Monday, July 31, 2006

The idea of America has been stolen

More often than not I find the New York Times' Thomas Friedman too fond of his own ideas to take seriously. Yesterday on Meet the Press, however, he got my attention. Tim Russert asked for comment on Friedman's column from days before, in which he observed, "The world hates George Bush more than any U.S. president in my lifetime."
MR. FRIEDMAN: It was strong. It’s meant to be strong. Look at the situation we’re now in. You can’t go anywhere in the world right now—and I travel a lot—without getting that feeling from people thrown in your face. Why is that? You know, I’ve been asking myself that a lot. Some of it’s excessive, this dislike, this distaste, this hatred of George Bush. But what’s it about? Whenever you see something that excessive, you know?

And the way I explain it is this way: Foreigners love to make fun of Americans. Our naivete, our crazy thought that every problem has a solution, that silly American notion, that silly American optimism. But you know what, Tim? Deep down, the world really envies that American optimism and naivete. And the world needs that American optimism and naivete.

And so when we go from a country that, historically, has always exported hope to a country that always exports fear, what we do, and what this administration has done, is actually stolen something from people. Whether it’s an African or a European or an Arab or Israeli, it’s that idea of an optimistic America out there. People really need that idea, and the sort of dark nature of the Cheneys and the Bushes and the Rices, this, this sort of relentless pessimism about the world, this exporting of fear, not hope, has really left people feeling that the idea of America has been stolen from them. And I would argue that that is the animating force behind so much of the animus directed at George Bush.
It's a precious hope that America once embodied that has gone missing, that somewhere there is a place where people can speak and act freely. The last few years have taken from them even that. The Bush administration gives lip service to the idea of freedom while cultivating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation to give itself free reign to run amuck abroad and as its principle tool in maintaining control at home.

My wife reports that at the flea market, people now lower their voices and look over their shoulders before speaking critically of their freedom-loving leaders. Last week in front of the house, as a neighbor spoke with her expressing his disdain for Bush and his policies, a workman at a nearby house spoke up, telling them to "watch your mouths."

It is not only foreigners who have had something precious stolen.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Name It and Claim It" Conservatives and "Left Behind" Warriors

There is a variant of the prosperity gospel known colloquially as "Name It and Claim It" Christianity. It teaches that the Bible is perfect, eternal and unchanging, like God its author. And in the Bible God makes promises of rewards for believers. Since God is ever faithful, he will (he must) deliver on those promises if the believer asks in the right way.

For the savvy initiate, it is simply a matter of naming the desire and invoking the appropriate verse. Sure as cranking the mechanism makes Jack pop out of his box, the creator of the universe can be made to deliver what the believer wants.

When the magic doesn't work one never questions the theology, but the believer who must have done the incantation wrong:

"Did you plead the blood? You have to plead the blood."

"Did you ask in the name of Jesus?"

"Do you have unconfessed sin in your life?"

And so forth. The fault lies with the bad believer, not the bad theology.

Conservatives have their own version. "Conservatism never fails. It is only failed." Rick Perlstein wrote at the Huffington Post. If conservative governance doesn't live up to its advance billing, it's because the practitioners were never real conservatives.

Huge deficits, huge expansion of government, failures in policy and execution? Surley not "the natural, even inevitable result of ... conservative governing philosophy," but of a cabal of faux conservatives who got conservatism wrong.

The parallels with "Name It and Claim It" Christianity were irresistable.


And the "Left Behind" wing of the GOP got a gift this week from William Kristol, publisher of the "Weekly Standard" (The Official Bathroom Reading of the Official Bathroom).

One of the most influential and best-known neocons, Kristol went all "Michael Ledeen" in his recent column, "It's Our War." (Meaning the current fighting between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah). Ledeen has been cheerleading in print for action against Iran for some time and is straining against his leash again. Now Kristol's all for doing Iran too (and maybe Syria). He suggests hitting Iranian nuclear facilities now. "Why wait?"
They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible a few years ago. Weakness is provocative. We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak.
The fact that it's a result of the U.S. getting bogged down remaking the Middle East in the last instant war Kristol and his PNAC buddies were so hot to start has gotten lost with the WMDs.

So, Bill, when do you and Michael and what army ship out? I'll pay for your very own M4 myself, but we'll have to hold a bake sale to buy you body armor.

Meanwhile, Armageddon fans are celebrating the carnage.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


(This piece appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on July 11, 2006.)

It’s time again for the GOP’s sales team to re-shoe its warhorses, as it does roughly every other year. They’ll lead them down to the U.S. House and Senate and trot them around the ring for their dwindling base.

Yes, the flag burning and gay marriage amendments to the United States Constitution are back, and just in time for the mid-term elections. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) recently told Fox News Sunday that America needs them. Like River City needs a boys’ band.

Healthcare, deficits, gas prices, port security, the bleeding in Iraq, and (heaven forbid) congressional reform can wait. Instead, the GOP thinks the House, the Senate, and fifty state legislatures should be debating a constitutional response to flag-burning jerks (rarer than small-government conservatives lately). And to prevent one of the “Queer Eye” Fab Five and his partner from filing a joint tax return.

You’ve seen this rerun. Frist and pals bring the amendments to the floor for their biennial defeat. (The Senate voted down the Marriage Protection Amendment on June 7.) Then all summer they try giving wedgies to Democrats who vote “no” because they dared to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Then after the first Tuesday in November, Republican leaders put their warhorses out to pasture for another two years.

It’s respect for such cherished traditions that keeps us from seeing politicians as cynical and manipulative.

And later this summer, because the “survival of civilization” will be at stake, they will ask whom you trust to protect you. You can trust those who overestimated the Iraqi threat and underestimated the occupation’s cost in blood, treasure and moral authority. Or, as Vice-President Dick Cheney has hinted, you can make the wrong choice, vote for Democrats, and die in the next attack.

Your choice. Take your time.

In fact, America once fought a civil war to decide whether or not this union would survive. There were over half a million casualties.

We’re still here.

In World War II, we fought a fascist threat that murdered millions and threatened to enslave the world. There were over one million American casualties.

We’re still here.

For most of my life, through the Cuban missile crisis and until the Berlin Wall came down, we lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation on 30 minutes warning from a fleet of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. Real missiles. Real nuclear warheads. Real weapons of mass destruction.

And we’re still here.

Bird flu was recently the threat du jour. In press reports about a potential pandemic, the lack of vaccine and hospital beds, and the possibility of millions dead, there was no suggestion that it was a threat to America’s survival. A faceless virus, bird flu wasn’t marketable as the latest, greatest foreign menace.

For all the horrors they’ve inflicted, terrorists will never threaten America’s survival. Deadly foes, certainly. Yet of the threats we’ve faced, terrorism wouldn’t even make the top ten. But fear of it, like gay marriage and flag burning, makes a dandy campaign issue when your record on everything else stinks up the place. (Where is Osama bin Laden anyway?)

Even the fearmongers admit another attack is almost a certainty (that is, they can’t stop it). But anyone faint-hearted enough to believe civilization itself is on the line should be home hiding under the bed, not leading this country or the men and women who defend the ideals bound up in her flag.

Speaking of which, on the way out of town late on Memorial Day, I realized I’d left the house without my work shirts. I stopped at Westgate Mall in Spartanburg, S.C., to buy a couple. Along the curb, in the grass strip around the perimeter of the mall, stuck into the ground every ten feet was a small American flag on a stick. Hundreds of them. Some were knocked over. Others already lay in the gutter.

If we successfully peel away part of our First Amendment with the proposed flag bill, flag desecration (blasphemy, in essence) will become a federal crime. Proponents will, true to form, enlist lobbyists to help write a retailer-friendly definition of desecration into the U.S. Code.

The “curbs and gutters” exemption will demonstrate how unserious the amendment’s sponsors always were.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Where profits cannot be made

“Bush Is Not Incompetent” is a June 26 web post on George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute site. Instead of explaining Republican failures as products of Bush’s incompetence, Rockridge recommends branding them as the logical — the inevitable — results of pursuing the Republican vision.

