Saturday, July 22, 2006

Israel Commits War Crimes in Lebanon

Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that "...war crimes may have been committed in Lebanon" by Israel. Her comments clearly target Tel Aviv, warning that war crimes liability is not limited to military personnel; it applies equally to the politicians who decide, direct and approve military operations.

In my opinion, there is no reason to exempt either Israel in Lebanon or the US in Iraq from liability. Her warning, therefore, was most certainly heard in Israel by backers in the Bush administration and the British government of Tony Blair. One hopes her words will resonate among people of goodwill throughout the world.

According to the BBC, Ms. Arbour is a former justice of Canada's Supreme Court. She was a chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, indicted the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. "

International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities

-Louise Arbor, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

She says that the same obligation exists in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is my position that these principles, likewise, apply to George W. Bush and various members of his administration with regard to the attack, the invasion, and the disastrous, illegal occupation of Iraq.

Arbour stresses the "supreme obligation" of states to protect civilians and refers to the "scale of killings" in Lebanon, where the Israeli reaction is clearly seen to have been massive and disproportionate. The 1949 Geneva Conventions sought to prohibit, by international law, attacks which mainly targeted civilians as the Israeli bombardment seems to have done. Article 51 of the First Protocol to the 1949 agreements (updated in 1977) states:

Article 51: Protection of the Civilian Population
  • The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules, which are additional to other applicable rules of international law, shall be observed in all circumstances.
  • The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
  • Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.
  • Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:

  • those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
  • those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or
  • those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
  • -Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977

    Article 52 adds: "Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives..." Therefore, there is a war crime if civilians are specifically attacked as civilians. However, it is different if they are killed as a result of a strike against a military or a "dual-use" target. More about that in a moment.

    I venture to say that there is no reason to believe hat the government of Ehud Olmert has taken prudent measures to reduce civilian causalities. So far, Lebanese deaths have topped 300. In a mounting humanitarian crisis some 700,000 Lebanese civilians have become displaced refugees -by some estimates about 1/7 of the entire population. The reality on the ground is thus summed up: the entire nation of Lebanon is under attack and faces utter destruction of infrastructure and basic services.

    In the meantime, Robert Fisk notes the significant difference between the "pin-point accuracy" of Israeli technology on the attack and the antiquated Hezbollah defense. Israel can and does target precisely. If civilian targets are disproportionately destroyed, it would appear to be by design. In other words, Israel can -if it wishes -avoid the mass murder of innocent civilians. But as Fisk points out: "...they continue to fill Lebanon's body bags with infants, women and children." At what point does deliberate targeting become "ethnic cleansing". Chillingly, Israel's prosecution of these attacks bears an increasing resemblance to the systematic destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by Nazis in World War II.

    This is a war crime! The American people must demand of our illegitimate Bush administration that we join the rest of the entire world in demanding an immediate cease fire.

    Aside from US culpability in Iraq, the US -Israel's top ally -has obstructed a cease fire. Condoleeza Rice resorted to double talk about the status quo and, even here, she is wrong. Holding out hopes of a lasting but unlikely peace, her words are but a red herring -indeed, it is Rice who holds out the mirage, the "false promise" of "lasting peace". A status quote ante is preferable to the ongoing slaughter. Her "talks", therefore, are doomed to failure. One cynically suspects, that the Bush administration knows this full well. It is increasingly difficult not to believe that Condoleeza Rice has departed for the Middle East to "negotiate" in bad faith. It is also difficult not to believe that this cynical administration deliberately seeks to exploit this issue to split the "progressive" movement.

    An update and commentary from the Washington Post:

    Hunker Down With History

    By Richard Cohen
    Tuesday, July 18, 2006; Page A19

    The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.

    This is why the Israeli-Arab war, now transformed into the Israeli-Muslim war (Iran is not an Arab state), persists and widens. It is why the conflict mutates and festers. It is why Israel is now fighting an organization, Hezbollah, that did not exist 30 years ago and why Hezbollah is being supported by a nation, Iran, that was once a tacit ally of Israel's. The underlying, subterranean hatred of the Jewish state in the Islamic world just keeps bubbling to the surface. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and some other Arab countries may condemn Hezbollah, but I doubt the proverbial man in their street shares that view. ...

    An update from Maureen Dowd:

    Condi doesn't want to talk to Hezbollah or its sponsors, Syria and Iran — "Syria knows what it needs to do," she says with asperity — and she doesn't want a cease-fire. She wants "a sustainable cease-fire," which means she wants to give the Israelis more time to decimate Hezbollah bunkers with the precision-guided bombs that the Bush administration is racing to deliver.

