The question almost comes down to "why didn't Bush go ahead and accept Cheney's pleadings to deploy the military to make domestic arrests of the so-called "Lackawanna Six" terrorist suspects near Buffalo, NY in 2002? As usual, another crazy-ass idea was backed up with a memo written by the always obliging John Yoo (man, he must type like 3,000 words a minute) and Robert Delahunty... but evidently, in this case, for some reason, "cooler heads" prevailed and convinced Dubya not to do it.
Thing is, of course, that this was ultimately a political decision that had nothing to do with "legality": our Holy and Sacred Homeland (TM) is either "the battlefield" or it isn't. If it's "the battlefield" for the purpose of detaining Jose Padilla and Saleh Al-Marri (or ultimately, you and me) as "enemy combatants" outside of the legal system, then it's "the battlefield" for purposes of deploying the 82nd Airborne to swoop in and scoop up half a dozen Yemeni immigrants "who might be planning bad things." Warrants? Probable cause? THIS IS WAR!
Given how jiggy the public was with the whole "War President (TM)" thing, one frankly wonders if the use of the military in some down-on-its-luck industrial backwater near the Canadian border would even have been noticed... it's not like the Marines kicking in some gated community in the suburbs, now, is it?
While one is drawn to note the typically clinical tone of theTimes piece, the fact is, the real "leap" was in the ability to declare people, including lawful residents and citizens "beyond law." The circumstances of just how they're first picked up is neither here nor there. The FBI is just as capable of heavy-handed jack-booted thuggery as the military... although, obviously, for Dick Cheney, it would be more like the difference between the joy he got from stealing a child's lolly-pop vs. the joy he got from kicking a puppy...which is why he favored the latter.
The ultimate idea, and we've pretty much let it happen, is "the seamless national security state." Even now, the military, which has dramatically increased the use of civilian contractors in order to both evade accountability for their actions and politically stretch the ability to deploy our politically limited troop levels for everything from food service to VIP security service, in Afghanistan, the military is considering contracts for combat zone forward base security, as whatever "line" exists (which I suppose consists solely of wearing a uniform, carrying a rank, and not being paid very much)... continues to be eroded.
Symbols keep swallowing up reality; the reality is that we're far closer to a national security state/military dictatorship than we'd care to admit, the symbolism of domestic deployment notwithstanding. As usual, while I see public outcries over that "health care reform" we're not going to get and of course, over Gates-Gate... the fact that the Obama Administration is more embracing than dismantling its predecessor's dictatorial prerogatives... should be getting a wee bit more concern. Just saying.
It seems the Senate isn't having the President's arbitrary healthcare bill deadline of August 7th (Barack's birthday is August 4th, for those keeping track, whether in Hawaii or Kenya or Mars...)
Anyway... when your opening message is "We're going to reduce your coverage, increase your costs, and mess with something 85% of you have and are generally satisfied with... and still manage not to insure millions of people"... it comes as no surprise that when a majority of people favor single-payer health care ... and its not even part of the first offer... you'll end up with a wholly unsatisfactory program... a program the President has, probably foolhardily, made a signature piece of his program. (Then again, in the end, failing in health care reform didn't hurt Bill Clinton all that much...)
Hey, garbage in, garbage out, right? I mean, the miserable "public option," which might have been the result after hard bargaining with a tight majority is now thrown in as something to be readily sacrificed in negotiations at a time when the President's party has huge majorities in both houses of Congress, including 60 votes in the Senate.
Well, dream big, I guess. Like... some day, we might have a political establishment that cares about anything other than
taking bribes raising campaign cash from special pleaders like bloodsucking homocidal parasites the health insurance industry.
I've said it before: America, it seems the only thing we have to change is change itself... ladies and gentlemen, start... lowering your expectations.
Update: Might the democracy be striking back? It seems we have a hero in Rep. Henry Waxman, who is standing up to the
assholes Blue Dogs traitors and sell-outs in his own party, and threatening to by-pass his own committee to get a decent health care bill out of the House... the kind of cojones we've been sorely missing from Democrats for... well, as long as I can remember. Might the tide be turning? Not how you bet, of course... but we'll take what we can get.
This WaPo op ed by former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin observes that while we went to the moon 40 years ago (today), we couldn't do it again... largely, because we dismantled the implements of the lunar landing program. Griffin suggests its because of the loss of "the vision thing."
I think it's much more serious than that. I think we're now largely a nation of actual-underachieving-children, maniacally good at little else besides playing with our asininely complex toys and padding our resumes (17-year olds now generally must have published novels, perfect SATs and grade point averages, multiple varsity letters and peer reviewed scientific journal articles to be even considered for admission to the nation's premier universities... and yet, when they graduate, are no more- and perhaps quite less-- impressive in accomplishing anything-- other than self-promotion of course-- than their predecessors).
It explains why this "quite-less-than-the-greatest-generation" in everything except consumption and self-aggrandizement can't rebuild New Orleans or a 13 acre hole in downtown Manhattan or rout a few irregulars who caused us trouble or even acknowledge the existence of (let alone solve) climate change, or problems (domestic and worldwide) in distribution of health care... and food.
Sorry, but am I saying that the generation of Armstrong, Aldrin, et al., and the men and women who put them on the moon are better than us? Yes, that's what I'm saying. Not because of anything intrinsic in the (overwhelmingly Bush-Cheney supporting) members of the generation, but because things weren't so freaking EASY for them as they are for us.
Yes, the toxic sense of entitlement was there, which has, with lethal consequences, been passed down to us, which, alas, let us believe that not only had a life of rampant, pointless consumption become possible, it was a moral imperative (leading to George Dubya Bush asking the nation to go shopping at a moment when genuine national sacrifice was called for).
And so, while we now have more computing power in our I-phones and Mac-books than the entire planet had in 1969 when it was putting men on the moon (largely using slide-rules, pencil-and-paper-calculations and sheer guts)... hold on a minute, someone is texting me!
So let me say again: our cool toys aren't making us any better, or making this a better world. Maybe they make our lives "easier," but they do so at the cost of our humanity, which, quite frankly, requires stress and pressure (not to mention some goal to strive for, even if merely survival) just to go on. And so, as we ponder why a far less technically sophisticated nation could land men on the moon forty years ago but no longer can, we might... hold it, there's an instant message there... we might wonder just what we have lost.
Longtime CBS news anchor, "most trusted man in America" and former TD East 50's neighbor Walter Cronkite passed away at 92. Cronkite himself was unabashedly liberal, but as a newscaster (and news selector), his concern wasn't about "objectivity" (though his was rarely questioned... see above re "most trusted man in America"), so much as getting the story... and getting the story right.
I don't know what Cronkite actually thought of what passes for "journalism" these days, such as the talking-head partisan shouters, or the vapid babbling of conventional wisdom, or of course, the printing of "both sides" press releases to show "balance"... as if "balance" were somehow more important than "truth" and "accuracy"... but I'd like to think he was appalled by it.
