Be your own personal privacy czar

19/11/2007 — 0 comment(s)
Be your own personal privacy czar
Facebook name reflected in human eye, Getty
Some campaigners worry about using social sites such as Facebook

Regular columnist Bill Thompson wonders if it is time to create web services that can be trusted.

Like most journalists I know I'm very sloppy about keeping my online communications secure.

I rarely encrypt e-mail messages, leaving them to be read by anyone in the electronic chain between me and the intended recipient.

And I use public chat services like MSN Messenger and iChat, even though they send messages as plain text across the network.

Partly this is because the tools needed to make communications secure can be cumbersome and complicated, even for someone with a technical background.

But partly it is because I have not often been involved in researching stories that are going to bring me to the attention of those with the capabilities needed to tap even insecure online communications.

But you never know.

Each year I tell my students on the online journalism course at City University that they should take care to protect their files and e-mail.

And I point out that once someone e-mails them from a work address then that person can never be guaranteed anonymity in future, simply because it is so easy for employers or the police to get access to e-mail traffic records.

They may not know what was said, as reading the contents of e-mail requires permission under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, but they can find out that messages were exchanged.

Bill Thompson
But using commercial services for campaigning or organising raises the same sorts of issues as we see with Hushmail, because the interests of the owners are not the same as those of the users.
Bill Thompson
In the past I've suggested that they get an account with Hushmail, the Canadian company that offers secure encrypted e-mail for its customers.

But after revelations that Hushmail has passed on details of supposedly secure e-mails to the Canadian police I think I'll stop.

I like Hushmail because it works in your web browser. When you sign in it downloads an application written in the Java programming language, and this encrypts and decrypts your message using your secret keys.

Hushmail never sees your e-mail, and so it can't hand it over to the authorities even if they come with a warrant.

But the company also offers an easier to use service which does the hard work on its server rather than your computer. And when it does that it has to have access to your original message, at least briefly.

So when the Canadian police asked it for copies of e-mail sent and received by someone suspected of the illegal manufacture and distribution of anabolic steroids it could not deny that it could read them.

The company has been open about what happened, although it does not seem to have got around to mentioning it on its website yet.

But being open isn't good enough, as the issue has highlighted a fundamental flaw in its security model, one that it will be all but impossible to get around.

Even its more secure service could be undermined if the company agreed to add a 'backdoor' to its code at the authorities' request.

The problem is that Hushmail, like other companies that store and process personal information, is bound by the laws of the country in which it is based and sometimes those laws will require it to betray the confidence of its customers.

A newspaper editor in the UK has to decide whether to go to court or hand over leaked documents; a manager at an net service firm has to decide whether to allow the police to access e-mail logs; and someone running a secure e-mail company has to decide whether the privacy of a suspected drug dealer is worth a jail sentence.

Usually they do what is asked, and often they are not even allowed to tell users what they have done because of gagging orders.

Computer keyboard, Eyewire
It can be hard to keep your messages secret, warns Bill
The issue goes much wider than trying to decide who to trust with confidential or possibly incriminating data. It also has an impact on the tools we use to contact our friends or organise activities.

The National Union of Journalists is currently having an occasionally fractious internal discussion about the impact of new media on the profession, and the use of social network sites has been raised several times.

Some of the participants are simply opposed to these new-fangled technologies, a position that I have little sympathy with.

I remember meeting Tony Benn, former MP and lifelong campaigner for socialism, and being pleasantly surprised at his enthusiasm for YouTube and the ways it could be used to amplify a political message.

But using commercial services for campaigning or organising raises the same sorts of issues as we see with Hushmail, because the interests of the owners are not the same as those of the users.

Trade union activist and online campaigner Eric Lee put it succinctly in a recent blog post when he noted that 'Facebook is a poor replacement for a real online campaigning strategy for unions. And it makes us vulnerable to the whims of those who own the company'.

Hushmail seems to offer a good service, but its 'simple' service offers little real security when it matters. Far better to install your own encryption software, like the freely available GnuPG, and take responsibility for your own security.

And Facebook may make it easy to set up a group, but it will never be as good as having your own server, your own code and your own security mechanisms in place. Organise a group on Facebook and it belongs to them; organise it on your own server and it belongs to you.

Of course doing this takes time, costs money and requires expertise that many campaigners simply do not possess. Perhaps the time is right for a co-operative social network site, one owned by its members and run in their interests.

