The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Payday Lenders Boom Where Conservative Christians Exercise Political Power

Payday Lenders Boom Where Conservative Christians Exercise Political Power

Robert Parham
02-20-08

The predatory practice of payday lenders flourishes in the Bible Belt, the very place where one would think that the piety and morality of church goers would oppose such ventures that charge the poor exorbitant interest rates exceeding those of "the old mafia loan sharking syndicates." That is not the case, according to a new study that maps the correlation of payday lenders and conservative Christians.

Written by Christopher Peterson, a law school professor at the University of Florida, and Steven Graves, an associate professor of geography at California State University, Northridge, "Usury Law and the Christian Right" will be published in the spring in the Catholic University Law Review. However, the study is now available to download.
http://papers.ssrn.com/...

"Our study systematically surveys over 20,000 payday lender locations, cast against a backdrop of Christian political power, local and regional electoral districts, and a variety of demographic considerations," wrote Peterson and Graves.

"We conclude with a high degree of statistical certainty that states with powerful conservative Christian populations tend to host relatively greater numbers of payday loan locations per capita as well as a greater commercial density of payday lenders," they said.

Calling their findings "a tragic and sad irony," Peterson and Graves said: "Those states that have most ardently held to their pious Christian traditions have tended to become more infested with the progeny of money changers once expelled by Christ from the Hebrew temple. Legislators in those states who have effectively used Biblical principles to shape their legislative agenda on social and cultural issues have failed to consistently apply Biblical principles to economic legislation."

Payday lending is a practice that requires minimal credit check on borrowers and a post-dated check for the amount of the cash loan plus the interest charged due in one to two weeks. More often than not, borrowers are unable to repay their loan when it comes due and slide into deeper debt.

For example, a $325 loan, due in two weeks, would carry a finance charge of $52. However, the average payday borrower ends up paying an estimated $793 on a $325 loan, according to the study.

"The political power of Conservative Christians within a state is a better predictor of payday lending severity than either race or poverty," Peterson and Graves wrote. "Of the thirty ZIP codes most saturated with payday lending in the United States, all but three are located in one of fifteen most conservative Christian states."

Three Bible Belt states came under special scrutiny. One was Alabama, which the study ranked first in the nation for the "political power of conservative Christian Americans." Even though Alabamians voted for so-called conservative biblical values, Alabama Christians "stood essentially idle while the state developed one of the very worst usurious lending problems in the country."

Second only to Alabama in the political power of conservative Christians, Mississippi has the "highest density of payday lending of any state." One congressional district has more payday lenders than banks. "Hinds County alone has more payday lenders than all of Minnesota," found the study.

The authors praised North Carolina, a state with "solid Christian credentials," for re-imposing "traditional Biblical values in their consumer financial services markets." They wrote, "After nearly seven years of aggressive enforcement efforts...North Carolina...appears to once again be largely free of payday lending operations."

The study contains an appendix with detailed information about the usury law in every other state.

The widespread practice of charging astronomical interest rates on loans made to the poor runs counter to the biblical injunction against usury, which is condemned along with the shedding blood, extorting and forgetting God (Ezekiel 22:12).

In a clear passage to the freed Hebrew slaves, God said through Moses: "If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor's cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor's only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep" (Exodus 22:25-27)?

Not only does the Bible reject the excessive interest of the payday lenders, but the Bible speaks repeatedly about protecting the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger in the land.

Given the clarity of the biblical witness and the crippling reality of payday lenders, some Baptists are addressing the issue.

Religious Herald editor Jim White encouraged Virginia Baptists last fall to urge state legislators to place a cap on the interest rate payday lenders can charge. White called payday lending a "great injustice" and called a cap on interest charged "the least we can do."

White returned to payday lending in a January editorial, beseeching readers to contact their representatives supporting specific pieces of legislation that would cap payday lending. He wrote that these bills "will not eliminate the suffering of the poor. But, it will end one way the oppressed are being further impoverished."

The Baptist General Association of Virginia spoke out against payday lending in a November 2007 resolution, denouncing "the payday lending industry and its practice of further impoverishing the poor."

BGAV's Christian Life Committee members have contacted their own legislators, supporting reforms in payday lending. The committee is now preparing a report to present to Virginia Baptists that will identify the negative impacts on families of predatory lending and offer steps for advocacy.

The committee is also interfacing with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, which has a campaign to combat payday lenders, including a pledge for action designed to lobby state legislators.

