Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tufte, Faces, and Afghanistan Casualties

If everything goes as expected, in the next week or so the New York Times will publish the latest update in its annual map/graph/chart of casulties in Iraq and Afghanistan - an "Op-Chart" entitled "A Year in Iraq and Afghanistan".

See discussion on the Information Aesthetics website.

The New York Times "Op-Chart" has been described by various commentators -- and it certainly is eye-popping. For anyone even vaguely interested in what the United States is doing in places like Afghanistan, the "Op-Chart" invites your eye to dart back and forth between different Afghan regions, icons of human figures (representing casualties), and a key that details the subtle variations in shape and color of those icons to represent different populations (e.g. U.S. vs. coalition troops) and causes (e.g. bomb vs. hostile fire).

The tremendous contribution of the "Op-Chart" is the way it reminds us that there are actual people -- many, many people -- behind the statistics in the news we read each day about Afghanistan, and that the events are happening in a real, physical place that you can relate to via a map, and that the events that are occurring on our authority are cumulative -- they add up to a large number of people.

Beyond that, however, there is a problem with the "Op-Chart": it doesn't actually do a very good job helping us detect the patterns in the assembled information. Perhaps that is because there is no pattern to discern -- the violence in Afghanistan is essentially random with respect to location, development over time, identity of troops, and type of event. Before I am convinced of that fact, however, I would like to see the design of the "Op-Chart" better reflect the possibility that there are, in fact patterns to detect. A good place to start would be the precepts of Edward Tufte about the "visual display of quantitative information" - it seems to me that there is a tremendous opportunity here to mash up time series, map, and categorization ... but that the icons currently employed are un-parsable and verge on the dreaded "chartjunk".

More at Cabrera Research

Certainly we need ways to make the human connection to what's happening in Afghanistan. Compare the "Op-Chart" with the high-tech "Casualty Map" provided by CNN: the CNN tool can tell you just about anything you want to know, but do you lose your connection to the fact that these are people we're talking about? Showing a human figure takes us part of the way there. One wonders what could be accomplished by going the next step and using the power of the human face. (Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.)

A second critique of the "Op-Chart" is ... at this stage in the game, is it really addressing the right question? Do we really stand to learn anything from another summary of the year just passed, particularly one that is narrowly from the standpoint of U.S. and coalition troops? Isn't the real question that we want to ask: do we have any reason to believe that the way in which the U.S. is engaged in Afghanistan is progressing toward less violence? An obvious place to start is to ask about the situation with civilian casualties: is it getting better? or worse? Are we part of the solution, or part of the problem?

Related posts

MAPPING DATA: After a call to resist U.S. war moves against Iran went out in early 2012, the list of February 4 rallies to say "No Iran War!" grew FAST.

(See No Iran War Rallies EVERYWHERE! )

DATA-BASED DISCOURSE: A new U.N. report makes it clear that the U.S. has to report fully on all its drone attacks.

Until the U.S. "comes clean" with all the facts, we're groping in the dark.

(See 2014: The Year of Transparency (for U.S. Drone Use)?)

INFORMATION DEMOCRACY: Rep. Thomas Massie (R, KY) gives a convincing explanation of why Congress always ends up supporting the President's wars. It's a four step process that starts with pressure, and continues with arm-twisting, gets topped off with a dash of "secret briefings" . . . and then . . .

(See Zombie Alert! (How Government Secrecy Seduces Congress to Support War) )

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Arts & Media 2010 Responses to #Guantanamo

Diverse artists and media kept the question of Guantanamo alive during 2010. Here's my list of "Arts and Media 2010 Responses to #Guantanamo" favorites -- tweeted during December, 2010.

Nadir Omowale sings "Guantanamo"

#20 Nadir Omowale's song "Guantanamo" - "Stand up and do the right thing!" - I've been mesmerized by this song since the first time I saw it a year ago!

#19 Illinois says NIMBY! - If you live in Chicago -- like me -- or elsewhere in Illinois, you would have been flabbergasted to see the way people panicked when the facility at Thomson was nominated to house detainees after the closure of Guantanamo.

#18 "What We So Quietly Saw" - Greg Cook's powerful comics treatment of the issue.

#17 "The Guantanamo Lawyers" - Jonathan Hafetz and Mark Denbeaux's careful documentation of how the U.S. constitutional bar has stepped up to the plate is truly inspiring.

#16 Petition to #FreeFayiz - @tosfm and a cast of thousands tweet to get Kuwait to accept the return of Guantanamo detainee Fayiz al-Kandari. (Did u sign?)

#15 Daily Updates from Detainee063 - Daily Twitter updates from the interrogation log of Mohammed Al-Qahtani.

#14 London Guantanamo Justice Center - What happens when detention in Guantanamo is over? Is it ever over for ex-detainees?

#13 "Gone Gitmo" in Second Life - If virtual reality can be used to wage war ... maybe it can also be used to wage peace?

