A Man with a Flashlight


Small war, big fear

Two former Reagan appointees notice an odd difference between today’s Permanent Emergency (popularly labeled the War on Terror) and World War Two and Vietnam:

To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam — where we both proudly served twice — America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.

I have seen remarkably little discussion of how this happened. In fact I cannot, at the moment, recall reading a single explanation of why, after shouldering the bitter weight of World War Two with such aplomb, and maintaining our principles, if not our winning streak, in Vietnam – what caused us to lose our nerve now, and to condone such desperate, doomed solutions from our President?

Are we simply spoiled? Has sixty years of wealth and comfort made us so desperate to avoid a fight that we will give up honor, if only we can buy a little more time, and be saved from death?

That is Bush’s bargain: betray the principles of our fathers, and I will give you safety from death. Let those take it who will, but forgive me if I don’t have the stomach for it.

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“His great virtue and his weakness”
June 30, 2007, 9:07 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics, The War on Terror

I just finished part 2 of the Washington Post’s Cheney profile. Read it if you have any interest in understanding the mindset of an American who comes to embrace torture – and understand it we must, if we are resolved to begin the long and hard work of removing this stain from our honor.

It is striking to me that the torture crowd paints themselves as the realists in this debate. I submit that the entire foundation of their argument rests on a singular fantasy – the fantasy that if we just try hard enough, and compromise enough of our core values, we can ensure that Americans will be safe from another terrorist attack. If you believe this then all else follows. It means our historical disdain (and proud disdain) for torture is meaningless. It means the public interest in privacy and protection from government scrutiny is a bygone. And it may come to mean many other things, to our lasting regret. This fantasy – this dangerous fantasy – can justify anything, and it will, until we give it up for good.

My opposition to torture is not idealistic, it is realistic. I know – though of course I wish it were otherwise – that any government’s promise of security is hollow. When politicians bring us their sweet offers of safety – think Rudy Giuliani – I see the shrewd self-interest that lies beneath their reassuring strength. When has a politican ever won office by telling people what they do not want to admit? We are being targeted by killers, and they are bent on murder, and we can not stop all of them. That is the truth, and we can “double Guantanamo,” as Mitt Romney bravely suggests, and it will make no difference.

This is not defeatism; I believe we can defeat the jihadists, and we must. But show me the terrorist movement or insurgency that was defeated by torturing those who were captured. Show me one. You will find no examples of this, only examples of the opposite; movements which were fueled by oppression, and strengthened by it, and given the one thing we should find most repugnant to give them: a sense of justification.

We can never hope to erase the risk of attack, but it is completely within our power to uphold the traditions of democracy. Bush and Cheney notwithstanding, limits to the power of kings are an enduring monument of our civilization. That achievement probably took more toil than erecting the pyramids. Unlike the pyramids, it passes on a sweet benefit to every new generation, for as long as we can find the strength to honor and defend it. Also unlike the pyramids, it is being dismantled.



Susan Aldous interview, part 3
June 2, 2007, 2:32 pm
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, The East, Undiscovered writers

The last round of questions with our favorite Thai prison activist. Read Part 1 and Part 2. And check out Susan’s new book. It’s an eye-opening look at prison life in Thailand and the redemptive power of helping others.

Dear Susan,

Very sorry to take so long with the last set of questions, it’s been a hectic week or two. I know you’re very busy right now with the launch and your work, so please answer at your leisure and I’ll throw it up on the website. Thanks so much for taking the time to have this conversation, I’ve quite enjoyed it, and I hope my five readers have as well. Here we go:

Hi there Jonathan,

Yes, I know the feeling—hectic past few weeks that is—anyway here we are again, you, me and the gang of five, how fun and I too have really enjoyed chatting! One of my favorite pastimes!

You were inspired to give your life to service when you converted to Christianity, and you write that at times you hear a voice that guides you. Is it God? An inner voice? Or what? And how much do you rely on that voice?

The inner voice is definitely a God thing. Sometimes the voice is angels or spirit helpers and at other times it’s Jesus and the big Guy Himself. Sometimes it’s a combination of all those along with the gift of women’s intuition and discernment that comes from tuning into God’s voice and life’s experiences. God broadcasts all the time, it’s just up to us to set our receiver to the right channel.

I rely on the direction-giving, life-changing and miracle-producing radio broadcasts as if they were my lifesaver in the sea of madness. Cannot do any of what I do without the transmissions …

The only credit I take for any other inner voices are the dark, let’s-not-go-there thoughts, which I do have to battle as most of us do daily. You know the self-defeating type of dialogues that we have with ourselves telling us that we should not attempt the impossible etc. I have to shut this kind of communication down by retuning to the Love Channel.

Human rights abuse is a problem all over the world. As an American I am angry that my own government is now practicing torture and worsening the problem. However, from a viewpoint of human rights, many Asian countries don’t compare well with the west. Burma, North Korea, and China are the famous examples, but even in Japan – a developed country with a large middle class – the police have broad powers, suspects do not have the right to an attorney, and the conviction rate per crime committed is over 90%, which makes one wonder if all those convictions are accurate.

