Sunday, March 6, 2005

Sunday Reading

  • Carol Rosenberg investigates charges of religious abuse at Gitmo for the Miami Herald.

    Captives at the Guantánamo Bay prison are alleging that guards kicked and stomped on Korans and cursed Allah, and that interrogators punished them by taking away their pants, knowing that would prevent them from praying.

    Guards also mocked captives at prayer and censored Islamic books, the captives allege. And in one incident, they say, a prison barber cut a cross-shaped patch of hair on an inmate’s head.

    Most of the complaints come from the recently declassified notes of defense lawyers’ interviews with prisoners, which Guantánamo officials initially stamped ”secret.” Under a federal court procedure for due-process appeals by about 100 inmates, portions are now being declassified.

    The allegations of religious abuses contradict Pentagon portrayals of the Guantánamo prison for Taliban and al Qaeda suspects as respectful of Islam. Commanders at the base in Cuba have showcased the presence of Muslim chaplains and the issuance of Korans, prayer rugs, caps and beads and religiously correct meals.

    Army Col. David McWilliams, the spokesman for the Miami-based Southern Command, which supervises the prison, said he could not confirm or deny the specific complaints. They could not be independently investigated because the U.S. military bans reporters from interviewing detainees.

    But McWilliams denied any policy of religious abuse.

    “There’s certainly no planned approach from guards to interrogators that pits Christianity against Islam,” he told The Herald. “The policy has been to show respect for the Islamic religion — and that runs the gamut from providing the items they need for prayer to making sure their diets are appropriate.”

    The accounts of religious indignities and abuses come from at least two dozen captives and a range of attorneys — from U.S. military lawyers assigned to defend prisoners to activist law professors and private corporate lawyers who have sued since the Supreme Court ruled in June that the captives can contest their detention in U.S. courts….

  • Mister Roberts is back – as guerrilla theatre.

    World War II is ending, and Lt. Douglas Roberts, the cargo officer of a beleaguered ship in a backwater of the South Pacific, wants just two things: a transfer to a destroyer in the thick of the action against the Japanese, and liberty for the 167 desperate men who have been kept aboard his ship for 18 straight months by their tyrannical captain.

    In a confrontation that sums up the age-old gulf between the men who do the fighting and the men who merely send them off to fight, the captain tells Roberts that the only way he can get his second wish is to stop asking for the first. Roberts explodes: “How did you get in the Navy? How did you get on our side? You’re what I joined to fight against.”

    That scene is the dramatic fulcrum of “Mister Roberts,” Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan’s dramatization of Heggen’s best-selling novel, which took Broadway by storm in 1948 with Henry Fonda in the title role. It ran for more than 1,000 performances, won the first Tony Award for best play, and in 1955 became a smash, if sanitized movie, to which a young Princeton graduate named Donald H. Rumsfeld took his future wife on one of their first dates.

    It is almost impossible to conjure up the emotions that this half-forgotten, seldom-revived comic drama must have stirred in an original cast and audience composed of veterans of the battle front and home front, including Fonda, who wore his own battered Navy lieutenant’s cap onstage.

    But Michael M. Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, saw a sweetly subversive opportunity to revive “Mister Roberts” in the middle of an altogether different war. Seeking a play for the center’s current festival celebrating the 1940’s, Mr. Kaiser realized that this old warhorse could have unexpected, even provocative new meaning at a moment when overstretched supply companies find themselves in harm’s way in Iraq, reservists face extended tours of duty, and the self-same Mr. Rumsfeld squabbles with the troops over a shortage of body armor.

    Mr. Kaiser did not want a radical reinterpretation of a work first noted for its understated realism. “This is not a lesbian version on the moon,” he said. Instead, he said, he believed a faithful reintroduction of a play about the pain, boredom and sacrifice of even a popular war might just make audiences think, ever so gently, about a far more contentious one.

    “The whole notion of what is patriotism – I think it’s a subject that bears investigation,” Mr. Kaiser said. “What kind of military do you have, and want?”…

  • Hillary Rodham Clinton is winning friends and influencing Republicans.

    The intimate gathering at a private home in Corning, N.Y., was pretty typical for an upstate fund-raiser featuring Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton: dozens of donors clustered in the terrace, listening to her speak, as they sipped wine and nibbled on hors d’oeuvres.

    But one thing made the event unusual: The host was a prominent Republican businessman whose brother Amo Houghton was the popular nine-term Republican congressman from the area who, it turns out, gives Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat, an “A-plus” for the job she is doing.

    His brother James, chairman of Corning Inc., agreed. “When I introduced Hillary, I told the crowd that the last time a Houghton had a fund-raiser for a Democrat was about 1812,” he said.

    With her 2006 re-election campaign approaching, New York Republican leaders vow to rally party loyalists in a broad effort to topple Mrs. Clinton, who has long engendered deep antipathy on the right.

    But as the fund-raiser last year in the heavily Republican town of Corning illustrated, the party may have a bit of a problem on its hands.

    In the four years since taking office, Mrs. Clinton has managed to cultivate a bipartisan, above-the-fray image that has made her a surprisingly welcome figure in some New York Republican circles, even as she remains exceedingly popular with her liberal base.


    …Representative Peter T. King of Nassau County, struck a similar note in recent interview. He described Mrs. Clinton as a celebrity senator who is willing to take a subordinate role on an issue she cares about, rather than allowing her involvement to become a distraction.

    For instance, Mr. King recalled an occasion when Mrs. Clinton suggested that he find another senator to be a co-sponsor of legislation that would benefit New York, because she figured that her presence on the bill would fire up the opposition. “There are very few politicians in public life who have the composure to step back, knowing that they will win in the end,” he said.

    Mr. King also said that Mrs. Clinton had been anything but the liberal extremist that her conservative critics accused her of being. “I’m not going to vote for her and probably disagree with her on 70 percent of the issues,” he said. “But I think that too many Republicans who criticize Hillary Clinton sound like Michael Moore criticizing George Bush.”

  • If you want a fun – almost addictive – website to play with, check out The Great Circle Mapper. It’s used by pilots to chart their long distance flights. Under Paths, for instance, type in the codes for airports, eg ABQ-HKG and hit display and it will show you the great circle route from Albuquerque to Hong Kong. I futzed around with it for hours and found that the route from New York (JFK) to Hanoi (HAN) goes directly over the North Pole, and the most direct route from Rio de Janeiro (GIG) to Sydney (SYD) goes over Antarctica. There’s lots of other cool features; say you want to find the farthest airport from a place – like you REALLY want to get the hell out of Dodge – type Dodge City into the Location, and when it brings up the airport details, it will show you the “Farthest” – as in the opposite side of the world. In this case it’s Plaine Corail, Rodrigues Island, Mauritius. Hat tip to Patrick Smith of’s Ask The Pilot for hooking me on to it.