Michael Ignatieff on torture

One of the issues that has been raised about Michael Ignatieff's impending candicacy for the Liberal leadership is his perceived pro-Bush stance on Iraq and on the use of torture. Prospect magazine's April edition carries a piece by Ignatieff on torture. After reading it I am still unclear on his position.After much discussion he states: "I end up supporting an absolute and unconditional ban on both torture and those forms of coercive interrogation that involve stress and duress." But on further reading it seems he would like to eat his cake and have it too.

Here are some extracts:

"It is difficult to think about torture honestly. In a recent article on the interrogation techniques employed by the US, the writer Mark Bowden observed that few "moral imperatives make such sense on a large scale, but break down so dramatically in the particular." The moral imperative—do not torture, any time, anywhere, in any circumstances—is mandated by the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency," says the convention, can "be invoked as a justification of torture." That terrorists themselves torture does not change these imperatives. Our compliance does not depend on reciprocity.

"As long as we stay on this high ground of unconditional prohibition, we seem to know where we are. Problems begin when we descend into the particular, when we ask what exactly counts as torture.

"Since no state wants to be seen as torturing suspects but all states want to be able to extract information to protect their citizens, the key question is whether states can use methods of "coercive interrogation" that do not qualify as torture.When the torture convention was ratified by the US Senate in 1994, maintaining a meaningful distinction between coercive but lawful interrogation and outright torture was a central concern. The Senate ratified the convention on the understanding that torture should be reserved for "severe physical or mental pain or suffering" resulting in "prolonged mental harm." Once the war on terror began, the parsing of the convention went still further. In the now notorious memos submitted by the office of legal counsel to the White House in 2002, these definitions were stretched to the point that the threshold for torture "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death." Any physical abuse below that standard counted as "coercive interrogation." Some forms of coercive interrogation, the lawyers admitted, might not be torture, but they would still be defined as "inhuman and degrading treatment." .....

"There is thus a conceptual and practical distinction between torture and coercive interrogation. There is a further distinction—at least in theory—between methods of coercive interrogation that are lawful and permissible and those that may be inhuman and degrading. While this distinction exists in theory, most human rights activists would deny that such a distinction can be observed in practice.....

"In order to prevent vigorous interrogation from slipping down any slope, human rights activists want to collapse the distinction between "coercive interrogation" and "torture," and to ban any physical or psychological coercion. But there is a significant distinction between the two....

"Clear thinking about torture is not served by collapsing the distinction between coercive interrogation and torture. Both may be repugnant, but repugnance does not make them into the same thing.....

"My own work on "lesser evils" brings me close to the Elshtain position. I agree with her that necessity may require the commission of bad acts, which necessity, nevertheless, cannot absolve of their morally problematic character—but I still have a problem. If one enumerates the forms of coercive interrogation that have been judged to be inhuman and degrading by the Israeli and the European courts—hooding, holding subjects in painful positions, exposing them to cold or heat or ear-splitting noise—these techniques also seem unacceptable, though at a lower threshold of awfulness, than torture....

"So I end up supporting an absolute and unconditional ban on both torture and those forms of coercive interrogation that involve stress and duress, and I believe that enforcement of such a ban should be up to the military justice system plus the federal courts. I also believe that the training of interrogators can be improved by executive order and that the training must rigorously exclude stress and duress methods."

I suggest reading the full article to get the full flavour of his views.


Potential Liberal leadership candidates

Potential Liberal leadership candidates, who haven't ruled out a run:

Carolyn Bennett
Maurizio Bevilacqua
Scott Brison
Denis Coderre
Ruby Dhalla
Stéphane Dion
Ken Dryden
Joe Fontana
Martha Hall Findlay
Hedy Fry
John Godfrey
Ralph Goodale
Tony Ianno
Michael Ignatieff
Gerard Kennedy
Ashley MacIsaac
John McCallum
David McGuinty
Dan McTeague
Bob Rae
Belinda Stronach
Joe Volpe

Is there anyone on this list equipped to rebuild the Liberal party and lead it to victory in the next election?


