTALLATION SARC. THIS IS THE PRIMARY METHOD FOR TRAINING DEPLOYABLE SARCS. THIS TRAINING SHOULD OCCUR AS SOON AS INSTALLATION SARCS ARE IN PLACE AND OPERATIONAL, BUT NOT LATER THAN 30 JUNE 2005 FOR ALL ACTIVE COMPONENT UNITS.
2. BY A MOBILE TRAINING TEAM (MTT) IN THE CENTCOM AOR. DEPLOYABLE SARCS ASSIGNED TO UNITS ALREADY IN THE CENTCOM AOR WILL RECEIVE TRAINING BY A MOBILE TRAINING TEAM AT VARIOUS LOCATIONS DURING MAY AND JUNE. SPECIFIC DATES AND LOCATIONS HAVE BEEN COORDINATED BETWEEN CFSC AND ARCENT.
3. BY SPECIAL REQUEST OF UNITS SCHEDULED TO DEPLOY THAT WILL NOT BE IN THE CENTCOM AOR PRIOR TO THE MTT TRAINING CITED ABOVE. UNITS THAT ARE IN THIS CATEGORY AND ARE UNABLE TO HAVE THEIR DEPLOYABLE SARCS TRAINED USING ANY OF THE METHODS LISTED ABOVE SHOULD CONTACT THE CFSC POC AT THE END OF THIS MESSAGE TO COORDINATE A SPECIAL MTT.
4. DURING DOD SPONSORED SARC TRAINING CONFERENCES SCHEDULED FOR THE FOLLOWING DATES AND LOCATIONS: 28 JUN 1 JUL (CHARLOTTE, NC); 12-15 JUL (SAN DIEGO, CA); 19-22 JUL (HAWAII); 27-30 SEP (ATLANTA, GA). PRIORITY FOR ATTENDANCE AT THESE SESSIONS WILL BE GIVEN TO RESERVE COMPONENT UNITS. ALL INSTALLATION SARCS, AND AS MANY ACTIVE COMPONENT DEPLOYABLE SARCS AS CAN BE ACCOMMODATED, MAY ALSO ATTEND THESE JOINT SERVICE EVENTS AS ADDITIONAL TRAINING. SPECIFIC COORDINATING INSTRUCTIONS ARE BEING WORKED WITH DOD BY THE ARMY COMMUNITY AND FAMILY SUPPORT CENTER (CFSC). UNITS SHOULD CONTACT THE CFSC POC AT THE END OF THIS MESSAGE TO SCHEDULE DEPLOYABLE SARC ATTENDANCE AT ANY OF THESE SESSIONS.

As you can imagine, the way that you end up with this sort of work product is for the Secretary of Defense to begin talking to his most senior Generals and Admirals, who will then will gather their paperwork forces and convene working groups, they’ll start passing drafts around and getting approvals; and the output from that process will be delivered to unit commanders all the way down the chain.

If these regulations are a model, conference centers will have to be made available, advocates and trainers will have to be appointed, and then unit commanders will have to train their troops to the new standards.

It is likely that there are regulations to be written that will impact the civilian world; if that’s the case, those regulations generally require, after they’re written, a 90 day public comment period, and that will also add to the total time that will be needed. If the regulations need to be rewritten after the comment period, there will be a bit more delay.

To add to the issues to be addressed, some of the forces are today “combat deployed”, and for the most part I wouldn’t expect a lot of effort to train any of them to new standards until they’re rotated out of combat.

It is possible that certification could occur even if those forces are not yet trained, but the training infrastructure is in place for them when they return; if that’s the case things would obviously move faster.

In addition to managing the conduct of servicemembers, the military issues standards of conduct that affect “dependants”. Some of those dependants live in base housing, and their kids often attend base schools; all of this will likely create the need for more rules and training, especially since there will be people in the military community who will be intolerant of the new regime.

Now this story actually grew out of a comment that I made at The Bilerico Project after the DADT cloture vote. The response to that comment, if I might paraphrase, was that it’s amazing that we can move tens of thousands of troops all the way to the Middle East and commence to killing everyone in sight faster than we can teach our own troops to accept each other equally.

That’s a well-focused observation, I think (and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are those in the service making the same comment), and in the end, the way the services deal with the issues behind that complaint (and the host of other issues that surround this transition) is going to be the marker by which we determine if the military will remain an institution that commands as much respect among Americans as it does today.

Will they succeed?

Starting next week, it looks like we’ll be finding out.

 

On Fear: The Islam Edition, Or, Do You Know My Friend Wa’el? September 22, 2010

We last got together about ten days ago, when I put up a story that hoped to explain to the Islamic world that, Qur’an burning aside, we don’t really hate either them, or our own Constitution.

I pointed out that, just like everywhere else, about 20% of our population are idiots, that this means about 60,000,000 of us might, at any time, be inclined to burst into fits of random stupidity, such as the desire to burn Qur’ans to make some sort of statement, and that the same First Amendment that protects the freedom of stupid speech also protects the rights of Islamic folks to freely build mosques…and finally, that this apparent “paradox of freedom” is exactly why the US is the kind of country that many Islamic folks the world over wish they lived in as well.

I then went off to enjoy my Godson’s wedding, and I ignored the posting until the next Monday.

On the two dozen sites where it could be found, this was apparently considered to be a fairly innocuous message…with one giant exception, which is what we’ll be talking about today.

Long story short, some portion of this country’s population has some bizarre ideas about Islamic folks…but maybe if they knew my friend Wa’el, they might see things a bit differently.

This world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those that feel

Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, in a letter, August, 1776

So all of this took place at Newsvine…and if you’re not familiar with how things work there, users may “seed” a story that they find of interest, so that it may attract the interest of others. What happens is that the user reposts a shortened version of the original story, along with a link back to the source.

My original posting on the site had fewer than ten comments, but by Monday Newsvine user btco’s seeded version of my story had about 300 comments; today there are more than 625.

Those who were not liking the story basically came down to one of a few categories of responders; here’s one example…

…I live a few minutes from Dearbornistan in Michigan and I can tell you that, as a place with a great deal of Muslims, they barely speak out against the Islamofacists that kill. There is outrage; however, but that outrage is aimed at America instead of the Islamofacists that should be the target of the aforementioned outrage. In fact, Dearborn has seen Muslims verbally attack Christians and forbid them for handing out Christian pamphlets, their 1st amendment right to do so, as this goes against the @!$%#ed up Sharia Law. Until Dearbornistan demands that they will abide willingly with the constitution and ignore the racist and misogynic crap that is Sharia law, then Dearbornistan Muslims side with the enemy and that enemy is Islam.

…and here’s another:

Christianity underwent reformation and was tamed by enlightenment period (during which, BTW, was harshly criticized).

Islam is in its original forms, claws and all.

And people like you, who for some dubious reason think it should be allowed to be what it is are doing great disservice for Muslims whose minds are set for the reforms and who want to live like normal, 21 century people, but are forced to “submit” to medieval dogma.

The idea that all Islamic folks worship a Moon God, that neither democracy nor any other religion can co-exist alongside Islam, that after beating them, all Islamic men send their four wives out to distribute “terror tomatoes” among the infidel population, and that, for adherents of Islam, both the Bible and the Constitution are immoral and corrupt all seems to be accepted wisdom for a bunch of the commenters (except for the “terror tomato” part, which I made up myself); it all seems to come from an apparently long-circulating email that was posted in the comments over and over that purports to prove that Muslims can’t be good Americans.

So is all this true?

Well…let’s start with the question of whether Islamic people can co-exist with democracy…and to help answer that question, let me introduce you to my friend Wa’el.

Wa’el Nawara has been trying to advance the interests of democracy in Egyptian politics for many years now, in the form of his work for the El-Ghad Party, in the face of an Egyptian Government that has been ruled, since the end of King Farouk’s reign, by just one political party, the (secular) NDP. The founder of El-Ghad, Ayman Nour, was imprisoned and tortured for basically getting 8% of the vote in a 2005 Presidential election against the current President, Hosni Mubarak.

To prevent this from happening again, it is also alleged that the Egyptian Government helped to orchestrate a temporarily successful “takeover” of the party from within. (This is not uncommon; the Egyptians security apparatus has acted against numerous parties, including the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood.)

Shortly after Wa’el and I became acquainted (I had been researching a series of stories about Egyptian politics when we were introduced) he was inside the offices of his own Party, which were burned by a mob that was allegedly associated with Egyptian State Security (an event that was recorded, live, by people across the street). Afterwards Wa’el, along with many of the 30 other people who were in the building, were arrested and detained for…you guessed it…suspicion of arson.

It’s not just Wa’el, or the other members of his Party…nor the other members of other Parties, either.

If were to take the time, you’d find out there’s a Center for Democracy in Lebanon, you’d discover that Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and even Saudi Arabia have all held recent local elections, and you’d find out there’s even a debate in the UAE as to whether adopting democratic reforms might be appropriate.

Outside the Gulf, India’s current President is their third Muslim President, Indonesia, which is 80% Muslim, elects their Presidents (even as they struggle with sectarian violence)…and all of that tells me that anyone who thinks Islam and democracy are incompatible should do some more reading.

Can Islam accept the presence of other religions?

One answer can be found in what is today’s Spain, but what used to be Andalucía (or Al-Andalus, if you prefer Arabic), where Moors ruled for centuries over Jews with far more compassion and respect than they ever received under Christian dominion; another, in today’s Egypt, where Christian Copts and Muslims have lived together for thousands of years, even as tensions have increased recently between the two groups.

Does Wa’el beat his four wives?

Not as far as I can tell—and if his one wife ever found out he had three other wives…I’m guessing that wouldn’t go so well for Wa’el.

Is the Bible corrupt to those who follow Islam?

Those who follow “mainstream” Islam believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that He was crucified. Is that corruption? I don’t know, and I guess you’ll have to decide that one for yourself.

Now we need to be fair here, and acknowledge that one branch of Islam does indeed represent much of what my most conservative friends are afraid of: Wahhabi Ikhban. Here’s what the Library of Congress has to say about the sect:

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was concerned with the way the people of Najd engaged in practices he considered polytheistic, such as praying to saints; making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques; venerating trees, caves, and stones; and using votive and sacrificial offerings. He was also concerned by what he viewed as a laxity in adhering to Islamic law and in performing religious devotions, such as indifference to the plight of widows and orphans, adultery, lack of attention to obligatory prayers, and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women.

When Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab began to preach against these breaches of Islamic laws, he characterized customary practices as jahiliya, the same term used to describe the ignorance of Arabians before the Prophet. Initially, his preaching encountered opposition, but he eventually came under the protection of a local chieftain named Muhammad ibn Saud, with whom he formed an alliance. The endurance of the Wahhabi movement’s influence may be attributed to the close association between the founder of the movement and the politically powerful Al Saud in southern Najd (see The Saud Family and Wahhabi Islam, 1500-1818 , ch. 1).

This association between the Al Saud and the Al ash Shaykh, as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and his descendants came to be known, effectively converted political loyalty into a religious obligation. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. The whole purpose of the Muslim community is to become the living embodiment of God’s laws, and it is the responsibility of the legitimate ruler to ensure that people know God’s laws and live in conformity to them.

So what have we learned today?

Well, we learned that there is a community of Americans out there who are profoundly afraid of Islam, or anything connected with it, and the odds are that they know very little about the religion, other than what they’ve seen and copied and pasted, over and over, in a particularly ignorant email.

My friend Wa’el, on the other hand, lives a life that disproves those myths: in addition to being the target of a mob, he’s been jailed, along with many of his friends and associates, for trying to create a more democratic Egypt, he has just the one wife, who lives as an equal in their house, and his own country, Egypt, is one of numerous Islamic countries that have other religions well-established within their borders.

We also learned that numerous countries with Islamic populations are countries with varying degrees of representative democracy…and that the world’s largest democracy just inaugurated their third Muslim President.

Now the question that we’re addressing today is whether Muslims can be good Americans—and the fact is that Wa’el and his family would make great Americans…even though they’re not…and if I can point to Muslims who would make great Americans and live halfway around the world…how much you wanna bet we can find tens of thousands more in the heart of Dearbornistan?