It might never be worth $15 billion, but it could make the world a better place.
Source :: BBC

Life after Oil

By Michael T. Klare
The information Clearing House

11/18/07 "
The Nation" --- - This past May, in an unheralded and almost unnoticed move, the Energy Department signaled a fundamental, near epochal shift in US and indeed world history: we are nearing the end of the Petroleum Age and have entered the Age of Insufficiency. The department stopped talking about "oil" in its projections of future petroleum availability and began speaking of "liquids." The global output of "liquids," the department indicated, would rise from 84 million barrels of oil equivalent (mboe) per day in 2005 to a projected 117.7 mboe in 2030 -- barely enough to satisfy anticipated world demand of 117.6 mboe. Aside from suggesting the degree to which oil companies have ceased being mere suppliers of petroleum and are now purveyors of a wide variety of liquid products -- including synthetic fuels derived from natural gas, corn, coal and other substances -- this change hints at something more fundamental: we have entered a new era of intensified energy competition and growing reliance on the use of force to protect overseas sources of petroleum.

To appreciate the nature of the change, it is useful to probe a bit deeper into the Energy Department's curious terminology. "Liquids," the department explains in its International Energy Outlook for 2007, encompasses "conventional" petroleum as well as "unconventional" liquids -- notably tar sands (bitumen), oil shale, biofuels, coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids. Once a relatively insignificant component of the energy business, these fuels have come to assume much greater importance as the output of conventional petroleum has faltered. Indeed, the Energy Department projects that unconventional liquids production will jump from a mere 2.4 mboe per day in 2005 to 10.5 in 2030, a fourfold increase. But the real story is not the impressive growth in unconventional fuels but the stagnation in conventional oil output. Looked at from this perspective, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the switch from "oil" to "liquids" in the department's terminology is a not so subtle attempt to disguise the fact that worldwide oil production is at or near its peak capacity and that we can soon expect a downturn in the global availability of conventional petroleum.

Petroleum is, of course, a finite substance, and geologists have long warned of its ultimate disappearance. The extraction of oil, like that of other nonrenewable resources, will follow a parabolic curve over time. Production rises quickly at first and then gradually slows until approximately half the original supply has been exhausted; at that point, a peak in sustainable output is attained and production begins an irreversible decline until it becomes too expensive to lift what little remains. Most oil geologists believe we have already reached the midway point in the depletion of the world's original petroleum inheritance and so are nearing a peak in global output; the only real debate is over how close we have come to that point, with some experts claiming we are at the peak now and others saying it is still a few years or maybe a decade away.

Until very recently, Energy Department analysts were firmly in the camp of those wild-eyed optimists who claimed that peak oil was so far in the future that we didn't really need to give it much thought. Putting aside the science of the matter, the promulgation of such a rose-colored view obviated any need to advocate improvements in automobile fuel efficiency or to accelerate progress on the development of alternative fuels. Given White House priorities, it is hardly surprising that this view prevailed in Washington.

In just the past six months, however, the signs of an imminent peak in conventional oil production have become impossible even for conservative industry analysts to ignore. These have come from the take-no-prisoners world of oil pricing and deal-making, on the one hand, and the analysis of international energy experts, on the other.

Most dramatic, perhaps, has been the spectacular rise in oil prices. The price of light, sweet crude crossed the longstanding psychological barrier of $80 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange for the first time in September, and has since risen to as high as $90. Many reasons have been cited for the rise in crude prices, including unrest in Nigeria's oil-producing Delta region, pipeline sabotage in Mexico, increased hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico and fears of Turkish attacks on Kurdish guerrilla sanctuaries in Iraq. But the underlying reality is that most oil-producing countries are pumping at maximum capacity and finding it increasingly difficult to boost production in the face of rising international demand.

Even a decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to boost production by 500,000 barrels per day failed to halt the upward momentum in prices. Concerned that an excessive rise in oil costs would trigger a worldwide recession and lower demand for their products, the OPEC countries agreed to increase their combined output at a meeting in Vienna on September 11. "We think that the market is a little bit high," explained Kuwait's acting oil minister, Mohammad al-Olaim. But the move did little to slow the rise in prices. Clearly, OPEC would have to undertake a much larger production increase to alter the market environment, and it is not at all clear that its members possess the capacity to do that -- now or in the future.

A warning sign of another sort was provided by Kazakhstan's August decision to suspend development of the giant Kashagan oil region in its sector of the Caspian Sea, first initiated by a consortium of Western firms in the late '90s. Kashagan was said to be the most promising oil project since the discovery of oil in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay in the late '60s. But the enterprise has encountered enormous technical problems and has yet to produce a barrel of oil. Frustrated by a failure to see any economic benefits from the project, the Kazakh government has cited environmental risks and cost overruns to justify suspending operations and demanding a greater say in the project.

