Prague Twin

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Close Guantanamo Bay.... please.

International calls for the closing of Guantanamo bay are building. Recently, Peter Hain, has joined the chorus of voices opposed to the existence of the prison. He quotes in this linked article, "I would prefer that it wasn't there and I would prefer it was closed." Also in the article is a quote from Tony Blair that I think encompasses his desire to express his opposition to the prison without going on record in direct opposition to the Administration. He says, "I've said all along... that it [the prison] is an anomaly and sooner or later it's got to be dealt with." It is a bit cryptic, but when Hain was asked if he thought that meant he wanted it closed, he said, "I think so, yes." Now keep in mind, Hain is the highly respected Secretary of State for both Wales and Northern Ireland, and has a strong record of support for both the Iraq war, and counter-terrorism measures. Kofi Annan has also gone on record opposing the continuing operation of the prison. He has not backed all the findings of the UN report that the Washington post reports on here. But Mr. Annan apparently agrees with a key point made by the commission that issued the report which is that... "a legal regime applied to these detainees seriously undermines the rule of law and a number of fundamental universally recognized human rights, which are the essence of democratic societies."

And I think that really is the point. No matter the reason, keeping these prisoners indefinitely without charge, or without giving them Geneva Convention protections, just plain looks bad. It is a smear on the record of the United States that dwarfs such trivial matters such as holding journalists without charge or legal representation. The issue of Guantanamo Bay has become the ultimate public relations nightmare for the Administration. Indeed it has become difficult to find advocates for the continued operation of the prison. Roger Fraley, who writes XDA, does his best to explain why the prison is justified in this article. His rhetorical thrashing of Paul Campos notwithstanding, Roger misses the mark by resorting to saying "...we are at war". If indeed we are at war, then these prisoners should be given Geneva Convention protection. But very simply, the Administration cannot afford to do this for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, they will not be able to comply with the Geneva Convention with regards to the Treatment of Prisoners of War because of Article 17 which includes this paragraph:

"No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."

The reward system that the Administration follows clearly violates this provision. Prisoners are given rewards for giving information in the form of increased contact with other prisoners and time outside their cells. There are reports of torture from those who have been released. The Administration is using disadvantageous treatment to coerce information from the prisoners. Therefore, they cannot afford to extend provisions of the Geneva Convention to these prisoners.

As a result, they are not considered prisoners of war, but rather "enemy combatants" which by domestic law apparently allows for the detention of people with whom we are at war to be exempt from Geneva Convention protection. This linguistic ruse is not hard for anyone to see through, and I suspect that when the terms "prisoner of war" and "enemy combatant" are translated into certain other languages, the distinction between the two becomes even less clear.

Quite simply, legal arguments notwithstanding, the damage to the reputation of the United States caused by the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay Prison, far outweighs the security benefits of it's continued operation.

The prisoners there should be either 1. Released to their home countries provided the countries are either US allies or neutral. 2. Tried as "enemy combatants" and incarcerated appropriately. Or 3. Declared "prisoners of war" and be granted Geneva Convention protection.

Otherwise, the US calls for "legal protection for all", ring hollow, and the "War for the Hearts and Minds," will be lost.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Dubai To Run Ports in US

As DP World gets set to take over 6 major ports in the US, Senator Charles Schumer is leading the opposition to the plan.

Schumer has asked for further review of the deal, while other lawmakers have shown how ignorant they are about the difference between companies, and a regime...

"Handing the keys to US strategic ports to a regime that recognized the Taliban is not a sound next step in our war against terror," said Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

This is political maneuvering in its worst form. Anyone who has ever been to Dubai, or knows anything about the UAE knows that this is an anomaly of a place. An Arab country that hosts important business conferences, supports a modern "media city", and is generally recognized as one of the more important (and newest) business centers in the world.

I didn't notice who it was, but I heard a Democratic law maker try to stir fear in Americans hearts by suggesting how frightening it would be if Dubai handled our airport security. Having been to Dubai, I would be delighted if Dubai would handle airport securtity. Dubai airport was the cleanest, most efficient, highly secure airport I've ever stepped foot in. Every single bag (including stowed luggage) is x-rayed on the way in AND on the way out. That's right, when you arrive in Dubai, you pick up your bag, and they x-ray it before you can LEAVE the airport. When you fly out, there is no less than 3 security check points, and yet it still takes less than 30 minutes from check-in to the gate. Americans should be jealous of such a system.