 

On Living With Idiots, Or, An Open Letter To Islam September 9, 2010

Dear Islam,

You know, it seems like every time I write a letter I have to begin by apologizing for not having written in so long, and that’s the case again today.

We only get a few days of real summer up here every year, and I was out having fun at golf tournaments and doing a bit of climbing around the local hills—and you know, I do love doing a bit of nothing at all from time to time—but while I was away, things have gotten even crazier than usual around here…and I’m sorry to say, you’ve been on the pointy end of the crazy stick, which is something that never should have happened.

Things have been so nutty that you’re probably thinking America has something against Islam—in fact, you might be wondering if we have something against our own Constitution.

Well, we don’t, most of us, and I’ll take a few minutes today to help y’all understand just what is going on in this country.

So you’re going to be hearing a lot about this disturbed guy in Florida who thinks that he can save the world by burning Qu’rans on September 11th—and you’re going to be asking yourselves: “Why would America allow anyone to do that?”

Well, the answer’s kind of paradoxical, and it has everything to do with the same Constitution that protects freedom of religion in the first place.

You see, it also protects the concept of freedom of speech…which, in itself, probably requires a bit of an explanation.

Freedom of speech, as you can imagine, isn’t absolutely free (for example, there is the famous “yelling fire in a crowded room” example), but to a far greater extent than you might think, we really are able to say things that would shock most of you not living here.

At the moment, just to illustrate the point, we have all kinds of people suggesting the President is taking the country in the wrong direction, or a secret Muslim (as if that were somehow bad)…or even that he’s some sort of weird mixture of Stalin and Hitler and Satan Himself who was born in Kenya…and every one of them is free to stand on any street corner and hold a sign proclaiming exactly that, just as much as they want.

Matter of fact, those are the same people that are mad at you, Islam, for the moment, even if they know nothing about Islam…and that brings me right to the next thing I need to tell you.

The only reason a lot of Americans are mad at you, Islam…is because there’s an election on, and the only way Republicans can win elections is to try to scare Americans into thinking that the United States will instantly collapse from whatever useful threat they think up—unless enough of us vote Republican.

Now in normal times, Islam, Republicans would be trying to scare us about gay people trying to eat our babies, or something equally stupid, but that hasn’t been working as well as it used to lately—and what they would really like to say this election cycle, they can’t (“Those Jesus-hating liberals elected a nigger and now they’re gonna impregnate your daughters and gay marry your sons!”)…and that leaves you, Islam, as the next most desirable overt target for Republican fear-spreading professionals.

(You and, of course, those “illegal aliens” who are busily beheading people in the Arizona desert every night.)

Now there is no doubt that a portion of our population is entirely ready to jump on this bandwagon with no encouragement at all, and that’s where we get the fools who think having a Qur’an BBQ party somehow makes some kind of sense.

My guess is that about 20% of us are that stupid—and based on our current population, that means about 60,000,000 fools are bumping and stumbling their way across the American landscape on any given day, struggling, as Aimee Mann says, “with the undertaking of simple thought”.

Apparently because it’s just hanging there, many of them sort of slide down and congregate in Florida, and sure enough, a few of them did gather together in that particular State to form into the human blood clot that planned this little 9/11 protest, and that’s how we got to where we are today.

Now I’m sorry that we can’t just bring this to a stop, but we do allow idiots to say their piece in this country, whether it’s a good idea or not…so they do, even if the Government and The Not Blindingly Stupid Among The Population don’t like it…and all I can really tell you by way of consolation is that as soon as Election Day is past, much of this will come to an end—unless it works so well that Republicans keep it up for a few more election cycles, until it fails to work any more.

Anyway, Islam, try not to let it upset you too much, try to keep in mind that this is really about American electoral politics and the desperate need to create fear (which is all the Republicans have left)…and most importantly, try to keep in mind that if good old-fashioned American racial segregation was back in style then no one would even be talking about you—instead, the same people that are on your back today would all be doing their best Dr. Laura impressions 60 or 70 times a day, and they’d go right back to assuming Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs are all the same people, just like they did in happier times.

So that’s what’s been up around here, and I hope to hear from you soon as well—and of course, if you’re in the neighborhood sometime, drop me a note and we’ll go grab a coffee and laugh as the fools walk by.

Your friend,

fake

 

On Looking Deeper, Or, Things About Iran You Might Not Know June 24, 2009

It has been an amazing week in Iran, and you are no doubt seeing images that would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

For most of us, Iran has been a country about which we know very little…which, obviously, makes it tough to put the limited news we’re getting into a proper context.

The goal of today’s conversation is to give you a bit more of an “insider look” at today’s news; and to do that we’ll describe some of the risks Iranian bloggers face as they go about their business, we’ll meet a blogging Iranian cleric, we’ll address the issue of what tools the Iranians use for Internet censorship and the companies that could potentially be helping it along, and then we’ll examine Internet traffic patterns into and out of Iran.

Finally, a few words about, of all things, how certain computer games might be useful as tools of revolution.

The first task for today…let’s talk about blogging:

It turns out that bloggers in Iran risk running afoul of the Press Law of 1986, which, in addition to requiring the licensing of media outlets, reads in part:

Article 6: The print media are permitted to publish news items except in cases when they violate Islamic principles and codes and public rights as outlined in this chapter…

…5. Encouraging and instigating individuals and groups to act against the security, dignity and interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran within or outside the country…
…7. Insulting Islam and its sanctities, or, offending the Leader of the Revolution and recognized religious authorities (senior Islamic jurisprudents);
8. Publishing libel against officials, institutions, organizations and individuals in the country or insulting legal or real persons who are lawfully respected, even by means of pictures or caricatures; and
9. Committing plagiarism or quoting articles from the deviant press, parties and groups which oppose Islam (inside and outside the country) in such a manner as to propagate such ideas (the limits of such offenses shall be defined by the executive by-law)…

… Article 25: If a person, through the press, expressly and overtly instigates and encourages people to commit crimes against the domestic security or foreign policies of the state, as specified in the public penal code, and should his/her action bear adverse consequences, he/she shall be prosecuted and condemned as an accomplice in that crime. However, if no evidence is found on such consequences he/she shall be subject to a decision of the religious judge according to Islamic penal code.