Cronkite is a throwback to a different era of journalism: when the broadcast media had the same ethos as the hardboiled city desk editors and reporters in our rapidly disappearing newspaper industry... and again, it was about the story, and not simply getting invited to the best parties and "access"...
R.I.P. Mr. Cronkite.
Somehow I've gotten onto the mailing list of the American Bar Association... perhaps they've figured out that I have a license to
kill steal practice law, after all these years (22? 23? my freaking GOD!).
Anyway... the ABA Journal sends this little snippet from the most overrated corporate executive in the history of the world, former GE CEO Jack Welch, who tells us... wait for it... chicks who take time off for their kids (I suppose this would include giving birth to them) put their careers in grave peril, by not bein' around ALL THE TIME to do the boss-man's biddin'. BTW... notice we're not hearing anything about a "living freaking WAGE" so that, maybe, the other parent can stay home in an homage to Ozzie & Harriet's America... no, no, no: the children MUST. BE. SACRIFICED. FOR. THE. GOOD. OF. THE. COMPANY.
Jesus H. Freaking CHRIST. After how many millions of people have sacrificed their youths and their energy and quite probably sharing their children's childhoods to find the corporate-industrial jackboot come down and lay off their asses the second the economy soured a little amidst our great recession, and STILL the pampered INSANELY OVERPAID MOST OVERRATED EXECUTIVE IN HUMAN HISTORY has the balls to not only still speak in public, but to say "well girls... if you want to drop them little brats, I guess you can... but don't be surprised if you're passed over for that promotion [that you didn't deserve anyway.]"
Understand what Welch is not saying: he's NOT saying-- look, you're welcome to go on "the Mommy Track" until your kid[s] hit[s] pre-school, but don't expect full credit as if you were in the office for three or four years so things will take longer... What he IS saying is "listen, girls... if you're not lining up at the corporate trough EVERY MORNING to kiss my ass... well, little ladies... when the [White] man gets ahead and you don't, I guess you deserve it." For some reason, I'm reminded of the late political wizard (as in Grand Wizard) Jesse Helms.
Let me make it easy: you may as well go ahead and spend time with your kids, ladies (and guys too). Climbing the corporate ladder is over: it's all an illusion from here on in anyway. Mother f***ers like Welch have long since sucked any value at all from these enterprises both through their own not-so-good-management and from outright stealing it for themselves... so you may as well not "sacrifice" anything of REAL value (such as precious time with your own children) for the company or firm... the company is pretty much f***ed... and I actually don't care what company we're talking about... and quite frankly, by the time your children reach adulthood, even what you think of as piles of money won't be worth too much either... the two or three SUVs in the car-park won't be of much use what with the $14/gallon gasoline (if you can even find any, which you won't), and indeed, the car-park in the McMansion (whose mortgage you can no longer afford) is 30 miles or more from the City... too far for you to walk, and you don't know how to fix your bicycle, and even if you did, you might be picked off by roving gangs if you tried to get there anyway, and if you haven't long-since converted your manicured lawn to a vegetable garden, I doubt you'll have the energy to do it anyway...
Do you see what I'm saying? People like Jack Welch have done their share in destroying our children's future by wrecking the very planet they're going to have to live on as well as the economy they're going to depend on for their livings... and now, like Marc Dreier, stealing even after having been caught and placed in jail... the Jack Welches of the world are still trying to debase what's left of our souls.
Did I say all that out loud?
Our friend Rob Farley tells us in this in this Foreign Policy piece, "How I stopped worrying and learned to
love put up with Iran having the bomb." Rob's message: calm the f*** down. While Iran is led by people who say the darndest bat sh*t things (and who dress funny)... so was China in the late 50's, and indeed, China was, in many ways, far more worrisome than Iran... and yet... has been deterrable.
I have said similar things: Ahmadinedjad, though a crazy, Holocaust-denying firebrand a**hole... ain't running Iran. He is part of a front-operation for a group of clerics who really run Iran largely as their own cash register. The thing with kleptocracies masquerading as theocracies is that their leadership is... wait for it... rational, and as afraid of nuclear annihilation by missiles launched from Dimona as they are of allowing their people to elect a potential moderate at a time when the Great Satan (TM) is f***ing everything up by inviting Iranians to 4th of July barbecues.
The Taliban gaining control ofPakistan, and its nuclear arsenal, is enough to scare the pants off of anyone who wears pants... the Taliban, though brigands in their own right (and not to mention currently dependent on the drug trade) have this crazy-ass sense of "purity" that renders them... an unimaginable threat to the continued existence of humanity on this planet should they get their hands on nukes... Iran? Not so much.
Who knows? Given that Israel seems to be voting with its feet (I hear it sent a nuclear submarine through the Suez)... maybe Iran will get the message... and... calm the f*** down in its own right. Who knows? Maybe somehow the world will manage to survive yet another crazy regime whose leaders egregiously repress their own citizens... and dress funny...
No, I'm not talking about right-wing punditry, but in a long overdue visit to our friends at Pravda, this brief piece on last week's cyber-attacks on key governmental websites in South Korea and the United States [ attacks which seem to be ongoing... possibly attributable to forces in... North Korea... ]
While the Pravda discussion is a tad superficial (translation issues may be in play), the point is well-taken: we are in an era when it will get ever easier to impose potentially catastrophic damage on others remotely, without even having to get one's hands dirty with a "traditional" WMD... and we won't even talk about how easier and easier it is becoming to get one's hands on (such as, by manufacturing a designer bio- or chem-weapon) such "traditional" WMDs.
We have to wake up to the fact that there is a yin and yan to everything: while computerization of the world has been a marvel in a great many senses, it opens up a number of Pandora's boxes of potential horrors (remember how worried everyone was about "Y2K"?) I realize that was "so 1999"... but we were sure as hell worried... ever think about... this Simpsons episode?
Anyway, I guess we have to realize that just 40 years ago (when it was "so 1969") we landed a man on the moon mostly using slide-rules (and the entire world's computing power was probably less than you have in your I-phone right now)... I'm trying to say that by and large, these things are "non-essential"... much of the world doesn't even have electricity or indoor plumbing... life can go on anyway. And if some hacker puts us back to some "pre-industrial phase"... our lives really can go on... and at the rate we're going, we should really learn to live that way, just as a matter of sensible "planned redundancy". Keep some water around, learn to fix your bike, make sure that "kitchen garden" can grow some stuff you might actually want to eat, a sewing kit or two around the house might be good...
Just saying. This has been: "Hack-tacular."
To CNN's credit, after its early failures to adequately cover the fluid, massive protests in Iran following that nation's recent election in which controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad was reelected in an extremely controversial, widely believed to be rigged and illegitimate vote count, it seems to have gotten the message.
So, while it's unfortunate that the story is the Iranian government cracking down on a protest rally with its usual brutality on the tenth anniversary of a massive student protest ten years ago (back when Iran had its reformist President Khatami), I'm glad to see CNN covering it. One might think the air is out of the sails of the Iranian resistance movement... or perhaps, they are going underground and organizing for something in the future, and don't operate on Americans rather short attention span. Don't know... and if it were up to American media coverage, we never would... so it's nice to see something.
