IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION. Saturday, December 17, 2005 REYNOLDS, TORTURE, AND DJEREJIAN: A fascinating exchange - here from Greg and here from Glenn, who seems to concede finally that he did indeed avoid a subject that needed urgent attention. Why? Because I irritated him. Oh, well. I wish I hadn't, and my passion might have been misconstrued. I hope we can now draw this spat to a close, be glad that torture is now legally over, and argue again about how best to win the war we all want to succeed. Let me add that I have a lot of respect for Glenn, which is why I was so saddened by his treatment of this over the last year. But we agree on so much, I hope we can bury the hatchet on this and move forward. - 4:53:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY: "Re: the charge that you were "unspecific" on torture -- you took an absolutist position (which I imagine even many of your supporters disagree with) against torture. That's not unspecific. That's as specific as you can get. If they mean unspecific as to your allegations, that's also incorrect. You specifically referred them to specific government publications and other reports, and sometimes specifically excerpted from those reports.
Re: the charge that you were moralistic -- I'd happily accept that one, Andrew. It's to your credit that you were being moralistic about what's a very moral issue on several different levels: the intrinsic immorality of torture (as Krauthammer also pointed out), the immorality of continuing to engage in a general pattern of behavior that most knowledgeable people (e.g. Sen. McCain) believe undermines both the national security and honor of the United States. Your antagonizers were in denial, and then blasé about it. You were moralistic, partly in response to their denigration and condescension. Now they're cheering the result, which they did nothing to bring about and you did a lot to bring about. Please be proud, and get rip-roaring drunk this weekend if that's your thing." - 4:46:00 PM AT THIRTEEN: A young black gay kid commits suicide at the age of thirteen. Like so many others, he had been psychologically and spiritually brutalized by his culture and his church and his society into a pit of self-doubt and despair. But now a friend rallies to his aid, and this poem, spoken aloud, is a cry for justice and compassion and truth. This despair is particularly deep among many African-American gay men and women - triply burdened - and still yearning to be free. - 4:30:00 PM THE LONGER THE BETTER: A case for lengthy wars.
THE BUYING OF INTELLECTUALS: This has to be a new nadir for the intellectual right. - 3:41:00 PM BENEDICT AGAIN: The control-queen in the Vatican continues his harrassment of local churches who do not subject themselves to the full control of his acolytes. Excommunication is a major deal. And to do it over the question of controlling a parish's finances? - 3:25:00 PM THE THEOCONS VERSUS BROKEBACK: You may have read the original Catholic News Service Review I linked to yesterday. Well, the Vatican was not pleased. And so the review has been changed. The rating given originally was "L" for "appropriate for limited adult audiences". The new rating is "O" for morally offensive. The reviewer's name has been taken off the review. The theocon website, a conduit for the most reactionary forces in the Church, i.e. Benedict, Neuhaus, et al., exults here. Here's the old cache for the intellectually honest review. Here's the censored one.
THE VATICAN AND BROKEBACK: You can see why this movie may pose a threat to Benedict's anti-gay crusade. I haven't seen it yet, alas, but just read the gut-wrenching and beautiful short story on which it's based. It's an astonishingly beautiful piece of writing. The story is about love: human love. Not homosexual love; or heterosexual love. Just love. And the immense psychic pain and cruelty inflicted on countless human beings for so many centuries because of whom they fell in love with. I haven't seen the movie yet, because it hasn't reached DC yet. But the story's message is, to my mind, one of the more eloquent rebukes to the current Vatican. You know, the Vatican that speaks, at its most compassionate, of the "affliction" of "deep-seated homosexual tendencies." Change one word and you see the truth the Church hierarchy refuses to see. How about "deep-seated homosexual love?" In Annie Proulx's inspired story, that becomes something deeper and grander: "deep-seated human love." That's what the Pope is so afraid of. And why, in the end, he will lose this argument. Love and truth are on the other side of the debate. And our Catholic faith assures us that love and truth win in the end. Popes come and go; but the truth remains. And slowly, painfully, the truth is coming nout.
IS BUSH ABOVE THE LAW? It would appear so. - 3:20:00 PM KONG: Last week, my other half and I rented the original King Kong, just to get a feel for the epic before Peter Jackson's remake. The original was far better than I expected and heralded the beginning of Hollywood spectaculars and special effects. We saw Jackson's Kong yesterday, and I have little doubt that the gloom-sayers about its box office prospects are wrong. It's an astounding achievement of cinematography: more graphic, involving, spectacular and emotionally resonant than any movie of its kind ever made before. I'm not a huge fan of the big epics, or even CGI-dominated event movies. But this is different. Naomi Watts is gorgeous and vulnerable and credible; Jack Black is wonderfully, enthusiastically amoral; the beast itself a miracle of emotional expression without anthopomorphic distortion. It's a tour de force. I predict that word of mouth will soon propel it to box office success. But then, I'm often wrong about these things. - 2:58:00 PM
Friday, December 16, 2005 EMAIL OF THE DAY: "Is Reynolds kidding? Being unspecific is his entire M.O. His blog consists of little but broad agreements with the opinions of others ("indeed") and vague endorsements of Rove and Bush-isms written in a passive voice ("if I were Rove I might not do ____") If anything, you've been irritatingly SPECIFIC on this subject, quoting endlessly from reports on torture, the McCain bill, etc. I think you need to inaugurate the 'Glenn Reynolds Unintentional Irony Award.'"
