Archive for April, 2009



[A National Disgrace]




     It shouldn’t take a genius to recognize that willfully initiating, promoting or committing acts of torture, despite whatever rationalizations are attendant to it, is nevertheless a violation of International Human Rights. Whether torture is used against anyone during wartime or peacetime, it is an extremely serious violation of the Geneva Convention articles reached in 1949 by the United Nations. The United States was instrumental in bringing this about and, as a nation, was a signatory to it.


     Recently President Obama stated, following release of the U.S. Justice Department’s torture memos, that he preferred that individuals in the CIA who carried out torture, not be prosecuted. One day later he realized his blunder. The choice to prosecute or not lies with the Justice Department, not the White House. What the President failed to understand is that American values, and the opinion of other nations toward the moral integrity of a good and just country like the United States, was not being taken into consideration. Neither did the President show any understanding of American or World History based on the terrible events of World War II.


     These sins of omission show not only a failure of presidential moral leadership, but a failure to follow through with campaign rhetoric on accountability in government. It also shows, unfortunately, a serious question of his unwillingness to protect American values around human rights. At a broader level of rationalization, he wanted the country to look past the torture issue so he could concentrate on his massive political spending plan, and economic agenda. By discouraging prosecution of war criminals at home, he has inadvertently dishonored and disgraced this country and its people.


      In addition, it was irresponsible to summarily ignore all national and international laws prohibiting torture and all precedents of the United Nation’s prohibition against torture and violations of universal human rights. For a liberal democratic president to have done this is surprizing and has brought shame and dishonor to the very office he holds. The President’s quick, flippant and somewhat dismissive arrogant response to the torture memos, released under the Freedom of Information Act, demonstrates the country didn’t elect the thoughtful, reasoned politician we thought we did. The rationalizations he put forth as to why he didn’t want to prosecute CIA officers, other government officials, and some members of the military, sounded strikingly very similar to the same rationalizations coming out of Germany at the end of World War II. Serious questions remain: Who did the President think he was trying to protect and why? If he was trying to protect ex-President George Walker Bush, his loyalty to the office of the presidency is misplaced. Remember who said this:  “When the president does it, it is not illegal.” (Frost/Nixon)


      Since we now have President George Walker Bush’s confession on tape, recently broadcast on the Keith Olbermann MSNBC show, we now know that there was approval at the highest levels of government to commit these war crimes. Those guilty of war crimes do reach all the way from “lacky” levels in the CIA, to military prisons in Iraq and elsewhere, and finally to the White House itself. More blatant rationalizations are currently coming from ex-vice president Dick Cheney. Cheney, who never went beyond his freshman year of college, seems to lack any understanding of law and shows absolutely no remorse for initiating and promoting war crimes and crimes against humanity.


     How soon do the American people forget history? At the end of World War II many public servants, low-level bureaucrats, military officers, Nazi SS Elite, judges, and high-level government officials were brought to the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal and tried for crimes against humanity. Where German military and concentration guards were concerned, they were not allowed to defend themselves with rationalizations like “We were only following orders, or let’s put this all behind us and look to the future” (sound familiar).    


      The Japanese also were tried after WWII for war crimes, including those who used waterboarding to torture prisoners. Crimes against humanity were viewed as great violations of this country’s values to respect life and humanity in general. Policies of torture rob our nation of both dignity and respect. If we fail to act responsibly now as a Nation, and fail to bring to justice all those who were involved in initiating torture policy, promoting or carrying out war crimes in the name of the United States, the consequences of a dishonored nation with a double standard will taint the American image, and thus the American people forever more. According to Alfred W. McCoy in his important book, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, concluded:


Finally, as we learned from France’s battle for Algiers in the 1950s and Britain’s Northern Ireland conflict in the 1970s, a nation that sanctions torture in defiance of democratic principles pays a terrible price. For nearly two millennia, the practice has been identified with tyrants and empires. For the past two centuries, its repudiation has been synonymous with the humanist ideals of the Enlightenment and democracy. When any modern state tortures even a few victims, the stigma compromises its majesty and corrupts its integrity. Its officials must spin an even more complex web of lies that, in the end, weakens the bonds of trust and the rule of law that are the sine qua non of a democracy. And, beyond its borders, allies and enemies turn away in collective revulsion. 