Like the dramatic rise in oil prices, the Kashagan episode is an indication of the oil industry's growing difficulties in its efforts to boost production in the face of rising demand. "All the oil companies are struggling to grow production," Peter Hitchens of Teather & Greenwood brokerage told the Wall Street Journal in July. "It's becoming more and more difficult to bring projects in on time and on budget."

That this industry debilitation is not a temporary problem but symptomatic of a long-term trend was confirmed in two important studies published this past summer by conservative industry organizations.

The first of these was released July 9 by the International Energy Agency (IEA), an affiliate of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the club of major industrial powers. Titled Medium-Term Oil Market Report, it is a blunt assessment of the global supply-and-demand equation over the 2007-12 period. The news is not good.

Predicting that world economic activity will grow by an average of 4.5 percent per year during this period -- much of it driven by unbridled growth in China, India and the Middle East -- the report concludes that global oil demand will rise by 2.2 percent per year, pushing world oil consumption from approximately 86 million barrels per day in 2007 to 96 million in 2012. With luck and massive new investment, the oil industry will be able to increase output sufficiently to satisfy the higher level of demand anticipated for 2012 -- barely. Beyond that, however, there appears little likelihood that the industry will be able to sustain any increase in demand. "Oil look[s] extremely tight in five years' time," the agency declared.

Underlying the report's general conclusion are a number of specific concerns. Most notably, it points to a worrisome decline in the yield of older fields in non-OPEC countries and a corresponding need for increased output from the OPEC countries, most of which are located in conflict-prone areas of the Middle East and Africa. The numbers involved are staggering. At first blush, it would seem that the need for an extra 10 million barrels per day between now and 2012 would translate into an added 2 million barrels per day in each of the next five years -- a conceivably attainable goal. But that doesn't take into account the decline of older fields. According to the report, the world actually needs an extra 5 million: 3 million to make up for the decline in older fields plus the 2 million in added requirements. This is a daunting and possibly insurmountable challenge, especially when one considers that almost all of the additional petroleum will have to come from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, Kazakhstan and Venezuela -- countries that do not inspire the sort of investor confidence that will be needed to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into new drilling rigs, pipelines and other essential infrastructure.

Similar causes for anxiety can be found in the second major study released last summer, Facing the Hard Truths About Energy, prepared by the National Petroleum Council, a major industry organization. Because it supposedly provided a "balanced" view of the nation's energy dilemma, the NPC report was widely praised on Capitol Hill and in the media; adding to its luster was the identity of its chief author, former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond.

Like the IEA report, the NPC study starts with the claim that, with the right mix of policies and higher investment, the industry is capable of satisfying US and international oil and natural gas demand. "Fortunately, the world is not running out of energy resources," the report bravely asserts. But obstacles to the development and delivery of these resources abound, so prudent policies and practices are urgently required. Although "there is no single, easy solution to the multiple challenges we face," the authors conclude, they are "confident that the prompt adoption of these strategies" will allow the United States to satisfy its long-term energy needs.

Read further into the report, however, and serious doubts emerge. Here again, worries arise from the growing difficulties of extracting oil and gas from less-favorable locations and the geopolitical risks associated with increased reliance on unfriendly and unstable suppliers. According to the NPC (using data acquired from the IEA), an estimated $20 trillion in new infrastructure will be needed over the next twenty-five years to ensure that sufficient energy is available to satisfy anticipated worldwide demand.

The report then states the obvious: "A stable and attractive investment climate will be necessary to attract adequate capital for evolution and expansion of the energy infrastructure." This is where any astute observer should begin to get truly alarmed, for, as the study notes, no such climate can be expected. As the center of gravity of world oil production shifts decisively to OPEC suppliers and state-centric energy producers like Russia, geopolitical rather than market factors will come to dominate the marketplace.

"These shifts pose profound implications for U.S. interests, strategies, and policy-making," the NPC report states. "Many of the expected changes could heighten risks to U.S. energy security in a world where U.S. influence is likely to decline as economic power shifts to other nations. In years to come, security threats to the world's main sources of oil and natural gas may worsen."

The implications are obvious: major investors are not likely to cough up the trillions of dollars needed to substantially boost production in the years ahead, suggesting that the global output of conventional petroleum will not reach the elevated levels predicted by the Energy Department but will soon begin an irreversible decline.