#12 Educators' package for "The Response" from Street Law - What would happen if kids all over the country studied Guantanamo in their civics classes?

#11 Close Guantanamo Bay group on Facebook - 22,899 People can't be wrong!

#10 "The Response" goes to Washington - screened for Members and the public in a House committee room at the invitation of Rep. Jan Schakowski and Rep. John Conyers . . . .

#9 Chicago attorney H. Candace Gorman - on dealing with the government defending Guantanamo detainees: "Yes, I Am Pissed Off"!

#8 Dahlia Lithwick - made sure the mainstream media couldn't squirm away from Guantanamo!

#7 Amnesty International + Cage Prisoners - AI sticks to its guns in the face of heat over a tough stance on Guantanamo.

#6 Amnesty International + "The Response" - screenings in hundreds of homes throughout the country in June, 2010 as part of AI's "Counter Terror With Justice" campaign.

#5 One day a year, the whole country talks about Guantanamo - (Comedy Central's Xmas Eve broadcast of Harold and Kumar)

#4 Carol Rosenberg - Day in day out getting the story, getting it out there!

#3 Witness Against Torture - Demonstrations at the White House in January 2010 -- and again in 2011 (1.11.11)!

Stay tuned for updates!

Related posts

January 11, 2012, marks the 10th anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility ("Gitmo"). People from across the country will converge on Washington, D.C., to protest U.S. detention policies and its abandonment of due process. Actions will take place locally in Chicago and many, many other cities. Between now and then, we'll be getting the message out on Twitter.

(See #gitmoFAIL! )

My most prominent memory of my first viewing of the Guantanamo film, The Response, is of one of the stars of the film -- Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame -- participating in a panel after the screening. I was blown away when she said, "I did this because our civil liberties in our country have been gravely damaged and we all need to contribute to repairing them."

(See Understanding What Guantanamo Means)

For the next three months, people will be talking about the film 12 Years a Slave and its Oscar prospects. And well they should. The film is about the experiences of the free man, Solomon Northrup, who was seized and enslaved for twelve years, and it may be the best thing ever to come along for enabling us to confront the true meaning of our history of oppression and racism in America. But it's not just about history. 

(See 12 Years a Detainee)

Eventually, in large part due to Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the United States was converted from a country in which a small number of people thought slavery needed to be ended into a country determined to act to end slavery. This literary work took the movement wide, and it took it deep.

Why is a novel an important tool for creative resistance?

(See Creative Resistance 101: Uncle Tom's Cabin )

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Victory: The Guantanamo Lawyers

I believe Easter is God's gift to humanity of victory over death, hopelessness and frailty, and I believe that God is alive and in our midst. This Easter, it's the witness of the Guantanamo lawyers that is confirming me in those beliefs.

I've written a lot before about the example of people like Andy Worthington, Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, and the makers of the Guantanamo film "The Response." Today I want to name the lawyers who contributed to a book by Mark P. Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz called "The Guantanamo Lawyers".

The Guantanamo Lawyers: 
Inside a Prison, Outside the Law
edited by Mark P. Denbeaux
and Jonathan Hafetz

As I heard Jonathan explain on Friday night at an event here in Chicago sponsored jointly by Barbara's Bookstore and Revolution Books, "The Guantanamo Lawyers" represents the witness of the lawyers who stepped up and took action to defend Guantanamo detainees (and, by extension, the system of law, due process, and governance from which we all benefit). The book records for posterity those lawyers' accounts of just what has happened in the American system of detention in the past ten years.

I have taken the liberty of reproducing the honor roll of Guantanamo lawyers below. To learn more, read the book.

There are over a hundred names on this list of people who have taken action in the name of life, hope, and strength. What are you prepared to do?

