I guess celebrity deaths famously "come in threes", but I cannot recall another instance where the three involved were all regarded as visionaries, if not revolutionary geniuses, in their respective fields: legendary football coach Bill Walsh passed away at 75, legendary late night talk show host Tom Snyder passed away at 71, and legendary film director Ingmar Bergman passed away at 89.
Well, at least those three men managed to make it into their 70's or beyond.
No explanation for why the youngest member of the United States Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts collapsed at his vacation home in Maine and was taken to the hospital with an apparent seizure... Roberts is only 52. No explanation at all. Roberts did, apparently, collapse in a similar manner around four years ago, but it is unclear that doctors were able to pinpoint a reason (though Roberts was prohibited from driving for a while).
Who knows why these things happen?
Then again, around 1 in 4 Americans do believe that the Rapture will occur this year. Admittedly, electing George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney to national office is tantamount to a self-fulfilling prophesy in that department... but perhaps they might be on to something...
Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake gives us this account of a story that our usual "All Paris, Lindsay, Britney, Nicole, Brangelina and their friends all the time" press seems to have ignored... i.e., 24 out of 93 United States Attorney positions are now vacant, and likely will be for the rest of the 541 or so remaining days of the Bush Administration, as not so much as one proposed replacement has been sent to Congress for action.
Given the quality of personnel that this President has all-too-frequently placed in high positions in the Department of Justice, starting with the two men he has named to head it, I am somewhat less concerned than Christy is at an operational level. Frankly, I'd just as soon have no one at all in a given position than someone with the confidence of George W. Bush... indeed, I would say the same thing about the presidency itself, and I doubt I'd get too much disagreement.
But this particular one speaks volumes... United States Attorneys, or United States District Attorneys as they are occasionally called, are the chief designated federal law enforcement officer of a given federal judicial district, charged with enforcing and administering the nation's laws. While Justice Department personnel (I used to be one myself) are fully capable of administering their duties with someone in the big office with the title "Acting" in front of their name, there is still some level of frustration and discomfort among career employees under such circumstances, particularly if major or controversial cases are coming down. In any event, it makes perfect sense-- indeed, one of the most crystal clear aspects of this Administration-- that given its inconceivable disrespect for the laws and Constitution of this nation that it flouts at every opportunity it gets, the Bush Administration would find priorities more compelling than, say, filling over a quarter of the positions responsible for enforcing the nation's laws in its individual judicial districts.
Christy correctly notes that if the President cannot fill the ranks of officials administering justice with partisan hacks whose first priority is to steal elections (and the twin goal, disenfranchising ethnic minority voters, which also shores up the base)... then he simply doesn't want to fill them at all.
But let's remember that we not only have a boot-licking press corps that frankly tells us this as if it were an Alberto Gonzales problem (it evens try to gloss over how unpopular he is...not even Fox News could get anyone to defend him)... because using Alberto as a firewall covers the White House (here we go again).
We also have Democratic candidates and office-holders who by and large ignore the big picture here (there are occasional heroic exceptions). The Big Guns aren't really telling us about this scandal either (and their own plans to restore honor, integrity, basic competence and not lying to Congress to the Justice Department!).... or the fact that the underlying scandal is about stealing elections from Democrats. You'd think Democrats would care about that, wouldn't you?
Instead, as we would expect from past history, Democrats seem far more interested in mau-mau'ing each other than in setting forth their plans for good governance for this country (and as usual, I do mean you, Hillary, i.e., the only Democrat running who can possibly lose the Presidency to the current crop of Republican clowns if nominated next year... and I might just include Kucinich and Gravel in that).
And there you have it. This has been... "the other U.S. Attorney scandal". The one you won't be hearing about on the news, or from Democratic candidates.
The chick famous for being Paris's sidekick and Lionel's daughter took a plea deal in L.A. for driving under the influence, and will undergo rehab, pay a stiff fine, and serve four more days in jail than Scooter did. In so doing, she joins her good friend Paris Hilton, and, any day now, Lindsay Lohan, in that category of the "We did more time than Scooter Girls".
Where am I going with this (other than probable mega-hits for mentioning so many celebrities at once)? I'm going to the United States Constitution, specifically Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, which provides:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment (emphasis supplied).
That means pardons for everyone. It means Karl Rove. It means Harriet Miers. It means Alberto Gonzales, even for lying to Congress. It probably even means Scooter Libby (remember, he's only had his sentence commuted; for the moment, until he is formally pardoned, he remains a convicted felon, and will likely be disbarred and suffer other stigma.) It means, presumably, Dick Cheney. In short, it means anyone and everyone, up to and arguably including the President himself, whether the President is on the way out the door, or whether he "decides" to do it much sooner. There is, of course, but one exception... and that is why I bolded it: "Cases of Impeachment."
The timing must be proper, of course, lest there by a prompt acquittal in a highly partisan Senate whose Republican members would not impeach this particular President no matter what the circumstances... from selling defense plans to Osama bin Laden, to ordering warrantless searches upon and arrests of American citizens... oh wait.
Anyway, I tend to agree with the reservations expressed by Josh Marshall, here: a Congress that can't even get a non-binding Iraq resolution through the 60-vote fillibuster hurdle, despite overwhelming popular support for their position, could hardly be counted upon to obtain the even higher 2/3 threshold for conviction of a far more controversial impeachment. Josh Marshall goes on to note, however, that he may be changing his view on this given just how obscenely lawlessly Mr. Gonzales and the White House are now behaving (even by their own obscenely lawless standards).
Still... there is another salutory benefit of impeachment... impeachment being the "indictment", rather than conviction (and removal), the former having been tried twice in American history, the latter... never attained (Nixon resigning to avoid that probable fate). If, in fact, the entire White House operation, which has now decided to behave as if there were no other branches of government to which it is even arguably accountable (let alone to the people of this country, our laws and our Constitution), there appears to be no other way to ensure that the President doesn't simply run completely amok, presiding over 544 more days of almost inconceivable criminality... followed, as with the case of Scooter, by a simple Presidential signature on a blanket pardon. And until and unless we amend the Constitution to remove that particular power... no one has the power to stop the most obscene miscarriages of justice by a lawless President (and I can safely say that it just ain't happening in the next 544 more days)... short of...
A simple way out. The House of Representatives may introduce, and then pass, by simple majority vote (which can be as partisan as the vote to impeach former President Clinton) articles of impeachment, documenting the various acts of lawlessness undertaken by of this President and his subordinate officials (as I've said... just the bald and baseless "executive privilege" assertions alone would qualify as obstruction of justice). The articles of impeachment would preferably name names of as many co-conspirators as are now known, with John Does for those discovered subsequently... and then the package can be sent to the Senate, where Harry Reid could, in a gesture of bipartisan political accommodation that [that prick] Trent Lott refused, simply table the impeachment citation indefinitely. (Indeed, lest no one miss the point, the preamble to such articles of impeachment can expressly state that the very purpose is, not merely to express our collective outrage at the lawlessness that has gripped the very people charged with executing and enforcing our nation's laws, but to ensure that the highest of high crimes do not go unpunished as a result of Presidential caprice--including, potentially, the crimes of the President himself).
Arguably, an impeachment that is not intended to be sent to the Senate (where it would die at the hands of 49 Republicans, counting Joe Lieberman doubtless casting the loudest vote for acquittal) does not violate Nancy Pelosi's (stupid and pointless) promise to take impeachment "off the table". The question, Madam Speaker, is not whether George W. Bush can be removed from office one day earlier than January 20, 2009; I'm reasonably sure that only Bush himself, or perhaps God, can do that (and I daresay, Bush is unlikely to go hunting with Cheney anytime soon!)
The question, Madam Speaker, is whether or not you-- you personally, M'am-- intend to encourage continued public criminality at the highest levels of our government. Because, as Josh Marshall notes, this level of contempt for the process of law, for the other branches of government... the absolute in-your-face by the Attorney General of the United States in simply refusing (without even invoking privilege) to answer the question posed by a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee-- speaks of men and women who now know to a certainty that they can and will get away with everything up to and including murder... as if signed pardons were already sitting in their pockets. And as we know... there's only way to ensure that, if in fact crimes have been committed, a certain President (one who calls himself "The Decider") doesn't decide that any accountability at all is too much punishment.
So what's it gonna be, Madam Speaker?
I first discussed this issue of the President's "philosophical" opposition to the idea of children of the working poor receiving government subsidized health insurance in an earlier post; now, it seems, the President has convinced those humanitarians, Senators McConnell and Lott and Congressman Boehner to tag along with him and assert the proposition that, well... insuring poor children is just plain wrong, and doggone it, they're going to stop it.