Kabul Judge Rejects Calls to End Trial of Christian Convert

The Kabul judge presiding over the trial of the Afghan man facing death for converting from Islam to Christianity said Thursday that he would resist any interference, despite mounting international condemnation.

Although President Karzai has apparently been giving assurances to western leaders that the Afghan Christian, Abdul Rahman, will not be executed, Ansarullah Maulavi Zada, the judge who heads the public security tribunal in Kabul, said, "There is no direct pressure on our court so far, but if it happens we will consider it interference."

As the New York Times put it,"For Mr. Karzai, the case traps him squarely between his Western backers and Afghanistan's conservative religious council, the Ulema, an important source of domestic support.

"The international community is saying you must stop this," said Barnett R. Rubin, a New York University professor and expert on Afghanistan. "The Ulema is saying, 'Are you an Islamic ruler?' "

"Maulavi Muhaiuddin Baloch, Mr. Karzai's adviser on religious affairs, said that the case belonged in the court and that Afghanistan's judiciary was independent.

"Fazil Ahmad Manawi, a former deputy chief justice, said: "It is a dilemma for Afghan courts. The international community's presence in Afghanistan, with military and financial support on one hand and the prestige of Afghan courts and religious people of Afghanistan on another hand, makes the issue very difficult."


Muslim clerics demand execution of Christian

A few days ago I posted on the story of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity, who is on trial in Kabul and faces a sentence of death.
Since then there have been several interventions from Western leaders with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, including one by PM Harper. Karzai has left them with the impression that Rahman would not be sentenced to death.

Diplomats have said the Afghan government is searching for a way to drop the case. On Wednesday, authorities said Rahman is suspected of being mentally ill and would undergo psychological examinations to see whether he is fit to stand trial.

Meanwhile senior Muslim clerics in Kabul demanded Thursday that Rahman be executed, warning that if the government caves in to international pressure and frees him, they will incite people to "pull him into pieces." CTV.ca
"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die,'' said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hardline regime was ousted in 2001.

Said Mirhossain Nasri, the top cleric at Hossainia Mosque, one of the largest Shiite places of worship in Kabul, said: "We are a small country and we welcome the help the outside world is giving us. But please don't interfere in this issue. We are Muslims and these are our beliefs. This is much more important to us than all the aid the world has given us."

Another cleric warned that if the government frees Rahman, "there will be an uprising" like one against Soviet occupying forces in the 1980s.

This case raises important questions about the fragilty of the new government in Afghanistan and what exactly it is that western troops are fighting to defend.


Visionless Liberals

James Travers' hardhitting article in the Toronto Star, entitled "Visionless Liberals running hard to nowhere", very succinctly articulates the current state of the Liberal party:

"At the moment, Liberals are utterly lost. After careening through two years and two elections with Paul Martin, a party that once boasted it was the western world's most successful no longer dominates the political centre, is out of fresh ideas and has no obvious leadership light to follow out of darkness.....

"And these are far from normal times for Liberals. A party as dysfunctional as the Sopranos is many months, if not years, away from resolving its internal differences and needs at least as much time to think through what it means to be a 21st-century Liberal.

"That begins with soul-searching and ends sometime later in a strategy that aggressively presents innovative public policies with the emotional appeal that wins elections."

Regrettably, he concludes, the Liberals are "A party obsessed with power ....now hurtling toward nowhere."

I concur.


Are doctors practising age discrimination?

The sad state of healthcare in Canada is illustrated by a story in the Toronto Star. An MD in Barrie, Ontario, rejected a woman, 59, as a patient. The woman was told she was too old to be accepted. The doctor was not taking patients older than 55.

Apparently it takes a lot more to get on a physician's list than being first in line when a practice opens its doors.

The doctor in question denies that he discriminates against older people. He claimed he decided to limit new patients to those under 55 to ensure there was room for young families. But even more surprising than the doctor's actions is the response from a spokesperson for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario who said the College does not restrict a doctor's right to reject a new patient based on age.