One passage describing that vision jumped out:
Stewardship of the commons, such as allocation of healthcare or energy policy, is left to people’s own initiative within the free market. Where profits cannot be made — conservation, healthcare for the poor — charity is meant to replace justice and the government should not be involved.
Where profits cannot be made describes in a nutshell the miserliness of this view. Only this view is Republican more than conservative. Rick Perlstein observed that conservatives themselves believe:
Republicans are different from conservatives … I learned it making small talk with conservative publisher Jameson Campaigne, in Ottawa, Illinois, when I asked him if he golfed. He said something like: "Are you kidding? I'm a conservative, not a Republican."
One can often determine whether the conservative brain or Republican brain is dominant by how a conservative starts the political conversation. The conservative-dominant want to talk about social issues first. The Republicans go straight for the money issues (regulations, taxes, etc.). Where profits cannot be made, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, etc. are not the proper function of Republican government. Government is for promoting “a healthy bidness climate,” as they say in Texas.

This view has become commonplace as more Americans have moved from the “Boomers and Babies” to the “Pools and Patios” market segments. I watched that transition begin when as a twenty-something I waited tables. Customers would ask if I was in school. I had graduated, I explained. With a degree in philosophy.

Their eyes glazed over.

“What are you going to do with it?” they’d ask, trying to figure how this (a liberal arts degree) translated into that (cold, hard cash). You could see them weighing the two, mentally rubbing their fingers together quizzically. Education as an end in itself? Education as a path to becoming an informed citizen? Education even where profits cannot be made? Surely, you’re joking?

It’s a far cry from an America founded by the most educated men of their era. Perhaps of any era. A far cry from a day in which the Founders designed government to put people ahead of moneyed interests like the British East India Company. A far cry from the day in which Benjamin Franklin, entrepreneur and self-made man, refused a patent on his famous stove saying, "As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others, freely and generously, by any invention of our own.” Promoting the general welfare has been replaced in the Republican age by “I’m all right, Jack.”

It is that crass idolatry that progressives must discredit. Once Bush is gone, the boosters of Republican theology who have successfully and by design gutted the budget surplus, centralized power, rolled back environmental regulations, given away billions to their corporate cronies, etc. will still remain. When Republicans up for re-election in 2008 start giving Bush the cold shoulder, we cannot let them distance themselves from the Republican record too. Democrats still have to discredit the worldview that gave rise to Bush.

In my district registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, yet our congressman is a Republican. Many “Reagan Democrats” vote with us in local elections, but for the GOP in federal races. (The state house and the legislature is controlled by Democrats, but our congressional delegation is majority Republican.) They are just looking for a reason not to vote Republican. We need to give them one.

We should spotlight the ideological differences between Republicans and conservative voters who still believe in the ideals of the Founders and in government of the people. We should appeal to the better angels of conservatives’ nature, split the GOP coalition, and turn the more moderate elements our way.

There has been some debate in the left blogosphere about whether Democrats should try to peel off some of the GOP’s conservative supporters or focus on energizing their own base. The two are not mutually exclusive. We don’t win by shifting the same die-hard, bicoastal base left or right; we win by making our coalition bigger and more representative of the entire country. It is the strategy behind Howard Dean’s fifty state plan. Widening the irritated seam between more moderate social conservatives and moneyed Republicans is one way to do just that.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Circular Reasoning 101

Al Qaeda's "worst of the worst" do not deserve Geneva Convention protections.
The "worst of the worst" are held in Guantanamo.
Detainee "X" is in Guantanamo.
Therefore, detainee "X" does not deserve Geneva Convention protections.
He is al Qaeda.

Trust us.

Who is to say which detainees are al Qaeda and which are innocents? By the administration's spokespersons, there are no innocents there. And indeed, some of the Guantanamo prisoners may be the worst of the worst. A cunning few so far released have returned to the fight, as the Washington Post reported as early as October 2004.

And such reports further justify for the administration harsh treatment of "enemy combatants": designated such by the executive branch and deserving of indefinite detention. Without review. Without oversight. And without access to legal challenge by any due process Americans would recognize from our own system of justice. Those released for having no intelligence value or for posing "no further threat" receive no acknowledgement of innocence, no acknowledgement of U.S. error and no apology. Detainees are guilty by virtue of being detainees.

The Supreme Court's ruled last week in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the administration's tribunals can go forward, but not by it's own ad hoc rules (that allow, among other illegal practices, the admission of coerced evidence). The strictures of the Geneva Conventions apply, the court decided. The jettisoning of the accused's basic rights cannot be justified on arguments of "practicality." The tribunals must conform to law, either the Uniform Code of Military Justice (as JAG lawyers have argued) or to new rules set by Congress.

SCOTUSblog reviewed the ruling this way:
Even more importantly for present purposes, the Court held that Common Article 3 of Geneva applies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda. That is the HUGE part of today's ruling. The commissions are the least of it. This basically resolves the debate about interrogation techniques, because Common Article 3 provides that detained persons "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely," and that "[t]o this end," certain specified acts "are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever"—including "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." This standard, not limited to the restrictions of the due process clause, is much more restrictive than even the McCain Amendment. See my further discussion here.

This almost certainly means that the CIA's interrogation regime is unlawful, and indeed, that many techniques the Administation has been using, such as waterboarding and hypothermia (and others) violate the War Crimes Act (because violations of Common Article 3 are deemed war crimes).
As two callers to NPR's "Talk of the Nation" asked, critics of the ruling ask how stateless actors such as members of al Qaeda merit protection under the Geneva Conventions. It's stunning how people have bought into the argument that anyone held in Guantanamo is, by definition, a member of al Qaeda.

The Supreme Court's ruling addressed the nature of the Guantanamo tribunals (as well as the applicability of Geneva standards). But no charges have even been made against many Guantanamo detainees. So let's review a few cases of Guantanamo's "stateless actors."
Chinese Muslims sent from Guantanamo to Albania
Lawyer plans trip to check on clients after legal battle ends
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff May 6, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The US military said yesterday that it had transferred five Chinese Muslims from its Guantanamo Bay prison to Albania, apparently ending a long legal fight over their fate on the eve of arguments before a federal appeals court.

The five men, who all belong to an ethnic group known as ''Uighurs," had been imprisoned at the base for more than four years. More than a year ago, a military tribunal had determined that none of them had been enemies of the United States after all, and cleared them for release.

However, the US could not send them back to their homeland because the Chinese government has a history of persecuting Uighurs, who have been seeking greater autonomy from the central government. No other country would take them in, either, and they remained stuck in the American prison.

Last December, a federal district judge ruled that it was illegal for the Bush administration to continue to incarcerate the men because it had no basis for holding them.

No lawyers and thin accusations

Newsday, June 15, 2005

... a German Turk, Murat Kurnaz, was held in part because he knew another man who "engaged in a suicide bombing" -- except, Kurnaz's lawyer says, the man is alive.

Cases like Kurnaz's, lawyers say, show how thin the evidence can be. He was told at his tribunal he was being held in part because he was friends with Selcuk Bilgin, who "engaged in a suicide bombing." Kurnaz said he knew of no ties Bilgin had to terrorism, and the tribunal gave no evidence that he did. Not only is Bilgin alive, but Kurnaz's lawyer, Baher Azmy, has a letter from German prosecutors clearing Bilgin. On top of that, classified portions of the proceedings, later revealed in a briefly declassified filing, indicated Guantanamo's intelligence task force thought Kurnaz had no value to the U.S.
From an NPR interview regarding this case:
HITT: The reason they give for holding him? A friend of his named Selcuk Bilgin blew himself up as a suicide bomber in Turkey in 2003. That’s 2 years after Kurnaz got picked up.

AZMY: So, setting aside the sort of remarkable legal proposition that one could be detained indefinitely for what one’s friend does, it’s actually preposterous in that a simple Google search or a call to the Germans would have revealed that his friend is alive and well, and under no suspicion of any such thing.

HITT: You heard that right. Kurnaz is in Guantanamo because two years after he got picked up, a guy he knows became a suicide bomber. Except that he didn’t become a suicide bomber and is currently living in Germany.
And this. Abdullah Al-Noaimi was interviewed this spring; he is one of three Bahrainis released without comment last November after four years in Gitmo. He and others, he said, had been turned over for cash. He sounded like an American kid:
HITT: This is not how he thought things would go with the Americans. In fact, back when he was being held in a Pakistan jail, when he found out Americans would be taking them, he was relieved. He told the other prisoners it was good news. He knew America. He knew how the people were.

ABDULLAH: I lived in so many places, like Europe and England and Germany and France, but the difference was in the States, everywhere you go, they welcome you. Like, when you go into supermarkets, everybody goes like, “How you doing?” and everything. That’s the thing that was in my mind. I was like, please, oh, everything’s going to be fine. They’re gonna understand.

