Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Debate between civilian or military courts for 9/11 mastermind is irrelevant

A disheveled mess of tangled hair and bloodshot eyes emerged in the newspapers as Kalid Shaik Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind, is granted a public trial in New York City. Many accuse the Obama Administration of using the public trial as a political tool to indict the previous administration’s use of torture during the “war on terror.” Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times, according to the New York Times. A public trial could also allow Mohammed a podium for his anti-American propaganda and to present his own indictment of American foreign policy.

Some argue that Mohammed should be tried in a military tribunal as an unprivileged enemy belligerent. Only 29 percent of voters agree with the President’s decision to not hold the trial in a military tribunal and only 30 percent think suspected terrorists should have access to US courts, according to Rasmussen Reports. However, military tribunals can only be used when there has been a formal declaration of war. At the moment, there is no precise definition of a formal declaration of war. The last time a piece of US legislation was passed with the phrase “declaration of war” in the title was in 1942 against Romania.

The President has not been allowed to formally declare war since the passage of the War Powers Resolution of 1973. This resolution gave Congress exclusive power to formally declare war. The President is also required to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war.

However, the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution has been questioned. Every President since its passage has treated the act as possibly unconstitutional. The reports to Congress, which the Resolution requires of the President, have been drafted to state that they are “consistent with” the War Powers Resolution and not “pursuant to” the Resolution, implying the Presidential position that the Resolution is unconstitutional.

The Obama Administration, at first, seemed to be in alignment with the War Powers Resolution in regards to Guantanamo. President Obama had immediately halted the military tribunals in Guantanamo when he was elected, pursuant to a Supreme Court decision. However, he has then resumed the Guantanamo military tribunals with a new experimental legal system, which is a hybrid of civilian and military courts. President Bush had previously argued that the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay were authorized by a congressional joint resolution, which served as a formal declaration of war. The Supreme Court rejected this assertion, ruling that only with the consent of Congress can the President use military tribunals. It also stated that the detention camps in Guantanamo is in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Obama, then, with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, defied the Supreme Court's interpretation of the War Powers Resolution and granted the President the right to try the detainees in military tribunals.

This implies that Obama is resuming military tribunals in Guantanamo despite the Supreme Court's ruling that Guantanamo violates the Geneva Conventions. Despite public opinion, there does not seem to be any legal way the President could try Mohammed or any of the other terrorist suspects in military tribunal courts. The debate about whether or not Mohammed should be tried in a military tribunal is irrelevant, because the rule of international law has already been abandoned.

Monday, November 9, 2009

US Government Neck Deep in Heroin

The US government is neck deep in heroin. The CIA maybe contributing to heroine trafficking from Afghanistan, while thousands of veterans of the War on Terror come back home seeking substance abuse treatment. The CIA may have been using government money which is suspected of being used to traffic heroin from Afghanistan into the US and other Western countries. Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of Afghani president Hamid Karzai, has been receiving payments from the CIA for acting as a go-between for negotiations with the Taliban. Karzai is also suspected of aiding in the trafficking of opium, which eventually ends up as heroine in the US and other Western nations. This adds to the continuing history of the CIA's involvement in the illegal drug trade. However, the US War on Terror’s impact on heroin trafficking reaches further than Afghanistan.

America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have caused destabilization in both of these countries, enabling drug traffickers and suppliers to more easily distribute opiates throughout Europe and the US. Afghanistan in particular is of concern, because it is the world’s largest producer of heroine. Since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2006 opium production in the country has increased rapidly from 3400 tons, peaking at 8200 tons in 2007 and finally leveling out at 7700 tons in 2008, according to UN Drug Reports. Ninety-two percent of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan poppy plants, according to the 2008 UN World Drug Report.

However, the US government’s problem with heroin does not end in Afghanistan. Thousands of US military personnel are becoming addicted to opiates while serving in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. Twenty-two thousand Iraq and Afghanistan veterans sought substance abuse treatment in 2008, which is more than double from 2006, according to Signs of the Times. Despite hard evidence of access to heroin in Afghanistan and widespread drug abuse problems among US soldiers the Drug Enforcement Agency does not any case officers serving in Afghanistan or Iraq looking into drug trafficking. It maybe likely that heroin will become a major problem, in many ways, for American society as a result of the US War on Terror.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Corporations Win, Public Loses in Healthcare Debate

Many see the heathcare debate as socialized versus privatized heathcare systems. But, no matter what side wins the American public loses. Both sides of the debate are controlled by big corporate interests, which are only interested in filling their own pockets and care nothing for the good of the American public. In fact, the U.S. health care system has already been partially socialized and partially private sector. Medicare has been providing socialized healthcare since 1965. There are also non-profit insurance providers who are closely connected to the government.

But, larger private sector insurance companies have become too powerful. A small handful of corporations control a large portion of the industry, ensuring a corporate monopoly on the healthcare industry. Corporate executives fill their pockets while millions of Americans are left without insurance or are left with inadequate coverage. Private insurance corporations also use large amounts of money to influence congress to vote for measures beneficial to maintaining this monopoly, which keeps healthcare costs and drug prices high. This has caused havoc for personal finances of many Americans. Fifty-five percent of personal bankruptcies are caused by medical debts or illness. Seventy-five percent of those people were insured, according to Alternet.org.

