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The United Nations

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Pouring Water on a Drowning Man.

“The Times article, based on information from former intelligence officers who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abu Zubaydah had revealed a great deal of information before harsh methods were used and after his captors stripped him of clothes, kept him in a cold cell and kept him awake at night. The article said interrogators at the secret prison in Thailand believed he had given up all the information he had, but officials at headquarters ordered them to use waterboarding.” Perusing last week’s sordid torture memos, eagle-eyed blogger Marcy Wheeler discovered an unsettling statistic: two suspects — Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — were waterboarded by the CIA 266 times. Zubaydah “revealed no new information after being waterboarded, the article said, a conclusion that appears to be supported by a footnote to a 2005 Justice Department memo saying the use of the harshest methods appeared to have been ‘unnecessary’ in his case.

Meanwhile, as right-wing stooges like former CIA director Michael Hayden and Mike Allen’s anonymous friend excoriate the president for breaking tradition and revealing the illegalities of the Dubya era, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel ventured onto the Sunday shows to tamp down talk of any prosecutions, even for the higher-ups. “[P]eople in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn’t be prosecuted…those who devised policy, he [Obama] believes that they were — should not be prosecuted either, and that’s not the place that we go — as he said in that letter.

Wrong answer, Rahm. And, unless President Obama were to grant full pardons to the architects of Dubya-era torture, it’s not even his call whether or not they should be prosecuted. In fact, choosing not to prosecute them would constitute a violation of international law.

Update: The White House doesn’t necessarily agree with Rahm. “[A]dministration officials said Monday that Mr. Emanuel had meant the officials who ordered the policies carried out, not the lawyers who provided the legal rationale. Three Bush administration lawyers who signed memos, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury, are the subjects of a coming report by the Justice Department’s ethics office that officials say is sharply critical of their work. The ethics office has the power to recommend disbarment or other professional penalties or, less likely, to refer cases for criminal prosecution.

Update 2: “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that.” President Obama opens the door further for prosecution.

And They Have a Plan?

With the final episode airing Friday (I’ll be visiting friends in CA, so probably won’t catch it until next week), the cast and writers of Battlestar Galactica visit the UN to “discuss issues such as human rights, children and armed conflict, and terrorism. Also on the agenda: dialogue among different civilizations and faiths.” Uh…so their advice to leaders would be, what. exactly? Meander about with no plan and little-to-no-purpose, retcon thorny individuals into line with your newest idea whenever necessary, and, when faced with an intractable situation, throw someone in the brig and/or stage either a show trial or a weepy, teeth-gnashing breakdown?

Perhaps I’ve been ruined by meticulously planned out shows like The Wire. Nevertheless, this last half-season of Galactica has been operating at about 3:1 filler-to-good-episode ratio, and that’s being charitable. As I feared, imho, the show’s been going down the FTL tubes ever since the ill-advised Dylan 5 reveal. Ah well…we’ll always have New Caprica.

Unamid to the rescue?

The resolution allows the use of force in self-defense, to ensure freedom of movement for humanitarian workers and to protect civilians under attack.” In a unanimous vote, the UN Security Council agrees to send 26,000 peace-keeping troops and police — a UN-AU hybrid force known as Unamid — to Darfur. “Ban Ki-moon , the UN Secretary-General, called the move a ‘historic and unprecedented operation’ that will send ‘a clear and powerful signal’ of help to the people of Darfur.” That being said, many observers — among them Sen. Russ Feingold — feel this version of the resolution has been excessively watered down to appease the Sudanese government: “If this UN resolution is passed as it currently stands, we can expect the Sudanese government to try to evade its requirements and agreements without a single consequence. Should that happen, the toll of the genocide in Darfur will continue to mount — in lives lost, in persons displaced, and in fundamental human values that the international community has failed to uphold.

The Big Lie, Buried.

By a count of 14-0 (Russia abstaining), the UN Security Council votes to shut down their inquiry into Iraq WMDs. Well, so much for that particular casus belli. From the vaults: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” — Vice President Dick Cheney, Aug. 29, 2002. (There’s another one for the impeachment file.)

Target: Ahmadinejad.

With an international dispute over 15 seized British sailors simmering to a boil in Tehran and Ahmadinejad cancelling his trip to New York in protest, the UN Security Council unanimously opposes sanctions against Iran for its continuing nuclear program (details.) “‘The impact is primarily political rather than practical,’ said Abbas Milani, the director of Stanford University’s Iranian studies program. The financial and military restrictions are ‘rather limited and toothless,’ but they are having a profound psychological impact on investors and eroding Ahmadinejad’s standing in Iran, he said.

Oops, sorry Kentucky.

By way of Do You Feel Loved and Ed Rants respectively, see how many member UN nations (143) and American states (49) you can name in ten minutes. Harder than you might think, particularly if you go about it randomly rather than systematically. (Or, at least, that’s my excuse.)

Somebody Set Up Us the Bomb?

In a welcome bit of good news on the international front, negotiators strike a deal in North Korea that lays down a plan for nuclear disarmament by Kim Jong Il’s regime. But all is not rosy yet: “In a harbinger of the potential for difficulties ahead, the official North Korean news agency said the agreement required only a temporary suspension of the country’s nuclear facilities…The agreement also seemed likely to face opposition in Washington by conservatives who remain unconvinced that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, ever intends to relinquish his nuclear weapons. Similarly, the Bush administration faced criticism from Democrats who charge the administration that broke away from the Agreed Framework in 2002 ended up five years later with a roughly similar accord.

Meanwhile, in related news, a European Union report argues that it is now too late to prevent Iran from developing its own nuclear weaponry. “The admission is a blow to hopes that a deal with Iran can be reached and comes at a sensitive time, when tensions between the US and Tehran are rising. Its implication that sanctions will prove ineffective will also be unwelcome to EU diplomats.

Musical Chairs for Team Dubya.

In not-unrelated news, the Dubya White House shuffles its deck to make ready for divided government, replacing failed Supreme Court bid Harriet Miers as White House counsel (likely in favor of someone more aggressive, so as to counter Dem subpoenas), kicking national intelligence director Nicholas Negroponte over to State (to be replaced by Vice Admiral Mike McConnell), appointing Thomas D’Agostino as new nuclear chief (the old one, Linton Brooks, seems to have been of the “Brownie” school of management), putting Iraq ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in John Bolton’s former position at the UN (his job goes to Ryan Crocker), and overhauling their top military team in Iraq. As the WP‘s Dan Froomkin reads the tea leaves, “I see a possible theme: A purge of the unbelievers.”

Ban Ki-Moon (and Spitzer) Rising.

Other important leadership shifts, these in and around New York: Having officially replaced Kofi Annan at the UN earlier this week, new general secretary Ban Ki-Moon cleans house, announces his own team and sets the Darfur crisis as a top priority. And, over in Albany, New York governor (and future presidential contender?) Eliot Spitzer delivers both his first Inaugural [text] and his first State of the State [PDF]: “In an hourlong address that was largely a repudiation of the policies of his predecessor, George E. Pataki, the new governor said he would seek to broadly overhaul the state’s ethics and lobbying rules. He said he would make prekindergarten available to all 4-year-olds by the end of his term, overhaul the public authorities that control most of the state’s debt and make New York more inviting to business by reducing the cost of workers’ compensation.

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