Article 26: Whoever insults Islam and its sanctities through the press and his/her guilt amounts to apostasy, shall be sentenced as an apostate and should his/her offense fall short of apostasy he/she shall be subject to the Islamic penal code.

Article 27: Should a publication insult the Leader or Council of Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran or senior religious authorities (top Islamic jurisprudents), the license of the publication shall be revoked and its managing director and the writer of the insulting article shall be referred to competent courts for punishment.

(In Iran, the penalty for apostasy is death.)

Those bloggers who are not licensed can still be prosecuted under the Penal Code, as the OpenNet Initiative reports in an excellent article they’ve just posted on the subject.

In 2008 the Iranian parliament passed a law which provides for the death penalty for bloggers who engage in non-permitted activities, a situation faced today by Yaghub Mehrnahad, who publishes the Mehrnahad blog.

(Interestingly, this blog can be reached in Persian, but an attempt to access the same URL with Google Translate returns this message:

“You are not authorized to view this page

The Web server you are attempting to reach has a list of IP addresses that are not allowed to access the Web site, and the IP address of your browsing computer is on this list.”

More about that later.)

There is also the risk of torture: a problem noted by the BBC at least as far back as 2005.

Ironically, Mohammad Ali Abtabi, a cleric and former Vice-President of Iran whom you may have recently seen on “The Daily Show” maintains a blog in which he does criticize Iranian society on a regular basis, including his assessment of the recent election as “a huge swindling”…which has now caused the authorities to place him under arrest.

So how does Iran manage to control Internet access?

What they aren’t doing is employing the simplest method possible: cutting off all access. This is presumably because of the negative impact on the Iranian economy that would be caused by business being unable to do what they need to do online.

There are several methods being employed, including a requirement that all Internet Service Providers in the country connect to the state-owned Data communication Company of Iran (DCI) for international access, that all ISPs put in place “filtering” and monitoring technologies, and that households be blocked from having access to high-speed Internet connections.

As of this writing the fastest Internet connection now available for an Iranian household is 128k, about double the speed of a dial-up connection…and as you might guess, not fast enough to allow Iranians to use such services as YouTube. A 6MB cable Internet connection, not uncommon in the US, would be roughly 50 times faster. Because of this the total capacity of Iran’s international Internet connections are roughly 12GB per second. Normal traffic is about 5GB per second, which, we are told, is about the same as a mid-size American city.

OpenNet reports that after an initial period of reliance upon foreign monitoring software, the government decided to create an “in-house” capability, and as a result there are locally developed software packages designed to allow access to the actual data packets in messages—meaning that authorities can read such things as e-mails and instant messages after they are sent and before they pass through the DCI “gateway”.

There has been a conversation regarding the role of Western equipment suppliers in all of this; and it is alleged that a Nokia/Siemens joint venture (Nokia/Siemens Networks) has sold to the Iranians equipment that is used to monitor the Internet use of Iranian citizens. The company denies this, however.

They also want you to know that the joint venture has been sold to a third party, and that, as their press release tells us: “providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate ultimately benefits societies and brings greater prosperity”.

Another method of blocking access is to deny connections to certain sets of IP addresses, and this is why, presumably, I could not access the translated version of the “Mehrnahad” blog. This method would also allow the Iranians to block access to and from inside the country to sites like the BBC, Google, and Blogspot.

There is a way around “address blocking” which involves setting up “relays” and “bridges” that can be accessed by people in Iran—and this is something you yourself can do that can be of considerable benefit to Iranians trying to reach out to the rest of us.

The Iranian Government is also trying to locate and isolate those with Twitter accounts that are set to the Tehran time zone…and you can help make that process tougher by either setting up a Twitter account and setting the time zone to Tehran, or changing your existing account’s time zone.

The next few minutes are going to get a bit geeky, and for this I apologize in advance.

In order for your computer to use certain services that involve communicating with other computers the operating system utilizes a series of “ports” (this is all in the software, so don’t bother looking at the back of the machine to find them).

Some quick examples: the TCP/IP connection your computer is using to access the Internet is through Port 80 and the FTP service runs on Port 21.

There are two kinds of ports—TCP and UDP—and there is no reason to explain here why or how they differ.

There are thousands of ports, the ports used are usually specific to a particular service, and there are giant lists of assigned ports that everyone can access. A service can (and usually does) use more than one port for two-way communication with a computer, which is why the Federal Emergency Management Agency Information System uses TCP Port 1777 and UDP Port 1777.

The routing data that packets of information display as they travel through the Internet includes the port that the packet is seeking to access…and that data is accessible to all routers…and if you controlled the gateway through which all inbound and outbound Internet traffic was passing through you could block packets that seek to utilize certain ports.

Experts are suggesting that this is exactly what is happening today in Iran, with more than 80% of traffic bound for ports using the Adobe Flash Player being blocked, nearly 75% of the POP Service (e-mail) traffic being blocked, and roughly 70% of traffic bound for ports used by “proxy servers” being intercepted. (Proxy servers, by the way, are the same type of connections we discussed earlier that you can set up at home to help Iranians trying to reach the Internet.)

Voice over IP (VoIP), the Internet “telephone” service, is proving to be a troublesome issue for censors, as it has legitimate business purposes and is difficult to censor without either having someone listening on the other end of the line or installing a monitoring system worthy of the National Security Agency.

Interestingly, with the exception of the few hours immediately following the vote, the amount of Internet blockage, overall, seems to be fairly close to what it was just before the voting. However, the amount of “instability” has been highly variable, suggesting that certain blocks of IP addresses have been temporarily “withdrawn” from the Internet’s address structure, for want of a better term, and then once again made known to that same addressing infrastructure.

It is suggested that this may be because the Iranian Government has been able to institute a sufficient level of monitoring on those address blocks so as to make them comfortable with again allowing the users of those addresses access to the Internet.