Heh. - 5:38:00 PM REYNOLDS AND ME: Instapundit finds me "consistently, pompously, and annoyingly moralistic and irritatingly unspecific" on the question of torture. I'm sorry about that. But I can promise him my position had nothing to do with "brand differentiation," as he calls it. Believe it or not, opposing torture was and is a deep principle of mine, sincerely held, and I think the record shows I blog according to what I think, even if it loses me readers and alienates people who would otherwise be allies. I'm sorry that Glenn, over the last year and half, said he opposed torture but did nothing to help stop it. In fact, he did much to excuse and ignore it or look the other way, as well as denigrating or condescending to those of us who fought against it. He even argued that vocally opposing torture would only help legalize it, because most Americans were in favor. Mercifully, the American people, as represented in the Congress, have proven him wrong. He lacked faith in American decency. Some of us didn't.
FOR THE RECORD: And just for the record, let me correct one statment that Glenn has posted about my work on this issue. He has written that I "count" wrapping a Muslim in the Israeli flag or smearing fake menstrual blood on them "as torture," and recently went further and cited my alleged "repeated treatment of those subjects as 'torture.'" (My italics.) His evidence is the following sentence:
A simple question: after U.S. interrogators have tortured over two dozen detainees to death, after they have wrapped one in an Israeli flag, after they have smeared naked detainees with fake menstrual blood, after they have told one detainee to "Fuck Allah," after they have ordered detainees to pray to Allah in order to kick them from behind in the head, is it completely beyond credibility that they would also have desecrated the Koran?
It seems clear to me that in that sentence, I distinguish between torture (which I use to describe actual murder) and other interrogation methods which are indeed "cruel, inhuman and degrading," but not torture. All are banned under U.S. law and military code and the Geneva Conventions. But obviously, someone uttering "Fuck Allah!" - however depraved - is not torture, and I didn't suggest it was. Ditto with the "fake menstrual blood" issue. Reynolds links to James Taranto's ugly rants to back him up. Well go read the full evidence. Find one instance where I count fake menstrual blood as "torture," let alone any "repeated treatment of those subjects as 'torture.'" Even Taranto concedes I didn't call it "torture." He says I called it an "abuse" and described such tactics as "inhumane," "immoral" and "disgusting". I challenge Reynolds to cite one single instance where I "counted" such techniques as "torture." It's one more piece of flim-flam from the good professor to disguise his own sad failure to have the courage of his own alleged convictions. Sorry, Glenn. But the record speaks for itself. - 4:53:00 PM ANOTHER GOODBYE: A man says farewell to his soldier husband as he heads back to war. - 2:30:00 PM FIGHTING BACK: A priest with integrity. - 1:31:00 PM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "Neither Per nor I is as scandalized as NPR apparently is [by allegations of voter fraud in Kurdistan]. The elections here went off without a hitch. No bombs. No violence at all. Quiet. As orderly as things get in Iraq. And, man, were the Kurds ever thrilled to vote. Per told me that in one rural village outside Erbil, info on registration procedures never got out, and hundreds of villagers were turned away from the poll. They were devastated. Democracy is life to these people -- or, as one Kurdish Christian named Jacob told me: "Democracy is the best religion for mankind." He meant that, and most Kurds agree with him. There will always be fraud and corruption in Iraq. (In one desperate moment, a cabbie here charged me 1000 times the normal rate for a short trip!) Nevertheless, these elections have been a resounding success." - Noah Schachtman, blogging from Kurdistan. - 1:24:00 PM BROKEBACK REVIEWS BY CHRISTIANS: Two fascinating and largely positive reviews from the Catholic News Service and Christianity Today. My favorite line from CNS:
While the actions taken by Ennis and Jack cannot be endorsed, the universal themes of love and loss ring true.
Hard to summarize better the contradiction at the heart of the Church's teaching on homosexual dignity.
END OF GAY CULTURE WATCH: Casper, Wyoming, has an openly gay mayor. Zzzzzz. - 12:45:00 PM A SUNNI BREAKTHROUGH: The bottom line is surely this. With each election, Sunni Arab participation has risen this year. Yesterday, there was a clear indication that some deal had been made between the Sunni Arab political leadership and the insurgents to halt violence. That means that a) Sunni Arabs want in on an equitable Iraq and that b) the insurgency can indeed be destroyed by politics. American policy must now be a relentless attempt to facilitate concessions to the alienated minority, especially on oil rights, that can continue this process. Zalmay has his work cut out; and the dealing will, of course, be determined by the precise result. But this is an amazingly good opportunity for progress. Moreover, I believe as a matter of faith and of history that each time a people votes for its own future, the practice of democracy deepens, the sane majority strengthens, the appeal of extremism diminishes. Our job is now to keep this momentum going, to force the parties to deal, quickly and expeditiously, with their differences, and to lean on the Shiites to understand it is in their interest to make concessions to the people who tormented and oppressed them for so long.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT BUSH: I should add that pure domestic partisanship on this matter - and even recriminations and criticisms of the past - need to be abandoned in America right now. We are asking the various Iraqi factions to put the past behind them and work constructively for a better future. President Bush is the commander in chief for the next three years - the crucial years for Iraq - whether you like it or not. It is in all our interests - Democrat, Republican and Independent - that he succeed. Scoring points - as distinct from making clear and constructive criticism - is not what we need right now. Here's a reader who sums up my own feelings pretty well:
I voted in the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994. There were long, long lines of people. Everyone was happy, smiling, black, white, rich, poor. The election changed everything, absolutely fundamentally. Ten years on, South Africa is a country with a lot of problems - AIDS, unemployment, violence. But the economy is booming, people are optimistic overall, and there's no doubt it's a way better place than it was in the dark days of apartheid. Democracy is powerful, powerful medicine. As a Democrat watching the Iraqi elections today, I could not help feeling very positive about the future of Iraq, and also what the United States has accomplished there. Despite all the screw-ups, and the moral lapses (like torture), George Bush may well be hailed as a visionary in ten years time by many in the Arab world, and the world at large. Liberals today should drop their hatred of George Bush, and hope this is a new beginning for the Iraqis and the future of democracy and freedom in the Middle East. As liberals, we should be wanting that more than anything.