BGAV is clearly the moral exception among Baptist state conventions. Most appear so morally malnourished that payday lenders flourish and impoverish the poor.

What was it that the Hebrew prophet Micah said that the Lord required? That's right—"to do justice"—the very thing too many seek to avoid.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/2/20/132014/049/158/460561

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Valentine’s Day Torture Trifecta

The Valentine’s Day Torture Trifecta
DEPARTMENT No Comment
BY Scott Horton
PUBLISHED February 16, 2008

On Valentine’s Day the Bush Administration was out on a mission, straight from the Orwellian Ministry of Love. That ministry of course served in Nineteen Eighty-Four as the center for torture. And as the shortest month reached its middle point, three apologists appeared on behalf of the administration to explain to the American public that they needed to relax and start getting comfortable with torture. It’s the new American Way, after all.

Act One: We Do It Better Than the Inquisition
The first appearance was by Steven G. Bradbury, who now heads the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department. As ABC News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times collectively uncovered, Bradbury owes his rise to a position of power due to one single issue: waterboarding. His predecessor, Dan Levin, was reviewing the universally reviled torture memoranda written by John Yoo, and decided to go to a near-by military base and undergo waterboarding himself to understand better what it was about. He was astonished at what he discovered and concluded that it could not possibly be given a free check. He set out to write a new memorandum putting tight collars on waterboarding. But when David Addington and Alberto Gonzales got word of what he was up to, they acted swiftly. Dan Levin was forced out of his job, and the search began for a new figure who could be counted upon absolutely to protect the torture regime. Steve Bradbury was that man.

If we had to pick just one brief snippet that sums up the corruption that the Bush Administration has worked inside of the Justice Department—its literal transformation from an institution that upholds the Rule of Law to one that spitefully tramples upon it—then it might well be this. Take a few minutes to listen to Bradbury’s evasions, dissembling and his attempts to justify waterboarding with historical comparisons.

And here’s the core of Bradbury’s legal reasoning. In his view, a coercive technique is not torture if it is:

subject to strict safeguards, limitations and conditions, [it] does not involve severe physical pain or severe physical suffering — and severe physical suffering, we said on our December 2004 Opinion, has to take account of both the intensity of the discomfort or distress involved, and the duration, and something can be quite distressing or comfortable, even frightening, [but] if it doesn’t involve severe physical pain, and it doesn’t last very long, it may not constitute severe physical suffering. That would be the analysis.

So the key is brevity. Do it in a few seconds, no lasting effects, and it’s fine. And that’s the beauty of waterboarding, in Bradbury’s mind. A former OLC attorney advisor, Georgetown Prof. Martin Lederman says this is “flatly, 100% wrong, and indefensible.” I’d say that is a charitable characterization. My own view is that this opinion constitutes evidence of Bradbury’s participation in a criminal conspiracy to introduce a regime of torture as defined in American and international law. The law may provide defenses for the interrogators who act in misplaced reliance on the Justice Department’s opinions, but it provides no shield for those who in bad faith formulate the policies that foment torture. Bradbury has no business serving in the Justice Department or in any other public office. He should now be the target of a criminal investigation, together with the other policy-level figures who drove the introduction and propagation of this torture regime. Indeed, beyond their essential criminality, no group of people have done more in the last seven years to undermine the security of every American citizen than these shadowy, ethically-challenged figures who seem propelled by the credo that they stand above the law because they can twist it to say whatever they want.

As for Bradbury’s future career, I suggest he take up acting. He is a natural to play the Grand Inquisitor in Schiller’s Don Carlos or Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov–he has the reasoning down pat, he actually looks sincere and clean-cut as he explains that “torture is good for you.” Our use of waterboarding is humane compared to the Spanish Inquisition, he says. And then he demonstrates the key distinction: the Japanese or Spanish would fill the stomach with water and then stand on the body. For the American version, we fill the lungs with water and don’t do any standing. You can exhale now. Isn’t that a great relief? It’s a kinder, gentler form of waterboarding. A waterboarding of which all Americans can be proud. A waterboarding that reflects America’s core values of respect for human dignity.
[Image]

It would be good for Bradbury to play this back so he can listen to the absurdity of his statements. Maybe he’ll get the opportunity to hear himself on tape in legal proceedings in the future.

