30 December 2006

Life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been abducted

Meantime, Saddam Hussein has been executed and as our state genuflecting media drones on, thought I'd share a few thoughts and links. First, an excellent history of how the U.S. enabled Hussein through the years.
The tendency to treat Saddam and Iraq in a historical vacuum, and in isolation from the superpowers, however, has hidden from Americans their own culpability in the horror show that has been Iraq for the past few decades. Initially, the US used the Baath Party as a nationalist foil to the Communists. Then Washington used it against Iran. The welfare of Iraqis themselves appears to have been on no one's mind, either in Washington or in Baghdad.

Next, a perspective from an Iraqi, along with an assessment of the state of Baghdad, circa 2006.

This last year especially has been a turning point. Nearly every Iraqi has lost so much. So much. There's no way to describe the loss we've experienced with this war and occupation. There are no words to relay the feelings that come with the knowledge that daily almost 40 corpses are found in different states of decay and mutilation. There is no compensation for the dense, black cloud of fear that hangs over the head of every Iraqi. Fear of things so out of ones hands, it borders on the ridiculous- like whether your name is 'too Sunni' or 'too Shia'. Fear of the larger things- like the Americans in the tank, the police patrolling your area in black bandanas and green banners, and the Iraqi soldiers wearing black masks at the checkpoint.

Again, I can't help but ask myself why this was all done? What was the point of breaking Iraq so that it was beyond repair? Iran seems to be the only gainer. Their presence in Iraq is so well-established, publicly criticizing a cleric or ayatollah verges on suicide. Has the situation gone so beyond America that it is now irretrievable? Or was this a part of the plan all along? My head aches just posing the questions.

What has me most puzzled right now is: why add fuel to the fire? Sunnis and moderate Shia are being chased out of the larger cities in the south and the capital. Baghdad is being torn apart with Shia leaving Sunni areas and Sunnis leaving Shia areas- some under threat and some in fear of attacks. People are being openly shot at check points or in drive by killings… Many colleges have stopped classes. Thousands of Iraqis no longer send their children to school- it's just not safe.

Why make things worse by insisting on Saddam's execution now? Who gains if they hang Saddam? Iran, naturally, but who else? There is a real fear that this execution will be the final blow that will shatter Iraq. Some Sunni and Shia tribes have threatened to arm their members against the Americans if Saddam is executed. Iraqis in general are watching closely to see what happens next, and quietly preparing for the worst.

This is because now, Saddam no longer represents himself or his regime. Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind most of his government were Shia). The Americans, through their speeches and news articles and Iraqi Puppets, have made it very clear that they consider him to personify Sunni Arab resistance to the occupation. Basically, with this execution, what the Americans are saying is "Look- Sunni Arabs- this is your man, we all know this. We're hanging him- he symbolizes you." And make no mistake about it, this trial and verdict and execution are 100% American. Some of the actors were Iraqi enough, but the production, direction and montage was pure Hollywood (though low-budget, if you ask me).

Columnist and long time middle east correspondent Robert Fisk, on the questions not being asked in the wake of an execution of a dictator created then destroyed by America.

Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.

I'm a bit puzzled too, over how easily the following truths are swept aside, even amidst the non-stop chatter over Saddam's execution:

  • How can this execution not be perceived as directed and orchestrated by the U.S.? How can Iraq be possibly perceived as a "sovereign democracy" when foreign occupiers are in charge, and it's the commander-in-chief's desire to increase our presence there, not exit. Even though it's been established that the justification for the invasion of a country that posed no threat to the U.S. was fraudulent.

  • The crime Hussein was tried (in a sham court more concerned with revenge than justice) for aided and abetted by American leadership at the time. In fact, as Professor Cole and others have pointed out, the Reagan administration knew full well of Hussein's crimes, yet strove to cover-up and/or trivialize these events, and continued to funnel financial support and weapons to him throughout the 80's. Terry Nichols sits in prison for his role in aiding Timothy McVeigh for the criminal act of bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But individuals at the top of power hierarchy are never to be judged by equivalent criteria. No, they aren't directly responsible, but they do deserve blame for enabling a butcher to carry out injustice.

