Sunday, November 20, 2005

Erga Omnes

The photograph of an elderly Iraqi carrying the burned body of a child at Falluja, widely shown during the chemical weapons controversy of recent days, is almost a copy of an earlier one that Iraqis remember - from Halabja in March 1988. Both children were victims of chemical weapons: the first killed by a dictator who had no respect for democracy and human rights, the second by US troops, assisted by the British, carrying the colorful banner of those principles while sprinkling Iraqis with white phosphorus and depleted uranium.

- Haifa Zangana

Carlos Mauricio, a torture survivor from El Salvador, will be among the thousands who gather at Fort Benning's main gate this weekend to call for the closing of a military school they blame for human rights abuses in Latin America.

"I was blindfolded. I was badly, badly beaten," he said. "I was tortured for nine days. I was forced to listen to the screaming of all the people being given electroshock and women being raped."

- Minor, Ledger Inquirer

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Friday to cut $700 million from the food stamp program, despite objections from antihunger groups complaining that estimates show some 235,000 people would lose benefits.

- Abbot for Reuters

Iraq's Interior Minister has defended the treatment of abused prisoners found in a government bunker, declaring that "no one was beheaded or killed". But while Bayan Jabr insisted that the allegations of torture were "exaggerated" fresh details emerged of the horrific conditions endured by the captives.

Witnesses said many of the 169 men and youths were emaciated and looked like "Holocaust survivors". Some had suffered beatings so severe that their skin had peeled off, and three men had been kept locked in a cupboard where they could not move. All the others were packed, blindfolded, into three rooms nine feet long and 11 feet wide.

Instruments of torture and beating were found hidden in a false ceiling. Witnesses also said that the guards in charge of the detainees, all but three of whom were Sunnis, at an interior ministry bunker in central Baghdad, wore combat fatigues of the Shia Badr Brigades militia. "Because of the appalling overcrowding, some of the most badly treated were squashed on to floors and their skins got stuck to the floor," said a witness.

- Sengupta, The Independent

Civil liberties groups around the country, along with liberal allies in Congress, fought valiantly to reform the Patriot Act. They succeeded in preventing some of the most egregious proposals from becoming law, such as granting the executive branch additional powers essentially to write up its own subpoenas and thereby bypass the judiciary. And in a few places on the margins, they made modest improvements. But the Patriot Act still contains several provisions that are anathema to our first freedoms.

This proves that on some issues, at least, Bush still has enough power to prevail.

So let’s not kid ourselves about his incompetence and his lack of vision.

He’s got a vision, all right, and he’s still achieving much of it.

- Matthew Rothschild

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