The Guantanamo Lawyers

Stephen E. Abraham
Muneer I. Ahmad
Baher Azmy
Jessica Baen
Scott Barker
Amal Bouhabib
Yvonne R. Bradley
David Brahms
Patricia A. Bronte
Charles H. Carpenter
Anne Castle
John A. Chandler
Christopher Chang
Christi Charpentier
George M. Clarke III
Jerry Cohen
Joshua Colangelo-Bryan
John Connolly
Brant S. Copeland
Cori Crider
Maya D. Curtis
David J. Cynamon
George Daly
Matthew Darby
Jeffrey M. Davis
Joshua W. Denbeaux
Mark P. Denbeaux
Adam Deutsch
Rebecca Dick
J. Wells Dixon
Bernhard Docke
Joshua L. Dratel
Buz Eisenberg
Marc D. Falkoff
Mark C. Fleming
Murray Fogler
Tina Monshipour Foster
David Frakt
Eric M. Freeman
Agnieszka Fryszman
Fjohn J. Gibbons
Elizabeth Gilson
H. Candace Gorman
Eldon V.C. Greenberg
Richard Grigg
David Grossman
Jonathan Hafetz
Masud Hasnain
Sarah H. Havens
Melissa Hoffer
John Robert Holland
Anna Cayton Holland-Edwards
Jonathan Horowitz
Susan Hu
Jayne C. Huckerby
Gaillard T. Hunt
Krisine A. Huskey
Gary A. Isaac
Geremy Kamens
Ramzi Kassem
Jan K. Kitchel
Denny LeBoeuf
Allison M. Lefrak
Sarah H. Lorr
Ellen Lubell
Trip Mackintosh
Hanna F. Madbak
Emi MacLean
Howard J. Manchel
David Marshall
Julia Tarver Mason
David McColgin
Joe McMillan
George Brent Mickum VI
Michael D. Mori
Sahr Muhammedally
Mark Muoio
Donna R. Newman
Mari Newman
Jim Nickovich
Shawn Nolan
Matthew O'Hara
Andrew G. Patel
Chuck Patterson
Wesley R. Powell
Andrea J. Prasow
Jana Ramsey
Michael D. Ratner
Anant Raut
David H. Remes
Margaret L. Satterthwaite
John Sifton
Amrit Singh
Marjorie M. Smith
Kent Spriggs
Clive Stafford
Jeffrey M. Strauss
Dwight Sullivan
Thomas P. Sullivan
Alan Sussman
Doris Tennant
Hannah Tennant- Moore
Steven M. Watt
Carolyn M. Welshhans
P. Sabin Willett
Thomas B. Wilner
Elizabeth Wilson
Mark Wilson
Richard Wilson
Paul M. Winke
Ben Wizner
Gordon S. Woodward
Yasmin Zainulbhai

Stephen E. Abraham is an associate of Fink & Abraham LLP in Newport Beach, CA.

Muneer I. Ahmad is a clinical professor of law at Yale Law School.

Baher Azmy is a professor of law at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark, NJ.

Jessica Baen has worked as a paralegal with the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights since 2006.

Scott Barker is a 1970 Air Force Academy graduate who served on active duty for eight years before resigning his commission to pursue a career as a trial lawyer in Denver, CO.

Amal Bouhabib was a member of the International Justice Clinic at Fordham Law School in New York, NY.

Lt. Col. Yvonne R. Bradley a twenty-plus-year member of the U. S. Air Force and U.S. Air Force Reserve, was appointed in November 2005 as a military defense counsel to represent Binyam Mohamed in the military commissions at Guantanamo.

Brigadier General David Brahms USMC (ret.)has a private practice in Carlsbad, CA.

Patricia A. Bronte practices civil rights law at Stowell & Friedman, Ltd. in Chicago. She is a former partner of Jenner & Block LLP.

Charles H. Carpenter is a partner at Pepper Hamilton LLP in Washington, DC.

Anne Castle has practiced law in Colorado for twenty-seven years, specializing in water law, and is involved in several organizations whose goal is to provide legal assistance to people who cannot afford to pay.

John A. Chandler is a partner at King & Spalding LLP.

Christopher Chang is a Guantanamo Team Investigator at the UK-based legal action charity Reprieve.

Christi Charpentier works in the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

George M. Clarke III is a partner with Miller & Chevalier chartered in Washington, DC.

Jerry Cohen is a partner at Burns & Levinson LLP in Boston, MA.

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan is a senior attorney at Dorsey & Whitney in New York, NY.

John Connolly is a member of Murphy & Shaffer LLC, a small law firm in Baltimore, MD.

Brant S. Copeland is the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, FL.

Cori Crider is a staff attorney for Reprieve.

Maya D. Curtis currently manages her own immigration law firm, May Curtis Law LLC, and represented over fifteen prisoners in Guantanamo while working for Jenner & Block.

David J. Cynamon is a partner in the Washington, DC, office of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

George Daly is a retired civil rights lawyer in Charlotte, NC.

Matthew Darby is currently practicing criminal law in Houston, TX.

Jeffrey M. Davis has a private practice in Charlotte, NC.

Joshua W. Denbeaux is a partner at the firm of Denbeaux & Denbeaux.

Mark P. Denbeaux is a professor of law at Seton Hall Law School and director of the Center for Policy and Research. He is also of counsel to the firm Denbeaux & Denbeaux.

Adam Deutsch is a research fellow with Seton Hall Law School's Center for Policy and Research.

Rebecca Dick formerly in private practice, is now a staff attorney at the Federal Trade Commission.

J. Wells Dixon is a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, NY.

Bernhard Docke is currently a partner at Dr. Heinrich Hannover & Partner, Bremen, Germany.

Joshua L. Dratel is an attorney and founder of Joshua L. Dratel PC in New York, NY.

Buz Eisenberg is of counsel to Weinberg & Garber.

Marc D. Falkoff is a professor at Northern Illinois University College of Law in DeKalb, IL.

Mark C. Fleming is a partner at WilmerHale in Boston, MA.

Murray Fogler is a trial lawyer and partner with Beck, Redden & Secrest in Houston, TX.

