Military Commissions Act S.3930: Barack Obama Responds to Constituent Mail, Defends Habeas Corpus and the Geneva Convention

If you recall, the Military Commissions Act was passed quickly, with little advance publicity or debate. There was a little buzz the night before suggesting the vote would be immediately the next morning and the Republicans intended to pass it without any amendments. That morning, I called the offices of both senators Durbin and Obama to urge them to vote no, and followed up with an Email to both senators. The contents of the Email was brief. It said “Please vote no on detainee torture S.3930″, signed with my fist and last name, ward, and precinct number. (How many people know their precinct number?) I received an immediate reply from Senator Durbin’s office, and Senator Obama’s office responded shortly after the November election, on Nov. 15. If you recall, Obama was very much in demand as a speaker for the ‘06 campaign trail. The odd marks in the text are just as I received them on a yahoo account, however I’ve deleted my first name from the top of the letter..

Dear {first name},

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (S. 3930). I understand your concerns. As you probably know, I voted against the bill, which passed by a vote of 65-34 on September 28, 2006.Â

 This legislation was offered in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case, which overturned the military tribunal system the President established for trying the detainees at Guantanamo. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the President proposed a system that would weaken both the nation’s commitment to the Geneva Conventions and our constitutional principles. I was pleased that the Senate Armed Services Committee rejected the President’s original proposal and passed a bipartisan bill (S. 3901). Unfortunately, that bipartisan alternative was rejected by the Administration and replaced by legislation that weakens the nation’s Geneva Convention obligations and seriously undermines important constitutional tenets, such as habeas corpus.Â

 Furthermore, the Congressional debate – and its ultimate decision – on this legislation occurred before we even saw the final compromise. Consideration of this bill was rushed in both chambers, where dissenting views were quickly dismissed or disregarded altogether.

The House of Representatives took up the bill under a special rule that barred all Democratic amendments. During the Senate debate, Republican leaders allowed votes on only four amendments, all of which were defeated on party-line votes. Those amendments, which I supported, could have improved the bill significantly without placing any burden on our national security efforts. Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia, for example, offered an amendment aimed at improving oversight of the program, and required only that the Pentagon submit quarterly reports to Congress on its activities. Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch is a constitutionally-endowed responsibility of Congress. I am disappointed that this common sense provision was rejected in favor of politics.

While no president should be deprived of the tools necessary to keep America safe, the hurried pre-election debate and vote on this bill is another sign that some politicians are using the national security debate to question their opponents’ commitment to fighting terrorism.  It is my hope that policymakers focus on keeping the nation safe and preserving the values that make our country the envy of the world, not on scoring tactical political advantage as an election approaches.Â

 Thank you again for writing. Please continue to stay in touch.


Barack Obama
United States Senator

P.S. Our system does not allow direct response to this email. However, if you would like to contact me again, please use the form on the website:

Stay up to date with Barack’s work in the Senate and on issues of importance to Illinois. Subscribe to the weekly podcast here:

Posted in Election 2008, Homeland Security, Obama. Comments Off on Military Commissions Act S.3930: Barack Obama Responds to Constituent Mail, Defends Habeas Corpus and the Geneva Convention

Easy Writing Composition: Look! Up in the air! It’s a limerick! It’s a haiku! It’s…. a cinquain?

Good Morning Class.A couple of weeks ago my landlord asked me if I could sit in front of one of his properties and wait for the gas utility truck to come and turn on the heat. No problem. I took a notepad and my dictionary and staked out my car in front of the property, ready to compose a limerick for my favorite blog site.  By the time the landlord cruised by to see what was going on, I had a draft limerick with several lines, but two rhymes I couldn’t quite get right. By the time the lady in the gas truck showed up (and she knew exactly how many thousand fires are started every year in Our Fair City by clear plastic dryer hoses) I had a respectable limerick ready.

The  informal limerick competitions were fun, but how often do we have enough free time just to sit and compose a limerick, with all its problems of rhyme and meter? Wouldn’t it be nice to jump straight into creativity and start expressing without a lot of technical details?

Well, help is on the way. I have unearthed the instructions for writing a cinquain poem. Like the haiku, the French cinquain (pronounced sah KAHN) is a sort of folk poem with a very structured framework. My Arab students loved it because they could be creative very quickly no matter what their level of English skill. The source for the exercise is Alice Omaggio Hadley’s Teaching Language in Context.