To suggest that Dubai is a terrorist center and in effect its businesses be sanctioned is nothing more than political posturing, and borderline racism. The fact that a 911 hijacker was from Dubai, and drew money from a bank there is as significant as the fact that the Timothy McVeigh was from the US and drew money from banks there. Terrorists have drawn money from the UK, from Germany, certainly from Switzerland. Does this reflect on the business from those countries? Should, indeed, the corporations from a country be judged on the practices of the local banking industry, or rather the actions of the customers of a bank based in their home country?

Let me think about that for a minute.

The UAE, as Bush has suggested, has been a partner of the US in combating terrorism. The now infamous Dubai airport has served as a trap for unsuspecting terrorists. The CIA can request the UAE government to stop someone for questioning, and the requests are honored. Although there are terrorists that are UAE citizens, what country can say that none of their citizens are terrorists?

Saturday, February 18, 2006


I just got back from 10 days in Frankfurt, Germany.

It is much of the same old story, how a country can work so well with central planning and proper investment into infrastructure. But it really does never cease to amaze me.

Here is a country that was bombed nearly to the ground just 60 years ago, and they came out the better for it. The trains run quickly and on time. They are clean. The downtown area is pristine. Everything is strikingly new compared to the battered old Czech Republic where I live.

After we crossed the border into the Czech Republic after driving on nearly perfect freeways all day, suddenly the speed limit dropped to just under 20 mph. "What was happening?" we all said to each other with our eyes. Then, the answer came with a clunk as we hit a poor quality patch which was only the first of a series of failed efforts to repair an old highway.

A smile, a nod and in unison we all proclaimed "A my jsme doma!" (And... we are home). This of course started a long discussion about the state of the freeways and highways in CZ. We had even commented that what was a highway in Germany, would be considered a freeway (not exactly free but $40 buys you a year pass on all of them) in CZ.

It is such a stark demonstration of the benefits of good central planning, effective economic development programs, and an uncorrupted government when you compare the two countries and their post-war histories.

It is amazing what a country can accomplish when it focuses more of its energy on bridge-building than on missile building, and its government does more than line its own, and its friends', pockets with taxpayer money.

Can this success be attributed to the efforts of the German people, or the help they received from the Marshall plan (not to mention 70,000 permanently stationed troops)?

Both are certainly important, but I would weight the efforts of the German people a lot heavier.

To quote my friend Jonathan "A country gets the government they deserve". I don't believe in such absolutes, but there is some truth in there. A people must hold their governments accountable to the law as they will be judged, fairly or not, on the actions of their governments.

I had to say, yea, the Germans had it pretty good. But over the last 60 years, they've earned it.

Can we talk?

Is it just me, or does it seem strange that the world is calling on Hamas to disarm?

Certainly, the calls on Hamas to recognize Israel as a state, and to renounce violence carried out on civilians are more than reasonable. But if a political entity, democratically elected by its constituency, does not have alternate means of defense it must have a right to maintain an army.

This army must be held accountable to standards put forth in the Geneva Convention and other international treaties, but its right to exist—except in the case wherein a foreign power guarantees its security—should be without question.

Only when Palestine is given a state, and its security is guaranteed, can the world expect its leaders to “renounce violence.”

In the meantime, those who start a dialogue (as did Putin) should be applauded. I mentioned in the previous post that someone should take Hamas aside and tell them to tone down their rhetoric.

Putin is just the guy to do it.

(I’m not sure how I feel about sharing the same view as Putin as to how to progress, but at least I’m not completely alone).

Unfortunately, before Hamas can even name a prime minister, the funds are not only being cut off, but the Palestinian Authority is being asked to give back previously granted assistance.

Here is the official reason the funds are being returned…

The money is being returned "in the interest of seeing that these funds not potentially make their way into the coffers of a future Palestinian government that might not recognize the right of Israel to exist," McCormack said.

