7 January 2005

rendering unto Bush

UN Convention Against Torture
Article 3
No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

Terror Suspect Alleges Torture: Detainee Says U.S. Sent Him to Egypt Before Guantanamo

U.S. authorities in late 2001 forcibly transferred an Australian citizen to Egypt, where, he alleges, he was tortured for six months before being flown to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to court papers made public yesterday in a petition seeking to halt U.S. plans to return him to Egypt.

Egyptian-born Mamdouh Habib, who was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 as a suspected al Qaeda trainer, alleges that while under Egyptian detention he was hung by his arms from hooks, repeatedly shocked, nearly drowned and brutally beaten, and he contends that U.S. and international law prohibits sending him back.

Habib's case is only the second to describe a secret practice called "rendition," under which the CIA has sent suspected terrorists to be interrogated in countries where torture has been well documented. It is unclear which U.S. agency transferred Habib to Egypt.

Habib's is the first case to challenge the legality of the practice and could have implications for U.S. plans to send large numbers of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other countries with poor human rights records.

The CIA has acknowledged that it conducts renditions, but the agency and Bush administration officials who have publicly addressed the matter say they never intend for the captives to be tortured and, in fact, seek pledges from foreign governments that they will treat the captives humanely

The Habib case is getting closer and closer to the Maher Arar case in Canada. Australia has consistently defended the US violation of Article 3. Canada held a judicial inquiry. Australia relies on press releases from Philip Ruddock.

torturing the truth

UN Convention against Torture
Article 2
Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

US Department of Justice Memo Re: Legal Standards Applicable Under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A (PDF)
Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms. This universal repudiation of torture is reflected in our criminal law, for example, 18 U.S.C. §§ 23402340A; international agreements, exemplified by the United Nations Convention Against Torture (the "CAT")'; customary international law2; centuries of Anglo-American law3; and the longstanding policy of the United States, repeatedly and recently reaffirmed by the President.4

This Office interpreted the federal criminal prohibition against torture—codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A—in Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. §§ 23402340A (Aug. 1, 2002) ("August 2002 Memorandum"). The August 2002 Memorandum also addressed a number of issues beyond interpretation of those statutory provisions, including the President's Commander-in-Chief power, and various defenses that might be asserted to avoid potential liability under sections 2340-2340A. See id. at 31 -46.

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
Article 2(e)
"Torture" means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions;

Principal object of Act
(1) The principal object of this Act is to facilitate compliance with Australia's obligations under the Statute.

(2) Accordingly, this Act does not affect the primacy of Australia's right to exercise its jurisdiction with respect to crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Note: The crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC are set out as crimes in Australia in Division 268 of the Criminal Code .

Australia signed the Rome Statute on 9 Dec 1998. Australia ratified the Rome Statute on 1 Jul 2002.

That is all very comforting. Except that the lawyers for Mamdou Habib say otherwise.

Documents reveal Habib torture allegations
New detail has emerged about the alleged torture inflicted on Australian terrorism suspect Mamdouh Habib while he was in Egypt.

Mr Habib was captured by US forces in Pakistan in 2001 and was moved to Egypt before being taken to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The ABC has obtained previously sealed court documents in which Mr Habib's lawyers outline allegations of routine torture and beatings while he was in Egypt.

The Sydney man says he was left in rooms filled with water up to his chin, tortured with electrodes during questioning and threatened with dogs.

He says the torture made him give some false confessions.

Mr Habib relayed the claims to his lawyers several weeks ago and they plan to use the information if the US tries to have him returned to Egypt.

Mr Habib's Australia-based lawyer, Stephen Hopper, says the new evidence implicates the Australian Government.

Mr Hopper says the most serious allegation in the documents concerns the involvement of an Australian official in his client's alleged abuse before he was taken to Egypt.

"The Australian officials stood by while what we believe were CIA officials engaged in the type of abuses we've seen at Abu Graib, where Mamdouh Habib's clothes were cut off, he's handcuffed, held down with women around him," he said.

The Bush administration is an enthusiastic practitioner of extraordinary rendition, by which a prisoner is sent to a country whch practices torture. Habib claims he was sent to Egypt and tortured there before his transfer to Guantánamo. The Australian government denied all knowledge of torture in Egypt or elsewhere before the last hearings of the Senate Foreign Affairs estimates committee on 24 May 2003. If Habib's lawyers can substantiate that he was subjected to torture with the knowledge of the Australian government then those responsible are guilty of crimes against humanity and, if not prosecuted in Australia, can be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court.

5 January 2005

worrying about the Old Peak

Scientists Predict a MegaTsunami May Devastate Eastern U.S. Coastline
It may not happen anytime soon, but the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands is bound to erupt again - and when it does, it may well set in motion a tsunami wave more massive than any in recorded history. According to a new model by Simon Day of University College London and Steven Ward of the University of California, this mega-tsunami, which they describe in the September 2001 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, would rouse waves 100 meters high along the West Saharan shore, seas more than 40 meters high on the north coast of Brazil, and water walls towering 50 meters in the air off the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean. Britain, Spain, Portugal and France would also face sizeable waves.

Day and his colleagues predicted earlier that a future eruption of Cumbre Vieja would most likely prompt a serious landslide on the volcano's western side. They guessed that a chunk of rock twice the volume of the Isle of Man might break off, rush into the sea and create a debris avalanche deposit extending as far as 60 kilometers from the island. The new model adds to this picture, forecasting that Cumbre Vieja's collapse would send up a dome of water 900 meters high and tens of kilometers wide. As that dome collapsed and rebounded, giant waves would form and build, fueled by what is known as a tsunami wave train, itself created as the landslide sped away from the island underwater. In 10 minutes, such a tsunami would travel almost 250 kilometers.

