Friday, November 21, 2008

Geothermal Energy in Iceland's

November 20 2008

by Stephen Lacey, Staff Writer
Reykjavik, Iceland

Drive around Iceland's capital city of Reykjavik on any cold night and look at the houses and apartment buildings lining the streets. The first thing you may notice is how many windows are wide open, allowing the frigid outdoor air to mix with the warm indoor heat. In most places, the scene may seem a bit strange. But in a city that hosts the world's largest geothermal district heating system, it's a normal occurrence.

"We go beyond just energy. We use it to promote tourism, we use it for health and wellness, we use it for heavy industries and we also use it for educational purposes."

-- Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland

“Energy is cheap and it's abundant. We don't have any shortages so we do tend to leave our lights on and our windows open. It's not something we think about as much,” says Hannes Pálsson, a resident of Reykjavik.

One generation ago, Icelanders didn't have the luxury of passively thinking about their energy use. The isolated island country imported all of its coal and oil for heat and electricity, putting it in a very vulnerable position. But now the country gets 99 percent of its electricity and 78 percent of its primary energy from hydro and geothermal resources. While many Icelanders have watched this dramatic evolution of the country's energy landscape, there are just as many young citizens who have grown up not understanding Iceland's formerly delicate position. (Image, left: The Hellisheidi Power Plant sends plumes of steam into the sky on a rare calm morning in Iceland.)

“I'm not from the generation that grew up with anything else but [geothermal and hydro],” says the 31-year old Palsson. “It's ubiquitous, it's everywhere and we know about it. But I think we also take it for granted. Still, we are proud of what we have done.”

Now Iceland has the opportunity to share that pride with other countries. And leaders in the industry are more than happy to share their knowledge.

“We have much to offer in know-how and technological support,” says Iceland's President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, speaking on the Inside Renewable Energy podcast. “It is important for us to continue to establish relationships with countries that are serious about geothermal. As a leader, Iceland can help in many areas.”

To hear more from Iceland President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and a line-up of geothermal experts in the country, listen to this week's Inside Renewable Energy podcast. The show features an audio collage that examines the Icelandic geothermal experience.

This spirit of cooperation is part of the Icelandic culture, says Albert Albertsson, Deputy CEO of Hitaveita Sudurnesja, the owner and operator of two large geothermal plants in the country. If world leaders are going to get serious about combating climate change — a problem that is already visibly altering the weather and glacial landscape of the country — Icelanders believe it's important to export the lessons they have learned over the last 70 years. (Image, right: The Strokkur geyser blows its top, illustrating Iceland's very active geology.)

“We work very openly. All our research and development is open to the international society — so in that way we contribute a lot to understand better how we can harness this extremely valuable resource,” says Albertsson.
One important lesson to learn from Iceland, says President Grímsson, is to think about utilizing geothermal in multiple ways — not just for heat and electricity. The Icelandic government and geothermal businesses have worked very hard to use the resource to create as many value streams as possible.

“We go beyond just energy. We use it to promote tourism, we use it for health and wellness, we use it for heavy industries and we also use it for educational purposes. This more interactive, holistic approach is much different than we see elsewhere,” says Grimsson.

These additional value streams will be more important for Iceland as the country begins a potentially long, painful recession due to the global credit crunch. That makes a renewed focus on the domestic geothermal industry and an aggressive approach to exporting Icelandic knowledge that much more important, says Pálsson. (Image, below: A frigid morning at the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.)

“One of the things that keeps us positive is our access to energy — the fact that we can do so much with it and the fact that we know so much about it. I definitely believe that we should be exporting our knowledge all over the world,” he says.

With the door closing on Iceland's economy, perhaps geothermal energy will allow Icelanders to keep the window of opportunity open and keep the country moving during these tough times.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Barack Obama on 60 minutes

It will take a few moments to load be patient.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Omar Khadr Case: Redefining War Crimes

October 31, 2008

By Audrey Macklin of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, who recently observed the US military commissions at Guantanamo Bay for Human Rights Watch, says that the prosecution's argument in the case against Canadian national Omar Khadr that all acts of war by unlawful combatants are by definition war crimes points toward the “heads I win; tails you lose” quality of the entire military commissions process....

