Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jihad, Hired Guns, and the Camberwell Carrot

Because I have been busy recently, I won't have the time to write exhaustive comments on each of the following links that caught my eye over the past week, so just a few remarks on each.

The Beeb reported last week that a US citizen was jailed for 24 years for "attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan and lying about it". The prosecution offered what Amy Waldman in an article for The Atlantic Monthly last year aptly called "an accretion of circumstantial but ugly evidence" of his "jihadi mind", including expressions of "hatred towards the United States", praise for the murder of Daniel Pearl, and calling George W. Bush "the worm". Other evidence included his owning extremist literature. The Atlantic Monthly article gives a good overview of what is interesting about this case, namely the notion of "preeemptive prosecution" and the admissibility of belief as evidence for the prosecution in court. Also interesting is the clash of expert witnesses brought by the prosecution and defense alike, who duelled in the courtroom over the finer points of Islamic theology. Notably, the witnesses for the prosecution included this chap:
Walid Phares, a Lebanese Christian academic who emigrated to the United States in 1990, at the end of Lebanon’s civil war between Muslims and Christians. In Lebanon, Phares’s political activities included participation in the Lebanese Forces, a coalition of right-wing Christian militias that the defense said the U.S. State Department had labeled anti-Muslim. El Fadl, his fellow prosecution witness, calls Phares an “Islamophobe,” and at trial the defense sought to demonstrate as much. By his own characterization, Phares, an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, was outside the academic mainstream until 9/11.
What the article fails to mention is that Phares is also on the salary list of Benador Associates, a prominent part of the right-wing spin machine that sold the "Global War on Terror" and the Iraq invasion to the American public. He can therefore hardly be regarded as an independent, impartial, or disinterested professional in the matter. Another interesting expert witness - Waldman's article doesn't say whether for the prosecution or the defense - is Reuven Paz, formerly of the Israeli Shin Bet internal intelligence service and more recently the academic director of the International Institute for Counterterrorism in Herzliya, Israel.

Next, a quick look at this video posted at Crooks and Liars, a CNN interview with Jeremy Scahill, the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Mercenaries working for Blackwater were shelled while travelling in a convoy in Iraq on Sunday. They opened fire on passersby on the street, killing 11 people, including one policeman, and injuring 13, according to the WashPost. A spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry announced that Blackwater's license to operate had been withdrawn and that the responsible employees would be prosecuted. This will be an interesting test of the Iraqi government's sovereignty - after all, foreign "security contractors" in the country have so far been largely immune from prosecution. Scahill points out that
...the Bush administration failed to build a coalition of willing nations to occupy Iraq, and so instead, the administration has built the Coalition of Billing Corporations. Right now, in Iraq, private personnel on the US government payroll outnumber official US troops. There are about 180,000 so-called "private contractors" operating alongside 165,000 to 170,000 US troops. So really, now, the US military is the junior partner in this coalition. The mercenary component of that private-sector involvement has been totally unaccountable. They operate with impunity, they kill Iraqi civilians, and no charges are ever brought against them in Iraqi law, US law, military law.
He correctly points out that this is not the result of an oversight, but "political expediency on the part of the Bush administration" because dead mercs are not included in the official US death toll and they can act with free rein as their acts go unreported and undocumented. Scahill also notes, in the context of the current Petraeus/"surge" debate, that "there’s been a surge on for four years of the private sector in Iraq, this mercenary army that the Bush administration has built up all over that country."

Also, just to wrap up today's post on less of a bum note, here is a report from today's Guardian (and you may consider this either good or bad news):
The unpublished results of authoritative research into cannabis confirm the "skunk" now on sale in England is stronger than it was a decade ago, but demolish claims that a new "super-strength skunk" - which is 20 times more powerful - is dominating the market.
The recent Europe-wide campaign of hysteria surrounding the alleged "schizzo skunk" was really getting on my nerves. The allegation circulated by politicians and research-averse journalists alike, just as efforts to legalize weed were getting under steam in a number of countries, has been that today's weed is exponentially more powerful than the grass smoked by the hippies, i.e., today's parent generation.
But the findings of the two studies to be reported in Druglink, the drugs charity magazine, contradict recent claims that most of the skunk on sale in Britain now routinely has a THC-content of more than 30%. One of the studies showed that only 4% of the skunk that had been seized by the police had a strength level higher than 20%.
Having, at an earlier stage of my life, experienced the hassle and likely ripoff associated with procuring weed (read: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) in England, I almost broke into uncontrollable and hysterical laughter at reading the above paragraph, but then remembered that those days are over.
The claims earlier this year that a new strain of "super-strength skunk" cannabis that was up to 20 times more potent was dominating the British drug market and triggering mental health fears led Gordon Brown to order a new review of the legal status of the drug in July.
OK, this is really ridiculous. Notions like "20 times more potent" being openly discussed in public, when the actual figure is one-tenth of that... either people were just making wild and uneducated guesses, or they actually knew better and were counting on people's complete gullibility. You may argue that such "experts" only have in mind the protection of young people, but these policies - and the media campaigns to back them up - ensure that teenagers are criminalized, ostracized, and lose all faith in a public health and policing system that clearly cannot be trusted to be truthful and honest. Not to mention the many adult smokers who can make responsible decisions about their own health without government interference. No, cannabis is not a harmless drug, and there is some really heavy shit circulating out there, but as anybody can imagine, it is possible to put less weed into a joint if you know it is of stronger potency. The same applies to alcohol - which is why we drink some kinds of alcohol out of glasses like this

and other kinds of alcohol out of glasses like this:

Likewise, joints can be adjusted in terms of both size and potency, as demonstrated by Dan the Dealer in the excellent British movie, "Withnail and I":

Withnail: What are you going to do with those?
Danny: The joint I am about to roll requires a craftsman and can utilise up to twelve skins. It is called a Camberwell carrot.
Marwood: It's impossible to use twelve papers on one joint.
Danny: It is impossible to roll a Camberwell carrot with anything less.
Withnail: Who says it's a Camberwell carrot?
Danny: I do. I invented it in Camberwell and it looks like a carrot.
Cut to Danny on the sofa. The Camberwell carrot is complete and is indeed of prodigious proportions. As Danny lights it we see only the end but as he hands it to Withnail we see the true size. It is enormous.
Danny: This will tend to make you very high.

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