Just as the Sunnis are splitting into those who want a constructive future and those who want to fester in the bitterness and divisions of the past, so the Democrats need to distance themselves from the humiliate-Bush-at-any-price extremists who can shout the loudest. the Iraqi people deserve better than that from us. And we owe them our support. - 12:15:00 PM VICTORY ... AND MORE: Yesterday was a stupendous day for those who care about the moral standing of the U.S. and its capacity to get good, reliable intelligence. The McCain Amendment is real, and will profoundly strengthen the hands of the majority of soldiers and CIA officers who want nothing to do with illegal treatment of detainees. But the Graham-Levin Amendment is a bizarre addition, as Emily Bazelon spells out in Slate. The records of Alberto Gonzales and Don Rumsfeld are clear. As long as Rumsfeld runs the Pentagon, you know there will be an attempt to undermine the clear new rules. McCain's looming chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee will help. I'm not minimizing the complete victory of the anti-torture forces this week, and Bush's shrewd cooptation of them. Deep down, I believe Bush And Rice don't want the U.S. to be tarred with this kind of stain, but that Cheney and Rumsfeld are fine with it. The lesson here seems to me to be along Churchill's dictum of magnanimity in victory ... but vigilance too. I do not trust Cheney, Rumsfeld or Gonzales on this issue; and they need to be watched continuously to see they do not try and subvert the law again. - 12:14:00 PM
Thursday, December 15, 2005 THE NIGHTMARE ENDS: This is such a great, great day. Iraqis turn out in massive numbers to move their country forward; and America regains her honor by finally, unequivocally reasserting a ban on torture and adherence to the U.N. Convention on Torture. I'll have more to say tomorrow. But the sight of so many Arab and Kurdish Muslims having a chance to actually determine their own future is inspiring. We have so much more work to do; but now we can hold our heads up in pride. The heroes within the military and CIA and diplomatic services who resisted and finally overcame the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis of brutality deserve congratulations. John McCain has served one more mission in defense of his country's ideals. One particular vote of thanks to Ian Fishback, the young man who risked his career to end un-American abuse and torture of defenseless detainees. He's now training for the Special Forces - to go on and fight our enemy, with dignity, humanity and honor. May God protect him and all those who are protecting us. This was a fight for their honor too. And a tribute to their service and to the men and women who preceded them.
HOMOPHOBIA IN THE GENES? Mickey and Bob debate and discuss. - 7:28:00 PM KAUS AND GAYS: Some further reflections here. - 2:02:00 PM A NOTE ON CHRISTMAS: I've just written a column on the Christmas wars. I'm as irritated as anyone by the p.c. nonsense of calling Christmas trees "holiday trees" and the like. But it does strike me as overkill that there's a "war on Christmas," as O'Reilly and Gibson have it. One particularly weird quote from O'Reilly is the following:
"There's a very secret plan. And it's a plan that nobody's going to tell you, 'Well, we want to diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A. because we want X, Y, and Z.' They'll never ever say that. But I'm kind of surprised they went after Christmas because it's such an emotional issue."
The relationship of what we call Christmas to Christianity is a very mixed one. Jesus obviously wasn't born on December 25. That date was arrived at to coincide with the winter solstice. It was early Christianity's smart cooptation of pagan rituals that helped it succeed as a popular faith. Moreover, the only people actually to have banned celebrating Christmas in the past were ... Christians. Some early American Puritans banned it; so did Cromwell in England during his religious dictatorship. Secular societies have a much better record of protecting Christmas than explicitly Christian theocracies. I wonder if O'Reilly has even heard of this history. Or cares. - 1:58:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY: A reader writes:
One point on the Solzhenitsyn quote. The method you describe -- one of over 30 he describes that were used to break prisoners but did not leave permanent marks on them so are OK, according to the Right these days. These methods were not used to extract information from prisoners. When the Soviets wanted intelligence, they would treat prisoners humanely, even well, making the comfortable and trying to persuade them to talk voluntarily. The idea was to get the prisoner to let down his guard, to trust you and then to let something slip. They did this for a variety of reasons, the biggest being that you never know what a prisoner might say that will turn out to be useful. We ape-folk like to talk. And when we're doing wrong or secretive, our urge to confess to someone is very strong. The important thing was just to get the prisoner talking. Human nature would take care of the rest.
No, these techniques were used to extract confessions. The Organs would write up a confession to various crimes against the state and use these methods until the prisoner signed. They would use them until the prisoner named names -- any names would do. Most of them had quotas for the number of political dissidents they needed to arrest. Forced confessions was a good way of getting a quota. But even the Commies realized that intelligence acquired that way was next to useless.
We've become dumber than the Soviets and in some cases just as cruel. Thank God this shameful era appears to be coming to an end. - 1:52:00 PM THE ABOLITION OF TORTURE: I'm told a White House statement is imminent on the McCain Amendent. I'm told the White House has embraced the amendment, with no changes. If true, this is a huge step forward for the president, the war and American honor. It also has, I think, implications for McCain's possible succession to Bush as president. Developing ... - 11:39:00 AM TORTURED EVIDENCE: The latest twist in the torture end-game is a new Graham-Levin-Kyl initiative that would allow evidence procured by torture to be admissable in the military justice system. The proposed language is as follows:
Consideration of statements derived with coercion --
(1) Assessment -- The procedures submitted to Congress pursuant to subsection (a)(1(A) shall ensure that a CSRT, ARB or any similar or successor administrative tribunal or board, in making a determination of status or disposition of any detainee under such procedures, shall to the extent practicable assess -- (A) whether any statement derived from or relating to such detainee was obtained as a result of coercion; and (B) the probative value (if any) of such statement.