George W. Bush’s term as president is coming to an end, and he has little to show by way of meting out justice for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Perhaps this is why his administration seems so desperate to score a victory on the judicial battleground of the military commissions. That its target is Omar Khadr, a child soldier at the time of the alleged offenses, makes the spectacle all the more pathetic to the observer, and tragic for Khadr.

The charges against Khadr include “murder in violation of the laws of war,” and providing material support to the enemy. The most serious allegation against him is that on July 27, 2002 in Afghanistan, he threw a grenade that killed US soldier Sergeant Christopher Speer. Indeed, until a few months ago, the official story went unchallenged in the public domain. Thanks to an inadvertent government leak, we have since learned of evidence supporting at least two alternate scenarios, namely that another combatant might have thrown the grenade or that Sgt. Speer was killed by “friendly fire.”

None of those questions, however, were the subject of the October 22 pre-trial hearing. Most of the time was consumed by arguments about scheduling of the actual trial. The prosecution accused the defense of what, in hockey parlance, is called “ragging the puck”: stalling until the game is over. They cite defense counsel Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler’s efforts to petition the Canadian government to seek the repatriation of its citizen (as every other industrialized country has done with respect to Guantanamo detainees) as evidence that the defense has no interest in proceeding to trial, and every intention of delaying the onset of the trial indefinitely in the hopes of an eventual political resolution. The defense counters that it is unable to prepare properly for trial because the prosecution has systematically refused to fulfill its obligations to disclose relevant and exculpatory evidence.

The prosecution has also criticized the defense for wanting to obtain a psychological evaluation of Khadr by independent experts, rather than relying the government’s own professionals.

Arguments about delay are standard fare in ordinary litigation, and it is symptomatic of a military commission that is both like and unlike a normal trial. In a normal trial, it would not be unusual for the prosecution to accuse the defense of using discovery as a fishing expedition, and to suggest that the defense has no reasonable basis for requesting the information. In the Khadr hearing, the prosecution argued that the defense was engaging in just such a fishing expedition by seeking access to the intelligence interrogators who interviewed Khadr at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.

Here is how the argument went: the prosecution stated that it intends to rely at trial solely on statements made by Khadr to law enforcement interrogators, not to intelligence interrogators. Therefore, defense does not need access to the intelligence interrogators, and their evidence is irrelevant.

The defense’s main response was that, before and after Khadr was interrogated by law enforcement officials (under relatively benign conditions), he was subject to coercion (including possibly cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and torture) by intelligence interrogators. This experience of recent past abuse and the fear of imminent future abuse by intelligence interrogators would have saturated the environment within which Khadr was interrogated by law enforcement officials. On this theory, statements made by Khadr to law enforcement officials could not be construed as free from coercion, in light of Khadr’s past interrogation and fear of future interrogation at the hands of intelligence interrogators. These interrogators included the notorious Sgt. C, who was subsequently implicated in the torture and murder of another detainee around the same time. Therefore, discovery of the intelligence interrogators was crucial to establishing a foundation for a motion to suppress certain statements Khadr made during interrogation.

The prosecution’s reply? That defense counsel’s position regarding the use of coercive techniques by intelligence interrogators was mere speculation and assertion without factual support. So, the motion to obtain discovery of seven intelligence interrogators who interviewed Khadr during three discrete periods (Bagram in July-August 2002, Guantanamo Bay in October 2002 – February 2003, and late 2004) was an overly broad request built on unsubstantiated conjecture that intelligence personnel employed coercive interrogation techniques against detainees. Only at Guantanamo Bay could a lawyer be heard to make such an assertion without a trace of irony.

This is not a normal trial.

The other issue argued before the judge, Col. Patrick Parrish, is more complex, and exposes the incoherence produced by a legal order designed not to produce justice, but to secure convictions. The question was whether murder committed by an “unlawful enemy combatant” is automatically a war crime, or whether something more is required to turn murder into a violation of the laws of war.

