We'll start with this, where Paul Krugman tells us succinctly that we're probably not going to get a decent health care reform plan at all, and if we do, it will be less good than Richard Nixon offered Democrats thirty-five years ago. Why? It's the corporate cash, stupid: Democrats are possibly more beholden to it than Republicans (Republicans being a more natural ally of business interests). With an army of lobbyists ready to blast Congress, and a war-chest of billions in corporate cash ready to blast the airwaves and man the barricades with outrageous misinformation (and a public primed to hear it through a lifetime of conditioned responses to broadcast advertising)... the good guys, trying to get any meaningful reform that big business doesn't want anyway, have an uphill battle.
Professor Krugman certainly doesn't urge giving up the fight, but notes that merely electing one good-looking, telegenic President, even with healthy Democratic majorities, doesn't mean squat: probably years of siege warfare would be required.
I tend to agree with Professor Krugman, but I have one key reform that will pass Constitutional muster, and make everyone's lives a bit more aesthetic too. I propose that all federal political advertisements be banned from broadcast airwaves. That's really the place that most of the money raised by politicians is used for anyway, and with cable, the internet and direct mail, there are plenty of other effective, less expensive ways to reach voters. Broadcasting is not a free speech issue... it's a privilege of sorts, and just as Congress (or the FCC) can ban foul language or nudity from broadcasts, but not from newspapers or cable or the internet... it can ban what IMHO is infinitely more toxic to this society than foul language or nudity, the plethora of lies, ill-will and all-around "bad-karma" known as broadcast political advertising. Business should actually like this, as political ads have to get a favorable rate and time-slots, and drive up rates for other advertisers. Of course, they won't like it, insofar as it makes their immense campaign contributions far, far less valuable... in other words, they won't be able to buy and own Congress like they do now. Which is the point.
While it probably won't stop the kind of overt pandering to American royalists, such as defense contractor General Electrichiring Jenna Bush Hager for its NBC division's "Today" show, or the ceaseless fawning those like Dick Cheney by those like the Chris Wallaces of the world (as noted by Glenn Greenwald's highlight reel of the Beltway Village nepotism... it just might help. A lot.
The life blood of all of these icky practices is free-flowing corporate cash keeping the current crew (both parties) in office, just as the life blood of our economy is cheap, imported petroleum (and it remains no coincidence that the first regime to sell its oil only in euros rather than dollars--Saddam Hussein's-- was removed by American might, while the two who threaten to do it-- Iran and Venezuela-- are in American cross-hairs).
How to pull of the above key reform, on which the rest turns? Well, step one, which Professor Krugman has done, is to identify and diagnose the problem. Step two is to lay out a solution, which I have done. From here, the question is whether some kind of groundswell can build for this reform. In this society, public good has come to mean squat: nothing happens if it is not in someone's personal, parochial interest. Not sure I can solve that here, but maybe we can find someone in whose interest this is.
Until then, if we don't solve the particular problem (broadcast campaign ads warping the system in every way) we can expect business as usual (and I do mean business) for a long, long time, even after "the system" has long since crashed under the weight of its own dysfunction.
We'll start with this wonderful piece of misinformation from WaPo, which should know better than to publish crap like it, in this case, insisting that "torture works" because "KSM was so forthcoming" after waterboarding. If that's the case, than kindly explain why it was necessary to waterboard him 183 times? Sounds like something other than "torture works"... unless it "works" to get some official's rocks off, maybe. The ever-vigilant Glenn Greenwald enumerates the plethora of things wrong with the WaPo piece (hint: everything, including being at odds with WaPo's own less "shilling for Dick Cheney" reporting, by actual journalists rather than stenographers). Honestly, forgetting about the mere fact that all civilized societies, including our own, reached the conclusion that torture was not merely barbaric but ineffective at anything other than false confessions two or three centuries ago, as set forth in my interview with Dr. Steven Miles, you might want to try this DOD Working Group Report which documents the long-held conclusion of the ineffectiveness of torture... a report prepared by Don Rumsfeld's Pentagon, btw. But, of course, the facts don't mean much in "the new America."