In one of the oddest developments I’ve heard so far, there are reports that certain communications protocols used by some games are not being blocked. We will not go into specifics here, but it seems strange indeed that the video game your mother didn’t want you playing all day might actually be a tool for surreptitious communication.

And with all that said, let’s wrap it up for today.

Here’s what we’ve learned: it is indeed hazardous to be a blogger in Iran.

Despite the fact that it can get you tortured or get you the death penalty, there are those who take the risk—including a former Vice-President who now finds himself under arrest.

We can help Iranian citizens by installing software on our own computers that helps them obtain uncensored Internet access, and about 1/3 of that traffic is getting through.

The regime is not attempting to permanently shut down all Internet traffic—and in fact, that would be a cure that might be as bad as the disease.

The Iranian Government, instead, is developing and operating a sophisticated system of Internet blocking, but it is not perfect…and there are odd connections that could be used that most people would never think of as useful for the purpose.

Finally, a Western company is accused of selling equipment to Iran that could be used for Internet monitoring, but the company in question denies that the gear they sold Iran can perform the tasks the accusers say it can.

It is rare indeed to be able to see two revolutions taking place at the same time–but as you’re watching the news from the newest Iranian Revolution…keep an eye on the news of the Internet Revolution as well.

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected…with an announcement due this week…so even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

 

On Torture And War Crimes, Part Two, Or, Dr. Addicott And I Find Common Ground May 30, 2009

When last we met, Gentle Reader, it was to work through a series of legal precedents and statute law; the goal of the exercise being to determine if we could or could not define waterboarding as torture.

We have the kind assistance of Professor Jeffrey Addicott, who has provided us with his written testimony from his recent appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a personal interview, where he walked me through some of his thinking on the matter.

Today we’re going to take a look at the precedent that he has used to reach the conclusion that waterboarding is not torture.

It’s also possible that the analysis may result in the discovery of a bit of common ground…but as I noted in Part One, it’s common ground that neither one of us might have seen coming.

To begin, a quick review from yesterday:

Dr. Addicott wants you to know that waterboarding is not torture.

He relies on the argument that since the “Five Techniques” (“Wall-standing”, “Hooding”, the application of excessive noise, sleep deprivation, and the withholding of food and water) used on Irish prisoners by the United Kingdom were found not to be torture by the European Court of Human Rights, and waterboarding is not worse than the five techniques, it logically follows that waterboarding is not torture.

Although waterboarding might be cruel, inhuman, and degrading, Dr. Addicott would remind you that legally, torture requires severe physical pain over an extended, but unspecified, period of time.

He also notes a lack of lack of legal precedent specifically defining waterboarding as torture in either US or international courts.

I asked Dr. Addicott why 18 USC § 2340 (which defines torture, in part, as “…an act…specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering” and defines “severe mental pain”, in part, as “the threat of imminent death…”) wouldn’t be the definition of torture that should apply.

His basic responses were that the alleged acts took place overseas to non-US citizens, therefore there is a jurisdictional issue; and that a lack of specificity in the statute males it unclear whether waterboarding would be torture.

Here’s how he expressed it to me:

“Those are words, those are descriptive words…that only find meaning when we have a court define what that means; that’s the whole problem with our Anglo-Saxon tradition, is that you have words that are put out in statute but what, you know, what does “severe” mean, what does “prolonged” mean, is it five minutes, is it 10 minutes…is it four drops to the head, is it three drops of water on your head, what does it mean?”

He also wants you to know that we do the same thing to our own military personnel who undergo “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” (SERE) training, which indicates the procedure isn’t torture.

He also tells us in his written testimony that the “shock the conscience” standard should apply to define torture.

Additionally, he cites Blefare v United States (362 F.2d 870) and Leon v. Wainwright (734 F.2d 770) to suggest that coercive interrogation is already permitted under US law.

With the catch-up complete, let’s have a look at Dr. Addicott’s assertions.

Right off the bat, Dr Addicott does correctly assert that…

“…the five techniques, as applied in combination, undoubtedly amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, although their object was the extraction of confessions, the naming of others and/or information and although they were used systematically, they did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture as so understood.

168. The Court concludes that recourse to the five techniques amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment, which practice was in breach of Article 3 (art. 3)”.

…in the opinion of the European Court of Human Rights.

However, there is precedent that declares waterboarding is torture, as another international tribunal saw things a bit differently.

You undoubtedly are aware of the Nuremberg Trials, which addressed the conduct of officials of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. A similar process took place to bring Japanese officials to account, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Here’s what they had to say about waterboarding:

“Torture and Other Inhumane Treatment

The practice of torturing prisoners of war and civilian internees prevailed at practically all places occupied by Japanese troops, both in the occupied territories and in Japan. The Japanese indulged in this practice during the entire period of the Pacific War. Methods of torture were employed in all areas so uniformly as to indicate policy both in training and execution. Among these tortures were the water treatment [euphemism for waterboarding], burning, electric shocks, the knee spread, [page number removed] suspension, kneeling on sharp instruments and flogging.

The Japanese Military Police, the Kempetai, was most active in inflicting these tortures. Other Army and Navy units, however, used the same methods as the Kempetai. Camp guards also employed similar methods. Local police forces organized by the Kempetai in the occupied territories also applied the same methods of torture.”

Dr. Addicott feels that 18 USC § 2340 doesn’t apply because the acts took place outside the US to non-US citizens…but the statute tells us jurisdiction applies if “the alleged offender is a national of the United States”.

Conspiracy to torture is also a crime, meaning that those who ordered this behavior would also face potential legal liability, even if the person doing the torturing is not a US citizen.

So what about the argument that SERE trainees are subjected to the same treatment?

The difference, I suggest, is that there is no threat of imminent death when a trainee is waterboarded, which is what 18 USC § 2340 requires.

Can waterboarding actually carry the threat of imminent death?

I know someone who can tell us.

Dr. Allen Keller, MD is an Associate Professor at New York University and the founder and Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, which has provided care for more than 2000 torture survivors. He’s also a member of the Advisory Council of Physicians for Human Rights.

