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Geneva 1, Guantánamo 0

In its decision today on Hamdan v Rumsfeld [pdf], the Supreme Court has decided that the provisions of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which among other things ban “humiliating and degrading treatment”, do apply to prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, and that the military commissions set up to try them are illegal. This is extremely important and good news, as explained in law professor Marty Lederman’s excellent post here. (More links at Think Progress.)

I am not a lawyer, but I propose nonetheless that it may be educational to watch the rhetorical and semantic flailings of the dissenting judges, studded as they are with prejudicial labels, apocalyptic predictions, and a truly creative redefinition of the little word “special” . . .

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Not-so-divine wind

Posted at Crooked Timber.

Recently I was explaining to a French friend the arguments we have in English over whether to call people “suicide bombers”, or “suicide murderers”, or “martyrdom bombers”, or even (for Fox fans) “homicide bombers”. “What do you call them in French?” I asked. She smiled somewhat apologetically and said: “Oh, we just call them kamikazes.” I was intrigued by the analogy, and now Freeman Dyson has argued for it explicitly in the New York Review of Books. . .

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Non-kinetic information operations

On Friday, the House of Congress passed bill H Res 861 EH [pdf], which cunningly rolled approval of actions in Iraq into support for the “war on terror” generally. The bill ends by saying that the House:

(7) declares that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the noble struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.

Subtle, no? If you voted against the bill, you must want the US to lose the GWOT. The main point of the bill was to prevent any timetable for withdrawal of American troops. It was expressed like this:

[The House . . . ] (3) declares that it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq;

This is of course a tautology, signalled by the cunning use of the word “arbitrary”. Of course it’s not in the interest, national-security or otherwise, of the US to perform any action that is “arbitrary”, ie without reason, unless Congress is populated by a bunch of Sartre-loving existentialists voting for their inalienable right to perform actes gratuites. The question of whether there might be good reasons to set a date for withdrawal, whether there could be a date that is not arbitrary, is shut down before it arises.

Prior to the debate, the Pentagon had taken the precaution of issuing to Republican representatives a 74-page Iraq Floor Debate Prep Book [.doc] [html]. It’s worth reading for its dedication to the Unspeak cause, if not for its attempt at sick humour . . .

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Hugo Weaving is Zarqawi

Via Lenin’s Tomb, a graphic from the Washington Post that may illuminate the recent publicity over the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. These are “Two slides from a briefing prepared for Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq” in 2004 (click for a larger image):

Zarqawi slides

The slides are stuffed with Unspeak, but their meaning is remarkably clear . . .

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High marks for efficiency

What are friends for?

Christopher Hitchens is excited about “the role played by Jordanian intelligence in the tracking and elimination of” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi:

[T]he kingdom’s Mukhabarat – or General Intelligence Department, which generally earns high marks for efficiency – had been trailing him ever since he left Jordanian soil for Afghanistan, and then Afghan soil for Iraq.

We could probably all agree that organizations such as the NKVD, the Stasi, or Saddam’s own police state should be awarded “high marks for efficiency” too, but that is not a way of recommending them. What, then, is the nature of the “efficiency” of the Jordanian GID? . . .

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Asymmetric warfare

Suicide: an ‘act’ of aggression

Three men held without charges in Guantánamo Bay have hanged themselves, using nooses made out of their clothes and bedding. How to characterize such an event? For Rear Admiral Harry Harris, commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo, it’s obvious:

“I believe this was not an act of desperation, rather an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us.”

Here is what it says in Unspeak about the term “asymmetric warfare”:

‘Asymmetric warfare’ is the term employed by the US military for fighting people who don’t line up properly to be shot at: on the one side you have battalions of American infantry, marines, tanks and aircraft; and on the other you have terrorists, or guerrillas, or militants, or insurgents. But the more revealing asymmetry lies in the giving of names in the ‘war on terror’. We are soldiers; you are terrorists. Asymmetric warfare means: we are fighting a war; but you are not. And so when we capture you, do not expect to be a prisoner of war. You will be a terrorist suspect, an illegal combatant, a ghost detainee. And so the deliberate blurring of categories in the phrase ‘war on terror’ led straight to Abu Ghraib. (p 162)

Now, it appears, we must add people who hang themselves in prison cells to the list of forces arrayed against the US military machine . . .

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Say it with artillery

Last year I commented on a curious lull, a lull that was untroubled by Israeli violence but was “shaken” by Palestinian violence. Now, it appears, truces can learn something from lulls. “Hamas breaks truce with rockets,” says the BBC. The New York Times reports in similar fashion:

Hamas fired at least 15 Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel today, ending a tattered 15-month truce with Israel, a day after seven Palestinians were killed on a Gaza beach by an Israeli shell.

The carefully balanced construction of the NYT’s sentence only serves to highlight the strange choice of language. You might wonder how a “truce” can calmly survive killings by one side, but be shattered by rocket-launches by the other side a mere day later . . .

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Harm reduction

How conservatives cure your pain

Tom DeLay’s farewell speech to Congress yesterday was rousing:

In any place or any time on any issue, what does liberalism ever seek, Mr. Speaker? More – more government, more taxation, more control over people’s lives and decisions and wallets. If conservatives don’t stand up to liberalism, no one will.

Well, it’s a point of view. Of course, you could turn it around. Adopting the same strategy of wild partisan generalization, you could say, instead:

In any place or any time on any issue, what does conservatism ever seek, Mr. Speaker? More – more funding for the military, more pollution, more control over people’s science education and sexual habits and wombs. If liberals don’t stand up to conservatism, no one will.

But this would just be to get into an unproductive shouting match. Let’s test, instead, one of Mr DeLay’s more interesting claims:

[C]onservatism isn’t about feeling people’s pain, it’s about curing it.

That sounds good. Pity about the ideologically motivated hobbling of stem-cell research in the US, which might seem to put a spanner in the works of curing many people’s pain. Another way in which you might say millions of people all over the world are in “pain” is that they are HIV-positive or already suffer from Aids. Now, the US is the biggest donor to Aids relief efforts in the non-western world, particularly in Africa, and George W Bush should be strongly applauded for his massive increase in funding for Aids over the relatively nugatory amounts approved by the Clinton government.

However, many people have long been worried, as is carefully documented in an excellent new book, Body Count by Peter Gill, that the efficacy of PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) is compromised by its moralizing slant. Gill shows that we have the Christian right in America to thank for elevating the global Aids epidemic to its current level of importance in the administration. But we also have the Christian right to thank for imbuing the programme with certain counter-productive ideological biases. Biases, indeed, that appear to want to take “more control over people’s lives and decisions”, in a way that DeLay says is the preserve of liberals.

Last week, for instance, the American government, negotiating over the UN’s new “Declaration of Commitment” on global Aids policy, opposed numerical targets for treatment, and tried unsuccessfully to oppose mention of the term “harm reduction” in the document.

Why should they be against “harm reduction”? Surely everyone can agree that harm should be reduced wherever possible? . . .

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