And of course, the old lawyer's adage is, if you don't have the facts on your side, argue the law. O.K. It seems, that the Obama Administration has not missed a beat, and has decided that court orders can be complied with only if it feels like it, such as the apparent decision to "skirt" a decision of New York City federal judge Alvin Hellerstein on disclosure of CIA-torture documents, perhaps avoiding an outright contempt of court, but hardly providing the kind of "transparency" (not to mention "change") we were promised by candidate Obama. It seems, the law doesn't mean too much here in "the new America" either.
And don't ask me why KTK's smackdown of David Brooks in LeanLeft caught my attention, but it seems to be a rather succinct indictment of our holy and sacred capitalist system where, well, see above re: "the facts don't mean much" here in "the new America."
I suppose I can best sum things up with the words of a clever bus driver, on the Newark Airport to New York's Port Authority run, several years ago, once reported to me by Mrs. TD: "Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Dodge. Stay alert. Stay alive." It's the best advice I can give you for life here in "the new America." It just seems we've gone off our moral bearings.
I'd like to believe we can get back on track; if anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears...
Go read Andy's interview with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell.
Read it now.
Just a couple of quickies.
First, this wonderful satiric (or is it?) explanation of health insurance by analogizing it to "hunger insurance" by Dmitri Orlov of Club Orlov. Dmitri tells us about the likely coming collapse in ways we can at least laugh about, and hopefully, prepare ourselves and our families.
And Thomas Nephew tells us... that on health care, we gettin' out-organized. Simple answer, while many of the thugs disrupting the loathsome "town halls" are indeed, paid for their activities, many are not... there is a passion on "the other side" that the incoherent complexity and mixed messages (such as Democrats selling out the public option before we even start) means that there is no comparable passion on "our side"... even as, for example, polling shows 8 in 10 favor "the public option."
Well, in our polyglot society (which, let's face it, is held together by a widely held irrational belief in the super-powers of capitalism, and that all of us will be filthy rich any day now)... agglomerations of power and money are where it's at... as for the rest of us... well, this has been "health is the war of the state".
Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy passed away at 77, finally succumbing to brain cancer. Sen. Kennedy outived Bob Novak by about a week, his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver by about two weeks, and of course, his assassinated brothers, the late President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, by some decades. Also somewhat ironically, I see that the late Mary Jo Kopechne died in the Chappaquiddick incident 40 years ago this summer. (Besides Chappaquiddick, 1969 was a somewhat busy summer, what with the moon landing, Woodstock, the Vietnam War still raging and the coming ascendancy of the New York Mets... heady times for your then
8 6 year old talking dog... who only really remembers the moon landing.)
While many progressives will credit Kennedy as "the liberal lion," I note that he comes with a "mixed bag" legacy. He served the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the Senate virtually my entire life, being first elected a week or two after I was born. He was, in addition to being the third-longest serving senator ever, a powerful committee chairman, and his name was attached to many major bills. Of course, because of his famous name, he did get an awful lot of slack.
His accomplishments such as they are must be weighed against his ill-advised and peevish run against sitting Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980, which helped pave the way for the last three decades of right-wing ascendancy, as Carter (with his own party duly divided) ended up losing (far more narrowly than people care to remember) to Ronald Reagan. The Chappaquiddick incident, of course, speaks for itself. And Kennedy willingly provided cover to the George W. Bush Administration's abominable "no child left behind" nightmare that further reduces American public education to a load of rote, industrial-era "teach-to-the-test" mediocre crap, largely so that he could get his name on a big ("bipartisannnnnn") bill. And I could go on by mentioning his selfish opposition to wind-power (because an off-shore wind farm it would interfere with the view from his Hyannis estate) or his role in rapid-deployment landscaping to help his nephew William Kennedy Smith evade justice.
Oh well. Enough violating the rule of De mortuis nil nisi bonum, I suppose. I'll stop here. Condolences to his family, and to all who honored and respected him. R.I.P., Senator Kennedy.
Via the now indispensable Bill of Rights Defense Committee, we give you these snippets from... torture news.
We'll start with this item from ABC News noting that in the sort of released (though heavily redacted) CIA inspector general report, the redacted portions show details of at least three deaths in CIA custody, as well as note that a number of detainees in CIA custody "can't be accounted for"... wtf? And it accounts some of the waterboarding of KSM that came close to killing him (prior to the opportunity to stage his show trial). Also re the CIA IG redacted report, this HuffPost piece notes the juicy bits, threats of torture -by-power-drill, threats against detainee's families, and the good-old mock executions... were a mainstay of the Bush-Cheney program that got us... well, any benefits are classified... sorry.