This conclusion leads to two obvious strategic impulses: first, the government will seek to ease the qualms of major energy investors by promising to protect their overseas investments through the deployment of American military forces; and second, the industry will seek to hedge its bets by shifting an ever-increasing share of its investment funds into the development of nonpetroleum liquids.

The New 'Washington Consensus'

The need for a vigorous US military role in protecting energy assets abroad has been a major theme in American foreign policy since 1945, when President Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and promised to protect the kingdom in return for privileged access to Saudi oil.

In the most famous expression of this linkage, President Carter affirmed in January 1980 that the unimpeded flow of Persian Gulf oil is among this country's vital interests and that to protect this interest, the United States will employ "any means necessary, including military force." This principle was later cited by President Reagan as the rationale for "reflagging" Kuwaiti oil tankers with the American ensign during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 and protecting them with US warships -- a stance that led to sporadic clashes with Iran. The same principle was subsequently invoked by George H.W. Bush as a justification for the Gulf War of 1991.

In considering these past events, it is important to recognize that the use of military force to protect the flow of imported petroleum has generally enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Washington. Initially, this bipartisan outlook was largely focused on the Persian Gulf area, but since 1990, it has been extended to other areas as well. President Clinton eagerly pursued close military ties with the Caspian Sea oil states of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan after the breakup of the USSR in 1991, while George W. Bush has avidly sought an increased US military presence in Africa's oil-producing regions, going so far as to favor the establishment of a US Africa Command (Africom) in February.

One might imagine that the current debacle in Iraq would shake this consensus, but there is no evidence that this is so. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case: possibly fearful that the chaos in Iraq will spread to other countries in the Gulf region, senior figures in both parties are calling for a reinvigorated US military role in the protection of foreign energy deliveries.

Perhaps the most explicit expression of this elite consensus is an independent task force report, National Security Consequences of U.S. Oil Dependency, backed by many prominent Democrats and Republicans. It was released by the bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), co-chaired by John Deutch, deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton Administration, and James Schlesinger, defense secretary in the Nixon and Ford administrations, in October 2006. The report warns of mounting perils to the safe flow of foreign oil. Concluding that the United States alone has the capacity to protect the global oil trade against the threat of violent obstruction, it argues the need for a strong US military presence in key producing areas and in the sea lanes that carry foreign oil to American shores.

An awareness of this new "Washington consensus" on the need to protect overseas oil supplies with American troops helps explain many recent developments in Washington. Most significant, it illuminates the strategic stance adopted by President Bush in justifying his determination to retain a potent US force in Iraq -- and why the Democrats have found it so difficult to contest that stance.

Consider Bush's September 13 prime-time speech on Iraq. "If we were to be driven out of Iraq," he prophesied, "extremists of all strains would be emboldened.... Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region. Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply." And then came the kicker: "Whatever political party you belong to, whatever your position on Iraq, we should be able to agree that America has a vital interest in preventing chaos and providing hope in the Middle East." In other words, Iraq is no longer about democracy or WMDs or terrorism but about maintaining regional stability to ensure the safe flow of petroleum and keep the American economy on an even keel; it was almost as if he was speaking to the bipartisan crowd that backed the CFR report cited above.

It is very clear that the Democrats, or at least mainstream Democrats, are finding it exceedingly difficult to contest this argument head-on. In March, for example, Senator Hillary Clinton told the New York Times that Iraq is "right in the heart of the oil region" and so "it is directly in opposition to our interests" for it to become a failed state or a pawn of Iran. This means, she continued, that it will be necessary to keep some US troops in Iraq indefinitely, to provide logistical and training support to the Iraqi military. Senator Barack Obama has also spoken of the need to maintain a robust US military presence in Iraq and the surrounding area. Thus, while calling for the withdrawal of most US combat brigades from Iraq proper, he has championed an "over-the-horizon force that could prevent chaos in the wider region."

Given this perspective, it is very hard for mainstream Democrats to challenge Bush when he says that an "enduring" US military presence is needed in Iraq or to change the Administration's current policy, barring a major military setback or some other unforeseen event. By the same token, it will be hard for the Democrats to avert a US attack on Iran if this can be portrayed as a necessary move to prevent Tehran from threatening the long-term safety of Persian Gulf oil supplies.

Nor can we anticipate a dramatic change in US policy in the Gulf region from the next administration, whether Democratic or Republican. If anything, we should expect an increase in the use of military force to protect the overseas flow of oil, as the threat level rises along with the need for new investment to avert even further reductions in global supplies.

