Nov. 20th, 2003

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who if you remember from yesterday is the foreign national who we unilaterally and without due process of any kind sent to Syria to be tortured
U.S. officials said yesterday that they decided to send a Syrian-born Canadian citizen to Syria last year only after the CIA received assurances from Syria that it would not torture the man.

Maher Arar, recently freed from prison, said he pleaded with U.S. authorities not to send him to Syria precisely because he believed he would be tortured. Arar has said he was tortured with cables and electrical cords during his 10-month imprisonment.

U.S. law strictly prohibits sending people -- even on national security grounds -- to a country where it is likely they will be tortured. Yesterday, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed that the Syrian assurances allowed them to legally send Arar to Syria.

Syrian has said it did not torture Arar. "We welcome statements by the Syrian Embassy, as it is fully consistent with the assurances the U.S. government received prior to his removal" from the United States, the Justice Department spokesman said.

In a Nov. 7 speech, President Bush said Syria has left its people "a legacy of torture, oppression, misery and ruin." Spokesmen at the Justice Department and the CIA declined to comment on why they believed the Syrian assurances to be credible.

Arar, who holds Canadian and Syrian citizenship, was en route to Canada, where he lives, from Tunisia when he was detained on Sept. 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York because he was on a terrorism watch list. That Oct. 7, Larry D. Thompson, then acting attorney general, ordered his deportation to Syria on national security grounds.

So, what does Amnesty International have to say about this? Well, their current list of human rights violations in Syria is here. On Mr. Arar, they have this:
Maher Arar was detained at JFK airport, New York, on 26 September 2002 while in transit to Canada and travelling on a Canadian passport. He was held in US custody for 13 days during which time he was reportedly questioned about alleged links with al-Qa'ida. He effectively "disappeared" from US custody and it later transpired that he was deported to Syria, without being represented at any hearing and without his family, lawyer or the Canadian consulate being informed. Mr Arar was recently released after being detained in Syria for a year without charge.

Maher Arar returned to Canada last month where he has given detailed testimony to Amnesty International. Maher Arar said he was woken up by US officials in the early hours of 8 October and told that he was being deported to Syria. His protests that he would be tortured were, he said, ignored. While on the plane, he overheard members of the team accompanying him say that Syria did not want to take him directly, but that Jordan had agreed to take him.

After a brief stop-over in Jordan, where he says he was shackled and beaten, he was driven to Syria and taken to the "Far Falestin", the Palestine Branch of Syrian military intelligence, known for the routine torture of political prisoners. While there he says, he was severely beaten with electrical cable during six days of interrogation, and threatened with electric shocks and the "metal chair" - a torture device that stretches the spine. Eventually, he says, he broke down and signed a document falsely confessing to having been in Afghanistan.

He reports he was held alone in a tiny, basement cell without light ,which he called "the grave", for more than 10 months. A small grate in the ceiling opened up into a hallway above, through which cats and rats urinated into his cell. There was no furniture in the cell, only two blankets on the floor. He had no exposure to natural light at all for the first six months.

"The USA appears to have been in gross violation of its obligations under international law in deporting him to Syria, whether directly or indirectly" Amnesty International said. The organization added that he was also denied basic rights while in US custody, including being heldincommunicado for the first seven days and denied prompt access to the Canadian consulate.

The US government appears to have breached its own policies as well as international law in deporting Maher Arar. Article 3 of the Convention against Torture prohibits the transfer of anyone to another state where there are "substantial grounds" for believing that person would risk being tortured. In a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy last June, Pentagon General Counsel William Haynes wrote that government policy was to "comply with all of its legal obligations in its treatment of detainees" and would not transfer anyone to a country where they may face torture and, if necessary, would seek assurances from the receiving country that torture would not be used against the transferred individual. The entry on Syria in the US State Department's latest human rights report cites "credible evidence that security forces continue to use torture".

Still, Amnesty International, right? Liberal pressure group? Not in touch with the realities of geopolitical blood chess?

Well, let's see what the hard-headed realists of the Bush administration have to say about Syrian assurances when there's something more important than US law, international law and simple human decency at stake. From administration spokesrag The Washington Times:
The European Union's efforts to establish closer ties with Syria are creating an additional source of tension with the United States, diplomats say.

While Washington continues to accuse Syria of harboring terrorist organizations, the EU is on the verge of signing an economic cooperation agreement with the government of President Bashar Assad.

The agreement is part of a political and economic rapprochement between Europe and Syria, which opposed the war in Iraq and predicted the collapse of the "road map" peace plan in the Middle East urged by President Bush.

On Oct. 8, the House International Relations Committee voted to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria. The decision reflected Washington's frustration with Syria's unswerving opposition to U.S. peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.