I realize it's nowhere near as important as Michael Jackson's pharmacist or Michele Obama's handbag, but at least I'm interested in it. What can I say?
Update: Amnesty International urges you to take action viz asking Iranian officials to protect dissident's rights. I made my voice be heard; I urge that you do the same.
David Loyn has been an award-winning foreign correspondent for 30 years for the BBC. He has reported from such places as Moscow, Kosovo, Delhi, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Kabul. His book Frontline: The True Story of the British Mavericks who Changed the Face of War Reporting was shortlisted for the 2006 Orwell Prize. He is currently the BBC's developing world correspondent. He lives in London. His recent book is called In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation. On July 5, 2009, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Loyn by e-mail exchange.
The Talking Dog: Where were you on 11 September 2001 and 7 July 2005?
David Loyn: On 9/11, it was said that I was the first reporter in the world to name Osama bin Laden as the most likely suspect. (It's a rather heady claim to make in a world of instant reactions, but it may be true). I happened to be close to the live TV news studio and was dragged onto set after the first plane hit, as the BBC took the pictures live. I named bin Laden as I knew him to be obsessed with the World Trade Center; he had tried to blow it up before. And then the second plane hit. It was early afternoon in London and I went from the studio to a TV edit suite for an extraordinary afternoon trying to piece together what was happening as events unfolded for the lead story for the main evening news - at 6'50" the longest opening item broadcast to date.
On 7/7 in London I had a far more domestic morning as I was taking my son for a piano test. As I arrived there was an odd report on the car radio of an electrical fault that appeared to have knocked out the whole of the London tube system. It soon became clear it was something far more serious as other parents arrived with news of casualties. One of those waiting for the piano teacher turned out to be the wife of a bus driver on the route where a bus had been hit and she was upset as the mobile phone system had crashed, overloaded with too many calls, and she could not make contact She panicked a little and had to be persuaded not to try to travel into the center of town, so I took her to her home instead, and on the way she did get through to find it was not his bus that had been hit.
The Talking Dog: The U.K. title of your book "In Afghanistan" appears to be "Butcher and Bolt," I suppose a reference to the evident strategy of the British Empire for dealing with much of Afghanistan (if not other places troublesome to it) throughout much of the 19th Century (not to mention a description of guerrilla hit and run tactics). Certainly, you noted a number of incidences of extraordinary brutality in Afghanistan by foreigner and local alike, with currently active warlords such as G. Hekmatyar (now aligned with Al Qaeda) and A.R. Dostam (now on "our side") for example, being peculiarly cruel and nasty, though by no means alone in that. I have a "chicken vs. egg" type question: can you draw any conclusions from your reading of the history and your knowledge of the region as to what degree the singular brutality that has been engulfing Afghanistan has been "finely honed" as a result of the foreign interventions-- starting with British, Russian, Arab and American, or others, if you like... in other words, is there a peculiar barbarity that just exists from the make-up of the people, terrain, living conditions, et al., or has this barbarity been enhanced by specifically Western interventions?
David Loyn: George Forster, in 1783 the first British traveler to leave an account of a journey into Afghanistan, was robbed as he went through the Khyber Pass as countless others were after him. He concluded that Afghans were a 'rude race of men', with a 'fixed contempt for the occupations of civil life.' The first official British envoy, Mountstuart Elphinstone, who led an expedition to Afghanistan in 1809, exactly 200 years ago, found a country in a rather similar condition to today, racked by civil war, with bad roads and people mistrustful of outsiders. He wrote, 'To sum up the character of the Afghans in a few words; their vices are revenge, envy, avarice, rapacity, and obstinacy; on the other hand, they are fond of liberty, faithful to their friends, kind to their dependants, hospitable, brave, hardy, frugal, laborious and prudent.' So it's hard to blame the west for the diamond hardness and ruthlessness of the Afghan character. But it certainly makes them a tough and resolute enemy when united against a foreign invader. And since the Russian invasion of 1979 the country has been comprehensively brutalised by war, first by Russia and then by the response of the US, UK and other western countries in backing a violent Islamic insurrection against the invasion. This stripping down of civilised values left an open door to those, like Saudi Arabia, who wanted to encourage the virulent and singular strain of Islamic belief that is causing such problems today.
Afghans have an ability to endure pain and hardship that seems to go beyond sanity. During the war against the Russians, one reporter saw a warrior hold his hand over a fire until the flesh melted when his bravery was questioned. And they can be cruel in the way they deal with captives - mutilating them and skinning them alive for example.
The phrase 'Butcher and Bolt' was a late nineteenth-century insult for British campaigns in the North-west frontier - i.e. killing to no good effect, destroying villages but not then holding the ground. Winston Churchill, later British Prime Minister, popularised it in an excellent book he wrote about the 1897 British campaign on the frontier. It has strong echoes in the modern era. In the 1980s, a Russian journalist wrote 'Upon completing an operation, the Afghan-Soviet troops as a rule return to their bases and the regions fall back under the control of the rebels.…In the course of those operations, housing and the agricultural fields are often destroyed, the civilian population is killed, and in the end everything remains the same.' And when British forces took the war to the Taliban for the first time in their heartland in Helmand in the south in 2006, a disillusioned officer, Captain Leo Docherty, wrote afterwards that they had taken ground but not been able to hold it as the Taliban came back in. Looking back, he wrote, 'All the well meaning reconstruction stuff is an illusion. The time spent there now seems to have been an egotistical folly.'
The campaign now going on through the summer of 2009, with a significant increase in U.S. forces, is the first serious attempt to break this stalemate, holding ground once it is taken.
The Talking Dog: Your book features an amazing panoply of characters involved over the years, on all sides; I will say that the character I found most amazing was the British officer's wife: Lady Sale, who kept a diary of many of the horrific circumstances of one particular period of British occupation, including her own leadership in battle. In modern times, perhaps Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the murdered Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massud are also of note, in my view. Can you identify three or four players from the vast cast of characters, any side, that you found compelling in the course of your work, and what resonance they have for the present?
David Loyn: It is certainly a story rich with compelling individuals. Five that stand out:
Lady Florentia Sale was a gifted artist, writer, and courageous observer - one of the few heroes amid the incompetence and indecision that led to the humiliation and slaughter of around 16,000 British and Indian men,women and children in the retreat of the Kabul garrison through the harshness of an Afghan winter in 1841. Even after she has been injured herself, riding through a hail of gunfire, and seen her soldier son-in-law die in her arms, she still commented on the magnificence of the surroundings as she and other women from the convoy, including her pregnant daughter, were led away to an uncertain future. After several months in captivity, and with the British 'Army of Retribution' not far away, she picked up a musket, taking command and turning their Afghan captors into prisoners when none of the few surviving men would do so. Her husband, Captain 'Fighting Bob' Sale, commanded the relief column sent to free the prisoners, and was a true Victorian in not letting his emotions show. When a brother officer rode up to ask him how his reunion with his wife had been: 'he made a hideous series of grimaces, dug his spurs into his horse, and galloped off as hard as he could.'