    The Existentialist Cowboy

    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    Bush plays politics with human life

    George Bush has made yet another bad choice. He has chosen to play politics with human life. He has chosen to deny hope to millions of Americans who suffer from debilitating diseases, millions for whom stem cell research represented their best chance of cure or a better quality of life. Bush's bad decision will be applauded by a minority of Americans who disingenuously call their movement: "right to life". For the life of me, I can't see how condemning millions of Americans to an early death has anything to do with the "right to life".

    This was the first time Bush has used the veto and that he chose this bill will define his failed presidency as much as his failed war of aggression in Iraq where, likewise, the civilian death toll is the anti-thesis of "right to life". Our very presence in Iraq, Bush's policy of torture, the rising civilian death toll at the hands of frustrated US troops proves the lie to "right to life".

    Bush's veto may very well bring about an end to research that might have led to new cures for juvenile diabetes, leukemia, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and many others. That 70% of Americans disagree with Bush on this issue was of no consequence to him. Bush is a man who has placed himself above the law and now he has appointed himself the arbiter of our very lives and deaths.

    The bill itself would have permitted research on excess pluripotent cells found only in developing embryos generated during the process of in-vitro fertilization. Bush and the GOP say that the embryos will be destroyed if they are used for stem cell research. What Bush and his Christian right backers will not tell you is that these embryos would be discarded anyway. They will not be placed inside anyone's "womb"; they will never be born. Therefore, Bush's veto will make absolutely no difference to those embryos. Bush's veto will not save one of them! None of them will be "spared" because he denied life to millions of ailing Americans. Bush played politics with human lives and he did so for evil motives.

    Similarly, no one seems to mind that some 50% of all fertilized embryos are lost naturally. And there is no brouhaha among right wingers about the fact that the embryos in question are created artificially to begin with. This is the kind of calculus that is only to be found inside the GOP, a party that is tone deaf to morality, common sense, and logic. Bush's cynical decision is but a sop to his increasingly radical, extremist base.

    Fundamentalist "Christians" lead the attack against stem cell research by raising a smokescreen. That question is: "When does life begin?" A blastocyst, indeed, even a single cell has within it the DNA code from which a human being may develop. But a blastocyst is not a mini human being. Indeed, the scientific evidence is clear: stem cells are not human life; they have only that potential. The GOP has deliberately distorted the scientific facts about this issue in order to advance a religious, theocratic agenda.

    Here are some comments that were made about my article on another web site; my comments are in response to the comments in blockquotes:

    The issue I see with your somewhat emotional and logically lacking rant is the fact that you attempt to equate science with religion in your attack on the Christian view of the subject.
    I flatly deny that my rant lacked logic. Secondly, my description of the research and the definitions therein are entirely consistent with science to the extent that "popular" writing about this subject can be.
    You say that Christians hide behind a smokescreen, the idea that even the initial single cell created at conception is a living organism, and is human in nature. You refute this view with the comment, "indeed, the scientific evidence is clear: stem cells are not human life; they have only that potential."
    The RR always gets the science wrong. Clearly, a strand of human DNA is not a human being; neither is a single cell. Neither is a blastocyst. The RR, Tom DeLay, George Bush definition of "human being" is a theological definition for which there is, by definition, no empircal proof.

    Moreover, they confuse "human potential" with "human being". To claim that every string of DNA that has "human potential" to be a "human being" -as Tom DeLay has flatly done -is just absurd on its face. Bush/RR characterizations of themselves as "pro-life" is blatantly hypocritical; they continue to defend the slaughter of innocent human being (of both sides) in Iraq. Clearly -for Bush and the RR -life is sacred only before birth and fair game afterward.

    Significantly, you did not bother to address that point, a point that I consider to be crucial to my thesis: Bush is playing politics with human life.

    As the subject of my comment suggests, you are comparing apples and oranges, so to speak.
    Not so! I never compared apples to oranges, even metaphorically!
    Even as an agnostic, I will readily admit that science and Christianity can commingle, yet it is illogical and illegitimate to claim that a religious claim is wrong, simply because scientists support the diametric of said claim.
    Theological positions cannot be proven true nor false empirically. Secondly, if Christianity and science co-mingle, this is not the case in which they do so. Besides —if theologicy could be proven empirically, it would not be essential to believe it upon faith! If the existence of God, for example, could be proven empirically, religion —by definition an act of faith —would cease to exist. At last, passing laws upon mere faith and hoping that everything turns out all right is folly.

    State a single statement made by the RR that is, in any way, verifiable either by logic or by experiment. State it and then, lacking proof, state the conditions under which that statement may be proven to be either true or false. Simply -you can't! And neither can DeLay or Bush for whom this issue is pure posturing. The good new is: it has already backfired on them.
    It rather immediately become a matter of "he-said-she-said" (again, for lack of a better term...). Unfortunately, while I will give you credit enough to assume you have at least semi-logical reasoning behind your position on stem-cell research, I'm afraid I cannot in good conscience give you credit for proving your point successfully in this article.
    Because you merely call it "semi logical" doesn't mean that it is!

    The burden of proof is upon Bush et al. But, as you can see, there is no proof for their position; there is, in fact, no empircal proof for statements based on ideology. To the extent that their statement follows from their religious ideology, their arguments are all circulus en probando fallacies.

    Their statements are thinly disguised theology -not science; and, to the extent that laws are based upon their theology, the First Amendment is violated. The First Amendment guarantees what Thomas Jefferson called a "wall of separation" between church and state.

    I fear that you have been fooled by the RR's slick PR experts, propaganda, and focus groups. Let me put it to you in these terms: scientific propositions are those propositions that can be proven - empirically -to be either true (or in some cases, highly probable) or untrue! Propositions that can never be proven to be either true or false are either theology, poetry, or just simple nonsense. Of those three categories I leave the classification of Bush and the RR to the reader.

    Some updates:

    Scientists fear US research will fall behind

    By Rebecca Knight in BostonThe US scientific community expressed frustration and disappointment yesterday at the announcement that President George W. Bush would veto bipartisan legislation to ease restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

    "It's not surprising but it's very sad," said Terry Devitt, a director at the University of Wisconsin's stem cell research programme. "The president has affirmed a policy that is out of step with both science and public opinion. It means we may have to wait for a new president to move this type of research into the clinic." ...

    Experts rip Rove stem cell remark Researchers doubt value of adult cells

    By Jeremy Manier and Judith Graham
    Tribune staff reporters
    Published July 19, 2006

    When White House political adviser Karl Rove signaled last week that President Bush planned to veto the stem cell bill being considered by the Senate, the reasons he gave went beyond the president's moral qualms with research on human embryos.

    In fact, Rove waded into deeply contentious scientific territory, telling the Denver Post's editorial board that researchers have found "far more promise from adult stem cells than from embryonic stem cells."

    The administration's assessment of stem cell science has extra meaning in the wake of the Senate's 63-37 vote Tuesday to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The measure, which passed the House last year, will now head to Bush, who has vowed to veto it.

    But Rove's negative appraisal of embryonic stem cell research--echoed by many opponents of funding for such research--is inaccurate, according to most stem cell research scientists, including a dozen contacted for this story.

    The field of stem cell medicine is too young and unproven to make such judgments, experts say. Many of those researchers either specialize in adult stem cells or share Bush's moral reservations about embryonic stem cells.

    "[Rove's] statement is just not true," said Dr. Michael Clarke, associate director of the stem cell institute at Stanford University, who in 2003 published the first study showing how adult stem cells replenish themselves.

    If opponents of embryonic stem cell research object on moral grounds, "I'm willing to live with that," Clarke said, though he disagrees. But, he said, "I'm not willing to live with statements that are misleading."

    Dr. Markus Grompe, director of the stem cell center at the Oregon Health and Science University, is a Catholic who objects to research involving the destruction of embryos and is seeking alternative ways of making stem cells. But Grompe said there is "no factual basis to compare the promise" of adult stem cells and cells taken from embryos.

    Limbaugh claimed "you need abortions to get" embryonic stem cells, "we need to re-examine" notion of "scientist" because "science has been so wrong about so many things"

    Summary: Rush Limbaugh claimed that "the militant pro-abortion crowd" is "behind" efforts to legalize federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, "because you need abortions to get these [embryos]." In fact, embryonic stem cells "are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro ... and then donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors."

    On the July 19 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program,
    Rush Limbaugh claimed that "the militant pro-abortion crowd" is "behind" efforts to legalize federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, "because you need abortions to get these [embryos]." In fact, as the National Institutes of Health webpage points
    , embryonic stem cells "are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro -- in an in vitro fertilization clinic -- and then donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors. They are not derived from eggs fertilized in a woman's body [emphasis original]."

    Additionally, Limbaugh claimed that, in light of scientists' belief that embryonic stem cells could be useful in medicine, "we need to re-examine this whole term 'scientist,' " because "[s]cience is all about politics, and science has been so wrong about so many things."

