Focal Points Blog

A Tortured Twist on Ethics

Guantanamo

Yosef Brody is a clinical psychologist and president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

George Orwell wisely observed that our understanding of the past, and the meaning associated with it, directly influences the future. And as the unprecedented public feud between the CIA and Congress makes clear, there are still significant aspects of our recent history of state-sponsored torture that need examination before we put this national disgrace behind us.

Important questions remain unresolved about the U.S. torture program in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And the four-year, $40 million Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture is unlikely to provide sufficient answers, even if it’s ever declassified and released.
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Funding Roma Autonomy

Anna Csongor

Anna Csongor

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Between 1990 and 2010, according to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide was cut in half. This dramatic achievement, which was actually a major Millennium Development Goal, happened several years ahead of schedule. The reduction in extreme poverty varied from region to region, with great gains made in Asia and not much progress achieved in Africa. In East-Central Europe, the drop was roughly comparable to the global average.

There is, however, a statistical anomaly in the data for East-Central Europe. For the 10-12 million Roma living in the region, the overall economic situation has gotten worse over this period of time. Since 1990, Roma have experienced catastrophic increases in unemployment and discrimination. In Serbia, for instance, 60 percent of the Roma population lives in extreme poverty, in Albania 40 percent. In Romania and Hungary, the poverty rates for Roma are far higher than the majority population. There has been little if any improvement in the last decade.
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Rumsfeld’s Biggest Unknown: Himself

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in 1975

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in 1975

The New York Times recently ran a four-part post in its Opinionator section by filmmaker and blogger extraordinaire Errol Morris titled The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld. Complete with interviews with those present, including Rumsfeld himself, about which Morris has just made a documentary titled The Unknown Known, it’s a meditation on what George W. Bush’s infamous first secretary of defense expounded on at a 2002 press conference about the lack of evidence that Iraq had a nuclear-weapons program.

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Which, common sense would seem to dictate, is what 99.9% of the universe is composed of, in relation to us anyway.
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Netanyahu’s Defining Hour

Netanyahu

While the world watches Kiev, the Middle East peace process is once again on the verge of collapse. After almost nine months of feverish efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry, we’re now less than a month away from the deadline for an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. The prospects of reaching any form of agreement in late April are grim, and the current standoff over this weekend’s aborted prisoner release threatens to definitively end this round of talks.

Twenty-six Palestinians prisoners, all of whom had been convicted before the 1993 Oslo Accords, were slated to be released this past Saturday as part of the original agreement reached last July. Now, under increasing pressure from hardline members of the Likud and Jewish Home parties, Prime Minister Netanyahu is demanding that the Palestinians commit to extending the peace process beyond April before he will release this final group of prisoners. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has called these tactics “blackmail” and is unequivocal in his refusal to link the prisoner release to an extension of talks. So we’re back at impasse – an all-too-familiar state for Israeli-Arab peace talks. The indefatigable John Kerry has taken an emergency trip to the region to try to salvage the process; there’s now talk of a broader deal in which the Americans would incentivize Israeli cooperation by releasing Jonathan Pollard, a convicted spy whose actions and long US prison sentence have won him sympathy among Israelis.
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Now’s Not the Time to Go Soft on Robert Gates

Gates, Robert

Many breathed a huge sigh of relief when George Bush appointed Robert Gates secretary of defense. Compared to Donald Rumsfeld, who he replaced, he seemed like the voice of sanity. Then, he authored a much-praised memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Knopf, 2014), in which, for example, he wrote of the Afghanistan War that President Obama “doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Thus did he become another voice, as well: that of frankness in politics. But lest his history become revisionist, we need to remind ourselves of just who Robert Gates was before his image was sanitized.
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If New York City Is the Victim of a Nuclear Attack, It Won’t Be by Nuclear Terrorists

Illustration of a nuclear attack on New York, Colliers, 1950

Illustration of a nuclear attack on New York, Colliers, 1950

At a news conference at the end of Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague on March 25, President Obama sought to put in perspective any threat to U.S. national security that Russia’s annexation of Crimea might pose.

“I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”
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Arab League Summit in Kuwait: Seeking Solidarity?

ArabLeagueSummit

As of now, Kuwait is hosting its first Arab League Summit. The slogan for this year’s Summit is “Solidarity For A Better Future.” Question: will the Kuwait Summit ensure solidarity for the region?

It is a well-known fact that the Arab World has seen its own share of regional alliances formed on the basis of ideological, sectarian and regional dynamics. With the recent cases of the Arab Spring, such dynamism has become all the more complicated and thus, regional solidarity is surely a challenging task to accomplish.
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American Media Distorts Venezuelan Protests

Image Wikimedia Commons

Image Wikimedia Commons

For the last several weeks, much of the American media has been reporting on the anti-government protests occurring in the streets of Venezuela. Many major outlets have depicted Venezuela as being in the midst of a Ukrainian-style revolution. Stories of violent government crackdowns and photos of Venezuelans taking to the streets in droves to topple their democratically elected president Nicolás Maduro have saturated the media, but do those photos and stories represent the full story? Or has the American media been distorting the situation in Venezuela?

On February 20, the New York Times reported that the only media outlet that regularly broadcasted the voices of the opposition was sold last year and since then their news coverage has been softened. The Committee to Protect Journalists took it a step further by writing that nearly all the Venezuelan media has been ignoring the protests because it is all controlled by or allied with the Maduro government.
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Sanctions Against Russia? Good Luck

Uranium, Russian

Now that Crimea has decided to unite with Russia and Russians have welcomed Crimea’s move with happy hearts, the Western half of the world, especially USA and European Union, are talking at length about imposing sanctions on Russia in order to bring Vladimir Putin to his senses. However, the task seems easier said than done — Uncle Sam is simply not in a position to impose long-term sanctions on Russia.

Economic and political ties between the United States and Russia are surely not exemplary. Yet, one key American industry relies heavily on a particular import from Russia: fuel for nuclear power plants.
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Neoconservatives Use Moral Relativism to Blame Progressives for Genital Mutilation

Middle East women

The neo-conservative camp, always eager to wrestle with imaginary positions of their opponents, is now bravely challenging another belief that no one holds, which is that “all cultures are equal.” George Mason University Professor Walter Williams has jumped aboard the “Western values are superior to all others” bandwagon and asks, “Is forcible female genital mutilation, as practiced in nearly 30 sub-Saharan Africa and Middle Eastern countries, a morally equivalent cultural value?” The neoconservative Clarion Project’s Douglas Murray takes the campaign directly to progressives by asking, “How many young girls’ clitorises had to be mutilated while they busily curated their left-wing credentials?”

This arrogant cultural trope is nothing new. The neo-conservatives who brought us the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay have promoted the “inequality of cultures” idea throughout the War on Terror to justify militarism, invasion, torture, and systematic violation of international law. Sliding from “culture” to politics to statecraft, their ideological conceit is that “we,” the West, have an enduring tradition of protecting women, while “they,” the Middle Easterners, are so barbaric that they cut the clitorises off of women, and therefore our “culture” should govern their “culture.” But their sudden passion for Middle Eastern women’s rights—indeed, any women’s rights—must be taken with a shaker of salt. 
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