Captain Thomas Seaton was a British officer in the garrison that defended Jalalabad fort, one of the few success stories during that first disastrous British war. Seaton earned the undying affection of his colleagues by setting up a still to make a very rough and ready whiskey. No sooner had the British built their defences for a seige than they were destroyed by an earthquake, and once the seige began, the ingenuity that Seaton recorded in his entertaining account ensured victory. As they ran out of ammunition they held up red-coated dummies on poles, harvesting the lead musket balls that rained into the fort for their own use. They needed to send out foraging parties to gather grass for their horses, and the Afghans put large flocks of sheep onto the the grass closest to the fort to force the foraging parties to travel further and into harm's way. One morning the British sent out a large detachment of infantry to form a corridor and then mounted a cavalry charge to round up the sheep, raising morale, and giving them a much needed supply of fresh meat.
Abdur Rahman, the Amir (king) of Afghanistan for the last 20 years or so of the nineteenth century, was a ruthless and canny player of the 'Great Game' - the century-long struggle for control of Afghanistan between Russia and Britain. He played one off against the other, although he felt himself caught 'like a grain of wheat between two millstones.' He secured the best deal he could for Afghanistan in 1893, when it became clear that the British emissary Henry Mortimer Durand was intent on drawing a new eastern border for Afghanistan through the mountains to its east. The border that now divides Afghanistan from the North-west frontier of Pakistan is called the 'Durand Line' to this day. During the inevitable huge frontier uprising that erupted just four years after Durand's line was supposed to secure peace, Abdur Rahman promised to back Britain, while at the same time encouraging the frontier leaders to mount a 'Jihad', a holy war, against the invader. My book includes the first English translation of his call to Jihad, which has direct parallels, including use of the same verses of the Koran, with the call to Jihad made by Osama bin Laden in the same region today.
Mahmoud Tarzi, the Foreign Minister and son-in-law of King Amanullah, the reforming Amir of Afghanistan in the 1920s, was the driving force behind the most determined attempt to reform Afghanistan to date. Girls' education was guaranteed, child marriages outlawed, pharmacies subsidised, and fundamentalist Wahhabi mullahs banned from preaching. Foreign investment was encouraged, as Afghanistan looked to the success stories of Islamic countries like Turkey, then turning itself into a secular state. It ended in a violent insurrection after the Amir's wife was photographed on a European trip wearing an evening dress with bare arms. It is this episode that President Karzai is referring to when he cautions western visitors against bringing equality to Afghanistan. He likes to say 'Remember, the last king of Afghanistan who tried to give rights to women ended up dead.'
Mullah Borjan was the military commander of the Taliban from their beginnings in 1994 until he was killed in their assault on Kabul in 1996. He was a tough and experienced fighter who had endured much in the war against the Soviet Union, and joined the Taliban to end the corruption and criminality among the mujahidin leaders who had won that war (many of whom have resumed positions of power in Afghanistan since the Taliban defeat in 2001, and are still corrupt and criminal). I interviewed Borjan for the BBC the night before he died and was struck by his rational and commonsense approach. He was rather in favour of girls having education once the war was over, and was not a fundamentalist like some of his colleagues. His death robbed his movement of a voice of reason, but there were and are many strains of political thought within the Taliban. It is a major western foreign policy mistake to try to split them off and bring them over; Far better to try to engage with the leadership, however hard that may look, encouraging those within who want conciliation and not confrontation.
The Talking Dog: Your book notes that with respect to the famous interviews you did with Taliban fighters in Helmand province in 2006, you quite literally owe your life to the Pashtun honor code, to wit, once you are a guest of a Pashtun, they will protect you with their life, and so, your host protected you against his allied fighters who regarded you as "the enemy" (perhaps how certain UK parliamentarians felt about you after you did that interview). This, alas, is one of the rationales of Mullah Omar and the Taliban harboring Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda leadership, seemingly on both sides of the "Durand Line" that forms the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to this day, making it a rather difficult endeavor to bring OBL, Zawahiri, et al, to justice. From your historical observations, can you give us an example from the British/Raj era, the Soviet invasion era and the current American/NATO intervention of an outside power misunderstanding Afghan tribal traditions-- particularly that one-- to the peril of the outside powers? Any particular lessons for the current intervenors from this historical context?
David Loyn: During both of the nineteenth-century British wars, the warning signs of impending doom were ignored until it was too late. Gifted as we are with the perfect vision of hindsight this is rather easy to see. But in the first war there were those in the British camp, particularly an Indian secretary, Mohan Lal, who had seen the storm clouds gather from the beginning as the British, confident in the success of their ability to wield overwhelming force, did not properly reward Afghan tribal leaders who had come over to their side. During the weeks before the insurrection, it was Lal who recorded how tribal chiefs were angry as their subsidies from Britain were cut just as food prices were going up and wages for government jobs going down. The night before the uprising began, the civilian head of the British occupation force, Sir William Macnaghten, talked of ‘a season of such profound tranquillity’. But Lal had recorded the most telling sign of change: mullahs had stopped saying prayers for the British-installed Amir, Shah Shuja, in the mosques. As the US-led force in the 21st century is discovering, Afghans follow power. If they believe that the occupying force is wavering, then they tend to withdraw support. The most astute British observer in 1841, Captain Seaton, complained of inconsistency in the British approach, ‘a mixture of iron and clay . . . utterly unsuited to the fierce tribes of the country, who soon detected the weakness of their rulers’.
The Talking Dog: Jared Diamond ("Guns, Germs and Steel" and "Collapse") might suggest that geography is destiny, at least in terms sociological and cultural, and hence, people from lush, fertile, relatively flat islands (like Britain) or peninsulas may develop different societies from people from landlocked, infertile mountainous countries (like Afghanistan). You have certainly noted that the Afghan character is not unrelated to their spectacular mountainous and largely uninhabitable country, which, if nothing else, provides useful cover for guerrilla combat. Based on your historical observation and long familiarity with the region as a journalist, do you find any merit to this proposition, and, based on the interplay of the Afghan national character and the Afghan national geography, how would you advise international policymakers to proceed?
David Loyn: Geography certainly defines Afghanistan's destiny. Less than 5% of the land is irrigible farmland; the rest is deserts and mountains, framed by the right-angled ranges of the Hindu Kush across the middle, and the Suleiman Mountains running up the east of the country. But this does not mean it was always poor. In the 1970s Helmand exported more raisins than California, thanks to the Helmand irrigation project (based on the Tennessee Valley Authority). That fertile valley now grows about 90% of the world's illegal opium. Afghanistan is on a geographical crossroads, trampled across by invaders for thousands of years, but none has stayed the course. There were big mistakes made after 2001, with raised expectations that women would 'throw off the burqa' and that a western-style voting system would somehow conjure up a civilised society as if by magic out of nowhere. In a highly critical report the World Bank talked of an 'aid juggernaut' descending on Kabul, sucking out the translators and officials for itself, rather than building the capacity of the Afghan state. Dealing with local corruption might have been a better use of international effort. In the first year after the Taliban fell, government revenues were actually lower than during the Taliban years, as local warlords creamed off the cash again for themselves. There is a growing realisation that it will not be possible to create something like Switzerland in the Hindu Kush, and eight years on there are far lower expectations about the kind of society that can be built. Respecting Afghans' ability to do things for themselves and then letting modern notions of sexual equality spread out from the cities would be a better way forward. But without stability and competent government none of this will happen.
