Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eclectic Jukebox 4/30/09

Sarah Vaughan - "Bye Bye Blackbird" (Live)

This is one of my favorite tracks from "Sassy" Sarah Vaughan, but odds are you haven't heard it. It's an audience request number from a Live in Tokyo album that seems to be out of print, but luckily, iTunes has it. Enjoy.

Eclectic Jukebox

Get Drunk

Thanks to all poetry lovers out there as National Poetry Month comes to a close. I'll once again promote the Favorite Poem Project and support for all the arts. I'll try to be more organized about this next year!

Maggie Jochild of the Group News Blog (and Meta Watershed) posted one of her favorites, an untitled poem by Judy Grahn. Check it out, and the Group News Blog comment thread. Many readers shared their favorite poems.

Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation contest, just concluded in Washington, D.C. (Congratulations to 18-year-old William Farley of Arlington, Virginia for becoming the overall winner, although the event as a whole is pretty cool.)

On NPR show Bookworm, host Michael Silverblatt's guest today was poet Yusef Komunyakaa. In March, his guest was poet Michael Bidart (parts one and two), and at the start of April, he hosted three poets to recite and discuss Walt Whitman.

Here's my featured pick for this year (although I've used it elsewhere). Liam Clancy recites a great version:

Here's a slightly different version:

Get Drunk
By Charles Baudelaire

One should always be drunk. That's all that matters;
that's our one imperative need. So as not to feel Time's
horrible burden one which breaks your shoulders and bows
you down, you must get drunk without cease.

But with what?
With wine, poetry, or virtue
as you choose.
But get drunk.

And if, at some time, on steps of a palace,
in the green grass of a ditch,
in the bleak solitude of your room,
you are waking and the drunkenness has already abated,
ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock,
all that which flees,
all that which groans,
all that which rolls,
all that which sings,
all that which speaks,
ask them, what time it is;
and the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, and the clock,
they will all reply:

"It is time to get drunk!

So that you may not be the martyred slaves of Time,
get drunk, get drunk,
and never pause for rest!
With wine, poetry, or virtue,
as you choose!"

(The French original can be read here.)

This has been one of my favorite poems ever since I first hear Liam Clancy perform it. It's hard for me to read it without hearing it with an Irish accent, because of that, and it's a pretty Irish sentiment. I like the idea of getting intoxicated by something besides alcohol, and that does happen. To me, the poem's about not forgetting myself and what's important in life, and about trying to stay passionate, active and inspired. Some work, while important, can grow arduous and burnout is always a risk. There are plenty of carpe diem poems out there, but I like this one's style. Get drunk – with wine, poetry, virtue, theater, film, philosophy and love, as you choose.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Go Caps!

( John Mcdonnell-The Washington Post. More photos here.)

Congratulations to the Washington Capitals for winning their first series and advancing to the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's their first series win since 'the 97-'98 season. They came back from 0-2 and then 1-3 in the series to tie it up with the New York Rangers, and then beat them in game seven, 2-1. Rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov and wily veteran Sergei Fedorov played key roles in this game, Varlamov with fourteen saves (and "allowing just seven goals in his six games") and Fedorov scoring the game-winning and series-winning goal. Yeah, the Caps were seeded 2nd and the Rangers were 7th, but that doesn't matter much when you're down in the series.

Next up is the Caps' perennial nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Matching up the two young stars of the NHL, the Caps' Alexander Ovechkin versus the Pens' Sidney Crosby, should make for a good show. Here's hoping.

If you've missed the human highlight reel that is Alexander Ovechkin, here's one of his best goals, from game five of the series. You'll see that the Rangers had just been pressing hard on the other end:

I don't think I've ever seen moves like that from a hockey player. It's like he's dribbling through defenders in basketball or soccer, but doing it on skates. Three of his other best goals can be seen here.

It's also nice to see the Chicago Blackhawks back in the playoffs, and winning their first series, too.

The Penguins are dangerous, and the Caps are still a young team overall, but we'll see how far they can go this playoff season.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Equal Pay Day

Blog for Fair Pay 2009

Today is Equal Pay Day, and the National Women's Law Center is encouraging blogging and other activity in support of the cause. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 helps a great deal, and corrects an atrocious Supreme Court decision, as well as congressional opposition to the same bill in 2008. If you're not familiar with Lilly Ledbetter's story or have forgotten some of the details, Dahlia Lithwick wrote a great piece on the case and the congressional opposition almost exactly a year ago. And this video is the first of a series on Ledbetter from 2007:

I thought Lilly Ledbetter was one of the more inspiring speakers at the Democratic National Convention, although since it was early and short many people missed it. But this should not be a partisan issue. And it's admirable that Ledbetter has been working to ensure that others receive the fair treatment she was denied.

Equal pay should be a no-brainer. Pay should be based on merit, not gender, sex, race, sexuality, religion or anything similar. Jobs that are sometimes deemed "women's work" – teaching, social work, nursing – also tend to be undervalued and under-compensated. There's more that's needed to improve the American workplace, and some of them are society-wide measures. Card check for unions would help. So would decent, affordable child care, parental leave and universal health care (as one of my married-with-kids friends has often pointed out). It's no coincidence that countries with more women in government have enacted those before the U.S. has. There are many things we can do to make a more equitable, more pleasant, less distressful society, and equal pay is one of them.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Nixonland Book Salon

Rick Perlstein will be chatting about Nixonland over Firedoglake today, Saturday, April 25, 2009 - 5pm EST/2pm PST.

The paperback version of Nixonland is now out (although I'd go for the hardcover if you can). His earlier book on Goldwater finally went back in print last year, too.

So head over and get your Nixonland fix. After this week and all the new torture revelations, it'll be nice to talk about lying, power-abusing officials who weren't just in office.

Update: Here's the direct link to the chat.

Update 2: Here's my favorite bit. Teddy Partridge asked, "Do you marvel at the resilience of Pat Buchanan and his perverse relationship with MSNBC?" Rick Perlstein responded by linking this segment:

He also wrote:

A lot of it is what Digby says: the opinion elite of this country comprises a “village,” and the main qualification for admission is how nice you are to the other people in the village. Buchanan also exploits a special weakness of this elite: their anxiety that they’re out of touch with the “heartland.” People like Buchanan have skillfully exploited that neurosis to convince the rest of the villagers that hard-right conservatives have some mythic connection to that heartland. When he says something wingnutty, villagers don’t think: “that’s crazy.” They think: “gee, maybe I should think that, too, to be ‘in touch’ with the ‘real’ America.”

Horseshit, of course.

