Friday, July 14, 2006
Freedom of speech and "Redwatch"
I've written two posts recently concerning the Polish neofascist website "Redwatch" and the FBI's cooperation with the Polish government to have it removed from a server in Arizona. Whether by happenstance or conspiracy, Frank Fisher, one of the Guardian bloggers, decided today to mull over the rights of Redwatch in Britain. It's worth a read, and the conclusion, so far as it goes, is unassailable—
Censorship is easy; free speech, like everything underpinning democracy, is hard. Standing alongside neo-Nazis would be anathema to most people; even defending animal libbers' rights is a step too far for many. But start accepting the principle of "privileged" information - legal for some to possess and use, illegal for others - and the sphere of acceptable activism shrinks dramatically. The Nazis would have loved that.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Update on "U.S. blocks a website"
Monday I wrote a post on a story of the FBI "blocking" the Polish skinhead website "Redwatch" hosted on a server in Arizona. The site identified 17 people by photo, name and address. While I'm certainly not in sympathy with neo-Nazis targeting anyone, I feel strongly that government involvement in censorship demands close scrutiny. So I dug a little deeper on this one.
Complaint against "Redwatch"
In late May Reporters without Borders complained to the Polish Minister of Justice about the site. In a news item they noted the similarity between the neo-fascists and a party of the Polish ruling coalition—
Reporters Without Borders has written to Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro to alert him to serious threats being made against Polish journalists by Redwatch, an extreme right-wing group that advocates violence. Redwatch-Poland ... has posted a list of 15 left-wing and far-left journalists and directly threatened them with reprisals for their anti-fascist views.
Redwatch is an international organisation that has its headquarters in Britain. Its website encourages its members to attack human rights activists, politicians, journalists and students by posting their names, photographs and addresses.
A human rights activist who was No. 2 on the list of "enemies" on the Redwatch-Poland site narrowly escaped a murder attempt on a Warsaw street on 16 May 2006....
The prosecutor handling the case, Elzbieta Janicka, told Reporters Without Borders that the investigation into the Redwatch-Poland site's content was blocked because it was hosted on a server in the United States. She said the office of the Warsaw public prosecutor had requested information from the relevant US authorities but she did not know if the request had reached the right people. Asked if the police were checking on Polish fascist organisations, she simply said, "enquiries are continuing."
Reporters Without Borders .... voiced astonishment about the vagueness of the prosecutor in charge of the case.
.... Redwatch-Poland and the other Polish neo-fascist group to which it is linked, Blood and Honour, have views similar to those of such groups as Youth of Great Poland, which belongs to the League of Polish Families (LPR), a member of the ruling coalition.
Redwatch-Poland targets the left-wing and far-left media and those that defend gay rights....
In my original post I mentioned the possibility that the FBI merely asked the owner of the server to take down the site. From the wording of the AFP article, that seemed unlikely. But according to an AP report and Radio Polonia, that's exactly what happened.
Jaroslaw Juszkiewicz of Radio Polonia reports,
The FBI contacted the server owner’s lawyer and the owner decided to remove the website from his server.
And a neo-Nazi site adds,
The US FBI contacted the web host and informed them the site was part of a Polish murder investigation, and the web host "voluntarily" removed the website, according to Polish news accounts. The web hosting company was also not named.
The mystery victim and the game of "Gossip"
I noted in my original post an unnamed person who may or may not have been attacked, depending upon the news account. The stories only seemed to agree that this person was male. As I've continued to read, the stories continue to diverge. I'm reminded of the game we called "Gossip" when I was a kid. (I believe it was also called "Telephone.")
The kiddies form a circle and one of them makes up a "secret." The child whispers the secret to the child next in the circle, who then whispers to the next child, until eventually the secret comes back to the original manufacturer. The fun is in discovering how the story changed as it was passed around.
I suspect this is how much of our news is produced, but I know of no better example than the news of our mystery victim.