The Talking Dog: Your book notes a 40-year gap of relative peace and prosperity (in Afghan terms) during the reign of former king Mohammad Zahir Shah from the early 1930's until the early 1970's; he just died in 2007 in his 90's. The remaining, more turbulent part of the last two centuries, discussed in your book, has been marked by a number of foreign interventions in Afghan affairs. In your view, to what do you attribute this uncharacteristic period of stability (during which, also uncharacteristically, Afghan living standards improved... they have since deteriorated again)? To what effect do you see a brilliant strong man, cooperative local war lords, intelligent central administration, or quiet from sources abroad (unlikely given that this period saw the dismantling of colonial empires including neighboring India and Pakistan, World War II, and much of the Cold War) or sheer luck... or something else? Although restoring Zahir Shah himself to the throne was thought of, and evidently rejected as a post-9-11 possibility, what other policies do you see as likely to restore Afghanistan to a position of relative stability-- like the Zahir Shah era?
David Loyn: It is one of the great 'what ifs' of history - what if Zahir Shah had come back to power? He certainly had respect in many quarters. There was a strong pro-king movement within the Taliban themselves. But his time was over, and with some grace he blessed the swift no-nonsense meeting of tribal leaders - the Loya Jirga - after the Taliban fell, that engineered the coronation of Karzai as President instead, with the Taliban excluded from the process. Zahir was a clever ruler, who played Europe, Russia and America rather well for 40 years, before being ousted by his cousin in a palace coup as reform demands grew too loud to ignore in 1973.
The Talking Dog: While I had vague conceptions of such European overlays on the Asian map like the Durand line (and the Sikes-Picot line to the West), until I read your book, it had not really dawned on me that the Durand line was actually a demarcation of the extremes of (pre-partition) India, nor did it dawn on me that "Pashtunistan" was conveniently divided in half, and has proven "ungovernable" by both the weak Afghan state or the somewhat stronger Pakistani state alike and, of course, is where OBL, Zawahiri are presumably enjoying someone's hospitality). I regard myself as extremely well informed by American standards, and I even took a college course on Modern Indian and Pakistani history... and yet, was ignorant of many of the basic historical facts until I read your book. To what extent do you believe that the lack of even the most basic understanding of the South and Central Asian regions by American (and to some extent, European) policy-makers has resulted in what I'll call not merely disastrous, but potentially apocalyptic policy results (for example, if the Taliban acquire control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal at Rawalpindi and environs... from which they are less than 100 kms away in the Swat Valley)? How would you suggest alleviating this-- aside from having people read your great book-- i.e. how can we get more Westerners (or even Westerners who matter) to get a greater understanding of the region?
David Loyn: Reading my book is obviously a start as an answer to your question! The Bush/Blair years were a period when complicating factors like context and history were not allowed to get in the way of policy. It has become a truism in British intellectual life to say that Tony Blair did not 'do' history, either in domestic or international affairs - everything was fashioned as if new. And the belief in the Bush White House in the overwhelming ability of US military power to prevail, blinded policymakers even to simple known truths about conflict - such as that conventional forces, however powerful, usually lose against unconventional guerrilla groups, if those groups have a safe haven, high morale, and some local support. The Taliban have all these strengths, and have time on their side. Politicians around President Bush ignored reality even written down in their own military's counterinsurgency doctrine: 'Insurgents that never defeat counterinsurgents in combat still may achieve their strategic objectives.'
The USA inspired, armed and funded the mujahidin in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and then walked away once communism had been defeated, leaving the Afghans to pick up the pieces. (I was talking to an ex-CIA officer recently, who had been involved in running the war against the Soviet Union from the North-west frontier in the 1980s, and when I put this point to him about continuing responsibility he said simply 'Well, we weren't in Afghanistan in the 1980s' - factually true, but morally corrupt). When 9/11 happened, there was not a single person on the CIA's books who spoke Pashtu - the language of the Taliban.
Obama plays in a different league. In his recent Cairo speech his acknowledgement of US complicity in bringing down the Iranian leader Mossadeq, elected in 1952, was an extraordinary turnaround, and noticed across the region. So let's see.
The Talking Dog: Please tell me your impressions of former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, both from your research and personal experience if any. (For readers less familiar, Wilson, of course, was the prime Congressional mover in getting clandestine funding for Afghan mujahadeen, and in particular, what I view as his murderous legacy of indiscriminate funding of violence (notwithstanding the glamour of having Tom Hanks portray him in a movie) that (again, my opinion only) led as directly as anything else I can think of to the events of September 11th.)
David Loyn: I have never met Congressman Wilson. I relied heavily on the wonderful book by the late George Crile, who chronicled Wilson's role in persuading the US that Afghanistan was the place where Soviet communism could be defeated. The Tom Hanks film is a pretty good take on the story (although for me it underplays the sheer pleasure, and enormous appetite, that Wilson had for women and drink.) Where the film parts company with history is in showing Wilson apparently failing to raise more than a few hundred thousand dollars for education and reconstruction in Afghanistan once the Russians were out. The facts are that US military funding for the mujahidin continued on a colossal scale for a further two years, even after it was obvious to anyone, including some on Wilson's staff, that the mujahidin heroes of the war against Russia were now turning the guns on their allies and on Afghan civilians in a war for the spoils. It was this fighting more than any other single factor that inspired the rise of the Taliban. The road to 9/11 began when the USA took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan between 1989 and 1992.
The Talking Dog: . As my college classmate President Barack Obama prepares for a "surge" in troop strength in Afghanistan (as he promised during his campaign), what specific advice (other than perhaps "read the book") would you give him, based on your reading of the historical legacy of the prior foreign interventions--British and Soviet-- that took place there? Any advice re: dealing with the current situation in Pakistan and its Taliban uprising, in this context?
David Loyn: If you ask people in rural Afghanistan, or in the Pakistani North-West frontier, why they are backing the Taliban, the answer that most often comes back is that the Taliban provide justice. It may not be the kind that we would like - sharia law has some notoriously harsh penalties, such as amputation. But the worst failure in Afghanistan since 2001 has been in allowing corruption to return so that the police and courts did not provide justice. How could 2 million refugees be expected to return to their land if warlords were again controlling things? It is the same story on the Pakistani side of the mountains. Easy access to justice has deprived people of any recourse other than to the Taliban. And the failure to provide any education has opened the door to Wahhabi religious schools, madrasas, some financed from Saudi Arabia, who teach little other than the recital of holy texts by rote. Any western-designed policy that does not address this, and do it in a way that respects local customs, is likely to fail. Expensive and cleverly constutructed aid programs designed outside the country have not worked so far. One of the popular reasons for the war against the Taliban was because of their harsh treatment of women, but the outspoken Afghan woman MP, Malalai Joya now says that 'Rights for women in Afghanistan are worse now than under the Taliban.'