Also, in response to another comment, about Muskie "crying" and Broder recanting on that, I linked two pieces on that I've used before.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Friday, April 24, 2009

These Aren't the War Crimes You're Looking For

The dark side of the force is not strong with this one. Even Norah O'Donnell, who used to treat all war protesters as anti-American, isn't buying it. Notice, though, that this younger Cheney, Liz, acts as if it's her show in several ways, mostly by talking over O'Donnell. Watch, if you dare:

It's infuriating, isn't it? Liz Cheney lying about torture - about war crimes? Luckily, there's a cure. Check out emptywheel's post on this encounter. She summarizes and, uh, translates it. A sample:

Norah: Was your Daddy the "prime mover" of this process?

MiniCheney: I won't answer the question. Instead let's talk about why Eric Holder didn't read the "Effectiveness Memo" created as a prop for the Bradbury torture memos to refute the IG Report's conclusion that the torture program wasn't effective.

Norah: We''ll get to whether torture justifies the ends in this program.

MiniCheney: Norah, just because everyone knows this is torture doesn't make it so. We have a SERE program so people are exposed to how false confessions are created. And we took that SERE program and exceeded the guidelines on the SERE program. But that's not torture at all, not at all. In fact, it's a very effective means to generate false confessions.

Awesome. Incidentally, there's a fundraiser for emptywheel/Marcy Wheeler, who always does excellent work but has been on quite a tear recently. She's the one who first noticed that Khalid Sheik Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times in one month. What the Bush administration tries to hide, the human rights bloggers and journalists shall uncover, with relentless digging, keen analysis - and the occasional Jedi mind trick.

Say it with us, Liz Cheney. "Like the dread lord my father, I want all the memos released. I want a full investigation. We need a special prosecutor, an excellent one, someone like Patrick Fitzgerald. It's the only way we'll be vindicated. It's the only way to be sure."

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Eclectic Jukebox 4/23/09

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour - "Around the Bend"

Here's their March 2009 session at KCRW.

Eclectic Jukebox

The Torture Flowchart

(Picture by the invaluable darkblack.)

How did all this torture and war stuff happen, you ask? Well, some people have been trying to cover those stories for several years now, but the recently unclassified senate report adds valuable detail. But hey, why not try a flowchart?

Click for a larger view, or go here. Here's a larger view of that little collage:

Click for a slightly larger view, or go here. (One of the pictures comes from "The Green Light," a summary of one of the better books on torture out there, Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values by Philippe Sands. Check out the article if you haven't.)

Feel free to quibble with any of the specifics in the chart, or improve it. It's somewhat tongue-in-cheek and has its flaws, beyond the resolution issues. With authoritarians, there's often a chicken versus egg question for their actions, and an ignorance versus evil question for their motives. However, for them, an authoritarian regime is both a means and the ends. To paraphrase Digby, incompetence, corruption, secrecy and dishonesty are features, not bugs of these systems. My main point is that a host of attitudes contribute to the problem, and a little bit of reflection, humility, intelligent analysis, oversight, honest counsel or courage can check it – unless the steamroller is allowed to prevail. Just as bullshitters don't care whether what they're saying is true or not, authoritarians tend not to care about such pesky things as negative consequences, principle or the law. An explicit order to "Torture that man until he falsely confesses to an 9/11-Iraq connection!" might never come, in those exact words – yet that outcome is nonetheless the natural (or perhaps unnatural) result of a series of deliberate decisions, an arrogant attitude and the overall climate created. (That's not to mention the issues of self-awareness and CYA language.) It's not as if the Bush administration lied, hid the evidence, dodged oversight and ignored or punished warnings from their own people out of good faith. They knew what they were doing was radical. (See Angler, a superb book, for much more.) In any case, there will be plenty of time to discuss the specific "whys" as we continue to establish all of the "whats" in greater detail. We need an excellent special prosecutor to investigate the crime scene. ( A truth commission might help as well, but not if it goes the Iran-Contra route of immunizing everyone and undercutting any criminal investigations.) Paul Krugman spells it out well:

Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.

There’s a word for this: it’s evil.

Exactly. Let the full truth be known, and justice be done.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Senate Report on Detainee Abuse

An unclassified version of the Senate Armed Services Committee's Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody has been released and can be read or saved here. Tim F. at Balloon Juice has helpfully typed up the conclusions. The full report is a long document (263 pages), so on the site or as a PDF, it can scroll very slowly.

I'm happy to see this come out. Let's see the coverage on this one. I'm working on a new torture roundup, but it's hard to keep up with everything. All new evidence and good analysis is welcome, of course. The majority of Americans want some sort of investigation. And I just wrote to NPR because I found one of their torture stories frustratingly timid, so I'm hoping their coverage of this report will be far more frank and forceful.

Some initial thoughts - some of the senators listed are quite conservative, and even more are less than honorable. I think it's wise to remember that as damning as this is, this is still probably a watered-down version. It's more useful for its documentation of facts and events than its conclusions. Case in point – those conclusions mention "anti-torture laws" twice, but always refer to "abuse" versus "torture." I'd be very surprised if Cornyn and the lot didn't fight like the scumbags they are over that. Also, the dissembling public statements of Cornyn and Lieberman, among others, are even more damnable given that they had access to this information. Lieberman has claimed waterboarding is not torture and described it inaccurately on several occasions (including yesterday), while Cornyn has tried to claim torture is justified with his ludicrous ticking time bomb scenarios. Cornyn has also opposed a truth commission of any sort and whined about partisanship.

Meanwhile, the McClatchy piece "Report: Abusive tactics were used to find Iraq-al Qaida link" focuses on a specific point, confirming what long has been likely and we have noted in part before, even if there are smoking guns yet to come. The torture apologists will argue details as a distraction, but even if specific timelines, events and motives still need to be nailed down, at the most generous, this was criminal, reckless negligence.

This and the economy are easily the most important stories right now. And funny, accountability, responsibility and making the difficult but right choices are crucial in both cases. Both Wall Street and the Bush administration should be treated like crimes scenes.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Godwin's Law

("Regarding Mussolini" from xkcd.)

Most internet posters are probably familiar with Godwin's Law. The original formulation was "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." As the Wikipedia entry further explains:

There are many corollaries to Godwin's law, some considered more canonical (by being adopted by Godwin himself) than others invented later. For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically "lost" whatever debate was in progress. This principle itself is frequently referred to as Godwin's Law. It is considered poor form to raise such a comparison arbitrarily with the motive of ending the thread. There is a widely recognized codicil that any such ulterior-motive invocation of Godwin's law will be unsuccessful (this is sometimes referred to as "Quirk's Exception").

Godwin's Law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one's opponent) with Hitler or Nazis or their actions. Although the law in its original formulation is obviously true in discussions directly addressing genocide, propaganda, or other mainstays of the Nazi regime, its corollaries may not apply. Whether it applies to humorous use or references to oneself is open to interpretation, because although mentioning and trivializing Nazism in an online discussion, this would not be a fallacious attack against a debate opponent.

However, Godwin's Law itself can be abused, as a distraction or diversion, that fallaciously miscasts an opponent's argument as hyperbole, especially if the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate. A 2005 Reason magazine article argued that Godwin's Law is often misused to ridicule even valid comparisons.