    The Existentialist Cowboy

    Sunday, July 16, 2006

    John Cornyn's Demagoguery Refuted

    I was in a feisty mood when I got the following "letter" from my Senator —John Cornyn of Texas. First his entire letter followed by my reply to the Senator in which I responded to his specific absurdities in block quotes:
    Dear Mr. Hart:

    Thank you for contacting me about efforts to uphold traditional marriage. I appreciate having the benefit of your comments on this important matter.

    As you may know, in 1996 over three-fourths of Congress passed—and former President Bill Clinton signed—the Defense of Marriage Act (P.L. 104-199). This federal law defines marriage as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."

    Under the laws, traditions, and customs of all fifty states, marriage has historically been defined as the union of a man and a woman. However, judicial rulings—and outright lawlessness by local officials in some states—have threatened traditional marriage and moved this debate onto the national stage. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas provides lower courts with the leverage needed to invalidate traditional marriage laws. And the first major assault on traditional marriage came in Goodridge v. Mass. Dept. of Health, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court—citing the Lawrence decision—overturned that state's traditional marriage law. As such, constitutional scholars on both sides of the aisle agree that the Defense of Marriage Act and similar state laws are now in peril.

    I believe that judges should strictly interpret the law and avoid the temptation to legislate from the bench or color their rulings with personal ideology. During my tenure as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights, I conducted a series of hearings to determine the steps necessary to uphold traditional marriage. As a result, on January 24, 2005, Senator Wayne Allard introduced a joint resolution (S.J. Res. 1) proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States. I am proud to co-sponsor this joint resolution, which would allow the American people to decide on its ratification—rather than permitting traditional marriage laws to be invalidated by judicial fiat. S.J. Res. 1 has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary for consideration.

    You might also be interested to learn that the Texas Legislature passed a constitutional amendment (H.J.R. No. 6), which was added to the statewide ballot last year as Proposition 2. The "Texas Marriage Amendment" defined marriage as being only between one man and one woman, and on November 8, 2005, Texans voted overwhelmingly to pass Proposition 2 by a vote of more than 76 percent.

    I appreciate having the opportunity to represent the interests of Texans in the United States Senate. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.


    United States Senator
    Now my reply:
    I believe that judges should strictly interpret the law and avoid the temptation to legislate from the bench or color their rulings with personal ideology. —Sen. Cornyn
    I just don't believe that to be the case with regard to the GOP and the right wing in general. The only "judicial activism" I see going on is from the right wing.
    You might also be interested to learn that the Texas Legislature passed a constitutional amendment (H.J.R. No. 6), which was added to the statewide ballot last year as Proposition 2. The "Texas Marriage Amendment" defined marriage as being only between one man and one woman, and on November 8, 2005, Texans voted overwhelmingly to pass Proposition 2 by a vote of more than 76 percent. —Sen. Cornyn
    A completely unnecessary amendment and one which I oppose. This proposed amendment is repugnant and intrusive, involving government in purely private matters. There is no need for either the Federal Government or the states to get involved with what is primarily a "religious" act. What both levels of government should do is to get out of the "marriage" business entirely —save for the creation of civil unions for the purpose of determining "...who gets what" when a separation occurs.

    What right has the "state" to define "marriage" of any sort? Marriage —for thousands of years —has been and continues to be a religious act and ceremony. I deny that any state or government has the power to perform a "marriage" or to require of anyone a "license" to have sex or live together. As a marriage is a religious act, your proposed amendment violates the separation of church and state. Now —if an established religion chooses to recognize a "civil union" as a marriage, that is a right of that church that is protected under the FIRST AMENDMENT —little read of late by the GOP.
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ...

    —First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

    Your proposed amendment is incompatible with the First Amendment on its face as it "...respects an establishment of religion". "No law ..." means "No law"! Now I understand that your proposed amendment applies to the state of Texas. But didn't a US Supreme Court, notable for its 5-4 GOP majority, strike down the work of a State court's ruling concerning its own state laws? Was this not completely without precedent? Was this decision not known as Bush v Gore? Was it not cheered by the GOP? What will be the reaction of the GOP when a federal court, likewise, dares to declare your amendment incompatible with existing federal, constitutional law to which the State of Texas is subject? How do Republicans manage to reconcile —within a single brain —two mutually exclusive propositions? Another example, how do Republicans manage to oppose abortion even as they turn a blind eye to the questionable executions on death row?

    What ever happened to smaller, less intrusive government? If I had been expecting the GOP to deliver on that empty promise, then I would have been sorely disappointed. However, I have learned over some 60 years, that nothing said by the GOP can be believed.

    Regards, but I will be working to defeat the GOP at every possible level and, respectfully, that includes you Senator and your colleague in the Senate.