The Talking Dog:. Anything else that I should have asked you but didn't or that the public needs to know on these critical subjects?
David Loyn: The one continuing theme across two centuries of foreign intervention in Afghanistan is the ability of insurgents to politicise their Islamic faith to inspire jihad against the invader. It was this that the US exploited so effectively in the 1980s against Russia and it has come back to bite the hand that fed it. Even the word Taliban is not new. Winston Churchill, later British Prime Minister, who was a war correspondent in the 1897 frontier war, identified taliban among the enemy and said they were the most ferocious. He wrote that they corresponded with theological students abroad, and 'lived free at the expense of the people.' And it goes back even further than that, as detailed in my book. In the 1830s, the Amir that Britain wanted to depose, Dost Mohammed, took a cloak believed to have belonged to the Prophet Mohammed from its case in a mosque in Kandahar, displayed it to the people and declared himself 'Amir al-mu'minin', leader of all muslims. With this declaration as king and priest he roused his people against the invader. The next person to do that was the Taliban leader Mullah Omar in the months before he took Kabul in 1996. Afghans remember this history; perhaps we should have more of an idea of it.
The Talking Dog: I join all of my readers in thanking Mr. Loyn for that interesting and informative interview, and I commend interested readers to check out "In Afghanistan".
If you had told me two years ago that my college classmate, then Sen. Barack Obama would find himself the President of the United States by 2009, assuming that I didn't think you were insane, I would probably have just laughed my a** off, and left it at that. But... if you would have told me one year ago that President Barack Obama (having sewed up the Dem. nomination by then, his ascendancy to the Presidency became substantially more likely) would not only block so much as investigation of the misdeeds of his predecessor and his minions, but that Obama would continue the overreaching and brazenly unconstitutional Bush policies in the despised "war on terror," and, if possible, make them even worse by formalizing such abominations as "indefinite detention," as soon as I finished laughing my a** off, I might just assume you were trying to get me into a fist fight.
But, as we roll around to this year's Independence Day holiday weekend, I note, perversely, that a year ago, I was actually cautiously optimistic in light of, for example, the Supreme Court's Boumediene decision, which seemed to recognize that neither Congress nor the President could suspend habeas corpus because it was enshrined as the ultimate fundamental Constitutional right... but Congress, the President, and the lower courts (specifically the
Neo-Con All-Star Team United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit) continue to behave as if the rule of law were just an unwelcome inconvenience that we can feel free to turn off whenever expediency dictates.
Well, here we are. American troops are still mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, though perhaps, numbers in Iraq really will decline now that "sovereignty" or something has been promised... though more will be sent to Afghanistan for a mission every bit as nebulous as what Barack Obama meant by "change". And although Pres. Obama promised to close GTMO within a year, after nearly half the time he has allotted himself, the census there shows only 11 fewer men (including one more dead and one transferred to New York for trial) than when he started in January with around 230 men still held without charge (including Candace's two clients, al-Ghizzawi and Razak Ali) ... and the Obama Administration is still arguing that habeas is a dead-letter if the remedy means admitting judicially-determined-to-be-innocent men into the (sacred and Holy) United States Homeland... it is still arguing that Bagram is beyond law, still arguing about its "right" to secrecy (even while touting its own commitment to "transparency"), still eavesdropping, still insisting on the "flexibility" of extraordinary rendition, and, for all we know, still keeping torture "as an option". (The Obama Administration is, without doubt, certainly an accessory after the fact to prior tortures with its overreaching assertion of "state secrets" and its resistance to any kind of investigations.)
If you had told me that the Democratic President, operating with now sixty Senators in the Democratic caucus as well as a three dozen seat advantage in the House, was behaving like the Bush Administration in the "national security" realm, but still couldn't get any meaningful progressive legislation passed on, say, healthcare reform... I'm just not sure I'd laugh my a** off... or be reduced to tears.
I don't know. All I know is that the Constitution that on more than one occasion I have personally sworn to uphold and defend... just doesn't seem to mean what I was taught that it meant. Just... where the f*** are we?
Charles Gittings is the progenitor of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, a web-site compiling "torture memos" and other evidence of governmental criminality during the so-called "War on Terror," as well as court papers, amicus briefs and other relevant documents. On July 2, 2009, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Gittings by e-mail exchange.
The Talking Dog: Where were you on 9-11?
Charles Gittings: I was at the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland, California, waiting for the train to my job in Hayward. I was standing by myself towards the end of the platform reflecting on the anniversary of 9/11/2000 -- the grim day I was laid- off my previous job and found out my girl-friend was leaving me in the space of two hours. That was a nightmare at the time, but it turned out I recovered pretty well.
So I was pondering all that and this guy walks up to me and says: "Did you hear about the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York?"
I just looked at him and asked, "Two!?", and he said, "Ya."
Then I just shook my head and thought to myself , "It's starting," because I not only wasn't surprised, I'd actually been working on the possibilities and problems of such an attack since 1987.
My second thought was, "We are in deep sh*t," because it was one of the worst case scenarios -- an administration of right-wingers predisposed to over-react militarily and capitalize on the crisis for partisan political purposes... And according to my analysis of that scenario, the principal strategic aim of the attack would be to provoke exactly the sort of reaction it got from the Bush administration in the event.
Life doesn't get much more surrealistic than that day was for me... I'm riding the train to work thinking "I need to be at the Pentagon right now and the bastards wouldn't even take the call if I tried to phone them."
And the other thing I was thinking was: "Whoever and wherever we are, we're all in the Resistance now." I committed myself to do whatever I could however I could right then and there. The whole world was at risk, and not a doubt about it.
The Talking Dog: My understanding is that you were employed in the tech sector, in California, until some point in the early 'aughties ('02?). Shortly after 9-11 (around November 2001, when the President's initial orders concerning treatment of prisoners taken in Afghanistan came out), you began compiling information that collectively has become the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions. What are the philosophical underpinnings of the PEGC? Was there anything particular in your background that led this to be an interest of yours? What other "citizen activism" projects of this kind are you aware of (if any), and given that (IIRC), PEGC is largely a one-man show (or is it?), do you have any kind of funding needs (legal research engines, federal court PACER fees, copying, etc.... and if so, how are these needs met?), or do you use exclusively publicly available data?
Charles Gittings: My programming career started in August 1973 at Bank of America in San Francisco, and ended at Mendel Biotechnology in Hayward in July 2002.