What should be Done?   


     Every President has a poor decision during his administration that he wishes he hadn’t made. President Obama is no exception. Protecting war criminals is the worst thing he could have done. It is the biggest blunder of his administration. 


     There are already indications coming from sources close to the Department of Justice that indicate high level officials are angry at the President because it is their decision, not the administration’s, whether someone is to be tried, or not tried, for a crime.


     In addition to the United States Justice Department, the U.S. Senate should work collaboratively with the Justice Department by holding congressional hearings. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy called three weeks ago for the establishment of a nonpartisan “Commission of Inquiry” to investigate allegations of wrongdoing against former Bush administration officials in their prosecution of the war on terrorism. Senator Leahy is quoted as saying at a committee meeting, “Nothing did more to damage America’s place in the world than the revelation that our great nation stretched the law and the bounds of executive power to authorize torture and cruel treatment.” He added that “the Commission should have the power to issue subpoenas and offer immunity to witnesses.”


   The United States has a long history, long before the Bush administration, of secretly violating international and domestic laws prohibiting the use of torture in interrogations. The U.S. has been very uneven in honoring humanitarian values and both national and international law. Many of these secret crimes went unpunished in the past. It’s time a real message is sent to all people in government and to the world at large: The United States will not tolerate torture under any circumstances.


     But now, with the “smoking–gun” evidence mounting with the memos and confessions by both the former President and Vice-President, the nation can now send a permanent message to all future administrations and other nations abroad, that the United States will hold people, no matter what their political or administrative level, accountable for their criminal acts, and specifically for promoting or carrying out torture of prisoners. The first step needed is for the United States Justice Department to prohibit all travel outside the United States for anyone previously employed by the Bush administration. Leaving the country would make them subject to immediate arrest. This would set the initial stage that things are about to happen on the investigative front.


    As a nation we must not let war crimes committed in the name of our country go unpunished


   The following outlines various passages of International Human Rights laws that are applicable to the issue of torture. Below these passages the various techniques used by war crime criminals within the CIA and in military prisons overseas will be used to compare with what they did. Policy decisions, it must be remembered was done all in the narrow and unimaginative underlying rationalization of national security.



     In 1948, delegates to the United Nations, led by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the Foundation for all later UN humanitarian conventions. Among its various provisions was Article 5, that “no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.” A year later, the United States also ratified Geneva Convention III Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, with its strong prohibitions against torture. Article 13 states that “prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated, while Article 87 bars “corporal punishment, imprisonment in premises without daylight and, in general, any form of torture or cruelty.”


      Accordingly, Article 89 offers an unambiguous ban on harsh treatment: “In no case shall disciplinary punishments be inhuman, brutal or dangerous to the health of prisoners of war.” Later, under Geneva Convention IV Relative to Civilian Persons in Time of War, the United States accepted the broad language of Article 31 which states, “ No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised…to obtain information from them or third parties.” The United States had thus committed itself to a new, strict standard for human rights, whether in war or peace.


     Had the Bush Administration, who drafted the memos and legal opinions for the CIA in adopting torture procedures, ever heard of the ratification by the United States as signatories to the various Geneva Conventions or the original Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Apparently not, for the following was carried out by the underlings in the CIA, military prisons in Iraq, and secret prisons overseas. According to the May 10, 2005 Justice Department memo the CIA and others were advised that the following methods were legal:





Dietary manipulation:


Substituting liquid meal replacements for solid foods




Used to cause psychological discomfort




Slamming detainee into a wall.


Facial slap:


Slapping detainees face with fingers slightly spread


Abdominal Slap:


Striking the abdomen with the back of an open hand.



Wall Standing:


Forcing detainees to stand with feet spread, arms outreached, fingers resting on the wall, not permitted to move.



Water dousing:


Cold water is poured on detainee.



Sleep Deprivation:


Detainee is deprived of sleep for more than 48 hours. Procedures were never followed. Some were forced with sleep deprivation for 11 straight days.





