19 June 2004

Amnesty International |Clarification needed on status of prisoners after 30 June

Furthermore, Amnesty International would like to be informed by the drafters of the resolution whether all Iraqi Prisoners of War, currently held in their custody and entitled to protection under the Third Geneva Convention, will be released by 30 June 2004, consistent with the declared end of occupation and end of international conflict. If they are not to be released, Amnesty International requests to be informed where and in whose custody Prisoners of War will be held, and what protective measures are afforded to them under applicable international law.

Finally, Amnesty International wishes to receive clarification about the respective powers of arrest and detention of the Iraqi forces and the multinational force in the course of the exercise of the latter's broad powers granted in the resolution to take 'all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq...including by preventing and deterring terrorism'. We would appreciate learning which of these parties will authorize arrests, searches, detentions, or internment, on what legal basis such measures are taken, and at what stage any detainees or internees taken by the multinational force will be handed over to Iraqi authorities.

Recalling reports of torture of Iraqis not only by the occupying powers but also by the Iraqi police, Amnesty International would welcome information about the legal and practical safeguards that will apply to arrest, detention and internment; what access international and Iraqi organizations will have to those held; and whether prisons and detention centres will be placed under Iraqi government or other control. The international community should know what measures are in place to ensure that the absolute prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment will be strictly observed by Iraqi, US and other forces. In this respect, we would appreciate knowing your views about our recommendation that the United Nations should have a specific monitoring mandate to supervise all places of detention.

Silly Amnesty. Imagine thinking that the end of occupation means the end of the war, or that the exercise of full sovereignty by the Iraqi transitional government means that anyone can bang on the door of Abu Ghraib with a writ of habeas corpus.

Amnesty is mounting a letter-writing campaign, so click the link and start those cards and letters.

Australia 'party to bugging of UN'

Australia was party to spying on the United Nations, including Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to assist the lobbying campaign for launching the war against Iraq.

Intelligence community sources confirmed that the Howard Government received details of the UN bugging, in response to revelations to be published in a book by a senior Australian intelligence analyst turned whistleblower, Andrew Wilkie.

The book, which has been vetted by the Attorney-General's Department and had some details censored on national security grounds, also states that:

Australian agencies gathered intelligence on the US Administration and reported that allegations of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorists were not the main reasons it wanted to invade Iraq.

The Opposition was deliberately misled during briefings by intelligence agencies in the lead-up to the war, with facts undermining the Government's position omitted.

The Government knowingly presented false intelligence to the public that exaggerated the threat that Saddam Hussein posed.

These are big allegations and very hard to prove. Misbriefing opposition politicians can be tested. Intelligence distortions (sadly) are subject to the Four Steps:

1. Deny everything. 2. Admit it when it becomes unavoidable. 3. Say you didn't get the papers. 4. Blame it all on the troops.

The recent performance over the prison abuses in Iraq is a classic to add to a long list from children that weren't thrown overboard to the Manildra meeting the Man of Steel told parliament he had not attended.

The new Wilkie allegations will receive the same treatment, along with a claim by the Foreign Minister of Kleenex that even discussing these matters threatens the US alliance.

18 June 2004

Between a rock lobster and a heartless place

Palmer was prosecuted in March 2000 in the Carnarvon Court of Petty Sessions with breaching a regulation under the WA Fish Resources Management Act. He had laid his lobster pots in an area of the coast where fishing for lobsters is prohibited by the regulations, namely Quobba Point.

Palmer was convicted and ordered to pay penalties of more than $28,000, plus costs of $2000. Which would have been all very well had it not been for the fact that he had gone to the Fremantle office of the Fisheries Department and asked for a copy of the regulations covering the 1998-99 rock lobster fishing season.

The 'office lady' told him that they did not have copies of the regulations available to the public. Still, she photocopied the regulations and piled him up with a lot of brochures and notices. None of the materials mentioned the relevant regulation that forbade commercial lobster fishing at Quobba Point.

The Criminal Code of WA spells out that ignorance of the law does not afford any excuse for an offence. But there is also a provision, which exists in other states as well, that people are not criminally responsible if they labour 'under an honest and reasonable, but mistaken, belief in the existence of any state of things'.

So this was a debate about whether Palmer's mistake was a mistake about facts or about the law.

I had to read this twice before I realsied it was not another speculative piece by the Medium Lobster. While everybody should read Fafblog, clearly not everyone should give the High Court of Australia the same close attention.

