Weekly Roundup 1/9/2012

My Guantanamo Nightmare
Lakhdar Boumediene, The New York Times, Jan. 8, 2012 (print and online)

Notes from a Guantanamo Survivor
Murat Kuranz, The New York Times, Jan. 8, 2012 (online)

Synopsis: On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. prison camp for suspected enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba [Jan. 11], two men recount their experiences of having been there for years before being ruled innocent and released. Boumediene, a Bosnian immigrant working for the Red Crescent (part of the International Red Cross), was arrested with five others barely one month after 9/11, wrongfully suspected of plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. Kuranz, an immigrant to Germany from Turkey, was arrested in Pakistan, also not long after 9/11, apparently linked to a friend in Germany who was wrongly suspected as a terrorist. Both men waged hard legal battles during their captivity to clear their names and be released. Eventually, they were released: Kuranz returned to Germany through diplomatic efforts, Boumediene repatriated to France after winning a landmark Supreme Court case that bears his name.

Takeaway: Boumediene and Kuranz have left Guantanamo behind, but not their experiences there. “So long as Guantánamo stays open and innocent men remain there, my thoughts will be with those left behind in that place of suffering and injustice,” Boumediene writes. Kuranz too says he finds it “hard not to think about my time at Guantánamo and to wonder how it is possible that a democratic government can detain people in intolerable conditions and without a fair trial.

For CQ researcher coverage, see my reports “Closing Guantanamo,” Feb. 27, 2009, updated March 15, 2011; “Treatment of Detainees,” Aug. 25, 2006 (with Peter Katel); and “Prosecuting Terrorists,” March 12, 2010, updated May 26, 2011.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Google’s Cloud Robotics Strategy – and How It Could Soon Threaten Jobs
Martin Ford, Huffington Post, Jan. 3, 2012.

Synopsis: We never got those individual jetpacks that futurists used to promise us. But the job-snatching robots? Apparently they’re on the way.

Takeaway: “Many…who dismiss the potential for robots and automation to dramatically impact the job market have not fully assimilated the implications of machine learning. Human workers need to be trained individually, and that is a very expensive, time-consuming and error-prone process. Machines are different: train just one and all the others acquire the knowledge….Imagine that a company like FedEx or UPS could train ONE worker and then have its entire workforce instantly acquire those skills with perfect proficiency and consistency….And, of course, machine learning will not be limited to just robots performing manipulative tasks -- software applications employed in knowledge-based tasks are also going to get much smarter.”

For more, see Patrick Marshall’s April 22, 2011, report, “Artificial Intelligence.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Myth of Japan’s Failure
Eamonn Fingleton, The New York Times, “Sunday Review,” Jan. 8, 2012

Synopsis: Japan is portrayed in the media as an economic disaster case. But that view doesn’t square with reality, writes the author. As a prominent Japan-watcher wrote after a recent visit: “There’s a dramatic gap between what one reads in the United States and what one sees on the ground in Japan. The Japanese are dressed better than Americans. They have the latest cars, including Porsches, Audis, Mercedes-Benzes and all the finest models. I have never seen so many spoiled pets. And the physical infrastructure of the country keeps improving and evolving.”

Takeaway: Americans view Japan as a failure at Americans’ own peril, says Fingleton. Japan should be held up as a model, not an admonition. … Japan’s constant upgrading of its infrastructure is surely an inspiration. It is a strategy that often requires cooperation across a wide political front, but such cooperation has not been beyond the American political system in the past. The Hoover Dam, that iconic project of the Depression, required negotiations among seven states but somehow it was built — and it provided jobs for 16,000 people in the process. Nothing is stopping similar progress now — nothing, except political bickering.

For background, see David Masci, “Japan in Crisis,” CQ Researcher, July 26, 2002

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor