Friday, September 28, 2007

War Watch: Iran

With all the fussing and feuding over the “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Visits Columbia University” sideshow earlier this week, the herd journalists of our national news media largely overlooked a Senate vote three days later that may well serve as a license for military action against Iran’s noxious president and his nation.

David Bromwich provides the background in “Hillary Clinton Votes for War Again,” available at The Huffington Post Web site.

The vote in question was on a revised version of a measure called the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which passed 76-22.

Bromwich focuses on two troublesome provisions.

The first states “that it should be the policy of the United States to stop inside Iraq the violent activities and destabilizing influence of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies.”

The inclusion of Hezbollah [Bromwich notes] deserves some notice. It is part of a larger attempt, already apparent in the Lebanon war of 2006, to manufacture an “amalgam” of all the enemies of Israel and the United States throughout the region, and to treat them all as one enemy. Those who believe in the amalgam will come to agree that many more wars by the United States and Israel are needed to crush this enemy.
The Kyl-Lieberman amendment’s second troublesome provision, according to Bromwich, is its designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

Now, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard is the largest branch of the Iranian military. By granting Vice President Cheney’s wish (a distant dream in 2005) to put the Iranian guard on the U.S. terrorist list, the Senate has classified the army of Iran as an army of terrorists. The president, therefore, as he follows out the Cheney plan has all the support he requires for asserting in his next speech to an army or veterans group that Iran is a nation of terrorists.
The group of senators who voted against the measure consists of 20 Democrats and 2 Republicans:

Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Dodd (D-CT)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Leahy (D-VT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Sanders (I-VT)
Tester (D-MT)
Webb (D-VA)
Wyden (D-OR)

Hagel (R-NE)
Lugar (R-IN)
It is worthwhile noting that two of the dissenting Democrats — Biden and Dodd — are currently seeking their party’s presidential nomination.

Of two other Democrats engaged in the same quest, Bromwich has some pointed observations.

On Barak Obama, who was absent from the Senate vote:

In a speech in Iowa on September 12, he addressed by anticipation the matter before the Senate in Kyl-Lieberman: “We hear eerie echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq in the way that the President and Vice President talk about Iran. They conflate Iran and al Qaeda. They issue veiled threats. They suggest that the time for diplomacy and pressure is running out when we haven’t even tried direct diplomacy. Well George Bush and Dick Cheney must hear — loud and clear — from the American people and the Congress: you don’t have our support, and you don’t have our authorization for another war.”
It is baffling that a man who spoke those words two weeks ago could not find the time or the resolve to cast his vote in a conspicuous test for authorizing war on Iran. This seems to be one more demonstration of Obama’s tendency never to take a step forward without a step to the side. As for his own message about Iran, it has not been “loud and clear,” but muffled, wavering, experimental.
And on Hillary Clinton:

With Hillary Clinton, we know where we stand. [On September 26] she voted to bring the country a serious step closer to war against Iran. And she did so for the same reason that she voted to authorize the war on Iraq. She thinks the next war is going to happen. She hopes the worst of its short-term effects on America will have died down before the election. She suspects the media and voters will show more trust for a candidate who supported than for one who opposed the war. She wants a ponderous establishment of American troops and super-bases to remain in the Middle East for years to come. If she wins the presidency, she will inherit the command of that army and those bases, and she believes she can manage their affairs more prudently than George W. Bush.

Hillary Clinton is consistent. Every move is calculated, her actual intentions are masked, but the total drift is easy to comprehend...
Barnett Axelrad

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Shtarker Envy

Norman Podhoretz’s latest book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, was published last week — on September 11, no less.

This blog posted a preview-review based on an article of his in Commentary magazine’s June issue. (See the entry, “Norman Podhoretz’s Big Sandy,” June 16.)

But hats off to Ian Buruma, whose review of the book in the September 27 issue of The New York Review of Books, nails what ails Podhoretz, the most over-the-top militarist since Air Force General Curtis “Bomb ’Em Back to the Stone Age” LeMay, of the good ol’ days of Vietnam and “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Podhoretz’s “Rosebud,” writes Buruma, is his now famous (infamous, to some) 1963 essay, “My Negro Problem — and Ours.”

Calling it an “articulate analysis of the obsession with power and violence,” Buruma notes:

The key to Podhoretz's politics seems to me to lie right there: the longing for power, for toughness, for the Shtarker who doesn't give a damn about anyone or anything, and hatred of the contemptible, cowardly liberals with their pandering ways and their double standards. Since Podhoretz, himself a bookish man, can never be a Shtarker, his government must fill that role, and not give a damn about anyone or anything. And not only the US government, but Israel too. Arik Sharon was a typical Shtarker, and thus much admired. Bibi Netanyahu tries hard to be a Shtarker. The US was enviably tough against the Nazis, and then against the Communists, and is now called to arms once more against the Islamofascists. Since Western Europe seems destined to be "conquered from within by Islamofascism," just as it had been once by Hitler's blitzkrieg, America must go it alone this time, with a little help from the Brits. As in "World War III" against the Soviet Empire, this World War IV against Islamofascism will be "a test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations." The words, quoted by Podhoretz, are George Kennan's, who regretted having said them, because they were interpreted as a call for military action, which is not what he had intended. Podhoretz uses them as though he had.
From there Buruma goes on to dismantle Podhoretz’s hosannas for “our great president,” George W. Bush, whom, he notes, Richard Perle and other neocons seem to have abandoned as an incompetent member of the warrior class — as well as Podhoretz’s McCarthyite smears of virtually anyone who does not share his view.

