Thursday, April 30, 2009

Occam's Taser

All else being equal, the most simple-minded solution is the best, a.k.a. "When in doubt, hit something."

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Cliff May
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Cliff May's a manic piece of work. What's staggering is how much effort the commonsense hard right is putting into defending torture as the only option for getting information from terror suspects. It's common sense. EVERYBODY KNOWS...
The world is flat and the sun moves around it.

When cars run off the road they explode ... multiple times.

Shoot a guy in the chest and he'll fly backward off his feet (probably through plate glass).

You rough up prisoners to get them to talk: 24, Casino Royale, Rambo II, Marathon Man, etc.
Jon Stewart is usually pretty good, but he let May entangle him in a twenty-minute, false-choice argument over whether to engage in "stress and duress interrogation" or nothing.
You've got a guy. You know he has plots. You know Americans are going to be killed. Do you get tough with him at all, or do you simply say, 'Nothing we can do, send him back to his cell for a nice dinner with an extra blanket,' and let people die?
May then got to argue at length over where the line is drawn between inflicting discomfort and torture, as though where that line is is the crux of the issue, because abusing prisoners is the only intelligence gathering tool in his toolbox.

And like the Bush OLC, May expends all his considerable energy trying to define - as though any reasonable, law-abiding official would - just how much abuse interrogators can inflict without violating the law, because there is no other option. Because EVERYBODY KNOWS abusing prisoners is how you get them to confess.

When threatened, conservatives are good, as May is, at putting opponents on defense by challenging them on their commitment to defending their loved ones: What would you do if it were your family member at risk?

It's a false choice, and should be called out as such.

What makes Conservatives Without Conscience ASSUME rough handling - including torture - is the best way to get good intelligence out of a captive? What made the amateurs in the White House and the Pentagon ignore their own interrogation professionals who told them otherwise in page after page of the Senate Armed Services report?

But ask them that and they'll look at you as if you're an idiot. Why? Because EVERYBODY KNOWS...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Killing their wives and children

In light of the current debate over using torture in interrogations, I recall a similar debate. Sometime in 1991, I think, NPR ran a debate on the death penalty. I wish I could find it again and credit the players.

There are some crimes, the death penalty advocate contended, that are so heinous that society must express its outrage by imposing the ultimate punishment – death. The death penalty, he claimed, was a deterrent to violent crime. For society not to use it is to bear responsibility for the deaths that follow when murderers go undeterred.

Responding, the opposing attorney asked rhetorically, “Why is death the ultimate punishment? What if I could demonstrate to you that torture is an even better deterrent to violent crime? Would we then say, ‘Then for every murderer you do not torture, you are taking an innocent life?’ What about killing the wives and children of murderers? They used to do things like that in biblical times. What if I could demonstrate to you that killing the wives and children of murderers was an even better deterrent?”

The point, he said, is that we have standards of behavior as a civilized society. We set limits beyond which we as civilized people do not go. Government should be constrained by the same standards of behavior, and ought not be allowed, under color of law, to practice the same behavior it punishes.

Much of the torture debate is an argument over efficacy, over whether or not torture "works." As with the death penalty argument above, efficacy is beside the point. Torture is another standard civilized societies do not violate. Torture is a crime. Torture is against the law. Period.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

They walk among us

Dr. Ernst Janning was a respected lawyer and jurist before he lost his way...

In response to David Broder's execrable WaPo piece describing bringing torturers to justice as scapegoating, and Michael Sheuer's fear-mongering WaPo tantrum that America is "a half-baked Third World country" if it stops perverting its principles in the name of security, here's a little piece originally published in the Asheville Citizen-Times in 2005. My editors found it shocking enough that they included a caveat. They ran it because I sent them two and a half pages of footnotes.
Outsourcing of torture will only wind up imperiling troops, undermining war effort

By Thomas Sullivan
April 9, 2005 6:00 am

Gulfstream’s executive jets are popular with U.S. intelligence agencies, and luxurious. More luxurious than destinations their manacled and diapered passengers disappear to, thanks to “extraordinary rendition,” also known as “outsourcing torture.”

For terror suspects en route to exotic prisons in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Uzbekistan, the tranquilizing suppositories are complimentary. (Note: extensive documentation for the information here is available by contacting Sullivan).

The Gulfstream V, tail number N379P (changed to N8068V, then N44982), Gulfstream N85VM (aka N227SV), and the Gulfstream III, number N829MG, have logged flights around the globe since September 11. Also, a white Boeing 737, number N313P. Many flights originated in Smithfield, North Carolina.

Allegedly, they’re used for extra-judicial “rendering,” a limited practice under Presidents Reagan and Clinton that’s become an expansive dragnet under a classified directive from President Bush. Apprehended (or abducted) “ghost detainees” are held in secret and off the record in a network of prisons from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan. Some go to third countries known for abusing prisoners, where, we’re assured with a wink, they won’t be tortured.