The Associated Press (AP) made no mention of an attack.
On May 16, a human rights activist, whose name was on the Blood and Honour list, narrowly avoided a knife attack in a Warsaw street. According to the US embassy in Warsaw, the would-be victim is Jewish.
An anti-fascist activist named on this website was rushed to hospital in a serious condition after being attacked and stabbed on a Warsaw street on 16 May.
A human rights activist who was No. 2 on the list of "enemies" on the Redwatch-Poland site narrowly escaped a murder attempt on a Warsaw street on 16 May 2006. His assailants hit him, used a pepper spray on him and stabbed him before making off. The knife came within a few centimetres of his heart.
[A] young left-wing and ecological activist was stabbed with a foot-long knife which narrowly missed his vital organs. The assault is obviously linked with his presence on an Internet list called 'Krew i Honor' [Blood and Honor'] where Polish fascist organizations openly call for killing left-wing and gay activists.
The media started to talk abut the website after the brutal attack on a leader of a anarchistic organization. He was attacked by two men who sprayed nerve gas on his face and then stabbed him with a knife. His picture and name was published a few days earlier at the “Blood and Honor” website.
Polish authorities said they used the US website to gather information on the leader of leftist groups, leading to the murder of the leader of an anarchist organization in Southern Poland several weeks ago.
Let's put all that we have about the victim into a table—
|human rights activist||knife||narrowly avoided|
|anti-fascist activist||(knife)||rushed to hospital in serious condition|
|human rights activist||pepper spray and knife||knife within a few cm. of heart|
|young left-wing ecological activist||foot-long knife||narrowly missed vital organs|
|leader of an anarchistic organization||nerve gas and knife|
|leader of an anarchist organization||--||murdered|
Isn't the news fun?!
A Simply Appalling speculation
If you've followed along so far, you see that our view of events is like that of a myopic voyeurist in a sauna—mostly fog. But if we allowed the mere absence of facts to get in our way, we would not have invaded Iraq. And then where would we be? So with that, I'm going to make some guesses.
The Polish government was not at first eager to go after "Redwatch" even when responsibility for an attack was attributed to the website. Whether this was out of ideological sympathy or lethargy I do not know.
The victim of the attack was young, anarchist-leftist, in the environmental movement, did some writing (which made him a journalist), may have been gay and was most certainly Jewish. Normally such a person would be referred to by the government as an "ecoterrorist."
Now the AFP article with which I began this investigation informed, for no stated reason, that—
On May 27, Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich [an American living in New York] was also attacked in a Warsaw street, although he was not injured. His attacker was arrested last month.
Since I don't think for a moment that either the Polish or American government is trying to protect gays, journalists, leftists, anarchists or "ecoterrorists," I have to conclude that the impetus to take down the site came from Jewish groups—maybe even from Israel itself.
In confirmation of that, let's look at the distribution of the news. I don't know how far Google can be trusted to pick up all news sites, but if they're half as good as their investors think they are, this is interesting—
- Not one American newspaper carried the story from either AFP or the BBC.
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was the only American newspaper to carry the AP story—or so far as I can tell, to carry the story at all.
- The two big Israeli newspapers Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz both carried the AP account.
Meanwhile the British "Redwatch" is going strong.
U.S. government "blocks" a website (7/10/06)
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
France to permit gay blood donations
The French Minister of Health Xavier Bertrand has announced that the prohibition on blood donations by gay men will end after 23 years. Since the matter is of some importance and since it's doubtful that the American media will pay any attention, here's the story by Jean-Yves Nau in Le Monde. Bear in mind that Le Monde is not noted for its liberal views.
Certain male homosexuals, twenty-three years after their exclusion, should again be able to make blood donations, contrary to the judgment of several experts in health product safety.
"The current permanent prohibition aimed at 'men having sexual relations with other men' doesn't seem acceptable to me, since it in effect stigmatized a population and not certain practices. So it's going to be eliminated," the Minister of Health Xavier Bertrand confirmed to Le Monde.