This last paragraph zeroes in on the trouble. The original Godwin's Law works wonderfully as a funny observation, but when the corollaries are invoked slavishly, they can become problematic. A great deal probably depends on what sites one visits. I've certainly seen some horribly inappropriate and hyperbolic mention of Nazis (such as this one), and at least one accusation (by one of the most impotent trolls I've ever seen) that everyone else in the thread was "as bad as the Nazis." However, I've also seen appropriate mention of Nazis met by commentators citing Godwin's Law dogmatically, or with all the glee of an elementary school kid ratting out a classmate for swearing. And hey, fuck that.

Let's turn things over to The Poor Man Institute (from May 2008):

There’s a tradition on the internets, derived from “Godwin’s Law“, that anyone who brings up Hitler/Nazis/WWII in a debate automatically loses. This tradition is, like everything else on the internets, pretty stupid - you can’t improve the quality of discourse by pretending the seminal event of the last 100 years didn’t really happen. But it does acknowledge a problem: that, as the seminal event of the last 100 years, it tends to crowd out other events, which are likely more useful for analyzing current events. WWII is important because it is exceptional - Hitler was exceptionally evil, Germany was exceptionally warlike, the Holocaust was exceptionally barbaric; most things in this life, by definition, are not the exceptions. Many things are qualitatively similar to exceptional things - Saddam is like Hitler, North Korea is warlike, being catty on the internets is like the Holocaust - but, quantitatively, do not measure up. For a Godwin’s Law-violating example of this, see above - viewing events of 1938 too much through what was then the seminal event of the century, most European leaders failed to understand the un-Great War nature of their situation. If they had, WWII might not have been the seminal event it became, and we’d all be making lousy analogies to something else entirely. History is largely accident.

Maybe that’s a bad lesson to draw from WWII - it ties up the paragraph nice, at least, so give me a break. And it’s not as bad as the usual lesson, generally offered up by wind-up right-wing idiots, that “appeasement never works.” Appeasement often works quite well, even when dealing with our present-day Hitlers manqués - look at North Korea. Endless index card-reading wingnut rants notwithstanding, even rather awful people can often be satisfied if they are given what (note: not “whatever”) they want, will often be willing to make concessions in order to get it, and doing business is often much cheaper than acting tough, which is why grown-ups prefer it. WWII, as the exception, proves the rule.

Or let's turn to Mike Godwin himself, in "I Seem To Be A Verb: 18 Years of Godwin's Law" from April 2008:

Still, I sometimes have some ambivalence about the Law, which is far beyond my control these days. Like most parents, I'm frequently startled by the unexpected turn my 18-year-old offspring takes. (I'm happy to say that my 15-year-old offspring—my daughter, Ariel Godwin—surprises me at least as often, although invariably in happier ways.) When I saw the photographs from Abu Ghraib, for example, I understood instantly the connection between the humiliations inflicted there and the ones the Nazis imposed upon death camp inmates—but I am the one person in the world least able to draw attention to that valid comparison.

Overall, though, I'm content that the Law has as much popcult traction as it does. My feeling is that "Never Again" loses its meaning if we don't regularly remind ourselves of the terrible inflection point marked in human culture by the Holocaust. Sure, there has been genocide before that point and genocide after it, but to see an advanced, highly civilized nation warp itself into something capable of creating such a horror—well, I think Nazi Germany does count as a first in that regard.

And to a great extent, our challenge as human beings who live in the period after that inflection point is that we no longer can be passive about history—we have a moral obligation to do what we can to prevent such events from ever happening again. Key to that obligation is remembering, which is what Godwin's Law is all about.

In a way, the biggest violation of Godwin's Law – due to being a counter-factual, horribly irresponsible piece of crap hyperbolically invoking Nazis – is Jonah Goldberg's tome, Liberal Fascism, comprehensively rebutted by David Neiwert.

With all this in mind, I'd suggest that Godwin's Law works very well as a funny observation, and as a useful warning to try to avoid hyperbole and not rush straight for the Nazi or Hitler comparison. But a good community can deal with the appropriateness of Nazi references pretty well on its own. The point of Godwin's Law, I'd say, is to help cut down the bullshit, not add to it.

Personally, after studying the Nazis and the Holocaust to some small degree, I find some contemporary dynamics remind me of them. In most cases, current events are nowhere near as bad. But among other things, the Holocaust for me has always stressed the importance of fighting for civil rights and any attempt to take them away, whether for a specific group or everyone. (Protect them, and it's hard to ever get as far as genocide.) Attacks on the Constitution should be a call to arms. I'm reminded of the cognitive dissonance that occurs when people are scared to confront their leaders and want to tell themselves everything's okay, or that that group of people must have done something really awful to be treated so poorly. We're all too familiar with citizens and pundits who will claim, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that surely Vice President Cheney would never lie to start a war, or that we never tortured anyone. Acknowledging the full truth might force them to act, and challenge the established order. I'm reminded of abuses of language, disingenuous arguments, fear-mongering, hate speech and the notion that some groups of people are simply lesser beings or inhuman. I think of abuses of power and the psychology of bullying, from the cruelty of capos over other prisoners in the camps to waterboarding someone 183 times. I reflect on how government officials, their allies and apologists chose to be on the wrong side of the Nuremberg trials in the present day. I find myself thinking how crucial it is to speak truth to power, the importance of moral imagination and compassion, and on the banality and audacity of evil.

Everyone has his or her own frame of reference for understanding the events of the day, and it may not resonate with everybody else. That's fine, among people of good faith. And even relevant analogies don’t make every situation Nazi Germany all over again. But it would be a mistake to forget, or pretend not to know, that certain dynamics of power, fear, intimidation, abuse and enforced conformity lead to still worse things. We know this story.

(January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day every year, and I wrote a post for it, but today happens to be Yom Hashoah.)

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Videos on Torture

Torture apologists such as David Rivkin have been running around for some time know claiming that SERE training means waterboarding isn't torture and torture must be legal. The 2002 Bybee torture memo, trying to legalize torture after the fact, suggests that this line of argument originated within the Bush administration. I'm posting eight videos on torture, several on waterboarding specifically. Some of these are very short, while others run closer to ten minutes, and some of the content is graphic. Feel free to skip around.

I recently re-watched some Daily Show segments from 2007 rebutting the arguments offered Rivkin-Bybee arguments. Unsurprisingly, the segments are very good, but I was struck by how long we've been discussing this, how despicable it is that any torture apologists dare still offer this argument, and how pathetic it is that mainstream media accounts don't challenge this argument forcefully when it's spewed out once again.