The United States also accused Syria of holding in its banks an estimated $3 billion of Iraqi funds. Some U.S. officials say the funds could be used to finance terrorist attacks by Palestinian extremists.

For the record, the EU thinks that the Bush administration's distrust of Syria is excessive.

Although apparently only when there's something at stake that matters to them.
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Remember when the free traders of the current administration bowed to the reality that their hard line doesn't play in rust belt states and slapped on that there tariff on steel?

Hey, so does Europe.
Florida citrus growers could soon be squeezed, Louisiana rice farmers boiled, California nut producers shelled and North Carolina pajama-makers fleeced.

They would be just a few of the victims caught in the crossfire of an increasingly bitter trade fight between the European Union and the United States over steel. Free-trade proponents fear the biggest victim of all could be the United States' half-century of support for expanding global commerce.

"In this situation you could trigger a perfect storm of unintended but very serious consequences," says Fred Bergsten, head of the Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank.

The prospect of a tit-for-tat trade war has increased with the decision by a World Trade Organization appeals panel that the United States violated global trade rules by imposing tariffs of up to 30 per cent on various types of foreign steel imports in March 2002.

If the administration does not remove the steel tariffs by mid-December when the WTO ruling becomes final, the EU says it will retaliate by imposing tariffs of up to 30 per cent on $2.2 billion of American exports to Europe.

The 15-nation EU carefully chose its target list to inflict significant political pain in key battleground states in next year's presidential election. It put President George W Bush in the uncomfortable position of either withdrawing the tariffs and angering steel producers such as West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana or offending a host of states whose industries will be hit by the Europeans' penalty tariffs.

"The EU drew up its list with diabolical cleverness to target products from a number of states that will be in play in the 2004 presidential race," said Brink Lindsey, a trade specialist at the Cato Institute think tank.

The target list runs the gamut from citrus products, aimed at Florida orange juice and Texas grapefruit, to rice, which would hit states such as Louisiana and Arkansas.

Farmers in California, the biggest electoral prize of all, would feel the sting of the EU tariffs on such products as nuts, dates, figs, avocados and grapes.

Other foods targeted for tariffs are various types of apples, pears, apricots, cherries and frozen and dried vegetables. In a strike at such big textile and apparel manufacturing states as North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, a wide array of clothing has been targeted, including underwear, overcoats and pajamas.

The EU list is eclectic, with other targeted items ranging from toilet paper to writing paper and from fire engines and hay balers to yachts and canoes. A large number of U.S.-made steel products were included to strike at the industry that generated the trade fight in the first place.

By the EU's accounting, the products targeted total $2.2 billion in annual US exports to the European trading bloc, less than two per cent of the $143.7 billion in American goods shipped there last year.

However, for the particular industries targeted, the impact could be significant in terms of lost sales given that this country's global competitors will not face the higher tariffs.

And so does Japan.
The government intends to raise tariffs on steel, benzine, textiles, leather products and other imports from the United States as a retaliatory measure if Washington does not lift its steel import curbs, government officials said Tuesday.

The move follows the World Trade Organization's ruling Monday that the U.S. "safeguard" steel import curb violates WTO rules.

It is likely that tariffs on steel and benzine will be raised by 30 percent and those on textiles and leather products by 5 percent.

The European Union already has decided on retaliatory measures against the United States regarding the safeguard. China, Norway and Switzerland also are considering raising tariffs on U.S. imports. If the United States does not cancel its steel import curbs, the situation may develop into a major trade conflict, with four countries and one region taking retaliatory measures.

The WTO approves punitive tariffs as a countermeasure. Japan's planned tariffs in the latest case are expected to amount about 10.7 billion yen per year.

The proposal will be submitted to the Nov. 26 meeting of the Finance Ministry's Council on Customs, Tariffs, Foreign Exchange and Other Transactions, after which the government plans to report to the WTO by the end of this month. If the United States does not lift steel import curbs by the end of the year, the government plans to start imposing the punitive tariffs on U.S. imports early in the new year.

In the abstract, there's a certain rough justice in the rest of the world using tactics as political and amoral as those they're responding to from the Bush administration.

On the other hand, we've lost enough jobs already.

Even in swing states.
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Richard Perle, one of the major planners of our current middle east adventure, acknowledges for the edification of our pro-adventure friends that the administration knew the war was against international law but decided not to let a taint of legality spoil an otherwise beautiful crime
In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing."

President George Bush has consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN security council resolutions on Iraq - also the British government's publicly stated view - or as an act of self-defence permitted by international law.

But Mr Perle, a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable.