Glenn Greenwald in Salon gives us two pieces. The first further discusses the above-referenced IG torture report, and, I'll let Glenn take it from here:
To those blithely dismissing all of this as things that don't seem particularly bothersome, I'd say two things:
(1) The fact that we are not really bothered any more by taking helpless detainees in our custody and (a) threatening to blow their brains out, torture them with drills, rape their mothers, and murder their children; (b) choking them until they pass out; (c) pouring water down their throats to drown them; (d) hanging them by their arms until their shoulders are dislocated; (e) blowing smoke in their face until they vomit; (f) putting them in diapers, dousing them with cold water, and leaving them on a concrete floor to induce hypothermia; and (g) beating them with the butt of a rifle -- all things that we have always condemend as "torture" and which our laws explicitly criminalize as felonies ("torture means. . . the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering . . .") -- reveals better than all the words in the world could how degraded, barbaric and depraved a society becomes when it lifts the taboo on torturing captives.
(2) As I wrote rather clearly, numerous detainees died in U.S. custody, often as a direct result of our "interrogation methods." Those who doubt that can read the details here and here. Those claiming there was no physical harm are simply lying -- death qualifies as "physical harm" -- and those who oppose prosecutions are advocating that the people responsible literally be allowed to get away with murder.
Finally, as for the title of this post: it was just a way of expressing the view that Americans who want to justify or endorse the torture we engaged in should be required to know what was actually done -- not hide behind the comforting myth that "all we did was pour some water down the noses of 3 bad guys"; I wasn't trying to propose a new law compelling that every citizen read the IG Report.
And as to the second Glenn Greenwald piece, Glenn lambastes torture advocates and apologists who believe that the [never tried or even charged] "terrorists have no rights" (Supreme Court holding otherwise be damned... and God damned terrorist loving Ronald Reagan who signed a law making such conduct the most serious of crimes be damned too); the sentiment, I think, calls for this from A Man for All Seasons:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
This Nation piece suggests that Attorney General Holder and President Obama pursue investigations of more than just low level torturers (which, of course is what they are probably going to do), and instead also actually pursue investigations, and if appropriate, prosecutions of Bush-Administration policy-makers at the top. Sorry folks... nothing to see here. We live in the era of the "reverse-Nuremberg defense"... to wit, "I was only giving orders" is now the defense... whether it be Abu Ghraib, or GTMO, or CIA ghost prisons and torture chambers... the low level operatives and grunts may face punishment, but just like in the rest of corporate America, white collar managers and executives are above the law. My college classmate the President (and fellow Columbia alum Attorney General Holder) have to weigh whether they are more afraid of future governments pursuing them in retaliation for pursuing the Bush Administration (or worse, being accused of a political witch hunt themselves), or fearing a future government having to prosecute them for their own complicity in covering up war crimes, which is, itself, a war crime. My money is always on the Inside-the-Beltway-Villagers protecting their own. Sorry... I like Barack, and I like Holder. I'm glad Holder's starting somewhere with an investigation of somebody on this via the special prosecutor appointment, even the limited kabuki version that he's gone for. A start is a start. You'll forgive me if I won't hold any illusiions of having expectations of real accountability. I sure hope I'm proven wrong on this... but, that just isn't how you bet.
Finally, one piece of unambiguously good news: one of those "terrorists" (who some in Congress say we may as well torture... and in his case, we did), Mohammad Jawad (you'll recall that his was the case that caused former commissions prosecutor Darrel Vandeveld [interviewed here] to resign)... anyway, Jawad has finally been released to Afghanistan.
Well, what else can I say? This has been... "Slow Torture News Day... Not."
Update: The Grey Lady weighs in with an editorial calling for a broad-based investigation of high-level Bush Administration officials, as, of course, it suggested is necessitated by the CIA inspector general report. I suppose I'm now supposed to say, "indeed."
The situation in Iraq has apparently improved dramatically via the expedient of the American press by and large refusing to report news from it. Not so the situation in Afghanistan: the American press, alas, is quite interested in it. Not that you want to roll out a new product in August or anything, but it seems that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said to CNN:
I think it is serious and it is deteriorating, and I've said that over the past couple of years, that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated, in their tactics
Yes, the Bush Administration "neglected" the Afghan conflict for years while it conducted the Iraq debacle, and yes, candidate Obama promised to "get tough" in Afghanistan (because, you see, Americans want their leaders to be
imbeciles "tough," particularly when it comes to killing foreigners in other places.)
However, it's 2009; the eighth anniversary of 9-11 is just weeks away, and "victory," whatever that is, is as elusive as ever; OBL, Al-Zawahiri and AQ HQ, and Mullah Omar and the Taliban... are out there, taunting us. We also conveniently forget that the conditions that led to the Taliban's ascendancy in the first place, to wit, the existing government's inability to provide any semblance of order, while the Taliban, though irrationally brutal, provided such order, are by and large not different. In part, this is because of the failure of the "nation-building"project, but I think it's more fundamental. I think it's the very same superimposed hubris that made the Iraq debacle such a debacle, to wit, that without any semblance of liberal Western-style institutions or any semblance of experience in liberal Western-style "democracy," somehow we can magically impose "democracy" through force, and have the society magically transformed, as if corrupt local potentates and warlords will cease operating as corrupt local potentates and warlords just because they were selected "democratically" (as if even this is really possible in the middle of a war zone where "open campaigning" is discouraged by the occasional assassination or kidnapping or the less occasional open intimidation).
Well, at least it makes us feel better about ourselves, and isn't that important? I get the feeling that all of our political decisions are as much about that (particularly, making older, stupider, Whiter people especially, though not exclusively) feel better about ourselves, by telling us often enough that "we are bringing
Christianity and civilization freedom and democracy to the heathen oppressed." (And don't get me started on recent attempts to superimpose "the [home] ownership society" as a cure-all for the arbitrariness and unfairness of our neo-Victorian socio-political-economic order, which is just another "feel-good" strategy designed to deflect people from thinking).
Where was I? Oh yes... 44 American troops were killed in Afghanistan in July, and, at least the short term prognosis there looks grim. This might be an excellent time, as my college classmate the President is fond of saying, "to hit the reset button." Maybe some kind of "withdrawal schedule" from Afghanistan might be in order; we're clearly not achieving our strategic goals there, and the question of whether such goals could be better served by a draw-down, if not an abandonment of the Afghan conflict would now seem to be in order.
Although most political journalism in my adult life has been, to put it politely, execrable, one thing I do like is the use of the term "Gang of __" to describe groups of legislators, usually a "bipartisan" agglomeration of senators, to stand in the way of some major piece of legislation or at least legislative action, such as "the gang of 14" who aligned to prevent filibusters of extremist judges... and now,
former Labor Secretary Robert Reich discusses "the gang of six" that will keep us from getting meaningful health care reform. Although these six senators represent six per cent of senators, they represent barely 2 1/2 % of the American population (and many from Montana question if G of 6 member Baucus really represents them)... the money line from Secretary Reich:
So, I repeat: Why has it come down to these six? Who anointed them? Apparently, the White House. At least that's what I'm repeatedly being told by sources both on the Hill and in the Administration. "The Finance Committee is where the action is. They'll tee-up the final bill," says someone who should know.
Ladies and gentlemen, the only thing we have to change is change itself. America, adjust your expectations. Downward.
It does seem "disingenuous" for Republicans, such as House Minority Leader John Boehnert to rail against "death panels" in the Obama/Democratic health care reform package when they are similar to something he himself voted for way back in 2003. Admittedly, in 2003, we were still in the pendency of Newt Gingrich's
thousand year twelve year reich, but it wasn't that long ago, and if the government funding counseling the terminally ill on "end of life services" is o.k. then, it should be o.k. now.
Frankly, I despise the "town hall format"-- the horrible "permanent campaign" more or less perfected by President Bill Clinton to "bring the message directly to the people"... Bush used it for his loyal minions, and now Obama is using it, and is, evidently, complaining about the media seizing on its own creation, the paid thugs who are disrupting yon "town hall meetings." Well, Barack played the media beautifully to get elected, managing to deflect many criticism of his campaign often by charging racism... but, alas, Barack, you're no longer going against the inept Hillary Clinton (i.e., a feckless, disorganized DEMOCRAT)... right now, you're talking about taking on the very order of the universe, the very power of nature, in short, klepto-capitalism itself in our neo-Victorian proto-fascist era, as expemplified by large health insurers, pharmaceutical companies and their corporate media allies who have the money and are willing to spend it, if necessary on paid thugs willing to do nothing short of threaten the President of the United States himself.