"Physicians are free to choose patients who represent their special interests and skills, and can also reject new patients who are too sick or even too healthy," the spokesperson said. And this purports to be a professional association!

However, the college's website states that physicians should be aware that refusing patients based on factors such as age and disability without a valid reason could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code's prohibitions on discrimination. How do they square that circle?


Implanted Patient-Data Chips Stir debate

Just a handful of Americans have had the tiny electronic VeriChip inserted since the government approved it two years ago. But the chip is being aggressively marketed by its manufacturer. Some doctors are welcoming the technology as an exciting innovation that will speed care and prevent errors. But the concept
is alarming to those concerned about privacy. Thre is concern that the devices could make it easier for unauthorized snoops to invade medical records. There is also concern that the technology marks a dangerous step toward an Orwellian future in which people will be monitored using the chips or will be required to have them inserted for surveillance.
Even though the medical information is stored in a protected computer, anyone with a password could obtain the information.

While there are potential medical benefits, there are growing fears about abuse of these devices.As an example, the government and private corporations could use these devices to track people's movements.


Former Supreme Court judge says US edging to dictatorship

Former Supreme Court Justice
Sandra Day O'Connor says US risks edging near to dictatorship.

Ms O'Connor,who was Republican-appointed and retired last month after 24 years on the Supreme Court, has warned the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary. Ms O'Connor criticized Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could, she said, be contributing to a climate of violence against judges.

Such threats, Ms O'Connor said, "pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedom", and she told the lawyers in her audience: "I want you to tune your ears to these attacks ... You have an obligation to speak up.

"Statutes and constitutions do not protect judicial independence - people do," the retired supreme court justice said.

She noted death threats against judges were on the rise and added that the situation was not helped by a senior senator's suggestion that there might be a connection between the violence against judges and the decisions they make.

In her speech, Ms O'Connor said that if the courts did not occasionally make politicians mad they would not be doing their jobs, and their effectiveness "is premised on the notion that we won't be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts".

How Islamic inventors changed the world

Against the backdrop of the current controversy about the role of Islam in the modern world, it is interesting to consider how Islamic inventors changed the world. From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. "1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World" is a new exhibition which began a nationwide tour in the UK recently. Below is the story of 20 of the most influential inventions- and the men of genius behind them.

1 The story goes that an Arab named Khalid was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make the first coffee. Certainly the first record of the drink is of beans exported from Ethiopia to Yemen where Sufis drank it to stay awake all night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century it had arrived in Mecca and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645. It was brought to England in 1650 by a Turk named Pasqua Rosee who opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London. The Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve then the Italian caffé and then English coffee.

2 The ancient Greeks thought our eyes emitted rays, like a laser, which enabled us to see. The first person to realise that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was the 10th-century Muslim mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham. He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked out, and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark or private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.

3 A form of chess was played in ancient India but the game was developed into the form we know it today in Persia. From there it spread westward to Europe - where it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the 10th century - and eastward as far as Japan. The word rook comes from the Persian rukh, which means chariot.

4 A thousand years before the Wright brothers a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn't. But the cloak slowed his fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine of silk and eagles' feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but crashed on landing - concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not given his device a tail so it would stall on landing. Baghdad international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.

5 Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders' most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.

6 Distillation, the means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam's foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today - liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits (although drinking them is haram, or forbidden, in Islam). Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry.

7 The crank-shaft is a device which translates rotary into linear motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.

8 Quilting is a method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating material in between. It is not clear whether it was invented in the Muslim world or whether it was imported there from India or China. But it certainly came to the West via the Crusaders. They saw it used by Saracen warriors, who wore straw-filled quilted canvas shirts instead of armour. As well as a form of protection, it proved an effective guard against the chafing of the Crusaders' metal armour and was an effective form of insulation - so much so that it became a cottage industry back home in colder climates such as Britain and Holland.