Even more valuable than his critique of Podhoretz — who by now is a stuck needle on a record blaring Sousa marches, 24/7 — is Buruma’s admonition of former liberal and leftist “tub-thumpers for Bush’s war,” such as Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman.

Podhoretz’s “judgments are those of a right-wing ideologue,” Buruma writes. “The fact that neoleftists share his judgments is, in my view, foolish. The fact that some of them do so in the name of liberalism betrays the very principles they claim to be defending.”

You can read Ian Buruma’s entire essay by clicking <here>.

Adam Simms
for JPF

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Let’s Play God

A federal appeals court ruled earlier this week that a jury foreman’s citations of biblical verses appearing to support capital punishment were not prejudicial in persuading the jury to sentence Stevie Lamar Fields to death.

The Los Angeles Timesreport, excerpted below, is fairly representative of general reporting about the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court’s 9-6 ruling:

Appeals court upholds death sentence
A juror's reciting Bible verses did not taint the verdict for Stevie Lamar Fields, a panel rules.
By Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 11, 2007

A federal appeals court Monday refused to overturn the death sentence of convicted murderer Stevie Lamar Fields, rejecting claims that the jury foreman had tainted penalty deliberations by reciting Bible verses, including "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth."

Fields was convicted in the 1978 rape, robbery and murder of Rosemary Carr Cobb, a USC student librarian. At the time, he was on parole for a manslaughter conviction.

During penalty deliberations, foreman Rodney White researched and recited for his fellow jurors several biblical passages, among them, "He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death."

Writing for the 9-6 majority, U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Pamela Ann Rymer said that the verses, as well as White's notes listing pros and cons of the death penalty -- including "deterrence" on the pro side and "human fallibility" on the con side -- were "notions of general currency that inform the moral judgment that capital-case jurors are called upon to make."

Rymer said that it clearly was permissible for White to cite the verses from memory. Consequently, she said, "it is difficult to see how sharing notes can be constitutionally infirm if sharing memory isn't."

She said the court did not have to reach the issue of juror misconduct on the foreman's actions. Even assuming White did something wrong, Rymer wrote, "we are persuaded that White's notes had no substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict."

Monday's ruling reverses one rendered seven years ago by U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian. Although he upheld Fields' conviction, Tevrizian set aside the death sentence, concluding that the jury's consideration of biblical references went against the principle that religion may not play a role in sentencing.

The jury had been deadlocked 7 to 5 in favor of sentencing Fields to life without possibility of parole. But after hearing the foreman, the panel voted unanimously to send Fields to the gas chamber.

It’s only when you dig a little deeper that you begin to wonder about the court majority’s benign view that the jury's foreman merely retailed “notions of general currency that inform the moral judgment that capital-case jurors are called upon to make.”

Anne Reed, a Milwaukee-based attorney, posted the jury foreman’s notes on Capital Defense Weekly's blog site. Here’s Reed’s take:

It’s the sentencing phase of Stevie Fields’s 1979 death penalty murder trial in California. The jury foreman’s name is Rodney White. After the first day of deliberations, White goes home, pulls out his Bible, and starts making notes. The next day, he shares with other jurors the handwritten”For” and “Against” list he has made. “For” death, that is, and against death. His notes list these pros:

• “placate gods”
• “eye for eye”
• “deterrence”
• “Fitting punishment to crime”
• “Rights of victim”
• “Duty of the state to protect citizens”
• “Biblical”
• “Genesis 9:6 ‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed,
for in the image of God made He man’ ”
• “Exodus 21:12 ‘He that smiteth a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to
death’ ”

• “Possibility of Repeated offenses”
• “Murder = a rejection of the values of society”
• “New Test”
• “Romans 13:1-5 ‘Let everyone be subject to the higher authorities, for there
no authority except from God, and those who exist have been
appointed by God.
Therefore, he who resists the authority, resists the
ordinance of God; and they that
resist bring on themselves condemnation
• ‘For rulers are a terror not to the good work but to the evil. Dost thou wish, then, not to fear the authority?
• ‘Do what is good and thou will have praise from it. For it is God[’s] minister to thee for good. But if thou dost what is evil, fear, for not without reason does it carry he sword. For it is God’s minister, an avenger to execute
wrath on him who does evil.
Wherefore you must needs be subject, not only
because of the wrath, but also for
conscience’s sake.’ ”
• “Luther, Calvin, Aquinas felt this to be supportive of capital punishment” and
• “Per Paul’s letter to Romans: State has power for two reasons — 1. Satisfy
[sic] of God’s service [and] 2. Protect society by deterring future

And these cons:

• “No real deterrent value—mostly because murderers not normal”
• “Question of ‘Just’—There is no simple, ‘just,’ penalty”
• “Discriminatory selection”
• “Human fallibility—Perhaps wrong chap convicted.”
• “Rehabilitation”
• “ ‘Popular’ feelings”

The first thing you’ll notice is that the “pro” list is a lot longer and more fully fleshed out.

The second point to note is that the only “authorities” cited specifically are biblical. If foreman Rodney White ever read a book of sociology, criminology or penology regarding rehabilitation, for example, he didn’t bother to cite the author or title. But he sure had his biblical citations at his fingertips.

The final item to note is that foreman White’s way of handling Scriptural text is almost certainly fundamentalist: What you read is exactly what it means as a prescription for how you are supposed to act. Thinking beyond the literal meaning of the text appears to have been foreign to Mr. White — and to the seven members of the jury who, after White’s presentation, switched their votes from sentencing Fields to life in prison without possibility of parole to death in California’s gas chamber.

White’s reading of the Bible is fundamentalist in another way: While he demonstrated multicultural sensitivity by including two citations from Hebrew Scripture — thus making his list “Judeo-Christian” — there is not an iota of recognition anywhere in those two citations that rabbinical thinking about imposing capital punishment is so hemmed in with caveats and limitations that the Talmud condemns as “a bloody court” a court that imposes a death sentence once in seventy years. (See this blog’s post of June 22, “Tzedek tzedek.”)

And we take note here as well that the Roman Catholic Church has a similarly long tradition of subjecting such biblical passages to further analysis, with the result that the Vatican and the American bishops consistently teach and speak out against capital punishment.

The jury deliberating Fields’ sentencing may have viewed foreman White’s citations as mere “notions of general currency,” as Judge Rymer noted. But those “notions” are especially narrow, their “generality” questionable, and they are certainly not theologically sophisticated or well informed.

Stevie Lamar Fields appears to have committed heinous crimes, of which a jury found him guilty. The justice of the way in which justice has been imposed upon him may still be considered open to question and doubt — at least beyond the walls of the Ninth Circuit Court’s chambers, and the those of the death chamber in California’s prison system.

Adam Simms

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where's the Rage?

. . . asks a blogger named Cliburn in a posting hosted by

An Iraq veteran currently serving in the US military, Clibrun has had second thoughts about returning to Iraq if his unit is called up again. And he’s considering applying for CO status.

His epiphany came during a recent weekend drill with his unit.

You can read his complete posting by clicking <here>.

Below are excerpts:

Where is the rage?

I had drill this weekend. Drill has been a forever-evolving presence in my life for the past six years. I went from looking forward to drill to hating it to missing it while I was in Iraq and back to looking forward to it when I returned. I used to hate drill, but found myself liking the weekends where I was reunited with those that I spent a year with in Iraq. Over the past few months, that has turned into dread, and I am questioning whether or not I can remain an effective member of the military.

. . .

Someone who had not deployed before asked if we would go again. "In a heartbeat!" one soldier replied. Others assured him that they would have no problem going back. Now, the eyes were on me.

"No, I am not going back to participate in that war."

The look of shock and awe on their faces quickly gave way to a flurry of questions about how I would get out, what I would do, how I could do that to my comrades, why I felt the way I did, what I thought I was proving, and why I thought I could make a difference. The question that got me on a roll, however, was none of the above.

"What are you going to do . . . become a conscientious objector?" one soldier and friend said with a smirk and a chuckle.

"In fact, I just may do that. That's what I am, essentially, isn't it?"

. . .

I thought I could this; I thought I could oppose the war and remain in the military. Change from within, I thought. I realized this weekend that that was a pipe dream, for me at least. I spend half my time in that uniform cringing at exaggerated stories, expressed pleasure in other peoples' pain, and empty, misguided proclamations of honor, integrity, and selfless service.

I am done with the military. I don't know how exactly I will leave the service just yet, but I know that I will. I entered the army in an honorable fashion and I will leave it that way, but leave it I will.

I leave Friday for Washington DC to take part in the September 15th protests in DC with tens of thousands of other concerned Americans, including representatives of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families, and the ANSWER Coalition. I am taking more and more responsibility within IVAW to end this war, take care of our veterans, and provide reparations for the Iraqi people and it feels right.

I accepted the position of Regional Coordinator-Gulf Coast Region this week and look forward to working with other IVAW Regional Coordinators in the future. I am writing for their newsletter (Sit-Rep), which is being published for the first time this week. If anyone has any questions about the organization or wishes to join, please contact me.

In the meantime, I simply ask, "Where is the rage?!"

* * *

YouTube, the video Web site hosted by Google, is filled with amazing stuff. In addition to the skateboarding bulldog and Star Wars parodies, sometimes it’s even enlightening.

Click on this <link> to see an excerpt of Aimee Allison’s presentation to a national counter-recruiting conference held at the University of California at Berkeley, in October last year.

Allison knows whereof she speaks: Having been recruited and having served in the US military, she’s now a CO and active as a counter-recruiter, helping others not to make her mistake.

Adam Simms