Oh, and Mr. President, you can count amongst those you are up against... as usual... key members of your own party.
I recently observed that playing with our new kittens seemed far more appealing than blogging, especially about the so-called health care "debate" that, in fact, just seems to be a vehicle for unleashing forces of thuggery and intimidation. I have continued to try to assist Candace in battling official thuggery and intimidation as practiced against the innocent men who have been languishing in maximum security confinement at the hands of the United States military for no reason for nearly eight years, and I go on with the interviews... but somehow, playing with the kittens seems the best use of my time.
We are living in dark times, plagued, fueled and driven by quite wilful, inflicted ignorance, and a coddled populace willing to be misled by their natural enemies. Perhaps its because my leisure reading these days is by Charles Dickens that one can see the antecedents of our current circumstance: debtor's prisons, long sentences (or the death penalty) for minor transgressions, general misery for the working man and woman (and their children, of course), terms of indenture that were virtually slavery. And yet, many people believe they are sympathetic to the views of the paid thugs disrupting the (loathsome) "town hall meetings," notwithstanding that those thugs are paid by the very "insurers" who oppress them, by denying coverage for "pre-existing conditions," making many policies unaffordable, abandoning coverage if you actually get sick, not paying for whatever it is they were supposed to cover in the first place, and of course, making you an indentured servant to your current job lest you lose your insurance, whatever it is. This is nothing short of a regression to Victorian times by other means... and yet, as Thomas Frank would observe, it seems the urban rioters are protesting for more rights for the aristocracy.
And my college classmate the President thinks that by acting as an autocrat in the area he does control (let's face it: Guantanamo, and the rest of it, could be ended by his pen-stroke, would he have the courage to execute such a pen-stroke)... he thinks he is somehow scoring points... but all he's doing is closing the circle of brutality... a circle that, as noted, probably thinks nothing of turning itself on him.
F*** it. I'm going to play with the kittens, now. I urge you to do something similarly life-affirming. I'll be back if I have anything interesting to say. Until then, this has been... "Freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength."
Karen J. Greenberg is the Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at (my alma mater) New York University School of Law. She is the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days, editor of the NYU Review of Law and Security, co-editor of the Center's newest publication, The Enemy Combatants Papers: American Justice, the Courts, and the War on Terror (Cambridge University Press, August 2008), The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib, and editor of the books Al Qaeda Now and The Torture Debate in America (Cambridge University Press). On July 29, 2009, I had the privilege of interviewing her at her office in Manhattan. What follows are my interview notes, corrected as appropriate by Dr. Greenberg.
The Talking Dog Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?
Karen Greenberg: I was on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I was then living, and my concern that morning was actually about how my daughter, then going to school in Brooklyn, was going to get home, given the events of that day. She stayed in Brooklyn overnight, and managed to talk her way through the police and security personnel and through the confused re-routed subways and made it home the next day.
The Talking Dog Your Ph.D. and academic career is/was in American Political History and European studies; how did it come to pass that without an apparent legal background you became director of (my alma mater) NYU Law School's Center on Law and Security, edit books on torture memos and so forth and develop this all-around "thing formerly known as the Global War on Terror" expertise?
Karen Greenberg: That's a very interesting question. It turns out that my background was very relevant to what I am doing now. As of September 11th and thereafter, I was semi-retired; I was writing and publishing works of fiction, and was anticipating doing that forever. I was spending more and more of my time in Connecticut. But after 9-11, my prior work in the international arena particularly in Eastern Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Union – proved useful. In the international and civil society realms, the players, including politicians, journalists and foreign affairs experts - were the same people (and indeed, the very same people) that one would need in discussing the national security realm in the context of "European studies" that became allied with the United States in "the war on terror".