Allowing evidence procured by torture to be admissable is exactly the question recently addressed by the British law lords, and they emphatically rejected it as alien to centuries of English common law. If Congress were to pass this wording, it would be the first time in the history of the United States that torture-produced evidence was legally admissable. That's a big deal. Scott Horton has more analysis here. - 10:38:00 AM VETO-PROOF: By my calculations, the McCain Amendment is now veto-proof. All the more reason for McCain to hold firm.
THE CONSERVATIVE SOUL: Milton Friedman speaks of the spending explosion under the Bush Republicans:
"I'm disgusted by it. For the first time in many years Republicans have control of Congress. But once in power, the spending limits were off, and it's disgraceful."
Thank God someone hasn't lost his principles.
COLD CELLS: Rich Lowry's latest point is to ask if I object to a prisoner being grabbed by his lapels. Lapels? If one of our detainees has a suit on, and isn't naked and hooded, I would not be outraged if a guard shook him by his lapels. Please. I'm unaware of the "belly slap" but it doesn't sound "cruel, inhuman or degrading" to me; and it doesn't shock the conscience. I do not believe the Army Field Manual and U.S. law would forbid it. As for cold cells, I presumed Lowry was referring to the technique of inducing hypothermia, as alleged against the Navy Seals. But he is asking about milder versions - just plain old, cold and damp cells. Maybe he means something like the following:
No matter how hard it was in the ordinary cell, the punishment cells were always worse. And on return from there the ordinary cell always seemed like paradise. In the punishment cell a human being was systematically worn down by starvation and also, usually, by cold. (In Sukhanovka Prison there were also hot punishment cells.) For example, the Lefortovo punishment cells were entirely unheated. There were radiators in the corridor only, and in this "heated" corridor the guards on duty walked in felt boots and padded jackets. The prisoner was forced to undress down to his underwear, and sometimes to his undershorts, and he was forced to spend from three to five days in the punishment cell without moving (since it was so confining). He received hot gruel on the third day only. For the first few minutes you were convinced you'd not be able to last an hour. But, by some miracle, a human being would indeed sit out his five days, perhaps acquiring in the course of it an illness that would last him the rest of his life.
There were various aspects to punishment cells - as, for instance, dampness and water. In the Chernovtsy Prison after the war, Masha G. was kept barefooted for two hours and up to her ankles in icy water -confess! (She was eighteen years old, and how she feared for her feet! She was going to have to live with them a long time.)
Gitmo? Abu Ghraib? Bagram? Camp Cropper? Nah. This passage is taken from Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" on Soviet methods.
THE DEEPER POINT: The principle this series of examples illustrates is a relatively simple one. There are almost an infinite number of ways to coerce someone into some kind of confession. Differences in context, degree of violence, nature of violence, etc. can be endlessly drawn out, and opponents of torture, such as myself, can be asked to approve every single nuance, or disapprove. That's why we have a clear standard in plain English. The standard is that torture is out of bounds, and also that "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment or treatment that "shocks the conscience" are forbidden. These are not vague standards in plain English and are actually the sharpest lines we can draw. That's why it's important to resist the casuistry of people who try to redefine the plain meaning of these words; and why it's critical that interrogators do not go near "severe mental or physical pain." Since these rules have been in place for decades, and their meaning, until the Bush administration, well-understood, I see no reason to change them. The priority has to be much smarter, more labor intensive intelligence-gathering, long-term infiltration of terror groups, and the grooming of sources embedded within communities that harbor religious terrorists but who are not terrorists themselves. This takes time; but it is infinitely more fruitful than the goonish and immoral way some have been carrying on these past few years. - 10:26:00 AM
Wednesday, December 14, 2005 QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I'm confident the president knows who the source is. I'd be amazed if he doesn't. So I say, 'Don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is.'" - Bob Novak, yesterday.
GENOCIDE COVER-UP: It continues in Darfur. - 5:04:00 PM BOONDOCKS AND BROKEBACK: A pretty funny series. Keep clicking through the week's strips. Mickey isn't the only straight guy uncomfortable with gay men expressing love. - 4:49:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY: "Why do you bother with this guy, Levin? You are serving truth. He is serving politics. What good did it do Kerry to talk about facts? If he looked dangerous to the opposition (as I am sure you look to this guy), all they had to do was lie and lie louder to defeat him. I feel like you are falling into a trap. They draw you in because they know you want to talk about facts, and then they beat you up with lies. You can't win, but they win every time you give them another opportunity to pretend to refute you. This Levin seems to be serving a higher cause in his mind. Even if it is not religious it is like a religion: justify what this administration does, no matter what."
I disagree. I'm not up for election. And I think that all debate helps flush out the truth. Even if a majority decides to ignore the truth, in the end, it will count. Unlike Kerry, I also believe in fighting back against lies and smears. In fact, I'm delighted that the NRO-Reynolds chorus has finally decided, after months and months of pretending there was nothing to debate, that they have to deal with this question. The trouble is: their long months of denial and evasion have made them lazy and stunningly uninformed. Which is worth flushing out as well. - 4:28:00 PM THANKS, MR PRESIDENT: Something remarkable has been going on these past few weeks. The president has begun to be a real war-leader. He is conceding mistakes, he is preparing people for bad news, he is leveling with the American people, he is taking questions from audiences who aren't pre-selected or rehearsed. Some of us have been begging him to do this for, er, years. Now that he is, his ratings are nudging up. The truth is: most Americans want to win in Iraq. They will back a president who is honest with them and dedicated to victory. And those of us who have been deeply critical of the war's conduct thus far are fully prepared to back the only commander-in-chief we've got, if he's honest with us, corrects mistakes, and has a sane plan for progress. With Casey and Khalilzad and Rice, I think we have the best team we have yet deployed in the war. Let's pass the McCain Amendment and put the abuse and torture issues behind us, and fight this war the way Americans have always fought: humanely but relentlessly, for a better, freer world.