But the programming career was merely a fortunate byproduct of me trying to cope with a miserable childhood and figure out who I was and what was important, and it's a long story that goes all the way back to 1954 when I burned my right hand in a mangle (an appliance used for ironing laundry) at the age of 18 months. That required a lot of operations over the next 5 or 6 years, and I was sickly on top of that. My mother read to me a lot when I was little, and I was reading by age three. My Grandmother was my day care, and there was a small but choice library in her front room including a classic WW1-era Encyclopedia Britannica. I didn't read it cover to cover like J. S. Mill did, but I read it a lot.
When I was nine, I read the Iliad and the Odyssey, which made a huge impression on me, and when I was ten, my abusive step-father and the Cuban Missile Crisis combined in way that led me to a conscious decision to absolutely reject adult authority and think for myself... And I was smart enough to understand that I was just a kid who didn't know jack, so if I was going to think for myself and resist the adults I had some serious studying to do.
It was all about power, so I started with Caesar's commentaries, followed by Arian, Xenophon, Livy... By Junior High I was studying Thucydides, Napoleon, and Guderian, etc, and branching out into political theory and philosophy. I drove my teachers crazy, because I was angry, sullen, introverted kid who would ace all the tests but never do any homework at all. Some would give me an F, some would average it out to a C, some would just shrug and give me an A or B -- and I didn't much care one way or another as school was just a prison to me.
At 16 I dropped out, took the SAT, got admitted to college, and soon realized college was even worse, because I was still me and but now was younger than everyone else on top of that. So I quit and decided to spend a year or two playing tournament Chess in order to educate myself in real time decision- making under pressure. After a year, I was nearly a master, but I'd learned what I wanted to learn and didn't want to continue the hermit life of a serious chess player, so I switched to Bridge, because a) it has an added linguistic / social dimension that interested me a lot in the context of decision making, and b) girls play the game, unlike Chess at that time.
So by 21 I was an expert bridge player, got the chance to work as a computer project librarian through a friend of a friend from the Bridge club, quickly established that I'd accidentally self-educated myself to the equivalent of a masters in computer science (the logic is much the same as Chess and Bridge, only easier), a lucky series of events gave me the chance to become a wunder- kinde, and I took off like rocket and never looked back.
And in the background of all that, from 1962 until now, I never stopped studying power, history, politics, military history, strategy, and tactics, philosophy, etc... Just because I'd understood right at the start how important those problems were, and even though my take on them had evolved with my understanding of things, that only resulted in me seeing that the problems were even more important and difficult.
Then I went through a nasty divorce in 1987 after 11 years of marriage and three kids, and because of my own childhood it devastated me... and the legal aspects of it absolutely enraged me, because the entire legal process was so biased, unfair, and predatory.
So in my misery and rage, a not-so-idle question crossed my mind...
How could one man fight a war against the State of Texas?
Then in a flash it struck me that it was actually possible.
But despite my anger I recoiled in horror because my long study of power had led me to believe that the only real power is reason, and that the great task of facing humanity in the here and now is to learn to live by reason and cooperation instead of force and coercion -- to be truly and fully human and quit behaving like animals. Such a war could easily destroy all of us. Equally, it was fascinating problem of strategy and tactics.
The Talking Dog: Among your efforts have been numerous petitions to legislative bodies and amicus briefs to courts; can you describe what traction (if any) you've gotten with your efforts from these bodies? Have you gotten any "bites" on efforts to obtain counsel (pro bono, discounted, or human rights groups, perhaps) with respect to your proposed "complaints" (or direct criminal complaint and/or civil enforcement complaint)?
Charles Gittings: Well here are my two briefs (the first one, in Hamdi, is Exhibit A to the second, In re Gitmo).
And here are the opinions in the cases:
* Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004)
* In re Guantanamo Detainee Cases, 355 F.Supp.2d 443 (D.D.C. 2005)
I was happy with the rulings in both, but had some problems with the dicta... a couple of major beefs in Hamdi, a relatively minor detail in In re Gitmo. It's very hard to gauge how much influence you have with an amicus brief. All I know is that the Hamdi brief was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, and I'm very proud of it. Writing it was such a nightmare that I couldn't look at it for a month and half, but after it was finally accepted and I re-read it, I was really pleased with how it turned out. The finished brief only covered about half of the original outline, but cutting it down made it a lot stronger.
As for Congress, I did have direct contact with the Senate Judiciary staff for a few years, and saw some signs they were actually paying attention to the stuff I was sending them, but they don't encourage that sort of thing and it's pretty frustrating all in all.
The Talking Dog: I take it you are aware that there have been a number of proceedings in a number of jurisdictions of relevance; of course, you've submitted amicus briefs in some; have you had any involvement in (including efforts to compile documents) in such proceedings as may be taking place in, say, Spain (the investigation of torture memo lawyers); Germany (considering, though it dropped, charges against Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others), Britain (the Binyam Mohammad litigation and others) and Italy (the Abu Omar cases)?
Charles Gittings: Well I've helped a Canadian friend, Gail Davidson of Lawyers Against the War, with her efforts to get the Canadian government to do something about Omar Khadr. I've also had a bit of contact with Cageprisoners in England.
But while I'm supportive of any effort to stop or prosecute the war crimes, from the start I've felt that it was important to prosecute the perpetrators under US law in US courts, because that's what Geneva requires, that's what the laws of the United States say, and getting convictions would establish a precedent that would represent a significant advance and reinforce the precedent of Nuremberg. In his preface to his report on the IMT conference, Justice Jackson stated:
"The most serious disagreement, and one on which the United States declined to recede from its position even if it meant the failure of the Conference, concerned the definition of crimes. The Soviet Delegation proposed and until the last meeting pressed a definition which, in our view, had the effect of declaring certain acts crimes only when committed by the Nazis. The United States contended that the criminal character of such acts could not depend on who committed them and that international crimes could only be defined in broad terms applicable to statesmen of any nation guilty of the proscribed conduct. At the final meeting the Soviet qualifications were dropped and agreement was reached on a generic definition acceptable to all."
That's what the project is about: upholding Geneva and articles 6-8 of the IMT charter with the idea that NEVER AGAIN will such crimes be tolerated or excused.
The Talking Dog: Our friend Candace Gorman frequently uses items you have posted or assembled at the PEGC on her Guantanamo Blog, and in the course of her representations. Are you working with other attorneys or human rights activists in the course of their work?
Charles Gittings: I've had dealings with a number of attorneys in the habeas cases dating back to 2002. I'll do anything I reasonably can to help anyone who asks. I also make suggestions, offer analysis, point out flaws in the government briefs that might be exploited, etc. But I don't talk about contacts in public, and try very hard not to be critical or pushy with the habeas attorneys because while my concerns coincide with theirs to an extent, the individual interests of their clients have to come first for them. (It's an interesting problem even.)
But I'll say this much: a number of those attorneys count as some of the finest people I've ever known.
