Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sadly....missing Obama/Glenn Greenwald

As The Washington Independent's Daphne Eviatar detailed in October, "the Obama administration has surprisingly endorsed the same legal positions as its predecessor, insisting that there is no constitutional right to humane treatment by U.S. authorities outside the United States, and that victims of torture and abuse and their survivors have no right to compensation or even an acknowledgment of what occurred." As Eviatar wrote about the Obama position, which -- among other things -- invokes the Military Commissions Act to argue that Congress stripped federal courts of jurisdiction to hear even Constitutional claims from Gitmo detainees:

The Obama administration is insisting, however, that Congress had the power to eliminate judicial review of these claims. It also argues that the Defense Department officials are immune from suit, because, as the Bush Justice Department argued in previous cases, it wasn’t clear at the time that detainees had a right not to be tortured by U.S. officials at Guantanamo. They therefore have "qualified immunity" from suit.

But the Justice Department goes further than that. Under President Obama, the government is arguing not only that it wasn’t clear what rights detainees were entitled to back in 2006, but that even today the prisoners have no right to such basic constitutional protections as due process of law or the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The "Fifth and Eighth Amendments do not extend to Guantánamo Bay detainees," writes the Justice Department in its brief.

And, the government argues, the courts should not imply a right to sue under the Constitution, in part because that could lead to "embarrassment of our government abroad."
(perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize could be withheld? - my query)
Ultimately, the Obama administration is arguing, victims of torture at a U.S.-run detention center abroad have no right to redress from the federal government. Only the military can take action in such cases, by disciplining military officers for abuse of prisoners.

In fact, the Brief filed by the Obama DOJ demanding dismissal of the case explicitly argues -- in classic Bush/Cheney fashion -- that merely allowing discovery in this case to determine what was done to these detainees would help the Terrorists kill us all:

All of this is depressingly consistent with multiple other cases in which the Obama DOJ is attempting aggressively to shield even the most illegal and allegedly discontinued Bush programs from judicial review. Time and again, the most radical Bush claims of executive power, immunity and secrecy (ones Democrats and even Obama frequently condemned) are invoked to insist that federal courts have no right to adjudicate claims that the Government violated the Constitution and the law. As Harper's Scott Horton documented over the weekend, a new filing by the Obama DOJ in defense of John Yoo is "seeking to make absolute the immunity granted Justice Department lawyers who counsel torture, disappearings, and other crimes against humanity." In other words, as we lecture the world about the need for them to apply the rule of law and hold war criminals accountable, we simultaneously proclaim about ourselves:

We can kidnap your sons from anywhere in the world, far away from any "battlefield," ship them thousands of miles away to an island-prison, abuse and torture them mercilessly, and when we either drive them to suicide or kill them, you have no right to any legal remedy or even any recourse to find out what happened.

As Horton writes, the claim that government officials enjoy a virtually impenetrable shield of immunity even in the commission of war crimes "has emerged as a sort of ignoble mantra for the Justice Department, uniting both the Bush and Obama administrations." Indeed, that is the common strain of virtually every act undertaken by the Obama DOJ with regard to our government's war crimes and other felonies, from torture to renditions to illegal eavesdropping.

With revelations of serious, recent abuse at an ongoing "black site" prison in Afghanistan, serious questions have been raised about the extent to which detainee abuse has actually been curbed under Obama. But there's no question that the single greatest impediment to disclosure and accountability for past abuses is the Obama Justice Department, which has repeatedly gone far beyond the call of duty in its attempt to protect Bush war crimes and other illegal acts. This new Seton Hall Report regarding these three detainees deaths illustrates not only how perverse and unjust, but also how futile, such efforts are. War crimes never stay hidden, and the only question from the start was whether the Obama DOJ would be complicit in the attempt to shield them from disclosure. That question has now been answered rather decisively.

UPDATE: Scott Horton has an interview with Law Professor Mark Denbeaux, the primary author of the report, in which he elaborates on why the military's claims and "investigation" are so suspect.

Letting Go of Books

How To Handle Book Clutter
Guest Author - Jill Florio

Book hoarding is a very difficult type of clutter disease to cure. Everyone tells us books are good; they are indicators of an intellectual bent; they are clues to our inner personalities...blah, blah, blah. For those of us who really love books, it's hard to let them go. Book clutter can get out of hand, to the point where a single person can own literally hundreds or thousands of titles.

If you have the room for a library area of your house, you may not be so concerned. Dust your books every few months, store them upright, and provide comfortable nearby seating to encourage book browsing. That DOES sound appealing. Make sure you have nice teas and mugs you can make quickly to enjoy your library nook.

Not everyone has the time, room or inclination to make a library area in our homes. I personally have moved homes too often to even think about that - and if you have moved a lot, you understand just how HEAVY boxes of books can be.

Not only are books heavy, but they are vulnerable things to keep around. Your pretty coffeetable books get scuffed when you move too much - another thing I have discovered. When you store books, covers can get creased and folded, books are easily ruined when wet, and can get chewed on by rodents. I have lost several stored crates of books over the years to moisture, mold, rodents and general improper care.

It's an excellent goal to whittle down your collection to books you often use and love. Go through your books on a wet or snowy day and try to eliminate any book you have already read or KNOW you will never read. Decide which reference books you really want to keep. Pick out a couple of your art books (how many do you really use?). Keep your own personal classic novels (I would never get rid of my Lord of the Rings, Watership Down or Lonesome Dove copies).