HITT: So how did he know so much about American supermarkets? Well, in 1994, he came to America for the World Cup finals. In fact, Abdullah’s been here a lot. He’s been downhill skiing in the Midwest. He attended Old Dominion University in Virginia for a while, and has taken other trips, too.

ABDULLAH: And in ’96, I was in Disneyland in Orlando. (Hitt chuckles) And for spring break, I was in Daytona Beach with some of my friends.

HITT: You were in Daytona Beach for spring break?

ABDULLAH: Yeah it was year 2000. Bikers Week. (Hitt laughs) I remember the guys, some guys, standing by the sidewalk holding up the signs for the cars passing.

HITT: Right.

ABDULLAH: Some expressions, “Show us…”

HITT: Oh! “Show us…” Right. Yeah, that expression. The “show us your..”

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: We've got to remember that these are very dangerous people. These are people that would gnaw through hydraulic lines to bring [the military transport plane] down.

As of February, 180 of these homicidal hose gnawers had simply been let loose (not just released into the custody of their home governments), per the DOD's own website. 300 (total) "worst of the worst" have been released as of now, per Sunday's Los Angeles Times. Whether or not those released so far ever had any connection to international terrorism, it is clear that the "process," like much else this administration has undertaken, is not working either well or legally.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Take my rights -- please!

I love getting these "pass it on" e-mails that go around on the Net. They come almost invariably from the right wing and are frequently aimed at justifying anything and everything the Bush administration does in the pursuit of "terror." Anyone who doesn't approve of taking liberties with the Constitution and Bill of Rights is either an America-hating Bush-basher, an ally of terrorists, or sorely misinformed about the life or death nature of the terrorist threat.

So you'd better wise up and say, "Take my rights -- please!"

This one from 2005 just came round again:
This WAR is for REAL !

To get out of a difficulty, one usually must go through it. Our country is now facing the most serious threat to its existence, as we know it, that we have faced in your lifetime and mine (which includes WWII).

The deadly seriousness is greatly compounded by the fact that there are very few of us who think we can possibly lose this war and even fewer who realize what losing really means.
It goes on at length about how America is the only force standing between civilization and the homicidal Muslim hordes.

This message reverberates around the echo chamber regularly. See Mark Steyn's piece from the January Wall Street Journal in which he laments the lack of "civilizational confidence" apparent in the west's birth rate gap vis-à-vis Muslims. The cure, presumably, is taking out a few more petty dictators or taking civilizational Viagra.

Somehow this unprecedented threat justifies America sacrificing its own values, violating the Geneva Conventions and torture. From the recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor:
But George Washington and his compatriots took their founding principles quite seriously. On Aug. 11, 1775, Washington sent a blistering letter to a British counterpart, Thomas Gage. He complained about gravely wounded and untreated American soldiers being thrown into a jail with common criminals.

Eight days later, despite threatening to treat British soldiers with equal cruelty, Washington admitted that he could not and would not retaliate in kind, writing: "Not only your Officers, and Soldiers have been treated with a Tenderness due to Fellow Citizens, & Brethren; but even those execrable Parricides [traitors] whose Counsels & Aid have deluged their Country with Blood, have been protected from the Fury of a justly enraged People."

Imagine that; a government on the run fighting a desperate war against a hated enemy and treating captured prisoners with compassion and decency. No doubt many of the captured British troops had intelligence that might have been useful to the Revolutionary cause - still, decent treatment was the norm. In the current war on terror, that would be described as being "soft."
Like other e-mails, this one makes light of harsh treatment meted out to Guantanamo's "enemy combatants." Torture, abuse, humiliations and indefinite detention without charges of men picked up "on the battlefield" in Afghanistan -- including those sold in Pakistan for a bounty -- are justified. Because these are hardened killers, "the worst of the worst" as we're so often told by honorable men.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Off with their heads

Busy reading this morning, catching up on the outrage and calls for the imprisonment and/or death in the gas chamber of newsmen over the "traitorous" New York Times and Los Angeles Times publishing stories about the SWIFT program. The White House asked them not to. The Wall Street Journal published about SWIFT too, but "friendlies" don't get targeted.

"Loose lips kill American people," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. said, prompting from conservative bloggers a flurry of WWII-style posters targeting the Times. Supposedly, the Times "tipped off" terrorists to our financial monitoring programs.