Speaking from your experience in Thailand, does Asia have a particular problem in the area of human rights, and if so, why do you think that is?

Definitely a huge problem! In my opinion, the causes are many.

Life is cheap; a disregard for life can be a common mindset. For example, your Karma got you into it so you’re going to have to get yourself out by suffering through and hopefully you can change your destiny to something better. If you were crippled, mentally retarded, orphaned or a criminal you were in the same basket say 20 years ago in Thailand. You were suffering because you were in some sort of pay back mode for past bad actions. This is slowly changing thankfully and I see compassion starting to win out over indifference. Perhaps folk are being a bit more proactive in trying to create good Karma by showing mercy to those in need. Westernization is also responsible and Amnesty reports, books written by former inmates etc too. The changes in institutions have been huge and that is a credit to the Thais as well—I am always amazed when I see the differences in places I visited or worked at years ago compared to how they are at present.

Prisons have improved a great deal, but they are still closed affairs and there is a huge way to go. Additionally, there is much farther to go when it comes to the legal system, especially the court system and lack of concern for the individual. As with Japan, most likely, the big guy is ALWAYS right.

Corruption and greed is rife in Thailand and the west does not set a good example nor do they demand changes as usually our countries want only economic returns. So life may be cheap for us too…

If you are a lowly paid government officer, corruption is easy to succumb to even at the expense of someone else’s life. But, what is our excuse as so called “enlightened” western societies, the supposed bastions of democracy and equality? We are worse because we know better.

I find it interesting that religion played such a large role in your life, yet you write that going to church doesn’t interest you. Do you feel that organized religion falls short of the ideals of Christianity?

My faith is my foundation for my life and all I do, but that does not come from an organized form of religion…sort of a more Jesus, live-the-love-life-style of worship. Walk your talk, live it, do it, don’t preach it. It’s very intimate, passionate and it’s extremely motivating.

My kind of Jesus, if He were in human form on earth today, would take me for a whirl on His Harley and we’d go for long moon lit walks on the beach as we discussed how to better the lives of those that I am put in touch with, plus He’d take time to answer my deepest questions etc. Sort of how it is right now, minus the Harley actually…ha!

Believe me, I respect whatever form of worship folk chose to take, but for me the big money-making hypocritical form of go to church on Sunday to be ‘seen’ doesn’t light my fire. Sometimes I feel closer to God sitting on the floors of some filthy holding cell with open toilets, violent criminals and withdrawing addicts.

So much evil has been committed in the name of God, which I believe to be political power plays rather than true religion. Anne Lamont said in one of her books when referring to some horrid situation, ‘it’s enough to make Jesus want to drink straight gin out of a cat bowl!’ Sometimes when I see man’s inhumanity to man, I am tempted to ask Him to sit down and share the cat bowl with me, and make it a double…

If I did not have faith, could not pray and did not believe that there is a God of Love, I could not bare the things that I constantly see. One day it’ll all come out good in the wash though!

Where would you be today if you hadn’t come to Thailand?

Geesh, that’s a tough one!

Can’t really say, because what was meant to be fell into place as I was swept along in destinies current. However, if I was given a carte blanche, go wherever you want, do whatever you want, no holds barred, no expenses spared, I’d probably use Thailand as a base and hit the road and do the world big time. Perhaps when my daughter is older, settled and if I still feel the same way, I most likely will let my inner gypsy child take over.

Must say though, I feel with my work, constancy of purpose is what makes it effective, so would keep the base here, keep on with the work and then make short forays into other countries and do projects. Somewhat similar to the things I have done in the past in the surrounding countries, but further abroad and a bit more exotic and with greater impact.

If for some reason, I cannot remain in Thailand, I would love to move to Latin America. In many ways I feel more suited to the Latin way of life, but this is the plot I have been given to work with for now. One day at a time, this takes me to the next question…

What goals do you have that remain unfinished? What is ahead for you?

On the personal front: I want to see my daughter grow up and find her niche in life. She is incredibly talented and writes amazingly well, so maybe that’s her thing. Who knows, but we are on one amazing journey to find out.

Take a real holiday.

I love to study, so most likely will do some more of that when the right doors open.

Take a real holiday.

I would like to establish a more stable financial base.

Take a real holiday.

Dare I say it? Perhaps even fall in love again.

Take a real holiday…it’d be nice to even be able to conceptualize what a real holiday looks like at least.

Take a real holiday! Did I already say that?

Improve my Thai and perhaps even learn how to spell in English. The first, being a more achievable goal and then take a holiday.

Work wise: I want to continue working towards seeing the death penalty abolished and working standardized prisoner exchange treaties globally in place. Also, fair treatment for the incarcerated, mentally ill and whoever suffers due to lack of love and justice!

Yeah, yeah, I know I sound like Miss Congeniality’s Sandra Bullock’s antithesis. And with such goals in mind, there goes the holiday! Better to wear out than rust out at least.