9 The pointed arch so characteristic of Europe's Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture. It was much stronger than the rounded arch used by the Romans and Normans, thus allowing the building of bigger, higher, more complex and grander buildings. Other borrowings from Muslim genius included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and dome-building techniques. Europe's castles were also adapted to copy the Islamic world's - with arrow slits, battlements, a barbican and parapets. Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round ones. Henry V's castle architect was a Muslim.

10 Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those devised in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called al-Zahrawi. His scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and many of the 200 instruments he devised are recognisable to a modern surgeon. It was he who discovered that catgut used for internal stitches dissolves away naturally (a discovery he made when his monkey ate his lute strings) and that it can be also used to make medicine capsules. In the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. Muslims doctors also invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique still used today.

11 The windmill was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph and was used to grind corn and draw up water for irrigation. In the vast deserts of Arabia, when the seasonal streams ran dry, the only source of power was the wind which blew steadily from one direction for months. Mills had six or 12 sails covered in fabric or palm leaves. It was 500 years before the first windmill was seen in Europe.

12 The technique of inoculation was not invented by Jenner and Pasteur but was devised in the Muslim world and brought to Europe from Turkey by the wife of the English ambassador to Istanbul in 1724. Children in Turkey were vaccinated with cowpox to fight the deadly smallpox at least 50 years before the West discovered it.

13 The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a combination of gravity and capillary action.

14 The system of numbering in use all round the world is probably Indian in origin but the style of the numerals is Arabic and first appears in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi around 825. Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi's book, Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. The work of Muslim maths scholars was imported into Europe 300 years later by the Italian mathematician Fibonacci. Algorithms and much of the theory of trigonometry came from the Muslim world. And Al-Kindi's discovery of frequency analysis rendered all the codes of the ancient world soluble and created the basis of modern cryptology.

15 Ali ibn Nafi, known by his nickname of Ziryab (Blackbird) came from Iraq to Cordoba in the 9th century and brought with him the concept of the three-course meal - soup, followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts. He also introduced crystal glasses (which had been invented after experiments with rock crystal by Abbas ibn Firnas - see No 4).

16 Carpets were regarded as part of Paradise by medieval Muslims, thanks to their advanced weaving techniques, new tinctures from Islamic chemistry and highly developed sense of pattern and arabesque which were the basis of Islam's non-representational art. In contrast, Europe's floors were distinctly earthly, not to say earthy, until Arabian and Persian carpets were introduced. In England, as Erasmus recorded, floors were "covered in rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for 20 years, harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned". Carpets, unsurprisingly, caught on quickly.

17 The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.

18 By the 9th century, many Muslim scholars took it for granted that the Earth was a sphere. The proof, said astronomer Ibn Hazm, "is that the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth". It was 500 years before that realisation dawned on Galileo. The calculations of Muslim astronomers were so accurate that in the 9th century they reckoned the Earth's circumference to be 40,253.4km - less than 200km out. The scholar al-Idrisi took a globe depicting the world to the court of King Roger of Sicily in 1139.

19 Though the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and used it in their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be purified using potassium nitrate for military use. Muslim incendiary devices terrified the Crusaders. By the 15th century they had invented both a rocket, which they called a "self-moving and combusting egg", and a torpedo - a self-propelled pear-shaped bomb with a spear at the front which impaled itself in enemy ships and then blew up.

20 Medieval Europe had kitchen and herb gardens, but it was the Arabs who developed the idea of the garden as a place of beauty and meditation. The first royal pleasure gardens in Europe were opened in 11th-century Muslim Spain. Flowers which originated in Muslim gardens include the carnation and the tulip.

For more information, go to 1001 inventions.


Huge Gomery legal fees scandalous

Taxpayers are picking up an enormous tab for lawyers associated with the Gomery Inquiry. The numbers for those targeted by Gomery are small compared with the fees run up by lawyers who worked for his public inquiry into the scandal:
Bernard Roy $1.56-million;Neil Finkelstein $1.16-million;Guy Cournoyer $1.17-million.

