CIA Agents and Their Practices On Trial in Italy

Twenty-six American citizens, most of them believed to be CIA agents, just went on trial in Italy, but it's the Bush Administration's policies on extraordinary rendition and torture that are really under fire.

The accused themselves are in little danger. In 2003, they allegedly kidnapped a Muslim cleric in Milan and transported him to Germany and then to Egypt, where the cleric claims he suffered electric shocks, beatings, rape threats, and genital abuse while under interrogation. With what we know now about the war on terror, the allegations are almost certainly true -- the only tricky question is whether the Italians have accused the right 26 people. It doesn't much matter, because they're being tried in absentia and the United States refuses to extradite them. Their chances of serving time in Italy or anywhere else are less than zero.

So even though they're holding what amounts to a show trial, kudos to the Italians. While I'm uncomfortable with actually convicting the CIA agents of anything, since they are likely little more than foot soldiers, it's unquestionable that holding up the war on terror's ugliest aspects to bright lights is something we need more of, in Italy, around the world, and especially here at home.

Don't. Cross. Dick. Cheney.

Associate Deputy Attorney General Patrick Philbin didn't play by Dick's rules. He was present at John Ashcroft's hospital bed the night of March 10, 2004, as Andy Card and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales tried to strong-arm the woozy Ashcroft into reauthorizing the controversial warantless wiretapping program. But Philbin advised Ashcroft not to reauthorize it. Eventually, facing the threat of 8 politicized resignations, Bush and his band backed down and modified the plan to address concerns shared by Philbin, Ashcroft, and the Acting A.G., James Comey.

After Gonzales (whose initials are A.G.—isn't that nifty?) assumed the post of Attorney General, he sought to promote Philbin to Deputy Attorney General. James Comey indicated today in written Senate testimony that word came down from Cheney's office that the dark lord would oppose the promotion. "I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter," Comey wrote. "The attorney general chose not to pursue it."

At first blush, this sounds like standard tit-for-tat politics. But one of the Justice department's main functions is to advise the White House on the legality of its proposed policies. If telling them that a policy would violate the Constitution (even when bringing it into line wouldn't mean throwing it out entirely) means being blacklisted, that sends a clear signal that the White House has no interest in abiding by the terms of the 200-plus-year-old document. Not that that should come as news to anybody.

Youth Perspective on G8 Aid to Africa

Schooling efforts in parts of Africa take center stage in two recent Guardian multimedia stories on the lack of debt relief for African youth.

As Bono's One Campaign drums up support for debt cancellation, poverty relief and AIDS medication in Africa, these stories take us into the homes and daily lives of a handful of Africans.

Focused on the efforts of the British relief fund organization Oxfam, the stories critique the G8's lackluster attempts to assist the region since agreeing in 2005 to boost support to Africa by offering a close-up view of students' lives in the small village of Mali.

Children, as detailed in two stories, sit on dirt floors and don't always have pencils to write with. Water is several kilometers away by foot, and the nearest town is 10 hours by donkey. Improved schooling, Oxfam workers argue, provides much needed health education and practical skills like accounting, which would help local villagers better manage scarce resources and funds.

Sort of makes No Child Left Behind blunders look like child's play by comparison.

—Gary Moskowitz

The Perfect Storm

With our oil addiction causing climate change, wouldn't it be funny if a huge hurricane hit the oil pipelines in the desert Middle-East? It almost did. Read more on The Blue Marble.

Testimony from war czar Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute reconfirms the fact that it is politicians, and not military men, who scream "Support the troops!" as a political attack against their enemies.

When asked about the debate over the Iraq War that has consumed Washington and the nation, Lute said at his confirmation hearing today, "I don't believe it undercuts [the troop's] morale." The troops "understand the democratic process," he said, "and, in fact, that's what we've sworn to protect and defend."

It sounds a lot like what Gen. Pace said on the subject: "As long as this Congress continues to do what it has done, which is to provide the resources for the mission, the dialogue will be the dialogue, and the troops will feel supported."

Or what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said: "I think [the troops are] sophisticated enough to understand that that's what the debate's really about."

Of course they are. The troops, after all, debate the merit of the war as much or more than anyone else. They know the same thing goes on at home, and that the mere existence of debate doesn't mean liberals somewhere want them to die. To assume otherwise is an insult to their intelligence.

So who's doing the insulting? Republicans in Congress like House Minority Leader John Boehner, who said, "Think about the message we have sent them... We have undermined their efforts, lowered their morale, and clearly sent the wrong message." Or John McCain, who said, "if we voice disapproval and send our young troops on their way... what message does it send to the troops? That we disapprove of what they're doing but we still support them, but not their mission?"