The usually Bush-friendly Washington Times has condemned the administration’s “torture doublespeak” and violations of U.S. and international laws signed by presidents and approved by Congress. Nat Hentoff writes, “One of the CIA’s jets transporting suspected terrorists made 10 trips to Uzbekistan,” where according to Craig Murray, its former British ambassador, “ ‘drowning and suffocation, rape was used... also the insertion of limbs in boiling liquid... it’s quite common.’ Mr. Murray also … received photos of one prisoner who was actually boiled to death.” (The deceased, a Mr. Azavof, was apparently not a CIA rendition.)

German prosecutors have confirmed parts of Khaled Masri’s story. Detained in December 2003 at the Macedonian border, the German citizen was flown to Afghanistan, stripped, beaten and interrogated until May, then released without charge. He may have been mistaken for Khalid Masri, an al-Qaida operative. Flight records show that Boeing N313P visited Skopje, Macedonia en route to Kabul at the time.

Canadian engineer, Maher Arar, was detained while changing planes at JFK airport. Delivered to Syria, he endured 10 months of beatings, then was released without charge. Another Canadian, Ahmad Abou El-Maati, named Arar after two years of torture in Syria for possible al-Qaida connections. According to The Guardian (London), El Maati eventually “reeled off the names of everyone he knew in Montreal,” including Arar. Concurrent records show a Gulfstream, number N829MG, logged a flight along the route Arar’s lawsuit describes.

Italian police investigating the kidnapping of an Islamic militant in Milan have sought flight records for Gulfstream N379P. Italian and German prosecutors have not ruled out criminal charges against those involved in violations of human rights and local sovereignty.

Eight men have filed suit in U.S. District Court against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over their detentions in Iraq and Afghanistan. All were subjected to “torture and other cruel and degrading treatment,” which included “repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault, mock executions, death threats, and restraint in contorted and excruciating positions,” according to the complaint filed by the ACLU and Human Rights First.

The Washington Times quotes Human Rights First co-counsel, retired Rear Adm. John D. Huston, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, “One of the greatest strengths of the U.S. military throughout our history has been strong civilian leadership at the top of the chain of command. Unfortunately, Secretary Rumsfeld has failed to live up to that tradition. In the end, that imperils our troops and undermines the war effort.”

And it betrays those who serve honorably.

The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed an amendment by Democrat Edward Markey of Massachusetts denying Iraq supplemental funds for extraordinary renditions. Markey notes, “The war against terrorism is a war against those who engage in torture. If we fight our enemy using the same inhumane and morally bankrupt techniques that we are trying to stop, we will simply become what we have beheld.”

It may take Abu Ghraib-like photos before leaders who bloviate about not needing “permission slips” stop these abominations in defense of inalienable rights. How many of the prison network’s estimated 10,000 detainees were terrorists before being imprisoned is unclear. What is clear is that people from Hong Kong to London, including the Islamic world, are reading about these “torture flights” and wondering, are Bush and company fighting terrorists, breeding them, or becoming them?
After the document releases this week, we now know for sure.

Michael Sheuer began his over-the-top column WaPo column today with yet another ticking time bomb scenario - this one involving interrogating Osama bin Laden. As I read it late last night, I thought I might find at the end of it that I'd been reading a "gotcha" piece mocking Americans who would breathlessly defend torturing prisoners. I had just finished watching "Judgment at Nuremberg" for the first time since I was a child. (After this last week, it was time.) I was shocked that the parallels between then and now were so vivid. Still, I was unprepared for someone writing in the Washington Post to audition so soon for the remake.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I just finished reading the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee treatment, and the more I read, the angrier I got: Page after page of military and law enforcement interrogation experts saying this stuff is illegal, immoral, doesn't work, is counter-productive, will screw up prosecutions, etc.; the SERE techniques are not applicable to interrogations; are used to harden our trainees, not loosen them up; the SERE trainers are not interrogators nor trained nor qualified in it. Yet page after page of pressure to keep pursuing these tactics from the top (political) ranks in the Pentagon and the Executive Branch: Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Yoo, Bradbury, Bybee. President Bush’s February 7, 2002 memorandum that terror suspects were not entitled to prisoner of war status under the Third Geneva Convention opened the door for it, and where do you think he got that idea? The fish rots from the head.

The tactics filtered down through the military from Guantanamo to Afghanistan to Iraq and Abu Ghraib.

One asks why, in the face of overwhelming expert advice to the contrary, top government officials were devoting so much time, money and manpower to deciding just how much pain and suffering they could inflict on prisoners in their custody, and how we could twist U.S. and international law in such a way that they could pretend it was all legal?

What the Villagers don't seem to get is this isn't about partisan politics. It's about our American identity, and goddamn it, we peasants don't like what we're seeing in the mirror. This is not who we are. It violates everything we tell ourselves we stand for, going back to childhood. These morons think it's about circling the wagons and defending Club Beltway. Bullshit.

This is outrageous.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This is the GOP's latest strategery?

In the context of people being beaten, shackled and water boarded by order of the highest officials in the Bush administration, I'm not sure the GOP really wants to evoke the phrase "banana republic" too loudly.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"A perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm"

In a story on the CIA's decision to use torture on terror suspects, the New York Times reinforces why a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing:
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.
The administration of President George W. Bush in seven words.