Tina Monshipour Foster is the Executive Director of the International Justice Network.

David Frakt is a lawyer for the Air Force Reserve and a professor at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, CA.

Eric M. Freeman is the Maurice A. Deane Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Hofstra Law School.

Agnieszka Fryszman is a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll; she represents four men who have been detained by the United States at Guantanamo Bay.

Fjohn J. Gibbons is the founder of the John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest and Constitutional Law at Gibbons PC in Newark, NJ, and a director at the firm. He is the former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Elizabeth Gilson is a sole practitioner in New Haven, CT, concentrating on environmental law.

H. Candace Gorman is a solo-practitioner in Chicago, IL, who concentrates in civil rights and human rights law.

Eldon V.C. Greenberg is a partner at Garvey Schubert Barer In Washington, DC.

Richard Grigg is a partner at Spivey & Grigg in Austin, TX.

David Grossman is a staff attorney with the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project.

Jonathan Hafetz is an attorney with the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and has litigated numerous post-9/11 detention cases.

Masud Hasnain is an Arabic interpreter and translator for lawyers at Guantanamo and lives in Virginia.

Sarah H. Havens is an associate at Allen & Overy in New York, NY.

Melissa Hoffer is Vice President of the Conservation Law Foundation. She represented Guantanamo detianees while a junior partner at WilmerHale.

John Robert Holland and Anna Cayton Holland-Edwards are a father and daughter practicing together. Erica Grossman is also a member of the firm and involved in the firm's Guantanamo cases.

Jonathan Horowitz is Research Director of One World Research in New York, NY.

Susan Hu is a law student at New York University School of Law. She worked at the Center for Constitutional Rights as a paralegal on the Guantanamo Global Justice Inititative from 2006-2008.

Jayne C. Huckerby is Research Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Clinical Law at New York University Law School.

Gaillard T. Hunt has a private practice in Silver Spring, MD.

Aziz Huq is an assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School.

Krisine A. Huskey is a clinical professor and co- director of the National Security Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

Gary A. Isaac is Counsel at the Chicago office of Mayer Brown.

Geremy Kamens is First Assistant Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Ramzi Kassem is Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School.

Jan K. Kitchel is a partner at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in Portland, OR.

Denny LeBoeuf is the director of the John Adams Project of the American Civil Liberties Union providing attorneys and resources in defense of Guantanamo capital cases.

Allison M. Lefrak is an associate at Reed Smith in Washington, DC.

Sarah H. Lorr is a student at Fordham Law School in New York, NY.

Ellen Lubell is a principal of the firm Tennant Lubell LLC in Newton, MA.

Trip Mackintosh currently practices in the areas of white-collar criminal defense and export controls compliance and defense in Denver, CO.

Hanna F. Madbak is an associate at Baker Hostetler in New York, NY.

Emi MacLean was a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights from 2006 to 2009.

Howard J. Manchel is a partner at Manchel, Wiggns, Kaye LLP.

David Marshall has a private practice in Seattle, WA.

Julia Tarver Mason is a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in New York, NY.

David McColgin is a Supervisory Assistant Federal Defender in charge of the Appeals Unit for the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia, PA.

Joe McMillan is a partner at Perkins Coie in Seattle, WA.

George Brent Mickum VI is a partner at Spriggs & Hollingsworth in Washington, DC.

MajorMichael D. Mori U.S. Marine Corps, served as military defense counsel for Guantanamo detainee David Hicks.

Sahr Muhammedally is a senior associate in the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First.

Mark Muoio received his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law School in 2009 and has been a fellow at the Center for Policy and Research since 2007.

Donna R. Newman is a partner at Buttermore Newman Delanney & Foltz in New York, NY.

Mari Newman is a partner at Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP in Denver, where she practices civil rights and employment law.

Jim Nickovich practices law in San Francisco, CA.

Shawn Nolan works in the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Matthew O'Hara is a partner of Reed Smith LLP in Chicago, IL.

Andrew G. Patel has a private practice in New York, NY.

Chuck Patterson is a partner at Morrison & Foerster in Los Angeles, CA.

Wesley R. Powell is a partner at Hunton & Williams in New York City.

Andrea J. Prasow is a defense attorney in the Office of the Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions.

Jana Ramsey is an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP.

Michael D. Ratner is an attorney and the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. With CCR he is the author of "The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book."

Anant Raut is Counsel to the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States House of Representatives. He formerly represented Guantanamo detainees while an associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.

David H. Remes is Legal Director of Appeal for Justice, a nonprofit human rights and civil liberties litigation firm. Before founding Appeal for Justice in 2008, he was a partner at Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, DC.

Margaret L. Satterthwaite is Faculty Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and Associate Professor of Clinical Law at New York University School of Law.

John Sifton is an attorney, private investigator, and writer. He has worked for Human Rghts Watch and One World Research.

Amrit Singh is a staff attorney at the Immigrants' Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. She is coauthor (with Jameel Jaffer) of "Administration of Torture, A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond."