Well, you have to credit them for consistency; the doctrine of "socialism for
the rich super-rich, and capitalism for everybody else" has been consistently advocated from the get-go by the current crew of Republicans (and yes, I mean crew the way Tony Soprano means it... and they have the indictments to prove it) and their K-Street sponsors, not to mention the Mellon Scaifes, the Wallaces and the rest of the Hitler youth... hence, all of their policies from tax cuts to free trade to immigration to the war (think "oil prices") favor the super-rich, even at the expense of the ordinary upper bourgeoisie... we won't even talk about what's left of the middle class, or of course, the damned workers...
While one of the quoted Democratic members suggests that the Republicans are just playing politics by trying to deny the Democrats "a victory"... it's a lot more serious than that. Because this kind of mean-spiritedness is perceived by "the base" by and large as racially motivated, the base (ostensibly now confined largely to the South and Mountain West) won't bolt the GOP, even as the super-rich-branch of The Party tries to do things that annoy it... like immigration amnesty... it's actually critical to the Republicans holding on to the support that they have, even as Junior and Dead-eye Dick do their damndest to sully the brand-name.
No, that's what Democrats don't seem to understand: this isn't a game. The Republicans sincerely and honestly believe that people who aren't fabulously wealthy should simply have insecure, miserable lives, so that the people in powerful positions can exploit them, preferably with the assistance of the state (and those same rich and powerful will be kind enough to reward their legislative champions with healthy campaign contributions of course). And you read that correctly: even the professional classes who once thought they were safe from the vagaries faced by day laborers have to realize that in the world dreamed of for them by the current Republicans, their expensive educations and professional apprentices qualify them for... the equivalent of day labor. Jobs without security, or benefits, or upsides... whether it be an agronomist, or an attorney, or a college professor, or a carpenter or a lettuce-picker... this is the world they want. Providing old age pensions ("privatize social security"), or even public education ("no child left behind") or a clean environment ("clear skies initiative") or product safety or workplace protections ("tort reform", as we now see, health care (fuck the poor kids)... things that are designed to provide any measure of collective security for individuals in their individual lives... are simply anathema philosophically to this group... and that's why they oppose it.
That's why the mania for tax cuts: because once the budget gets constrained by such tax cuts, it's politically easier to cut things that make a difference in people's lives than it is to cut defense, (or interest on the national debt, which, by and large, goes disproportionately to the super-rich, both here and abroad, as they are the big bond-holders).
The President was absolutely not kidding when he said "it's philosophical." We disbelieve him on this one at our extreme peril.
Perhaps there is... interestingly, in House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers of Michigan, the same man who now has the Henry Hyde Memorial "I can impeach you if I feel like it" chair... as Conyers announced he would schedule a vote on a contempt citation to nail the asses of Bush-toadies Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers for their delibrate and contemptuous failure to appear to answer Congressional subpoenas to testify in the U.S. Attorney conspiracy scandal.
You'll recall that the President insists that he can not only order his former subordinates not to testify despite his own failure to properly seek a court order quashing Congress's subpoena, but that he can order the Justice Department to defy Congress's direct order to enforce a contempt citation, both of which are no brainer impeachable offenses, particularly since the "executive privilege" is being invoked to cover up a scheme designed to subvert the administration of justice in this country for the purpose of stealing elections.
Anyway, the President's official plan was to have the Democrats do what they usually do, i.e., roll-over... it seems that Conyers just might not do that this time...
Maybe it was Cindy Sheehan screaming for impeachment (and getting her ass arrested) right outside his office that did it... maybe it's polling data that show that the public trusts the Democrats in Congress more than Bush on Iraq...
Who knows why. While it's not how we'd bet, we will take this as a very, very optimistic sign that maybe, just maybe, Bush's six and a half year long "in your face" to Democrats may be nearing its end... Democrats, as the party in majority in both houses of Congress, have vast, vast power... if they have the backbone to use it. We'll see...
What to make of the Grey Lady's lead story that a series of unfortunate events have caused the nation's refineries to perform well under capacity, thereby depriving the nation of a fair amount of refined petroleum products, which, given steady or increasing demand to fill the nation's SUVs for those long driveway rides up to the McMansions... has resulted in significant increases in the price of gasoline?
Clearly, maintenance delayed is... profitable, at least in the oil patch. (No comment re: the effect of overall delayed maintenance on the nation's overall infrastructure, such as that of a steam-pipe explosion right outside TD's old office building which killed one person and injured a number and opened a crater and caused mega-disruption in mid-town Manhattan this week... well, I'll just say that this sort of thing will cause damage likely to cumulatively dwarf anything terrorists ever do if adequate investment in the nation's complex infrastructure is not made).
Who'd have thought that such short-term thinking could make sense...( At least, in the oil-patch that is... the decision to defer maintenance to keep pumping and take advantage of higher oil prices... leads to even higher oil prices, though refineries unable to deliver are, themselves less profitable.)
Given that our nation is run by (purported) oil company executives... maybe this makes some sense (even if they seldom do).
That's sort of a funny post-title, insofar as the actual truth is just one of those things... as I discussed last year with the inconceivably erudite Professor Michael Berube, one way to look at "absolute truths" is that there are really no such things, except perhaps physical laws (gravity, thermodynamics)... all other "laws" (morality, goodness, beauty) are ostensibly social constructs of varying ways-- many of which can reach universal consensus-- but nonetheless remaining ostensibly "provisional" in nature. Pontificating assholes like Senator Lieberman who make outrageous statements like "only religious people can be moral people or deserve the protections of our Constitution" (or other such nonsense) notwithstanding, "truth", unless always observable as a law of nature, is simply always provisional. People reach agreement (or even consensus) at some point of social development... an agreement or consensus that, no matter how "eternal" it may seem, is nonetheless provisional. (To some extent, I analogize "the truth" to a solar eclipse... you can "look at it", but indirectly to avoid going blind, perhaps... but I digress...)
Anyway, this is all kind of long-winded and circular... I am evading a "head-on" discussion of this amazing piece in WaPo on Madison Avenue attempts to influence the military to "re-brand" what it is doing in Iraq. Well, there it is. I'm not evading it any longer (much as I thought I would comment on the President's interesting selection of now as a time to issue an executive order telling the CIA it can't torture and abuse prisoners unless it wants to. ) No... back to the Madison Avenue thing.
Read it yourself, if you like... the nub of the thing is that the Iraqs aren't buying the product, of American military force superiority... as such, they aren't cooperating by reporting suspected insurgents and such. In short, our "no more Mr. Nice Guy" thing in Iraq... kicking down doors, abusive checkpoints, detaining people arbitrarily, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, dismissive attitudes re: "collateral damage," etc.,... have all made "the new plan" hard to implement because, well, the Iraqis fucking hate us for what we have done to them and their country. (You think?)
Anyway, rather than re-think the reality of this, the military, following the Bush Administration (and indeed, the entire modern Republican Party)... believes that when your only tool is the hammer of a political campaign, the whole world looks like the nail of a gullible electorate. (Think about a "Coalition Provisional Authority" staffed not be technical or regional experts, but by loyal Republican ideologues and campaign workers.)
The problem is that, eventually, reality always bites back. The Iraqis, who were being blown up, shot at, detained and tortured, etc., at the same or higher rates than before they were invaded by us (i.e., we replaced the organized cruelty and tyranny of Saddam with the utterly chaotic and disorganized cruelty and tyranny of roving ethnic militias, cluster bombs and our occupation)... didn't really particularly care what we called it. The "product" is a lemon as far as they are concerned.
The American model for everything-- the handsome, smiling and friendly new or used car salesman-- is actually effective only for selling things that the customer is unfamiliar with. Once the customer has acquired his own personal knowledge of the product or service, even though the American system of education (and our fabulously dumbed-down and cheap celebrity-driven media) is designed to produce mindless sheep who will merrily do their mindless industrial or post-industrial work and mindlessly. and remain susceptible to advertising, and substitute materialism for culture and human values... in short, once reality intervenes, all that valuable training we invest in turning ourselves into zombies suddenly becomes obsolescent.
And this is the problem the military now faces in Iraq, and, indeed, the Republican Party now faces in America. (Indeed, all of corporate America faces this problem to some extent, which is why the true growth industry in years to come will be public relations and damage control, as handsome men and beautiful women will be called upon in greater and greater numbers to justify and gloss over future recalls of tainted food and drugs, environmental disasters, industrial accidents and so forth.)
But by and large (it seems around 28% of the people are incapable of being convinced no matter what reality shows; our educational system at least has had some effectiveness on them) the American public has finally learned that "the product" is a lemon: the interests of Walmart and ExxonMobil and General Electric and the billionaire class are almost certainly contrary to their own interests, and no amount of slick commercial presentations are going to change that. And since the Republicans stand for "the bid'ness of America is bid'ness...", until enough time passes for Americans to forget reality, the Republicans can anticipate hard times in elections to come. (Not that the Dems are much better... but Junior and Dead-eye Dick have damaged the brand so much that not even the Dems can screw this one up).