Here's three segments from The Daily Show of November 1st, 2007:

The Strife Aquatic:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Strife Aquatic
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Shock the Conscience:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Riggle - Shock the Conscience
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Moment of Zen:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Moment of Zen - Torture
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

From 2007, here's the Current TV segment showing what waterboarding entails:

Alan Dershowitz is the opposite of a moral authority on torture, but I'll leave it to Scott Horton to give a quick overview there.

Here's Christopher Hitchens being waterboarded in August 2008:

Hitchens described the experience in more detail in "Believe Me, It’s Torture."

Here's a brief, striking video from Amnesty International:

How many times has this been testified to? Waterboarding is torture. One of the more remarkable examples is that of senior Justice Department official Daniel Levin, who in 2004 doubted that waterboarding could be lawful. He arranged to be waterboarded, concluded that waterboarding was torture, said so, and was fired by the Bush administration. This story came out in 2007, and Marty Lederman, Think Progress and ABC (video at the link) wrote on it at the time. Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann delivered a special comment on the subject:

As we've covered in some detail before, SERE training is not torture, and most of the more high-profile torture apologists must be aware of this. It is not a good faith argument. Malcolm Nance, Charles Swift, Matthew Alexander and others have explained this distinction many times, and can do so far more authoritatively, but the key differences between the brief waterboarding in SERE training and the torture technique waterboarding are duration, volition, purpose and trust. I'll link Malcolm Nance once again, but waterboarding is controlled drowning. An American serviceperson consents to it, it's done by SERE instructors versus enemy captors, and he or she is subjected to it for a limited number of seconds. For all that, it's by all accounts terrifying, but it also stops, and the serviceperson knows this. On top of all this, the SERE schools screen instructors for sadism or lack of restraint because of the potential for abuse. The purpose of all this is to prepare certain military personnel for what they may face if captured by an enemy who does not observe the Geneva Conventions.

As we've observed before, claiming SERE training is the same as torture is like insisting that all consensual sex is rape or vice versa, and is quite the slur against the American military. Or, for another metaphor, claiming SERE training means torture is legal is a bit like claiming that inoculating children against diseases means releasing bubonic plague in a major city is legal. Preventative measures against something harmful or evil is not an endorsement of that evil. In fact, it's pretty diabolical to argue that it is.

Nor does the relatively benign picture painted by torture apologists square at all with the reality of what was actually done. In addition to the Red Cross Report, it's been recently reported that waterboarding was used at least 266 times on two prisoners. What possibly justifies that frequency? Is it now the torture apologist position that torture works, but only produces a tiny bit of information each time? Or did these prisoners telepathically receive new information about terrorist plots in between torture sessions? As Dan Froomkin notes (see the previous two links):

Now Scott Shane writes in Saturday's New York Times that the Bush administration's decision to ratchet up the brutality inflicted upon Zubaida, including repeated waterboarding, came "despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew, according to former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum.

"The escalation to especially brutal interrogation tactics against the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, including confining him in boxes and slamming him against the wall, was ordered by officials at C.I.A. headquarters based on a highly inflated assessment of his importance, interviews and a review of newly released documents show...

"[S]enior agency officials, still persuaded, as they had told President George W. Bush and his staff, that he was an important Qaeda leader, insisted that he must know more.

"'You get a ton of information, but headquarters says, "There must be more,"' recalled one intelligence officer who was involved in the case. As described in the footnote to the memo, the use of repeated waterboarding against Abu Zubaydah was ordered 'at the direction of C.I.A. headquarters,' and officials were dispatched from headquarters 'to watch the last waterboard session.'...

"'He pleaded for his life,' the official said. 'But he gave up no new information. He had no more information to give.'...

"Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the official said."

I'll quote John Cole again: "There better be a pretty damned long fuse on that ticking time bomb. And yes, this is nothing but pure sadism."

As we've covered extensively, torture does not work for obtaining reliable intelligence, but is splendid for extracting false confessions. It endangers American troops abroad, and is immoral and illegal. As Malcolm Nance points out, torturing is "not a fair trade for America’s honor."

Earlier, we linked Hilzoy's post, "The Obvious Comparison," comparing the Bybee torture memo with a Room 101 passage in George Orwell's 1984. Scott Horton has more on the Orwell connection, and also provides a clip from the underrated film adaptation starring John Hurt:

Whether you view the abuses of the Bush administration as the banality of evil, the delusions of evil, or the audacity of evil, they are undoubtedly evil. These people are on the wrong side of Nuremberg. As the Edmund Burke line goes, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Our national honor demands that there's a full investigation into all of this, and that power not be a shield against justice.

Here's the ACLU petition to AG Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor, the Firedoglake petition to do the same, and a California petition to impeach Jay Bybee.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Sensory Deprivation Op-Ed

(The original poster for the film The Road to Guantanamo.)

Too many good pieces on the torture memos have been written in the past few days, as well as too many atrocious torture apologist pieces, for me to link them all. I can't go through all the torture apologia pieces as thoroughly as with David Rivkin's inconsistent, disingenuous arguments. However, I did want to spend some time on the recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by former NSA and CIA head Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. It responds to Obama's release of four Bush era memos on torture, describing abusive techniques ranging from physical assault to psychological attacks to sensory deprivation to waterboarding. Hayden and Mukasey say the president has 'tied his own hands' in giving up torture, but they're attempting a little sensory deprivation of their own, trying to prevent the public from seeing the full truth of the war crimes committed by their colleagues in the Bush administration.

Michael Hayden has been running around quite a bit to argue against any investigation. As Scott Horton, discussing the memos on Democracy Now on Friday, April 17th, pointed out:

Well, I think if we have a little bit more candid Michael Hayden, we’d hear him saying something else. In fact, it was reported in Bart Gellman’s book Angler that around the time of the 2004 elections, he had a very, very strong focus on and fear of prosecution, if the things he was involved with should become public, a matter of public knowledge. And I think that’s what’s in the back of his mind here. I don’t think it’s national security at all.

Neither Hayden nor Mukasey is a disinterested party in all this. Hayden's legal jeopardy stems largely from other law-breaking by the Bush administration, but disclosures in one area may lead to more. It's not as if either of them wants the truth to come out, because even if they don't face legal jeopardy themselves, and their colleagues face greater danger of criminal convictions, their reputations could plummet. Still, this is a gamble – a poker bluff, lying about war crimes to prevent investigations and prosecutions. If they don't pull it off, their reputations could fall even further. (Presumably they feel in too deep for the more honorable route of whistle-blowing.)