Now we should be clear, Bradbury says that waterboarding today would be illegal. That’s because it’s not a part of the program that President Bush currently authorizes. But waterboarding in the past was perfectly legal, because Bush authorized it and his department approved it. And waterboarding in the future? Well, it may or may not be legal. He’s not saying. He’d have to think about it. How’s that for legal sophistry? Actually, based on Bradbury’s performance to date, there’s no reason to doubt how Bradbury would handle a request from the White House to authorize waterboarding. He will authorize it. Of course he’s not sure now how he will rationalize it, but he will come up with something. He’s that kind of lawyer.

But we shouldn’t give Bradbury a pass on the substance. His arguments can’t be squared with the statute and his description of the “American style” of waterboarding is at odds with the very graphic descriptions provided by U.S. service personnel who have been through the SERE program waterboarding which Bradbury acknowledges is the basis for the technique. It is drowning, not simulated drowning, and it is designed to bring the victim to the point of death, and then bring him back. So Bradbury’s denials of these points are simply lies, and lies to Congress, under oath.

Given the hand he plays, it is now a matter of some urgency that the Senate Judiciary Committee disapprove Bradbury as head of OLC. Indeed, his presence there stains the office and the institution. But it’s also vital that the opinions he authored on national security matters be carefully scrutinized by the Judiciary Committees so that remedial measures can be taken to overturn views that violate the criminal law and international obligations—and his Valentine’s Day appearance suggests that they will be very numerous.

Act Two: Be Very Afraid and Embrace Torture
It’s hard to imagine how the Bradbury appearance could be upstaged. But it was very quickly, by his boss’s boss, the Decider himself. George W. Bush has come under heavy criticism by the Government of Gordon Brown. Whereas the Blair Government had used private diplomacy in its efforts to push the Bush Administration to change its policies on torture and conditions of detention, Gordon Brown has authorized open criticism. Indeed, the U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo and the plans for Military Commissions have come under direct attack. Bush decided to defend himself in an extended Valentine’s Day interview with the BBC. Pride of place in his comments went to waterboarding, which Bush enthusiastically embraced. Here’s the summary provided by The Guardian:

But his most controversial remarks were over waterboarding. He told the BBC’s Matt Frei: “To the critics, I ask them this: when we, within the law, interrogate and get information that protects ourselves and possibly others in other nations to prevent attacks, which attack would they have hoped that we wouldn’t have prevented?

“And so, the United States will act within the law. We’ll make sure professionals have the tools necessary to do their job within the law.” He claimed the families of victims of the July 7 terror attacks in London would understand his position. “I suspect the families of those victims understand the nature of killers. What people gotta understand is that we’ll make decisions based upon law. We’re a nation of law. . .”

In the BBC interview, Bush was asked whether, given waterboarding and other alleged human rights abuses, he could claim the US still occupied the moral high ground. He replied: “Absolutely.” He added: “We believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in the human condition. We believe in freedom. And we’re willing to take the lead. We’re willing to ask nations to do hard things. We’re willing to accept responsibilities. And—yeah, no question in my mind, it’s a nation that’s a force for good. “And history will judge the decisions made during this period of time as necessary decisions.”

So Bush’s position is clear: torture is a legitimate tool in the hands of a power fighting from the moral highground. Without wading into the moral dimensions of this problem, we should start by noting that this is the man who has spent five years stating in a mantra-like fashion, “We do not torture.” That statement was untrue, and he knew it was untrue when he first uttered it. Therefore, we can conclude that Bush also believes that a power can lie to its own people and the world about the weightiest subjects—like reasons for war, and the use of torture—and maintain the moral highground. In purely relative terms, he’s right—the Bush Administration maintains a moral high ground vis-à-vis al Qaeda. But it has slouched closer to the morals of its terrorist adversary than any global observer ever would have thought possible.

But the next point to consider is, again without considering the underlying ethical considerations, whether the global community agrees with his statement. After all, the objective of holding the “moral high ground” is to have the support of world opinion behind us. The Founding Fathers recognized that as a vital weapon and they did much to hold it. And in America’s successful campaigns abroad, it has followed the same course. But Bush has fatefully parted from it. Public opinion polling shows that even in America’s key allies—nations like Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Turkey and Japan—the force of public opinion is not with the Bush Administration. Indeed, he is reviled, and public opinion impedes the ability of those governments to cooperate with the United States. What does this mean practically? The cost of conflicts abroad is dramatically escalated because they are borne by the United States and not shared. And the security of the United States is directly undermined due to the corrosion of these vital alliances, that generations of Americans fought and sacrificed to create.

But then we come to Bush’s core message. He argues that because British citizens were killed in attacks on July 7, the Government should be freed from the constraints of law and given license to torture. Bush’s vision of the world is influenced more by Rambo and Chuck Norris movies than travel or understanding of international relations theory. In his pathetic bubble world, he is convinced, torture is the answer to our problems. But the British response to July 7 was a model for Americans to observe and follow, for in fact, the British, eschewing torture and brutal methods and appealing for public support and alertness, did a far better job than their U.S. counterparts. Darius Rejali makes the key point here:

research has shown that public cooperation is the key to solving crimes –and the public must be confident in the police to come forward with good information. No parent would hand over his child knowing he would be tortured. Cracking a terror cell is not unlike infiltrating organized crime. The trick is to cultivate informers in communities where terrorists operate. Technology is no substitute for this. Nor is torture. Torturing for information destroys bonds of loyalty that keep information flowing, causing remaining sources of information to dry up.

On their own, police are relatively helpless against criminals and terrorists. Since the 1970s, researchers have shown again and again that unless the public specifically identifies suspects to the police, the chances that a crime will be solved falls to about 10 percent. Contrary to popular evening police television shows, only a small percentage of crimes are solved with fingerprinting, forensics and DNA sampling. In England, this constitutes as little as 5% of all detections.

Police captured the 21 July bombers using accurate public information. Tanya Wright, Ibrahim’s neighbor, helped the police locate Ibrahim and a second suspect, Yasin Hassan Omar, on July 22. Police then traced Omar to Birmingham where he was arrested six days later. Police arrested a third bomb suspect, Ramsi Muhammad, in the same flat as Omar. Three commuters had followed Muhammad through London until they lost him. Police identified Hussein Osman, the fourth bomber, by releasing video surveillance. They tapped his brother in law’s phone and Italian authorities arrested him. Police captured their suspects without torture or an American-style Patriot Act.

But Bush’s mind is never very subtle. He believes in himself and he believes the accretion of power in his hands will benefit everyone. Such thinking is of course the classic pattern of tyrannical megalomania. And Edmund Burke was clear about the essential role of fear-mongering in the tyrant’s desire to accumulate power. Appeals to fear are designed not to create alert citizens, mindful of their duties to one another, but quaking bowls of jelly, happy to cede all rights and powers to the man Plato called the “protector,” who soon enough will whip the chariot of State over the bodies of a once-proud citizenry. Or as a friend of mine puts it, “Prof. Shklar at Harvard once remarked, that those who put cruelty first in their lives are especially vulnerable to the vice of misanthropy.” And that we see to full effect today.

Act Three: The Jester
Any well composed classical opera buffa brings us the crude, blundering sort of comic relief. The figure who wants to be one of the big guys, serious, but is a simple figure of derision. The Hofnarr, they call him, the jester. And our Valentine’s Day jester was Senator Lieberman. Here’s what the senator from Connecticut had to say in a phone conference with reporters:

The difference, he said, is that waterboarding is mostly psychological and there is no permanent physical damage. “It is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological,” Lieberman said. Lieberman said that his position on waterboarding differs from that of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who he has endorsed as a presidential candidate. As a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, McCain was tortured. McCain, he said, believes waterboarding is torture.

But Lieberman’s statement demonstrates that he doesn’t understand what waterboarding is all about. Here is a summary by Darius Rejali of the four most prevalent forms of waterboarding.

(a) pumping: filling a stomach with water causes the organs to distend, a sensation compared often with having your organs set on fire from the inside. This was the Tormenta de Toca favored by the Inquisition and featured on your website photo. The French in Algeria called in the tube or tuyau after the hose they forced into the mouth to fill the organs.

(b) choking—as in sticking a head in a barrel. It is a form of near asphyxiation but it also produces the same burning sensation through all the water a prisoner involuntarily ingests. This is the example illustrated in the Battle of Algiers movie, a technique called the sauccisson or the submarine in Latin America. Prisoners describe their chests swelling to the size of barrels at which point a guard would stomp on the stomach forcing the water to move in the opposite direction.

(c) choking—as in attaching a person to a board and dipping the board into water. This was my understanding of what waterboarding was from the initial reports. The use of a board was stylistically most closely associated with the work of a Nazi political interrogator by the name of Ludwig Ramdor who worked at Ravensbruck camp. Ramdor was tried before the British Military Court Martial at Hamburg (May 1946 to March 1947) on charges for subjecting women to this torture, subjecting another woman to drugs for interrogation, and subjecting a third to starvation and high pressure showers. He was found guilty and executed by the Allies in 1947.

(d) choking—as in forcing someone to lie down, tying them down, then putting a cloth over the mouth, and then choking the prisoner by soaking the cloth. This also forces ingestion of water. It was invented by the Dutch in the East Indies in the 16th century, as a form of torture for English traders. More recently it was common in the American south, especially in police stations, in the 1920s, as documented in the famous Wickersham Report of the American Bar Association (The Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 1931), compiling instances of police torture throughout the United States.

The forms of waterboarding used by the CIA today come extreme close to the last two techniques described above. They involve actual drowning—not the “sensation of drowning”—and the statement that there is “no real danger” reflects consummate stupidity. Indeed, the victim will drown absent intervention to revive him, and “accidental” killings involving this technique are fairly commonplace.

Back in 2005-06, when I was working with Senator McCain’s staff on an effort to enact the Detainee Treatment Act, designed to overturn the use of torture techniques, one of his senior staffers told me “Much as Senator McCain likes and respects Lieberman, we absolutely cannot trust Lieberman on this issue. He’s a real snake in the grass.” Truer words were never uttered.

But there’s another aspect of Lieberman’s statement which needs some attention. He presents his rationale as an outtake from the Fox Network’s “24,” he talks about ticking bombs and the urgent needs to wrestle information from a participant in a plot in the course of performance. But of course, not a one of the instances in which waterboarding was actually applied related to anything like such a scenario.
[Image]
Carneades of Cyrene, bust, first century CE

Indeed, a Judiciary Committee staffer who carefully tracked Bradbury’s testimony earlier in the day drew this conclusion from it: “This is an official acknowledgment that we do not use these tactics only in (fanciful) ‘ticking bomb’ scenarios — we use them to find about ‘potential’ ‘planning’ of attacks and enemy ‘whereabouts’ — that’s just general intelligence gathering.” That’s precisely correct and it demonstrates the fraudulent way the “ticking bomb” argument is being used. Students of moral philosophy of course will recognize the technique. It was put forward by Sophists in the post-Platonic period. They suggested that they could contrive a set of facts sufficient to topple any moral law that a moral philosopher could postulate. The “plank of Carneades” is a prime example of their approach comstructed by the Sophists from a teaching of the second century BCE skeptic Carneades. It suggested that in extremis, a person could violate most natural and moral laws to save himself. Carneades did not actually believe this, he presented it as an example of a powerful and malicious form of argumentation with strong appeal to the weak-minded against which society must ever be on guard. And the “ticking bomb” scenario is merely an updated version of this line of reasoning. The way to approach such arguments entails a series of questions:

(1) Has the factual scenario that is posited ever occurred? Is it likely to occur?

(2) What is the consequence to society of taking the exception as a basis for overturning the general rule? How is the exception granted and applied?

(3) What is the objective of those advancing the exception?

However, this approach suggests we treat Lieberman’s comments as something serious and worthy of analysis. In fact the man is not a serious figure and his argument—that “waterboarding is better than placing burning coals on the flesh”—is simply ludicrous, and that’s the best way to treat it.

In the end, Lieberman’s comments add nothing to the debate. But they tell us much about Lieberman.


http://harpers.org/archive/2008/02/hbc-90002418

Stalin's Defense of Torture

Josef Stalin, 10 January 1939:

To the Secretaries of oblast and regional party committees,
To the CCs of national Communist parties,
To the people's commissars of internal affairs,
and to the heads of NKVD directorates

It has become known to the VKP CC that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees, in checking up on employees of NKVD directorates, have laid blame on them for the use of physical pressure against those who have been arrested, treating it as something criminal. The VKP CC affirms that the use of physical pressure in the work of the NKVD has been permitted since 1937 in accordance with a resolution of the VKP CC. This directive indicated that physical pressure was to be used in exceptional cases and only against blatant enemies of the people who, when interrogated by humane methods, defiantly refuse to turn over the names of co-conspirators, and who refuse for months on end to provide any evidence, and who try to thwart the unmasking of co-conspirators who are still at large, and who thereby continue even from prison to wage a struggle against the Soviet regime.