17 June 2004

more estimates

There was a further estimates hearing of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee. The Hnasard is not available, possibly, the Hansard staff are still cleaning their fans. More when the transcript is available. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Robert Hill sat on his hands. How apt. As Labor's Senate leader, John Faulkner, meticulously detailed all the Government's failures to act on seven months of warnings about abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, Hill's body language echoed the central charge of his critics.

He sat on his hands. Slumped over, scowling.

He had just delivered a statement to the Senate that purported to "provide further information in relation to questions I was asked on May 11". May 11 was the day, Hill was confident, the Government would have taken immediate action if it had been "aware that something like this was happening".

But his statement yesterday offered no further explanation beyond "nobody told us", an excuse Faulkner noted was uncannily similar to the one used when the Government misled the public about refugees allegedly throwing their children overboard.

In fact, the only new material Hill provided yesterday served to deepen the mystery of how the Government could have remained unaware. This included a table detailing 25 separate instances in which senior Australian military lawyers in Iraq had reported "detainee concerns and/or meetings with international organisations".

These began on June 11, 2003, and included meetings with Amnesty International, the Red Cross, the UN special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed last year, and the US administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer.

So how could 25 separate reports relating to Abu Ghraib from senior military lawyers become lost in the Defence bureaucracy?

Well, said Hill, sadly his department had "not recognised" the Red Cross's report about abuses in October. He insisted again that he had been misled and had, in turn, misled the Prime Minister, who in turn acted in "good faith" when he misled Parliament on May 27.

Hill gave his statement yesterday.

Faulkner replied today.

I'd be scowling if I were Senator Hill.

Yudhoyono Maintains Lead In Indonesia

The team of former security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and welfare minister Jusuf Kalla continues to lead all candidates in Indonesia, according to a poll by the Democracy Study Institute (LKaDe). 45.17 per cent of respondents would support Yudhoyono and Kalla of the Democratic Party (PDI) in the country's first-ever direct presidential ballot.

Current president Megawati Sukarnoputri and Muslim leader Hasyim Muzadi of the Struggling Indonesian Democratic Party (PDIP) are second with 18.88 per cent, followed by Amien Rais and Siswono Yudohusodo of the National Mandate Party (PAN) with 15.90 per cent. Former armed forces chief Wiranto and Solahuddin Wahid of the Party of the Functional Groups (Golkar) garner the support of 10.56 per cent of respondents. Hamzah Haz and Agum Gumelar of the United Development Party (PPP) are fifth with 4.70 per cent.

This is completely unexpected, not that SBY would be leading, and in striking distance of the 50% needed for a first round victory, but that Mega has drawn ahead of the Golkar campaign machine. Today's Australian that Golkar is fragmenting between supporters of Wiranto, supporters of Akbar Tandjung, and Golkar members shifting their support to Yudhoyono.

Indonesian politics, even after the reformasi that followed Suharto's falls, remain clientilistic. Leadership flows from your ability to deliver influence and rewards from higher level leaders to your own supporters. The trailing candidates, and this includes Wiranto, can expect to see their people shifting towards higher-placed candidates over the three weeks still to go.

Official verdict: White House misled world over Saddam September attacks

President George Bush 1 May 2003
The liberation of Iraq removed... an ally of al-Qa'ida

Vice-President Cheney 22 January 2004
There's overwhelming evidence... of a connection between al-Qa'ida and Iraq

Donald Rumsfeld 14 November 2002
Within a week, or a month, Saddam could give his WMD to al-Qa'ida

Condoleezza Rice 17 September 2003
Saddam was a danger in the region where the 9/11 threat emerged

The Bush administration's credibility was dealt a devastating blow yesterday when the commission investigating the attacks of 11 September said there was no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had assisted al-Qa'ida - something repeatedly suggested by the President and his senior officials and held up as a reason for the invasion of Iraq.

A report by the independent commission said while there were contacts between Iraq and al-Qa'ida operatives in the 1990s, it appeared Osama bin Laden's requests for a partnership were rebuffed. 'We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qa'ida co-operated on attacks against the United States,' the commission said. It also discounted widespread claims that Mohamed Atta, the hijackers' ringleader, met an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague.

The report forced the Bush administration on to the defensive, as it appeared to undermine one of its key justifications for the invasion of Iraq.

While Mr Bush has been forced to admit there was no specific evidence to link Saddam to 11 September, his deputy, Dick Cheney, claimed on Monday that the former Iraqi leader was 'a patron of terrorism [with] long-established ties with al-Qa'ida''.

Last autumn Mr Cheney referred to the disputed meeting between Atta and an Iraqi official in the Czech Republic.