There are several key lies in the Hayden-Mukasey piece. The first is that they avoid ever using the word "torture" even though the Red Cross report and U.S. statutes are clear on this - torture is precisely what was committed. The second is that they claim that torture works, and that American torture provided actionable intelligence. This specific claim ties into a general, false and horrendous notion that's been dangerously widespread in the past few days (and the past several years): that torture works, that other methods don’t, and that foregoing the cruel immorality of torture means we're at greater risk. John Yoo, Dick Cheney and most torture apologists have pushed exactly this line, however implicitly: investigate the war crimes we committed, and you'll all die horribly in a terrorist attack. It's a particularly evil piece of bullshit, but it's proved disappointingly effective and is often repeated uncritically in the corporate media. To quote the post on Rivkin:

As we've explored before, torture is (1) immoral, (2) illegal, (3) endangers us (especially American troops in the Middle East), and (4) doesn't work – unless one wants to inflict pain, produce bogus intelligence or elicit false confessions. For obtaining reliable information, more humane, rapport-building techniques are far more effective.

You can read the full Hayden/Mukasey op-ed here, and Memeorandum links a number of responses. I'm going to go through the entire piece, paragraph by paragraph.

The President Ties His Own Hands on Terror
The point of interrogation is intelligence, not confession.


The Obama administration has declassified and released opinions of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) given in 2005 and earlier that analyze the legality of interrogation techniques authorized for use by the CIA. Those techniques were applied only when expressly permitted by the director, and are described in these opinions in detail, along with their limits and the safeguards applied to them.

The release of these opinions was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy. Its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001.

There are several falsehoods here. As Scott Horton pointed out on Democracy Now (linked above), the abuses started before these memos were issued, at the directive of the White House. The memos were ass-covering attempts because the CIA was worried about legal jeopardy if and when their actions became known. Cheney and others have tried to claim they authorized torture in response to CIA requests, but that's more ass-covering. (Jane Mayer's The Dark Side is one of the better accounts of what happened, and the excellent documentary Torturing Democracy can be viewed online.)

Hayden and Mukasey are correct that the point of interrogation is intelligence, not confessions, but they're trying to gloss over two crucial points. One, rapport-building is a far more effective interrogation technique, as testified to by U.S. military interrogator Matthew Alexander. Two, torture – what happened under Bush – produces false confessions, and can produce false intelligence that wastes resources and wears out agents, as it did with Abu Zubaydah (as chronicled by Ron Suskind in The One Percent Doctrine, among other sources). Hayden and Mukasey also push a familiar Bush line, that somehow, 9/11 occurred because the Bush administration was restrained by the law, as opposed to them ignoring imminent threat warnings and being horribly incompetent. This ties into the central lie they're pushing: foregoing the cruel immorality of torture means we're at greater risk.

Proponents of the release have argued that the techniques have been abandoned and thus there is no point in keeping them secret any longer; that they were in any event ineffective; that their disclosure was somehow legally compelled; and that they cost us more in the coin of world opinion than they were worth. None of these claims survives scrutiny.

This is a better written paragraph than many torture apologia pieces, because it's fairly accurate other than its conclusion. Hayden and Mukasey will save the bulk of their straw men for later.

Soon after he was sworn in, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that suspended use of these techniques and confined not only the military but all U.S. agencies -- including the CIA -- to the interrogation limits set in the Army Field Manual. This suspension was accompanied by a commitment to further study the interrogation program, and government personnel were cautioned that they could no longer rely on earlier opinions of the OLC.

Although evidence shows that the Army Field Manual, which is available online, is already used by al Qaeda for training purposes, it was certainly the president's right to suspend use of any technique. However, public disclosure of the OLC opinions, and thus of the techniques themselves, assures that terrorists are now aware of the absolute limit of what the U.S. government could do to extract information from them, and can supplement their training accordingly and thus diminish the effectiveness of these techniques as they have the ones in the Army Field Manual.

"Absolute limit" is my favorite bit. The key lie here is that torture is effective, but outlawed, and because of that, evil terrorists will laugh at our expense and be able to operate without fear (twirling their mustaches as they do so). This ignores, once again, that torture is completely unreliable for producing accurate intelligence, and that rapport-building techniques are much more effective. "If only they'd let us torture these evil-doers, we'd all be safe!" This is very much a 24 fantasy, a chief inspiration for many Bush officials and completely contrary to the actual history of torture through the ages. In past conflicts, enemy soldiers have been relieved to be treated well by Americans and thus have been more willing to disclose information. Some enemy soldiers have been more willing to surrender, thus saving lives, because of the American reputation of treating prisoners humanely. American and British interrogators of Germans during WWII have denounced the Bush administration's torture policies.

Malcolm Nance, a former SERE instructor, wrote one of the definitive pieces on waterboarding. It's a fallacy to think it can be resisted indefinitely. Holding out for more than a few minutes is extraordinary, because it is controlled drowning, and the panic it creates is primal and overpowering. Waterboarding long enough will "break" anyone in the sense that he or she will beg for it to stop, but it does not "break" them in the sense of making them tell the truth. Torture typically produces false confessions, for obvious reasons – the victim will say anything to make the suffering stop. The ancient Romans used torture as punishment, but statements obtained through torture were inadmissible for this very reason. As I've argued before, given what's effective and what's not, and what's legal and moral and what's not, if you're approaching a prisoner asking, "How much pain can we inflict on him without breaking the law?" you're already on the wrong path, and a very dangerous one at that.

Moreover, disclosure of the details of the program pre-empts the study of the president's task force and assures that the suspension imposed by the president's executive order is effectively permanent. There would be little point in the president authorizing measures whose nature and precise limits have already been disclosed in detail to those whose resolve we hope to overcome. This conflicts with the sworn promise of the current director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, who testified in aid of securing Senate confirmation that if he thought he needed additional authority to conduct interrogation to get necessary information, he would seek it from the president. By allowing this disclosure, President Obama has tied not only his own hands but also the hands of any future administration faced with the prospect of attack.

This is mostly a cheap charge of hypocrisy and promise-breaking combined with the key lie, that torture works and foregoing it endangers us.

Disclosure of the techniques is likely to be met by faux outrage, and is perfectly packaged for media consumption. It will also incur the utter contempt of our enemies. Somehow, it seems unlikely that the people who beheaded Nicholas Berg and Daniel Pearl, and have tortured and slain other American captives, are likely to be shamed into giving up violence by the news that the U.S. will no longer interrupt the sleep cycle of captured terrorists even to help elicit intelligence that could save the lives of its citizens.

This may be the most obnoxious, repulsive paragraph of the entire piece. Hayden and Mukasey have the gall to pretend that outrage over torture and war crimes is somehow false, and that anyone who feels this way is a dupe of the media, while simultaneously, they outrageously lie about war crimes in a major media outlet to prevent justice. (Provide your own profanity.) I'd like to see them argue this one in court. They also show the same views as Cheney and the neocons, who embraced the views of The Arab Mind, a book that argues – falsely and dangerously - that Arabs only respect force, and thus humiliating them is a good idea. There's a quite a straw man here – who knew that the point of upholding human rights was to shame other countries into not mistreating prisoners? Clearly, torturing our prisoners will show them! Seriously, how utterly juvenile and vindictive is this world view? As John McCain said (in one of his principled moments), this is not about them, it's about us. Yet again, Hayden and Mukasey lie that torture will save us.