He offered this assessment in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

“Water-boarding or mock drowning, where a prisoner is bound to an inclined board and water is poured over their face, inducing a terrifying fear of drowning clearly can result in immediate and long-term health consequences. As the prisoner gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive, with all of the physiologic and psychological responses expected, including an intense stress response, manifested by tachycardia, rapid heart beat and gasping for breath. There is a real risk of death from actually drowning or suffering a heart attack or damage to the lungs from inhalation of water. Long term effects include panic attacks, depression and PTSD. I remind you of the patient I described earlier who would panic and gasp for breath whenever it rained even years after his abuse.”

Dr. Addicott also relies on court rulings to demonstrate that coercive methods of obtaining evidence are permissible under US law.

He points two cases for guidance. In the first, Blefare v United States (362 F.2d 870), he tells us (in written testimony) that:

“the appellants were suspected of swallowing narcotics which were lodged in their rectums or stomachs…Then, without Blefare’s consent the doctor forcefully passed a soft tube into the “nose, down the throat and into the stomach,” through which fluid flowed in order to induce vomiting. This resulted in the discovery of packets of heroin and the subsequent conviction of Blefare.

Unlike Rochin [Rochin v. California, (342 U. S. 165)], the Ninth Circuit refused to hold that the involuntary intrusion into Blefare’s stomach shocked the conscience.

While all that is true, it’s also irrelevant to the facts of the case as it appears in the record.

First, the Ninth Circuit had no reason to reach a conclusion about whether evidence was obtained from Blefare in a manner that “shocked the conscience” because the evidence that the appeal was trying to suppress did not belong to Blefare, but to his co-defendant, Donald Michel (who had voluntarily consented to the intubation that led to the recovery of the challenged evidence).

The second reason the challenged evidence was not suppressed had to do with the fact that the searches of Blefare and Michel were held to be “border searches”.

This, from Blefare:

“No question of whether there is probable cause for a search exists when the search is incidental to the crossing of an international border, for there is reason and probable cause to search every person entering the United States from a foreign country, by reason of such entry alone. That the customs authorities do not search every person crossing the border does not mean they have waived their right to do so, when they see fit…Mere suspicion has been held enough cause for a search at the border.”

Dr. Addicott also misstates the effect of Leon v. Wainwright (734 F.2d 770).

From his written testimony:

“For instance, in Leon v. Wainwright the Eleventh Circuit brushed aside the fact that police officers had used “force and threats” on kidnap suspect Jean Leon in order to get the suspect to reveal the location of his victim. When apprehended by a group of police officers in a Florida parking lot, Leon refused to reveal the location of his kidnap victim (the victim, Louis Gachelin, had been taken by gunpoint to an apartment where he was undressed and bound). In order to get the suspect to talk, police officers then physically abused Leon by twisting his arm and choking him until he revealed where the kidnap victim was being held. In speaking to the use of brutal force to get the information needed to protect the victim, the Court deemed that the action of the officers was reasonable given the immediate concern to find the victim and save his life.”

It is inaccurate to say the Court “brushed aside” the use of force and threats.

What actually happened was that the defendant confessed twice—and it was that second confession that was being challenged.

The first confession…the one taken by force…was not admitted into evidence; therefore its admissibility–and by extension, the means by which it was obtained–was not an issue to be considered by the appeals court.

This, from the ruling in Leon v Wainwright:

“Meanwhile, Leon was taken to the police station. He was questioned there by detectives who had neither been involved in the threats and use of force at the scene of his arrest nor witnessed it. After being thoroughly informed of his rights and signing a Miranda waiver form, he gave full oral and written confessions of the crime. This entire process was concluded about five hours after his arrest…

…The totality of the circumstances in this case clearly confirms the finding that the second statement was voluntary.[4] The police, motivated by the immediate necessity of finding the victim and saving his life, used force and threats on Leon in the parking lot.[5] Hours later, Leon was questioned at the police station by a completely different group of police officers. These officers were not even participants in the surveillance team at the parking lot. Prior to questioning him the officers meticulously explained to him his constitutional rights. He specifically waived his right to have counsel present. The necessity of saving the victim’s life, the different physical setting, the different group of questioning officers, and the meticulous explanation to appellant of his constitutional rights constituted a sufficient break in the stream of events to dissipate the effects of the first coercion. The challenged confession was properly admitted into evidence.”

There is a question of what to do if it is suspected that torture has been committed. Here is a portion of Dr. Addicott’s comment on the matter, from his written testimony.

“…those who order, approve, or engage in torture must be criminally charged. If the United States determines that waterboarding as practiced by the CIA is torture, there is no option. Under the Torture Convention violators must be prosecuted. Similarly, lawyers at the Department of Justice who approved the practice must also be prosecuted… In short, in my legal opinion, the subject waterboarding technique used on the al-Qa’eda operatives did not constitute torture and requires no binding obligation to prosecute.”

With all respect to the Professor, this looks like circular logic. To “determine” that torture occurred requires a trial, as Dr. Addicott has previously noted, yet he says here there’s no need for a trial because, by his determination, no torture occurred.

It also appears that his analysis on this point is factually inaccurate, in that there is no obligation to prosecute under either the Geneva Conventions or the Torture Convention. Here are the pertinent texts:

“Article 12

Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committee [sic] in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

UN Convention Against Torture

“Article 129

The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present Convention defined in the following Article.

Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts. It may also, if it prefers, and in accordance with the provisions of its own legislation, hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party concerned, provided such High Contracting Party has made out a prima facie case.”

Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War

The phrase “bring such persons…before its own courts” will be a subject of controversy, so let me clear it up now. In Europe, the “court” process involves the use of “investigating magistrates” who would decide if this sort of case should or should not be brought to trial; a function that, in the US, would be handled by a Special Prosecutor or the FBI and the appropriate US Attorney, possibly through the federal grand jury process.

As you can see, there is an obligation to investigate people suspected of torture…but no mandate to prosecute every suspected offense…which means, just like in a RICO case, you can round up the lower-level “actors”, convince them to “flip” on the other co-conspirators up the chain in exchange for immunity…and then you prosecute the ringleaders.

We have spent some considerable time addressing the questions around what is and what is not torture…but now we get to an issue that makes the “torture question” irrelevant.

