Monday, May 16, 2005

Make it possible for people to have a political life

David Benson-Pope, a junior education minister in the New Zealand government (a job he combined with the post of minister of fisheries; small country, I guess), has had to resign after he was accused of having, in his previous job as a teacher, hitting one student in the nose, and punishing another for talking in class by stuffing a tennis ball in his mouth and taping his hands to the desk. No word on whether he ever similarly abused his authority over fish.

Someone should suggest to the Afghans that when they see something they don’t like in a newsmagazine, they should just blog about it. It’s less aerobic, but there’s also less chance of being shot. I kept expecting to see signs with hyperlinks. Anyhoo, the Pentagon has been trying to have its cake and eat it too; it’s claiming that the reports are false, but failed to respond when asked for comment by the Newsweek reporters. There’s a reason the story had only one source. The government and its employees (plus the inaccessible prisoners, of course) were the ones in possession of the facts Newsweek needed. To demand too many sources would make the DOD’s failure to comment an effective veto, rewarding stonewalling. The Pentagon continues to try to manage the debate, issuing blanket condemnations of Newsweek but refusing to send someone to appear in McNeil-Lehrer’s segment on the subject (or, probably, Nightline tonight), precisely because it wants the focus to be on Newsweek’s journalistic practices rather than Guantanamo’s interrogation practices. [Update. Well, not really an update since I hadn’t posted yet, but before writing that I hadn’t seen Josh Marshall’s similar thoughts:
“If the new standard is that every material fact reported must be attested to on the record then in the future we’ll know only a tiny fraction of what we do now about the internal workings of our government. What I see here is an effort by the White House to set an entirely different standard when it comes to reportage that in any way reflects critically on the White House.”]
The State Dept is still doing its balancing act on Uzbekistan, criticizing both sides equally, although the death toll seems to be 600-0. Here’s Richard Boucher:
On the side of the demonstrators, rioters, whatever you call them, the armed attack by civilians on the prison in Andijan and other government facilities is the kind of violence that we cannot countenance in any way and we condemn these kind of armed attacks on prison facilities and on government facilities. There is nothing that justifies acts of violence or terrorism and we’re very concerned at reports of either the release or the escape of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members.
Who says the released prisoners were terrorists? Oh yes, the guys who torture and boil people (including some we send there)(“Dammit I brought this man here to be dry-cleaned and he’s clearly been boiled!”) and who claim all critics of their government are terrorists. Also, in a country where political prisoners (of whom there are an estimated 7,000) are treated the way they are in Uzbekistan, attacks on prisons to release them are in fact justified. Remember the Bastille!

Condi Rice stepped up criticism of Uzbekistan; it could now be described as “mild”: “We have been encouraging the Karimov government to make reforms, to make the system more open, to make it possible for people to have a political life”. A very top-down view, in which voting, organizing, free speech etc are privileges granted at the will and whim of the ruler.

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