An additional $4.1-million in fees was paid to 27 other lawyers. The Public Works Department and Privy Council Office listed their sponsorship-related legal fees at more than $14-million.

Legal bills make up only part of the money spent over the last two years to cure Ottawa's sponsorship hangover. The full operating budget of the Gomery inquiry — including administrative expenses, equipment, rental of office and hearing space, and a host of other items — has been estimated at between $32-million and $35-million.

Various federal departments report another $39-million in associated spending, pushing the total for cleaning up the scandal to over $70-million.

And you thought ADSCAM was a scandal!


Are Americans waking up to reality?

a new poll shows support dropping for Bush and Congress and increasing concern amomg Americans about the state of the country.

The AP-Ipsos poll reveals that a growing number of Americans, particularly Republicans, disapprove of President George W. Bush's performance, question his character and no longer consider him a strong leader against terrorism. Nearly four out of five Americans, including 70 per cent of Republicans, believe civil war will break out in Iraq. Nearly 70 per cent of people said the United States is on the wrong track, a six-point jump since February. Just 37 per cent approve of Bush's overall performance. That is the lowest of his presidency.

These results explain why Republican legislators are rushing to distance themselves from Bush on a range of issues -- for example, port security, immigration, spending, warrantless eavesdropping and trade.


Why do bloggers blog?

Frank Ahrens recently had an interesting article in the Washington Post quoting bloggers on the reasons behind their daily words.

"Last week, I asked: "Why do you blog?"

"I want to know why they blog. What drives them to live out loud on the Web? I had heard the standard blah-de-blah about "community" and "self-expression," but I was hoping that bloggers, who spend a lot of time and bytes thinking and writing about themselves, could lay some real introspection on me.

"They did. I got more than 70 e-mail replies from such far-flung locations as Japan, Australia, Finland and Spain.

"Some bloggers do it as part of their business "Internet strategy"; some blog to flack books and other products. Others flout niche issues, such as the "fiber arts," "calorie restriction" and the apparently alarming demise of fire-fighting aircraft. (Who knew?) Other enthusiasts blog to report on activities, such as opera and local politics, they think are undercovered by the mainstream media. Some chronicle their disabilities; others blog to stay in touch with friends and family."

For some interesting individual perspectives, see the Washington Post.


Video shows Bush clearly warned before Katrina struck

Newly released video footage clearly shows that Bush and his senior officials were clearly warned before hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, risk lives in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers. According to Associated Press, Bush didn't ask a single question during the final government-wide briefing the day before Katrina struck Aug. 29 but assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

Six days of footage and transcripts show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Linked by secure video, Bush's statement Aug. 29 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about . . . their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

AP states that some of the footage conflicts with the defences that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response.

It appears that Bush and Chertoff have engaged in a massive coverup of the fact that they were fully forewarned of the impending catastrophe and failed to take the necessary action to minimize the damage.

Will Harper defend Canada Health Act?

Ralph Klein can't resist thumbing his nose at the feds even when it's a Conservative PM. Klein’s Third Way released yesterday clearly violates the Canada Health Act and the federal government must intervene to protect public health care. During the recent campaign Harper made a clear commitment to uphold the Canada Health Act.

Klein's proposals would violate the Canada Health Act by allowing:

-Wealthier patients to “jump the queue” and pay for private health care services.
-The option to buy private health insurance for publicly insured services.
-Doctors to operate in both the public and private systems.
-The delivery of public services through private for-profit facilities.
-“Non-government investment sources” - which could mean opening health care up to foreign investors and companies.

The Canada Health Act prohibits extra billing or user fees and requires that all health care services be delivered “on uniform terms and conditions” to residents.

Harper has said previously that there would be “no private parallel system” under his mandate. Will he take on Klein and "stand up" for Canada’s public health care system? Tony Clement's comments so far sound like mush.