Which brings us to the next of the justifications for disclosing and thus abandoning these measures: that they don't work anyway, and that those who are subjected to them will simply make up information in order to end their ordeal. This ignorant view of how interrogations are conducted is belied by both experience and common sense. If coercive interrogation had been administered to obtain confessions, one might understand the argument. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who organized the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, among others, and who has boasted of having beheaded Daniel Pearl, could eventually have felt pressed to provide a false confession. But confessions aren't the point. Intelligence is. Interrogation is conducted by using such obvious approaches as asking questions whose correct answers are already known and only when truthful information is provided proceeding to what may not be known. Moreover, intelligence can be verified, correlated and used to get information from other detainees, and has been; none of this information is used in isolation.

This paragraph is simply incoherent. Their use of "this ignorant view" is also awfully obnoxious, but the bigger problem is that Hayden and Mukasey construct an alternative reality here. In the first section, Hayden and Mukasey pretend that torture is the same as normal (effective, rapport-building) interrogation. Of course torture produces false confessions. It's unlikely that Hayden and Mukasey are ignorant of this, so more likely, they're lying. "If coercive interrogation had been administered to obtain confessions, one might understand the argument" is a lawyerly lie if ever there was one. Coercive interrogation was administered, and did produce false confessions – but Hayden and Mukasey claim those false confessions weren't the goal, and construct their sentence to deceptively suggest that neither coercive interrogation nor false confessions took place. They continue with the shell game here, conflating torture with legal and effective interrogation. They write that "But confessions aren't the point. Intelligence is." Notice they've shifted to discussing general principles and not what actually happened. They're talking about the goals of interrogation, and are largely correct, but this is to pretend once again that the Bush administration did not torture prisoners and produce false intelligence. Specifically, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was tortured, and some of his information was very unreliable, including his "confession" to killing Daniel Pearl, since another prisoner had confessed to it already. And as we've noted before, the Bush administration based pre-war assertions about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda on statements from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi obtained through torture. Torture's very effective at producing convenient lies – that's one of the chief reasons it's used.

The terrorist Abu Zubaydah (sometimes derided as a low-level operative of questionable reliability, but who was in fact close to KSM and other senior al Qaeda leaders) disclosed some information voluntarily. But he was coerced into disclosing information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh, another of the planners of Sept. 11, who in turn disclosed information which -- when combined with what was learned from Abu Zubaydah -- helped lead to the capture of KSM and other senior terrorists, and the disruption of follow-on plots aimed at both Europe and the U.S. Details of these successes, and the methods used to obtain them, were disclosed repeatedly in more than 30 congressional briefings and hearings beginning in 2002, and open to all members of the Intelligence Committees of both Houses of Congress beginning in September 2006. Any protestation of ignorance of those details, particularly by members of those committees, is pretense.

In most accounts by non-Bushies, Abu Zubaydah served primarily as a travel agent and was mentally ill, made worse by extensive torture. According to The One Percent Doctrine, he was tortured in large part because Bush had talked him up in public and told CIA head George Tenet, "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" (See the earlier linked Suskind excerpts for more.)

Dan Froomkin has tirelessly debunked claims of Bush era torture "working." In his response to the Hayden/Mukasey op-ed, he writes:

But as I've written previously Bin al Shibh was captured almost half a year after Zubaida was, and author Ron Suskind reported that the key information about his location came not from Zubaida but from an al-Jazeera reporter who had interviewed bin al Shibh and KSM at their safehouse apartment in Karachi. Zubaida also did not provide information that led to KSM's capture. Suskind reported that a tipster led the CIA directly to KSM and subsequently collected a $25 million reward.

It's not only Suskind saying this, either. As Froomkin notes in that previous post:

Jane Mayer, in her book The Dark Side, substantiates many of Suskind's findings, and concludes that "whatever their motives, it appears the President and the Director of Central Intelligence gave the public misleadingly exaggerated accounts of the effectiveness of the abuse they authorized. Some might impute dishonest motives to them. But it seems more likely that they fooled not just the public, but also themselves."

Hayden and Mukasey have a point when they write that "Any protestation of ignorance of those details, particularly by members of those committees, is pretense." Some members of Congress did know details, although others have claimed they were deceived or details were otherwise omitted, which would hardly be a first for the Bush administration. But say that Hayden and Mukasey are correct, and that the Bush administration not only bragged about their "successes" but were also entirely honest about the torture they used. So what? Do war crimes magically not become war crimes because they were revealed to other people in positions of power? They weren't somehow made legal, and certainly not moral. It's not as human rights activists haven't criticized congressional leaders for their reluctance to oversee and investigate all these affairs. Have a full investigation and disclosure, and may the chips fall where they may.

The techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA. Of the thousands of unlawful combatants captured by the U.S., fewer than 100 were detained and questioned in the CIA program. Of those, fewer than one-third were subjected to any of the techniques discussed in these opinions. As already disclosed by Director Hayden, as late as 2006, even with the growing success of other intelligence tools, fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations.

Well, if you only tortured a few of them, that's okay, then. This is a deliberately misleading account because torture occurred before the memos were issued, per White House directives. Moreover, this picture is grossly deceptive because, as Emptywheel notes, "According to the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002." As John Cole comments, "There better be a pretty damned long fuse on that ticking time bomb. And yes, this is nothing but pure sadism."

Nor was there any legal reason compelling such disclosure. To be sure, the American Civil Liberties Union has sued under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain copies of these and other memoranda, but the government until now has successfully resisted such lawsuits. Even when the government disclosed that three members of al Qaeda had been subjected to waterboarding but that the technique was no longer part of the CIA interrogation program, the court sustained the government's argument that the precise details of how it was done, including limits and safeguards, could remain classified against the possibility that some future president may authorize its use. Therefore, notwithstanding the suggestion that disclosure was somehow legally compelled, there was no legal impediment to the Justice Department making the same argument even with respect to any techniques that remained in the CIA program until last January.

Hayden and Mukasey are basically whining about Obama revealing what the Bush administration did. However, they also suggest once again that torture worked and that it was somehow legal.

There is something of the self-fulfilling prophecy in the claim that our interrogation of some unlawful combatants beyond the limits set in the Army Field Manual has disgraced us before the world. Such a claim often conflates interrogation with the sadism engaged in by some soldiers at Abu Ghraib, an incident that had nothing whatever to do with intelligence gathering. The limits of the Army Field Manual are entirely appropriate for young soldiers, for the conditions in which they operate, for the detainees they routinely question, and for the kinds of tactically relevant information they pursue. Those limits are not appropriate, however, for more experienced people in controlled circumstances with high-value detainees. Indeed, the Army Field Manual was created with awareness that there was an alternative protocol for high-value detainees.

