A Detainee Addresses Congress | Obama’s Adviser Loves Wal-Mart | “Code Words” About Israel

Torture on Trial—A year after his story appeared in these pages (see the Washington Spectator, July 1, 2007), German-born Turk Murat Kurnaz spoke to the U.S. Congress. By video link from Germany, Kurnaz testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. He was arrested in Pakistan a month after the 9/11 attacks. Like all but 5 percent of the prisoners held in Guantánamo, he was not captured by American troops. Pakistani security forces sold Kurnaz to the U.S. for $3,000. He was tortured by Americans in Afghanistan then moved to Guantánamo, where he spent five years and was subjected to additional torture. He was held for three years after U.S. and German intelligence found there was no evidence connecting him with Al Qaeda and placed that information in a memo in his file. U.S. authorities later justified Kurnaz’s detention by claiming that his close friend from Germany died in a suicide bombing in Turkey in 2003. At the hearing, Committee Chairman Ray Delahunt (D-MA) questioned Kurnaz:

REP. DELAHUNT: One of the reasons that was given by the— at the CSRT [Combatant Status Review Tribunals] for you being designated an enemy combatant was that you were involved with Mr. Bilgin, your friend, in a suicide bombing that occurred in November of 2003. Clearly you were incarcerated in Guantánamo several years before November of 2003 and Mr. Bilgin, as you indicated, is alive and never obviously committed an act of terrorism against anyone by blowing himself up.

At Kurnaz’s CSRT hearing in Guantánamo, he was allowed no legal representation. Nor was he made aware of exculpatory evidence in his file. Kurnaz tells his story in a short book, now available in English: Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo (Palgrave, $24.95).

Obamanomics—Barack Obama’s selection of Jason Furman as a top economic adviser angered unionists and anti-globalization activists. The 37-year-old Harvard Ph.D. is perceived to be a neoliberal aligned with Citigroup executive Robert Rubin, who was Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary. Much of the criticism leveled at Furman is a response to a paper he wrote in 2006. The title, “Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story,” is more provocative than its content, in which Furman argues that Wal-Mart’s discount pricing provides the equivalent of a wage increase for the poor and working poor, who spend a large percentage of their income on food25.8 percent for the poorest compared to 3.5 percent for the wealthiest.

Furman argues for expanded SCHIP health insurance, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit for Wal-Mart employees and their children. Wal-Mart critics deride such benefits as “corporate welfare” for an employer that fails to provide adequate benefits. He also makes an implied argument against unionization: “Wal-Mart does, however, pay significantly lower wages than those earned by one group of employers: unionized grocery workers in major cities. These unionized workers make an estimated 20-40 percent more than Wal-Mart workers, a fact that is reflected in a similar magnitude mark-up of prices at unionized grocery stores.”

Most of Furman’s paper is a down-the-middle economic analysis. If Furman is closer to Rubin than Robert Reich, the liberal economic voice in the Clinton administration, Obama is at least getting advice from one genuine progressive: University of Texas professor James K. Galbraith.

Out-Heroding Herod—President Bush skipped the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee because he didn’t think he could top the speech he made at the Knesset, where he called Israel “the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David—a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.” Bush probably didn’t think he would be outflanked by Barack Obama, who seemed to out-Bush him when he told AIPAC: “any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized, and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

Obama also said, “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power. Everything.” Obama backed away from the undivided Jerusalem position the following day. Daniel Kurtzer, who advises Obama on Middle East affairs, said the boss misused a “code word” and his statement stemmed from “a picture in his mind of Jerusalem before 1967 with barbed wires and minefields and demilitarized zones.”