US Government’s Illegal Torture Policies in the Middle East



A friend of mine came across this documentary and passed along the link.  I’m studying Middle Eastern history as my major, so he thought it would be relevant to my interests.  It’s 79 minutes and the audio gets steadily further and further out of sync with the video, but hey, it’s free, and it’s worth the information you’ll glean from it.


What I saw in this video is nothing more than what I expected.  I have little faith in the US government anymore.  I mean, seriously.  They can’t fix our economy.  They can’t stop giving tax breaks to huge corporations.  They can’t take care of Americans.  They can’t do anything but blow up other countries to hide their own deficiencies.  It also bothers me how caught up most people are in glorifying war and the military in this country.  I think Americans are losing sight of what this country is supposed to be about.  War isn’t a destination.  War was a means of achieving a free society where people have inviolable rights.  All people.  Not just the ones we like.  War is not glorious, and just because someone is from another country, they don’t lose their human rights.  They’re still human beings.  Why would we take someone for whom we have no evidence of wrongdoing and then treat them worse than we treat serial murderers, rapists and child molesters in the US?


I can understand the situation that was created in these prisons and it’s completely absurd to blame the front-line soldiers.  In the military, there’s a whole other culture, distinct from regular American culture, and there’s a separate legal system and even a different way of thinking about things.  For the most part, you do what you’re told, even when things start to spiral into the absurd, because that’s what you get trained to do: follow orders.  When soldiers question orders, they’re reprimanded, disciplined and sometimes humiliated in front of their peers.  They can lose pay, rank or status.  So, there’s a lot of pressure to just follow orders, and I’m sure first-hand experience with public humiliation makes it easier to take the first step towards severe humiliation of prisoners whom your told have no rights and are something less than human.


So, things just get done because that’s what was ordered, and because everyone else is doing it.  What I’m describing is just based on what I remember from my experiences in non-combat units.  I can’t imagine the added pressures involved in dealing with people that you’re told are enemy combatants.  This whole situation seems like something Stephen King would have cooked up for a horror novel, rather than reality.  In the end, though, the unit commander should be ultimately responsible for the actions of the unit, both good and bad.  A common saying in the Army is that “shit rolls downhill,” meaning from the top of the chain-of-command to the bottom, but it should also roll back up when something goes wrong like this.


Instead of trying to find ways to justify unwarranted violence and illegal torture, our politicians should be finding ways to stop blowing up other countries, defend our own, and fix our financial issues.

Lies My Teacher Told Me, An Excellent Call To Action

Lies My Teacher Told Me is a book that doesn’t try to correct everything wrong with our history, as portrayed in textbooks, but one that gives examples and then challenges the reader to take that information and use it in the future to find real truth in what we’re fed by public education institutions.  The book encourages people to think about what they’re being told, why they’re being told it, and to consider how and when it was presented.  It also offers a few intellectual tools for interpreting the information we’re presented with today, and how to understand why our history is relevant to our current situation.  For example, why do so many people in the world hate the US?  Is it because we’re just so damn good, like our textbooks would have us believe?  Or is it because of actions in the past that are morally ambiguous at best, or completely contrary to the ideas our nation was founded on at worst?

One of the biggest problems Mr. Loewen presents, in regards to textbooks, is that they’re meaningless jumbles of facts, put together by a mass of authors (sometimes not even the ones on the covers).  That jumble of meaningless factoids turn into a tome of confusing rubbish that leaves the potential learner entirely dissatisfied.  While reading the book I kept thinking back to when I learned American history in high school.  Honestly, it didn’t take long, because I don’t even remember learning American history in high school.  This supports the information he presented which says that most students won’t even remember what they learned, mostly because of the way the information is presented.  Mr. Loewen consistently reinforces the idea that history should be taught as a causal structure, both to make it interesting and to make it relevant.  I completely agree.  Up until recently I had no interest in history, because all I remember of what I was taught, in a middle school class that I only remember vaguely, was that it was horribly boring.  We were presented with lots of names and dates and place names that we had to remember, and not much else.  There was no content.  There were no real people or real actions behind the factoids.  We never focused on the ‘why’ of the situations, or the human aspect.  Instead, we were forced to memorize these factoids and regurgitate them onto paper for tests.  What does that teach me about history?  That it’s boring and irrelevant to what I’m doing today, that the actions of the past and the people responsible for them don’t matter, and that it has no bearing on what I might do in the future.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  After taking a personal interest in history and learning on my own, I find history to be incredibly interesting.  The things I read about are often situations that still occur today, or explain current problems.  Not everyone takes a personal interest in history, though.  Not everyone gets beyond that meaningless factoid stage and really tries to think about the ‘why’.  They memorize, they regurgitate, and then they forget.  That’s why high school history textbooks are a problem.  They turn people off to history, leaving them without a firm foundation to stand on in when trying to forge a better future.

