Friday, April 18, 2008

DTK: Prisoner Abuse Scandal

If you’ve been reading the news at all, you’ve seen that our federal government has been trying very hard to avoid an investigation to what the media is calling a “prisoner abuse scandal”.

The Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) has begun a public hearing in to the matter of the transfer of people detained by the Canadian military who were handed over to the government of Afghanistan and tortured.

This began as a “Public Interest Investigation” but had to be upgraded to a “Public hearing” because of the following:

“The principal difficulty which has given rise to this decision has been the Government's refusal to provide the Commission with full access to relevant documents and information under the control of such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).”

Then the federal government sued the MPCC to try to stop the hearings.

To understand why the government has gone so far as to sue we have to realize that this not simply a case of filing charges against a few military police. This is actually about a violation of the Geneva Conventions. A “violation of the Geneva Conventions” has, of course, a more familiar name: War Crime.

The Geneva Conventions, lengthy though they are, are not that complicated in principle. If you capture someone, anyone at all, you must treat them humanely. The Third Convention covers combatants who are captured. These people are called “Prisoners of War”. The Fourth Convention covers civilians who are captured. These may be support staff, people who happened to be in the wrong place, etc.

International Law explicitly tells us that there is no gap between the Third and Fourth Conventions. Everyone who is captured is covered by one or the other (or a medical worker covered by the First Convention). Anyone captured by a Canadian soldier, anywhere is the world, must be treated according to these Conventions. Anything else is criminal.

In case you think I’m “attacking the troops”, think again. The Third Convention, Article 12, tells us that “Prisoners of war are in the hands of the enemy Power, but not of the individuals or military units who have captured them.”. That means that the government, not the soldiers, are ultimately responsible.

Article 12 goes on to tell us that “Prisoners of war may only be transferred by the Detaining Power to a Power which is a party to the Convention and after the Detaining Power has satisfied itself of the willingness and ability of such transferee Power to apply the Convention.” Afghanistan’s new government never signed the Convention. Its old government did in 1949, but that can hardly apply considering that the country has since reinvented itself with a new Constitution since then.

That’s it. You could actually rest your case right there. The Canadian government told our soldiers to hand prisoners over to a nation that had not signed the Geneva Conventions. So of course they don’t want an investigation. It’s because they’re obviously guilty.

But wait, there’s more. Not only were we handing over these detainees to a non-signatory nation, that non-signatory nation had a government controlled Human Rights organization (the ironically named the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)) that actually pointed out that prisoner abuse was happening.

Indeed. So even if we pretend the 1949 signature on the Third Convention applies to the present government of Afghanistan, our government had to know that this new Afghanistan government did not have the “willingness and ability … to apply the Convention.”

Prisoner abuse was happening and we continued to tell our soldiers to hand over prisoners.

If I’d been in charge of that, I too would be screaming my head off to distract people from the investigation.

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UK Outlaws Fraudulent Mediums

Just the fraudulent ones, though, not the real ones.

"...under the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive ... it will be the medium's responsibility to prove they did not mislead or coerce vulnerable consumers."

That should be exciting. How the hell would you prove this? The whole trick of cold reading is to convince the mark that you're getting the information from his dead relatives when what you're really doing is stealthily getting it from him.

How would a medium prove that he's not just a rip-off artist? It would take a very carefully, scientifically controlled environment to prove that he's not just cheating: throwing out dozens of random guesses until the mark indicates a hit.

What's unfair here, however, is exactly what the Spiritual Workers Association is complaining about: "The problem is that it's turning spiritualism the religion into a consumer product, which it is not."

I have to agree. If we can force a medium to prove that his nonsense is factually accurate, shouldn't we also force the Catholic Church to prove that the wine actually turns in to blood? Shouldn't we force other Christian Churches to prove that the afterlife they sell actually exists? Shouldn't we consider it fraudulent for all of the Abrahamic religions if they can't find the gate, somewhere in the Middle East, where the two angels with flaming swords prevent our reentry in to Eden?

Yes, the fraudulent people who prey on the relatives of the recently deceased are despicable and ought to be outlawed. But it's only fair to apply the same standard of proof to all of the other hucksters out there.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Michael Medved wrote a column on why America will never (and should never) elect an atheist president.

It always gives me great pleasure when fundamentalist loons ask rhetorical questions like the following:

"For instance, try to imagine an atheist president issuing the annual Thanksgiving proclamation. To whom would he extend thanks in the name of his grateful nation –-the Indians in Massachusetts?"

Well, actually ... yes.

That's one of my pet peeves to be honest. Three doctors and seven nurses spend 52 hours saving a girl's life after a car accident. In addition, the total amount of post-secondary education for those 10 people is somewhere between 50 and 100 years. And after the operation is over, the media is heard to gush, "Thank God!"

No. Thank public education, scientific advancement, technology and some damn fine determined work by a small group of individuals supported by a massive, efficient healthcare system.

Who should you thank at Thanksgiving? Probably the people who gave your ancestors enough food not to starve through the winter.

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Monday, April 14, 2008


I follow the evolution vs. creation controversy quite avidly.

As you can guess, being a die-hard atheist, I prefer to take the side of the crushing, overwhelming consensus developed from scientific evidence. That is to say: life on earth in all of its forms evolved from a common ancestor mainly through a process called natural selection which worked on the somewhat random variation in genetic material caused by mutation.

That's not a perfect definition, especially the "random" part. I'm sure an actual evolutionary biologist could describe it more succinctly. All I ever did was share a basement apartment with some world-famous evolutionary biologist guy in university. But it does, I think, capture the essence of what reams of evidence tell us.

The other side of this "debate" is called "creationism" and has no scientific basis, or even any evidence at all, in its favour. Creationism is the idea that god created the universe in six days (young earth creationism) or several million years (old earth creationism) or last Thursday (Last Thursdayism).

Support for Creationism consists of a few logically flawed techniques:
a) misquoting evolutionary biologists
b) pointing to gaps in scientific knowledge (especially gaps in the fossil record) as if incomplete knowledge proves falsity
c) making arguments from ignorance
d) conflating evolution, or "belief in evolution", with various moral evils.

It is this last one, using the (apparent) consequences of believing something as an indication of its truth or falsity, of which a new film by Ben Stein and Mark Mathis is guilty.

For info on what a ridiculous movie this "Expelled" is, head on over to the NCSE's Expelled Exposed website.

These two jerks, and whoever knowingly participated in this movie, attempt to tell us that evolution is responsible for the Holocaust.

Yeah, they stoop that low.

Anti-semitism apparently doesn't have a centuries old root in the teachings of the Christian churches. No, no. Darwin started it all. If it weren't for "Darwinism" (by which they mean modern evolutionary theory) Hitler and his boys never even would have thought about wiping out all those Jews, Gypsies, diabetics, epileptics and whoever else didn't fit in with their eugenics program. Yeah, it was all evolution.

It's enough to make me sick, and I've only heard about the movie.

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