Under the Geneva Conventions, members of a state’s armed forces who kill enemy combatants on the battlefield may not be prosecuted for murder under the domestic laws of the enemy state. That protection is called the “combatant’s privilege”. Individuals who take up arms that are not part of a state’s armed forces, so-called unlawful (or, more properly, unprivileged) combatants, enjoy no such immunity from domestic criminal prosecution. This means that the US government could have charged Khadr under US criminal law and tried him in a US federal court. The government chose not to do so.

Khadr was instead charged under the Military Commissions Act with murder and attempted murder “in violation of the laws of war.” While it is not a war crime to kill an enemy combatant on the battlefield, the prosecution insists that it becomes a war crime – a serious violation of the laws of armed conflict – if committed by an unlawful enemy combatant. Defense counsel Rebecca Snyder argued that a battlefield killing only becomes a war crime when a combatant – privileged or otherwise – targets a person with protected status, or uses prohibited methods of killing. Protected persons include civilians, all persons in custody, incapacitated military personnel, or military medical or religious personnel. Prohibited methods include the use of human shields, poison gas, or intentional deception designed to induce the enemy into believing that one is a protected person (which is known as perfidy). Therefore, unless the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sgt. Speer was a protected person when killed (which the prosecution does not contend), or that Khadr used prohibited methods of killing (which has also not been argued), his alleged actions could not constitute murder “in violation of the laws of war” even if he were an unlawful enemy combatant at the time.

The prosecution seems to claim that international law does not matter. It claims that Congress can create a new war crime under US law – and has in the Military Commissions Act – even if it has never been considered a war crime under international law in this century or the last.

Arguing that all acts of war by unlawful combatants are by definition war crimes points toward the “heads I win; tails you lose” quality of the Military Commissions process. Khadr is a combatant when it comes to detaining him indefinitely (even if acquitted of the charges against him), but not when it comes to providing him the privileges and immunities of combatants. He is a criminal defendant when it comes to charging him with murder, but not when it comes to furnishing him with the rights and protections due to anyone charged with a crime.

One status that Khadr can claim unambiguously is his Canadian citizenship. Yet Canada has thus far failed to regard him as a citizen entitled to the protection of his state. It has failed to demand his fair treatment, failed to insist that he be tried in a fair process, and failed to seek his repatriation absent compliance with these requests. Canada, it seems, is missing in action.

The trial of Khadr before the Military Commission is now scheduled to commence on January 26, six days after the inauguration of the next US president. Both candidates have vowed to bring to an end the disastrous experiment in injustice that is Guantanamo Bay. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has remained steadfastly impervious to the growing chorus of Canadians who deplore the continued detention of Khadr in Guantanamo Bay and call upon Prime Minister Harper to seek his repatriation. Harper has preferred instead to follow docilely in the trench dug by the current US president. Perhaps the most viable hope for Khadr is that the next US president will swiftly honor his commitment to close Guantanamo Bay and that Harper will continue to defer to his US counterpart.

Audrey Macklin is a law professor at the University of Toronto. She was observing the military commissions last week for Human Rights Watch.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Theft of the 2008 Election Part 1 and 2

BBC Newsnight journalist Greg Palast goes on the trail of the missing votes from Colorado to New Mexico to Michigan. Broadcast on BBC Newsnight UK and America.

Theft of the 2008 Election Part 1

Theft of the 2008 Election Part 2 

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bush Trying to Avoid War Crimes Charges

Violations under the Geneva Convention are a Felony.
Bush is trying to have himself and his administration exempt from this.
How disgusting. They should be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity and they want to give themselves immunity. Well in the eyes of the rest of the world I can only hope we see the truth, of this rogue administration.
This in of itself, in my mind is yet another Bush crime. I do not think the rest of the world should tolerate this kind of act by any country or person anywhere.
Not only have they committed crimes against victims in Guantanamo Bay and other prisons but have also attacked Pakistan and now Syria.