Anyway, ditto the Iraqis. Unlike the American people, they haven't been bombarded with decade after decade of an integrated educational and advertising system designed to make them gullible moron consumers of crappy products and pliable industrial- and post-industrial workers... instead, we bombarded them with cluster bombs and "shock and awe", and check points and Abu Ghraib. Turns out we sold them "our brand" a lot sooner and more efficiently than we ever sold it domestically-- and we even sold it honestly.
The thing is, "the product," through no fault of the individual troops we have sent over on a hopeless mission, just happens to be, by and large, brutality and imperialism. It's the nature of war, really, not just this one. But that's what "the product" is. Amazing when you think about it, that this $400,000 study is supposed to overcome over $400 billion (that's a wild understatement) of expense we have undertaken to inflict our own brutality on the Iraqi people... It doesn't make much sense in terms of a much more stark reality.
I guess our so-called leadership have been so inured to our advertising "and branding" methods better than the rubes have: they still believe that this crap will work. Well, as I said, our mind-numbing educational and conditioning systems have clearly worked on some people.
God help the rest of us, though.
It should come as a surprise to no one (except perhaps to the feckless Madam Speaker Pelosi and the incomprehensible and feckless Majority Leader Reid) that the Bush Administration's long-vaunted "September moment of truth" when the Great and Mighty and All-Knowinig General David Petraeus ("he wrote the book on counter-insurgency")TM would tell us "candidly" whether "progress" was being made in Iraq as a result of The SurgeTM... is just another part of the run-out-the-clock strategy of the Bush Administration's real Iraq "exit strategy" (i.e. "January 20, 2009" and "Blame Hillary"), as the generals now insist that the September "hard deadline" should be moved to November.
Jason over at The Moderate Voice gives us this rejoinder, as it looks like members of Congress from both parties... aren't playing (even the Republicans realize that even the American people may have had it to the point where, to quote Governor LePetomane, "Gentlemen, we've got to protect our phoney-baloney jobs!") While Bush can run out the clock, his co-religionist Republicans in Congress must run for reelection for theirs.
We'll see if any of this means anything. Congress ultimately has two aces up its sleeve if it wants to play them: it can start to cut off funding for the war and for virtually all of the President's pet programs (or even repeal laws granting existing funding... the former has the advantage of forcing the executive to act--as a veto will not help the President if he needs something from Congress affirmatively) and the second is just plain old impeachment... Madam Speaker Pelosi has taken the President's impeachment "off the table"... but who said anything about the Vice-President or the attorney general (and who said anything about conduct committed after her commitment)? With a President willing to shield himself from criticism (if not all reality), a Vice-President who can deny reality without the help of subordinates to protect himself with it, and a cast and crew of enablers at our taxpayer expense... what else can Congress do?
Once again, don't count on the combination of institutional inertia, Republicans fearful of Karl Rove's internal retaliation and Democrats more concerned with their own reelection to their own seats than with dealing a potentially killing blow to the opposition to do anything besides business as usual leading to absolutely nothing changing, war funding continuing unabated and American troops continuing to fight and die in service of what is becoming clear to all (except loyal Bush dead-enders) is a lost cause in Iraq, for the next 550 days. At least that's how I'd bet.
That statement was famously attributed to Richard Nixon; his ideological heir in executive abuse (and abuse of so-called "executive privilege") and the "L'Etat c'est moi" sentiment, President George Walker Bush, has taken the statement to the next level, perhaps if possible even out-doing Vice-President Richard Bruce Cheney's assertion that the Office of the Vice-President isn't in the executive branch when it comes to following security clearance and document protection protocols, though it is when it is time for the Vice-President to claim "executive" privilege: the White House has announced that where the President invokes executive privilege on anything, the Justice Department (statutorily designated as the agency that enforces these things) cannot enforce contempt citations brought by Congress to challenge those assertions of executive privilege-- even-- or especially-- if the assertion is abusive, wrongful, or in clear bad faith.
As the President's poll numbers keep declining, the assertions of power-grabbing just keep getting broader and broader.. now it's not merely about "keeping us safe" (for which former official ideologue John Yoo asserted would have made it o.k. for the President to order a child's testicles crushed and otherwise torture children simply because the President says it's ok)... but simply, because the President says so! We've told you before that the U.S. Attorney scandal is about creating a permanent Republican majority by cheating-- Watergate on high-powered steroids, as the very institution charged with neutral objective law-enforcement is converted into an arm of the Republican National Committee by bogusly prosecuting Democrats and deliberately failing to prosecute Republicans.
Needless to say... the President would rather the rest of us not look at this particular scandal... or any other. For at least the next year and a half, anyway (after which he will pardon himself and his entire team on his way out the door)... a year and a half is presumably his bet on at least how long legal wrangling will take-- longer if the agency charged with litigating it suddenly "lacks the authority to do so".
Given that the entire Clinton impeachment fiasco took but a few months, there's certainly plenty of time here. Insofar as the President is ostensibly sky-writing the words "impeach me, you miserable cowards" all over the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, one marvels at Madam Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid and their remarkable political tone-deafness, as more and more of the country now outright favors doing something dramatic to rein in the insanely out of control executive, impeachment if nothing else will. But Pelosi and Reid they won't even consider upsetting the apple cart and jeopardizing the perqs and swag they get with their cool jobs by actually doing them. (Worse... they might be called names.)
Because this present privilege assertion-- and this assertion alone-- is a per se impeachable offense... i.e., both obstruction of Justice (the Department) and obstruction of justice, the crime... as always, one must admire the brazen cojones of the President: he knows that he'll get away with it, again, and again.
All I can say is that I'm a little pissed about having worked so hard to get a Democratic Congress elected last year, only to have them reinforce every stereotype of ineffectualness that can be thrown at them. And there seems to be no "last straw". That said, I guess as much as I and many others have a number of problems with Cindy Sheehan, at this point, we have no choice but to wish Ms. Sheehan the best of luck in her quest to unseat Speaker Pelosi from her House seat. What else can you say?
I have said (well, I think I have, anyway) that the actual on-the-ground definition of the President's so-called "compassionate conservatism" is simple mean-spiritedness (arguably with a patina of racism thrown in). Case in point: the veto threat of a bill that would expand health coverage for uninsured children that has strong bipartisan support. The President's rationale? It will "encourage people to switch out of [holy and sacred] private insurance".
Let's think about that: providing health insurance (administered through popular state programs, btw) to uninsured children would encourage people not to insure those children who they are already not insuring. Got it? Let 'zem have private insurance!
We won't think of the expense that may be dumped on to states and private hospitals, for example, to treat these uninsured, or of course, the public health implications or long term social costs from everything from illiteracy to crime associated with inadequate children's health care... I mean... they're poor, right? Not likely to hire lobbyists or tax lawyers, now, are they?
The President is also somewhat annoyed that his own proposal, an ice-in-the-winter addition to tax deductions for health insurance costs, doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Also... the President doesn't want to pay for health care for 3 million children (actually, he wants to gut the existing program that already covers around 3 1/2 million children, and then gut the proposed expansion to around 6 1/2 million children) by increasing the excise tax on cigarettes...
So instead, good old American self-reliance kicks in... these children should go just get their parents to buy them health insurance.
Zut alors! Let's just say that Marie Antoinette had nothing on the President.
On behalf of my (non-talking) canine brethren, let me say that I am duly horrified at allegations of dog-fighting, including the execution (by hanging, electroctuion, or slamming down) of "underperforming" dogs, mostly pit-bulls, for which Atlanta Falcons QB Michael Vick and others were indicted on federal charges of animal cruelty and crossing state lines to do it.
The National Football League seems to have more than its share of miscreants; in large part, this is because our national game engenders much that is wrong with our culture: violence, performance enhancing drugs, arrogance, frequent commercial breaks, and so forth... and of course, just like in high school, the football team guys can do no wrong... no matter how wrong. In short, the NFL is, quite literally, American culture on steroids.
Vick could face serving up to six years in prison if convicted on the animal cruelty charges... and after that, he might consider serving six years as a Republican senator.
I'm not sure what to make of the Senate's "reverse filibuster" (where the majority does all the talking and suffering, in a very strange bit of political theater) over the Iraq war... but I'm quite sure that WaPo gets it right in this analysis of the recent National Intelligence Assessment which indicates that Al Qaeda appears stronger than at any point since 9-11 to tell us that this is the case precisely because we invaded Iraq and bungled efforts at dealing with Qaeda directly, allowing its leadership to regroup and form a new safe-haven in a new failed state (North and South Waziristan in the Pakistani "tribal areas" near the Afghan border).