By way of background, American political history at Yale was largely a study of the history of the American Presidency. And so, I found that my American political history background and my European studies career had coalesced around the national security issues that have become the biggest story of our day. For me, this was an obvious thing; I like to put issues and people together, and that is what I ended up doing.
The Talking Dog Your book identifies the original JTF-160 commander, Marine Gen. Michael Lehnert, who I must admit that even I as a "GTMO buff" had not really focused on before, and is generally not a household name in "the literature" notwithstanding, for his example, his pivotal--and heroic- roles in negotiating early hunger strikes and in trying to set up a Geneva-compliant facility at GTMO. Obviously, the notorious Gen. Geoffrey Miller of Abu Ghraib fame is more well known, as are others, such as Gen. Michael Dunlavey , for, among other reasons, perhaps, because of his legal officer Diane Beaver's forays into writing her own "torture memos." Why isn't Gen. Lehnert-- who, by all accounts, did everything right (only to have it reversed by lesser Americans in the Bush Administration)-- better known? Am I correct that since Gen. Lehnert-- being an exemplary United States Marine and in my view, a hero in every sense-- probably doesn't see himself as one? And let me ask the same question about Col. Manuel Supervielle.
Karen Greenberg: I have actually been to Guantanamo myself, but during the tenure of the Bush Administration; you and your readers might want to see my article "Guantanamo is Not a Prison" for some key background.
One reason why Lehnert is not better known is that the military is absolutely superb at erasing unwanted narratives, and in his case, has succeeded 100%. They often do it by simple assignment rotation, and of course, there is a "don't question" culture. And so, we are given a narrative. And a second reason is that the story of what went wrong has legitimately captured the American imagination. The story of the first hundred days, by contrast, is a story of good efforts that were derailed. It is almost universally understood that the first two Guantanamo commanders were Generals Dunlavey and Bacchus; of course, we now know this is not true, but everyone let's it go! In this case, the torture story took over so quickly, that everyone wants to move to it and anything associated with "the bad stuff." The earlier period of comparative order and normalcy run by Lehnert is just not something most people are interested in!
In "war on terror studies," one must also look on the ground, be it in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or anywhere else. Now, I happen to prefer looking at people in these circumstances actually doing their jobs where we find them, rather than what most people seem to be interested in, to wit, Washington, D.C. intrigue; to most people, the people in power are more compelling. And of course, we're so used to criticizing ourselves, that focusing on the powerful allows us to do that. It's not that I'm uncritical, but I prefer to look at this story and try to see what positive lessons we can take away from it.
As to Mike Lehnert, in some sense, I don't see him so much as a hero (though he clearly is) as a professional, trained to follow the law, and military order. This was his job, and he was going to do it, no matter what obstacles presented themselves, be they logistical or bureaucratic.
As to Manny Supervielle, in many ways, he's more complicated, because he actually does see himself in a heroic role, but in a humble way. Supervielle comes from a distinguished family of Cuban dissidents; his grandfather was a famous lawyer in Cuba who stood up to Batista and eventually committed suicide (who interestingly, was embraced by the Castro regime). In that sense, Supervielle considers dissidence as a birthright! But Supervielle played by the rules, and his agenda was the same as Lehnert's. But in picking up the phone and inviting the International Committee of the Red Cross to Guantanamo, Supervielle was definitely committing an act of defiance of the wishes of his superiors at the Pentagon (while still following "the rules" as he understood them as a military professional).
The Talking Dog Aside from Gen. Lehnert and Col. Supervielle, and your book features base commander Captain Buehn (and his wife), medical officer Captain Shimkus, the army jailer Col. Carrico, first GTMO Muslim Chaplain Lt. SaifulIslam, which of these, or if you like, other characters in the "early days of GTMO" saga strike you as particularly compelling-- you can discuss both "heroes" and "villains" if you like.
Karen Greenberg: Well, we'll talk about Carol Rosenberg in the context of another question. I think the chaplain, Abuhena Saifulislam is a most complicated and most interesting character. Though he was not American born (he is from Bangladesh) he is a United States Citizen. He has knowledge of South Asian languages. As such, and as a Muslim he found himself suspected basically of collusion with the enemy from day one; but Gen. Lehnert trusted him and protected him. You can see what happens to someone who did not have that kind of high-level protection as in the case of Captain James Yee. In Saifulislam's case, he was instrumental to Lehnert's ability to attend to the detainees based on what their communicated needs were. The case of "the General and the Chaplain" was the heart of the early Guantanamo pushback against Washington.