The Rush to Alternative Liquids

Although determined to keep expanding the supply of conventional petroleum for as long as possible, government and industry officials are aware that at some point these efforts will prove increasingly ineffective. They also know that public pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions -- thus slowing the accumulation of climate-changing greenhouse gases -- and to avoid exposure to conflict in the Middle East is sure to increase in the years ahead. Accordingly, they are placing greater emphasis on the development of oil alternatives that can be procured at home or in neighboring Canada.

The new emphasis was first given national attention in Bush's latest State of the Union address. Stressing energy independence and the need to modernize fuel economy standards, he announced an ambitious plan to increase domestic production of ethanol and other biofuels. The Administration appears to favor several types of petroleum alternatives: ethanol derived from corn stover, switch grass and other nonfood crops (cellulosic ethanol); diesel derived largely from soybeans (biodiesel); and liquids derived from coal (coal-to-liquids), natural gas (gas-to-liquids) and oil shale. All of these methods are being tested in university laboratories and small-scale facilities, and will be applied in larger, commercial-sized ventures in coming years with support from various government agencies.

In February, for example, the Energy Department announced grants totaling $385 million for the construction of six pilot plants to manufacture cellulosic ethanol; when completed in 2012, these "biorefineries" will produce more than 130 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. (The United States already produces large quantities of ethanol by cooking and fermenting corn kernels, a process that consumes vast amounts of energy and squanders a valuable food crop while supplanting only a small share of our petroleum usage; the proposed cellulosic plants would use nonfood biomass as a feedstock and consume far less energy.)

Just as eager to develop petroleum alternatives are the large energy companies, all of which have set up laboratories or divisions to explore future energy options. BP has been especially aggressive; in 2005 it established BP Alternative Energy and set aside $8 billion for this purpose. This past February the new spinoff announced a $500 million grant -- possibly the largest of its kind in history -- to the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Illinois and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to establish an Energy Biosciences Institute with the aim of developing biofuels. BP said the institute "is expected to explore the application of bioscience [to] the production of new and cleaner energy, principally fuels for road transport."

Just about every large oil company is placing a heavy bet on Canadian tar sands -- a gooey substance found in Canada's Alberta province that can be converted into synthetic petroleum -- but only with enormous effort and expense. According to the Energy Department, Canadian bitumen production will rise from 1.1 mboe in 2005 to 3.6 mboe in 2030, an increase that is largely expected to be routed to the United States. Hoping to cash in on this bonanza, giant US corporations like Chevron are racing to buy up leases in the bitumen fields of northern Alberta.

But while attractive from a geopolitical perspective, extracting Canadian tar sands is environmentally destructive. It takes vast quantities of energy to recover the bitumen and convert it into a usable liquid, releasing three times as much greenhouse gases as conventional oil production; the resulting process leaves toxic water supplies and empty moonscapes in its wake. Although rarely covered in the US press, opposition in Canada to the environmental damage wreaked by these mammoth operations is growing.

Environmental factors loom large in yet another potential source of liquids being pursued by US energy firms, with strong government support: shale oil, or petroleum liquids pried from immature rock found in the Green River basin of western Colorado, eastern Utah and southern Wyoming. Government geologists claim that shale rock in the United States holds the equivalent of 2.1 trillion barrels of oil -- the same as the original world supply of conventional petroleum. However, the only way to recover this alleged treasure is to strip-mine a vast wilderness area and heat the rock to 500 degrees Celsius, creating mountains of waste material in the process. Here too, opposition is growing to this massively destructive assault on the environment. Nevertheless, Shell Oil has established a pilot plant in Rio Blanco County in western Colorado with strong support from the Bush Administration.

Life After the Peak

And so we have a portrait of the global energy situation after the peak of conventional petroleum, with troops being rushed from one oil-producing hot spot to another and a growing share of our transportation fuel being supplied by nonpetroleum liquids of one sort or another. Exactly what form this future energy equation will take cannot be foreseen with precision, but it is obvious that the arduous process will shape American policy debates, domestic and foreign, for a long time.

As this brief assessment suggests, the passing of peak oil will have profound and lasting consequences for this country, with no easy solutions. In facing this future, we must, above all, disavow any simple answers, such as energy "independence" based on the pillage of America's remaining wilderness areas or the false promise of corn-based ethanol (which can supply only a tiny fraction of our transportation requirements). It is clear, moreover, that many of the fuel alternatives proposed by the Bush Administration pose significant dangers of their own and so should be examined carefully before vast public sums are committed to their development. The safest and most morally defensible course is to repudiate any "consensus" calling for the use of force to protect overseas petroleum supplies and to strive to conserve what remains of the world's oil by using less of it.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and the author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency

Media Workers Against the War at Alternative Conference

13/11/2007 — 0 comment(s)

John Pilger on Iraq and Terrorism

A closer look at torture

05/11/2007 — 0 comment(s)

There isn't much difference between the Bush administration's interrogation policy and the techniques used by the Khmer Rouge.