Or the dark lord himself, Dick Cheney, who said straight up that questioning the war is "detrimental to our troops." I suggest the vice president fact-check that with his generals, his Secretary of Defense, or any one of the troops fighting on the ground.

Think Progress has video of Lute's testimony.

The point system we've discussed at length here on MoJoBlog almost suffered the same fate as the guest worker program. Late last night, Barack Obama introduced an amendment to sunset the problematic point system after five years instead of the current 14, a move that infuriated the bill's sponsors and never quite mustered the support to pass. So in a 55-42 vote, the point system that will radically change the face of America's immigrant population remains as is.

Immigration Bill Endangered by Guest Worker Change

Just after midnight this morning, the Senate passed an amendment to the immigration bill that would sunset the guest worker program after five years. Though the sponsors of the bill had been successful in deflecting a number of amendments, some intended to drastically reshape the bill, others intended to kill it outright, they weren't able to stop a bipartisan coalition of senators from adding the sunset to the bill. Dems don't like the guest worker program because it creates an underclass of laborers with few rights that drag down wages for low-income American workers; anti-immigration Republicans don't like it because it gives more immigrants a legal place in the country. Pro-business Republicans love the thing for obvious reasons, and composed the bulk of the amendment's opposition.

Senators are discussing this amendment like it might strangle the bill, which means that the speculation that the guest worker program would be the most contentious part of the bill was correct.

Dep't of Riveting Videos: Chris Dodd, Au Naturel

This is either a biting commentary on the capacity of YouTube fetishism to overwhelm and ruin actual debate in American politics or the worst example of an out-of-touch campaign trying to glom onto a trend it doesn't understand. Either way, it's hilarious if you have a minute to spare.

Yeah, that's right. Just a man writing, eating, writing, drinking, and writing some more. We really need to reel in the viral video aspect of the 2008 campaign -- we're in danger of losing words altogether in favor of (barely) moving images. Spotted on The Plank.

The Man Who Would Be Surgeon General

holsinger.gifNot only is Bush's choice for Surgeon General a homophobe; he's also an idiot. A 1991 paper by the nominee written for the Methodist Church, James W. Holsinger, makes about as infantile an argument against homosexuality as one could imagine. His argument boils down to "the thing speaks for itself!" (really, the exclamation point is original!). His point is that the food/waste system (which includes not just that locus of gay anxiety, the anus, but also, hello!, the mouth) is self-evidently distinct from the sexual/reproductive system—and therefore, self-evidently, the anus should not be used for sex, and doing so self-evidently causes health problems.

Holsinger tries to make his utterly childish argument sound smart by:

(a) quoting "the thing speaks for itself!" first in Latin;

(b) mentioning the cross-cultural acceptance of his argument: "[I]t is clear that even primitive cultures understand the nature of waste elimination, sexual intercourse, and the birth of children. Indeed our own children appear to "intuitively" understand these facts. I think we should note that these simple "scientific facts" are the same in any culture." (Ed. Note: The use of scare quotes and exclamation points is almost always evidence of a stupid, stupid argument.)

and (c) drawing, as a true sign of erudition, on fields other than the sophisticated medicine that is his focus—specifically, how nuts and bolts fit together just as, self-evidently, male and female genitalia do (though more than one woman would probably disagree with even that assessment): "the logical complementarity of the human sexes has been so recognized in our culture that it has entered our vocabulary in the form of naming various pipe fittings either the male fitting or the female fitting depending upon which one interlocks within the other."

There you have it: Holsinger is no rocket scientist. And he shouldn't be Surgeon General, either. He shows clear signs of not being able to separate his personal beliefs from medical fact. Not only that, but Holsinger eventually resigned from the Methodist Church's Committee to Study Homosexuality because he thought it was too liberal. He went on to found a church for ex-gays.

Gay rights groups are protesting the nomination, but Holsinger's supporters are claiming he would never let his religious beliefs interfere with his duties as Surgeon General. Self-evident, don't you think?

Would-Be Lifesavers Go Down in Crash

There's a sad piece of news in today's New York Times. A plane crash over Lake Michigan killed an entire medical transplant team and two pilots yesterday. The precious organ—a lung—was also lost. Organ transplant is a high risk field of work, because doctors habitually rush from donors to recipients in small planes. You know, trying to save other people's lives. The would-be recipient of the lung had already been anesthetized and opened up, taxing his already seriously ill system.

Worth reading in full.