The cinquain is five lines:

Line 1: States a subject in one word (usually a noun)
Line 2: Describes the subject in two words (often a noun and an adjective or two adjectives)
Line 3: Describes an action about the subject in three words (often three infinitives, or a three word sentence)
Line 4: Expresses an emotion about the subject in four words.
Line 5: Restates the subject in another single word that reflects what has already been said (usually a noun)

Here is a cinquain in French and translated into English:

Optimiste perpetual
Attend son maitre
Il entend des pas…

Perpetual optimist
Waiting for his master
He hears steps

Okay, knock your socks off. This isn’t on the test, it’s for extra credit. Double extra credit for puns or metaphors.

Update: the writing and old comments were migrated from a different site.

3 Responses to “Look! Up in the air! It’s a limerick! It’s a haiku! It’s…. a cinquain?”

Christopher Says:
March 18th, 2006 at 2:10 am Thank you, thank you. I have a new exercise for my classes next semester (or, well…whenever). But it strikes me that line four isn’t really expressing an emotion about the subject, but rather describing an action of the subject, and the line following describes the subject’s response to the action, or something like that. I’m not kvetching, I’m still going to use it.
Anonymous Says:
March 18th, 2006 at 10:19 am Christopher, My students came up with MUCH better cinquains. I was laughing as they turned in the papers, and wanted to read them out loud. They finally agreed to let me read them to the class but without identification. But when they saw how much the rest of the class enjoyed it, they all admitted authorship and agreed to let me publish them in a little handout for the class. I suppose that’s something I could use for a portfolio.
I’ve never actually tried one myself, so here goes:
Illegal listening
Recording, transmitting, transcripting
Contemptuous disregard for law
J Says:
March 19th, 2006 at 7:57 am
Irrational Prompt
Hatred Usually Follows
Regret Follows Close Behind

Requiem for Tom Fox: A Threat to the Swords of Righteousness Brigade AND the FBI

Tom Fox went to Baghdad to wage peace. He was captured by a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, and held hostage along with three other members of Christian Peacemaker Teams. In the latest film released by the Swords of Righteousness, Fox was missing from the group. Fox’s body was found in Baghdad Friday, and the identity confirmed this week by the FBI.A statement released by Christian Peacemaker Teams said, “

We mourn the loss of Tom Fox who combined a lightness of spirit, a firm opposition to all oppression, and the recognition of God in everyone.

We renew our plea for the safe release of Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember. Each of our teammates has responded to Jesus’ prophetic call to live out a nonviolent alternative to the cycle of violence and revenge.

In response to Tom’s passing, we ask that everyone set aside inclinations to vilify or demonize others, no matter what they have done.

While the ACLU was busy filing a lawsuit in federal court today to get the FBI to comply with Freedom Of Information requests related to improperly investigating law-abiding human rights and advocacy groups like the Thomas Merton center for peace and justice in Pittsburgh, the FBI was busy in the Chicago area spying on the United Methodist Church. It seems that one of Tom Fox’s cohorts at Christian Peacemaker Teams has been staying in an unused parsonage building owned by the denomination. The FBI has been around asking questions about Christian Peacemakers Teams.

Tom Fox’s website tells us what was so threatening about Tom’s work.

“Why are we here?” We are here to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exists within us. We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God’s children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.”

It seems as if the first step down the road to violence is taken when I dehumanize a person. That violence might stay within my thoughts or find its way into the outer world and become expressed verbally, psychologically, structurally or physically. As soon as I rob a fellow human being of his or her humanity by sticking a dehumanizing label on them, I begin the process that can have, as an end result, torture, injury and death.

And what did the Swords of Righteousness have to say? They said Fox was a spy.

Would that be an example of a dehumanizing label?

Update: This writing was migrated from a different site, the comments appeared there and are reprinted with the names obscured.