The Talking Dog: Many of the major human rights groups such as the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, etc. (many of whom are linked to on PEGC) have their own caches of relevant documents available on the Internet; what is the theme of PEGC's collection, and how does it differ from the others? If you can answer this, is there a theme or trends for particular places and particular documents (for example, "for litigation go to CCR", for torture docs, go to ACLU, etc.) that you have discovered (other than "for interviews go to Cage Prisoners"... and the talking dog!)?
Charles Gittings: I don't spend a lot of time looking at what the big organizations do, though I do read their reports now and then. My project has been a criminal investigation first and foremost from the start, and the archive reflects evidence, supporting documents, relevant legal authorities, etc. I've been downloading the petitions and briefs in the detainee cases since 2002 because they afforded me a window on detainee policy and operations, and soon realized the briefs themselves were prima facie evidence of the crimes. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, every time DOJ files a brief or motion in any of the cases it's an offense pursuant to 18 USC 2441(c)(2), even said so in my intemperate little reply brief filed in the DDC five years ago.
The problem was how to get the job done, and my answer has always been to do whatever what might move things an inch forward. That brief and reply was an attempt to stab the governments detainee polices in the heart. I wrote a couple of status reports (here and here) along the way that will give you a pretty good idea.
The Talking Dog: I note that you haven't updated your PEGC blog since the day (my college classmate) President Obama took office. Obviously, a big part of that is because of your health (as you acknowledged in your post), though you also acknowledged in your post of that date that the project only gets harder when the Bush Administration leaves office. Well, it's left office. Do you believe that we have, in fact, hit a hard part? Where do you see things going with respect to recent developments from an Administration whose performance has been "conflicted"... rhetoric about closing Guantanamo within a year, while releasing only a single prisoner; rhetoric about transparency followed by assertion of state secrets privilege in some cases, selective release of some torture memos in others, while still insisting that there won't even be further investigation, let alone prosecution...? How important do you see the role of "citizen activist" in pushing the Obama Administration to do the right thing on this, and given national ambivalence as shown in polls, how hard do you see this ("this" being ultimate accountability for those responsible for turning the United States of America into a torture regime) as?
Charles Gittings: It's actually worse that I thought -- I could never have predicted that the new administration would keep the Bush Defense Department intact. That was a terrible mistake in more ways than one. The task now is to educate Barrack Obama and get him to see how he is being misled by his subordinates. I have to believe it's possible, because the DoD / DOJ policies are simply fallacious and fraudulent, but the trick is getting the president to actually consider the facts.
The Talking Dog: From your perspective as "citizen activist," how would you comment on media coverage of issues surrounding the war on terror, arbitrary detention, torture, bringing those responsible to account, and similar matters?
Charles Gittings: It sucks. Superficial and clueless. God forbid anyone might do any actual analysis of the facts or the law!
That said, there's been some excellent reporting now and then -- within the dreary editorial confrines of the mainstream media. Luckily torture is soooo sexy... if it was just the tens of thousands of innocent people they've murdered over the last eight years...
I try not to think about it too much and just stick to the facts and the law. I want them indicted if it takes 50 years to do it, period.
The Talking Dog: One of the President's day-one executive orders concerned implementation (restoration?) of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as the base-line standard for treatment of detainees (presumably around the world). Do you see any evidence that this order has been complied with in ways other than lip- service and symbolism-- or would you accept that relaxation of the total isolation regime of many detainees somehow makes USA detention facilities "Geneva compliant"? Do you see this development as encouraging, troubling (because it arguably attempts to gloss over rather than solve serious problems)... or something else?
Charles Gittings: No: it's just more fraudulent make-believe by DoD and DOJ. There have been some efforts to moderate the treatment of the detainees but the whole operation at Gitmo is illegal under both CA3 and CA2, and by "illegal" I mean violations and grave breaches of Geneva and Hague that are criminal offenses pursuant to 18 USC 2441 and potentially carry life imprisonment or the death penalty. From day one until now, the only real purpose of Guantanamo Bay is to perpetrate war crimes in the form of unlawful detentions and systematic 24/7 abuse. It's a damned disgrace.
The Talking Dog: Assuming you've made arrangements to keep the site up for a while, how do you anticipate the contents of the PEGC will be viewed by, say, Americans and foreigners of the future, say, 10, 20, maybe 50 years out? Will this be viewed as an aberrational trip to the dark side, led by peculiarly stupid and venal "leaders"... or, perhaps, as things go further to hell in a hand-basket, will it be viewed as an act of quaintness on your part-- the perceived reality being we weren't nasty enough... any thoughts on that?
Charles Gittings: The site will be staying up no matter what happens with me, thanks to my web host Deb Lagutaris (The Ansible Group) and I'm working on arrangements with a law school to preserve (and hopefully, expand/ improve) both the files and the project.
As for the future, that depends on what happens. First and foremost, we need to prosecute and convict George Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo and the entire gang for their war crimes. If we do that, it will be a tremendous step forward in a couple of ways -- a huge precedent in both international and domestic law, and equally, a heavy blow for the right wing idiots who've so frequently corrupted our domestic politics. Bonus: it will mean that the laws of the United States are something more than a bad joke the powerful play on the people.
And if we fail, we're looking at more of the same... that's a nightmare scenario that I don't talk about in public, because I don't want to give the wrong people any clues from my analysis of the strategy and tactics of terrorism. That's been a big problem for me (how to talk about something I can't talk about) but the bottom line is that I believe the polices of the Bush administration and Israel are essentially self-defeating and ultimately suicidal. They are playing an irrational game that cannot be won, and being irrational, losing it is just a matter of time. Nobody likes being tyrannized, and no one will tolerate it indefinitely. Israel blathers about their "security", but they were a lot safer in 1948 than they are now.
The Talking Dog: Anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else the public needs to know about these vital issues?
Charles Gittings: Well one thing that I think is very important to understand is that the war crimes were not an aberration, but a part of an overt attempt to completely set aside the law. The torture memos get most of the press, but there's nothing in the torture memos that wasn't implicit in the very first memo John Yoo fabricated for David Addington after 9/11:
John Yoo (David Addington, OVP), THE PRESIDENT'S CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY TO CONDUCT MILITARY OPERATIONS AGAINST TERRORISTS AND NATIONS SUPPORTING THEM, DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (2001.09.25).
That memo is nothing less than an attempt to set aside both the Constitution and laws of the United States in their entirety on the theory that the Constitution gives the president the same powers as Stalin, Hitler, or Charles I of England -- pure treason to whatever extent it isn't uncomplicated idiocy and/or fraud.
It's time to quit fearing or compromising with these bastards; they should be treated like what they are: murderous, fascist criminals. The idea that these people acted in "good faith" is just stupid. They are pathological liars and criminals and that is all that they are. The kindest view I can take of any of them is that they are insane.
The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking Mr. Gittings for that interesting interview.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with former Guantanamo military commissions prosecutor Darrel Vandeveld, with attorneys Ramzi Kassem, George Clarke, Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, 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 former Guantanamo military guard Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., 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, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, with law professor Peter Honigsberg on various aspects of detention policy in the war on terror, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, and with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, to be of interest.