Well, well. Didn't John Kerry say this sort of thing, for which our media proudly savaged him? Oh right... we want steady resolve, even when it is wrong and stupid, than a waffler. That's right!
Well, it turns out that stupid policy actually leads to bad results... like a rejuvenated al Qaeda, whose strongest affiliate, the very-loosely aligned (and so-called) "al Qaeda in Iraq" didn't even exist before we invaded in 2003, because Saddam would never have stood for such a group, and was capable of crushing it (something we seem... not to be.)
And on the theme of counter-productive policies in the "war on terror", recent interviewee Mike Otterman sends us this from Vanity Fair documenting just how flimsy a basis this nation had to lower itself to the realm of our most reviled enemies by engaging in brutal torture (which is and always will be counterproductive to getting useful information). As I wrote to Mike, it seems the article has identified America's own Dr. Mengeles (Drs. James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen) who, as noted, aren't even medical doctors.
This truly is the land of opportunity.
Care of Julia, we get this Nebraska version of The Handmaid's Tale not from some fictional world, but from the United States, circa 2007 (the same year when a Supreme Court justice finds the need to tell you little ladies that because you might regret some of your decisions, we won't let you make them).
Anyway, submitted for your approval (or disapproval) is a case of a 24-year old woman contending she met a man at a party, and seemed to lose consciousness only to find herself waking up, apparently having had sex that she clearly doesn't remember consenting to, i.e. she was a victim of "date rape" or certainly some other kind of rape.
Rather than use common methods of swaying a jury to find for acquittal-- such as permitting extensive attacks on the victim's credibility by bringing in evidence of her loose morals and so forth-- this judge decided that many words around this issue were too inflammatory.
That they made the defendant sound guilty, and that they implied a crime...."Rape" is a legal conclusion- he thought. We cannot call it rape until a jury says it's rape. (Hear that women? You can't know something is rape until there's a vote. I suppose being there doesn't grant you any special insight.) So he banned some words. Nobody in his courtroom may use these words, when it comes to this trial:
No one can say that the hospital did a "Rape Kit" and they can't say that at the hospital she was treated by the "Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner." In fact, inside the courtroom no one can even say that the defendant is charged with 1st Degree Sexual Assault.
So what, if anything, was allowed?
Ms. Bowen is allowed to say that she and the defendant had "sex" or "intercourse", which she complains (and very rightly so) implies the exact opposite to a jury, that the acts were consensual and non-traumatic.
Got all that? Not from some disturbing past... but from a future dystopian Orwellian future called "America, 2007". Congratulations, guys: you need never take "No" for an answer, ever again, sayeth Judge Jeffre Cheuvront, at least. (Those not in his judicial catchment area in Nebraska may still want to think about this...)
The punch-line is that, for the second time (the first after a jury could not agree on a verdict last year), Judge Cheuvront has declared a mistrial. Justice delayed indefinitely is justice in Nebraska, it seems.
Anyway, let me quote my own knee-jerk reaction, sent to Julia by my earlier e-mail:
Obviously, when you're making the world safe for unlimited patriarchal authority, you do have to enforce a few rules every now and again. I mean, it's kind of like what Justice Kennedy said recently: the little ladies will just come to regret certain choices, so I'm going to do them a favor and make those choices for them. Also, I really do get the feeling that Nebraska is much closer to having its finger on the pulse of America than we are in our little European island fiefdom. That we keep electing Neanderthals (and metally challenged Neanderthals at that) keeps coming as a great shock to us; but if we were more familiar with Middle America and the Deep South, we might be more... understanding... of this phenomenon.
But everything is thematic: this is the war on reason and knowledge just going to an Alice in Wonderland level in a courtroom,as opposed to a legislature, a jail or a battlefield. Here, the vic just drew the wrong judge: there are an infinite number of more subtle ways that the judge could guarantee an acquittal, all without drawing the ire or even the attention of feminist bloggers or anyone else...indeed, there is an argument that political pressures just shouldn't have a place in the courtroom-- even with a wackadoo judge, because it serves to undermine judicial impartiality. The problem here is that this psychopath (the judge that is) doesn't even want the victim... er, the defendant that is... to even FEEL BAD while the charade plays on around him. For THAT bit of nonsense, the fellow (the judge that is) should be removed from the bench. We have no room in our hearts for incompetent hacks who insist on outcomes that the system can't deliver.
Also, a friend of mine ... points out, accurately, that the Duke rape prosecutor case is a classic example OF GOOD OLD PATRIARCHY IN ACTION. Why? The perceived vics were privileged WHITE BOYS... when is the last time a prosecutor was even CRITICIZED, let alone disciplined, fired AND DISBARRED for bringing a mistaken prosecution against A BLACK MAN?
Did I say all that out loud? Or, as that popular genius from Tennessee might say... "Indeed".
Not much to say about the emergence of a new al-Qaeda video, featuring apparently spliced in old clips of OBL himself for about a minute.
Coming as it does on the heels of a new American Intelligence Estimate to the effect that al-Qaeda is stronger than it has been at any time since September 11th, and the Administration's sudden determination to call "our enemy" in Iraq not "insurgents" or even "terrorists"... but all al Qaeda all the time... and of course Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's "hunch" that something bad was in the offing (replacing, I suppose, a chartreuse alert to the same effect)... I guess it's time to just plain old ask... WTF?
With 556 days to go in this Administration, have these maniacs fiinally concluded that the only way out of their 28% approval ratings after the Scooter-pardon and the stonewalling of all legislation (and Congressional investigations into, well, everything)... and that Iraq thing... all seems to have impressed no one not in the Beltway Courtier ClassTM as anything other than, well, a widespread belief that we are now in the hands of the worst American Administration ever... but still... I mean, have we really reached the point, as Avedon and as Unqualified Offering suggest, where our so-called political leadership is giddily hoping for another terrorist strike against the United States?
I can draw no other conclusion. And amazingly, the only non-arch- conservatives and their apologists/cheerleaders (and right wing bloggers) who will likely rally 'round the vastly diminished and widely-believed-as-grossly-negligent-if-not-directly-culpable President, if, God forbid, such an event should befall us, would be none other than Democratic members of Congress, who, I remain convinced, behave as if they prefer being in the minority where they needn't be accountable for trying to pass anything.
Who knows? This could all just be summer trial-ballooning by Karl... or it could be something more sinister... or it could just be me swooning on a warm summer evening. Still... I wouldn't bet on the last one. Fear and misdirection have been the Bush Administration's stock in trade for nearly six years; they don't seem to be as effective as they once were. Let's hope that the Administration decides to try something crazy, like good governance, for a change. Maybe that "swooning" thing isn't such a bad bet, come to think of it...
The Grey Lady takes a break from its usual round of Imperial StenographyTM (or does it?) to give us this look back at a platform and memo sent by good old Karl Rove to a senior White House aide in 1973 (the aide was one Anne Armstrong, who, as set forth here in "Meet the cast of When Harry Met Birdshot", owned the ranch where Vice President Cheney shot Harry Whittington last year; Ms. Armstrong eventually went on to be U.S. Ambassador to Britain, and was considered as Ford's Vice-Presidential running mate)...
It's nothing Earth shattering-- just general broad-brush strategies from the then 22-year old Rove, including bottom-up and top-down strategies, showing films to college Republicans, and the like, and ultimately, the kind of thinking-- letting local operatives meet White House chieftains like Haldeman and Ehrlichman-- kind of like, oh, himself meeting with the likes of right wing bloggers these days to keep the message consistent-- that is hinted at. In short-- Rove is preaching discipline and organization-- a message taken to heart by current Republicans (albeit in the service of evil) and still by and large ignored by Dems, to this day.
Still... if there is a reason these days that the current White House playbook looks as if it comes from the darkest days of the Nixon Administration... perhaps (besides the presence of Cheney in both places)... there is less mere coincidence going on than we might have thought. Just saying.
Michael Otterman is a journalist and the author of "American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond", documenting the institutionalized use of torture by the United States intelligence services and military from World War II and the early Cold War through the extensive use of torture by the United States in the Global War on Terror. Mr. Otterman will be on a speaking tour of the United States in September and October, and regularly updates of his schedule and other information is available at his website, "American Torture". On July 11, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Otterman by e-mail exchange.
The Talking Dog: Where were you on 11 September 2001? To the extent that you can tell me, how significant do you believe that day has been toward getting the public to accept what amounts to seemingly greater
American use of and greater American openness with what Vice President
Cheney called "the dark side" and some of us here in the US (and most
of the rest of the world) views as torture and barbarity?
Michael Otterman: My 9/11 story ranks about 3 out of 10 for interesting. On 9/11 I was in my apartment in Allston, Massachusetts-- at the time I was a journalism student at Boston University. I was awoke that morning to the sounds of my roommate in the living room. He was shouting: "A second plane! A second plane hit the building!" I got out of bed and saw the countless replays of the second plane hitting the tower, then both collapses. F-16s soon began circling over Boston and shrieking over our house. "Dude", I remember my roommate saying, "everyone is gonna ask us where we were on this day for the rest of our lives". He was too right.
Of course, 9/11 did lay the groundwork for the unashamed, officially sanctioned American use of torture. Now, first off, I don't use the word "torture" lightly. The UN defines torture in the Convention Against Torture as the intentional infliction of severe pain or
suffering, whether physical or mental. Acts like waterboarding are indeed torture. That's not just my opinion, but it's been the official US government opinion for decades. The act was considered a war crime during the post WWII Tokyo Trials. One Japanese general was sentenced to 15 years for authorizing it. Marines caught waterboarding in Vietnam were kicked out of the Army. This torture—like sensory deprivation, forced standing, hypothermia, sleep deprivation—were all labeled during the Cold War as tortures by US agencies studying Soviet use of these methods. The State Department, still to this day, calls these acts in its yearly Country Reports on Human Rights by their right name: torture.
That said, before 9/11 tortures were used by the US at home and abroad—but it was always behind closed doors. They were taught to CIA and special forces as "what the enemy does" and though condoned, the formal approval was never written down. 9/11 brought the American use of torture out of the shadows. On September 17, Bush authorized the CIA to kill, capture, or detain anyone they deemed to be al Qaeda. The Geneva Conventions were then nullified (to void the War Crimes Act), then official approvals for tortures like waterboarding were granted
to the CIA by the Department of Justice. CIA interrogators were trained by SERE staff in use of these methods. Torture—as it always does—then spread. By late 2002, the same tortures approved for the CIA for use in black sites were then granted by Rumsfeld for use in GTMO. SERE trainers were sent to Cuba in late 2002 to train interrogators there. The techniques quickly jumped to Afghanistan, then Iraq.
From the beginning, phrases like "new war" and "new paradigm" have been used to justify these authorizations. Cheney's comments to Tim Russert days after 9/11 that the US was now to "work the dark side" weren't simply rhetoric. The Bush administration made a conscious decision to fight dirty— to fight inhumanity with inhumanity. The approval was sought, and granted, at the highest levels in the context of the post 9/11 GWOT.
The Talking Dog: Your book identifies you as a New York City resident, though I now find you in Australia, where your book and your work appears to have achieved greater public notice. Why do you think that the subject of your book- American torture- resonates so much more with the
Australian public than the American public, and why (or am I wrong on that)? Can you comment on the America's media coverage of torture-related issues?
Michael Otterman: You're quite right, the Australian media and public have taken to my work to a greater degree than in the US. On one level, it's simply a numbers game. I believe I am the only "American torture expert" (funny title, for sure) out here in Australia at the moment. When news breaks
on the issue, lately I've been the media's go-to guy.
That aside, I do believe that Australians are seemingly more interested and aware about the topic than the US public. This comes down to one main reason, well, a person actually: David Hicks.
David Hicks is an Australian that trained with al Qaeda prior to 9/11 who was sold to American forces by the Northern Alliance in late 2001. He wasn't picked up in the battlefield or anything, he was arrested by the Northern Alliance at a taxi stand while trying to flee Afghanistan. He—along with another Australian named Mamdou Habib, like all other GTMO detainees—were held without charge in Cuba beginning in 2002. While it took some time to build momentum, by late 2004 various "Free David Hicks" movements began to spring up. (Habib was released without charge in early 2005). By mid 2005, Hicks had become front-page, lead story, op-ed material day after day. Rallies were held, often led by his father Terry Hicks, around Australian cities to bring awareness to David's situation. Hick's military lawyer, Major Michael Mori, also became a public figure here, appearing on talk shows and the radio to describe the injustice of the military tribunals that his client would eventually face. By early 2007, the movement to "Free Hicks" had grown to a fevered pitch. The issue grew political, as Australian Prime Minister John Howard—who supported Guantanamo, the tribunals, and Hicks detention there— was lambasted by opponents for not caring about the rights of an Australian citizen. To quell the controversy, in March 2007 Howard met privately with Dick Cheney in Sydney to sort out a solution. Behind the backs of Colonel Moe Davis—the chief military prosecutor in the Hicks' GMTO tribunal— a deal was arranged: Hicks would be sent home to Adelaide if he plead guilty to "material support for terrorism". Hicks signed his name to that charge and was returned to Australia in May to serve a 9-month sentence here. He is to be released on Dec 31, 2007.
The David Hicks saga raised enormous awareness of Guantanamo, plus
related issues like US use of torture, here in Australia to levels that do not exist in the US. That said, Australians by-and-large are familiar with the injustice that is Guantanamo Bay.
The Talking Dog: Can you comment on the recently disclosed to the public revelations that, in direct contravention of international (and
American) law, so-called "SERE" techniques from the military have been
"reverse engineered" on prisoners of the American military at Guantanamo, Afghanistan and elsewhere?
Michael Otterman: SERE, or Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, is key to the American use of torture today. The aim of SERE, a military program started soon after the Korean War, is to prepare US soldiers for the torture they may face if captured by an enemy that does not abide by
the Geneva Conventions. Given the USSR and Communist China were our
main Cold War enemies at the time, Soviet and Chinese tortures like sensory deprivation, forced standing, waterboarding, and hypothermia were adopted into the program. Again, the idea was that soldiers would be better prepared to resist such tortures if they were first exposed to them in controlled settings.
After "the gloves came off" post 9/11, the CIA, then US military, turned to SERE for expertise on torture. In late May 2007, the Pentagon declassified an Inspector General report titled: Review of DoD-Related Investigations of Detainee Abuse. This report reveals that SERE psychologists and trainers worked with military interrogators in the US, at Guantanamo, and even Iraq to train them to use Soviet tortures. The irony, of course, is that SERE was created to prepare soldiers to deal with an enemy that didn't abide by Geneva. It was the
US now that was violating Geneva, and using the very techniques of our Cold War enemies in the GWOT.
The Talking Dog: Your book performs the critically important service of documenting American forays into torture from the post-World War II
days of Project Paper Clip on into the CIA drug testing of "MKUltra" where the American government incorporated among other things Nazi-era torture-chamber-acquired data and technology, through torture training programs used in Latin American dictatorships by the CIA against "communists" and "insurgents", up to the so-called Global War on Terror. As far as you can tell, the practice of slavery in the United States until 1865 notwithstanding-- do you believe that torture had a significant place in American policy prior to World War II, or was that when it got going? Is there a reason for that? Loaded and
leading question-- but do you believe that the response to "keeping up with the Communists" (i.e.the seemingly amazing confessions obtained by the Soviets and their allies) of trying to out-Soviet them (in some sense) ultimately proved counter-productive?
Michael Otterman: Of course US use of torture is not simply a Cold War, or GWOT phenomenon. Slavery, as an official state-sponsored institution, was intrinsically linked to torture. The same applies to the genocide of Native Americans. America's war in the Philippines in the early 20th century was marked by systematic torture as well. My book picks up the story beginning in 1945— this is when the US began to spend hundreds of millions of dollars studying, refining, then teaching torture. Before this time, torture was used, but it took the notion of "keeping up with the Communists" as you say, to really bring it into official US research institutions, official CIA interrogation manuals, and into Latin American military advisory programs.
Was US Cold War adoption of torture counter-productive? Yes— torture is always counterproductive. At its face, torture does not elicit accurate information. Non-violent methods of interrogation that aim to build trust by offering incentives— methods favored by the FBI for example— have been proven to yield more accurate and reliable information. The problem is that under torture, people will make up anything to stop the sensation of pain, and say things they believe their interrogator wants to hear— not necessarily the truth. Look, a torture victim my spurt out a grain of truth in between shrieks, but
this intel is tainted by the way it was obtained. The wider effects out way any hypothetical gains. Torture puts US soldiers at greater risk of torture if captured, it undercuts our country's founding, oft-touted principles, and alienates our current and potential allies. Torture degrades America as a nation by blurring the line between our enemies and ourselves. The stated aim of the GWOT is to spread democracy throughout the world. I can't think of anything less democratic than torture.