Remember way back in Part One when I asked you to keep that “cruel and inhuman treatment” phrase in the back of your mind?

And remember the European Court of Human Rights ruling that called the “Five Techniques” cruel and inhuman?

Well, guess what?

If a prosecutor can demonstrate that waterboarding is not torture, but merely “cruel or inhuman” (a standard that only requires “serious” mental or physical pain, not the “severe” standard required for torture)…that’s a “war crime”, as defined by the War Crimes Act of 1996 (18 USC § 2441(d)(1)(B)).

And those who commit a war crime, it turns out:

“…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.”

And that’s where we get to the point that Dr. Addicott and I finally reach some common ground:

Maybe torture prosecutions are bad policy.

Especially when it’s easier to prove a war crime than it is to prove torture.

Once again, we have come a long way to get here, but let’s review it all before we finish:

Dr. Addicott and I differ on where we should look for a definition of torture.

Despite the language of 18 USC § 2340, he does not feel there’s jurisdiction to prosecute under the US Code.

He does not feel waterboarding is torture, but he acknowledges that the “Five Techniques” are “cruel and inhuman”.

There is precedent in international law to draw the conclusion that waterboarding is torture which Dr. Addicott did not note in his written testimony.

Because waterboarding does create the threat of imminent death and does cause severe and long-lasting mental problems, I feel it is also torture as defined by US law.

Dr. Addicott proffers legal precedent to support his position that the use of coercive techniques does not violate US law…but when you actually examine the texts of the rulings he cites, it appears that he either misunderstands the rulings or misstates their application to this question.

He also testifies inaccurately when he asserts that all cases “determined” to be torture must be prosecuted…firstly, because of the circular logic of “determined”, and secondly, because the two pertinent texts simply don’t read the way his testimony reports they read.

But all that said, it turns out that even if waterboarding is somehow not torture…that it does not cause “severe physical or mental pain or suffering”…it appears highly likely that the technique causes “serious physical or mental pain or suffering”…which, mirabile dictu, is the legal standard for proving a war crime.

Which leads us to the one point upon which we both agree: there should be prosecutions.

Prosecute under 18 USC § 2441 or treat it like any other “organized crime” case: start inviting “parties of interest” to flip on their co-conspirators, immunize the cooperative…and if a judge and jury decides it’s the right choice, people are going to have to go to prison.

So there you go: we started out questioning how torture is defined, and we ended up at a place where, because of the War Crimes Act, that definition become less relevant, a bit of common ground might have been found, and in the search for that common ground we’ve discovered a better way to ensure that justice can be done.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I want to offer a hearty “thank you” to Dr. Addicott for taking the time to talk to me for this story. If we wish to do serious journalism, interviewing the people in the news is critical, and I very much appreciate his willingness to make himself available during the production of this pair of stories.

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected, and the voting has restarted from scratch…so even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

 

On A May-December Romance, Part Two, Or, Las Vegas, Integrated May 12, 2009

Moulin Rouge.

The mention of that name, in the right circles, brings back a flood of associations.

Among them: a famous cabaret in Gay Paree, a Nicole Kidman movie rich in costume and set design and…well, a movie, anyway; or, if you really know your films, perhaps the association is with the 1952 John Huston “biography” film of the same name.

The one association that might not quickly come to mind, even though it should: ground zero in a battle that led to the desegregation of Las Vegas.

Today’s story will fill in the blanks that you might have regarding that association—and by the time we’re done, we’ll have covered, just as we promised last time, the 55-year history of a place that began in 1955, lasted for not quite six months, and ended just last week…maybe.

It’s another one of those American history stories you never heard before, and it’s well worth the telling…so let’s get right to it.

“Last year people won more than one billion dollars playing poker. And casinos made twenty-seven billion just by being around those people.”

–Samantha Bee, The Daily Show, March 10, 2005

For those of you who missed Part One, we better take a moment to catch up:

Las Vegas, as World War II came to an end, was very much a segregated city, with blacks, who by that time were roughly 3000 of the city’s total population of 20,000, literally forced to live on the Wrong Side of The Tracks (a problem that continues to create headlines even as recently as 2008).

(Irony number one: “The Tracks”, or at least 60 acres of the land upon which they used to sit, are now the site of an upscale redevelopment effort (“Union Park”) that Westside residents note has the potential to leave them even more geographically isolated than they were when The Tracks occupied the site. To further the irony, far more redevelopment money is being spent on the Union Park project then is being spent in the severely economically disadvantaged Westside.)

As the casinos began to become the major driver of the local economy, blacks were allowed to work on the properties, but they could not patronize the segregated casinos in which they worked.

This extended to the highest levels of worker, as even the entertainers who were brought in to work the showrooms were forced to seek accommodations in the Westside neighborhood…which is why the neighborhood’s rented cottages and hotels, such as the famous Harrison Boarding House, could count among their many famous guests Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jack Benny’s “valet” and sidekick Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

By the middle of the 1950s there had been unsuccessful efforts in Nevada to pass laws mandating an end to segregation in the casinos and elsewhere (oddly enough, there had never been a law requiring segregation); and it has been suggested that casinos were resistant because their customer base at the time was mainly Californians who had settled there from the Southern states, and who presumably brought their racial animus with them.

And it wasn’t as if blacks were not allowed in bars or casinos: there were several on the Westside that catered to a black clientele.

(Irony number two: it’s reported that among those were Jewish-owned properties, including the Brown Derby, the Cotton Club, and the Ebony Club.)

Want to see a product of Strip segregation history with your very own eyes? The New Town Tavern, who once hosted Redd Foxx and B.B. King on its now-closed showroom stage, has remained open on the Westside from 1955 to the present day at the corner of F Street and Jackson Avenue.

Which brings us to Frank Sinatra.

By 1953 Sammy Davis, Jr., and the other members of the Will Maston Trio, of which he was the featured player, were splitting $5,000 a week for their services…but they could not stay at the place they played. By 1954, Sinatra convinced Sammy to open for him at The Sands; and in November of that year The Will Maston Trio was not only making $7500 a week at the Frontier, the hotel “comped” their room, board, and drinks, and allowed them the run of the casino, making them the first black act to receive that sort of treatment from a Strip casino (although others report that Nat King Cole was actually the first, in 1955).

