Archive for January, 2009

I’m reading Obama’s Executive Order on presidential records and wondering whether this means that the previous administration’s records — including Cheney’s — can be made public even if Bush claims executive privilege:

Sec. 4.  Claim of Executive Privilege by Former President.

(a)  Upon receipt of a claim of executive privilege by a living former President, the Archivist shall consult with the Attorney General (through the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel), the Counsel to the President, and such other executive agencies as the Archivist deems appropriate concerning the Archivist’s determination as to whether to honor the former President’s claim of privilege or instead to disclose the Presidential records notwithstanding the claim of privilege.  Any determination under section 3 of this order that executive privilege shall not be invoked by the incumbent President shall not prejudice the Archivist’s determination with respect to the former President’s claim of privilege.

(b)  In making the determination referred to in subsection (a) of this section, the Archivist shall abide by any instructions given him by the incumbent President or his designee unless otherwise directed by a final court order.  The Archivist shall notify the incumbent and former Presidents of his determination at least 30 days prior to disclosure of the Presidential records, unless a shorter time period is required in the circumstances set forth in section 1270.44 of the NARA regulations.  Copies of the notice for the incumbent President shall be delivered to the President (through the Counsel to the President) and the Attorney General (through the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel).  The copy of the notice for the former President shall be delivered to the former President or his designated representative.

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In Dexter Filkins’s latest dispatch from Afghanistan, an American foot patrol enters a village near Kandahar to find three men sitting on a blanket, listening to music on a radio:

‘So, seen any Taliban lately?’ Lieutenant Holloway asked the men.

‘We haven’t seen the Taliban in eight months,’ a man named Niamatullah said, looking up.

‘Do you ever see anyone moving through here at night?’ Lieutenant Holloway asked.

‘We don’t go outside at night,’ said Mr. Niamatullah, who, like many Afghans, uses one name. ‘When we do, you guys search us and hold us for hours. And you never find anything.’

Lieutenant Holloway shook his head.

‘The last person we stopped in this village, we held for 20 minutes,’ the lieutenant said. ‘We never detain anyone.’

‘We are afraid of you,’ Mr. Niamatullah said.

‘Is there a Taliban curfew?’ Lieutenant Holloway asked.

‘Only a man with a white shawl is allowed outside at night,’ Mr. Niamatullah said.

‘A white shawl?’ Lieutenant Holloway squinted.

Mr. Niamatullah did not offer to explain.

‘But he has no gun, so you cannot detain him.’

After several minutes, Lieutenant Holloway gave up.

‘Everybody knows something,’ Lieutenant Holloway said, walking away, ‘But no one tells us anything.’

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I followed the conflict in Sri Lanka from the start all through the 80s and early 90s and was more aghast at what was happening on the island every time I went back, which was once or twice a year.

The slow unraveling of the country’s democracy and its descent into the lower depths of fratricidal hell was all the more tragic since, of all the meaningless civil wars I’ve covered, this ranked as probably the most mind-boggling. The roots of the Sinhalese-Tamil dustup were neither ethnic nor religious, which would have explained the ferocity, but linguistic; and even for the most passionate advocate of two-state solutions there was never any doubt that a viable Tamil state on this tiny clump of land was impossible simply because it wasn’t practical. Watching the mayhem, I was more often than not left wondering what the hell they were fighting over.

I was reminded of all this when an old friend emailed me a link to this editorial, titled “And Then They Came for Me”, by the editor of the Colombo newspaper The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge.

In what must be one of the most devastating pieces of journalism I’ve ever read, Wickrematunge, who was shot dead by two gunmen on January 8, not only executes a brilliant full-frontal assault on the presidency of his old friend Mahinda Rajapaksa but also predicts his own assassination — and names the culprits:

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

Wickrematunge then turns to address the president:

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

Breathtaking in its eloquence and tragic beyond words, Wickrematunge’s soliloquy offers no hope, even if the solution to the country’s ills is painfully obvious:

[…] A military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering ‘development’ and ‘reconstruction’ on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen – and all of the government – cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

As for his own imminent demise, Wickrematunge takes solace in “knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man”:

I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.

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My Fellow Citizens…

The speech, courtesy of FP:


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It Starts

What I would give to be there:

A pre-dawn crush of people in the Washington DC Metro, eager to be part of history. The train passes one stop because the platform is overstuffed. At the Capital South Station, packed cars open. There’s little room to take actual steps; everyone shuffles. It’s a claustrophobic procession, clogging and pressing at a broken escalator. Then someone starts singing, and more join in:

Oh when the saints go marching in
When the saints go marching in
Oh Lord I want to be there in that number
When the saints go marching in!

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The Financial Times:

The late Roman republic was once badly defeated by the Parthians, who ruled most of today’s Iraq and Iran. But no historian records that the Romans thereafter declared a global war on the Parthian shot.

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No more clichés. I’ll just say it like it is:

I’m so fucking relieved.


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