Archive for March 29, 2009

Torture and the Courts

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment
Baltasar Garzón

Baltasar Garzón

In case you missed it, Scott Horton wrote at Harper’s yesterday about actions taken by a Spanish national security court with regard to Bush administration lawyers who approved torture at Guantánamo:

Spain’s national newspapers, El País and Público reported that the Spanish national security court has opened a criminal probe focusing on Bush Administration lawyers who pioneered the descent into torture at the prison in Guantánamo. … Público identifies the targets as University of California law professor John Yoo, former Department of Defense general counsel William J. Haynes II (now a lawyer working for Chevron), former vice presidential chief-of-staff David Addington, former attorney general and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, now a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.

The Spanish criminal court now may seek the arrest of any of the targets if they travel to Spain or any of the 24 nations that participate in the European extraditions convention (it would have to follow a more formal extradition process in other countries beyond the 24). The Bush lawyers will therefore run a serious risk of being apprehended if they travel outside of the United States.

Judge Baltasar Garzón is involved in the investigation, according to the El País report. Garzón is Europe’s best known counterterrorism magistrate, responsible for hundreds of cases targeting the activities of ETA and related Basque terrorist organizations. He also spearheaded the successful investigation of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations operating in the Maghreb region, including Spanish enclaves in Morocco. But Garzón is best known for his prosecution of a criminal investigation against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet that resulted in the issuance of an arrest warrant for Pinochet while he was visiting England.

I don’t imagine Yoo and his colleagues will be traveling much. Perhaps our own courts could follow suit.

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Border Fence

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


The photo accompanied a NYT story three days ago on Secretary of State Clinton’s arrival in Mexico City, during which she acknowledged that “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.” She also announced a new initiative to deploy 450 more law enforcement officers at the border.

But I include the photo simply for its own sake, since it is so stunning. The caption describes it as “a recently completed section of the fence the United States is building along the Mexican border crosses desert sands between Yuma, Ariz., and Calexico, Calif.” I was tipped off to it in a blog post by David Gibson at the Commonweal blog. Gibson notes that “at first I thought it might be a new installation by the artist Richard Serra.” I thought instead of Christo. For example, here is a shot of Valley Curtain in Colorado, 1970-1972.


Categories: Arts, Politics, Today's News

The Silent Man

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


Over the last two months, I’ve fallen into my usual book-reading pattern of starting books and not finishing them. I’d been doing pretty well for a while. For instance, in January I finished three books, all mentioned in earlier posts. (The Naipaul biography, the book on McGeorge Bundy and the Vietnam War, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection.) Meanwhile, I am still in the middle of the book by Harvard economists Goldin and Katz on education and technology and Jeff Madrick’s book on big government.

This was the context in which I read Nick Kristof’s blog post two weeks ago on two hot books. He began by writing

I’ve just read two terrific books by Times colleagues that I commend to you. For those who like thrillers, Alex Berenson is emerging as one of the best and he has just published “The Silent Man.” It’s a continuation of the series he started with “The Faithful Spy” and “The Ghost War” and it’s just as good as those two. He has a wonderful character in his protagonist, John Wells, who infiltrated Al Qaeda and became a Muslim in the process.

Don’t tell anybody, but I love thrillers. The problem is that the genre went downhill after the Cold War. Lee Child is superb, but he and Alex Berenson are the only great ones around now. And Alex’s novels always land on the best-seller lists, so he’s one of the few people in journalism with a proven business model.

Kristof’s praise of Lee Child made me a little nervous about his judgment. Last summer I explored the thriller genre a bit, having not read an international spy thriller in years, or maybe decades. The first one I read, thanks to Janet Maslin’s review in the NYT, was Lee Child’s latest, Nothing to Lose, the 12th Jack Reacher novel. I found it downright silly. (Then again, I did start it on a Friday night and finish it Saturday afternoon, unable to put it down except to sleep. And going to Lee Child’s website now, I see the clock ticking on Jack Reacher #13, due out in the UK 24 days, 14 hours, 44 minutes, and 13 seconds. US publication is 26 days later. I’ll have to decide whether to pay extra to order it from or wait to get the US edition.)

Anyway, deciding to trust Kristof, I ordered the Berenson book. (See Berenson’s website for more information.) I read it this past week, finishing it Thursday night rather than spending time with Gail as she prepared to head off to Scotland Friday. Had I written this post two days ago, I might have had something interesting to say, but by now, Sunday morning, the book has all but faded from my memory. That’s the thing about thrillers. They don’t stay with you. I don’t feel tempted to go back and read the earlier John Wells books. I do better with crime novels. What I’m really waiting for is George Pelecanos’s new one, due out May 12.

Categories: Books

Baby Farasi

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


Before tossing two weeks of Wall Street Journals yesterday, I made sure to take a look at each one’s daily front page feature article, thereby stumbling on the March 13 feature story about the Basel Zoo’s baby hippo Farasi, pictured above with his mother. It’s a troubling story, the main problem being that when Farasi matures, he will not be able to stay in Basel, since there’s no room for more than one male hippo and he will become a competitor to his dad. For the same reason, other zoos will not be keen to adopt him. As the article explains, surplus mammals, especially meaty ones such as hippos, generally are killed and then fed to the lions.

I should add that this is a European zoo issue, not an American one. Here in the US, the animals are generally on the pill, to avoid this problem. In Europe, reproduction is considered part of a normal life:

European zoos say sex, pregnancy and parenting are fundamental needs. “A chimpanzee spends 24 hours a day with its young for four years,” says Robert Zingg, chief curator of Zurich Zoo, which works closely with Basel Zoo. “How do you replace that?”

So why am I posting this depressing story, beyond just taking the opportunity to post a cute baby picture? Well, for one, I used to spend a lot of time at the Basel Zoo, during a brief period of my life in which I found myself in Basel regularly. It’s one of Europe’s great zoos. And for another, I liked the metaphor at the end of the passage below.

It’s extremely difficult to find a hippo a home. Farasi’s bigger sister Heidi found a home in 2002 only after a hippo at the Dublin zoo choked to death on a tennis ball lobbed into its pen by a visitor. “It’s especially difficult to find a home for a male hippo because you can only have one per zoo,” says Christian Wenker, Basel’s chief vet. Hippos also live to be in their 50s, so the lucky male in any zoo is like an old man in a rent-controlled apartment.

Plus, there’s this drawing:


Categories: Animals


March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


I can’t resist posting today’s Get Fuzzy comic strip. I don’t generally read Get Fuzzy, or any other comic strip, but thanks to Mark Liberman at Language Log , I’m alerted to the strips that deal with language. As Liberman notes, “In today’s Get Fuzzy, Bucky’s exploration of English compound-noun semantics continues.” Bucky is Bucky Katt. See here for more background on Bucky and on his housemate, the melancholy Satchel Pooch.

Categories: Animals, Language