Friday, January 26, 2007

Lost Rendition

This is Murat Kurnaz. He grew the dope beard in Gitmo. That's also where he got the huge chest, because apparently there's not much else to do in Guantanamo between torture sessions except push-ups.

Kurnaz is Turkish citizen, born and raised in Bremen. In Germany, this isn't a contradiction: foreign nationals born in the Fatherland need to go through a naturalization process if they want to become citizens. At age nineteen, the apprentice shipbuilder got married at a ceremony in Turkey, an experience that apparently triggered a spiritual awakening. So he decided to go to Muslim School, and traveled to Pakistan on his Turkish passport to shop for a madrassa. It was September, 2001.

You see where this is going.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Kurnaz, who never actually succeeded in finding a madrassa to his liking, was whisked off the street by the Pakistan military, which was then scrambling to demonstrate what a steadfast ally of the US they were (they've since lost that zeal). Shortly thereafter, he was flown to a US military detention center in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was "suspended for several days in chains" and "inspected by a doctor only for his 'fitness to be tortured'."

In January 2002, he was flown to Guantanamo Bay, where he was variously suspended by handcuffs, beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, and doused with pepper spray. He witnessed a fellow detainee being beaten to death. And according to Amnesty International, "on one occasion, a military officer loaded his gun and pointed it at Murat Kurnaz’ head, screaming at him to admit to being an al-Qa’ida associate". By autumn of that year, the US military finally decided he wasn't an enemy combatant after all, and began processing his release.

Now it really gets funny.

The Turks decided it wouldn't be good PR to accept delivery of a "suspected terrorist" from Gitmo while they were bucking for admission into the European Union, where there was considerable concern about Turkey becoming a conduit for Islamic extremists heading west. Germany, in turn, was concerned that Kurnaz's experience of detention at Gitmo might have shifted his allegiances towards radical Islamists, who in turn would capitalize on Kurnaz's horrific story. So Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then Chancellor Schröder's chief of staff and charged with handling the case, argued that since Kurnaz was traveling on a Turkish passport, he should be repatriated to Turkey. Turkey argued, more convincingly, that Kurnaz had never lived in Turkey, and so should be returned to Germany.

This went on for four years.

Now Steinmeier, currently Germany's foreign minister, is charged with something else. Since Kurnaz was finally released from Gitmo last August, pressure has been mounting for him to explain why he left Kurnaz to rot for four years after both US and German intelligence officials determined that he was innocent. According to Kurnaz, the only explanation he's received thus far is when visiting German officials at Gitmo (whose presence there at all is also a scandal in Germany) told him "we don't want you back in Germany," and that he should stop complaining -- after all, he was spending time "in the Caribbean."

So if you see Kurnaz's hirsute mug in the news next week (he's received scant coverage in the US up to now), it will be under the headline of the German foreign minister's ousting. Since Steinmeier holds the top post of the junior partner (the Social Democrats) in Germany's grand coalition government, it may even make page one. By the way, if you see a picture of another big long-haired guy in that same article, don't mix him up with Kurnaz. That's Khalid El-Masri, the other German graduate of our renowned extraordinary rendition program. You see, he was flown to Afghanistan to be tortured not because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, like Kurnaz, but because his name is very similar to Khalid al-Masri, a known al-Qa’ida operative. Different case.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cache, Flow Troubles at YouTube

Mainly, this is just an excuse to showcase Bunny, my new favorite filly from Philly. "My Box in a Box" (above) was item #1 on MSNBC's Countdown last night. But here's the thing: if you go to YouTube, whence Keith Olbermann plucked this video, you'd never find it by browsing through the pre-rolled sections there. It shows up on neither the "Top Rated" nor "Top Favorites" lists — which is odd, because all of the videos on those lists have fewer than the four stars of "My Box in a Box". Even worse, do a search for "My Box in a Box" on YouTube (go ahead, I'll wait), or just go to one of the Top lists. Notice how the ratings and stats in the list view are preserved once you click through to the video? Neither do I.

YouTube became popular by focusing on a core set of functions, and one of those was supposed to be video selection. But the more time I spend on it, the more I notice how hard it is to find the good stuff. Even though I know many worthwhile productions live on the site (caught God, Inc. yet?), it doesn't matter if I can't find them. If YouTube really wants to be more of a destination and not just a video server for other pages (and a lawsuit magnet), it had better start showing us its stuff right quick.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Not-Too-Shabby Road

It'd be OK to skip the first half; you'll be wanting to see the second half again anyway.