Experience has shown that such an arrangement has produced good results and has greatly expedited the unmasking of enemies of the people. True, subsequently in practice the method of physical pressure was abused by Zakovsky, Litvin, Uspensky, and other scoundrels, converting it from an exception into a rule and beginning to apply it against honest people who had been arrested accidentally. For these abuses, they [the scoundrels] have been given due punishment. But this in no way detracts from the value of the method itself when it is properly used. It is known that all bourgeois secret services use physical pressure against representatives of the socialist proletariat and rely on especially savage methods of it. We might therefore ask why a socialist secret service should be any more more humane in relation to inveterate agent of the bourgeoisie and sworn enemies of the working class and collectivized farmers. The VKP CC believes that the use of physical pressure must absolutely be continued from here on in exceptional cases and against blatant and invidious enemies of the people, and that this is a perfectly appropriate and desirable method. The VKP CC demands that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees and the CCs of national party committees bear in mind this explanation when they check up on the employees of NKVD directorates.

Secretary of the VKP CC
J. Stalin
10.1.1939

Bankers, like gangs, just get carried away

Bankers, like gangs, just get carried away

By John Kay

Published: February 12 2008 18:15 | Last updated: February 12 2008 18:15

“So long as the music is playing, you’ve got to keep dancing. We’re still dancing.” Chuck Prince, former chairman and chief executive of Citigroup, was interviewed by this paper only a month before the music stopped. A few weeks later he was out of a job. With these comments, he got to the heart of the banking crisis.

Economists search for rational economic explanations of apparently irrational behaviour. They emphasise skewed incentives and asymmetric information. There is something in these descriptions. But there were financial panics long before there were Wall Street bonuses. There were financial panics long before the invention of limited liability.

Mr Prince’s metaphor is sociological and anthropological not economic. Groups routinely demonstrate behaviour that few if any members would choose to adopt as individuals. Look at teenage gangs, soccer hooligans, religious zealots – or clubbers. Sometimes the group provides a cloak of legitimacy for misbehaviour. The trading floor has a similar effect. You get carried away, explained Jérôme Kerviel, Société Générale’s former trader. The process by which hysterical groups damage themselves and others in assertion of preposterous beliefs is a recurrent theme in human history. We see it in anti-Semitic pogroms or McCarthyite persecution. Before the mysteries of structured credit there were the mysteries of witchcraft; before investment banks used initial public offerings to turn dotcom concepts into billions of dollars alchemists claimed to turn base metals into gold.

Shared values and beliefs create a group identity. No matter that the beliefs may be absurd or the values contemptible: that Salem was not besieged by witches, the US was not threatened by communist infiltration, that greed is not good and that suicide bombers will not be greeted in paradise by 71 virgins. The very improbability of the belief, the unacceptability of the values, reinforces their social function; these factors distinguish the real members of the group from the less committed.

Gangs differentiate themselves by their characteristic beliefs and values. Your performance as a gang member is judged not by rational, objective criteria but by the approbation of your peers. As on the streets, also in the office towers. The people on the floor above fix your bonus and advance your career.

Some beliefs and value systems are more successful than others. The effortless superiority prized at Goldman Sachs seems to have served it well in the subprime crisis. The extreme aggression of Bankers Trust and Credit Suisse First Boston in the 1990s led ultimately to the destruction of these organisations as independent businesses. But always, the beliefs and values that matter are local, not global; subjective, not objective; and to question the prevailing culture is to exclude yourself from the group.

Were the people who presided over the promotion of dotcom stocks liars or fools who believed it themselves? Did the people who said structured credit products were a new and more sophisticated way of managing risk exposures really think this was true? Or had they simply latched on to an academic theory that fitted their self-interest? The analytic mind argues that one or other explanation must be true. But neither need be. Like the politicians who invaded Iraq, executives of major financial services businesses did not reflect on questions to which they did not wish to know the answer.

Sympathise with Mr Prince’s dilemma – although, given the size of his pay-off, do not sympathise for long. If he had decided to pull Citigroup back from its increasingly frenzied trading and lax lending, he would have been deposed – by shareholders desperate for profit, non-executive directors steeped in conventional thinking and, above all, by subordinates hungry for bonuses. The gang leader, despite his apparently unquestioned authority, is frequently the prisoner of the gang members. The man who occupied the chair at Citigroup, ostensibly the most powerful position in the global financial services industry, was in reality the pawn of his own employees. That is what Mr Prince meant when he said that so long as the music plays, you have to dance.

johnkay@johnkay.com

More columns at www.ft.com/kay

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/68eaec04-d98b-11dc-bd4d-0000779fd2ac.html?nclick_check=1

Philip Giraldi: What FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds found in translation

Philip Giraldi: What FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds found in translation

FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds has spilled her secrets, says PHILIP GIRALDI. Why is her story being covered up?