October 2, 2006 6:05 PM

A few days ago, I was talking to a Senate aide about Afghanistan and the lack of a coherent US policy regarding the rising troubles there. Toward the end of the conversation, this aide, Jonah Blank (who is also an anthropologist), mentioned as an aside that he had photographs of an actual waterboard.

For those of you not paying attention to the debate in the United States over suitable practices for interrogating a terrorism suspect, waterboarding has been a central example of what critics of the Bush administration's policy oppose. Last week, as members of Congress considered legislation favoured by the White House that would govern (to a limited degree) how suspects are interrogated and how evidence obtained during brutal interrogations (or some might call torture sessions) could be used against suspects in military tribunals, there was much talk about the practice of waterboarding. But waterboarding was usually described in the media in a matter-of-fact manner. The Washington Post simply referred to waterboarding recently as an interrogation measure that "simulates drowning". That is, few people knew what waterboarding entails or looks like - myself included.

So when Blank offered me copies of his photos of a waterboard and of a painting depicting a waterboarding session, I quickly accepted. When I received them, I asked if I could post the images on my blog. Blank gave me permission. Inside a day, my blog - a modest operation - received nearly 80,000 visitors, and other sites ran the photos as well. They were a mini-sensation. One expert on torture told me that there are few images of waterboarding in the public domain and that Blank had done a tremendous public service.

Blank, a former senior editor of US News & World Report and the author of the books Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God and Mullahs on the Mainframe, took the photos last month at Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The prison is now a museum that documents Khmer Rouge atrocities. And the shots show one of the waterboards that had been used by the Khmer Rouge. Here's the first:


Here's another view:


How did they work? Here's a painting by a former prisoner that shows the waterboard in action:


In an email to me, Blank explained the significance of the photos. (His observations are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of any of the senators for whom he works.) He wrote:

The crux of the issue before Congress can be boiled down to a simple question: Is waterboarding torture? Anybody who considers this practice to be "torture lite" or merely a "tough technique" might want to take a trip to Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge were adept at torture, and there was nothing "lite" about their methods. Incidentally, the waterboard in these photos wasn't merely one among many torture devices highlighted at the prison museum. It was one of only two devices singled out for highlighting (the other was another form of water-torture - a tank that could be filled with water or other liquids; I have photos of that too.) There was an outdoor device as well, one the Khmer Rouge didn't have to construct: chin-up bars. (The prison where the museum is located had been a school before the Khmer Rouge took over.) These bars were used for "stress positions" - another practice employed under current US guidelines. At the Khmer Rouge prison, there is a tank of water next to the bars. It was used to revive prisoners for more torture when they passed out after being placed in stress positions.

The similarity between practices used by the Khmer Rouge and those currently being debated by Congress isn't a coincidence. As has been amply documented (The New Yorker had an excellent piece, and there have been others), many of the "enhanced techniques" came to the CIA and military interrogators via the SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape] schools, where US military personnel are trained to resist torture if they are captured by the enemy. The specific types of abuse they're taught to withstand are those that were used by our Cold War adversaries. Why is this relevant to the current debate? Because the torture techniques of North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and its proxies - the states where US military personnel might have faced torture - were not designed to elicit truthful information. These techniques were designed to elicit confessions. That's what the Khmer Rouge et al were after with their waterboarding, not truthful information.

The bottom line is: Not only do waterboarding and the other types of torture currently being debated put us in company with the most vile regimes of the past half-century; they're also designed specifically to generate a (usually false) confession, not to obtain genuinely actionable intel. This isn't a matter of sacrificing moral values to keep us safe; it's sacrificing moral values for no purpose whatsoever.

These photos are important because most of us have never seen an actual, real-life waterboard. The press typically describes it in the most anodyne ways: a device meant to "simulate drowning" or to "make the prisoner believe he might drown." But the Khmer Rouge were no jokesters, and they didn't tailor their abuse to the dictates of the Geneva convention. They - like so many brutal regimes - made waterboarding one of their primary tools for a simple reason: it is one of the most viciously effective forms of torture ever devised.