The Talking Dog: Let me ask you if you find it somewhat encouraging in some sense that at least until September 11th the American government felt the need for extraordinary secrecy about its use of torture... that somehow, only the CIA and top secret intelligence agencies rather than
the military itself could engage in it prior to 9-11... perhaps to paraphrase I.F. Stone, "All governments torture"... but it was understood that the American people would (at least until 9-11 and "24", I suppose) be outraged. Or is it simply that the government would prefer it remained secret and simply the extent of it has grown so widely it can't keep it secret? Do you have a comment on that?
Michael Otterman: Is it encouraging that official authorization for torture and tight secrecy only occurred after 9/11? Not really, torture should never have been condoned in the first place— neither before 9/11 nor after.
I should note that while Cheney hinted about going "to the dark side" and the CIA's Cofer Black said after 9/11 "the gloves come off"— I don't think anyone in the Bush Administration wanted what is now known about American use of torture post 9/11 to leak out. I don't think the authors of the torture memos— namely Addington, Bybee, Gonzales—ever thought they'd be featured in a book called American Torture, or in countless other books and articles, not to mention pending War Crimes suits in Europe for their role in authorizing tortures like waterboarding or hypothermia, or redefining torture in such a way that it only included acts causing pain equivalent to "death" or "organ failure". From 2001-2003, the US torture policies were drafted in secret, but it took outrage surrounding the Abu Ghraib photos for much of this torture literature to leak.
The Talking Dog: What do you believe were the most significant American legal changes (either since WWII, or ever) that have helped to expedite the use of state-sponsored torture... and please tell me where in the
spectrum you'd put the 2006 Military Commissions Act? Are there other nations that legally condone torture (I understand at least Israel for a time had a legal regimen, though it has since been outlawed by its Supreme Court... or am I right on that)?
Michael Otterman: To my knowledge, torture is not explicitly legalized in any country. Most commonly— such as in the US-- it is banned in such a way to allow methods that fall outside its definition to prosper.
The official, though covert, legalization of torture occurred relatively recently in US history: starting in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Legalization was attained by narrowly defining torture in the law to exclude acts that fell outside the confines of the new definition. When the US was to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, the Department of Justice modified the straightforward
definition of torture from the treaty. For an act of torture to indeed be torture, they opined, it must be specifically intended to cause severe harm. Thus, if an interrogator's specific intent is to get information, not cause severe harm, the act arguably is not torture. The DOJ also added a caveat to mental torture. For an act to classify as mental torture in the US it must cause "prolonged mental harm". Thus, any act that arguably caused temporary mental harm wasn't torture either. Thus acts like sensory deprivation can fall outside the definition of torture in the US. These skewed definitions of torture were adopted into the US understanding of the Convention Against Torture and into domestic statutes on torture like the Federal Torture Statute (§ 2340). Today, US law banning torture is incredibly weak and full of holes.
The Military Commission Act destroyed the only law that broadly banned
the use of torture by US nationals: The War Crimes Act. The War Crimes
Act originally banned Americans from violating the Geneva Conventions,
in particular from committing "grave breaches" and violating Common Article Three (prohibiting torture and humiliating and degrading treatment). It was due to the strength of the War Crimes Act that the US nullified support for the Geneva Conventions in late 2001. Alberto Gonzales and David Addington opined that if the Geneva Conventions didn't apply towards the Taliban or al Qaeda, neither would the War Crimes Act. Things changed in 2006 when the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan decision that America must abide by Common Article Three of Geneva. After this important ruling, the Washington Post reported CIA officers began buying legal insurance in case they were sued for violating the WCA. As a remedy, the Bush Administration crafted the
Military Commissions Act. The MCA (in addition to stripping habeas
from unlawful enemy combatants) gutted the language of the War Crimes
Act. First, it said only the president can decide what is and what is not a "grave breach" of Geneva. Secondly, the MCA removed the strong language of the WCA banning "humiliating and degrading treatment" and replaced it with legalese including the insidious "specific intent" clause. I point out in American Torture that the modified War Crimes Act now arguably protects—not bans— tortures like waterboarding, sensory deprivation, and hypothermia.
The Talking Dog: Throughout the history of American involvement with torture, there seems to be a heavy connection to the American upper classes and especially to the Ivy League (especially Yale University, from Wild Bill Donovan through John Yoo and the Bushes and Dick Cheney). I'm also reminded of accounts I've read of corporal punishment received by George W. Bush himself during his upper class schooling, and of
course, that corporal punishment was an integral part of English upper class boarding schools where future colonial rulers and taskmasters were first taught the ways of the world... This leads me to a number of questions (and stop me if I'm drifting into "crazy talk"). First, I firmly believe that the United States's most sinister forays into torture were dominated by our Upper Classes, including in the present, as the Upper Classes are the most disconnected and insensitive group we have (and possibly the most racist... see Bush, Barbara)... George
W. Bush and Dick Cheney represent an almost perfect storm for this...
Secondly, when the Rush Limbaughs of the world blithely dismiss Abu Ghraib abuses as "no worse than fraternity pranks"-- there is something to that, insofar as the very inhumanness of the whole thing is actually learned, and indeed, this brutal hazing is a form of upper class training... Do these observations have any factual support?
Michael Otterman: Yes and no. I wouldn't peg the desensitizing nature of hazing only to upper classes though. Hazing also goes on in public high schools across the US everyday— or at least at the start of most Varsity
football, lacrosse, basketball seasons. In 2003, I did a series of articles for the weekly Merrick Herald newspaper about a hazing scandal that occurred on Long Island. The victims and perpetrators were just kids from lower-middle income families. I think the hazing was a product of television violence emulation, teenage angst, and the normal human propensity for violence that is unleashed in "atrocity-producing situations". In this case, it was a poorly supervised football training camp where the kids essentially had free reign to do what they liked to each other with little oversight.
Further, look at the people who carried out the Abu Ghraib tortures. While there is clear evidence the attacks were directed by leadership like General Miller and by Military Intelligence, the MPs who carried them out were just normal folks from lower class and middle-class backgrounds with normal jobs back in the states. I believe—informed by Milgram and Zimbardo— all humans have a latent potential for doing evil regardless of their socio-economic background.
The Talking Dog: Can you comment on the troubling recent comment attributed to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia concerning his apparent belief that the actions of fictional character Jack Bauer of "24" justify the legal condoning of torture?
Michael Otterman: Scalia's comments are symptomatic of the larger background forces misinforming the torture debate right now. Scalia is basing his views on a popular ratings-driven television show— not reality. In all my
years of research for American Torture, I haven't come across one example of a true "ticking time bomb" case: where a bomb is planted in a busy downtown area, the person who set it is captured, the authorities know they have the right person, the authorities know that the suspect knows where the bomb is, the suspect refuses to talk and is tortured, then the tortured suspect truthfully reveals the vital information. This is a fanciful and highly dramatic scenario that
makes for good television, but it simply doesn't occur like this in real life.
The Talking Dog: In a number of my prior interviews (Steven Miles, Trevor Paglen, and Stephen Grey, for example) it was noted that torture effects far more than just the victiml it also effects those engaged in it and
those who obsere, and the entire society involved (and not for the better). Can you comment on that?
Michael Otterman: Very true. It is a misconception that torture leaves only one victim. The actual torturers often suffer crippling psychological
complications— namely depression, nightmares and suicidal tendencies—
after their "work" is finished. Further, the fact that torture is condoned by the Bush administration and even by society at large (some polls show up to 60% of Americans believe torture is justified) degrades us all as a nation. I strongly believe that in the case of national security, the ends do not justify the means. Good ends are corrupted by bad means.
The Talking Dog: Your book begins- and ends- with a discussion of Australian national Mamdouh Habib and the abuses and undeniable tortures he suffered both directly at American hands in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and
Afghanistan and at American direction or connivance in Egypt. Can you briefly tell me your impressions of Mr. Habib? Can you briefly tell me your impressions of others you have interviewed who have themselves been subject to similar torture?
Michael Otterman: Though he is Australian, when Mamdou Habib was arrested in Pakistan in October 2001 he was turned over to the CIA, rendered to Egypt for six months of brutal torture, then given back to the US and shipped to GTMO for stints of psychological torture, namely extreme sensory deprivation. He was released back to Australia in early 2005 after the
Washington Post ran a front-page story describing his rendition and torture.
Mamdou, as I describe in the book, is truly a "broken man". He suffers many of the common psychological after-effects of torture: panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorders, and nervous ticks. He also suffers from an array of physical ailments— some which he was too embarrassed to share with me.
Meeting with Habib really humanized the entire American Torture project for me. He was the first victim of American torture I sat down with. Before I met him, I was researching the topic of torture as a somewhat removed journalist, tracking facts, causes and effects. My first meeting with Habib—where he described in detail the various tortures employed upon him in Egypt, Bagram, Kandahar, and GTMO—was a truly shattering experience for me. I was filled with array of emotions: namely sadness, remorse, and embarrassment— the United States was solely responsible for his treatment. Mamdou made the book
more of a personal project— after meeting him I aimed to give voice to people like Habib, and countless other victims.