Critics of the White House say there was a deliberate policy to manipulate public opinion and create an association between Saddam and the attacks on New York and Washington. If true, such a plan has certainly been successful: a poll taken last September by the Washington Post newspaper found 69 per cent of Americans believed that Saddam was involved in the 11 September attacks.

The Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry seized on the commission's report last night. 'The administration misled America and the administration reached too far,' he told Michigan National Public Radio.

Read the staff report. When Kaye told us in December that no WMDs had been found or were likely to be, Bush's standings began collapsing. Worth watching to see if this revelation does similar damage.

16 June 2004

O'Kane warned of prison abuse: US general

Australian military lawyer Major George O'Kane 'aggressively warned' about Geneva Convention violations at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, a suspended United States general was reported as saying today.

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was suspended from duty as head of the prison near Baghdad after the prisoner abuse scandal broke, said Major O'Kane had urged his US superiors to allow Red Cross inspections of the prison, today's Australian newspaper reported.

She did not believe Major O'Kane knew about the abuses that were photographed by guards from her 800th Military Police Brigade.

'Had Major O'Kane known anything about those photographs or anything close to those photographs, he would have come and told me,' Brig Gen Karpinski told the Australian newspaper.

Major O'Kane and his Australian colleague Colonel Mike Kelly were more knowledgable and supportive of Geneva Conventions than some US military lawyers, she said.

Brigadier General Karpinski called on the federal government to allow Major O'Kane to speak publicly about his knowledge of the scandal.

He has been gagged by the government since the scandal became public.

The government has O'Kane's response to the ICRC allegations. We know that from the Senate estimates hearings. The government's explanations was that they wanted to protect O'Kane from an unfair grilling.

If O'Kane defended the Geneva Conventions vigorously, what protection does he need? The only parties who could need protection from the O'Kane draft are the Australia and American governments.

Threepenny Planet: the Planck units

The present writing is a collection of essays concerned with how Planck quantities are perceived. Certain features of the quantities will be emphasized. One feature is their involvement in everyday experience. Another is the opportunity they provide for a fresh look at physical laws and data. Another is their concreteness: One of the power-of-ten multiples of the Planck length happens to be about a mile and another is the thickness of a penny--if there is a penny in your pocket you have with you a decimal Planck cousin. Their concrete reality can be emphasized in the way we handle the quantities: decimal multiples (such as a penny's thickness) will be identified and used descriptively. Other aspects will be discussed later, after the quantities have been introduced. Much of what I have to say is apt to be familiar to anyone with a background in general physics, though some ramifications may have escaped notice. In any case, the focus here is not on the latest theories and discoveries, but on something which is considerably more modest and which runs in a contrary direction. The concern is with more thorough assimilation of what is long-standing and well known--and with broader awareness of the fundamental proportions in nature.

The Planck quantities form a coherent set including one constant of each physical type: one length, one interval of time, one speed, and so on. Members are interrelated in simple, direct ways and play fundamental roles. The Planck speed, for instance, simply consists of traveling the Planck length during the Planck interval of time--and it is the speed of light.

Just when you'd got used to the metric system, the evil physicists are proposing a different set. Actually, the metric system is almost as abstruse as the Planck quantities. The metre, for instance is defined as:

The meter is the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299 792 458 of a second.

The historical definition was French (and therefore probably encourages the terrorists):

The origins of the meter go back to at least the 18th century. At that time, there were two competing approaches to the definition of a standard unit of length. Some suggested defining the meter as the length of a pendulum having a half-period of one second; others suggested defining the meter as one ten-millionth of the length of the earth's meridian along a quadrant (one fourth the circumference of the earth). In 1791, soon after the French Revolution, the French Academy of Sciences chose the meridian definition over the pendulum definition because the force of gravity varies slightly over the surface of the earth, affecting the period of the pendulum.

Jefferson proposed a different metric system, but was pipped at the post by the perfidious French.

Jefferson's system actually resembles the metric system in many ways. Its biggest shortcoming is that Jefferson didn't hit on the idea of using prefixes to create names for multiples of units. Consequently, his system was burdened with a long list of names. For example, he divided his basic distance unit, the foot (it was slightly shorter than the traditional foot) into 10 inches. Each inch was divided into 10 lines, and each line into 10 points. For larger distances, 10 feet equalled a decade, 100 feet was a rood, 1000 feet a furlong, and there were 10 000 feet in a mile (making the Jeffersonian mile about twice as long as the traditional mile). His basic volume unit was the cubic foot, which he proposed to call a bushel (it was about 3/4 the size of a traditional bushel). The basic weight unit was the ounce, defined so that a bushel of water weighed 1000 ounces. (This is very similar to the metric system, in which a liter of water weighs 1000 grams).