Marjorie M. Smith has her own practice in Piermont, NY, where she specializes in federal criminal appeals and habeas corpus.

Kent Spriggs is the practitioner of Spriggs Law Firm in Tallahassee, FL.

Clive Stafford is Founder and Director of Reprieve in London, England.

Jeffrey M. Strauss has practiced law at Mayer Brown in Chicago for 28 years, focusing on complex litigation and corporate transactions. He has also been involved in pro bono work on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.

ColonelDwight Sullivan United States Marine Corps Reserve, served as Chief Defense Counsel in the Office of Military Commissions from 2005 to 2007.

Thomas P. Sullivan is a partner at Jenner Block in Chicago, IL.

Alan Sussman was a partner in the law firm Ricken, Goldman, Sussman & Blythe, Kingston, NY, and is currently an adjunct professor at Bard College.

Doris Tennant is an attorney of Tennant Lubell LLC in Newton, MA.

Hannah Tennant-Moore is an award-winning freelance writer who has covered the Guantanamo litigation extensively.

Steven M. Watt is a senior staff attorney with the Human Rights Program of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Carolyn M. Welshhans represented prisoners at Guantanamo while employed at Dechert LLP.

P. Sabin Willett is a partner at Bingham McCutchen in Boston, MA.

Thomas B. Wilner is of counsel at Shearman & Sterling LLP in Washington, DC.

Elizabeth Wilson is Assistant Professor of Human Rights Law at the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University.

Mark Wilson is Senior Trial Counsel at the Federal Community Defender for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Richard Wilson is a professor of law and Director of the International Human rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, DC.

Paul M. Winke is a counsel of WilmerHale in New York, NY.

Ben Wizner has been a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union since 2001.

Gordon S. Woodward is a partner with the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

Yasmin Zainulbhai is a student at Fordham Law School in New York, NY.

Related posts

The defense team for the Guantanamo detainee Fayiz al Kandari was in Kuwait this week, publicizing the case and encouraging people there to demand that the United States government release the two Kuwaitis held at Guantanamo.

(See People in Kuwait Raising Their Voices Against Guantanamo )

My most prominent memory of my first viewing of the Guantanamo film, The Response, is of one of the stars of the film -- Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame -- participating in a panel after the screening. I was blown away when she said, "I did this because our civil liberties in our country have been gravely damaged and we all need to contribute to repairing them."

(See Understanding What Guantanamo Means)

What would Christians think if someone proposed carving out a slice of their Sunday services to worship the God of Entombment? Wouldn't they think that was absurd? After all, if Christianity is anything, isn't it the religion of "UN-entombment"?

(See When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"?)

Sometimes it feels like people who are concerned about Guantanamo are a handful of voices in the wilderness. Then there are moments when a lot of people get pulled into the conversation. "Law Day" -- sponsored nationwide by the American Bar Association (ABA) and implemented by state bar associations in each state -- is an example of the latter.

(See Guantanamo - What Would John Adams Say? )

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Drone-Pandora Connection (and I'm not talking about music)

The headline today says "U.S. looks to export drone technology to allies." What's wrong with this picture?

As someone who looks on in amazement as the United States wrings its hands over the nuclear ambitions of small fry like Iran, I once again find it amazing that we don't recognize the problems we are creating as we open the door to yet another new technology.

No matter how you feel about the inherent challenges posed by drone technology . . . whether or not you recognize that drone attacks resulting in innocent deaths are an enormous ethical and practical problem . . . whether or not you are concerned that even "successful" drone attacks constitute extrajudicial executions (i.e. are war crimes) and are not "self-defense" as claimed by the Obama Administration . . . whether or not you care about the simple surveillance implications of drone use . . . doesn't it seem like a good idea to SLOW DOWN with the proliferation of drone technology? Lest we end up regretting it later?

We have a lot of headaches because of the Pandora's box we've opened with nuclear weapons technology. Shouldn't we avoid opening a Pandora's box with drone technology?

Related posts

Beyond recognizing the inherent contradictions of "pre-emptive violence," we must confront an urgent problem related to technology: the automation of "pre-emptive violence" -- e.g. via drone technology -- is leading to a spiral (or "loop" or "recursive process") that we may not be able to get out of.

(See When "Pre-emptive Violence" Is Automated ....)

Today, it may seem quaint to think about the role that trains played in the cataclysms of the 20th century. Could something as simple as a bunch of trains, once set in motion, possibly put people on a course they couldn't reverse? And yet . . . what if I told you that the hyper-organized planners of the U.S. government have a timetable to make 100 drone bases operational in our country in the near future?

(See War By (Drone Base) Timetable? )

The United States is very good at starting things . . . but seldom considers three moves ahead, much less how it will all end. Drones are a case in point. Now people are starting to talk about the problem of global drone proliferation.