I've since met other torture victims, most recently Moazzam Begg, but it was my time with Habib that affected me the most.
The Talking Dog: The Bush Administration has gone to great pains to assert that what you and I and the rest of the planet considers torture isn't torture at all, but merely "abuse" or "enhanced interrogation techniques" or some other euphemism. Can you comment on how this linguistic parsing has effected the legalities of torture, and how it has effected popular belief (both internal and external to the United States) as to whether the American government and military engage in torture?
Michael Otterman: The corruption of the word "torture", plus its replacement with euphemisms like "enhanced techniques", does subvert rational debate on the issue. The Wall Street Journal, to take one example from the book, once described Soviet use of hypothermia, forced standing and sleep
deprivation as "psychological torture". Today these methods, according
to WSJ editors, are neither "torture" nor even "abuse". They are merely enhanced methods that "make life uncomfortable". Or take for instance the recent Republican debates. Mitt Romney, after pledging to "double Guantanamo" said: "enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used". Euphemisms like "enhanced interrogation"—which incidentally was a Nazi term for torture coined in 1937— allow politicians to peddle and gain support for pro-torture agendas under an aura of humane restraint. The fact is, enhanced interrogation and torture are simply one and the same.
The Talking Dog: Where do you see the "end-game" or "exit strategy" for the United States' current open embrace of torture (by whatever name we call it)? Do you see saner heads and the ruule of law asserting
itself... or do you see something rotten in the American national soul setting in even deeper and acceptance of torture in our "clash of civilizations" (or GWOT) going on for generations? What do you see as necessary for the most expeditious way out of this and back to American embrace of civilized norms? Can you comment on the Republican presidential candidates at recent debates competing as to who could be the nastiest, most brutal treater of detainees?
Michael Otterman: The future of American torture— namely approval of "enhanced interrogation"/torture, Guantanamo, black sites, CIA rendition—
depends largely on who becomes our next president. If someone like Mitt Romney, or Rudy Giuliani, or Tom Tancredo become President, American torture will continue unchecked. I know this because this is indeed what the candidates themselves have already said. See the May
2007 South Carolina debate transcript— it's quite explicit. Meanwhile
there are candidates firmly against state-sanctioned torture, namely John McCain, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. I do believe that if any of these candidates were elected, they'd shut down secret prisons, close GTMO, and institute tribunals that would pass muster of world opinion.
Torture, as it has throughout human history, will always exist in the shadows and behind closed doors. What I'm concerned with is legalized torture authorized at the highest levels of US government. That is what we have today, but my hope is that a new administration will change this self-defeating policy.
The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else my readers and the public needs to know about these subjects?
Michael Otterman: I think that pretty much covers it, though if your readers have any questions they should feel free to email me at americantorture [at] gmail [dot] com.
The Talking Dog: On behalf of all my readers, I thank Mr. Otterman for that thorough and informative interview, and encourage interested readers to take a look at both the American Torture web-site and the book.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, and with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo related issues to be of interest.
WaPo treats us to this story on the alamring (to some... i.e., those not brain-dead) trend to "outsource" key intelligence functions to "green-badges", i.e. private contractors, rather than "blue-badges", i.e., official governmental employees.
This is the essence of privatization, boys and girls. The premise sold to the rubes is that the private sector is cheaper, more efficient and accountable than the bloated, non-responsive government. Of course, in the areas where the two have competed head to head, such as in education, we found this to be nonsense... the disastrous "Edison project" went nowhere, because it turns out, while the private sector can provide the same services... it cannot do so less expensively. Ditto health care, or, for example, even in that current glaring example, Iraq, where contractors are in play to a greater extent than ever before... just today, we learn that the Falljuah fiasco was probably the fault of the contractors. And I will say that, in my own career, which has included stints in both the public and private sectors, it is the private sector, with the easier to understand profit motive, that is far, far more dysfunctional than the public sector, which despite its murkier motives of "protecting the public fisc" and "doing the public good"... somehow gets on with it, with far less intra-office back-stabbing, infighting and personality clashes (not that these don't happen in both sectors).
But that's not really what matters. The out-sourcing of some functions-- such as language analysis, for example-- is not per se bad, because key skills within government may be lacking. But the ultimate motivation for doing these things is, of course, profit.
The problem is, both the "legitimate" profit, and the actual motivations for these programs (i.e. "the kickbacks") have sinister underbellies: the profits (and to some extent, the kickbacks) are recycled back either via K Street and the RNC (or more directly in paper bags or Swiss numbered bank accounts) to the politicians and party responsible for maintaining the unholy alliance-- something banned, of course, if government employees were performing the functions. Which means while our "blue badge" government employees have but one loyalty, to the nation and its security, the contractors have two-- to their employers, and to their employers' employers (and I do not mean "the United States of America").
For the participants, of course, this is a "win-win" situation. Of course, since those participants do not include the American people or our security... well, you get the picture.
After having done all it could to pour combustible fuel on the national bonfire and amplification to the pre-Iraq drumbeat for war... the Grey Lady insists that it now has religion, and hence, gives us this long jeremiad on why the United States should immediately get out of Iraq. Well well. The esteemed "news" institution that employed Saddam-WMD-confabulator Judith Miller and still employs court stenographer Michael Gordon, and who deliberately understated the extent of opposition to the Iraq War in order to hype that war with the twin goals of (1) getting a seat at the tough guys' table and, presumably, (2) increasing its own advertising revenues... now tells us that the war IT HELPED US GET INTO is too far gone... and... we should go home.
I've said before that just as irrationality (and irrationality among the informed/educated class who reads the Grey Lady) helped irrationally get us into Iraq in the first place, it now calls for an immediate withdrawal... again, all without a rational argument! Unbelievable, when you think about it. Just unbelievable.
First and foremost, we MUST stop permitting talk of the nonsense that Iraq is, was, or ever will be about "terrorism". Saddam more or less had terrorism in Iraq under control, albeit by sheer brutality. The joke is that Saddam hated al Qaeda and might have been more than willing to help us thwart OBL and the gang... because it served his own interests not to have Sunni extremists running around who might inflame his own population. And Saddam hated our current bete noire, Iran, and kept Iran largely checked in the region. The fact is, our own missteps have allowed al-Anbar province to become a proto-state for "Al Qaeda in Iraq", a more or less homegrown group with at best peripheral ties to OBL... our withdrawal will certainly not remove that group, nor will our staying necessarily remove it... If anything, our staying gives this particular group of terrorists a nice recruiting and rallying point. So, terrorism? No, no, no, no...
Look, folks: Junior wanted to call this "Operation Iraqi Liberation..." Karl, who, unlike Junior, could spell, insisted that even Americans could get something as unsubtle as calling this war about oil "O.I.L."... and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was born. But that's it: Iraq has the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world... and always will. The idea is that Saddam was a wild-card-- he might release that oil in an... uncontrolled way, with who knows what effect on Saudi (and Exxon Mobil) revenues. Hence, he had to be stopped... hanged by the Mahdi Army if necessary, damn the consequences.
Using the ideologically irrational (if not bat-shit insane) fears of neo-cons like Feith and Wolfowitz who sold themselves that Saddam was Hitler and meant to wipe out Israel (the same script now in play re: Iran) and the general irrational appeals to fear and jingoism (lessons of September 11th... the smoking gun had better not - 9-11-- be a mushroom cloud-- 9-11- 9-11) coupled with outright lies and Congressional laziness (or worse), as its cover, we got ourselves into Iraq in the first place with virtually no real national debate (lots of national shouting... but no grown-up debate)... and it looks like we may be having the "get-out" debate the same way.
Don't blame me: I came out against this war in August, 2002, when it became obvious to me that its purpose had nothing to do with Saddam WMDs-- we couldn't afford to have waited as long as August, 2002 if it really did. It's purpose (besides, you know, oil) was, in my view at the time, about winning the November 2002 mid-terms... and it sure worked out for that... not to mention the 2004 general election.
So, once again, I will make it easy. The proposal the Grey Lady offers of getting American forces out of Iraq as fast as logistics allows will result in a probable doubling, and possibly tripling, of world oil prices... our troops are not merely stabilizing conditions in Iraq right now... they are saving us from $7/gallon gasoline. They are preventing Iraq's chaos from blowing over into Saudi, Iran and the Gulf States. Take the Middle Eastern oil-patch out of circulation... or even threaten that-- and you run the risk of devastating the world economy. Worse still, countries with more coal than oil (the USA, Australia... China...) will rush to do the expedient thing and exploit that coal, accelerating our already potentially devastating global warming troubles, not to mention ordinary pollution effects like acid rain and lung disease.