12:00 AM CST on Sunday, February 17, 2008

Most Americans have never heard of Sibel Edmonds, and if the U.S. government has its way, they never will.

The former FBI translator turned whistle-blower tells a chilling story of corruption at Washington's highest levels – sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage. She may be a first-rate fabulist, but Ms. Edmonds' account is full of dates, places and names. And if she is to be believed, a treasonous plot to embed moles in American military and nuclear installations and pass sensitive intelligence to Israeli, Pakistani and Turkish sources was facilitated by figures in the upper echelons of the State and Defense Departments. Her charges could be easily confirmed or dismissed if classified government documents were made available to investigators.

But Congress has refused to act, and the Justice Department has shrouded Ms. Edmonds' case in the state-secrets privilege, a rarely used measure so sweeping that it precludes even a closed hearing attended only by officials with top-secret security clearances. According to the Department of Justice, such an investigation "could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the foreign policy and national security of the United States."

After five years of thwarted legal challenges and fruitless attempts to launch a congressional investigation, Sibel Edmonds is telling her story, though her defiance could land her in jail. After reading its November piece about Louai al-Sakka, an al-Qaeda terrorist who trained 9/11 hijackers in Turkey, Ms. Edmonds approached the Sunday Times of London. On Jan. 6, the Times, a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper that does not normally encourage exposés damaging to the Bush administration, featured a long article. The news quickly spread around the world – but not in the United States.

Ms. Edmonds is an ethnic Azerbaijani, born in Iran. She lived there and in Turkey until 1988, when she immigrated to the United States. Nine days after 9/11, she took a job at the FBI as a Turkish and Farsi translator. She worked in the 400-person translations section of the Washington office, reviewing a backlog of material dating to 1997 and participating in operations directed against several Turkish front groups, most notably the American Turkish Council.

The ATC, founded in 1994 and modeled on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was intended to promote Turkish interests in Congress and in other public forums.

The FBI was interested in the ATC because it suspected that the group might be tangentially tied to drug trafficking and because of reports that it had given congressmen illegal contributions or bribes. Moreover, as Ms. Edmonds alleged in the Times, the Turks have "often acted as a conduit for the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's spy agency, because they were less likely to attract attention."

(In 2005, a spokesperson for the ATC denied to Vanity Fair magazine that the organization has ever been involved in illegal payment or espionage activities.)

Over nearly six months, Ms. Edmonds listened with increasing unease to hundreds of intercepted phone calls between Turkish, Pakistani, Israeli and American officials. When she voiced concerns about the processing of this intelligence – among other irregularities, one of the other translators maintained a friendship with one of the FBI's "high value" targets – she was threatened.

After exhausting all appeals through her own chain of command, Ms. Edmonds approached the two Department of Justice agencies with oversight of the FBI and sent faxes to Sens. Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy on the Judiciary Committee. The next day, she was called in for a polygraph. According to a DOJ inspector general's report, the test found that "she was not deceptive in her answers."

But two weeks later, Ms. Edmonds was fired. Her home computer was seized. Her family in Turkey was visited by police and threatened with arrest if they did not submit to questioning about an unspecified "intelligence matter."

When Ms. Edmonds' attorney sued to obtain the documents related to her firing, Attorney General John Ashcroft imposed the state-secrets gag order. Since then, she has been subjected to another federal order, which not only silenced her but retroactively classified the statements she eventually made before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the 9/11 commission.

Passionate in her convictions, Ms. Edmonds has sometimes alienated her own supporters and ridden roughshod over critics who questioned her assumptions. But despite her shortcomings in making her case and the legitimate criticism that she may be overreaching in some of her conclusions, Ms. Edmonds comes across as credible. Her claims are specific and fact-based, and they can be documented in detail. There is presumably an existing FBI file that could demonstrate the accuracy of many of her charges.