The photos, of course, made no difference. The Republican-controlled Congress passed Bush's detainee legislation. The act explicitly permits the use of evidence obtained through waterboarding and other forms of torture. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and other top al-Qaida leaders have reportedly been subjected to this technique. They might certainly note - or try to note - that at any trial. But with this legislation, the White House has declared the use of waterboarding (at least in the past) as a legitimate practice of the US government - which puts the Bush administration in the good company of the Khmer Rouge

source :: Guardian

Pakistan President Musharraf leaves White House in lurch

The Bush administration's plan to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of Bush's promotion of democracy in the Muslim world fell apart spectacularly.

by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Helene Cooper
(NY Times)

WASHINGTON — For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world.

On Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly. Now the White House is stuck in wait-and-see mode, with limited options and a lack of clarity about the way forward.

General Musharraf’s move to seize emergency powers and abandon the Constitution left Bush administration officials close to their nightmare: an American-backed military dictator who is risking civil instability in a country with nuclear weapons and an increasingly alienated public.

Mr. Bush entered a delicate dance with Pakistan immediately after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when General Musharraf pledged his cooperation in the fight against Al Qaeda, whose top leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding out in the mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The United States has given Pakistan more than $10 billion in aid, mostly to the military, since 2001. Now, if the state of emergency drags on, the administration will be faced with the difficult decision of whether to cut off that aid and risk undermining Pakistan’s efforts to pursue terrorists — a move the White House believes could endanger the security of the United States.

Adm. William J. Fallon, the senior American military commander in the Middle East, told General Musharraf and his top generals in Islamabad on Friday that he would put that aid at risk if he seized emergency powers.

But after the declaration on Saturday, there was no immediate action by the administration to accompany the tough talk, as officials monitored developments in Pakistan. Inside the White House the hope is that the state of emergency will be short-lived and that General Musharraf will fulfill his promise to abandon his post as Army chief of staff and hold elections by Jan. 15.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling in the Middle East, called Mr. Musharraf’s move “highly regrettable,” while her spokesman, Sean D. McCormack, said the United States was “deeply disturbed.”

Teresita Schaffer, an expert on Pakistan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, called General Musharraf’s action “a big embarrassment” for the administration. But she said there was not much the United States could do.

“There’s going to be a lot of visible wringing of hands, and urging Musharraf to declare his intentions,” she said. “But I don’t really see any alternative to continuing to work with him. They can’t just decide they’re going to blow off the whole country of Pakistan, because it sits right next to Afghanistan, where there are some 26,000 U.S. and NATO troops.”

The hand-wringing began even before General Musharraf imposed military rule. Ms. Rice said she has had several conversations with General Musharraf in the past few weeks — the last one two days ago — in which she appealed to him not to declare emergency powers. The American ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, had also been exhorting General Musharraf and his top deputies against making that step, Ms. Rice said.

“We were clear that we did not support it,” Ms. Rice said, speaking to reporters aboard a flight from Istanbul to Israel, where she is traveling for regional talks. “We were clear that we didn’t support it because it would take Pakistan away from the path of democratic rule.”

But even as she criticized General Musharraf’s power grab, Ms. Rice stopped short of outright condemnation of General Musharraf himself, even going so far as to credit him for doing “a lot” — in the past — toward preparing Pakistan for what she called a “path to democratic rule.”

That seeming contradiction highlights the quandary in which the Bush administration now finds itself.

There has long been a deep fear within the administration, particularly among intelligence officials, that an imperfect General Musharraf is better for American interests than an unknown in a volatile country that is central to the administration’s fight against terrorism. In recent months the White House had been hoping that a power-sharing alliance between General Musharraf and Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, would help the general cling to power while putting a democratic face on his regime.

Now, experts predict that the United States will be watching Pakistan closely in the coming days to see how hard General Musharraf cracks down on his opponents — and whether opposition political leaders, journalists and scholars are imprisoned. Much of the attention will be on Ms. Bhutto, who strongly condemned the emergency declaration and quickly cut short a visit to Dubai to return to Pakistan during the crisis.

Officials will be watching to see whether Pakistan’s fractured opposition, including Ms. Bhutto and her political party can unite and pose a serious challenge to General Musharraf. They will also be watching the reaction of the military, which has been demoralized by a spate of suicide bombings against military targets.

Whatever happens, experts say that General Musharraf’s decision was not good news for the Bush administration Even if Pakistan does get back on the path to democracy, Saturday’s action will likely tarnish the Pakistani leader, as well as the legitimacy of any election organized by his government.

Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the current situation could easily plunge Pakistan into chaos, leading to an increase in violence by Islamic fundamentalists or provoking demonstrations by opposition political parties.

“You could have chaos in the street, or a situation where it would be suicidal for Bhutto to try to participate in the process,” he said, adding, “Either of those scenarios puts the U.S. in a very difficult position.”

Ginger Thompson contributed reporting.

Don’t Let Musharraf Live With What He Has Just Done

By Abid Ullah Jan

04 November, 2007

The situation in Pakistan has been tense for months for a number of reasons: the illegal steps by General Musharraf to grant amnesty to Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan despite charges of corruption, the decreasing popularity of the military regime, fall of Pakistan’s mercenary forces in the eyes of general public, bloody adventures in Waziristan and lately in Swat in a bid to curry favours with Washington and the battle with Pakistan's judiciary are just some of the headaches that the South Asian country were facing.

On Saturday, those complications came to a head as dictator Musharraf announced that he'd be imposing martial law. Pakistani television and Reuters are reporting that the constitution has been suspended. The move was rejected by members of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Mr. Chaudhry has had a long history of opposing Mr. Musharraf.

The military regime has now removed Mr. Chaudhry and appointed Mr. Dogar as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. In the PCO, the military regime has specifically accused the Supreme Court of becoming a hurdle in the way of the war on terror. These allegations is the only way, it can sell martial law to the outside world. Dr. Shahid Iqbal reported on Geo TV that officials of the military government were already visiting and meeting officials of the Western embassies, telling them that the Supreme Court is undermining the regime's efforts in the "war on terror." It is important to note that just last week the Supreme Court told the military regime to release all the illegally detained persons by the 13th of November 2007.

This shows that the US-led war of terror needs the Supreme Court to submit to the will of a dictatorial regime and let the intelligence agencies detain and torture their fellow citizen’s indefinitely without charging them.

The Musharraf’s declaration of emergency also coincides with the US military exercises in the Gulf and Condoleezza Rice visit to China. May be the US could not afford a civilian government setting in Pakistan when it goes to war on Iran.

So, the imposition of emergency in Pakistan is directed at the Supreme Court in particular and serving the US interests in the region in general.

In his speech to the nation, Musharraf tried to lump judiciary with “extremism” in the country, as if the Supreme Court was responsible for all that was happening in the country. He alleged that the Supreme Court released 61 terrorists. It is interesting that he is lumping these two, totally separate issues together. As far the Supreme Court’s decisions are concerned, the court asked the government if it had any case against people who were detained for the past many years. The regime responded that it has no charges. So the Court had no option for to order them released. Other than that, the court had yet to decide about the fate of the General but an insider informed him that the decision is going to be against his “re-election,” which forced the General into taking this rash decision of teaching the judges a lesson in submission.

In short the dictators told a new round of lies to the nation and expect everyone to accept arrest of the judges, top lawyers, political leaders, dismissal of the superior judges, removal of the Supreme Court Registrar, taking TV channels off air, ransacking Aaaj TV station and confiscating broadcasting equipment – all in the name of democracy through General Pervez Musharraf.

All criticism of Musharraf’s declaring an emergency in the Western circles will be utterly meaningless if Musharraf is left to live with the changes he has made under the cover of emergency declared on Nov 3, 2007.

His removal of the judges of the Supreme Court in particular need not be ignored at any cost. This is what he wanted to avoid a legal decision on his illegitimate and unconstitutional act of "electing" himself to the position of president.

Musharraf might get away with it by holding elections and allowing new assemblies to take oath, removing his uniform and lifting the emergency. However, in the process the Supreme Court judges would be gone, who were going to decide if his actions were constitutional thus far and if he was eligible to rule for another five years. The criminal acts undertaken under the cover of emergency rule must not be considered legitimate.

The Court had already declared the imposition of recent emergency void. It had decided to further discuss it on Monday November the 5th. One dictator must not be allowed to single headedly go against the superior court of the country and toss around the judges and registrar like toys. Pakistan is not his personal property that he should play around with its institutions like this. This abuse of power must not be accepted.

Abid Ullah Jan is the author of seven books on international affairs, including: “The Ultimate Tragedy: Colonialists Rushing to Global War to Save the Crumbling Empire,”“Afghansitan: The Genesis of the Final Crusade,”“The Musharraf Factor: Leading Pakistan to its inevitable demise,”“From BCCI to ISI: The Saga of Entrapment Continues” and “After Fascism: Muslims and the Struggle for Self-Determination.”