07 May, 2011

President Obama did what none of his predecessors could accomplish, and without waterboarding.

by Jorge Reyes

A lot of right wing ideologues are infuriated, to say the least, at the fact that it was a center to left President who successfully sent the order to murder America's Public Enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden. As a refresher, we must never forget that one of the many ironies of this same President who signed an executive order clearing the way to ban interrogation techniques of detainees in Guatanamo. Those interrogation techniques had been a hallmark of the Bush administration's war on terror. In fact, it was a program perversely relished by the political right at all levels.  Ex President George W. Bush is nowhere to be found these days. According to what his wife Laura to a news outlet, he just wants to enjoy the fruits of a private citizen. Good riddance, really. He was, by far, the most idiotic President we have ever had.

Regardless of this, key figures from Bush's administration are claiming that most of this victory is theirs too. After all, they were bold enough to inflict waterboarding and other harsh methods on helpless prisoners.

Dick Cheney, a man I have never been able to stand, told some media outlets that "it wouldn't be surprising" if the enhanced interrogation program put in place during "our first term" produced results that contributed to its success. Some of Bush's closest political advisers, joined the fray too. According to them, it is very clear that enhanced interrogation helped "create an environment that gave rise to this information."

What these men conveniently don't mention is they were also part of an administration that let bin Laden slip out of the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan and eventually find refuge in Abbottabad, Pakistan, living it off in a million dollar compound and not in a cave as it was assumed. Like most and much of what that Bush dude did, it was up to Obama to clean up the mess, which includes a war in Iraq, an economy on the brink of a depression, and our standing with the international community. Further, they also left us an extremely bloated bureaucracy, Homeland Security, estimated to have cost us more than a trillion dollars. All in the spirit, of course, to fight terror. Along the way, many of our civil liberties went to hell, too. But as it is, we already live in a police state. We just dont want to admit it.

What is left in much of these discussions is the fact that brutal interrogation methods had very little to do with the capturing of bin Laden. The key to locating bin Laden was to find his trusted courier, a man with the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Glenn Carle, a retired CIA officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee, told the New York Times that coercive techniques "didn't provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information" and most of his colleagues felt it was "un-American and did not work."

For a country that wants to be a beacon of morality, admonishing other nation states when they are failing to do the same, it is one of the strangest twists of fate that we seem to legitimize torture, when need be, when desired, when it is part of our national interest, which in this day and age means just about anything.

Obama achieved his mission accompkished not by continuing on the same habit of his predecessors. He did their unfinished work without adopting any of their methods. That's something to think about, at a time when everyone is now claiming victory for a job well done.

01 May, 2011

"The Standing Babas" in the novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

By Jorge Reyes

I am reading an almost 1,000 page novel titled Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The basic plot of the book, loosely based on the author's own life, is about a man who escapes from prison in Australia (where he was serving a 19-year sentence for armed robbery, which he committed to maintain his heroin addiction) before fleeing to India. By fleeing, he in essence becomes a lifelong fugitive. In India, among many things, he reinvents himself and becomes a "doctor" for people living in a Bombay slum of twenty five thousand families.

The novel, full of amazing stories within stories, describes a religious sect known as the Standing Babas, who have vowed to remain standing for many years. Here's a quote from the book about them.

''Bajrang Das, a 'standing' baba, who never sits down, day and night. He sleeps standing too, hanging over this swing. A metal chastity belt covers his genitals.

''A ‘standing’ Baba, who is called khareshwari, has taken the vow not to sit or lie down for twelve years. He may rest one leg by hanging it in the sling under his swing. It is a painful austerity: the swollen legs and feet tend to develop persistent ulcers.

''Khareshwaris may walk about, but usually just hang in their swing in their corner -- and stand.''

I have yet to finish reading this beautifully crafted and complex novel. But thinking that the standing babas was a fictional ploy, I researched them online and to my even greater disbelief I discovered that the standing babas are real.

As I quoted above, members of this religious group actually make a vow never to sit, not even to sleep. They stand for a specified number of years, 12 years seems to be the target, or they commit themselves never to sit for the remaining of their lives.  To read that particular chapter on the standing babas is to almost to feel the pain and misery these people must endure for their religious beliefs.