Officials of the French Blood Bank are currently proceding with the revision of all questionnaires presented to blood donors, and in cooperation with the French Federation of Voluntary Blood Donors, an information and prevention guide concerning the sexual practices of these donors is being developed.
Mr. Bertrand notes that the experts haven't produced any proof that the donation of blood by a heterosexual having unprotected relations with multiple partners was less dangerous than that of a homosexual having no at-risk behavior.
"A WORRYING SITUATION"
"I want us to speak in the future not of 'populations at risk' but of 'sexual practices at risk," Mr. Bertrand underscored. "It isn't a question so much of ignoring a very troublesome situation—the regrowth of the HIV epidemic among male homosexuals; on the contrary it's a matter of remembering the danger of at-risk practices whether they be homosexual or heterosexual."
The matter had been raised a short while ago by Jack Lang. In a memo of May 11 addressed to Mr. Bertrand, the socialist deputy judged that this exclusion put into effect two years after the emergence of the AIDS epidemic constituted "an extremely shocking discriminatory measure."
In his reply, dated May 17, Mr. Bertrand explained that "Homosexuality of itself very evidently does not constitute a criterion for exclusion (...) The epidemiological data show that the prevalence of HIV infection in the sexually active male homosexual population is 12.3%, as opposed to 0.2% in the general population. Therefore it isn't the fact of being homosexual, but the practice of sexual relations between men that constitutes a contraindication to the donation of blood. Besides, female homosexuality is not a contraindication." [a Simply Appalling translation]
Paul Parant at tetu.com elaborated on the announcement—
A discrimination is in the process of falling. Going back to previous statements, the Minister of Health, Xavier Bertrand, announced on Thursday July 7, following a meeting on the subject, the ending of the exclusion of gays from blood donation.... [a] turnaround all the more spectacular since the General Administration for Health and the French Blood Bank remained opposed to the change.
Concretely, his advisors point out to Têtu, in the questionnaire that is presented to donors, the question "Have you had homosexual relations? should be changed to "Have you participated in at-risk sexual practices?"
Following the meetings initiated at the request of Jean-Luc Roméro, president of Local Elected Officials against AIDS, the minister recognized that the presentation of the questionnaire could appear discriminatory and inappropriate for safe or virgin gays.....
Jacques Lizé, president of SOS Homophobia, is more circumspect: "Between the announcement and the reality, I'm waiting to see what's going to happen when a gay presents himself to give blood." [a Simply Appalling translation]
When do you think such a decision will be made in the U.S.?
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Parsing the Pentagon's Geneva Conventions turnaround
To people who don't like to see the United States torturing its captives, the Bush administration tossed a big bone today. The Financial Times (FT) reported,
The White House confirmed on Tuesday that the Pentagon had decided, in a major policy shift, that all detainees held in US military custody around the world are entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions.
The FT has learned that Gordon England, deputy defence secretary, sent a memo to senior defence officials and military officers last Friday, telling them that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions – which prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners and requires certain basic legal rights at trial – would apply to all detainees held in US military custody.1
This reverses the policy outlined by President George W. Bush in 2002 when he decided members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban did not qualify for Geneva protections because the war on terrorism had ushered in a "new paradigm…[that] requires new thinking in the law of war".
The policy U-turn comes on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling last month that the military commissions Mr Bush created to try prisoners at Guantanamo Bay contravened both US law and the Geneva Conventions.
When the Supreme Court recently rebuked the Bush administration for violating Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, many took heart. As I noted at the time, of the challenges that decision posed for the Administration, the Geneva Conventions—not the U.S. Constitution—was the greater.
But members of the Bush administration make most announcements with their fingers crossed. And while they will lie at the drop of a hat, their preferred tactic is to redefine words to the point that their own mother wouldn't recognize them.