    Meanwhile, George W. Bush has been very credibly quoted by an experienced journalist, based upon several eye witnesses, to having said: "The Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper!" Is this true? If it is true, then why has he not been impeached for violating his Oath of Office? He is sworn to uphold and defend that "...Goddamned piece of paper!"

    I am increasingly and profoundly offended by this "President", in particular, and by the radical, anti-American nature of the GOP in general. When did Washington stop listening to the people? Was it when the lobbyists for big corporations and defense contractors proceeded to buy the government of the United States of America? Hey! Sen. John! You wanna debate me? How about high noon?

    The Existentialist Cowboy

    Bush has de-stabilized the middle east, strengthened Iran, abandoned Lebanon

    In the face of a disproportionate response by Israel, the US has abandoned Lebanon, the best hope for democracy in the Middle East. Bush's attack, invasion and illegal occupation of Iraq has irreparably undermined American influence and power everywhere in the Middle East. If what Bushco had said of Iran is true, then Bush risks driving Lebanon into an alliance with Iran at a time when the US has eschewed its traditional role of 'honest broker'.

    The US failure to restrain Israel has only strengthened Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has already become a major player in the world wide scramble for Middle Eastern resources. As Israel's disproportionate attack on Lebanon nears the end of its first week, the fact that Lebanon —hitherto the region's best hope for Democracy —will find more in common with Iran than with the US who has clearly left Lebanon to its fate at the hands of Ehud Olmert. The so-called great game is lost; Bush, if not checkmated, is, at least, checked in what Zbigniew Brzezinski called The Grand Chessboard

    In the year 2003, Juan Cole wrote:

    Most Shiite leaders in Iraq have made a tactical decision not to resist the Anglo-American occupation during the coming year. They hope the US, in recreating Iraq as a parliamentary democracy, will give them the political power they deserve by virtue of their numbers. If not, or if the Americans overstay their welcome, the Shiites might well turn against them. It is not, however, clear that the community is united enough yet to effectively close ranks against coalition forces.

    —Juan Cole, Shiite divisions give the US breathing room

    Brzezinski's thesis, however, was taken up by Bushco, a group easily swayed by grandiose and megalomaniacal visions of American pre-eminence in a post-Soviet world. Brzezinski's thesis encouraged less gifted thinkers to envision the Bush administration holding absolute sway throughout the Middle East from oil-rich former Soviet satellites to the shores of the Mediterranean.

    Instead, Iraq has become a black hole pointing up the fatal inconsistencies in Bush's plan for world dominance if not outright conquest.

    Chess players will understand this analogy: Bush lost the game with a flawed opening. As early as July of 2003, the BBC would report that "...the new Centcom commander, John Abizaid, said coalition forces were facing what looks like a systematic guerrilla war". The Bush administration failed to understand and fully appreciate that much of the Middle East is less "state" oriented than tribal in nature. Power throughout the region is, therefore, capable of coalescing unpredictably to outside threats. In Iraq, specifically, Bush failed to anticipate the rise to power of a Shi'ite theocracy capable of forming an alliance with Bush's boogie-man du jour: Iran.

    Shias account for about 90 percent of the Iranian population, some 70 percent of all people living in the Persian Gulf region. About 140 million people living in an area from Lebanon to Pakistan call themselves Shias; that's about 50 percent of all people in that region. It's not surprising that Bush himself would have been ignorant of these elementary facts. It is inconceivable, however, that Condoleeza Rice, as National Security Advisor at the time, would not have done at least five minutes of basic research before consenting to complicity in Bush's decision to commit US troops to a war of naked aggression cum quagmire cum disaster.

    By liberating and empowering Iraq's Shiite majority, the Bush administration helped launch a broad Shiite revival that will upset the sectarian balance in Iraq and the Middle East for years to come.


    Iraq's liberation has also generated new cultural, economic, and political ties among Shiite communities across the Middle East. Since 2003, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, coming from countries ranging from Lebanon to Pakistan, have visited Najaf and other holy Shiite cities in Iraq, creating transnational networks of seminaries, mosques, and clerics that tie Iraq to every other Shiite community, including, most important, that of Iran.

    —Vali Nasr, Foreign Affairs, When the Shiites Rise
    Reportedly, the Bush administration is worried about the way the world is trending. That's cold comfort. It is Bush and his gang of incompetents who may be credited with having fanned the flames. Could Bush have behaved otherwise? Yes —but only if he had represented the interests of the people of the United States instead of the combined interests of Dick Cheney's Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, Unocal, the since failed Enron, and other representatives of big oil. Their long term interests are the control of the world price of the world's most addictive drug: Oil! American democracy and world peace are just not very high on their list of misplaced priorities.

    The Existentialist Cowboy