Another problem with textbooks that Mr. Loewen presents is the affect they have on maintaining the status quo, both on a personal, state, and national level.  He goes into some detail about the textbook adoption process and how that process is affected.  For example, Southern states have more often than not tried to make sure the textbooks that reach their classrooms are not overly negative in terms of the Civil War or slavery.  Textbooks as a whole leave out information on Native Americans, the European diseases that left them decimated, or the forced relocations.  Textbooks also continue to teach the primitive vs. advanced society theory, which has been debunked by recent research.  High school history textbooks also perpetuate the idea of constant progress, even though the resurgence of racism against blacks during Reconstruction obviously was a step in the wrong direction. Textbooks try to avoid mentioning social class, religion, or anything that might be offensive.  Who isn’t offended by something?  History isn’t all peach blossoms and pleasant views.  The truth is more important.  We can’t learn from history if we’re only taught history that makes us feel good about ourselves, or that won’t offend anybody. Mr. Loewen argues that new work in fields like anthropology and sociology should be introduced into history textbooks to better inform students about how our history has affected who they are.  Again, I agree.  History as a set of facts is meaningless, especially when it’s a list of biased facts that don’t tell the whole story.  History as a set of facts is also boring.

I think the biggest lesson that I can take from Mr. Loewen’s book is that any information, whether from a history textbook or a news article or a book, should be treated with caution, if not suspicion.  Remembering who wrote it, when it was written and what was important to people at the time, what was important to the author and if it’s trying to push an agenda, all these things can help in keeping the information in context.  When in doubt, consult primary sources to find the truth, or at least something closer to the truth.  We’re all biased, one way or another, and the meaning of history is a matter of interpretation.  For example, we can easily say that the US entered the Vietnam War, but why we entered the war and whether it was justified is a matter of opinion that can be supported only by finding facts and then forming them into a coherent argument.

History is a fascinating subject if you allow it to be.  Real history isn’t the same as the meaningless factoids that you’ll find in a history textbook.  It’s alive, it’s vivid, it’s emotional and it’s relevant to today.  Besides teaching me some things about our history that I didn’t know (because I wasn’t taught properly), Mr. Loewen’s book taught me how to better study history.

Founded on God, or Founded on Freedom?

US-founding-fathers

Someone I know was complaining on Facebook that people are forgetting that the US was “built on God but we can’t even pray now.”  I’m taking a US Government and Politics class right now, so this is fresh in my mind, and I think that people are forgetting what the country was founded on.  It wasn’t founded on God.  The country wasn’t built on God.  In fact, there is no mention of God, Christ, or Christianity in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, and there are reasons for that.

The only mentions of religion in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights are in Article 6, Clause 3, which says no religious test will be required to hold an government office, and in Amendment 1, which prevents the establishment of a national religion or government restriction of religious practices

Article 6, Clause 3 (emphasis added):

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Amendment 1 (emphasis added):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Some of the foundering fathers were Protestant Christians for sure, and likely they didn’t expect the encroachment of non-Protestant Christian religions in US society, but they did see the necessity of ensuring that the government couldn’t make any decisions regarding religion, which I think includes not allowing the government to give any indication that it sponsors one religion over another.  The reason for this is that they were quite aware of the abuse of the system in England, where the English monarch was also the head of of the church.  This gave the government far too much power over people.  It’s better for people to be able to have the freedom to make their own choices in regard to religion, without having any one brand of religion forced down their throats by the government.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892. During a religious revival, “under God” was added in 1954, but, since that implies state sponsored religion, it’s a violation of the 1st Amendment and shouldn’t have been added in the first place.

God shouldn’t be mentioned in any government run institution and it shouldn’t be mandated by government that people are obligated to make oaths or pledges to or by God. That treads on ground the founding fathers implicitly said was outside the government purview, and denial of those powers is explicitly enumerated in the Constitution.  References to God shouldn’t be present in government buildings, courts, classrooms, or government offices, since it violates the Constitution.

The US wasn’t founded on God. It was founded on the principles of freedom and republican democracy.  However, I think our government is being too aggressive in telling students that they can not pray if they want to in a school. To me, that impedes practice of religion, since praying in school voluntarily isn’t hurting anyone, or implying sponsored religion. People should be free to worship, and the government should never imply that it sponsors a particular religion, but it also shouldn’t be preventing people from having an opportunity to pray, meditate, have an out-of-body experience, mentally prepare for the day, review notes, etc.