(See GLOBAL DRONE PROLIFERATION: How does this end? )

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rahm to Constitution: Drop Dead

While the country is absorbed in "HCR" -- health care reform -- are we ignoring a patient that's dying on the emergency room table? I'm talking about the U.S. Constitution.

"We the people . . . "
The U.S. Constitution: still a priority?

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a long piece on Rahm Emmanuel and his role in the Obama Administration's progress (or lack thereof) in advancing its agenda. I have to confess that I'm not savvy about the complexities of advancing major legislation, and all the talk of arm-twisting and back-room deals left me at a bit of a loss.

And besides, I wanted to know about Rahm's role in holding back the Administration's promised actions to close Guantanamo, conduct civilian trials for accused terrorists, and take other steps to reverse the rights debacle of the Bush era. I waded through paragraph after paragraph about party strategy and special election headaches, until I got to the part about the Justice Department.

The article said that Rahm found himself pitted against AG Eric Holder (which I already knew) and White House counsel Greg Craig, who eventually resigned (which I didn't know). And then it said something about these issues that made the world stand still for me:
"Emmanuel is not particularly vested in the substantive merits or drawbacks of the specific plans. He sees them as politically problematic, wasting scarce capital and provoking unnecessary fights on what he regards as second-tier issues that distract from higher priorities."
Wasted capital? Unnecessary fights? Second-tier issues? Is this how we describe the fundamentals of government power and individual rights?

In other words, the U.S. Constitution has become a second class citizen in 2010 America; at least while there are more important things like health care reform to accomplish.

Health care reform is an important and vast and fascinating undertaking. But care and feeding of the Constitution has got to be our national leaders' No. 1 job. It's a matter of priorities.

President Gerald Ford rejects NYC pleas for aid.

Related posts

The story of the past decade-plus has been the story of the assertion by some that the conception of law that our society has is not sufficient.  Simply put, there are those who say that there is a third, "in-between" category of behavior -- and legal status -- that is not civilian (subject to criminal law) and not military (subject to military law and the laws of war). And since there are no rules about how to deal with that third category . . . .

(See Using the Good, Old Criminal Justice System: Worth a Try?)

We are allowed to know all about these killings, provided we're prepared to believe the statements of a person we can't confirm exists about a program which is not acknowledged to be happening. We are living in a nightmare that makes Philip K. Dick's dystopias look cozy in comparison.

(See Drones and Zero Accountability Government)

We all wish to be judged by our good intentions. But the way people know us is through our actions. So ... what do people in the Muslim world know about us here in the United States?

(See They'll Know Us By Our Actions)

Rahm appears to be turning what was supposed to be a prime Presidential Moment -- the May 2012 Chicago summit of NATO and G8, at which Obama will preside, in the President's own "home town" and headquarters of his 2012 re-election campaign, no less -- into a fiasco.

(See Does Obama have a Rahm Problem? )

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Unit Cohesion: What's Love Got To Do With It?

Homosexuality bad. Machismo good. At least that's what the former Air Force chief of staff says.

Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, who represented the Air Force on the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1990 to 1994, was sounding off in The New York Times yesterday, letting us civilians know what it takes for members of the military to have courage under fire.

Gen. McPeak says "don't ask, don't tell" and the question of whether sexual orientation is relevant to military service should be subject to a simple test: does it impact unit cohesion?

I think that's a great idea.

Of course, that will require a way to measure unit cohesion and the factors that affect it. But anything important is important enough to measure.

By the way, according to Gen. McPeak, "We know, or ought to, that warriors are inspired by male bonding, by comradeship, by the knowledge that they survive only through relying on each other. To undermine cohesion is to endanger everyone."

Gen. McPeak continues:

"I know some will see these ingredients of the military lifestyle as a sort of absurd, tough-guy game played by overgrown boys. But to prepare warriors for a life of hardship, the military must remain a kind of adventure, apart from the civilian world and full of strange customs. To be a fighter pilot or a paratrooper or a submariner is to join a self-contained, resolutely idealistic society, largely unnoticed and surprisingly uncorrupted by the world at large."

That's a very nice opinion. However, I also have an opinion on this: unit cohesion has nothing to do with sexual orientation -- or gender -- or, for that matter, color or height or hometown or favorite rock group. It has to do with whether members of the unit have discovered reason to believe that their comrades can be counted on to do what they say they will do, and to dig deep to give their all in the service of shared beliefs.

Perhaps Gen. McPeak and I differ about what kind of "shared beliefs" rise to the level of being combat-worthy. (McPeak: Allman Brothers vs. Dire Straits? Rough sex vs. cuddling? Scarry: Fairness vs. Persecution. Liberty vs. Tyranny?) I tend to believe that I'm on the side of the angels on this one. (George Washington: "Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness.") But does it really matter what our individual opinions are?

Anything important is important enough to measure. Unit cohesion is important to the members of our armed services. Let's measure unit cohesion. And let's publish the results. The real "why we fight" will be as interesting to the international community as to the U.S. taxpayers who underwrite the efforts of our military.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Kairos: "Muslim" Doesn't Mean "Terrorist"!

