Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Torture and the English Language

Los Angeles Times April 26, 2009, has as it’s lead front page story “Harsh Tactics Weren’t Analyzed.” What are “harsh tactics”? That’s doublespeak for torture. George Orwell defined doublespeak as language that lies in order to hide difficult truths. So why can’t the Los Angeles Times says “Tortures Weren’t Analyzed.” That’s too truthful and upsetting. Well, torture IS upsetting.

In paragraph eleven the newspaper article finally spells out what the torture victimes suffered: “depriving prisoners of sleep for up to seven days; throwing them up against walls, forcing them into tiny boxes and subjecting them to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.” But even this description doesn’t fully describe the horror of the tortures used. Hemingway said after World War I the writer must avoid abstractions but write with exact names, colors, sizes. According to Brian Tamanaha, Professor of Law at St. John’s Univeristy, on the blog “Balkanization” on April 19, 2009, the tactics were

1) throwing a prisoner’s head and shoulders against a flexible wall “twenty or thirty times consecutively when the interrogator requires…”’;

2) dousing detainee in constant flow of cold water; 41 degrees for no more than 20 minutes, 50 degrees for no more than 40 minutes, and 59 degrees for no more than 60 minutes;

3) sleep deprivation “may continue to the 70 to 120 hour range, or possibly beyond for the hardest resisters, but in no case exceed the 180 hour time limit.” (The prisoners were kept awake by chaining them in a standing position so that, if they dozed off, they would be awakened by the sense of falling and by the jolt of the weight of their body against the chains.);

4) a maximum of two waterboarding sessions (strapped to the board) a day on a prisoner, each session lasting no longer than two hours; no more than 6 episodes of waterboarding per session; and no single continuous dose of water exceeding 40 seconds;

5) for cramped confinement, “confinement in the larger space [standing room] may last no more than 8 hours at a time for no more than 18 hours a day; for the smaller space [sitting room only], confinement may last no more than two hours."

How about the opening sentence of the Los Angeles Times front page story: “The CIA used an arsenal of severe interrogation techniques on imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects. “ What is “severe interrogation techniques” ? It is, of course, another form of doublespeak for torture: the torturer could throw the person against the wall 30 times at one sitting, douse the person in 41 degree cold water for 20 minutes, sleep deprive the person for eight days, confine them for two hours in a small space, and waterboard twice/day. So a more honest version would be the following: “an arsenal of torture techniques.” An “arsenal” of techniques sounds like metaphorical guns, bombs, weapons as if the writer finally was getting a little truthful in his metaphors.

Calling the victims “imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects” tries to justify that they deserved to be smashed against the walls 30 times. Dilawar, the taxi driver tortured to death at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, was innocent of all connection to Taliban or Al Qaeda. He arrived at Bagram prison on December 5, 2002, and was declared dead on December, 2002. The New York Times reported regarding the day Dilawar died,

On the day of his death, Dilawar had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days. A guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling. "Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned that most of the interrogators had in fact believed Mr. Dilawar to be an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

We need more facts such as how many people were tortured to death?

Paragraph 5 of the Los Angeles Times article discuss how to experienced interrogator ‘ever took a rigorous systematic review of the various techniques—enhanced or otherwise….” Using “enhanced techniques’ to describe torture is rather like describing a enhanced toothbrush that gives us cleaner teeth. “Enhanced” sounds like its better or cleaner or improved like enhanced detergent that really cleans one’s dishes. I had a friend who was waterboarded.

In paragraph 13 the article says “interrogation approaches” as if throwing someone against a wall again and again is an “approach” as in a approach rather like an approach to dating.

In paragraph 17 the article says, “A U.S. intelligence official who defended CIA interrogation practices” so now torture is obscured by the word “practice’ as if talking about tennis practice or piano practice.

In paragraph 23 the article says “Bush said that ‘alternative’ interrogation methods have been crucial to getting Al Qaeda … to talk.” “Alternative” gives the impression of a softer way such as questions over tea.

In paragraph 21 the reader learns that the “alternative interrogation methods” was not chats over tea but waterboarding and that two Al Qaeda suspects were waterboarded 263 times. In paragraph 23 the article says “the report faulted how agency operatives applied the methods, dumping large quantities of water on prisoners’ faces ….” Now we finally learn what happened. 263 times water was dumped on two prisoners’ faces making them believe they were almost drowning.

So let’s think of exactly what happened in these torture sessions. Let us be upset. Let us not use doublespeak. Let us abandon the vocabulary of “enchanced techniques.” Let us remember Dilawar who had daughter who lost her father.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Los Angeles Times alleges huge fraud which isn't there

The lead article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times is an April 13, 2008, article "Fraud infects state in-home care." The article alleges fraud in the In-Home Supportive Services, a California program in which the state pays wages from $8.00-14.66/hour so that elderly and/or disabled can have in-home health care workers and stay in their homes, which is a lot cheaper than a nursing home. Nursing homes cost $7000-20,000/month, so the state paying $400 to home health care worker for an elderly for disabled people is much much cheaper for the state. That's what the state pays my brother's home health care worker--he's alloted ten hours/week or 40 hours/month at $10/hour or $400.

Despite all the allegations of prosecutors "alarmed by the ease with which people are taking advantage of the program," when you look at the figures, the program is budgeted at $5.42 billion. Sen Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), a member of the committee looking at the costs, said at a hearing recently that the state had recovered in prosecutions "one one-thousandth" of the overall spending, Leno says that since 'we seemed to have misplaced $50 billion in the rebuilding, it is an amazing low figure."