NO DICE: McCain won't give in on immunity for those who have broken the law. At this point, the Bush administration is trying to protect itself from prosecution. I have a feeling that Donald Rumsfeld won't be leaving the United States very often in the future. - 3:30:00 PM LEVIN DIGS IN: This is just embarrassing. But at this point, what choice do I have? Here's Mark Levin again, who openly admits he hasn't read a single one of the government reports on abuse and torture. Here's his latest repetition:
[Sullivan] says he linked to several government reports. He did in an earlier post, which I addressed, i.e., that they deal almost exclusively with Abu Ghraib, which has nothing to do with the debate about allegations of systemic torture involving unlawful enemy combatants. Andrew wishes Abu Ghraib had relevance to this debate, but it does not.
Let's just look at the titles of the actual reports. The Taguba Report is an "Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade." That brigade operated at Abu Ghraib, but also, according to the report, "Camp Bucca, Camp Ahraf ... and High Value Complex/Camp Cropper." The Schlesinger Report's title is "Final Report of the Independent Panel To Review DoD Detention Operations." It deals with much more than Abu Ghraib. It's a vast report on policies and "leadership failures" across every theater of combat. It's ok if Levin doesn't want to examine any of the evidence. It's another thing when he accuses those of us who have of lying or misrepresenting what is in the public domain. Levin goes on:
He threw up a flurry of news stories, including one reporting on secret prisons in Europe (which has nothing at all to do with torture). By looney links I meant not that the sources themselves were looney, but the use of them was looney since they are not evidence. Perhaps I should have been more clear.
The Washington Post story Levin refers to specifically pointed to the fact that these secret sites were authorized to use waterboarding. The evidence in the Danner book contains every single government memo relating to detention policies, all the official government reports, and dozens of depositions of detainees. The reports are also the first to use the term "migration" of torture policies from Gitmo to Iraq. I didn't come up with that idea. The government did. Last time I checked, this kind of thing is considered "evidence." Levin has no idea what he is talking about and is allowed by National Review to charge those who do with lying.
COLD CELLS: Lowry wants my view on "cold cells:" creating freezing rooms where water is constantly doused on naked prisoners to induce near-death hypothermia. He wants to know if I think it's torture. No reasonable person would ask such a question. Of course it's a form of torture. Which is why it's banned under U.S. law and in the Army Field Manual. The illegal acts authorized by the president are one reason he is trying to negotiate immunity for the crimes that he has instigated. If it weren't torture, he wouldn't be seeking immunity. By the way, don't you think it's odd that the theocons at NRO have yet to note the Pope's condemnation of torture? Actually, not odd at all. - 10:14:00 AM ON THE BLOG-COUCH: The great thing about blogging is that, if it's done right and honestLy, it can sometimes reveal things about yourself even you didn't know. Mickey Kaus has always done it right. Which is why his posts about "Brokeback Mountain" are must-reads. - 9:43:00 AM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "Democracy is better than nothing. It's not very good, but it's better than nothing." - a Sunni Arab electoral official in Iraq. - 9:37:00 AM OUR LEARNING CURVE: Fascinating and encouraging piece by Lawrence Kaplan in TNR on the emergence of a real, actual strategy to defeat the insurgency in Iraq. Change is finally happening:
Battalion commanders who prepared against a conventional enemy at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, prior to their first deployment to Iraq say that, when they returned to prepare for their second deployment, nearly all of the exercises involved guerrilla warfare. From West Point to the War College, the service schools have all added courses on the subject. As well as releasing a counterinsurgency field manual last year, the Army's Training and Doctrine Command has a draft counterinsurgency doctrine waiting to be approved, and, last month, a counterinsurgency school even opened in Iraq, which incoming company and battalion commanders will attend as soon as they arrive in theater. Meanwhile, at the top, despite Casey's insistence that "we're applying counterinsurgency doctrine to the situation in Iraq, and doing it fairly well," his approach is, even now, undergoing a profound revision. Tellingly, the shift comes as much at the behest of retired officers, think tanks, and civilian policymakers as it does from the accumulation of the Army's own experience. The impetus also comes from two reviews of military strategy in Iraq, one commissioned by Casey himself and one by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. Casey's review, launched this summer, concluded that U.S. forces "generally have it about it right," in the general's own telling. Khalilzad's review, also launched during the summer, concluded they don't.
I have a feeling that Zalmay Khalilzad may one day be seen as the critical figure who turned the tide in Iraq. - 9:33:00 AM KINSLEY ON TORTURE: He salami-slices Krauthammer's case, while Rumsfeld tries one last gambit. Money quote:
There is no reason to suppose that if Krauthammer's reasoning was accepted, the result would be Krauthammer's rules. Once we are rid of the childish notion of an absolute ban on torture, there is no telling where adult minds may take us.
The trouble with salami-slicing is that it doesn't stop just because you do. A judicious trade-off of competing considerations is vulnerable to salami-slicing from both directions. You can calibrate the viciousness of the torture as finely as you like to make sure that it matches the urgency of the situation. But you can't calibrate the torture candidate strapped down before you. Once you're in the torture business, what justification is there for banning (as Krauthammer would) the torture of official prisoners of war, no matter how many innocent lives this might cost? If you are willing to torture a "high level" terrorist in order to save innocent lives, why should you spare a low-level terrorist at the same awful cost? What about a minor accomplice?
What about the child of a terrorist? If you need to save lives, why not? You may think no one in America would go there, right? Not so fast. Here's AEI's John Yoo, as recorded in a recent debate with Douglass Cassel at Notre Dame:
Cassel: If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?
Yoo: No treaty
Cassel: Also no law by Congress -- that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo...
Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.
Just keep slicing the salami until you're torturing innocent children. And we deposed Saddam for what again? - 9:31:00 AM
Tuesday, December 13, 2005 TORTURE, DEFINED: When all else fails, check the legal definition. The U.N. Convention on Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory, defines it thus:
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession ... when such pain or suffering is inflicted at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."