Of course, perfect symmetry would require him to say that his god personally instructed him to do it, but we can't have everything.
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The upset AARP endorsement of the prescription drug plan may not have been a great move for the administration:
The dialogue that led to AARP's seal of approval for the $400 billion measure, providing the first prescription drug benefit to seniors while opening the Medicare system to private insurance competition, included intense discussions in recent weeks with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) and a private conversation between President Bush and AARP President James Parkel.

The AARP endorsement "didn't happen overnight," said Thomas A. Scully, administrator of the agency that runs Medicare. "We spent a lot of time working with them over the last three years."

The action by AARP, which represents 35 million members age 50 and older, has substantially increased chances of the bill's final passage in the next week. But it has produced a backlash from members and fierce criticism from Democrats, who have been the group's traditional allies. The repercussions could be felt in next year's campaign, when the support of older voters will be a goal of both parties.

Yesterday, the two top Democrats in Congress, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), sent a letter to AARP chief executive William Novelli expressing "our profound concern" and demanding an explanation for the decision.

The Democrats predicted that Novelli would regret supporting the bill. They cited a poll taken this week for the AFL-CIO by Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, which found that only 18 percent of AARP members agreed with the organization's endorsement. The AFL-CIO opposes the bill.

Emphasis, as usual, etc.

edit: The Sideshow takes this issue on.

Parenthetically, everyone knows that Novelli wrote the preface to Newt Gingrich's book on "reforming" healthcare, right?
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and dammit, nobody kicks his dog but him.
On a day when some vulgar Britons stomped on a cutout likeness of him and burned its dismembered head, President Bush compared his experience here to that of stuntman David Blaine, who suspended himself above the River Thames for six weeks without food.

"It was pointed out to me that the last noted American to visit London stayed in a glass box dangling over the Thames," Bush said Wednesday in the hall where another head of state, Charles I, was beheaded in 1649. "A few might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me." When the laughter ended, he added: "I thank Her Majesty the Queen for interceding."

Queen Elizabeth did indeed provide the president and his entourage with superior accommodations at Buckingham Palace. But although the royal hospitality gave Bush a comfortable distance from the madding crowd, it introduced a new problem: Bush, a man with little patience for ceremony, had to endure the very pinnacle of pomp and pageantry -- a state visit to the United Kingdom.

...

Then it was inside to inspect works by Rembrandt, Zuccarelli and Brugghen, and off to Whitehall Palace, where Bush delivered a speech under the watchful eyes of fleshy Rubens cherubs staring down at him from the ceiling. But Bush had limits to how much folderol he could stand. Eschewing the side of the room with the velvet throne canopy and royal Dieu et Mon Droit crest with the unicorn and lion, he opted for the other side of the hall, with a White House-generated backdrop that said "United Kingdom" dozens of times.

Extra security measures prevented other customs from being observed, such as a procession on the Mall with the queen. Security also kept Bush from more modern observances, such as his plan to place a wreath Wednesday at a memorial for victims of Sept. 11, 2001.

Of course, it's been pretty widely acknowledged that the "security measures" that were demanded by the White House (over the objections of the british government that they were excessive) largely had to do with political considerations, but the protesters annoyed Dana Milbank.

As you may recall from his self-described biased and inaccurate coverage of the Gore campaign, Dana Milbank feels very strongly that his job is to communicate the state of his spleen to the readers of the Washington Post.

Vulgar indeed.
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The energy bill is probably going to die, if some folks on both sides of the aisle have anything to do with it.
New energy legislation encountered significant opposition on Wednesday as the Senate began debate, with Republican and Democratic critics threatening a filibuster that could prevent a chief priority of President Bush from becoming law this year.

In contrast to its easy approval this week by the House, the legislation came under attack from senators of both parties. They criticized its cost and contents, particularly a provision that would grant producers of a gasoline additive immunity from product liability suits.

Opponents said they believed they were within a handful of votes of denying the bill's authors the 60 votes they would need to cut off debate in the 100-member Senate. At least six Republicans joined the push to block a final vote on the proposal.

"It favors special interests, it contains billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies, and it fails to promote energy conservation," said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who announced that she would support a filibuster. Ms. Collins and others also criticized a proposal to require greater use of corn-based ethanol in gasoline, saying that would drive up gasoline prices in some parts of the country to benefit Midwestern corn growers.

Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, described the bill as a "grab bag of special interest projects directed at benefiting one segment of the economy or one segment of the population at the expense of other segments of the population."

Many of the tax breaks in the bill would expire after a few years, an important reason that just over half the 10-year value of the breaks would be granted in the first three years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper. If any breaks were extended, that would add to the real cost of the measure.
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I guess someone from the President's advance team didn't get the word that he's the one who has to hug the families of dead soldiers.
MARK COLVIN: Government bureaucrats have been adding to their picture of why the widow of SAS Sergeant Andrew Russell was left out of the wreath laying ceremony dedicated to him by George W. Bush.