Later, of course, Dunlavey was seeking the exact opposite of the orderly, rules-following atmosphere set up by Lehnert (with Saifulislam's help), to wit, he was seeking to create conditions of disorder, which he seemed to believe were essential to his role as facilitator of an interrogation facility. And so, instability was in the air, and conditions of disarray were re-created, which, from Dunlavey's perspective, made perfect sense. Lehnert and Saifulislam, of course, were trying to do the opposite (as was Bacchus). In the end, Lehnert was gone, and Bacchus didn't have the clout (or the rank) to check Dunlavey and the Pentagon.
The Talking Dog You of course were interviewed by the premier journalist of our time (that would be Jon Stewart), who asked you, among other things, why you don't want America to be safe (I suppose I should also ask why you hate our troops, and Jesus, while I'm at it... then again, I ask myself the same questions all the time...) How has the press reception been to the revelations in your book, and can you comment overall on press coverage of GTMO-- first hundred days and since (if you like, you can talk about your earlier books with Josh Dratel, and anything else you've written)?
Karen Greenberg: There has been great interest in the current book. In some ways, I'm the last person who should be asked this question, but I have noticed that I get more and more interest as time goes on, notably with respect to the Red Cross story (how Manny Supervielle defied the Pentagon and just called them up and invited them to GTMO) and the general interest in a piece of the story that has remained unknown until now. Compared to collections of documents on torture, I was trying to make this book read more like a novel.
In my view, as time goes on, there will be more competition for who will ultimately get to tell the Guantanamo story; more and more little pieces breaking through.
In the broader sense of your question, in terms of reaching the public, I went beyond the usual Guantanamo cast of characters; this is a story about regular people and recognizable characters doing their jobs, albeit in unusual and trying situations.
I've been told that women like the story, and people in the military like it. I wanted to be able to reach out to regular readers, and thus far, it looks like I've succeeded in doing that.
The Talking Dog Foremost on the subject of heroes and journalists is Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, considered the dean of Guantanamo reporting, and certainly, one of the few consistent beacons of information coming from the Eastern tip of Cuba since Camp X-Ray opened. While Ms. Rosenberg, and her employers at the McClatchy papers, have been the sources of just about the best reporting on GTMO, much of the media (broadcast especially guilty) has been content simply to recite whatever press release Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld were putting out on a given day about "the worst of the worst" to the point where Congress can merrily get the vapors at the thought of stateside transfers even to maximum security prisons. Even this year, we are still hearing such unsupported (and outright false) canards about released detainees "returning to the battlefield" even as the government's own documents demonstrate that virtually none of them were ever on "the battlefield" (and perhaps the number is as few as one detainee actually captured on the battlefield)... and terrorists who would chew through hydraulic lines to bring down their transport plane proved to be exhausted, emaciated, and/or juveniles and/or geriatrics who didn't even speak Arabic. The question (it's coming!) is, after nearly eight years of this garbage and propaganda, is it even possible to set the public straight on just what a big (what the military would call) Charlie Foxtrot the whole GTMO/Bagram/extraordinary rendition/ghost prison gulag archipelago program has been from the get go? And if possible, aside from forcing every member of Congress to read your book (an excellent idea if you ask me)... how do you see "winning hearts and minds" in a Fox News world?
Karen Greenberg: The reason "we" don't care about Guantanamo, in my view, is that no reporter has been able to successfully link a face to a detainee; we just can't find a particular human being to serve as the face of Guantanamo. Interviewing released detainees has been fascinating to me, as I ponder this. I wonder which detainee has a face and a story compelling enough to become "the" story... the "face" of Guantanamo. It might be Binyam Mohammad, or Shafiq Rasul, but when the press finally finds this person, the public will come round on these issues.
Thus far, we've returned 600 detainees, certainly very few are identified with terrorist causes, most just go back to their lives, but we have not yet found a human face that has captured the public imagination.