3 Responses to “Requiem for Tom Fox: A Threat to the Swords of Righteousness Brigade AND the FBI.”

jcl Says:
March 14th, 2006 at 9:05 pm I am not, as you know, a Christian. Still, I have an immense amount of respect for what these people were doing – as I do for people of all backgrounds, philosophies and religion who stick their necks out – sometimes literally – for peace.
People say it takes courage to go into battle with a gun. I imagine it does. But it takes much much more courage to go into a battle zone without a gun, working to help other human beings caught in the crossfire of people who believe that the only way to be brave is to fight.
These people were an example to us all. I would one day like to do something as noble as what Tom Fox was doing – though of course I would never want to meet the same fate.
Thanks, Anonymous.
Anonymous Says:
March 15th, 2006 at 12:39 am
Thank you for your nice words.
There is a story about someone from the embassy meeting with Tom Fox. Supposedly she showed up with an armed guard and several armed vehicles, and Fox thought it was overly restrictive.
If your readers have never seen one, this is what a polite refusal for a temporary job in the green zone looks like, pasted from my Email. I hear they have no shortage of people who want to go there:
From: Add to Address Book Add Mobile Alert
Subject: Thanks For Applying
Thank you for your application for vacancy announcement number:
Portfolio Press Officer (Iraq)
This is to advise you that the vacancy has been filled.
We appreciate your interest in employment and encourage you to apply
for future vacancies for which you are qualified.
Staffing Division
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
Civil Service Personnel-Civil Service & Iraq Jobs
While I was moved by Fox’s story, and I have certainly wandered around the Middle East unarmed, I’m afraid I would want to be the one arriving in the armored vehicle in this situation.
Anoymous Says:
March 15th, 2006 at 12:46 am Fox was Quaker.

Posted in Iraq, Islam, peace, Terrorism. Comments Off on Requiem for Tom Fox: A Threat to the Swords of Righteousness Brigade AND the FBI

Eleventh Commandment discovered on St. Sinai?

Words, words, words. Everyone thinks they remember how many commandments there were, but has anyone actually thought to go to the mountain and see for themselves? This is exactly what I did back in 2001. And here is the photo. Incontrovertible pictorial evidence of The Eleventh Commandment at the summit of Mt. Sinai in Egypt, known locally as Jebel Musa (mountain of Moses). Moses did indeed drop one on the way down the mountain.

11th-commandment-stone.jpgHere is the answer to all the world’s problems, in this 11th commandment. But what does it say? Does it contain, as some who interpret Exodus 21 might think, a fashion statement about male bondage fetishes and ear piercing that closely follows the commandments in Exodus 20? Or is it that ever-elusive Secular Morality Creed that will unite all religious and non-religious peoples together in a just government in a nation where 79% of the voters say they believe in God?

trail-marker-at-summit-of-mt-sinai-did-moses-drop-one-on-the-way-down72.jpgOr maybe it’s just a trail marker….

It has come to my attention that some unscrupulous individuals have suggested these are photoshopped. Compare my photo of the summit of Jebel Musa with other photos of this well-visited landmark.

From left to right, the summit of Mt. Sinai, the burning bush surrounded by stone wall with fire extinguisher in the ground beside it, and St. Catherine Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai with the mountain in the background and the burning bush in the upper left.

Of course, my tour includes a few things the regular tours don’t, like the fire extinguisher beside the burning bush. O ye of little faith, does anyone really believe that I could go to the top of the mountain and not come down with an Eleventh Commandment?

Posted in Curiosities, Humor, Middle East, Religion. Comments Off on Eleventh Commandment discovered on St. Sinai?

A Moslem Conspiracy: Brigitte Gabriel’s frightened war-zone vision of population politics

Yesterday, by snail mail I received clipping from a local paper. It was about a speech delivered at the intelligence summit in Washington, DC on Feb. 18 by Brigitte Gabriel. I skimmed a few paragraphs, then completely forgot what I was doing, tossed my bifocals on the prayer rug, and read the whole thing word for word. Here is part of it. You can read the whole excerpt being circulated here.

Why They Hate

The West has been wallowing in a state of ignorance and denial for thirty years as Muslim extremist perpetrated evil against innocent victims in the name of Allah.

I was ten years old when my home exploded around me, burying me under the rubble and leaving me to drink my blood to survive, as the perpetrators shouted “Allah Akbar!” My only crime was that I was a Christian living in a Christian town. At 10 years old, I learned the meaning of the word “infidel.”

I had a crash course in survival. Not in the Girl Scouts, but in a bomb shelter where I lived for seven years in pitch darkness, freezing cold, drinking stale water and eating grass to live. At the age of 13 I dressed in my burial clothes going to bed at night, waiting to be slaughtered. By the age of 20, I had buried most of my friends–killed by Muslims. We were not Americans living in New York, or Britons in London. We were Arab Christians living in Lebanon.