The Prime Minister has had to dispel concern that the Government deliberately snubbed war widow Kylie Russell because of her complaints of the compensation for the loss of her husband's life.

But today officials from the Prime Minister's Department said the first they knew of the decision to single out Andrew Russell was George W. Bush's mention of him in the Australian Parliament.

And they claim the US President's decision to single out an individual before laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was unprecedented.

MATT BROWN: The Prime Minister's already taken responsibility for the failure to invite war widow Kylie Russell to the wreath laying ceremony President Bush said dedicated to her husband. Mr Howard said yesterday in the Parliament that it was "an inexcusable oversight". So how did it happen?

The Deputy Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department, Andrew Metcalfe, says that, given the way George W. Bush singled out the dead SAS sergeant, he would have thought the matter had been taken care of.

ANDREW METCALFE: My assumption, incorrect, was that if the President was going to say that, then the appropriate arrangements would have been put in place. Now, that's clearly not the case.

MATT BROWN: It sounds like a reasonable assumption. After all, the American President did acknowledge the contribution that military families have made to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq since the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001.

GEORGE BUSH: We accepted our obligations with open eyes, mindful of the sacrifices that had been made and those to come. The burdens fall most heavily on the men and women of our own forces, and their families.

MATT BROWN: And George W. Bush had used Andrew Russell's name to make a point about the alliance between Australia and the United States.

GEORGE BUSH: Your special operations forces were among the first units on the ground in Iraq, and in Afghanistan the first casualty among America's allies was Australian, Special Air Service Sergeant Andrew Russell.

This afternoon, I will lay a wreath at the Australian War Memorial in memory of Sergeant Russell and the long line of Australians who have died in the service to this nation.

MATT BROWN: With Andrew Russell's widow in Perth by the time George W. Bush said these words it was too late, and Andrew Metcalfe from the Prime Minister's Department says this was the first time his team knew Kylie Russell's husband would be singled out.

ANDREW METCALFE: We had no forewarning of a reference to Sergeant Russell in the speech or the fact that the wreath laying would be dedicated to Sergeant Russell.

MATT BROWN: And, according to Julie Yeend, from the Prime Minister's Department this is not the way respect is usually shown on such a solemn occasion.

JULIE YEEND: My understanding from discussions with the War Memorial Director is that a dedication, when actually laying a wreath by a head of state, I think is unprecedented. It's normally just for Australia's war dead, without any specific reference to any particular person.

MATT BROWN: The Prime Minister's media office has so far been unable to say whether anyone from George Bush's team ran his speech by them first.

Our fearless leader. What a man.
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Bueller? Anybody?
I thought that election-related campaigning had to be kept off official government websites.

So why is Remarks by the Vice President at a Breakfast for Bush-Cheney '04 so prominent on Whitehouse.gov?

Damfino. Someone who can explain this, go tell her.
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the families of the victims of 9/11 want information released unedited, but the City of New York is more fastidious:
The federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks announced today that it had subpoenaed New York City for a variety of police tapes and other material about the attacks. It said that the city's refusal to hand over the material had "significantly impeded the commission's investigation."

The 10-member commission said that the subpoena required the city to turn over tapes and transcripts of emergency 911 calls made that day, as well as transcripts of hundreds of interviews of firefighters that were conducted after the terrorist attacks.

"The city's failure to produce these important documents has significantly impeded the commission's investigation," the panel said in a statement, adding that the initial request for the materials was made more than four months ago. "Given its statutory deadline, the commission cannot wait any longer for these vital records."

City officials said that the city has withheld the tapes and documents from the commission in hopes of reaching an agreement that would allow the city to edit the materials to remove "personal last-words" commentary by victims of the attacks that was captured in many of the police and fire department tapes.

The announcement of the subpoena - the third issued by the panel, which had previously subpoenaed the F.A.A. and the Pentagon - came as groups of victims' families stepped up their protests about an agreement between the commission and the White House for access to Oval Office daily intelligence briefings.

So they can ask for an agreement from the commission not to pass on the last words, or they can edit the material unsupervised and pass on whatever they think the feds ought to know.

Personally, I want to hear the tapes about Tower 7 going down when the fuel tanks from Giuliani's bunker in the air blew, but I suspect there's gonna be lots and lots and lots of sensitive stuff on that one.

Could this have to do with the fact that Giuliani is going to be helping to host the convention and that Bush has refused to replace the communications systems that failed?

You'd have to think that the party in power had no problems at all about ignoring the deaths of americans to think so.
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I was into hour thirty two of unmedicated labor, and the long-term prospects for the labor nurse were not looking promising at all.

My mood has improved.

Happy Birthday in two hours when I hope to be asleep, Miss Lamb.
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