Her allegations are not insignificant. Among them: Ms. Edmonds claims that a former top State Department official was a person of interest to the FBI and had his phone tapped by the bureau in 2001 and 2002. Because of his senior-level position, this man had access to classified information of the highest sensitivity from the CIA, NSA and Pentagon, in addition to his own State Department.

Ms. Edmonds alleges to have heard evidence linking him to bribery from an ATC contact, to his intervening with the FBI to halt the interrogation of four Turkish and Pakistani intelligence operatives, and helping seed U.S. nuclear facilities with Turkish and Israeli Ph.D. students who in turn sold nuclear secrets abroad, primarily to Pakistan. The accused, who emphatically denies Ms. Edmonds' charges, is now a senior executive at a Washington lobbying firm.

A low-level contractor might seem poorly positioned to expose major breaches of national security, but the FBI translators' pool, riddled with corruption and nepotism, was key to keeping these secrets from surfacing. Ms. Edmonds' claims that the section was infiltrated by translators who should never have received security clearances and who were deliberately failing to translate incriminating material are supported by the Justice Department inspector general investigation and by an FBI internal investigation, which concluded that she had been fired after making "valid complaints."

Ms. Edmonds' revelations have attracted corroboration in the form of anonymous letters apparently written by FBI employees. There have been frequent reports of FBI field agents being frustrated by the premature closure of cases dealing with foreign spying, particularly when those cases involve Israel, and the State Department has frequently intervened to shut down investigations based on "sensitive foreign diplomatic relations."

Curiously, the state-secrets gag order binding Ms. Edmonds, while put in place by DOJ in 2002, was not requested by the FBI but by the State Department and Pentagon – which employed individuals she identified as being involved in criminal activities. If her allegations are frivolous, that order would scarcely seem necessary. Under the Bush administration, the security gag order has been invoked to cover up incompetence or illegality, not to protect national security.

Both Mr. Grassley and Mr. Leahy – a Republican and a Democrat, who interviewed her at length in 2002 – attest to Ms. Edmonds' believability. The Department of Justice inspector general investigation into her claims about the translations unit and an internal FBI review confirmed most of her allegations. Former FBI senior counterintelligence officer John Cole has independently confirmed her report of the presence of Pakistani intelligence service penetrations within the FBI translators' pool.

Ms. Edmonds wasn't angling to become a media darling. She would have preferred to testify under oath before a congressional committee that could offer legal protection and subpoena documents and witnesses to support her case. She claims that a number of FBI agents would be willing to testify, though she has not named them.

Prior to 2006, Rep. Henry Waxman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee allegedly promised Ms. Edmonds that if the Democrats gained control of Congress, he would order hearings into her charges. But following the Democratic sweep, he has been less forthcoming. It is suspected that Mr. Waxman fears that the revelations might open a Pandora's box, damaging Republicans and Democrats alike.

Ms. Edmonds' critics maintain that she saw only a small part of the picture in a highly compartmentalized working environment, that she was privy to only a fragment of a large operation to penetrate and disrupt the groups that have been stealing U.S. weapons technology. She could not have known operational details of what the FBI was doing and why.

That criticism is serious and must be addressed. If Ms. Edmonds was indeed seeing only part of a counterintelligence sting operation to entrap a nuclear network like that of A.Q. Khan, the government could now reveal as much in general terms, since any operation that might have been running in 2002 has long since wound down.

Regarding her access to operational information, Ms. Edmonds' critics clearly do not understand the intimate relationship that develops between FBI and CIA officers and their translators. Operations run against a foreign target in languages other than English require an intensive collaboration between field officers and translators. The translators are invariably brought into the loop because it is up to them to guide the officers seeking to understand what the target, who frequently is double talking or attempting to conceal his meaning, is actually saying.

That said, it should be conceded that Ms. Edmonds might sometimes have seen only a piece of the story, and those claims based on her own interpretation should be regarded with caution.

Still, Sibel Edmonds makes a number of accusations about specific criminal behavior that appear to be extraordinary but are credible enough to warrant official investigation. Her allegations are documentable; an existing FBI file should determine whether they are accurate.

It's true that she probably knows only part of the story, but if that part is correct, Congress and the Justice Department should have no higher priority. Nothing deserves more attention than the possibility of ongoing national-security failures and the proliferation of nuclear weapons with the connivance of corrupt senior government officials.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a partner in Cannistraro Associates, an international security consultancy. This essay was adapted from a longer version that appears on the Web site of The American Conservative magazine (www.amconmag.com).

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