At the end of the news report the LA Times does have both prosecutors and a Sacramaento Grand Jury admit that only a small amount of fraud has been uncovered and "only a small number of cases accepted for prosecution" but still they say there's some huge problem for which they have absolutely no proof.

As for my brother, he has had Parkinson's for ten years and needs a walker to walk forthe past couple years. December, 2007, he had pneumonia and was in the hospital. August 6, 2008, he came down to with neuroeplitic trauma, had a temperature of 107.5 and pneumonia again. He's lucky to have survived such a high temperature. Pneumonia regularly kills Parkinson's patients. My brother did survive the pneumonia, and then went to rehab. He returned home and the In-home State Services alloted him a health care worker for ten hours/week. He has someone come in 5 days/week in the middle of the day who helps him with his food and drugs. He has to take numerous drugs 4 x/day like clockwork or he's paralyzed--can't move and can't walk.

Also my brother is often paralyzed a lot in the evening but the in-home worker has gone home. I think he needs more help from the state, and I hope he gets it. I'd like to help him but I spent all 2008 helping him and my mother who broke her hip, and then I got sick for most of November and December. Besides working my job, I have to take care of my health more my doctor told me, and doctor ordered me to exercise 7 days/week to help with the stress of two very ill relatives. i need to see my mother in her board and care, so I can't help my brother that much.

Also, my brother for the last two weeks has changed medications, always difficult for someone on Parkinson's. A friend who was a nurse in a neurological hospital in London told me that in England when Parkinson's patients change medication, they are hospitalized, but not here in the United States. Instead, my brother was paralyzed many days, and calling the overworked doctors who helped him a lot with his medications. My experience is exactly the opposite of the Los Angeles Times article; my brother has a legitimate claim for more help than he gets. Also, he has a 15-year old daughter, so the more he's helped, the more he can be there for his daughter.

I think that the prosecutors should have more evidence of fraud before they make allegations to the press. Also, the Los Angeles Times lacks the evidence for its headline and shouldn't print such headlines on such weak evidence.I don't want already very ill people to suffer more; if the state cuts this great program the ill and disabled will suffer more. Also IHSS saves the state tens of thousands of dollars, and has probably saved the state more than the fraud than was found. So overall the state has saved money through this program paying for in-home help for elderly and disabled people.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Afghan War Is Bad for Women and Children

Dear President Obama,

I’m writing you to stop the escalation of United States military forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This escalation will be a disaster most of all for the women and children of Afghanistan. What I’d like to address is how the increase in military spending would increase the already present disaster for the Afghan women and children. Your advisers are using as one rationale for this war is United States is helping Afghan women. Your advisers are ignorant. After seven years of United States ousting the Taliban and occupying Afghanistan, the United Nations Children’s Fund and Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan reports that the country “is second only to Sierra Leone in terms of having the world’s worst maternal and infant mortality rates. Many young mothers and children die of malnutrition-related diseases ….”

According to News Archive of Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), reprint of a March 17, 2009, report a woman in Herat, Afghanistan, tried to kill herself by burning herself and burned 80% of her body, but survived. According to a RAWA news archive March 27 report many Afghan women try to kill themselves: at the “ Ibn-e Sina Emergency Hospital in Kabul more than 600 incidents of suicide attempts have been referred to this hospital during the past 12 months.“ Dr. Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the Ministry, added, ”Famliy violence, poverty, mental ailment and weak religious beliefs provoke self-murder in Afghanistan .” Islam forbids suicide. After seven years of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Afghan women are increasingly trying to kill themselves to escape their devastating circumstances. Afghan women suffer from malnutrition, high food prices, drought, lack of electricity, lack of safe water, lack of jobs, domestic violence, rape, and insecurity.

According to March 31, 2009, Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRNI), a news service which is part of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 550,000 Afghan women and children are malnourished and need food aid: “Some 24 percent of lactating women are malnourished, over 19 percent of pregnant women have a poor nutritional status …and about 54 percent of under-five children are stunted, according to a joint survey by UN agencies and the government.” Last July, 2008, a food appeal was made asking for $404 million from international food donors to help the malnourished women and children and 70% of the amount was donated. By March, 2009, the donated food still has not reached the hungry women and children and is scheduled to reach the hungry in May, 2009. The hungry women and children got through the difficult winter without any aid. Oxfam says March 29, 2009, over a ½ million pregnant and lactating women and ½ million children are still starving.

April 3, 2009, INRI reported eleven international non-government organizations in Afghanistan made a report to NATO: ”Much of the international aid to Afghanistan over the past seven years has been spent to achieve military and political objectives ….” OXFAM, one of the NGOs commented, “The agencies recommend a phase-out of militarised aid and a substantial increase in development and humanitarian funding for civilian institutions and organisations,…” In plain words seven years of United States dominating Afghanistan has laid to military aid but leaving the country’s women and children in devastated economic circumstances. For seven years the United States has not helped women and children.

On Democracy Now, a reporter in Afghanistan interviewed Afghans who do not want any U.S. or NATO military escalation. Instead they want economic aid, not more military violence:

Increasing military aid to Afghan will only increase the suffering of Afghan women and children. So President do not send 17,000 more troops. Do not spend over $1 billion for hardened bases in Afghanistan (the annual budget of the Afghanistan government). Do not send in thousands of private security contractors.Instead spend $1 billion on non-military aid to help the Afghan people. As many have suggested, have a peace conference will all the forces within Afghanistan. A leading Taliban commander said after 30 years of war many Taliban are war-weary. Instead have a regional conference of neighboring states and make peace.