14 December 2006

Thought Crimes

Last weekend, I caught an MSNBC Dateline rerun featuring host Chris Hansen and Perverted-Justice's quest to crack down on internet sex predators. A decoy pretends to be underage prey, using internet chat applications to lure suitors with suggestive nicknames and provocative baiting like text messages. A rendezvous is established, and when the unsuspecting "target" arrives at the meeting spot, he's treated to a smorgasbord of hidden cameras shooting, after the decoy slinks away and excuses herself (or himself). Then, the smug network host pops out and flaunting his moral superiority, drills into the "perp" verbally, slinging rhetorical bullets that stymies the shocked visitor into stammer-land. The would be predator, once excused, quickly makes for an exit. However, waiting outside is a team of armed law enforcement that quickly seizes the distraught and humiliated wannabe lawbreaker. Finally, a liberal sprinkling of wrap up commentary heaps more indignation on the unsavory sort who now has been netted and seemingly headed to a destination where said transgressor can do harm more.

Wait a second, there is no victim here. This is probably going to go down as a controversial assertion, and far be it for me to defend outright sin from unsavory individuals, but again, there is no victim here. I understand that legislation is crafted to term these acts of nefarious intent as "crimes", no matter if the victim is imaginary or real. I also recognize that for a sizable segment of these offenders, this may not be the first time they've set out to arrange such illegal sexual encounters. And I applaud the proactive tract to nab these guys before they do damage. However, with no real victim and for those who've only just begun to act out in these pursuits, harsh punitive measures may be overkill. Especially, when the same behavior in other cultures and countries is fair and legit (age of consent), and even in our country, going back a hundred years or so. Essentially, the arrested individual is stamped out of society, disproportionately punished, and tagged forever as a sex offender. A tad bit harsh for what truly is a crime of intent only. For many, that is an apt societal response — lock 'em up and throw away the key!

More importantly, though, we're on that slippery slope of adjudicating thought crimes. What's next? Somebody who creates art or images that are construed as child pornography? Or novels with passages of text describing adolescent sexual trysts? What about somebody expressing a desire to blow up a building belonging to a major newspaper? Yes, I'm stretching here, but where exactly is the line drawn? Or am I making much ado over nothing?

While on the topic of prisons, a note on our prison population that is exploding beyond comprehension — One out of every 32 adults in the U.S. now is behind bars, on probation, or paroled — a rate that far exceeds the totalitarian nation of China. And prisons, despite the advance of civilization, are far from centers of restoration and rehabilitation for the criminally minded. And as a Christian, I see nothing biblical about the role of prisons, other than vengeance to settle the score for wrongdoing. Like this guy, I think prison is a terrible idea:

In the Bible, the only prisons are in the empires: Joseph in an Egyptian prison, John the Baptist in a Roman prison, Peter and Paul in Roman prisons.

There was no prison system in Mosaic Israel. This was no accident. There were punishments in Mosaic Israel: restitution to the victim, whipping, and execution for certain crimes. But there were no prisons. Why not? Because there was no need. The criminal owed no debt to society.

If a person stole and then got caught, he paid double restitution to his victims (Exodus 22:4). He did not owe anything to society. He had not committed a crime against society. He owed money to his victims.

…dealing with men who may have committed theft. …able to offer them the following option, do you think they would take it?

First, you can serve your time here. Second, you will be released tomorrow, on this basis: you will pay your victims 25% of everything you earn until you have paid twice the value of what you stole from them, plus interest. If you fail to pay or attempt to flee, you will be put back in here for twice your original term.

I don't have to guess. I know what 99% of them would choose: option #1.

Now think of the arrangement from the victim's point of view. He has two choices:

(1) Pay his share of the $50,000 a year it takes to house the thief, or (2) get double his money back plus a tax refund for his share of the saved housing money for the remainder of the man's term.

This decision is called a no-brainer.

But today’s criminal justice system is results orientated, not justice orientated.