As a victim of Islamic terror, I was amazed when I saw Americans waking up on September 12, 2001, and asking themselves “Why do they hate us?” The psychoanalyst experts were coming up with all sort of excuses as to what did we do to offend the Muslim World. But if America and the West were paying attention to the Middle East they would not have had to ask the question. Simply put, they hate us because we are defined in their eyes by one simple word: “infidels.”

You hear about Wahabbi and Salafi Islam as the only extreme form of Islam. All the other Muslims, supposedly, are wonderful moderates. Closer to the truth are the pictures of the irrational eruption of violence in reaction to the cartoons of Mohammed printed by a Danish newspaper. From burning embassies, to calls to butcher those who mock Islam, to warnings that the West be prepared for another holocaust, those pictures have given us a glimpse into the real face of the enemy. News pictures and video of these events represent a canvas of hate decorated by different nationalities who share one common ideology of hate, bigotry and intolerance derived from one source: authentic Islam. An Islam that is awakening from centuries of slumber to re-ignite its wrath against the infidel and dominate the world. An Islam which has declared “Intifada” on the West.

A perfect example is a recently elected Hamas official in the Palestinian Territories who raves in heavenly joy about sending her three sons to death and offering the ones who are still alive for the cause.

America cannot effectively defend itself in this war unless and until the American people understand the nature of the enemy that we face. Even after 9/11 there are those who say that we must “engage” our terrorist enemies, that we must “address their grievances”. Their grievance is our freedom of religion. Their grievance is our freedom of speech. Their grievance is our democratic process where the rule of law comes from the voices of many not that of just one prophet. It is the respect we instill in our children towards all religions. It is the equality we grant each other as human beings sharing a planet and striving to make the world a better place for all humanity. Their grievance is the kindness and respect a man shows a woman, the justice we practice as equals under the law, and the mercy we grant our enemy. Their grievance cannot be answered by an apology for who or what we are.

After reading this, I sat stunned for a moment just absorbing it. A part of it rang true, as being from someone�s personal experience. I had seen the underground shelter of a Moslem family near an international border. They had lived underground during an invasion; only the father had gone out for food. But as I ran Gabriel�s whole piece through the sieve of my own experience, a part of it did not ring true. Moderate Moslems do exist, many of them. They are just ordinary people using their religion to live the best lives they know how to live. I know. I have seen them. All those Moslems who explained their culture and helped me cope with living in a strange land. The Moslem neighbors who invited me for Iftar at sunset on the first day of Ramadan. So many strangers; so many gestures of hospitality.

So who is Brigitte Gabriel and what does she stand for? Her organization is called the American Congress for Truth (ACT) “American” AND “truth” all in the name of one three-word organization? The only word they’re missing is “justice”.

Her vision?

She sees what Moslems have done to Arab Christians as being indicative of Islamic intentions towards Israel and America.

…every American must become informed about who our enemy is.

And here are some of the words from the original speech that were left out of the speech as it was circulated:

The most important element of intelligence has to be understanding the mindset and intention of the enemy.

If you want to understand the nature of the enemy we face, visualize a tapestry of snakes. They slither and they hiss, and they would eat each other alive, but they will unite in a hideous mass to achieve their common goal of imposing Islam on the world. This is the ugly face of the enemy we are fighting.

America and the West are doomed to failure in this war unless they stand up and identify the real enemy. Islam.

And yet, there are still Americans who are unable or unwilling to recognize the nature or the extent of the threat presented by radical Islam. Whether motivated by naive wishful thinking or rigid political correctness, they assert that Islam is a moderate, tolerant and peaceful religion that has been hijacked by extremists. They refuse to accept that in the Muslim world, EXtreme is MAINstream.

For those of us who’s first language is Arabic and are able to read the language they are written in, we can understand completely where all the hatred and bigotry is coming from. Their sacred obligation to impose Islam upon the entire world evidenced by their hatred and animosity towards non-believers is not a distortion of Islam, nor is it the creation of a few extremists who have hijacked an allegedly peaceful and tolerant religion. It is the underlying theme of the Koran and the Hadith.

This army doesn’t work independently but is supported and protected by a community and a neighborhood. It is suicidal to label any Islamic community as moderate because it is this same community that protected, supported and shielded the extremists and made their suicide operation possible.

You might want to ask some of your older Japanese-American friends what the next step of this argument might be.

Have a nice day.