Ask the prisoners who died under interrogation, those abused at Abu Ghraib, those "renedered" to Syria, or those held for years in Guantanamo then released without even an apology. Ask those who lost everything to the financial crisis. Ask those who would have, had Bush privatized Social Security. Ask Gov. Don Siegleman, fired U.S. attorneys (and Monica Goodling), and the displaced populations of New Orleans and Baghdad.

Molly Ivins warned us not to let Bush anywhere near Washington. Is there anything he touched that didn't turn to shit?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Coming Soon?

(UPDATED and updated again, below)

From the Washington Independent today. The Bush "we don't need no stinkin' Geneva Convention" Executive Order is still out there waiting to see the light of day:
The still-unreleased Office of Legal Counsel memo spelled out for the CIA what interrogation practices were considered lawful after President Bush issued an executive order on July 20, 2007 that sought to reconcile the CIA’s interrogation program with the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3, which prohibits inflicting “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” upon wartime detainees.” The Supreme Court, in 2006’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, ruled that Common Article 3 protections applied to enemy combatants in U.S. custody, a determination that the Bush administration had resisted since creating its post-9/11 detention and interrogation policies. Congress in 2006 responded by passing the Military Commissions Act, which reserved for the president the right to define the applicability of Common Article 3 protections for detainees in the war on terrorism. Bush’s order, known as Executive Order 13440, determined that the the CIA’s interrogation program fit within Common Article 3, provided that it met certain criteria, such as the exclusion of practices like “murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming.”
Well, of course. "If the detainee dies you're doing it wrong." It's time to start impeaching the legal degenerates behind this policy.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

UPDATE: Sens. Leahy, Feinstein and Whitehouse are making noise today about future prosecutions/impeachments. Firedoglake and Think Progress are circulating petitions about holding Bush officials accountable for the torture memos and the abominations they justified.

Make some noise yourself. Sign the petitions. But more importantly, call your congressman and senators. Tell them you’re watching. Tell them you’re waiting. Tell them you expect action. Make Obama do it.

UPDATE 2: Add Rep. Jerry Nadler, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee to the list above.

Friday, April 17, 2009

"A child would recognize these tactics as cruel and inhumane."

Georgetown's David Cole comments on the Bush torture memos in the WaPo:
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.
The memos themselves ponder whether, if the law defines a tactic as torture if it causes "pain and suffering," then it might be legal if it causes only pain without the suffering or suffering without the pain.

Nothing else needs to be said.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Patriots buy American trucks and Communist assault rifles

Firedoglake links to a story by the Washington Independent on the recent Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky:
The thousands of attendees who only showed up to shoot could avoid some of the more extreme political elements at the event, even if the extremists were hard to miss. The Barack Obama “Birthers,” who believe that the president cannot prove that he is an American citizen, were present in a table located close to the main range, near the NRA’s sign-up booth. It’s a location that allows them to pass out fliers for, with a 10-point explanation of how “Barry Soetoro” could be removed from the presidency, to anyone walking through to the rest of the event. “He’s an illegal alien!” shouts Theresa Padgett, one of their volunteers. “We have an illegal alien running the country.”

“We need your help,” says Carl Swensson, the group organizer who has put together a “citizen jury” to indict the president. “They can’t go across the country and arrest everybody, although they do have pretty good facilities in the FEMA camps,” he says, referring to a conspiracy theory about the government building holding centers for dissidents. In the early afternoon Swensson and Padgett were joined by Orly Taitz, an attorney who has filed multiple lawsuits challenging the president’s citizenship, and they got organizers to read an announcement about their effort over the loudspeakers. By the end of the day they have collected at least 400 signatures, and dozens more from retired military members who wanted to sign on to one of Taitz’s lawsuits. Still, some people who signed onto the Obama citizenship petitions are grim about the chances of surviving this presidency with something as quick and easy as a legal disqualification.

Alan, a registered nurse from Illinois, asks whether last week’s massacre in Binghamton, N.Y. was a set-up. “How many government shooters or special ops teams,” he asks, “how many guys were in there killing people just so they could make gun owners look bad?” He’s not convinced by media reports about the massacre, especially because the shooter killed himself. “These people always kill themselves. They’re either mind-controlled or they’re set up.”
Glenn Beck? Beck? That's German, ain't it?

Eric Boehlert has the skinny on Beck:

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

ICRC report out

Here's the ICRC report they wrote about in the New York Times Review of Books a few weeks ago and posted last night, Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody :

Friday, April 03, 2009

Lighten up, Granddads

Nancy Folbre makes the case in the Times for spending now for a better future:
Think of the United States economy as a family farm in need of modernization. Energy prices are going up, but all the tractors are gas guzzlers. Some of our fields have accumulated toxic levels of pesticide, and we need to develop new and better technologies of sustainable production. Our grandchildren want to run the farm, but will need good health and a college education to do it well.

Spending money on increased energy efficiency, research and development, health, and education could increase the value of their assets, helping them repay debt.

In other words, the mommy party wants to borrow money to help the kids, not to hurt them. Keynes, history and environmental concerns lend credence, though not certainty, to this plan. So the granddads should lighten up.