Argo – A Movie Review

 Culture, Movies  Comments Off on Argo – A Movie Review
Oct 282012
 

ARGO Movie PosterThe true story of the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis–the truth of which was unknown by the public for decades. In 1979, the American embassy in Iran was invaded by Iranian revolutionaries and several Americans are taken hostage. However, six manage to escape to the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador and the CIA is eventually ordered to get them out of the country. With few options, exfiltration expert Tony Mendez devises a daring plan: to create a phony Canadian film project looking to shoot in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew. With the help of some trusted Hollywood contacts, Mendez creates the ruse and proceeds to Iran as its associate producer. However, time is running out with the Iranian security forces closing in on the truth while both his charges and the White House have grave doubts about the operation themselves.

Release Date: October 12, 2012; MPAA Rating: R (for language and some violent images); Genres: Action/Adventure, Adaptation, Comedy, Drama; Run Time: 2 hours.

Director: Ben Affleck

Cast: Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Taylor Schilling, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina,     Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver.

Lay and me saw this movie last weekend. Continue reading »

Dec 112007
 

I sincerely hope that no one is falling for this “false flag” (I believe it’s called in intelligence parlance) of the CIA Agent suddenly coming forward to condemn waterboarding as torture, but then saying it saved thousand of lives when used to interrogate Abu Zubaydah. It is just too convenient that this “former” agent, John Kiriakou, suddenly gets permission to come forward and openly discuss this operation on the national news circuit. Does anyone still fall for this shit from this Administration?

Let’s play this all out. First off, Wikipedia defines “False Flag” as, “covert operations conducted by governments, corporations, or other organizations, which are designed to appear as if they are being carried out by other entities.” These sorts of operations are not unknown to the CIA, and are a standard part of operations within intelligence organizations.

Detainees and defense attorneys are not allowed to see any information related to interrogations, and according to the administration, US Courts can’t see information about interrogations and interrogation techniques even during these bogus detainee hearings at Guantanamo. Kiriakou said things on national TV that could not be discussed at one these detainee tribunals according to the Administration.

Now according to Kiriakou he was only at Zubaydah’s initial interrogation when captured, but the guy was captured while in the process of making a bomb, and had the plans for a school laid out on the same table. How convenient. He provides some detail of the operations that were uncovered during the Zubaydah interrogations, but admits he wasn’t there when Zubaydah caved after only about 35 seconds of being waterboarded…however, the guy couldn’t be broken any other way.

Kiriakou says that he didn’t know about the existence of the tapes until just the day before his appearance, yet he was able to get the appropriate clearances for these appearances from a gigantic bureaucracy in less than 24 hours. While this is the season of miracles, I’m not buying it.

 Mr. Kiriakou is “retired” from the CIA. He looks about 32, so I guess he went to work there at about age 10. Boy, they start them young. You can see part of his ABC interview at Crooks and Liars. Kiriakou is perfect for the job. He’s no longer with the agency…wasn’t there when the waterboarding was actually done…didn’t even take “the training,” but did submit to a little demonstration waterboarding.

The guy is handsome, well spoken, and well rehearsed. On a couple of the interviews, it even appears the questions are as rehearsed as the answers. He offers up the softest of descriptions of waterboarding (nothing like the the one offered by the Military Officer testifying under oath before Congress). Steve Benen at Carpet Bagger Report sums it up well:

As a matter of crass politics, Kiriakou’s assessment seems to offer a little something for everyone. For the right, Kiriakou is saying that torture produced intelligence that saved lives and thwarted possible attacks. For the left, Kiriakou is conceding that the Bush administration authorized and utilized torture (i.e., committed a felony), and he now believes the U.S. should stop using these “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

There is, however, one angle that warrants a closer look: whether torturing Zubaydah actually produced actionable intelligence. The answer is far from clear.

You see, it turns out that some time back it was reported that CIA and FBI agents had determined that Zubaydah, at most a low-level logistics guy arranging for some travel for families, and was most likely certifiably crazy. Ron Suskind reported some time back in the Washington Post:

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries “in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3″ – a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail “what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said.” Dan Coleman, then the FBI’s top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.”

I am just not buying it. This is an attempt to lessen the impact of even more attention to the administration’s illegal activities, and to try to start the dialog as being something that was valuable at the time because it supposedly saved lives, but we shouldn’t be doing it now…so let’s just drop it, and all go back to our respective corners.

Kiriakou says he thinks there should be a national debate about torture. BULLSHIT. There should be no discussion about torture. What has become of the values of this Republic and we as a people when we have to have a debate about torture?

A Mighty Heart

 General  Comments Off on A Mighty Heart
Oct 312007
 

A MIghty HeartThe film is based on Marianne Pearl’s account of the terrifying and unforgettable story of her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl’s life and death.

Director:
Michael Winterbottom

Genre:
History, Drama, Thriller

Cast:
Dan Futterman, Angelina Jolie, Archie Panjabi, Mohammed Afzal, Mushtaq Khan, Daud Khan, Telal Saeed, Arif Khan, Tipu Taheer, Amit Dhawan, Saira Khan, Aliya Khan

This is a well known story, so that makes it tough for a writer and director to keep the audience engaged. I think Winterbottom did this by using actual footage from the time, and shooting in a hand-held style with lots of cut-ins. The flashbacks could be a bit disconcerting, but added to the story.

Lay was disappointed that it was more about his wife than Daniel Pearl, but as I explained, we saw all there was to see about what happened to Pearl. We really don’t know what he experienced during his captivity. We did see what lead up to it, and then what was going on in the efforts to find him. Angelina Jolie’s persona is nonexistent as she is fully taken over by Marianne Pearl. Her accent is impeccable, especially watching scenes where emotions take over. She embodied the strength that allowed Pearl to deal with the days and weeks desperately seeking answers. It all culminates in a heart-wrenching moment of grief and release of all the feelings she refused to let take over until absolutely necessary. I was completely impressed by her performance.

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Waterboard Rumsfeld?

 Constitution, Corruption, Crime, Politics, Presidency, Society, War  Comments Off on Waterboard Rumsfeld?
Nov 102006
 

If he has nothing to hide…

Just days after his resignation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany’s top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hey, maybe the Germans can try that cute little trick that Bush’s CIA did in Italy. Just swoop in and steal people off the street of a NATO ally, then ship them out of the country to be tortured. I mean, after all, America is the beacon of hope in the world and we set the standard for decency. Hell, we are decency country-ified. Anything we do is per se humane and legal. So why couldn’t the Germans use the same tactics on us? I understand war criminals don’t get the same rights as real people anyway – you know, like habeas corpus or the Geneva Conventions – so no harm no foul.

We are at war, you know.

So Long To The Constitution

 Congress, Constitution, Corruption, Politics, Presidency, War  Comments Off on So Long To The Constitution
Sep 112006
 

What Bush is doing in the run-up to the midterm elections is a disgrace equal to any other scandal of his nasty, incipiently despotic, regime. Using the hallowed anniversary of 9/11, he has demanded Congress pass a law that enables the major terrorist suspects, until now held in CIA secret prisons all over the world, to be transferred and tried at Guantanamo.

The proposed courts would allow evidence obtained by what is politely called in America ‘coercive interrogation’ as well as hearsay and would deny the suspects’ rights to see evidence against them because it is deemed by the government to be classified. Because these courts plainly fly in the face of the rights enshrined by the American constitution and the Geneva Convention, the Supreme Court ruled against them last June.

This was hardly going to deter Bush and Dick Cheney. Last week, the President made a speech to an audience of sympathizers in the White House, many of whom had lost people in the attacks five years ago, to promote this legislation. If enacted, it will set Congress and the executive against the Supreme Court and the United States against international standards of decency and the rule of law.

Whatever Congress decides, nothing can change the court’s original opinion that the United States would be in violation of article three of the Geneva Convention, which only allows for trials in regular courts that afford ‘the guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people’.

The day after his speech, Bush went to Atlanta to address another audience, this time of ‘conservative intellectuals’ (truly an oxymoron in Bush’s America), and told it that he required a law from Congress that would legalize the NSA’s eavesdropping program, which has also been held by the courts to be illegal and against the rights established in the constitution. The strategy of demanding these laws now is actually rather clever. Every member of Congress and some senators are about to go back to their constituencies to fight the November midterm elections and few are willing to stand up for the constitutional rights when security is still the top priority of the vast majority of American voters.

Bush is likely to get what he wants from Congress, at the same time as refocusing attention on the terrorist threat rather than the inferno in Iraq.

Not many Americans appear to understand what is going on. But a few do -dissident, late-night talk shows such as Bill Maher’s and the New York Times which, considering it is the leading voice of liberal, law-abiding America, has been a mite too genteel for my tastes these past five years. However its editorial on Thursday did say this: ‘Mr Bush wants to re-write American law to create a glaring exception to the Geneva Convention, to give ex post facto approval to abusive interrogation methods and to bar legal challenges to the system.’

Precisely. The point that will surely feature in the forthcoming obituary of American rights and values is that the law that Bush proposes includes a measure which makes it retroactive to 11 September 2001. So, officials and CIA interrogators will be protected from prosecution under the War Crimes Act for anything they may have done from the inception of the ‘war on terror’, i.e. 9/11.

Why would this be necessary unless Americans had been torturing the 14 senior suspects who have been transferred to Guantanamo? It certainly gives the lie to Bush’s statement on Thursday: ‘The United States does not torture. It is against our laws and our values.’

Rupert Murdoch’s dreadful Fox News and his papers promote these utterances, offering a subliminal wink in the direction of the White House because they understand that torture is part of the ‘war on terror’ and, more crucially, that bamboozling Congress before the recess will concentrate more power in the ‘decider’s’ hands.

It is all part of a process of fashioning what Dick Cheney called ‘strong, robust executive authority’ with ‘constitutional powers unimpaired’; that is to say, executive power which is untrammeled by the courts or the people’s representatives in Congress. As in Britain, power is remorselessly flowing to the center and threatens to disrupt, if not permanently cripple, the democratic system.

At the last count, Bush has discreetly claimed the authority to disobey 740 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the constitution.

This state of affairs has gradually developed since the days of the Depression, when Roosevelt used the economic crisis to gain more power for the executive branch. Before the Thirties, legislation had been precisely drafted so as to minimize interpretations by the executive branch. Now the executive branch can ignore anything it wants and only consults Congress when it needs a law to bypass the remaining obstacle to total and unfettered power – the Supreme Court.

You may think I exaggerate, but the facts speak for themselves. The majority of Americans cares not one jot for the constitution and lawyers and politicians are content to set aside any of the revered articles whenever it suits them. Nobody complains. There are no demonstrations on Massachusetts Avenue, no mass rallies in Central Park in defense of the constitution.

‘It is paradoxical,’ says American author Paul Craig Roberts, ‘that American democracy is the likely casualty of the “war on terror” that is being justified in the name of expansion of democracy.’ Quite.

U.S. Uses Children for Leverage in War On Terror

 Politics, Presidency, War  Comments Off on U.S. Uses Children for Leverage in War On Terror
Jun 212006
 

Unforunately, reports such as this no longer come as?a surprise to me. Two young sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks, are being used by the CIA to force their father to talk.

Yousef al-Khalid, 9, and his brother, Abed al-Khalid, 7, were taken into custody in Pakistan in September, 2003,?when intelligence officers raided a flat in Karachi where their father had been hiding.

This administrations good ‘ole American values are on display more and more. The shameful part is 31% of Americans still agree with Bush…and most of the rest of us are sitting on our hands not yet feeling enough outrage to demand that Congress impeach the bastard.

Syriana

 Corruption, Culture, Movies, Politics, War  Comments Off on Syriana
Dec 122005
 

Syriana (2005)

A politically-charged epic about the state of the oil industry in the hands of those personally involved and affected by it.

Directed by
Stephen Gaghan

Genres
Drama, Thriller

Cast
Kayvan Novak, George Clooney, Amr Waked, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, Robert Foxworth, Nicky Henson, Nicholas Art, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Steven Hinkle, Daisy Torm?, Peter Gerety, Richard Lintern

This is a complex film that tries to get the audience to connect the dots –to see that control of the Middle Eastern oil fields is the goal that is at the heart of so much of the political process, both in the Middle East and in the West, and that it is also the catalyst for much of what we call terrorism. I was hoping for a lot from this movie, but was somewhat disappointed.

The film introduces a number of characters and a number of seemingly separate story lines in the beginning, then tries to weave them all together by the end. That makes for a challenging first hour or so, in which the film jumps back and forth from one storyline to another. It can be confusing.

The movie finally does weave most of them together in the last half hour, but it does not completely tie everything up, so the payoff just isn’t there. The conclusion it reaches is not a happy one for many Americans, for what the movie seems to say is American oil companies use any means necessary, including double crosses and outright murder, to protect their access to Middle Eastern oil.

Well enough, for the political message. But does it work as a movie? The answer, in my view, is “kind of.”

The plot centers around the merger of two American oil companies, one a industry giant, which has just lost a big contract in Saudi Arabia to the Chinese, the other a small, independent Texas outfit, that has just won a lucrative contract in a smaller Mideast nation and is now going to be very cash rich. But there’s a hitch. Did the Texas outfit bribe foreign officials, violating the US Corrupt Practices act. Fearing a Justice Department investigation that could block the merger, it hires a high priced Washington law firm to conduct its own investigation, to see what Justice might dig up against it.

At the same time, the Emir of a Persian Gulf oil kingdom is about to retire to Europe and has to pick between two sons to succeed him. One is a pool shooting playboy, the other a serious, reform minded idealist. Problem is, the idealist might not be so anxious to allow US troops to continue to garrison on his soil, while his fun loving brother wants nothing more than to have the Americans there to protect his privileged lifestyle from Islamic radicals. And as all this unfolds, a young Palestinian refugee, thrown out of work by a shift in control of the oil fields, is recruited by al-Qaida or something like it, and becomes involved in a terrorist bombing plot, using a weapon originally delivered by a CIA covert op to the Middle East.

But where the movie falls down is that it fails in someways to weave a human story into this and human stories, after all, are what the movies are all about. George Clooney does a fine job as a sort of world weary CIA agent caught up in the skullduggery. Although not particularly introspective, he does on occasion give you the impression that he’s trying to figure out if he works for the US government or the Houston Petroleum Club. Matt Damon plays an oil industry analyst who is an adviser to the idealist candidate for emir and he is given the task of adding the human element to the story, after his young son drowns in a swimming pool. Unfortunately, Damon falls completely flat, registering almost zero emotion in his role as an exasperated advocate of democracy and reform or even as grieving dad.

Continue reading »

White House Still Pushing Torture

 Congress, Corruption, Crime, Politics, Society, War  Comments Off on White House Still Pushing Torture
Dec 052005
 

Reuters has a story saying that the White House has been meeting with Sen. John McCain in an effort to obtain an exemption so that the CIA can torture people.

I continue to find it abhorrent that we are even discussing how this country might use torture. It’s proven to be ineffective, so to what end is Dick Cheney so interested in keeping this option open.

I find it even more surprising that these supposedly evangelical Christians continue to support this administration, despite this continuing desire by the Administration to torture people. There will be a day of reckoning, and I hate to tell these people, but the God I worship is not going to be happy that we enabled torturers. It’s really not part of his plan for humankind, and he was actually pretty clear about it.