Just for completeness, Talleyrand (who starred with Fouch� in the corruption leaning on the arm of vice crack), advocated a pendulum-based measure.

My bet is that Planck will win out of sheer contrariety in a century or so. Until then we are stuck with the light shining in darkness.

15 June 2004

SpaceTime Hypersurfing

In some future history, 1994 may be remembered as the year that the warp drive was first conceived to be a physical possibility. Long a cliche' of science- fiction writing, the warp drive has transported countless fictional characters through light-years of interstellar space in the time it takes for you or me to travel to the market. Unfortunately for real-world travelers, the warp drive has always been thought to be inconsistent with the laws of physics.

But all this has changed. In the May issue of Classical and Quantum Gravity, Miguel Alcubierre, a physicist at the University of Wales describes a space-travel scenario that bears an uncanny resemblance to the warp drive of science fiction. With Alcubierre's warp drive, we could reach any place in the universe in as short a time as we please!

The warp drive envisioned by Alcubierre is made possible by the subleties of Einstein's general theory of relativity. According to Einstein, spacetime (the union of the three dimensions of space with the dimension of time) is not an inert substrate, but rather a dynamical entity that twists and distorts under the influence of concentrations of energy. Alcubierre suggests that it might be possible to exploit this phenomenon to travel from one star to another faster than the speed of light. This could be done by creating a disturbance in spacetime such that the region directly in front of a spaceship is contracted while the region directly behind the spaceship is expanded. This distortion of spacetime would, in effect, propel the spaceship forward like a surfer riding the crest of a breaking wave.

No, I am not at the European Cup and taking advantage of lax law enforcement. I'd been meaning to look up the Alcubierre article for awhile, and once I'd linked to the bloater drive it was inevitable.

I Was Promised Flying Cars

At midnight on January 1, 2000, my friends and I stepped out of our apartment to watch the fireworks being fired off on Mount Royal. Despite the millennium hype, the world looked the same -- not just as it did on December 31, but as it had for decades. Where were the paperless offices? The robots to dust the piano? The clean-running flying cars? Movies, books and TV had long been drawing the futurescape for us, but it seemed all that promise had been derailed; innovation was too expensive, too extreme or merely impossible.

Or was the Future just taking longer than expected? The promise, it appears, is still there -- and in keeping with this issue's theme, I set out to discover how close we are to commuting the way they do in those science-fiction shows and movies.

With appearances in Blade Runner, The Jetsons, Star Wars: Episode II and The Fifth Element, flying cars have become the benchmark for determining when our humble race has reached the Future. They are a particularly potent fantasy: should they ever clutter our skies, they�d revolutionize something extremely familiar and quotidian�driving. In fact, attempts to develop flying cars started not long after actual cars hit the road. In 1917, aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss unveiled his aluminium Autoplane�a car flanked by double-layer wings, lifted by a four-bladed propeller attached to the back. It hopped, but never flew. The forties saw the birth of contraptions such as the ConvAirCar, the Airphibian and the Aerocar (which Ford considered marketing in 1970). All three creations could be driven as well as flown. Alas, they all suffered the same fate: although they managed to get off the ground for significant amounts of time, funding problems eventually cancelled the projects forever.

Yeah, me too, although my all time favourite futuretech item is the bloater drive from Bill, the Galactic Hero.

A Moral Chernobyl - Prepare for the worst of Abu Ghraib

However, this very voyage to the pits may be of some moral use. Nobody has yet even suggested that the disgusting saturnalia in Abu Ghraib produced any 'intelligence' worth the name or switched off any 'ticking bomb.' How could it? It was trashily recreational. But this doesn't relieve the security forces of democratic countries from their sworn responsibility to protect us -- yes us, the very people who demand results but don't especially want to know the full price of our protection.

I have a historical example to offer. In the early 1970s, there was a gigantic scandal in England over the torture of Irish Republican detainees. (Harold Evans, then editor of the Sunday Times, deserves credit for printing the facts in spite of immense government pressure not to do so -- or not to do so without being accused of 'helping the terrorists.') The resulting outrage led to a commission of inquiry chaired by a judge named Sir Edmund Compton. His report took a dim view of some of the methods used but said that these did not amount to 'torture,' at least in most cases, because those inflicting them had not derived any pleasure from doing so. At the time, I thought this must be some kind of a sick joke, perhaps derived from Monty Python or the rigors of English boarding school. ('I didn't really enjoy it, Sir.' 'Oh well, that's all right, then. Carry on, Perkins.') However, the government did tell the army to stop it, and it pretty much did stop, and the terrorists didn't win.