We all need to spend more time talking to our nanas. At least if we're in search of moral authority.

Inside the American bubble: Illinois high school swimming championships
(Image: Sports Illustrated)

I was standing around in my "Loyola Academy Swimming and Diving" shirt after the Illinois State sectional meet at Glenbrook North HS on Saturday. A little old lady, also wearing maroon, came up to me and introduced herself as the grandmother of one of the swimmers. We started to congratulate each other on the great showing by all the Ramblers in general, and by our two respective kids in particular.

I mentioned that I had bumped into a lot of people with her last name, and that launched a whole discussion of roots. (Hers: Italy, Germany . . . Mine: Ireland, Holland . . . .) Before long, each of us had rattled off a substantial part of our family tree. We then progressed to figuring out all the people we knew in common.

We talked for a long time, but we were really just passing the time. Eventually, the swimmers appeared and it was time to get in the car and go home. Before parting, my new friend turned to me one more time and said, "Yes, I tell everyone: I'm Sicilian -- but that doesn't mean I'm Mafia -- and German -- but that doesn't mean I'm a Nazi." And then she added: "And being Muslim doesn't mean someone's a terrorist! That's what I tell people!"

What a big thing she did in that tiny moment! How many moments like that are we given in this life?

Related posts

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA -- Angle Computer (NASDAQ: AGL) today announced the launch of their new iPhobe offering.

The iPhobe is a humanoid robot that spouts anti-Islamic rhetoric and encourages fear and hatred in an unprecedented variety of ways.

(See Like your iPhone? You'll LOVE the new iPhobe!)

In 2013 America, we have been conditioned to feel anything associated with Middle Eastern and/or Muslim men should trigger feelings of suspicion, fear, and hatred. And when those cues are triggered, all of our objectivity and healthy skepticism goes out the window.

(See Orwell and the Uses of Hate)

We all wish to be judged by our good intentions. But the way people know us is through our actions. So ... what do people in the Muslim world know about us here in the United States?

(See They'll Know Us By Our Actions)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Drones, 1984, and Foucault's Panopticon

Are drones such a menace because of their weapons? Or because of their surveillance? Or is it even bigger? Ask Foucault . . . .

More: "Why focus on drone attacks?"
For those of us who have been focused on the boots on the ground in Afghanistan, data published by the New York Times yesterday added a whole new dimension: it published statistics on drone sorties and strikes in Afghanistan in 2009.

The article is an important counterpoint to the headline-grabbing drone strikes by the CIA in Pakistan, and is worth reading online. What you miss by looking at the online version of the story, however, is the graphs of month-by-month activity, which show several striking trends. Strikes by missiles and bombs from drones were up sharply in the first half of the year; the second half of the year, by and large, showed a slight tapering off. (This was consistent with the overall trend in attacks by aircraft and drones.) At the same time, the number of drone sorties -- that is, missions of all types, including "just surveillance" -- showed a very steady upward trend month by month throughout the year. As the article reports:

"Predators and Reapers [are] now supplying more than 400 hours of video a day to troops in Afghanistan . . . Some of the Reapers will soon carry 10 cameras instead of just one, and 30 by 2011, adding to the profusion of video."

Up until now, when I have thought about drones, I have thought about the ethics of drones as a weapon in general, including the specific problem of whether drone strikes constitute extrajudicial executions under the Geneva Conventions.

I have always also had a nagging sense that there is something wrong with the surveillance aspects of drones, as well. But I didn't become so focused on it until confronted with the numbers.

Science fiction? 15 Ways George Orwell Was Right . . .
There is perhaps no more powerful portrayal of the problem of extreme surveillance than George Orwell's novel 1984. One of my strongest memories of 1984 was the efforts that Winston had to make simply to find a place in his own apartment where he could escape the observation of Big Brother. Perhaps it was because I, like so many other people, encountered the book as a teenager, when privacy suddenly becomes simultaneously so important as well as so hard to come by, that I remember this so clearly.

While popular culture makes frequent explicit references to "Orwellian" situations that involve doublethink, Newspeak, the Thought Police, and the other ideological nightmares of 1984, I wonder if the real nightmare isn't simply the constant surveillance. I, for one, have always thought that lack of privacy is not an absolute evil, but can only be evaluated in the context of what happens as a result of loss of privacy. I'm beginning to rethink that view.

The French philospher Michel Foucault, in his groundbreaking work Discipline and Punish, reviewed the history of society's efforts to isolate and control elements that caused it problems. Ultimately, Foucault zeroed in on the efforts of Jeremy Bentham and the Utilitarians to apply analysis and scientific thinking to prisons. The result was the panopticon.

Jeremy Bentham's "panopticon" (drafted by Willey Reveley)
The panopticon was a prison design that reversed the old paradigm, in which prisoners were stored away, "out of sight, out of mind," and instead arrayed them in a way in which they could be observed as efficiently as possible by the fewest number of managers.