I had also suggested in the previous post that cutting off humanitarian aide would counterproductive. This economic squeezing of Hamas will certainly be viewed by many as a mistake due to Hamas’ history of support of the Palestinian population. Despite their propensity for terror, they are the largest provider of direct assistance to the Palestinian people. Starving them economically will have tangible adverse effects on Palestinians.

Is this productive?

On the other hand, the US can still fund all the other despicable leaders around the world.

And no one bats an eye.

If there is to be rules about who gets aid and who doesn’t, they should be clearly defined, and applied to all aid recipients.

Otherwise, how can any punitive economic action be seen as anything other than a unjust singling-out?

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Palestinian Question

You would have to be living under a rock not to know that Hamas won the Palestinian elections.

It is being taken in stride for the most part by the media. Significant, but not overwhelmingly so. But this election presents us with a whole new set of opportunities to examine where we are as a people.

Hamas won the election mostly on credibility issues. It is largely ignored that 90% of Hamas' budget goes directly into social programs: schools, hospitals, orphanages... . Indeed, few countries can claim such a dedication to their constituency. Meanwhile, Fatah has repeatedly failed to deliver on their promises. Essentially, this is how Hamas won the election: as a result of their credibility and proven dedication to the Palestinian people.

But now as they are cast into the world of politics, it seems they are headed for a steep learning curve. Their rhetoric will not get them far in the halls of the UN. It will not get them an invitation to the White House. Someone needs to take them aside and tell them "look, believe what you want, we know, but just tone down the dialog."

All kidding aside, it seems they probably won't change their charter as it would indicate weakness. The do have a militant stance, and it seems unlikely that they would renounce that before they are granted statehood. It was George W Bush who called for a Palestinian state, and new leadership. They seemed to miss the part about electing leaders "not compromised by terror", but they heard the the "throw the bums out" loud and clear.

So now that Hamas has been elected, will they use the opportunity to forward the aspirations of those elements in Palestine that favor the two state solution, or will they retreat into a militant "destroy Israel" stance? I think (I hope) a lot depends on what they are given to work with. For now, the decision to at least delay any punitive action is a good one.

Any punitive economic action should be limited to retaliatory ones from this day forward.

Diplomacy must be given a chance.


I remember being about 9 years old, and there were some younger kids teasing. Now, up until then, I hadn't been the biggest kid very often. I was tired of being picked on, and I certainly wasn't in the mood to be taking crap from some second graders.

So I go over and tell them to take it back, and they say "No". One kid is particularly defiant, so I punch him in the stomach, and tell him to take it back, but he won't. He would rather take a beating than say "Ok, I take it back."

I realized at that moment, something about people. That even in the face of something more powerful, most will fight back with what they have. This basic principle is the essence of resistance: fighting an enemy despite the odds. It begins with pride, and it ends with self-determination.


It looks as though the Palestinian people are on their way to statehood. Bush's endorsement of a two-state system is a historic juncture for them. It remains to be seen if Hamas can be brought into the mainstream (at least on a middle east standard). The real question is if the world community will try. It would be a huge mistake to cut off (minimal) humanitarian aid based on their rhetoric. They have been largely peaceful for a year (credibility). That should be built on. Negotiations should be invited. Rules of engagement should be defined (from both sides). They should be given a chance to enter politics.

And if Hamas doesn't take advantage of it, shame on them.

If we don't give them a chance, shame on us.

Reduced Millitary

Regarding the reduced size of the millitary under Clinton, this link is definately worth reading.

My read tells me that major base reductions became a DOD priority as early as the last year of the Reagan administration. Planning continued, and closures were initiated under GHB, and the policy continued right up until the end of the Clinton administration.

In all, nearly a quater of all domestic bases were closed.

What struck me as interesting was the DOD focus on the development of new weapon systems with freed-up cash from base closures. Translation: Spend money on hi-tech gadgets and send a half a million hard-working men and women packing.

The report ends right at 2000 with a question mark. I'm assuming that as the hawkish Bush administration took the reigns they at least tried to maintain the same or greater troop strength, just not at home.