Maybe Laptop Prices in Singapore Weren’t That Good After All?

A long view down an aisle at a Super Walmart.

My aunt’s mother says that if you can’t find it at Walmart, you don’t need it, and you really could live by that.  A Super Walmart has groceries, clothes, electronics, and even car parts and it’s all sold for low, low, sometimes ridiculously low prices.  I remember when I was younger I didn’t like the idea of shopping at Walmart, but that was back before I was spending my own money on the things I wanted to buy.  Now that everything is coming out of my own pocket, I look for good deals over fancy brand labels.

Something Walmart seems to be doing really well at is their laptop pricing.  Have a look:

Laptop prices at a Super Walmart.

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I remember seeing that 278 USD (362 SGD) Acer for sale in Singapore for 600 SGD.  I remember seeing that 298 USD (388 SGD) HP laptop for 800 SGD in Singapore.

Walmart really does have some low prices, and I’m not complaining.

Exporting Cats From the Philippines to the USA (via Delta Airlines)

Meet Marble.  Marble was born in Singapore, has lived in the Philippines and is sleeping in an armchair in Manhattan, New York City, in the above picture.  She’s an international cat and probably has more Sky Miles than most human beings.  She’s also a lucky cat, having started out her life as a stray under a building near the train station in Pasir Ris, Singapore.  Now she lives a life of relative luxury on the other side of the world with canned food every day, lots of attention and love and a safe environment.

So, how did she get here?  Well, it’s a long story, but first we exported her from Singapore to the Philippines and then when it was time to move on, we exported her again from the Philippines to the US.  (If you want to read about how to get your cats from Singapore the Philippines, click here.)  Compared to the process of getting Marble from Singapore the Philippines, bringing her to the US was relatively painless.

U.S. Requirements:

Just to give you an idea, the requirements set forth by the CDC (Center for Disease Control, which regulates animal imports) for bringing your pet cat into the US are that the cat has to be in apparent good health and, depending on the state of entry, updated on rabies shots.  That’s it.  Here’s the exact quote from the CDC’s page on cat importation:

A general certificate of health is not required by CDC for entry of pet cats into the United States, although some airlines or states may require them. However, pet cats are subject to inspection at ports of entry and may be denied entry into the United States if they have evidence of an infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans. If a cat appears to be ill, further examination by a licensed veterinarian at the owner’s expense might be required at the port of entry.

Cats are not required to have proof of rabies vaccination for importation into the United States. However, some states require vaccination of cats for rabies, so it is a good idea to check with state and local health authorities at your final destination.

All pet cats arriving in the state of HawaiiExternal Web Site Icon and the territory of GuamExternal Web Site Icon, even from the U.S. mainland, are subject to locally imposed quarantine requirements.

Delta Requirements:

An additional requirement from Delta (the airline I used) was that she needed a government health certificate and to get her out of the country we had to get an export permit.  In the Philippines, you’ll get your export permit and government health certificate at the same time.  They’re the same form in fact.

Philippines Bureau of Animal Industry - Image provided by commenter Lou Cep (1/26/2017)

Philippines Bureau of Animal Industry – Image provided by commenter Lou Cep (1/26/2017)

So, here’s a step-by-step for what you’ll need to get your pet cat out of the Philippines:

  1. When you book your flight, do it with a live person and inform them that you’ll be taking a pet cat with you on the flight.  This is necessary, because not all planes are equipped to carry live animals.  The fee for carrying pet cats is 200 USD each, flat rate.  You pay this later.  I’m not aware of any limit to the number of cats you can bring at one time, but I’m sure there is one.
  2. Within 10 days of your flight, take your cat to a vet and have her updated on all shots.  Depending on what state you go to, your cat may need a rabies shot.  Also, regardless of US requirements, the BAI staff asked to see proof of rabies vaccination.  Get your cat the other shots he or she should have anyway, because it’s just healthier that way and will help your cat avoid disease and live longer.  Depending on what vet you use, costs may vary.  Our cat had her rabies shot in Singapore in May, so it was still valid.  Her feline leukopenia booster was 750 pesos.
  3. Request a Veterinary Health Certificate.  You may need to explain what this is and what it’s for and what it needs to say.  The vet we went to didn’t seem to know, which isn’t surprising.  Cats aren’t popular pets in the Philippines and I imagine exporting them to other countries by owners is rare.  We paid 500 pesos for our Health Certificate at Our Lady of Assumption Dog and Cat Clinic – Antipolo:
    • Contact Person: Oscar Macenas
    • Address: Joren Building, Circumferential Road, Marville Park Subdivision, Antipolo, Rizal
    • Contact Numbers: (02) 697-1896, (02) 697-3378
    • Accreditation: Philippine Animal Hospital Association (PAHA)
  4. Take your Veterinary Health Certificate (within 3 days of issue!!!) and your cat’s shot record, showing the valid rabies vaccination, to the BAI building on Visaya’s Avenue in Quezon City, Manila. Please note that BAI will only consider your veterinary health certificate valid for three days after issue. You must bring it to them within that timeframe.  They’ll process your combo export permit/government health certificate in an hour or less.  Take the form they give you and go around to the back of that building (to the left as you exit the door).  Go into the building there on your left (there’s only one) and up to the 3rd floor to the records unit.  They’ll put a ‘dry seal’ (raised notary seal) on your export permit.  All of this is free. The forms you receive from the BAI will be valid for 10 days. (Confirmation that the veterinary health certificate is still only valid for 3 days after being issued and updated information on the length of time that the BAI documents are valid provided by commenter Lou Cep 1/26/2017).
    • Contact Person: Virgie Tiong or Maynard Lagmy
    • Address: National Veterinary Quarantine Services, Bureau of Animal Industry, Visayas Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, Manila
    • Contact Numbers: Phone: (632) 920-0816; Fax: (632) 920-0815
    • UPDATE (1/15/2017): BAI now has a Facebook page with up-to-date contact information in the About section. Click Here.
  5. When you get to the airport, check in as usual at Delta’s ticket counter.  They’ll ask to see the documentation, make photocopies, and collect your pet there after you make your payment of 200 USD, which can be made in cash or by credit card.  Delta doesn’t accept carry on pets on international flights.
  6. Collect your pet in the baggage claim area at your destination airport.

Timeline for Rabies Vaccination (Updated 4/20/2017):

According to the CDC in the United States:

An animal can be considered immunized within 28 days after initial vaccination, when a peak rabies virus antibody titer is reached. An animal is considered currently vaccinated and immunized if the initial vaccination was administered at least 28 days previously or booster vaccinations have been administered in accordance with recommendations. Because a rapid anamnestic response is expected, an animal is considered currently vaccinated immediately after a booster vaccination.

So, what does that mean? If your pet is receiving its initial rabies vaccination, the pet won’t be considered inoculated until 28 days have passed. If your pet is receiving a booster shot, the CDC says the inoculation is considered valid immediately.

When I went through the export process, I remember there being some confusion about how much time had to pass between the vaccination and the export permit being issued. My cats had all been previously vaccinated and the vaccination was still considered valid.

Some rabies vaccinations are valid for one year, while others are valid for three. It depends on the type of vaccine used. Please check with your veterinarian to determine whether or not your pet(s’) vaccination against rabies is still valid. Please get the vaccination at least 30 days before your trip.

During the Flight:

You won’t see your pet during the flight at all, even if you have a layover.  What comfort you will have comes in the form of little cards:

Delta provides this card to you on the plane to let you know your pet is onboard.

These cards come off of a form that is stuck to the side of your pet cat’s carrier.  You’ll be given one by a flight attendant prior to the plane leaving the gate area.  If you have a layover, you’ll be given another one before the plane takes off again.  My flight was from Manila to Tokyo to New York, so I received two of them.  The fact that it comes from the sticker form stuck to the carrier at the check in counter is what gives you the assurance that your pet is in fact on the plane.

If you’re wondering how a cat holds up under a plane for 20 hours, I would tell you that it depends on your cat’s temperament.  Each cat is different and some are more skittish than others, but Marble was just fine.  She was a little nervous and hid under the blanket I put in there for her, but that was about it.  Please do leave a blanket in the carrier.  Despite being air conditioned, the plane gets cold.  My advice to anyone, though, is to not drug your cat prior to the flight.  Besides the fact that it’s not healthy for the cat, if he or she looks dopey or messed up on arrival you may wind up with your cat being quarantined to make sure it’s not sick with some disease.

On Arrival at JFK International in New York City:

If you’re flying this exact route, you can collect your cat in JFK’s baggage claim area.  Just past the baggage carousels, there is a locked door with a keypad.  Above it, there is a light with a yellow cover.  When a pet shows up on a flight, it’s taken to this room and the warning light is turned on to alert the owner that the cat (or dog) is available for pick-up.  When I picked up my cat I wasn’t required to show any documentation at all, because Delta had copies that were likely handed over when the cat was unloaded.

I hope this guide gives you some insight into the process of getting your cat from the Philippines to the US!  Below is a map showing the location of the BAI office on Visaya’s Avenue.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask and I will answer to the best of my ability.