Presidio Modelo prison, Cuba (2005),
followed the panopticon design.
Foucault understood this to be symptomatic of the much larger project of societal rule. To Foucault, prior to the physical and bodily aspects of control and manipulation, there are aspects that have to do with seeing, knowing, naming, and categorizing.

At the end of the day, is surveillance bad if no harm comes of it? Or is it even possible to separate the two? Consider this quote from the New York Times article. Speaking of Stephen P. Mueller, top air commander in Afghanistan, the article stated:
He said the strikes typically came when troops were caught in firefights or the drones came across people who appeared to be planting homemade bombs, the biggest source of allied casualties. The counterinsurgency strategy "isn't about going out and finding those," he said. "But when we do find them, we obviously do what's necessary."

(MORE: please see also Foucault and Drones: "Surveiller et Punir" Indeed!)

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Holocaust Museum: "Those Nazi Bastards!"

The mantra of the museum is "Think about what you saw." I couldn't STOP thinking about it . . . .

When I was in Washington D.C. this week for a screening of "The Response," I spent a morning at the United States Holocaust Museum. The experience washed over me in waves, as layers of experience were peeled away and new ones exposed.

Strangely, whenever I see old footage of Germany in the '20s and '30s, I think of being a small child. When I was very young, I used to wake up early in the morning and go turn on the TV and watch Biography. I was imprinted with old newsreel footage of Weimar Germany and the coming of Hitler; seeing those images always transports me back to the safety of my childhood living room.

The next thing that happens is that I experience a glimmer of recognition of the German lifestyle, and remember my own upbringing in the Lutheran church, with its strong German roots. This reminds me of the intellectual problem that I have always struggled with, "How was it possible that this cultured middle class culture -- so much like ours -- could have . . . ?" (I call that a "Danny Goldhagen moment.")

Then that gives way to the feeling of despair, stimulated by one or the other of the particularly brutal concentration camp images.

There is an easy resolution of these feelings. It is to condemn these events to the never-to-be-repeated past and say, "Those Nazi bastards!"

This trip was a little different, however, because "The Response" and Guantanamo were in the front of my mind.

"Think about what you saw . . . . "

On Tuesday, over and over I saw images that were not just similar to but hauntingly identical to ones we are seeing today. For instance, one of the images that is a centerpiece of the Holocaust Museum's depiction of the reliance on brutality and intimidation during the Holocaust is this one:

All I could think of was the repeated use of similar tactics by the U.S. military against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo:

The U.S. military makes deliberate use of dogs to terrorize and psychologically break down detainees. How many of us make the connection between this and the Nazi love of arousing fear?

Another way of arousing fear that the Holocaust Museum emphasizes: before someone is actually killed, they are forced to cringe in uncertainty and fear as much as possible: "What does this mean? Where are they taking us? They're going to kill us, aren't they?" The murders of the Holocaust were multiplied by the sadism inherent in the days and months and years that people spent wondering "Am I about to be killed?"

Compare this with the following account of Guantanamo by Andy Worthington:

[Detainees] were absolutely terrified the first few weeks in Cuba. Shafiq Rasul explained, "During the whole time that we were in Guantanamo, we were at a high level of fear. When we first got there the level was sky-high. At the beginning we were terrifed that we might be killed at any minute. The guards would say to us, 'we could kill you at any time.' They would say, 'the world doesn't know you're here, nobody knows you're here, all they know is that you're missing and we could kill you and no one would know.'" . . . [I]n many Arab countries orange jumpsuits were "a sign that someone is about to be put to death." (Andy Worthington, The Guantanamo Files, p. 131-2)

Unfortunately, the similarities go on and on. Think about what I saw? I can't STOP thinking about it . . . .

Related posts

As Sankari explained, when people everywhere unite to fight back against the illegitimate prosecution and persecution of Muslims, they are making an important contribution to the leading edge of resistance against the racist and political repression that affects the African-American community as well as all people of color, with harsh treatment dealt out to undocumented people, LGBT people, women, Muslims, and people involved in the labor, peace, and solidarity movements; and when Muslims join in the broad movement against racist and political repression that affects all these groups, they are contributing to the resistance against prosecution and persecution of Muslims.

(See GUANTANAMO: "Is that who we are?" )

My most prominent memory of my first viewing of the Guantanamo film, The Response, is of one of the stars of the film -- Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame -- participating in a panel after the screening. I was blown away when she said, "I did this because our civil liberties in our country have been gravely damaged and we all need to contribute to repairing them."

(See Understanding What Guantanamo Means)

I wonder if, years from now, we will be thinking back to today and feeling surprise at how little we thought about some of the developments in our world, and in our country, and how we talked about them even less. Someday will I have to explain to my kids, or to my kids' kids, why it was that "people just weren't talking about it" . . . ?

(See Why Weren't People Talking About It? )