A “dunk in the water”

The above is a quote from Donald Rumsfeld. And no, he wasn’t talking about his latest holiday by the sea or one of his grandchildren falling into the pool.

He was referring to waterboarding. If you don’t know what that is, it’s an “interrogation technique” which the top of the American administration has allowed to be used in Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Get a definition on Waterboarding.org or on Wikipedia.

Picture from Waterboarding.org

The top guys in Washington did their very best to cover their tracks and make it look like the ideas for waterboarding and a number of other “interrogation techniques” came from the bottom: the soldiers and officers stationed at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan. But luckily there are people out there, some of which are even journalists, who have been digging through heaps and heaps of documents and uncovered the paper trail, which points directly to Rumsfeld and Bush.

An army of lawyers have been deployed to “legalize” these interrogation methods, which are most certainly not allowed in the Geneva Convention. Or in the American constitution…

Two lawyers at the Justice Department’s office of Legal Council came up with this brand new definition of torture: Physical torture occurs only when the pain is

equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death

and that mental torture requires

suffering not just at the moment of infliction but… lasting psychological harm.

These quotes are from a memo written by the two lawyers Jay Bybee (now a federal judge) and John Yoo (now teaches law at Berkeley!!!!!!!). The quotes are from an article in Vanity Fair by British law professor Philippe Sands. It’s a very long article (8 pages), but well worth reading.

A shorter article, to some extent based on the findings by Philippe Sands, is on today’s BBC Online.

Presidential hopeful John McCain, who consistently claims to be against torture (he himself has been a prisoner of war) voted against a bill proposed to the senate about banning waterboarding and other kinds of torture. Article in New York Times.

Democratic senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama (or Barack HUSSEIN Obama as all the right wing newsletters and blogs scrupulously write) made this statement last year about torture:

The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer – it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. Torture is how you set back America’s standing in the world, not how you strengthen it. It’s time to tell the world that America rejects torture without exception or equivocation. It’s time to stop telling the American people one thing in public while doing something else in the shadows. No more secret authorization of methods like simulated drowning. When I am president America will once again be the country that stands up to these deplorable tactics. When I am president we won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values.

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Pura Vida

Costa Ricans, who call themselves Ticos, use this phrase all the time. It means something like “How are you”, “I’m great”, “Take care”, “Have a good life” etc. etc.

Well, we had lots of Pura Vida in our three weeks in Costa Rica. More than once we considered to discard our tickets back to the US. For a European or American, Costa Rica is a true paradise, Bountyland. And even if there is obvious poverty there, the Ticos are a good deal better off than many of their fellow Latin-Americans.

Costa Rica is a democratic country, it’s democracy has been functioning well for 50 years. It has no army and no death penalty!!! And there seems to be very little corruption. They are doing their best to turn the threat of devastating mass tourism (Americans – Hawaii has become too expensive) into sustainable eco-tourism.

We didn’t really do anything that last week – we just hung around the pool or the beach. Dane became pretty good at surfing on the rented boogie board in the sea, and he learned to dive and swim under water in the pool. The only unpleasant thing that happened all week was that I got a bad sunburn. On my lower lip of all places! The rest of me and both David and Dane got away with slight reddishness when we forgot ourselves in the sea or pool. I guess my lip got burned because that morning I couldn’t find my usual lipsalve, so just grabbed another one. Afterwards it dawned on me that it was one without SPF. It hurt like the devil and I looked like him too. It’s healing now, but is still rather unpleasant. I wouldn’t recommend it…

We had hoped to change our return ticket to Los Angeles instead of Las Vegas, but that was not possible. That’s another of the new rules the airlines have had to put up with because of the patriot act. How that should deter a terrorist is beyond me, but what do I know…

So – here we are, back in Vegas, which we really don’t like. This time in the Stratosphere hotel. Tomorrow at midnight we board a flight to Brisbane, Australia…

Hadn’t it been for the useless Wi-Fi provider in this hotel, some really nice photos would have accompanied this post. As it is, I just couldn’t upload them, the connection (which I’m paying good American $$ for) is that unstable.

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A thriller

These last days we’ve (me mostly, and David) been watching CNN all day and night long to follow the so-called Iowa caucuses. That’s the pre-elections if you will, among the presidential candidates from both parties. First state is Iowa and that is of course why it’s so important.