It's a fair point that the answer may be "no" of whether it still pays or makes sense for us to hemmorage money and our countrymen and women in the cause... whatever that cause is. Frankly, if it encourages us to conserve and build solar and wind generators as if we really needed them to win a war... then I would say "get out yesterday". But given the real likely effects of economic and geo-political disruption which, as usual, will probably let the Bush Cheney class profit anyway while causing still more suffering to everyone else... do we really want to do this?
The Grey Lady (and the rest of the commercial media) might at least have the decency to ask these actual relevant questions... Naturally, they don't. As with telling you the real story of what we are doing in the so-called Global War on Terror... it probably comes down to us-- the ultimate independent media... without any particular agenda, save hopefully reason and the truth... people with no ads to sell, no Beltway party invitations to compete for...
Well. We'd damned well better ask these questions ourselves. Again: we who knew enough not to go in IN THE FIRST PLACE are the ones who can best be trusted to talk about this now. Seriously. Which really does knock out the likes of the Grey Lady and its feckless (and gutless) editorial page. As bad as the United States staying in Iraq is, we must face up to the fact that leaving will cause a shit-storm. Are we prepared for it? Are you driving a Prius? Do you have your solar-collector and wind-generators up and running? Can you walk to work if it came to that? Can you grow your own food?
These are deadly serious questions-- that have to be asked before we can blithely just pick up and leave Iraq. Just as the benefits of a cost-free removal of Saddam were sold to us... we only see the "benefits" (or at least reduced cost in terms of American casualties-- we only care about American casualties)... without the cost of what will happen if we leave-- both to the Iraqi people (God help them) and the rest of the Middle East, not to mention geo-political and petro-political stability.
Will somebody please God-damned ask these questions... and do the cost-benefit analysis of leaving Iraq that was never undertaken before we got stuck there? Or are we no longer capable of objective thinking?
Such was at one time an advertising slogan for AT&T... it seems an encouragement from a party-line ruling in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (i.e. 2 Republican appointed judges outvoting 1 Democratic appointed judge) in the NSA warrantless eavesdropping case, reversing the Michigan District Court's ruling that the program violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). [In some sense, though I am not a plaintiff, perhaps I should take this personally, given who I have called from time to time to interview... but I digress...]
On grounds eerily similar to the bogus reason used by the Supreme Court to deny the courthouse door to Jose Padilla (to wit, the government wouldn't tell his lawyer where he was, so she brought a habeas corpus petition where she thought he was, and hence... "wrong venue"!), the 6th Circuit found that because the government wouldn't tell those eavesdropped upon that they were eavesdropped on for sure... well, they lacked standing to sue! Even though they might be subject to eavesdropping before or again, or even may have been actually spied on by the government... since the government won't tell them... the government wins!
Given that the Supreme Court felt it could overturn a century old antitrust precedent, campaign finance law nearly as old, and effectively eviscerate both Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education in only Sam Alito's first full term on the Court... is it any wonder that the lower federal courts believe that it is open season on the Constitution? Because that's what it is...
Executive overreach is the law of the land. If you don't want the government eavesdropping on your communications... try telepathy... or whispering...
A cautionary tale this 4th of July (the first time this holiday has come on a Wednesday (IIRC) since I began blogging a week after 9-11... or perhaps not). We bring you this WaPo essay by historian John Fabian Witt (a prof at the alma mater I share with Senator and future President Barack Obama)... also available by clicking on the picture of the American flag, as seen by most of the rest of the world these days. The subject of the essay concerns the rule of law as applicable to war, the spearhead of our President's agenda to rule us as our master, rather than we as his (as envisioned by our Constitution... and by the whole "public servant" concept), and as you know, our lack of adherence to key components of the laws of war has become one of the raisons d'etre of this blog.
While the Republicans appear to have mau-maued their best candidate, and have left their field headlined with New York's former mayor and clown-act, a former senator best known for being a fictional law and order district attorney (while in real life he decries actual law and order when imposed on Republicans)... and Mitt Romney, it would seem that the Democrats are poised to take back the White House in a mere 566 days, with even our worst candidate (yes, Hillary, I do mean you) infinitely more palatable than the likely Republican.
The question is, can we make it that far, given that that period of time is over 18 months, and the current President (and the Vice President to whom he has unnaturally deferred on almost everything) can continue to do untoward damage to the fabric of our nation (if not to civilization as a whole) in that length of time? Worse still... the branch of government the founders meant to be the premier branch-- the Congress-- continues to defer to the run-amok executive needlessly, lest the majority party be called bad names.
The Tenth Amendment to our Constitution reserves unenumerated power to the States, and ultimately to the People. Baby, that's where this all may be going. Thankfully, at the moment our two premier states, California and New York, are governed by superstars Arnold Schwarzennegger and Eliot Spitzer... the states are taking the lead on matters like global warming and health care, and other things that the federal government of the super-rich and religious right are ignoring. Beyond that, boys and girls, it's going to come down to us.
At a time when our commercial media have pretty much emphasized the commercial part and have stopped practicing journalism as intended by our First Amendment, the internet (and blogs such as those on our sidebar... and occasionally this one) have thankfully stood up. But we're a long way from dominating much of anything, or capturing all that many hearts and minds. I've said many times I consider it ironic that I often read Pravda and the People's Daily because I trust them more than the New York Times (and certainly our broadcast media). At a time when information is ever more accessible thanks to the internet and other technology... the American people somehow seem ever more dense... perhaps stressed out from an economy and a culture that's eer harder and harder to maneuver in.
I don't know. At the moment, the image above is what we look like from abroad to a great many people. As to whether that sight becomes the commonplace vision of what we look like to ourselves here... it's up to us. It's been 231 years since some of our colonial forbears took some action... their first battle as the new United States of America would be fought around a month later on the fields of Brooklyn, just yards from where I type this now... We lost that battle, but miraculously won the eventual war, and created the greatest human experiment ever. And yet, it can all be flushed down the toilet quickly-- as the last five years have shown us.
Will we stand up and do our Founding Fathers proud, and prove to the world for all time that our experiment is not short-lived... that we are not just another country that can succumb to jingoism and nationalism in the worst way... but that we are bigger than that? We stand for the rule of law, and principle? We have the power...
Our friend Lindsay Beyerstein just lost her father, Dr. Barry Beyerstein; her moving note on his passing is here. My heartfelt condolences go out to Lindsay and to her family on their loss.
Here is a post entitled "Al Gore and the Alpha Girls," from November 2002, one of the best blog posts you will ever read. Its author was Jim Capozzola of the Rittenhouse Review, who, I have had the privilege of meeting and corresponding with. I am sad to say that Jim passed away yesterday.
Dr. Beyerstein was 60. Jim was 45. Rest in peace, gentlemen. Rest in peace.
The other possible headline is "Bush to rule of law: drop dead." Either applies to the politically craven but desired by the Beltway Courtier class (and GOP-lock Fred Thompson)result... to wit, Bush commuted Scooter Libby's 30-month sentence to zero-- no time-- thereby undoing years of work by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and telling a jury and a federal judge (and indeed, a federal court of appeals) to go screw themselves.
Well, why not? Poppy Bush pardoned a number of players implicated in Iran-Contra. Ford pardoned Nixon. Clinton pardoned Mark Rich (who was then represented by none other than Scooter Libby). Bush commuted Scooter's sentence, obviously saving the full pardon for around 18 months from now, when he is safely on his way out the door.
The message should be lost on no one: like the French monarchy before that country's revolution, Bush believes "L'Etat C'est Moi". The nobility, whether in feudal France, or neo-feudal America, are simply exempt from the laws that apply to everyone else: loyal courtiers who lie to the FBI and obstruct justice and investigations to determine who may have burned a covert intelligence operative... may not be held to account... zay ar lo-yalle, ar zay not!
You have to admire the cojones of Bush (and clearly, those of the unquestionably-not-irrelevant Dick Cheney)... at the lowest approval rating of his term, he has no problem doing something that polls indicate most Americans strongly oppose... then again, we have that whole Iraq thing, don't we?
In some sense, while Reid and Pelosi can bitch about this all they want, it was their genius move before the mid-term Congressional elections to announce "impeachment is off the table", as if that helped them! Having taken the only thing the President fears will make him accountable "off the table"... is it any wonder the President behaves as if, well, "L'Etat C'est moi?" Elections-- and stupid campaign promises-- have consequences indeed. The President has now injected himself as a co-conspirator to the burning of a covert American agent that may well have resulted in the deaths of other operatives. And there will be no consequences for it. None.
This has been... "Bush to America: In your face!"