So what is the answer to the private sector's monopoly over the healthcare system? Although he maybe willing to compromise on adding the public healthcare option, President Obama’s original proposed healthcare overhaul plan claims that more government sponsored healthcare and also stiff regulations on private insurers will increase competition and result in lower premiums and healthcare costs for consumers. Obama’s plan will tax the wealthy in order to pay for the increased burden on the government to pay for public healthcare. The estimated cost for the overhaul is $1 trillion over ten years. That equates to about $100 billion per year.

This may seem like a lot of money, however we are actually spending more than that per year on the War on Terror. In the proposed 2010 budget the White House is asking for $130 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, there is no talk of diverting funds from these military endeavors to the healthcare system. The most Obama has done is divert funds from the war in Iraq to Afghanistan, therefore keeping money in the pockets of corporate military and defense contractors, such as Blackwater and Halliburton. These entities, like the private insurance and drug companies, are corporate entities with no duty to act in the best interests of the American people.

In fact, Obama has gone out of his way to protect corporate interests in his attempt to pass his bill for overhauling our healthcare system. Some may claim that Obama's plan will destroy the private corporate healthcare industry. But, he is actually protecting corporate entities from responsibility for corrupting our healthcare system in the first place. Obama promised to cap the total required amount the drug industry would be required to contribute to the overhaul to under $80 billion. Many Democrats in the House argue that this is too little. The drug industry was responsible for much of the chaos amidst the healthcare industry, yet Obama is still inclined to protect the big corporations who monopolize the drug industry to keep prices high for consumers. Many of the larger drug corporations pay smaller generic manufacturers to keep their product from reaching the marketplace, denying the public access to affordable medicine. Obama has struck a similar deal with the hospital industry as well.

Although opponents to Obama's plan fear that socialized medicine will destroy the private sector it is clear that the Administration still has the interests of wealthy corporate allies in mind, just like they did when they bailed out the financial sector and continued funding of the War on Terror. Whether it is healthcare, the economy or foreign policy the Administration continues to keep corporate interests ahead of the well-being of the American public.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pope Benedict's Motives Are Questionable

Pope Benedict in MiPope Benedict’s recent trip to the Middle East was surrounded by controversy. Many have accused Pope Benedict of anti-Semitism due to his time as a Nazi Youth and also other questionable decisions he made during his Papacy. He has also offended many in the Muslim community with his comments in a 2006 speech given at University of Regensburg in Germany which many claimed characterized Islam as a violent religion. His Excellency attempted to silence criticism of the Vatican through addressing the Holocaust and supporting a Palestinian state. Many question his sincerity.

Pope Benedict had served in the Nazi Youth movement and had also served with a German army anti-aircraft unit and witnessed Jews being herded to death camps, according to Times Online. Pope Benedict enlisted in the Nazi Youth shortly after enlistment was made mandatory in 1941. He claims that he was an unhappy participant and refused to attend meetings. His father was an outspoken opponent of the Nazi party. Pope Benedict eventually deserted in 1944 and spent a short time in a prisoner of war camp.

Despite his lack of enthusiasm about his time in the Nazi party and army, Pope Benedict refused to visit the Israeli Holocaust Museum during his visit to the Middle East. The museum contains a display criticizing the wartime Pope Pius XII for being a passive observer during the Holocaust. Pope Benedict was criticized for considering the beatification of Pius XII, which would mean that the Catholic Church would officially recognize Pius XII as a saint. Many oppose this claiming that Pope Pius was to blame for his lack of action to stop the Jewish holocaust. The Vatican claims that Pius XII used diplomacy to save Jews during the Holocaust, according to Jerusalem Post. Most likely in an attempt to avoid controversy, Pope Benedict has postponed the beatification of Pius XII for a period of reflection. Pope Benedict also received heavy criticism for revoking the excommunication of Richard Williamson, a bishop who denied the Holocaust.

Benedict condemned the Holocaust in his speech at Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust memorial. Many criticized him for lack of emotion during his speech. He also avoided using the words “Nazi”, “German”, and “murder” in order to downplay his own Nazi past. During his farewell speech many observers claimed that he was visibly more emotional while addressing the Holocaust, which more than likely was an attempt to reverse the criticism from his earlier address at Yad Vashem. Whether he was sincere or just putting on an act is anybody’s guess.

The Muslim community also attacked Pope Benedict regarding his 2006 comments at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Many had interpreted his speech as being offensive towards Islam. Benedict had quoted a Byzantine emperor who had described the Islamic faith as violent in nature. “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” said Pope Benedict while quoting Manuel II Paleologus, the last Christian ruler before the fall of Constantinople.

Pope Benedict claimed that his statement was taken out of context and that he had never meant that his own view of Islam was the same as Paleologus. There are translational differences between the German version and the English version, which make it difficult to discern whether Pope Benedict agreed with the Emperor’s interpretation of Islam. However, interpreting Islam does not seem to be the main point of the Pope’s 2006 lecture. Pope Benedict’s main point in quoting Paleologus, according to the Vatican, was to illustrate that violence in the name of religion defied reason and therefore went against God’s will.

The Pope was able to significantly quell his Muslim critics, when he stated that he was in favor of a Palestinian state. But, when a Muslim cleric appealed to the Pope in person to condemn Israel for killing innocent Palestinian civilians with missiles and bombs, the Pope avoided controversy and quickly left the stage. The Pope’s stand for non-violence and peace only went so far. His visit to the Middle East was just as much about saving face for the Vatican as it was about promoting peace for humanity.