1. a) Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion. b) An instrument or a method for inflicting such pain. 2. Excruciating physical or mental pain; agony: the torture of waiting in suspense. 3. Something causing severe pain or anguish.
The Vatican seems to know what it means. Here's the CIA definition of waterboarding:
The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
Rich Lowry argues that this is not the infliction of severe physical or mental anguish or pain. The Wall Street Journal believes this isn't "anything close" to torture and today argues that "if practiced properly, it does no lasting physical harm." That's the WSJ's standard for America. Let's just say it isn't mine. - 5:02:00 PM STILL PRO-WAR: An apologia. I second every word of it. And this week, we can only pray that the Iraqi people get a chance to move their country forward in ways unthinkable five years ago. - 11:43:00 AM QUOTE FOR THE DAY II: From bugged phone records of an Italian Islamo-fascist, who rejoiced at the beheading of Nick Berg:
In the May 28, 2004, conversation about the Berg tape, Ahmed's co-defendant, 22-year-old Egyptian Yahia Ragheh _ described by authorities as a would-be suicide bomber _ questions Ahmed's assertions.
"It's not a sin?" he asks.
"Who said this?" Ahmed replied. "It's never a sin ... because the cause is never a sin ... Are you scared? Are you shocked?"
"No no, I think it is a sin, I only think it's a sin," Ragheh said.
"When you enter a movement it's never a sin because there's a cause, the Islamic cause, all in hell ... everyone finishes in hell, everyone. For those who wound Islam the end is this."
This is about as brilliant an exposition of what evil can come from people who believe they are sanctioned by God and a "cause" that renders any means permissible. That evil is not restricted to Muslims. It is a universal human temptation. And, in the torture debate, it has infected us as well. - 11:28:00 AM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "In the end the nagging voices broke him down more completely than the boots and fists of the guards. He became simply a mouth that uttered, a hand that signed whatever was demanded of him. His sole concern was to find out what they wanted him to confess, and then confess it before the torture started again." - George Orwell, "Nineteen-Eight-Four." As so often, Orwell describes the dehumanization and deception that is integral to torture - and to all who suffer and practise it. - 11:18:00 AM "BLOWBACK" IN IRAQ: Gary Rosen wonders if the Jihadists aren't defeating themselves. Here's hoping. - 10:49:00 AM FREE SPEECH, GAY RIGHTS: There is a troubling aspect to the otherwise laudable campaign to provide basic civil and legal equality to gay citizens in this country and around the world. That aspect is the attempt to prevent or even criminalize the expression of hostility to homosexuality, or gay rights, or indeed any other form of anti-gay speech. This is inimical to the principles of freedom on which the campaign for gay rights must rest. For centuries, the First Amendment was the only security for gay people; without freedom of speech, there would have been no gay rights movement. The idea that that movement would now attempt to restrict the rights of our opponents is truly disgraceful. You see it in Canada, and there is a recent grotesque example in England. It seems to me that gay groups need to end their silence about this and rigorously defend the free speech rights of our opponents, as well as their right to practice their religious faith in any way they see fit, and to proselytize within the law as aggressively as they want. We need to defend the free association rights of groups like the St Patrick's Day parade organizers and even the Boy Scouts, however repugnant their views of gay people. Words cannot harm people; in fact, because those in favor of gay equality are telling the truth, we have every incentive to magnify and extend the debate. Silencing opponents is a sign of weakness, doubt and intolerance. Gay groups can and should do better. - 10:42:00 AM "LOONEY LINKS": Mark Levin is in such denial it's almost painful to read. He describes my attempt to educate him about the widespread abuse and torture of military detainees as a series of "looney" links. Those links are to four government reports, the Red Cross, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, CBS News, the Guardian, and the New York Times. I know that the right believes all those organizations are now officially "looney," especially the Red Cross, but really. Levin goes further and accuses me of lying. I'll take just one outrageous charge - that I have been
"falsely contending that interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay found their way to Abu Ghraib (as if those convicted of mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib, including putting underwear on a prisoner's head, were tutored by honorable soldiers interrogating terrorists at GITMO), and on and on.'
Well, he hasn't read the reports and doesn't want to. But let me quote from the Schlesinger Report, ordered up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld:
We noted earlier that migration of interrogation techniques from Afghanistan to Iraq. Those interrogation techniques were authorized only for Operation Enduring Freedom [the Afghanistan campaign]. More important, their authorization in Afghanistan and Guantanamo was possible only because the President had determined that individuals subjected to these interrogation techniques fell outside the strict protections of the Geneva Conventions."
My italics. There is also a direct link from the abuse and torture authorized at Guantanamo and that at Abu Ghraib: General Geoffrey Miller, who was sent from Cuba to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib, where he told Janis Karpinski to treat detainees "like dogs." Memos exist detailing commands to "break" the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Miller has never been disciplined. He was doing what Rumsfeld told him to do - which is why Rumsfeld's own profession of "shock" at Abu Ghraib was itself a shocking piece of dishonesty or, again, denial. These are simply the facts, as reported by the Bush administration itself. Levin must withdraw his assertions that I am "falsely contending" anything, and his depraved attempt to argue that what happened at Abu Ghraib amounted to no more than a few panties on a few heads. He also asserts that Ronald Reagan authorized the torture of military detainees. That is a slander against the former president, which Levin must also withdraw. The strange thing is that I really think he believes what he's writing. That level of denial and ignorance is necessary to keep a certain cognitive dissonance alive. But it has nothing to do with journalism; and even less to do with reality. - 10:25:00 AM FAMILY VALUES: Politics and the Wallaces. Painful.