When you go through books like this, it tends to take a LONG TIME. You get caught up in the fun of book discovery. That's okay; don't try to clear out your collection in one session. If you have lots of books, give yourself a month or a season to make your book collection manageable.

Don't worry about missing the books you give away. You can always borrow those titles again from your local library, or download them online, or even grab yourself another copy later if you really feel you made a mistake. Chances are very good that you won't even miss them, however. :)

How you get rid of your books is up to you. You can sell them on Amazon or at a used book store or at a garage sale. You can donate them to a library or to Goodwill. Gift them out to friends. Just let them go and you will feel lighter in life.

It's okay to hate your books

THE CLOSE READER; It's O.K. to Hate Your Books
By Judith Shulevitz
Published: January 13, 2002

BOOKS are sacred. We all know that, and lest we forget it, an entire literature exists to remind us. It includes essays by the greats -- Montaigne, Benjamin, Borges, Roth -- as well as books by the lesser known. But don't be intimidated by the sheer size of the pro-book lobby, or the big names backing it. Try this as an exercise: suspend your bookist presumptions for a moment, then visualize the inside of your apartment or house.

It looks fine, right? More or less the way you'd like it to look, except for one thing. That is what to do with the books. They've piled up and piled up, and now they seem about to swallow you whole. Since I write about books, I am sent dozens every week. They invade in waves, like determined settlers. I fend them off. They arrive anyway. Their padded envelopes release balls of nonbiodegradable gray fluff that work their way into everything. Their publicity material falls out and floats out of reach. But that's nothing compared with the stacks of books that take over the floor.

You may think that people who don't write about books don't have this problem, but if that's what you think, you're wrong. There are also many people who buy too many books. You're probably one of them -- if you weren't, you wouldn't be reading the last page of the Book Review. You carry them home in spasms of hopefulness, then face the task of shelving them. But how? No solution you come up with ever quite works. One book-review editor I know just lets every corner of his house fill up with books; he owns so many that when he actually needs to consult one, he'll buy a new copy rather than try to find the one he already owns. Other friends periodically purge themselves of their books, then find themselves checking out of the library a book they owned as recently as last month.

The problem isn't The Book. It's books. As a physical object, the book is a triumph of design: a rectangular volume of eye-catching matter that has evolved over millenniums to fit fairly neatly onto stackable shelves; a thing that is portable, handsome, mechanically reproducible and self-sufficient, and makes a pleasing rustle when in use. (Compare that with electronic books, which cause eyestrain, need batteries and emit an unpleasant whir.) As an emotional object, the book offers pleasure and enlightenment.

But books, in the aggregate, are another story altogether. Thinking about them for very long is a sure way to induce depression. On days when the world seems unmanageable in general, I find myself hating my books. Like children, they sap my time and energy. Their public disarray reflects my inner disorder. Anything else that clutters up my house I can just throw out; books demand special treatment. Perhaps it's because, at some level, I know they don't belong to me but to a universe higher and better and realer than mine. They exist to take their proper place in that vast, impersonal Total Library wherein all knowledge, all being, when properly categorized, forms a perfect Platonic whole.

As an imperfect being, I haven't the slightest idea what that proper categorization would be. I'm forced to improvise, and am doomed to fail. Even when a method of cataloging isn't impractical, it's unsatisfying, reflective neither of the way we actually organize knowledge in our heads nor of the experience of reading. No standardized system can tell us where to put books given to us by loved ones or brought keenly to life by a memorable professor. Nor is there a rigorous way to distinguish between books we have finished and have a right to display proudly, and those that are unread and hover behind us like a reproach. The novelist Nicholson Baker once tried to categorize his books in such a way that they themselves would nag him to read them:

''I bought some Dennison stick-on dots. Books that I'd hardly read got a red and a blue dot, books I'd read but hadn't finished got a blue dot only, and books that I'd finished had no dot at all. . . . Once read, their dots would go away -- I would peel them off. So I was progressing in the general direction of dotlessness, as if recovering from the chicken pox. But I only followed the system for a few weeks, and eventually many of the dots fell off by themselves.''

So even the obsessive Nicholson Baker can't stick to his own idiosyncrasies! This bodes ill for the rest of us, reduced by laziness to filing in alphabetical order (reductive -- Susan Sontag once said it set her teeth on edge ''to put Pynchon next to Plato''), by subject (inelegant, since it requires putting in separate places one author's thoughts on disparate topics) or size or color (crude, but a purely physical criterion for organization does allow you to sidestep the sense of having failed some larger intellectual test).

So what should we be doing instead? We could all study library science or the structure of knowledge, but those would only give us a more sophisticated vocabulary in which to discuss our perplexity; they wouldn't reduce it. We could give up and shelve at random, but that would lead to physical anarchy, which could lead to intellectual anarchy. We could stop buying books and force ourselves to read only the many we own, but that would require us to become insular, and also to quash our better selves, since it is out of an admirable optimism that we buy books we suspect we'll never read.

Another option is to act as librarians do. They aren't collectors anymore; in today's overloaded information age, they're divestors, de-accessioning those books they feel readers have outgrown. I did that throughout my 20's and the first half of my 30's, making it possible to migrate from city to city and apartment to apartment. Now I regret it. I regret all the bad decisions I made about books in my younger, more callow days. I even wonder whether all that moving ever did me any good. In the end, being a reader is a problem without a solution, rather like being alive.

Drawing (Robert Grossman)
A version of this review appeared in print on December 10, 2009, on page 727 of the New York edition.