Pouring water over face of detainee, who is lying at an angle on his back, head lowered in order to simulate drowning.




People, including government officials, like to use euphemistic terms to mollify others. In this case interrogation techniques is a more acceptable term than the rawness of the term—Torture. So how is the term torture defined anyway? Well, the definition is no mystery. It is defined as,



“tor·ture [táwrchər]

vt (past and past participle tor·tured, present participle tor·tur·ing, 3rd person present singular tor·tures)


1.  Inflict pain on somebody: to inflict extreme pain or physical punishment on somebody 


2.  Cause somebody anguish: to cause somebody mental or physical anguish.



3.  Distort something: to twist or distort something into an unnatural form 




1.  Inflicting of pain: infliction of severe physical pain on somebody, e.g. as punishment or to persuade somebody to confess or recant something 


2.  Methods of inflicting pain: the methods used to inflict physical pain on people 


3.  Anguish: mental or physical anguish 



Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.




Final Comments


     The issue of torture and the war crimes committed by members of the government in our name isn’t going to go away. The choices are simple. The end does not justify the means under any circumstances, and no amount of rationalization is ever going to change  or alter that. No matter how many times someone tries to gloss over it, torture is a crime against humanity.


     Those who have initiated policies to institutionalize interrogation techniques involving torture, otherwise promoted it, or carried it out, should receive the harshest of punishment, namely life in prison. It is not important what position an individual held in our government; those guilty of war crimes need to be brought to justice. It is an unacceptable act of betrayal and disloyalty to the values of the American people, that misguided buffoons in our government, led us down the path toward everlasting national dishonor and disgrace.     

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Does Prayer Work?

A 21st Century Perspective



One of the supposed direct ways to connect to God is through prayer. This social custom is found in many religions around the world, and in all three major monotheistic world religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Theologians have different views on what is meant by prayer. But for all, it will include petition, the asking of something from God for ourselves or others. But does prayer really work?


A celebrated study was conducted at San Francisco General Hospital by Randolph C. Byrd in which he reported in 1988 that patients in a cardiac unit received statistically significant benefits from intercessory prayers. However, serious flaws were later discovered which threw serious doubt on the study’s findings. Subsequently, many other scientists have looked at the efficacy of prayer and found natural explanations, rather than supernatural explanations, for the findings related to prayer.


 In this state of confusing outcomes we must judge for ourselves—Does prayer work at all? Which ones? Is God more likely to intervene when many people pray for mercy or justice than when only a few or a single individual does? Does the social status of the person making the prayer make any difference? What about age, race, or gender? If the highest member of the Catholic Church makes a prayer, does that carry special weight?


Here is a quote from Andy Rooney.


The pope traditionally prays for peace every Easter and the fact that it has never had any affect whatsoever in preventing or ending a war never deters him. What goes through the Pope’s mind about being rejected all the time? Does God have it in for him?


There are five identified problems when people pray: (1) lack of a measurable prayer outcome, (2) lack of a timeframe in which a prayer should be accomplished, (3) lack of the ability to interpret the cause of a prayer’s outcome, (4) the process of prayer is itself faulty in nature. That is, some people pray for rather trivial, inane, or insipid prayer outcomes, i.e., not all prayers are serious, and (5) prayer is sometimes used as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, where God can easily be made a scapegoat if personal failure occurs, or given undeserved credit when prayer outcomes were never in doubt.


We know that leaving prayer to a mass of subjective un-quantified impressions isn’t helpful at all. Faith that God will answer one’s prayers, like any other human activity, needs to be justified. Justification in the 21st Century requires that it be based on quantifiable rational grounds like data, logic and reason, not supernatural nonsense.


Historically, it seems most practitioners of prayer justified their prayers based on irrational grounds. Is there a better way to evaluate prayers given all the problems mentioned above? How can one determine the efficacy of one’s prayers? First, one must understand off the top that attributing causation (It was God’s Will) to a prayer’s outcome is impossible. That’s because one has yet, believer or non-believer, to quantify (create an independent variable) some “Sky God Who Judges You.”