Scientists: Volcano Could Swamp U.S. with Mega-Tsunami
A wall of water up to 55 yards high crashing into the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, flattening everything in its path -- not a Hollywood movie but a dire prophecy by some British and U.S. academics.

As the international community struggles to aid victims of last month's devastating tsunami in southern Asia, scientists warn an eruption of a volcano in Spain's Canary Islands could unleash a "mega-tsunami" larger than any in recorded history.

According to their controversial study, an explosion of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma could send a chunk of rock twice the size of the Isle of Wight into the Atlantic at up to 220 miles an hour.

Many experts believe the risk of "mega-tsunamis" from such a massive landslide on La Palma has been hugely overstated.

But in the study's scenario, energy released would equal the electricity consumption of the United States for six months, sending gigantic tidal waves across the Atlantic at the speed of a jet plane.

It's now obvious a tsunami warning system will be set up in the Indian Ocean. One hopes we don't end up having the same debate some time about why no-one thought to set up an Atlantic Ocean system. Or why no-one thought to monitor Cumbre Vieja.

Coming soon to a planet near you:

beating around the Bushes in a catastrophe

There is a proposition floating around that it is wrong to criticise George Bush for his tardness in recognising the scale of Indian Ocean tsunami. The Un commented on the stinginess of the rich countries in general, and Bush, moved eprhaps by a guilty conscience, snapped back:

Bush on Wednesday dismissed suggestions that America was stingy as "misguided and ill-informed" and set off alarm bells in the relief community by announcing he had assembled a core group of Australia, India, Japan and the United States to coordinate the relief effort.

The move prompted speculation that Bush hoped to supplant the United Nations, which has taken the lead in coordinating natural disaster relief for the past five decades.

But Powell said the group had been formed only because Washington saw a need for a coordination mechanism consisting of countries in the region "with assets, experience and capability that could be brought to bear right away."

The group "might expand slightly but in due course we hope the core group will work itself out of business because we will have brought all of the international organizations into play under the overall supervision and leadership of the United Nations," Powell said.

Comes now Colin Powell, to tell a stunned world:

Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday he hoped American aid for Asia's tsunami victims would strengthen U.S. and regional security by removing any discontent that could fuel terrorism.

Powell, touring three countries ravaged by the Dec. 26 disaster in which about 150,000 people were killed, said Washington had sent money, ships, helicopters and aircraft for humanitarian reasons.

But there were U.S. and regional security interests in providing aid to help countries recover from such disasters, he told a joint news conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda in Jakarta.

"We hope that through these efforts people will see that the United States is committed to helping those who are in poverty, to those who are not able to educate their children, to those who are looking for jobs and need a country that is based on law and order," said Powell.

"We believe it is in the best interest of those countries and it's in our best interest and it dries up those pools of dissatisfaction which might give rise to terrorist activity," he said.

It seems strange that the Bush administration can argue that disaster relief is actually a security matter and that its partisans then demand that such efforts be above criticism. Evading criticism led directlyto the Iraqi diaster. Democracries are supposed to flourish on criticism and George Bush is not supposed to be, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion.

For the record, New Zealand blogger, No Right Turn has put together a table giving current aid cmmitments on a per capita basis. At the time Bush sought control of the aid effort through the core group the US was not, and still is not, the largest aid contributor. Other than the customary backhander to the UN, what is the core group for? Is Bush proposing to send Halliburton into Aceh to repeat their sterling performance in Iraq?

2 January 2005

Labor's election loss cannot be blamed on the fear of interest rate rises

However, when we rank the correlations, and run further, more sophisticated statistical modeling, to see which variables were simply descriptive, or ecological, and which highlighted stronger, underlying behaviour, we see the swing took place amongst formerly rusted on Labor voters - those in lower to middle income, unskilled or blue collar trades jobs, who just happened to be paying lower to middle sized mortgages.

Many of these migrated to the Coalition via Family First preferences. They didn't swing to Labor because they didn't want to, and they haven't wanted to, since John Howard won in 1966, although Kim Beazley did well among some of the lower income groups in 1998.

The swing to Labor took place amongst groups disaffected with the Coalition since 2001, like the well paid and the better educated, or professionals in medicine, architecture and commerce, who just happened to be paying higher mortgages and carrying the largest total household debt.

NATSEM's study showed this group was smart enough to pay off their high-interest credit card every month, so they're smart enough not to waste a vote on a party they think will cost them money.

Surely, if any group was motivated by concern about interest rates, and educated about economic management and the economy, it would be this one - and it swung to Labor, not to the Coalition.

Labor's real problem lies in the fact that the Howard Government has continued to whittle away Labor's diehard supporters since 1996, through effective economic management and better election campaigning.

Which gets back to the reason for the creation of the myth about interest rates in the first place: The Labor leadership now rationalising the loss is simply not prepared to take responsibility for it.

Perhaps Labor should campaign for aspirations, not aspirationals. The group that swung to Labor sound a lot like the vaunted 'doctors' wives' (a disastrous name for a potential swing demographic if ever there was one) who were moved by Labor's superior social policy and approach to human rights and the environment. Pity Labor's only effort on those issues was the forest policy Latham announced too late to win seats on the mainland but just in time to lose seats in forest districts. Labor needs to start talking to people who care about social issues and needs to start telling it's blue-collar vote that social change is not a threat.