That is what happened, for instance, to the Geneva Conventions' prohibition on torture. The White House counsel at the time, Alberto Gonzalez, drafted a memo that for a time became the operative law of the land. In it Gonzalez suggested that only "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" constituted torture.
This was so darkly laughable that even some conservatives couldn't go along with the joke. But that didn't faze Bush & Co. They proceeded as if they were playing by the rules. And it didn't matter, they held all the power.
Then an awkward situation came up. In Bush's second term Attorney General Ashcroft resigned, and Bush wanted to appoint his very own torture-enabler—Alberto Gonzalez—to replace him. But Gonzalez had gotten a lot of bad press for that torture memorandum, and something needed to be done before his Senate confirmation hearings began. Something was.
On December 31, 2004, Jeffrey Smith and Dan Eggen reported on the front page of the Washington Post,
The Justice Department published a revised and expansive definition late yesterday of acts that constitute torture under domestic and international law, overtly repudiating one of the most criticized policy memorandums drafted during President Bush's first term.
In a statement published on the department's Web site, the head of its Office of Legal Counsel declares that "torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and international norms" and goes on to reject a previous statement that only "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" constitute torture punishable by law.
.... The new memo's public release came one week before the start of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Gonzales's nomination.
Well, wasn't that convenient!
So has the Bush administration finally "gotten religion," forced by the Supreme Court to see the error of its ways? That's what most of the talking heads of the media will imply, but I don't think so.
Once again, it just so happened that the nomination hearing for one of Bush's most odious judicial nominees—William Haynes, currently counsel to the Pentagon—began today.
Here's how People for the American Way (PFAW) describes him—
- Haynes was an architect of the detention policies in the war on terror and signed off on allowing U.S. citizens to be stripped of their rights by being dubbed 'enemy combatants'
- He oversaw a working group that provided the Bush administration with a report promoting unsettling policies on torture; the group argued that President Bush, in exercising his powers as commander in chief during times of war, is under no obligation to adhere to any rule of law - international or domestic - that bars the use of torture.
If that weren't bad enough, Haynes hardly knows anything about lawyering.
I'm afraid Haynes' nomination hearings have prompted this announcement rather than the recent Supreme Court opinion. The parallel with the hearings for Alberto Gonzalez is remarkable.
I told you so... (7/23/06)
1Note the phrase "military custody." The memo does not apply to those held secretly by the CIA.
Since the CIA's mandate has been taken over more and more by the military, this may be their salvation. If they're the only government group left with the right to torture detainees, it may provide them a special "niche" role to which Bush & Co. will turn again and again. [back]
Monday, July 10, 2006
Headline of the Day
In Saudi Arabia the servant problem continues to grow—
Govt Doing Little to Protect Us From Abusive Maids, Employers Say —Arab News
U.S. government "blocks" a website
There is an odd story from Agence France-Presse (AFP) that's being ignored by American news organizations. And what makes the story interesting isn't so much what it contains as what it fails to explain—
WARSAW (AFP) - Polish police, working with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), have blocked a neo-Nazi website hosted by a US server, which published blacklists of Polish gays, feminists and left-wing sympathisers.
"We worked together very well," said Polish police chief Marek Bienkowski on Thursday, who had asked the FBI for help in blocking the website of the Polish wing of the neo-fascist Blood and Honour organisation.
Several of the administrators of the www.redwatch.info site were detained by Polish police.
The website was hosted by a server based in the southwestern US state of Arizona.
The site was run by a Polish skinhead group that "urged its followers to gather information about 'persons engaged in anti-fascist and anti-racist activities, on coloured immigrants, on left-wing activists and sympathisers and on the homosexual and pedophile lobby.'"