The republican candidate who won tonight was Mike Huckabee. I had not even heard of him, when we arrived in the US and I’m pretty sure many Americans hadn’t either. And the democrat candidate who won was the black outsider Barack Hussein Obama. And Iowa is really a very white, a very religious and a very republican state. Those two candidates have very little in common. But they do have one thing: They both speak warmly about a UNITED America – united across the dividing line that has defined American politics for many, many years, a line that started widening badly during the Clinton administration because so many republicans hate him and hate Hillary so much, and which has grown so, so much deeper during the Bush administration, because of the Iraq war.

Even if Huckabee is VERY Christian and is against abortion and speaks about no sex before marriage and all sorts of things that I so not agree with, he said something very beautiful in his thank you speech in Iowa. He quoted someone, I didn’t catch who, but said: “War is not about hating the people in front of you, but about loving the people behind you.” And he drew on that line to talk about how he wanted to unite America across the divide.

Obama’s thank you speech was marvelous – I’m sure you can catch it on one of the networks’ websites or on Youtube very soon. Obama also speaks constantly about healing America and it’s self-confidence. He said: “It’s not about a group of blue states and a group of red states – it’s about the United States of America.” (Quoted from memory).

I’ve just read an article in Atlantic Monthly which elaborates on why Obama can unite America. You should read it… I like Hillary, I always did. But she looks old and worn – not as an old woman, but as an old hand –  and she repeats herself in her speeches.

And why is this so interesting to us Europeans. Well, surely that’s obvious. The president of the United States is half president of the world. What he (or she) does, the signals he (or she) sends, influence us all. If America’s economy doesn’t start to fare better very soon, that is going to affect us all. And if America doesn’t soon start working on healing the wounds in the Middle East rather than deepening them, we’ll all be in trouble. You can continue the litany yourself…

And a bit about us. We’ve been somewhat under the weather with both Emil and me suffering from relatively bad colds. Emil being hit the hardest, lying all of New Year’s day with a high fever. He’s better now, luckily.

Due to the above our New Year was quiet. We had nice food, watched a good film on the computer and toasted in tiny glasses of sparkly to a more peaceful world. It was certainly very peaceful outside our windows, no fireworks whatsoever. Pretty strange – don’t think I’ve ever experienced a New Year without fireworks before! But we watched one million people celebrate in Times Square in New York. They certainly had lots of fireworks!

Today we drove in to San Francisco and parked in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s parking garage. I can recommend that. It’s not exactly cheap, but neither is the ferry. And it’s very central and probably fairly safe. We went and saw an exhibition with Olafur Eliasson, which felt very close to home. David and I liked it a lot, Emil and Ida weren’t so impressed. We also saw an exhibition with an American artist I’ve never heard of before. Joseph Cornell. Very refreshing, very inspiring (particularly to Dane, who’s produced four boxes since we got home…) and very thought provoking. So all in all a very nice day at a very nice – but surprisingly small – museum.

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Vote!

Warning: This post is bordering on a lecture…

Tomorrow is election day in Denmark. We’ve had the right to vote for more than 150 years and too many Danes take that right for granted. However – it seems to me that even more Americans take it for granted. So granted that they don’t even bother to vote. Here you have to register to vote – but compared to how difficult it was for a black voter to register in the deep south of the fifties for instance, it’s not that difficult. But I guess, that when you don’t read a newspaper -and I’ve heard and read several times that many Americans have a good reason not to read a paper, the reason being that they are almost illiterate – and only watch the news, or what passes for news, on the local Fox channels, then you may easily lose any interest in voting.

And that’s so, so sad. Because it’s such a core right in a Democracy – think China, Burma, Iran etc. – and I’ve heard many people say: “Oh, I can’t be bothered, they are all corrupt anyway” or “It doesn’t make any difference to me, they are just thinking of themselves, all of them”. And both statements may have more than a little truth to them. But does not voting change that? NO NO NO!

So go and do you democratic duty: Vote!

And to my Danish friends, family and readers who happen to live in Copenhagen. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, then vote for my good friend Charlotte Fischer. She’s honest, hard working and most certainly not corrupt. So there…

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