The first sentence makes little sense. They seem to be arguing that revealing prisoner abuses is the real problem, not the abuses themselves. And Hayden and Mukasey have been conflating interrogation with torture throughout their entire op-ed, and do so again in this paragraph. Unconscionably, they suggest the "bad apple" view of Abu Ghraib, when it's well established at this point that the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram and other sites was the result of policy issued at the top. (See again Torturing Democracy, linked above, or Phillipe Sands' Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values.) The talk about "alternative protocol" is obfuscation. At issue is the baseline treatment of prisoners, the core human rights every person is entitled to under U.S. and international law. We are talking about torture, which is immoral, and always illegal. Even if the CIA wasn't following the Army Field Manual, they would not be entitled to break those laws.

In addition, there were those who believed that the U.S. deserved what it got on Sept. 11, 2001. Such people, and many who purport to speak for world opinion, were resourceful both before and after the Sept. 11 attacks in crafting reasons to resent America's role as a superpower. Recall also that the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the punctiliously correct trials of defendants in connection with those incidents, and the bombing of the USS Cole took place long before the advent of CIA interrogations, the invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or the many other purported grievances asserted over the past eight years.

This paragraph is pretty illogical and incoherent, and reminds me of one of Bush's craziest straw man arguments from years ago. Hayden and Mukasey are seriously suggesting that many people think the U.S. deserved the 9/11 attacks? And that such people are on the same side of those who dislike American power? This smells of an irrational attack on Europe and activists, and a lame attempt to discredit torture opponents. Or maybe it's flag-waving and fear-mongering as an irrational appeal. Yes, a number of attacks " took place long before the advent of CIA interrogations," but so what? Bush tried to claim that those same attacks occurred because we hadn't invaded Iraq yet. Hayden and Mukasey seem to be arguing that they occurred because we weren't torturing people. Or they're claiming that people didn't like us even before we started torturing people, so who cares if they don't like us now? Oh, also – torture and "the invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq" – make sure you mention the boogeyman by name – were both unnecessary and extremely harmful to the United States. Starting a war of choice and killing people needlessly, and torturing people needlessly, aren't "purported grievances," either. They're real. If you can come up with a more charitable interpretation of their paragraph, let me know, because it seems like utter crap in even the best light.

The effect of this disclosure on the morale and effectiveness of many in the intelligence community is not hard to predict. Those charged with the responsibility of gathering potentially lifesaving information from unwilling captives are now told essentially that any legal opinion they get as to the lawfulness of their activity is only as durable as political fashion permits. Even with a seemingly binding opinion in hand, which future CIA operations personnel would take the risk? There would be no wink, no nod, no handshake that would convince them that legal guidance is durable. Any president who wants to apply such techniques without such a binding and durable legal opinion had better be prepared to apply them himself.

This really isn't hard. If a lawyer says murder is legal, it doesn't make it so. It's not as if the CIA and the Bush administration thought all this was legal to begin with, which is why they kept things as secret as they did and issued these ass-covering memos. Wow, the CIA needs to follow the Geneva Convention and not commit war crimes, which is such a burden, especially since torture does not work reliably for producing accurate intelligence and legal methods do.
Beyond that, anyone in government who seeks an opinion from the OLC as to the propriety of any action, or who authors an opinion for the OLC, is on notice henceforth that such a request for advice, and the advice itself, is now more likely than before to be subject after the fact to public and partisan criticism. It is hard to see how that will promote candor either from those who should be encouraged to ask for advice before they act, or from those who must give it.

Oh, please. Again, the OLC can't say something that's clearly illegal is legal. The issue is hardly "candor." The Bush administration aggressively attacked and undermined "candor." Angler is probably the best account, but Dick Cheney, David Addington, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and the rest actively squelched and punished dissent. They didn't want honest brokers. That’s why they hid major decisions even from key members of their own administration, and Cheney even spied on some of them. John Yoo, Bybee and the rest were either horribly incompetent lawyers in claiming that torture was legal (as well as warrantless surveillance and other abuses) or opportunist suck-ups, willing to say black was white to please their superiors. I'd say the evidence strongly points to the latter. What Hayden and Mukasey describe would not be an issue in a competent and relatively honest administration.

In his book "The Terror Presidency," Jack Goldsmith describes the phenomenon we are now experiencing, and its inevitable effect, referring to what he calls "cycles of timidity and aggression" that have weakened intelligence gathering in the past. Politicians pressure the intelligence community to push to the legal limit, and then cast accusations when aggressiveness goes out of style, thereby encouraging risk aversion, and then, as occurred in the wake of 9/11, criticizing the intelligence community for feckless timidity. He calls these cycles "a terrible problem for our national security." Indeed they are, and the precipitous release of these OLC opinions simply makes the problem worse.

Jack Goldsmith has said that he's no civil libertarian, but even so, he was appalled by many of the abuses of the Bush administration. This is subterfuge by Hayden and Mukasey, though. The issue is not one of "timidity and aggression." The issue is whether we're a nation of laws or not. According to U.S. and international statutes, torture must be investigated, and prosecuted where appropriate. "Following orders" is a mitigating factor but not an excuse. The Bush administration committed war crimes, and was warned off that course by members of its own administration such as Alberto Mora. What makes the situation "worse" is that we have people like this in power in the first place, and other people defending this monstrous conduct. It's shameful that, as the op-ed states:

Gen. Hayden was director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to 2009. Mr. Mukasey was attorney general of the United States from 2007 to 2009.

Aren't we proud. It would be nice if these two actually put duty to their country above loyalty to Bush, Cheney, the six men indicted in Spain and others, but personal honor and conscience have not exactly been the hallmark of the Bush administration. I'd really like to hear some of their reasoning offered up at trial and have it eviscerated. We need a full investigation, with people under oath. The truth needs to come out. We've seen time and time again that when high-ranking people aren't held accountable, they simply abuse power again. And while our national honor is at stake, these are also far from victimless crimes. I'll link once more the Firedoglake petition for AG Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor.

Hayden and Mukasey have penned a sensory deprivation op-ed. They seek to blind the public to what actually happened. They want to prevent citizens from hearing the word "torture." But all their attempts to deceive the public, hide the truth and prevent justice can't cover the rank stench of the war crimes committed by their colleagues.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Banality, Audacity and Delusion

After the International Red Cross Report describing the torture of prisoners and the release of four Bush era memos outlining abuse and torture, only the most delusional, dishonest and conscienceless of people can claim that torture didn't occur. Several observers (including Digby) have invoked Hannah Arendt's famous phrase, "the banality of evil," and it's apt, especially for Jay Bybee's dispassionate discussion of inflicting monstrosities. I wanted to look at three reactions to the latest revelations.

