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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

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Forward — to drones on their own

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd October 2012


(From United States Air Force Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047, http://tinyurl.com/droneplans.) Note the
planned capabilities of the MQ-Lc, far right: “Modular, Autonomous,” “Strategic Attack,” “Global Strike.”  Similar features
are envisioned for “medium,” fighter-sized version MQ-Mc’s.

—–

What could be better than unmanned aerial vehicles raining death on Pakistan in a ratio of three children to one terrorist leader by remote control?  Why, the same thing on autopilot, of course.  J. Michael Cole of “The Diplomat” reports:

…although the use of drones substantially increases operational effectiveness — and, in the case of targeted killings, adds to the emotional distance between perpetrator and target — they remain primarily an extension of, and are regulated by, human decisionmaking.

All that could be about to change, with reports that the U.S. military (and presumably others) have been making steady progress developing drones that operate with little, if any, human oversight. For the time being, developers in the U.S. military insist that when it comes to lethal operations, the new generation of drones will remain under human supervision. Nevertheless, unmanned vehicles will no longer be the “dumb” drones in use today; instead, they will have the ability to “reason” and will be far more autonomous, with humans acting more as supervisors than controllers.

(Via digby at “Hullabaloo”).  Sure, there are concerns and glitches, Washington Post’s Peter Finn notes:  “Some experts also worry that hostile states or terrorist organizations could hack robotic systems and redirect them. Malfunctions also are a problem: In South Africa in 2007, a semiautonomous cannon fatally shot nine friendly soldiers.” 

But the deeper concern is that a war-fighting process already on institutional and public opinion autopilot would now simply go on a computerized one.  Americans think they know what’s going on in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere, but they don’t.  As the authors of Living Under Drones: Death,Injury,and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan put it,

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.  This narrative is false.

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“Seems odd”: the final Feingold-Johnson debate

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th October 2010

The third and final debate between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson was held on Friday night at Marquette University; moderator Mike Gousha posed some questions himself, and citizens from around the state added those of their own. The roughly ninety minute debate can be seen online in two parts provided by television station WISN.* As the Associated Press report relayed by WISN noted, Feingold’s primary tactic was to suggest his opponent remained an unknown quantity:

Feingold accused his opponent at least half a dozen times of ducking questions by resorting to vague cliches instead of offering specific arguments. “I’ve never seen a larger gap between questions and what’s said in response than any debate I’ve ever been in,” he said. Feingold said he himself offered specifics, for example a 41-point plan to help control federal spending. Johnson said the plan would cut $25 billion per year at a time when the deficit is $1,400 billion. That “doesn’t cut it,” he said. Feingold shot back that at least he’s providing a plan, whereas his opponent hadn’t done even that.

The debate was also characterized by an almost exclusive focus on the economy and the federal budget. In fact, foreign policy only barely made it into the debate, as moderator Rousha’s final questions: “How long should American troops remain in Afghanistan?” , and “besides the terrorist threat represented by Al Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups, what concerns you most in foreign policy, what keeps you up at night?”

I’ve appended these exchanges to the transcripts of the two prior debates — but both candidates gave essentially the same answers they did in those debates: Johnson felt the war in Afghanistan should continue as long as required to deny it as a haven to Al Qaeda, while Feingold urged a timetable for withdrawal. Likewise, both candidates agreed that Iran was a threat — and Feingold once again made clear he had no qualms even about supporting a military strike to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Johnson added North Korea — and then added, “That’s one of the reasons we should not have moved the missile shield from the Czech Republic and Poland. That was a real mistake.”

That gave Feingold the chance to observe — with a priceless, puzzled expression — “If your concern is North Korea and Iran, I don’t know how a missile shield relating to Russia is the answer. Seems odd.”

Not if you’re Ron Johnson — who seems to specialize in non sequitur answers to every issue of the day: tax cuts for the wealthy as part of a plan to return budgets to balance; opposing the stimulus bill to return America to prosperity, scrapping health care reforms and starting from scratch because health care is that important.

The good news is that Feingold has pulled into a statistical tie with Johnson according to a recent Wisconsin poll.  The bad news, of course, is that the political climate is such that Feingold has needed to come back at all to get to this point, and that the election remains a toss-up, given the vastly unequal resources being spent on it.

But for those of us who value Feingold as a consistent voice for civil liberties and for a rational foreign policy, this debate and those before it should also be troubling in other ways.

First, it’s telling that not a single citizen question focused on either of those issues.  While an economy that remains frail at best is undoubtedly going to be uppermost in people’s minds, the side effect is to relegate fundamental questions of war and peace, liberty and security to the back burner at best — or to some forgotten jar in the cupboard at worst.

Second, should Johnson win, he has given ample signals (e.g., repeated, Cheney-esque emphases on missile defense and “very strong intelligence capability”) of being a nearly 180 degree turnaround from Feingold’s positions.  Johnson stands for a return (to the extent we’ve even managed to leave it behind) to the Bush-Cheney vision of America as a kind of militant Stratofortress, intervening and bombing wherever there’s even the prospect of enemies finding a haven.  Not only that, but with his view that Senators should discuss such matters in private, rather than take public stands, Johnson affirmatively believes in permanently relegating such issues to “back burner” or “forgotten” status.


Still the right symbol for
“Get FISA Right”?

Finally — and this is simply my personal opinion, not one that should unduly influence allied groups like “Get FISA Right” or others — we should recognize that we need not always fully agree with even a Senator we esteem as highly as we do Russ Feingold, just as we don’t always agree (to put it mildly) with President Barack Obama’s decisions before and after assuming office. If the past ten years have shown anything, it’s that peace, security, and civil liberties are closely connected issues.  It may be time to put our own allegiances to to civil liberties and to peace ahead of those to parties, men, and campaign slogans or insignia when the situation calls for that.

To get to the point, as scary as Iran could be with nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union was scary too — and we emerged from that era with our planet intact and our hands clean of beginning at least that war.  There is little we could do that would more certainly guarantee Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons than attacking their enrichment facilities; those facilities are dual-use, to be sure — but one of those uses is legitimate.  Nuances get lost in debates, but Feingold’s repeated insistence that “nothing is off the table” with respect to Iran are words he may want to have back some day, just as many of us wish we hadn’t supported the Iraq War at any juncture.  Let’s hope we don’t have to repeat the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan — with the people of yet another country paying the fullest price for it, but ourselves paying ever higher prices in fear and curtailed liberties as well.

All that said, I have no doubt whatsoever which man I’d rather have in the Senate if this issue is debated.  We need Senators like Russ Feingold who aren’t just willing to say “seems odd” about the non sequiturs of men like Johnson now or Bush and Cheney in the past, but to speak out against and vote against their plans. I continue to be proud to support the most independent, principled, liberty-defending man in the Senate: Russ Feingold.  Let’s continue to stand by him in every way we can.

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* Unfortunately, the video clips from WISN can’t be embedded within this post the way those I found for the prior two debates (links 1, 2) could be.

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Finding the needle, discarding the war – the second Feingold-Johnson debate

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th October 2010

While the Citizens United/Moveon.org exchange between Feingold and Johnson was the highlight of Monday’s debate for me (see Free speech for Me, Inc. but not for thee – the second Feingold-Johnson debate), the Afghanistan/national security part was extremely interesting as well. 

Let’s go to the transcript I’ve compiled; all time indications are for the online rebroadcast provided by the Wisconsin PostCrescent.com web site.

===

About midway through the debate, journalist Pam Warnke posed the questions, “Can the US afford the current strategy abroad?  What specific kinds of policies do you support that will bring about the successful conclusion to our military presence and also keep Americans safe?” Feingold responded that at a cost of a hundred billion dollars a year, no, we couldn’t afford the current strategy and recommended setting a timetable for withdrawal.  Johnson by contrast, was very much against setting a timeline — and very much for bashing Feingold for allegedly “weakening” the U.S.:

Johnson (35:53): We do need to recognize that we are still under the threat of terrorism. Certainly what we’re trying to do Afghanistan is deny sanctuary for those terrorists.  That’s where they launched the attacks on 9/11. And certainly we need to be mindful of where else they may be hiding.  We need a very strong intelligence capability. And I’m not sure how Senator Feingold has tried to weaken our intelligence capability in his career (Feingold laughs).