Later that same month, Sammy lost an eye in an automobile accident, and was offered $25,000 a week to play The Sands, along with what are described as “Sinatra-like accommodations”.

In May of 1955, in an effort to “change the rules of the game”, Alexander Bisno and Lou Rubin opened the Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino on a site in between the Strip and the Westside.

Bisno and Rubin opened the property as a completely integrated facility, bringing blacks and whites in as guests and staff…and even as management and owners. Boxing great Joe Louis was both the official greeter and a partner in the venture. The great Benny Carter was brought in as musical director.

(Fun Fact: the distinctive neon signage for the Moulin Rouge was designed by one of the few women in the business at the time, Betty Willis, who also designed one of the most recognizable signs in advertising history, the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.)

The hotel was an immediate and massive hit with visitors, who were treated to the best entertainment available anywhere: Sammy, naturally, played the room, along with The Platters, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Eartha Kitt, to name but a few.

But here’s the thing: a major reason the place was so popular was because Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the rest of the Rat Pack would head over to the Moulin Rouge, either to put on impromptu performances or to just hang out in this newly swinging atmosphere—and suddenly, the Moulin Rouge, after the other shows on the Strip had ended for the evening, became possibly the hottest joint in the world; with everybody, and I mean everybody, heading over to see and be seen with Sammy, Sinatra, Dino, and the rest of the Pack…and of course, the “Tropi-Can Can” girls.

Things got so crazy that the Moulin Rouge added a 2:30 AM “Third Show”—but within six months, the Moulin Rouge had closed its doors; possibly the victim of mismanagement, possibly the victim of an oversaturated market, possibly the victim of policies designed to make blue-collar black patrons feel less welcome…and possibly the victim of “The Mob”, who had a hand in several of the Strip hotels that were suddenly losing significant amounts of gambling business to the new hotel.

“We don’t think that we, or any other hotel, should give away a $30,000 show for a Coke and two straws.”

–Former Riviera Hotel Chairman Morrie Mason, in Time Magazine, September 19, 1955

And with that, you’d think the history of the Moulin Rouge had come to an end.

In fact, there was quite a bit more history yet to come.

Throughout the ‘50s, Sinatra had been busy working to eliminate what he called the “national disease” of bigotry. He wrote this in a July 1958 “Jet” Magazine article, The Way I Look At Race:

“A friend to me has no race, no class, and belongs to no minority. My friendships were formed out of affection, mutual respect, and a feeling of having something strong in common. These are eternal values that cannot be racially classified. This is the way I look at race.”

By 1959, the Rat Pack was in town filming Ocean’s Eleven and going after segregation in their own unique way. They would show up at a casino, and if the casino would not admit Sammy Davis, Jr. to the gaming floor, then they would move on to the next one. Since no one wanted the bad publicity…Sammy usually got in. (That same year, blacks and whites in Nevada were legally allowed to marry.)

Because so many people were pushing for integration, segregation was beginning to be bad for business, and something had to be done.

Even Nevada’s Governor, Grant Sawyer, was trying to change the culture of segregation…and as 1960 rolled around, the NAACP was applying its own pressure.

Dr. James McMillan, leader of the local NAACP chapter, announced that he would organize a series of “sit-down strikes” in the restaurants of the Strip casinos. The day before the strikes were to begin, Oscar Crozier, representing the hotel interests, met and negotiated with NAACP representatives, Hank Greenspun, the publisher of the “Las Vegas Sun”, and some assorted politicians at…wait for it…the abandoned Moulin Rouge, where the Moulin Rouge Agreement was struck, which immediately desegregated the patronage of casinos on the Strip.

“When these fellows realized that they weren’t going to lose any money, that they might even make more, they were suddenly colorblind.”

Dr. James McMillan

(The new colorblindness, oddly enough, did not extend to the Downtown casinos, and Binion’s Horseshoe was among of the last of those casinos to desegregate.)

Over the next few years, employment on the gaming floors was also desegregated, and in 1971 the State Legislature passed a law barring racial discrimination in the housing market.

Even after all that, the Moulin Rouge wasn’t through making history. The property and buildings and…casino license…passed from one owner to another, and eventually one of those owners, Sarann Knight-Preddy, became the first black woman to hold a Nevada gaming license.

The property did operate as a sort of “apartment-motel” for a number of years, and even reopened as a casino during the 1990s, but a 2003 arson fire destroyed the casino/showroom building and removed it from Preserve Nevada’s list of 11 most endangered historical sites in the State.

Even then the remaining “hotel” buildings became low-income housing…until they became too dilapidated for that purpose.

And even then plans continued to float around, including an effort that seemed to be gaining momentum in 2008 to build an entirely new project on the old site…until a bad economy and bankruptcy brought that momentum to a crashing halt.

In an ending reminiscent of something that might have happened in the movie “Casino”, on May 5th of this year, Olympic Coast Investments of Seattle took ownership of the Moulin Rouge through foreclosure…and on May 6th, another fire took out the remaining buildings on the site. Olympic Coast reports they intend to sell. (Luckily, the neon sign had been removed in the weeks before the fire to the Neon Boneyard.)

We have come a long way with this story, but here we are at last.

Las Vegas, we’ve learned, has had to deal with a history of racial segregation, was able to break the back of that segregation through the efforts of people as diverse as local neighborhood organizers, Jewish financiers…and the Rat Pack.

That history was forever changed because one casino, for not quite six months, showed what Las Vegas could be—but as we said at the beginning of Part One, even though the casino was only open for those few months, the history it represents continues to unfold, more than 50 years later.

What happens next, no one knows…but in Las Vegas, with a piece of land and an available gambling license to work with…I wouldn’t be too quick to bet that the history of the Moulin Rouge is over just yet.

Warning—commercial message ahead: I’m competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I could use your support. Just head on over to the Democracy for America website, click on the “Add your support” link under “Grassroots Supporters”, and offer a word or two…and with that, thanks very much, and we return you to your regular programming.