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "Tony, that is a recipe for losing this war. We are fighting against an idea – jihadi fundamentalism – and at the heart of this philosophy is the idea that democracy is a fiction, a sweet sugar-coating that quickly melts away to reveal a torture chamber. Over the past three years, your buddy George Bush has made this claim ring true in every home in the Muslim world. So why are you cowering on a runway below a CIA flight, holding your hands in your ears, humming Condy’s denials until the plane – and the screams of its passengers – are far, far away?" - Johann Hari, fierce defender of the war on terror, but horrified by the Bush administration's deployment of torture. - 10:24:00 AM "OFF THE RESERVATION": Brent Bozell says I'm no "conservative." Enjoy. Label debates are silly. But I should say, for the record, that I favor the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been horrified by the incompetence of the occupation, but have been trying to make constructive arguments for how to win for quite a while now. Yes, I oppose the torture and abuse of military detainees. I'm a little stunned that this is now something that now requires one to be seen as a "liberal." I support almost all of Bush's tax cuts (I support the estate tax) but also believe in balanced budgets and spending restraint (heretic!); I oppose affirmative action; I oppose hate crime laws; I respect John Kerry's military service; I believe all abortion is morally wrong and that Roe vs Wade was dreadful constitutional law (but I do favor legal first trimester abortions); I support states' rights, especially in social policy, such as marriage; I oppose the expansion of the welfare state, as in the Medicare prescription drug plan; I supported John Roberts' nomination and Sam Alito's; I believe in a firm separation of religion and politics, but I certainly take faith seriously and wrestle with my own. As regular readers know, I'm no fan of the far left. At some point, I have endorsed every single Republican president in my adult life. All of that makes me a "liberal." Imagine what it now takes to be a "conservative" in Brent Bozell's eyes.
READING IN THE JOHN: Ok, well maybe papers are going to die after all:
Your reader appears to make a strong point with his “pooper paper” argument, yet reveals himself as little more than a lavatory Luddite when he somehow neglects to consider the widespread impact of Blackberries and Sidekicks on media consumption and pooping patterns. Like you, I happily (well, sometimes more happily than others) read the Economist, the NY Times and the rest on the John, except that I'm on economist.com and nytimes.com and I'm reading them on my Sidekick. Not only that, but using the built-in AOL Instant Messenger, I can instantly communicate my views on the news to other tech-savvy bowel movers. The only paper I need in the bathroom is the TP itself. Except, I should note, when I'm trying to access AndrewSullivan.com – for some unknown reason (an abundance of etiquette on your part, let’s just say) the Daily Dish will not load onto my Sidekick.
There's even data to back this up. When we move to Time.com, I'm sure you'll be able to coordinate my political movements with your other ones. Until then ... - 10:22:00 AM
Monday, December 12, 2005 THE BUBBLE: Mark Levin has apparently not read any of the government reports about torture or the Red Cross reports. I have. They do indeed deal with Abu Ghraib, the worst of which we have yet to see, but they also cover the broader issue of how the abuse occurred, how techniques used at Guantanamo Bay "migrated" to Abu Ghraib, and how legal decisions made at the very top of this administration played a part in compounding a horrible problem. The Red Cross reports document horrifying abuse and torture in every theater of combat. Levin asks for more specifics. Has he ever heard of the "Salt Pit" in Afghanistan? The murder at Bagram? The CIA directives for "waterboarding," now apparently authorized against eleven detainees, according to the Washington Post? Levin can read my now-dated summary here. Or he can read the excellent source for my review, Mark Danner's compilation of all the Bush administration memos permitting torture, as well as the abundant reports of real cases. More published reading material can be found here. The press reports are too voluminous to compress here, but they show a consistent pattern of abuse and torture, followed by non-punishment or nominal investigation. Levin can read about a few of these incidents and cases here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. There's much more, but I presume my own obligation to improve Levin's access to the facts has been fulfilled. I recommend Google as well. - 6:28:00 PM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "I'm interested in the news, I'm not all that interested in the opinions," - president Bush on what he reads (and doesn't). - 5:30:00 PM GOP AND McCAIN: The Powerline partisans oppose McCain for the usual reasons. (And there are legit reasons to differ with McCain, and I've gotten into a few arguments with him myself). But they haven't called him "pro-terrorist," as an email from GOPUSA did. If you oppose torture, you are, of course, in favor of terrorism. Welcome to today's Republican activists. - 4:30:00 PM WHY NEWSPAPERS WON'T DIE: Here's a reason submitted by a reader:
I agree with Don Graham's assessment that news is moving online, but I'm going to degrade myself and defend the paper version for one simple reason: "the pooper paper". If and when all newspapers move to an online form, I'll simply have to stop going to the bathroom. Every day, I get the news online, but I get detailed news in the bathroom. Every paper has editorials, special reports about local families, even bizarre classified ads from women who want to do things no other human wants. So, for the sake of humanity, there is always going to be a paper version of the news. I've tried reading a laptop in the bathroom and it's just not the same.
Ah, yes, the bog-read. That's where I absorb the NYT Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Commonweal, and the Economist. Dead trees still have their uses. And in my recent case of what turned out to be food poisoning, I read a lot. - 4:04:00 PM THE GUARDIAN AND CHOMSKY: The fight continues. Background here.
FRYING RICE: Ivo Daalder tries to make sense of her latest op-ed. - 3:03:00 PM KISSINGER ON IRAQ: Greg Djerejian, as so often, is on the case. Actually examining reality in Iraq, rather than massaging government p.r. is beyond some conservatives, alas. Not Greg. And not Kissinger. Djerejian is particularly withering about the delusional pro-Bush hacks at the Belmont Club. - 12:27:00 PM THE STAKES IN IRAQ: A soldier encourages us to avoid depression about the painfully slow progress in Iraq. He's right. Here's some rank speculation. If the president understands that his ultimate legacy will indeed be Iraq, and that history will judge him primarily on that matter, then he needs a successor. This process will take real time and relentlessness. Who better than McCain? He can recast conservatism away from its intolerant, sectarian trend and back to the center. And he can bring to the war ferocity and humanity and trust. A McCain succession would not only be good for the country but for Bush as well. Especially if he anoints McCain himself. - 11:42:00 AM THE ORIGINALS: I met Gene McCarthy a few times. He and TNR's editor-in-chief, Marty Peretz, went back a very long way, and McCarthy would occasionally drop by the office and read a poem or two and ask gingerly if we'd publish them. Every now and again, we would. Others can better testify to his historic importance, but what was clearly admirable about him was his utter integrity to himself. And not an idealized version of himself: the flawed man, alone, in front of his God, doing what he believed was the right thing, even if it led nowhere, even if it was quixotic, even when he doubted it himself. That freedom of action is what will be recalled about him, and it was a freedom that almost by itself changed the fate of the Vietnam War, and of American history. McCarthy had the audacity to articulate in public his inside voice; and it pierced through the cacophony. The same, of course, can be said in a way of Richard Pryor. His own reinvention as a comic - the moment he withdrew and re-emerged as a radically new and hilarious voice - was a turning point in American popular culture. It was a watershed in how we think of race. It was a moment when a deeper truth emerged through a new comedy. Again: all that he needed was the courage to testify to his own life, and the voices he had heard around him, and to gamble everything on it. Every time you laugh at the early Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle, you are laughing somewhere at Richard Pryor. Both McCarthy and Pryor, of course, look a little tragic as well. Pryor's life was a human car-wreck, with the last few years in slow motion. McCarthy separated from his wife and died in a nursing home, beloved more as an eccentric than as the bravest man in a dark hour. For me, they both represent America at its best: true to themselves, dedicated to freedom of expression, unapologetic about their uniqueness, often indifferent to what society thought of them. The great and too-often missed achievement of Western freedom is the way in which it allows true, eccentric, inspired individuals to rise. Pryor and McCarthy were giants in this, the most under-rated project of our way of life. - 11:30:00 AM McCAIN AND THE GOP: Are some coming around? They may have no choice. But the religious right and pro-torture hardliners will balk. For me, McCain was my candidate in 2000, and remains easily the best of the Republican field. People also forget how conservative he actually is: on spending, on winning the war, on abortion. I know it's now conservative heresy to believe in balancing budgets, humane, competent warfare, and civil rights, but, hey, heretics sometimes turn out to be the real guardians of a lost tradition. But here's what McCain really does. He brings back honor to the White House and trust to government. Some things can be priced. Others cannot. - 11:28:00 AM PTOWN REMEMBERED: A first-hand account of Provincetown's recent history from a reader:
As one who has actively been part of the Provincetown gay scene over the past 50 years, I do not find the Banner 1950 news archive about "The Boys" summer influx at all unusual. Implicit, and at times aggressive, homophobia was part of the culture - in the Police Department, at Town Hall, and in the other institutions, church and school. Stilted rhetoric, such as, "climax of abnormality" describing aberrant behavior can be found in the Provincetown Advocate and in the Town Reports. Right after World War II, the artistic-literary world flooded and shocked and staid Provincetown. An example is the famous Forum 49 conference held in Provincetown that featured speakers and exhibits by the prominent, new avant-garde in the artistic, literary and journalistic world. Provincetown natives were conflicted--how to encourage tourism and at the same time keep the status-quo. Homophobia was part of a widespread sexual bigotry: cohabiting heterosexuals couples who were not married to one another were arrested, sometimes in the middle of the night, whether they were in bed with one another or not. And then there is the 1960's Beatnik era, when police barricades were set up at the entrance to Town, and suspected Beatniks were prohibited entry. Provincetown has historically been a mixture of sophisticated and small-town mores, sometimes peacefully mixing, other times not. ...the more it changes, the more it stays the same.
Another emailer comments:
Regarding your link to the Provincetown Banner, and your comments about it, I have to ask, with all due respect - are you crazy? Do you think that gay people were really welcome anywhere in this country 50 years ago? I'm in my 40s, but I live in New York and have several gay friends who are now in their 70s. Their recollections of life in the 1950s are filled with horrible accounts of police entrapment. Thanks to the draconian laws of the time, if you met someone in a bar and asked him back to your apartment, you were risking arrest. In the 60s, John Lindsay, the liberal mayor of New York instituted a crackdown on gay bars that caused further misery. All this took place in one of the most sophisticated cities in the world. Do you really think that the citizens of a rural beach community like Provincetown, whatever its history as a haven for artists and non-conformists, were happy about a large influx of gay summer people during this same period of time? It is true that gay people have made tremendous achievements over the last several decades - being 48, I feel like I have seen several lifetimes of social change since I came out in 1979. But when you announce the end of gay culture, it really makes me want to burp. You may be right in the long run, but these kind of grand pronouncements ignore the very real details of what so many young gay people are still undergoing today.
As any reader of the essay will see, I specifically made the latter point myself. The gradual emergence of the truth about human lives, and our political and social response to it, will always be uneven, and sometimes contradictory. But that doesn't mean that the truth, once it has emerged, is easily forgotten. Or that it doesn't change lives. - 11:26:00 AM
Sunday, December 11, 2005 CHENEY SIDELINED? According to Time. But the Onion has the real scoop. - 4:55:00 PM VOTE FOR IAN: Beliefnet is having a reader-voting contest to pick the most inspiring person of 2005. Captain Ian Fishback, who risked his career to expose and correct widespread abuse of detainees in Iraq, is in the final round of voting. Put him over the edge. Vote here. - 3:53:00 PM CONTRA KRAUTHAMMER: If you're looking for my response to Charles Krauthammer on his proposal to legalize torture, here it is. - 10:47:00 AM