A near-attack on a "human rights activist" is said to be linked to the website.1
The American embassy in Warsaw was so proud of the FBI activity that they issued a press release—
Ambassador Victor Ashe stressed today that due to excellent cooperation between the Polish National Police and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation the controversial "Blood and Honor" website was shut down. The Warsaw FBI office said "First and foremost, the credit should go to the Polish National Police who really worked hard on this case. We at the FBI were happy to assist them in bringing justice to these criminals. We look forward to continued strong cooperation with Polish authorities."
But Adam Cioch had previously reported at a French website the arrests ("detentions") mentioned above but added—
The [Polish] government has asked American police to close the site, hosted in the United States, but for the moment it remains accessible since American law doesn't prosecute fascist propaganda. [a Simply Appalling translation]
That would be my understanding.
So we are left with a mystery. What action did the FBI take to "block" a website hosted in Arizona?
One possibility is that FBI agents simply went to the person or persons hosting the site, mentioned their fear that the website might be posing a threat to Polish gay Jewish anarchists2 and asked them to take it down. But we don't know that, and the use of the term "blocked" in the AFP account implies an action that was considerably more aggressive.
On the other hand we would expect the FBI to do whatever it takes to show their fullest cooperation with the Polish government, since the Polish government has kindly helped the U.S. by keeping the captives swept up in "extraordinary renditions" in secret prisons somewhere in Poland.
Again the government has gotten into the business of shutting down a website, as it has done previously (see below), and again this has failed to attract the attention of the Washington Post, the New York Times, the LA Times, the AP and CNN, to mention but a few.
Even with such sparse media coverage we now know of two instances where government censorship was exercised by cutting off the host server. Are there more?
Update on "U.S. blocks a website" (7/13/06)
1Just who this person was and what actually occurred is also a bit of a mystery.
The AFP story says—
On May 16, a human rights activist, whose name was on the Blood and Honour list, narrowly avoided a knife attack in a Warsaw street. According to the US embassy in Warsaw, the would-be victim is Jewish.
It is first a puzzle why the US embassy is identifying to the press the religion-ethnicity of Polish citizens who have avoided an attack on the street. Wouldn't that normally be the job of the Polish police? Is this a common practice?
Then we have this tidbit repeated by Doug Ireland—
The Web site http://www.gaypoland.pl reported that two weeks ago, "a young left-wing and ecological activist was stabbed with a foot-long knife which narrowly missed his vital organs. The assault is obviously linked with his presence on an Internet list called 'Krew i Honor' [Blood and Honor'] where Polish fascist organizations openly call for killing left-wing and gay activists. Although fascism is a crime in Poland, the police are unable to solve the problem since the server with the Web site is located in the U.S.A."
I could not verify the original quote, but Ireland is generally a trustworthy reporter and I have no reason to doubt the quote. Assuming the truth of it, is this the same person referred to in the AFP article? Does "narrowly missed his vital organs" equate to "narrowly avoided a knife attack"? And does it sound better to describe an anarchist in the environmental movement as a "human rights worker"? [back]
2Of course I jest. There is one and only one group being protected here—the Jews. In fact the Polish government, which has taken a hard-right turn, is in competition with the very skinhead group it wanted shut down to persecute gay groups.
Doug Ireland wrote last month—
Poland's state prosecutor last week announced a government investigation of all Polish gay groups for illegal financing, criminal connections, and pedophilia. This crackdown on gay groups is only the latest in a series of disturbing developments in Poland during the last month that illustrate the continuing rise of political homophobia under the country's new gay-hostile government led by the duo nicknamed the Terrible Twins: President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslav, who controls the Polish Parliament.[back]
The state prosecutor's announcement of the investigation of gay groups came in response to a May 12 letter from Wojciech Wierzejski, a front-bench member of Parliament from the League of Polish Families Party, of which Wierzejski is a vice-president. Ultra-homophobic, anti-Semitic, and Catholic fundamentalist, the League recently became part of the hard-right national government led by the Kaczynski twins. A copy of Wierzejski's letter was attached to the state prosecutor's order.