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Beyond Chron
January 7, 2005

Copyright © 2005 by Marc Norton

You hear a lot of things when you work in a hotel lobby. One guest, commenting to her companions on the tsunami disaster in Indonesia, declared, without shame, that "the place is an al-Qaeda breeding ground, you know."

Knowing my place, I refrained from telling her that the real breeding ground for terrorism is Washington DC. After all, this is the week that Alberto Gonzales, a known war criminal, and soon-to-be head of the Just Us Department, makes his grand appearance in the hallowed halls of the Senate.

Gonzales tried to get rid of some troubling problems for the Bush administration by redefining torture... In the same spirit, the guardians of our concentration camp in Guantánamo reduced the incidence of suicide there by redefining suicide. If a prisoner at Gitmo, as it is affectionately called, manages to tie a noose around his neck, but doesn't succeed in killing himself, he may only have been engaging in "manipulative self-injurious behavior," or SIB for short. That's when a prisoner's "state of mind is such that they did not sincerely want to end their own life." In one recent period, there were about two SIBs per week, but suicide attempts were way down.

Why are so many prisoners at Gitmo so upset? According to chief surgeon Captain Stephen Edmondson, "their detention may be a factor." But "you just can't put your finger on it." Dr. Edmondson, meet Dr. Strangelove.

Got this story from David Rose's new book "Guantánamo: The War on Human Rights." Now try this bit from Rose's book. A certain Dr. Louis Louk, a surgeon-commander at Gitmo, is talking about a prisoner who, chained to a bed, is being fed through a tube in his nose. The prisoner has been on a hunger strike, having refused to eat 148 (and counting) consecutive meals. "In my opinion," says Dr. Louk, "he's a spoiled brat, like a small child who stomps his feet when he doesn't get his way."

Maybe they should just lock him up (the prisoner, that is), and throw away the key... Oh yeah, that's what they do at Gitmo anyway.

Clearly these days insanity and irony are not confined to hotel lobbies.

And the beat goes on... The Washington Post ran an article, during the Christmas-to-New Year's lull, about a Gulfstream V jet that has been seen at military airports all over the world, often being boarded by hooded and handcuffed "passengers." The jet, bearing tail number N379P, appears to be flying "terrorist suspects" from one country to another for detention and interrogation, a process that the CIA calls "rendition."

The jet is registered to a company called Premier Executive Transport Services. "Sounds like a nice generic name," one blogger wrote when info about the Gulfstream was posted on FreeRepublic.com. "Kind of like Air America," an apparent reference to the CIA airline of Vietnam war fame.

The Gulfstream has been spotted in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Kuwait and, of course, Baghdad. Just the kind of places that "premier executives" want to go to get away from it all.

These guys also like their privacy. Having been outed once-too-many times, the Gulfstream was recently transferred to a new owner, Bayard Foreign Marketing, and got a new tail number. According to the Washington Post, Bayard's sole corporate officer, Leonard T. Bayard, has no known residence, telephone or other contact information. Otherwise, we could ask Mr. Bayard if he would loan his jet to those folks ferrying relief supplies to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami...

A current example of "rendition" is the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was grabbed by US immigration officials at JFK airport in New York in 2002, and then sent to Syria, where he was held for ten months. Arar claims to have been tortured in Syria. Perhaps, though, we better check with Mr. Gonzales about the torture part, just to make sure we are all using the same terms.

The Homeland Security Department inspector general, Clark Kent (really) Ervin, was investigating Mr. Arar's case, perhaps a little too aggressively, as the White House let it be known in December that Ervin was not going to be reappointed to his job. "They feel that he has not been a friend of the department," said an anonymous former Homeland Security official. Unlike Gonzales, who gets the brass ring for defending torture... Thanks to the Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants for this report...

Closer to home, you may be glad to learn that it was announced in December that the Bechtel Corporation's first Iraq reconstruction contract, which had been due to expire, has been extended until June. The contract, worth a cool $1 billion to the San Francisco-based company, is one of two reconstruction projects they are overseeing for the masters of war in Washington. The other is worth $1.8 billion, but won't expire until the end of the year. Seems, however, that some pesky Iraqis are making it difficult for them to complete their work on time. Is this good or bad for the San Francisco tax base? Anybody want to talk about a war profits tax?

Finally, getting serious for a moment, my partner and I went to see the matinee show of "Cabaret" at the Castro on New Year's Eve. For those who don't know the story, it takes place in 1931 Berlin. Berlin back then looked a lot like the US today -- madmen coming to power, pledging to defend the homeland, brute force replacing the rule of law. The Nazi earthquake was creating a tidal wave of fascist terror. Liza Minelli sings her heart out, to an audience increasingly full of men in brown shirts. Life is, indeed, just a cabaret...

Happy New Year, folks.