Were terrorists really not aware we were monitoring internancial financial transactions? I knew. A lot of other people knew too. How?

"We've established a foreign terrorist asset tracking center at the Department of the Treasury to identify and investigate the financial infrastructure of the international terrorist networks." -- President George W. Bush, September 24, 2001

"I have also issued an Executive Order to help deal with this threat by giving the United States more powerful tools to reach the means by which terrorists and terrorist networks finance themselves and to encourage greater cooperation by foreign financial institutions and other entities that may have access to foreign property belonging to terrorists or terrorist organizations." -- President George W. Bush, September 24, 2001

"Our successes breed new challenges. As the formal and informal financial sectors become increasingly inhospitable to financiers of terrorism, we have witnessed an increasing reliance by al Qaida and terrorist groups on cash couriers. The movement of money via cash couriers is now one of the principal methods that terrorists use to move funds." -- testimony before the House Financial Services Committee of Stuart A. Levey, Under Secretary Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, U.S. Department of the Treasury, September 22, 2004 (Levey was quoted in the Times report.)

"We put the world's financial institutions on notice: if you do business with terrorists, if you support them or sponsor them, you will not do business with the United States of America." -- President George W. Bush, 11/7/01

Terrorists need money to carry out their evil deeds. The President’s first strike in the war against terror was not with a gun or a missile – the President’s first strike was with his pen as he took action to freeze terrorist finances and disrupt their pipelines for raising and moving money in the future.

The world's financial institutions have been put on notice -- if you support, sponsor, or do business with terrorists, you will not do business with the United States. Denying terrorists access to funds is a very real success in the war on terrorism. Since September 11, the United States and its allies in the war on terrorism have been winning the war on the financial front:

- President Bush launched the first offensive in the war on terrorism on September 23 by signing an Executive Order freezing the U.S.-based assets of those individuals and organizations involved with terrorism.

- 196 countries and jurisdictions have expressed their support for the financial war on terror.

- 142 countries have issued orders freezing terrorist assets, and others have requested U.S. help in improving their legal and regulatory systems so they can more effectively block terrorist funds.

- The assets of at least 153 known terrorists, terrorist organizations, and terrorist financial centers have now been frozen in the U.S. financial system.

- Since September 11, the U.S. has blocked more than $33 million in assets of terrorist organizations. Other nations have also blocked another $33 million.

- On November 7, the U.S. and its allies closed down operations of two major financial networks – al-Barakaat and al-Taqwa – both of which were used by al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden as sources of income and mechanisms to transfer funds.

- On December 4, President Bush froze the assets of a U.S.-based foundation – The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development -- that has been funneling money to the terrorist organization Hamas.

- The U.S. government created three new organizations -- the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center (FTAT), Operation Green Quest and the Terrorist Financing Task Force. These new organizations will help facilitate information sharing between intelligence and law enforcement agencies and encourage other countries to identify, disrupt, and defeat terrorist financing networks.

- International organizations are key partners in the war on financial terrorism. On September 28, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1373 that requires all nations to keep their financial systems free of terrorist funds.

- The Financial Action Task Force (see note below) -- a 29-nation group promoting policies to combat money laundering -- adopted strict new standards to deny terrorist access to the world financial system.

- The G-20 and IMF member countries have agreed to make public the list of terrorists whose assets are subject to freezing, and the amount of assets frozen.

-- The White House, 12/01
Here's the unclassified banner from the web site of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication,

Their web site includes this:

2. Cooperation - SWIFT has a history of cooperating in good faith with authorities such as central banks, treasury departments, law enforcement agencies and appropriate international organisations, such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF*), in their efforts to combat abuse of the financial system for illegal activities.

SWIFT tracking numbers are printed right on bank statements in some European countries, according to a caller I heard yesterday on a call-in show. He called in from Finland.

And this from Counterterrorism Blog:

Reports of US Monitoring of SWIFT Transactions Are Not New: The Practice Has Been Known By Terrorism Financing Experts For Some Time
By Victor Comras

Yesterday’s New York Times Story on US monitoring of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) transactions certainly hit the street with a splash. It awoke the general public to the practice. In that sense, it was truly new news. But reports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for some time. The information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group , on which I served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries. The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report states:

“The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries.”