They didn't win because their idea of bombing a large Protestant community into joining a united Catholic Ireland was a bit mad to begin with. And they also didn't win because security methods became tremendously more professional. Skill, in these matters, depends on taking pains and not on inflicting them. You make the chap go through his story several times, preferably on video, and then you ask his friends a huge number of tedious questions, and then you go through it all again to check for discrepancies, and then you watch the first (very boring and sexless) video all over once more, and then you make him answer all the same questions and perhaps a couple of new and clever ones. If you have got the wrong guy -- and it does happen -- you let him go and offer him a ride home and an apology. And you know what? It often works. Only a lazy and incompetent dirtbag looks for brutal shortcuts so that he can get off his shift early. And sometimes, gunmen and bombers even have changes of heart, as well as mind.

Yes, but what about the ticking bomb? Listen: There's always going to be a ticking bomb somewhere. Some of these will go off, and it's just as likely to be in my part of Washington, D.C., as anywhere else. But we shall be fighting a war against jihad for decades to come. And the jihadists will continue to make big mistakes based on their mad theory. And they are not superhuman: They can be infiltrated, bribed, and turned. You don't have to tell them what time of day it is, or where they are, or when the next meal will be served. (Though it must be served.) But you must not bring in that pig or that electrode. That way lies madness and corruption and the extraction of junk confessions. So even if law and principle didn't enter into the question, we sure as hell know what doesn't work. The cranky Puritan voice of Sir Edmund Compton comes back to me down the corridor of the years: If it gives anyone pleasure, then you are doing it wrong and doing wrong into the bargain.

If Christopher Hitchens is abandoning the War on Terror as justification for anything and everything the White House claims needs doing then the war party is in deep doo doo. In fact Abu Ghraib achieved nothing except the shredding of any moral case left to the war party. If you think a dirty war can succeed I suggest you read a little about earlier attempts to fight a dirty war in Latin America, and then consider whether it made those nations more or less secure for the motley crew of tyrants who then ruled there.

Beyond the west

In today's world, more people are more free than ever before. Our possibilities of helping the others out of unfreedom are also larger than ever. But what are the basic terms of engagement that we, in the west, propose to the rest of the world? At the moment, there are two extreme positions, the western triumphalist fundamentalist and the western cultural relativist. The first is well captured in the opening of the Bush administration's 2002 national security strategy. 'The great struggles of the 20th century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom,' it begins, with perfect accuracy, but then goes on 'and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise.' A single sustainable model? What titanic hubris.

The cultural relativist position says: 'These values are peculiar to the west; we cannot expect Muslims or Confucians to share them; therefore we should not expect of them the respect for human rights, free speech, democracy and so forth that we expect among ourselves.' This is equally misguided.

The right way lies between these two extremes. It can be described, without apology, as the path of freedom - not just for us but for all. Freedom is hard to define, let alone achieve, but those who are unfree know exactly what unfreedom is. A Confucian no more enjoys having his nails pulled out than a Christian. To see your daughter raped by a militia gang is as soul-rending for a Muslim as for a Jew. So many people in the world still live, and die, in an unfreedom that we can be quite sure they do not want, simply because they are human and we are human. What is now the most widespread form of basic unfreedom? Sixty years ago, when Franklin Roosevelt spelled out his 'four freedoms', most of us would probably have said dictatorships and the wars they cause. Today, the answer must be poverty. The first freedom towards which we should now work is Roosevelt's 'freedom from want'.

Two large but very simple steps can lift millions of human beings out of this kind of unfreedom. The first step is to practise what we preach: free trade. We should open our markets to their goods and cut our agricultural subsidies. This can only happen if America and Europe do it together. The second step is to increase aid. All rich and free countries should give at least 0.7% of their GDP, and all rich and free individuals should give 1% of our annual income, so as to provide clean water, basic sustenance, shelter and medical care for the poorest of the world's poor.

There are two competing views about how to remake the world. We can assume that everyone except those citizens of coalition countries who support the war on terror are fools or we can assume that they are capable of rational thought. If they are fools what we do does not matter so long as our leaders keep churning out platitudes about globalisation and the war on terror. If they are not fools then we had better start making policies that allow them a place at the table.

Making human rights effective works. Compare the progress the EU has made in the former Warsaw Pact nations with the progress the US has made in the former Baghdad Pact nations. Making human rights effective must have something going for it, because it is the policy the war party claim they are following.

Making human rights effective could be started easily by demolishing the practices, not the bricks, of Abu Ghraib.