You can, however, differentiate prayer outcomes that are the result of an alternative to the God explanation. That competing alternative explanation is the laws of probability and chance. Now let’s say data were collected on prayer outcomes from 100 or 1,000 people all tracking say 10 prayers a piece. Data would likely show that success/failure of prayer outcomes would approximate a bell-shaped curve. Logically, this should convince even the least insightful among us that prayer outcomes, like many other things in life, follow exclusively—the laws of probability.

Closer to home let’s look at you and your neighbor. If you score 5 out of 10 successful prayer outcomes while your rich and wealthy neighbor scores 10 out of 10, what are you going to conclude? After all, do you really think God favors rich people more than poor people, or middle class people?


Now, if someone were to collect enough data and disaggregate the data by social class, or age, or race, my guess is a bell-shaped curve would still be found for each sub-group. But, of course, some might counter that moral character is what God cares about. After all, isn’t it “God’s will” to put people in jail or prison for the error of their ways? The real factor that differentiates those who have their prayers answered from those who don’t is, like it or not, probability.


I suspect that the prayer profile of people in our jails or prisons would be no different that the success/failure rates of prayer among those who lead upright socially acceptable lives. If morality isn’t related to prayer outcome—what is? We all know that “truth” is what we agree it is. For this Atheist/Pantheist/Humanist the “truth” is that the competing explanation wins—prayer outcome is due to chance and the laws of probability. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, construct your own ten serious prayers, and record their outcome that are measurable and possess a timeframe.


For the true believer it will take courage to do this, but it will require only paper and pencil to record one’s own track record of prayer success/failure. Are you game to give it a try? If so, let’s proceed.  


First, a prayer’s outcome must be measurable. Be specific. If you pray for world peace and don’t specify the results, you won’t recognize what has been achieved, if anything.  Second, give a timeframe in which a prayer is to be accomplished. Without a specific timeframe you will have no basis for determining when a prayer is successful or not. Third, try to understand the remaining caveats or prayer construction problems. Namely, sometimes people have the tendency to ascribe the same cause to a prayer regardless of its outcome. For example, if a friend or loved one is in the hospital and not expected to recover, and that person survives, people may say “it was God’s will.” If, however, the friend or loved one dies, people are still likely to ascribe the same cause, “it was God’s will.  


Don’t trivialize prayers that do not lend themselves to equity or fairness (putting God between a rock and a hard place) such as praying for one side to win over some other side in a sports or athletic event. Also, sometimes people pray for things they know down deep they already have control over. For example, a person may pray for graduation from college when he or she already knows they are going to graduate. The prayer in this case is treated as a kind of back-up insurance policy. Of course, if something gets screwed up they can always blame God for their personal failure, or pay lip service to God when things go well. Praying for things in these contexts is rather meaningless.  


Try making up ten serious-minded prayers and attach actual dates for when they are to be accomplished. Remember: Make the outcome of your prayers measurable. Many factors will determine the outcome of a prayer; most likely, realistically, it is probability and chance. George Carlin once coined the expression, “Sky God who judges you.” If God is all powerful and can judge anything, I suggest we pose a little test and judge Him. Let’s test God with what I would characterize as The Unspoken or Hidden Prayer all of us subconsciously hold, but seldom express.


Let’s pray to God for a really, important, big prayer such as asking for your deceased loved ones to return alive in the flesh—and visit with you. After all, if God can do anything, there is no reason that death has to be a one-way ticket to oblivion. If you book passage to anywhere in this universe, it’s always best to purchase a return ticket.


There is also another big prayer I would like fulfilled. In the Old Testament, God was the protector of the ancient Israelites, their bodyguard. What better way for God of the Old Testament to protect modern Israel than to bring peace to the Middle East . I also suggest that one of your prayers be the same as mine, namely everlasting peace between Israel and its friends in the neighborhood— Syria , Iran , Hamas, and Hezbollah. And let’s set January 1, 2010 , as a measurable timeframe, and its efficacy determined by a permanent Peace Accord signed by all the parties.


If anyone in the 21st Century believes that these prayers, or any other for that matter, can really be achieved as a result of God’s intervention, I think I can sell you some prime ocean side property in Arizona.








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