Currently, I am having a part in creating two new books. One is giving a voice to Thailand’s Ladyboys and the second is the story of a male sex worker, which all play into some of my outreach programs. This has been extremely interesting and a real learning curve for me, more to come I am sure.

I just want to keep on doing what I am doing, and keep on loving it as much as I do and I am very open to whatever form it all may take as time moves along.

I am satisfied enough to be content and dissatisfied enough to keep on reaching out to accomplish more.

Something that I really love about my life is that no matter what horrid things, difficulties or obstacles happen, I can always eventually reframe them and use them to empathize with those who are in need of encouragement or answers.

I look forward to the future with great hope and expectancy.

Thanks and best wishes,

Jonathan

Thank you too Jonathan, all the best!

Shine bright!

Susan.

Hugs and kisses to you and the Famous FIVE…

“Dusty” Susan Dustin
P.O. Box 33 Suanyai Post Office
Nonthaburi Thailand 11003
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/onelifeatatime
http://onelifesusan.homestead.com/OneLife.html

Many thanks to Susan. I wish you luck both in love and in abolishing the death penalty. Keep up the lovely work. Cheers!



Two U.S. laws
May 19, 2007, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

that the President might want to consider his own exposure to.

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 113C > § 2340A

§ 2340A. Torture

(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 118 > § 2441

§ 2441. War crimes

(a) Offense.— Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), 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.
(b) Circumstances.— The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).
(c) Definition.— As used in this section the term “war crime” means any conduct—
(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;
(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;
(3) which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or
(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.



Obama: close Guantanamo and restore Habeas Corpus
May 12, 2007, 10:36 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

“We need to bring to a close this sad chapter in American history, and begin a chapter that passes the might of our military to the freedom of our diplomacy and the power of our alliances. And while we are at it, we can close down Guantanamo and we can restore habeas corpus and we can lead with our ideas and our values.”
Barack Obama, Richmond, VA, May 8th



Yes, yes, yes
May 11, 2007, 12:20 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

So how about it Senators Clinton and Obama? You too John Edwards. It’s not your vote yet, but you could sure tell us where you stand on what should be the least controversial topic of our time: respect for habeas corpus (a well established principle in the Western tradition since…the freakin’ Magna Carta!). If you can’t spine up about that, what good are you.

-Eric Martin of American Footprints.

Not much good at all, if they can’t. Frankly, and I am speaking as a liberal, on this subject I have more faith in John McCain’s credentials (remember it was McCain who passed the bill forbidding the military to torture) than any democrat running. I would be happy to learn otherwise.



Who is Ron Paul?
May 5, 2007, 2:23 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics, The War on Terror

I had never heard of this guy until the Republican primary debate the other night. Not that I watched that (it wasn’t broadcast in Okinawa that I know of).

A wikipedia search later, I was reading his June 2002 speech in the House of Representatives. Impressive, I must say. Nine months after the hijackings, not many people were worrying about habeas corpus, warrantless surveillance, and the exchange of freedom for security.

If I were a Republican primary voter, I might want to pay a little more attention to a man who said these things in 2002 (italics are his):

As evidence mounts that we have achieved little in reducing the terrorist threat, more diversionary tactics will be used. The big one will be to blame Saddam Hussein for everything and initiate a major war against Iraq, which will only generate even more hatred toward America from the Muslim world.

It may be true that the average American does not feel intimidated by the encroachment of the police state. I’m sure our citizens are more tolerant of what they see as mere nuisances because they have been deluded into believing all this government supervision is necessary and helpful- and besides they are living quite comfortably, material wise. However the reaction will be different once all this new legislation we’re passing comes into full force, and the material comforts that soften our concerns for government regulations are decreased. This attitude then will change dramatically, but the trend toward the authoritarian state will be difficult to reverse.

Political propagandizing is used to get all of us to toe the line and be good “patriots,” supporting every measure suggested by the administration. We are told that preemptive strikes, torture, military tribunals, suspension of habeas corpus, executive orders to wage war, and sacrificing privacy with a weakened 4th Amendment are the minimum required to save our country from the threat of terrorism.

Who’s winning this war anyway?

Of course, I guess if I were a Republican primary voter, perhaps I wouldn’t be concerned about habeas corpus, warrantless surveillance, and the exchange of freedom for security.

Paul must feel vindicated by the events of the last five years, and he should.

I wonder, though, if there’s room for him in the Republican party. Even after six years of Bush, the police state movement within the Republicans is in rude health. Witness Rudy Giuliani.

And the Democrats? They give these issues lip service, but I wonder what they will deliver. Take the example of Guantanamo: John McCain and Robert Gates, the defense secretary, have both supported closing it, an obvious and largely symbolic step. Clinton, Obama, and Edwards haven’t yet, as far as I know. So let me take it back: they don’t even give lip service to some of these issues.

There is so much to be repaired, and so far, none of the big-time candidates for president seem to have an appetite to begin the healing process. How many years will it take to roll back the damage of the Bush administration?