Dan Froomkin rounds-up several pieces, but Georgetown law professor David Cole provides one of the best early responses:

A child would recognize these tactics as cruel and inhumane. The United States itself treated waterboarding as torture when the Japanese used it against our troops in World War II. Yet through pages and pages of dense legal reasoning, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers somehow reach the conclusion that these tactics, even when employed in combination and over a 30-day period, are not torture, and not even cruel, inhuman, or degrading.

President Obama should be commended for releasing these memos. But his simultaneous assertion that he will not seek to hold accountable those responsible for the wrongs so evident on the memos’ face is unacceptable. The line C.I.A. agents are not, however, the most culpable. Rather, it is the lawyers and high-level government officials who set this scheme in motion and made it possible. These documents are irrefutable evidence that government officials, including lawyers employed in the Office of Legal Counsel, a Justice Department office meant to serve as the “constitutional conscience” of the Executive Branch, set out to manipulate the law to reach repugnant, illegal results that contravene the very ideals President Obama says must not be sacrificed.

It is not enough to say that when we have a president who does not believe in cruel and inhuman treatment and torture, the United States will not engage in such practices – while leaving open the possibility that if we again elect a president who does believe in such practices, they can be revived as a policy option. We must formally acknowledge that what was done was wrong, indeed criminal. At the very least, a credible independent investigation must be undertaken. The Convention Against Torture, which we have signed and ratified, demands nothing less wherever there is any evidence that persons within our jurisdiction inflicted cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment on another human being. These memos are that evidence.

Cole provides the human, just perspective.

Next up is John Hinderaker of Powerline. Not long ago, we looked at Hinderaker's torture apologia, claiming that waterbaording was not torture, all captured by Andrew Sullivan in "From the Pro-Torture Cocoon". Hinderaker outdoes himself here, however (my emphasis):

The Obama administration has made public four memos that were authored by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2005, in which lawyers from DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel responded to requests by the CIA for legal opinions as to whether harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, could legally be used on a few high-level al Qaeda detainees. DOJ concluded, among other things, that the use of such techniques would not violate the statute that prohibits torture.

You can read the memos here. If you do, you will see that DOJ's lawyers grappled carefully and fairly with issues that are, by their nature, both difficult and distasteful. I find much to agree with in the memos and little, if anything, with which I disagree from a legal standpoint. Several things about the memos are striking: the concern that is shown for the health and well-being of the detainees; the very limited circumstances under harsh interrogation techniques were used (only when the CIA had reason to believe that the detainee had knowledge about pending terrorist attacks, among other limitations), and confirmation of the fact that thousands of American servicemen have been waterboarded and subjected to the other techniques in question, as part of their training --a practice that continued at least up to the dates of the memos.

I think the opinions were correct in substance; in any event, CIA officials were obviously justified in relying on them. In this context, the Obama administration's announcement that it will not prosecute the CIA personnel involved is evidently grandstanding. Of course they won't be prosecuted: to do so would be a double-cross of the worst sort, and the likelihood of getting a conviction would be nil. The fact is that the CIA officials who extracted valuable information from captured al Qaeda leaders--information that we have every reason to believe prevented successful terrorist attacks--are heroes. Their task was a thankless one, but, based on all the information we have, including the newly-released DOJ memos, they performed it well.

Judging from Hinderaker's previous, worshipful pieces on George W. Bush, I'm guessing some of this drivel is delusional authoritarianism, although that doesn't preclude disingenuousness as well. In previous posts (most recently, the Rivkin one), we've demolished the gossamer substance of all of Hinderaker's arguments. SERE training is not the same as torture. Waterboarding is torture. The Bush administration authorized and committed torture. The Red Cross report is clear on this, and the memos solidify the administration's role. Furthermore, there is no proof of actionable intelligence gained through this torture, and plenty of evidence pointing to the opposite. Hinderaker is definitely a hack, but I believe he's truly delusional, too.

Finally, let us check in with one of the most skilled and vigorous of torture apologists, David Rivkin, who writes (my emphasis):

No Harm, No Torture

The release of these memos comes at a high price. By describing in great detail the most assertive set of interrogation techniques, that the United States has ever used — having determined them after a great deal of reflection and analysis to be legal — we have rendered them essentially unusable in the future. This is precisely because these techniques were not torture, did not feature brute force and worked primarily because of their psychological dimension. Now, having been exposed, these techniques would be studied by our enemies, who will then train their operatives to withstand them.

However, while this disclosure came at a great price, it also provides a great benefit. The memos are well-written, and feature careful and nuanced legal analysis. They weave together the facts and the law. They are grounded in real world experience, because nine out of 10 techniques, used against high-value detainees, were also used over a period of many years in SERE training courses, with thousands and thousands of American participants.

This data is analyzed in great detail to establish that the use of these techniques does not inflict either physical or psychological damage. The conclusions the memos reach — that the specific interrogation techniques used by the C.I.A. did not constitute torture — are eminently reasonable. To any fair-minded observer, these documents definitively establish that the Bush administration did not engage in torture. They go a long way toward rebutting shrill and unfair attacks on the integrity of Bush administration officials, and, more generally, on America’s honor.

The earlier post on Rivkin (linked above) debunks all of his claims except the new set here, in his analysis of the memos - he claims no fewer than three times that these techniques were not torture. (He's made that claim before, but not in relation to these specific memos.) Rivkin may believe some of what he says, but I believe he's too intelligent for that. He's again playing defense attorney here, lying to protect his clients, attacking the central charge – because every "fair-minded observer" knows this is torture. Indeed, some torture apologists admit it, but try to argue – falsely – that the torture was justified and effective at producing accurate, actionable intelligence. It's a standard defense for war criminals, but Rivkin is setting up his rampart further ahead. It's also interesting to see Rivkin's back to arguing that waterboarding is torture, after briefly admitting it was, and long insisting it wasn't.

David Cole represents the moral, human response to these atrocities. Jay Bybee and his colleagues represent the banality of evil. John Hinderaker represents the delusion of evil. And David Rivkin represents the audacity of evil. He has to know that this was torture, both illegal and immoral, but he doesn't care, and is eager to lie to the public to prevent justice.

I'll add that I'm rather sick of pundits complaining about "anger" and "retribution." The United States lead at Nuremberg in prosecuting war crimes. If you're not angry about the U.S. committing war crimes under the Bush administration, you're not paying attention - or you're a shill like Hinderaker and Rivkin. "Retribution" is properly the province of those directly harmed by these abuses. But they can join the rest of us in seeking justice.

Rivkin's welcome to offer his conscienceless, immoral, counterfactual bullshit in court, and I hope he gets the chance, because he's trying to forestall any sort of trial or official investigation. Let Rivkin, Bybee, Yoo and the lot make their statements under oath and under cross-examination. Surely, since they can prove their righteousness, they would welcome the vindication. Surely they would yearn to prove they are "heroes" and not war criminals or apologists for the same.

Here are petitions to impeach Jay Bybee and for AG Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor. Earthly justice would make a nice change of pace, wouldn't it?

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)