Feingold parried the baseless attack easily — and notice how he did it:

Feingold (37:21): Well if I could respond to this notion that…
Moderator: Just a second Senator; Pam Warnke, you have a followup?
Warnke: With all of that being said, what does it mean to win Afghanistan?
Feingold: This has been the mistake of the last nine years.  It isn’t about invading one country after the other, it’s about destroying an organization that’s present in many countries in the world.  So it’s not about winning in Afghanistan, it’s about destroying Al Qaeda, wherever they might be.

And the notion that — Mr. Johnson, who I respect what he does in his business, but Ron, for five years I’ve been on the Intelligence Committee, and I’ve worked day and night to try to figure out exactly where this threat is.  People in the military, people in the intelligence community consider me to be the person that’s worked the hardest to understand the threat of Al Qaeda in places like Africa. So the notion that you dismiss that as ‘weakening’ America?  I’ll tell you something Ron, that’s just dead wrong and it’s unfair. …

What Johnson meant by ‘weakening intelligence’ was highly likely to be Feingold’s efforts to prevent gutting FISA’s due process and civil liberties protections with the FISA Amendment Act.  But Feingold’s response skipped over the (very valid) point that “hoovering up” every conceivable scrap of communication does little to advance the cause of anti-terrorist intelligence — instead of finding the needle, that just grows the haystack. Instead, Feingold emphasized actually finding the needle.  That is liable to be just the kind of straightforward answer middle of the road Wisconsinites — and Americans — will accept.

Goal Thermometer

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Great news on two fronts: first, the Feingold campaign’s internal polling shows Feingold now statistically tied with Johnson among “definite voters.” The reason appears to have to do with Johnson’s description of manufacturing decline in Wisconsin and elsewhere as “creative destruction” — something that may earn him points at the next Ayn Rand book club meeting, but doesn’t sit so well with Wisconsinites actually trying to put food on the table.

Second, as you can see on our “Get FISA Right with Russ Feingold” thermometer, our fundraising drive has nearly reached our goal of $1500 for Russ!  Now I think we can do even better than $1500, but that means we need to get there first.  If yours is one of the 36(!!) donations so far — thanks so very much!  If you haven’t — here’s your chance to put us over the top!

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Finally, you can help the Feingold campaign as a phonebanker — even from out of state — with GOTV calls already underway to supporters.  To get more information, contact lemke@russfeingold.org or call 414-727-5682 for more information and to schedule your training conference call.

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Wootton Bassett

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th April 2010

The English town of Wootton Bassett, pop. 11,000, has become synonymous with the costs of war in Afghanistan for the United Kingdom. Each time dead British soldiers are returned to the nearby RAF airbase in Lyneham, they are eventually moved in hearses in a funeral cortege along the town’s main street — and in a moving display of citizenship and humanity, the people of Wootton Bassett line the streets of the town in their silent hundreds.

This BBC broadcast is from March of this year; it and Wootton Bassett were honoring Stephen Thompson, Richard Green, Tom Keogh, Jonathon Allott, and Liam Maughan:

Audrey Gillan of the Daily Telegraph reports that the ritual came about by chance; repatriated dead soldiers had been flown in to a different airbase, but that airbase’s runways required repairs in 2007, and the flights were re-routed to Lyneham.  At first there were no vigils along the route hearses took from Lyneham through town, but then

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The 0.3 percent questions

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th January 2010

Via Truthout:

The Obama administration plans to ask Congress for an extra $33 billion to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to an Associated Press report.

The $33 billion would be on top of a record request for $708 billion for the Defense Department next year.

Compare the outlays Obama wants for Haiti:

The United States armed forces are also on their way to support this effort. Several Coast Guard cutters are already there providing everything from basic services like water, to vital technical support for this massive logistical operation. Elements of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division will arrive today. We’re also deploying a Marine Expeditionary Unit, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, and the Navy’s hospital ship, the Comfort.

And today, I’m also announcing an immediate investment of $100 million to support our relief efforts. This will mean more of the life-saving equipment, food, water and medicine that will be needed. This investment will grow over the coming year as we embark on the long-term recovery from this unimaginable tragedy.

These are great things. I was pleased, even downright proud that Obama deployed so much so quickly to help Haitians, and knew he could count on everyone’s support to do so. (Well, almost everyone’s.)

But that impressive sounding $100,000,000 is a mere 0.3 percent of the $33,000,000,000 amount we’re going to add to the financial sinkholes and military quagmires called Iraq and Afghanistan.

Question: wouldn’t it be safer, smarter, cheaper, and even (dare I say it) just a lot more fun and more satisfying to divide the Afghanistan/Iraq outlay by, say, 4, and multiply the Haiti commitment by as much?

Question: Wouldn’t it make more sense to help rebuild a friendly nation close to our shores from natural catastrophe, than to rebuild ones on the other side of the planet after bombing and killing their inhabitants?

Question:Wouldn’t it make more sense to redeploy our servicemen and women out of countries where they’re not wanted, to a place where they’re wanted desperately?

Question: which makes us safer in the long run — to earn the thanks of a country for rescuing it from catastrophe in time of need, to put it back on its feet so its inhabitants don’t need to emigrate, or to earn the enmity of families who’ve lost children, husbands, fathers to a war we’ve brought to them?

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About those photos — Part II

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st May 2009

Obama image, with slogan 'But We Won't'

In the previous post, I took up some of Aziz Poonawalla’s defense of Obama’s decision to resist the release of photos showing past detainee abuse — principally the notion that the risks posed by the release were particularly great, or outweighed the benefits. As noted there, my original comment didn’t fully address the arguments Aziz made in his second post, “release the prisoner abuse photos – but not right now“;  I attempt to do so here.

OK, just release them later
When exactly? Aziz (emphasis his own):

These photos will need to be released someday, and there will indeed need to be a full accounting and formal congressional invetigation, backed by force of law, regarding American policy towards detainees during the Bush Administration. However, with the resurgent Taliban in Pakistan (incidentally increasing its nuclear stockpile), the utter helplessness of Mayor Karzai against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the increasing power of Al Shabab in Somalia, total transparency can wait.

It is not altogether unfair to reply to this, “That is, never.”  It is quite fair to reply, “that’s not what Obama said”:

…the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken. It’s therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.

End of story.  However generous Aziz’s timetable for the release of the photos may be, there’s no discernible timetable whatsoever in Obama’s remarks.  The photos, so Obama would have us believe, are at most Appendix C material in some dusty military history book thirty years from now.  He has no plans to release them.  Ever. But Obama’s critical argument — and one that Aziz repeatedly echoes — is that only a “small number of individuals” were involved.  Aziz formulates the distinction as criminality versus official, explict policy:

…we must draw a clean and clear distinction between what happened at Abu Ghraib and the official, explicitly sanctioned policy of waterboarding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The former were criminal actions that were not sanctioned by any military or government official, though of course the sheer sadistic brutality of the abuse gave rise to typical conspiracy theories.  [...] To attempt to force the issue now, by drawing a false equivalence between torture policy and criminal abuse, is to undermine the very real war going on, one in which ordinary muslims are still the primary victims, at the hands of those who do far worse than anything we have done.

Abu Ghraib was the fruit of the Bush/Cheney torture tree
But that equivalence is not false.   The connections between what happened in Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and the torture, humiliation, and abuse at Guantanamo are manifold, direct and undeniable.  Officers like Major General Geoffrey Miller and Captain Carolyn Wood who oversaw the torture and abuse at Guantanamo and Bagram, respectively, were in leadership roles for Iraqi detainee operations (including Abu Ghraib) before the abuses there took place, and relied on guidance from the highest levels of the Pentagon to authorize their deeds.  As early as 2004, Miller confirmed the use of abusive techniques including

hooding, sleep deprivation, time disorientation and depriving prisoners not only of dignity, but of fundamental human needs, such as warmth, water and food. The US commander in charge of military jails in Iraq, Major General Geoffrey Miller, has confirmed that a battery of 50-odd special “coercive techniques” can be used against enemy detainees. The general, who previously ran the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, said his main role was to extract as much intelligence as possible.

As a summary (by Brian Knowlton of the New York Times) of a Senate Armed Services Report declassified in April puts it:

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Argumentum ad Talibanum

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th February 2009

Andrew Hofer, a right-of-center online friend who once maintained the fine blog “More Than Zero” and later joined Megan McArdle at “Asymmetrical Information,” used to decry what he called “argumentum ad Talibanum” — he considered it a variety of ad hominem argument usually criticizing Republicans because their attitudes resembled those of the Taliban on certain issues. And Hofer had a point — the comparison could easily be overdrawn, and sometimes it was.

But what if Republicans say the shoe fits?

On Thursday, Republican Congressman Pete Sessions called for a Republican “insurgency” against purported Democratic oppression.  Luckily, there’s a “model out there for insurgency”, as Sessions put it: for his part, he understands insurgency “a little bit more because of the Taliban,” who he believes have set an example “how you go about changing [people] from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message.” (A frontline message that includes squirting acid on schoolchildren’s faces, he neglected to mention.)

Thoreau, commenting in Unqualified Offering (“So, when did you stop stoning your wife?“), comments:

I cannot believe that the Congressman would dare to compare his honorable party to the Taliban.  The Taliban are a bunch of militant religious zealots.  Their base of support is largely rural, uneducated, and deeply religious.  They believe in second class status for women, other ethnic groups, and religious minorities.  They have close ties to all sorts of shady figures in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and their ideology demands violent struggle that would destabilize their entire region.  They are utter hypocrites on morality, simultaneously cracking down on all that they consider sinful while working with drug smugglers.  They have no regard for the civil rights of those that they rule over, and if allowed to regain power they would again devastate the country that they ruined before being forced out of power.

The Republican Party, by contrast….um, yeah.  OK.  Never mind.

Now it would be interesting if Sessions had compared GOP grievances to legitimate Afghan ones — civilian deaths in a counterinsurgency by air war, a seemingly endless occupation rather than a plan with an exit strategy. But he didn’t, and this really is what it looks like — a leader of minority party, crushed at the polls and lacking legitimacy, helping work that party into a rhetorical lather by flirting with the threat of violence — if not yet, this time, quite crossing that line as it’s been crossed in the past. That, too, has been the Republican way.

Maybe the best approach is to laugh Republicans out of the halls of power altogether — coupled with a guarded watchfulness about figures like Sessions.

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"Taxi to the Dark Side" wins Oscar

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th February 2008

Ha! “Taxi to the Dark Side” won the Oscar award for best documentary feature. I saw the film last week at a National Archives screening; it is an excellent, thorough, unflinching look at the dark side this administration has turned our country towards.

And we have done better, in more dire circumstances. In accepting the award, director Alex Dibney dedicated the film to Dilawar, the young man who died at American hands in custody in Bagram, but also his father, noting that “My father, a navy interrogator … urged me to make this film because of his fury about what was being done to the rule of law.” As the credits roll at the end of the film, Dibney added a shot of his father saying so. I remember a Washington Post article from last fall where veterans of a World War II interrogation team based in the District made similar remarks.

Naturally, the award was presented to weirdly inappropriate triumphal music, and a clip of Afghans gazing skyward in awe as B-52s circle overhead. But whatever. On a final note: hey, nice going, Discovery Channel! How does it feel to be the a$$h0les who unloaded a documentary for “controversial content” just before it won an Oscar?

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NOTES: “noted” — Melbourne Sun, “It’s an Oscar for Eva” (Eva Orner was the documentary’s producer); “weirdly inappropriate” — ThinkProgress has the video of the award presentation and accompanying clip; “article” — “Fort Hunt’s Quiet Men Break Silence on WWII,” Petula Dvorak, 10/6/07: “We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture.

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Department of followups — Taxi to the Dark Side edition

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th February 2008

An occasional review of further developments in stuff I’ve written about before.

Discovery is more than the name of their company…, 02/12/08 — “Taxi to the Dark Side” is an Oscar-nominated documentary about torture and other human rights violations by the United States in the wake of 9/11. After acquiring the rights to the movie, the Discovery Channel got cold feet and announced it might not air the documentary, saying thefilm’s controversial content might damage Discovery’s public offering.”

Now ThinkProgress reports that one day before the Oscars, Discovery has sold the movie to HBO, which has said it will be airing it on pay TV in September, and on basic cable in 2009. I suppose it’s better than nothing, but I don’t see pay TV as a particularly promising mass release method for this movie… unless, of course, that’s organized in September. McCain gets mixed reviews in the movie, as well he might — against torture, but for throwing away the key — so I could imagine this being a campaign/cultural event after all.

Kiriakou: apologist or whistleblower?, 12/23/07 — When ex-CIA man John Kiriakou showed up on ABC confirming that the U.S. had engaged in waterboarding, it was a revelation quickly followed by a criminal investigation into whether he had revealed state secrets. But at the time I wondered whether the investigation was serious — Kiriakou’s statements fit comfortably within the “24″ scenario, since he claimed valuable intelligence had been gained.

As is well known, CIA chief Michael Hayden subsequently also confirmed that three men — Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim Nashiri — have been waterboarded. In Google searches since then, the dog that hasn’t barked is any further development in the criminal investigation. Kiriakou is slated to appear at the University of Pittsburgh on the topic of “Ethics in Intelligence.” The notice is subheadlined with what seems like the intended takeaway from the affair: Controversial waterboarding technique “probably saved lives, but was a form of torture.”

Some good news, anyway: …. Adel Hamad released, 12/14/07 — Adel Hamad, the Guantanamo detainee from Sudan who regained his freedom late last year, is continuing to press his legal case against the United States, suing for compensation for his 5 year detention — during which one of his daughters died for lack of medicine his wife couldn’t afford any more. The Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Beldauf reports that Hamad nevertheless isn’t just suing for the money:

We don’t want animosity, we just want to respect America again,” says Hamad, speaking in English phrases he learned while in prison. “The American conscience and the American people need to return to the great concepts established by the Founding Fathers, of freedom, democracy, equality, and justice. All these values and even the justice system are being shaken, played with.”

Released Sudanese detainee Salid Mahmud Adam was also interviewed:

Asked about the nature of his treatment by Pakistani police, and by Americans at Bagram and Guantánamo, Adam becomes vague. When pressed, he recalls the constant light and noise that deprived him of sleep, beatings, tear gas, pepper spray, attack dogs, the desecration of the Koran, and the “degrading” personal searches in which he was forced to expose himself in front of other men.

“Most of the soldiers there, I doubted they could be from a great nation,” Adam says. But sometimes he would meet an educated soldier, who would “deal with us quietly, kindly,” until that soldier would be ordered to “change his style of treatment.”

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NOTES: “film’s controversial content” — ThinkProgress; Christian Science Monitor item on Adel Hamad via Project Hamad

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Shakespeare in Kabul

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 17th September 2005


A vendor sells boiled eggs during a performance of
Shakespeare’s ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost’ in Kabul’s Babur Garden.
Via Truth and Beauty.

A bit of nice news for a change. The Associated Press’ Daniel Cooney reports (via the Boston Globe):

Four centuries after the famous bard’s death, one of his plays has been adapted for the local culture in an effort to help revive a once-thriving theater scene and to promote peace in a country riven by ethnic hatred and still wracked by violence after decades of war.

“Theater is the best way to communicate messages in Afghanistan, whether it be about peace, democracy, or women’s rights. It’s much more popular than television,’ said Aziz Elyas, an Afghan playwright. ”But during the Taliban’s time, it wasn’t allowed. They said Islam forbid it.’ [...]

In the past week, ”Love’s Labor’s Lost,’ a Shakespeare comedy, has been performed in the capital to packed audiences of local royalty, diplomats, aid workers, residents, and street kids.

Love’s Labor Lost” turns out to be an interesting choice — it’s about men who initially forswear women to devote themselves fully to learning and books, only to be convinced that some remarkable women they meet are of far greater value. Given Afghanistan’s recent reign of terror by blinkered scholastics, its history of repression of women, and the still unsatisfactory status of women there, this is a nicely chosen play. Good for its producers — I just hope at least a few women were able to attend the performances.

I saw this first at the wonderfully named “Truth and Beauty” blog, whose proprietor Baraka quotes some relevant lines:

From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive.
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world…
Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves,
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths.
It is religion to be thus forsworn,
For charity itself fulfils the law
And who can sever love from charity?’

Baraka limns this as decrying “the stupidity of blind adherence to vows or books, and the ultimate need for compassion & love to suffuse all actions,” and adds:

I’d rather like to be a part of the crowd in that garden in Kabul, under the stars, listening to Shakepeare in Pashtun, dreaming of & planning for new days to come.

In the spirit of those new days, I’ll close with one of my favorite photographs ever — of women in January 2002 waiting at the gates to apply to northern Afghanistan’s University of Balkh, for the first time in years.

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