Turning to the other part of your question, about Carol Rosenberg, they used to say that the Cubans at Guantanamo, who have stayed at the base since Castro, and were literally living in exile in their own country, were the sole consistent eyes and ears on the ground at Guantanamo. They have largely aged out, and at this point, since September 11th, Carol Rosenberg has been the most consistent presence there. She is an amazing story in her own right, a reliable journalist who has in the past been trusted by the military; for example, she asked the Public Affairs Office of Southcom for the special dispensation of remaining at the base without returning each week in between media tours... and they let her stay.
In my view, she should write "the" story of Guantanamo. There is most likely no other perspective that is as comprehensive as hers: she has seen, felt and heard what they've tried to do since inception.
The Talking Dog While my college classmate Barack Obama has promised to close GTMO within a year, given the policies of his Administration, starting with his mean-spirited appeal in Kiyemba [the Uighurs' case, which could have been the entree to show that the world won't end if the Government complies with a court order, and men that both our military and the courts concluded have no connection to terrorism, were, on enumerated terms and supervision, released into the United States], followed by positions taken on Bagram, state secrets, the military commissions, "indefinite detention," and, of course, steadfastly opposing investigations to hold the prior administration accountable for whatever of their actions constituted crimes, it seems (to me, anyway) that he's simply not going to disown the Bush model of the imperial presidency and eternal national security state (and in my view, this "break" from "change" is partially responsible for his decline in approval ratings), what would you advise the President to do in this area-- right now? Can you give the Obama Administration a letter grade on its performance in the "law and security" area for, say, the first semester (January to July 2009)?
Karen Greenberg: We can start assessing the Obama Administration by at least noting that we are in a place that didn't exist for nearly eight years: we are at least having a full-fledge discussion about detention policy. The tone and the content have changed! The Obama Administration finds itself encountering a lack of coherence after seven years of the Bush Administration, so it certainly gets the benefit of being cut some slack for taking some time to figure out what it has to do. That said, it gets no slack for insisting on "all options". Some "options" must in my opinion be taken off the table, such as anything involving indefinite detention and anything compromising fair trials.
We can at least hope that the Obama Administration will seek a good end. Still, there are problems. The attitude of "we can't have acquittals" is a path we shouuld not want to go down. It is certainly a fair reason for delay in order for the Obama people to think their way through the palette of options, and they are starting to test the use of the federal courts to try detainees, as in the cases of Ghailani and Jawad. I am latching onto good things. If we detect positive direction, as with the use of the federal courts, I certainly think it should be encouraged.
As to a grade, I won't give the Obama Administration an incomplete; I'll give it a B or a B+, and encourage the President to do what he needs to do for an A, as an A is equivalent in many ways to a passing grade in this case (and a B is just not acceptable).
The Talking Dog One of your chapter titles is "The Petting Zoo," [my favorite chapter, btw) a reference to the fact that the early Camp X-Ray jailers had to take precious time from the impossible mission of setting up the detention camp (which, I think, you noted literally took less than four days, despite not adequately requisitioning enough materials... or anything else) to show VIPs around. Interestingly, the VIPs then,whether military or Pentagon brass (such as 'the War Council") or members of Congress, simply took in what they saw and rarely if ever questioned it (in my interview with Army linguist Erik Saar, he always asked why none of the visiting dignitaries ever wondered why the interrogations they saw were all perfectly orchestrated). Is your interpretation of this based on your interviews and research that this is the result of some sort of post-9-11 national shock... or are our "leaders" as just plain uninterested in what's going on around them as I fear they are... or is something else going on?
Karen Greenberg: My original book proposal was entitled "the petting zoo". I saw this as the appropriate metaphor for the entire Guantanamo operation. Everything is the image-- a specifically created image. The greatest challenge of Guantanamo has been covering it without pictures. And the Government certainly knew this too! The question is, "how gullible are people?" We have seen that the answer is "pretty darned gullible". They have pulled this "petting zoo" off... and too few people question it.
Now, I'd had dozens of interviewees from the early days go over the various buildings and cell blocks, the locations of the showers, the medical facility, the holding area, etc. But the military guys who take you through as your "tour guides" actually gave us wrong information – albeit unknowingly, just following their script. They didn't care whether what they said was accurate or not. They told you what the briefing book in front of them told them to say. And it did not comport on all counts with the descriptions given by the military officers and troops who had been there. It was somewhat insulting if you actually knew the facts. They just assumed that no one had any relevant knowledge. While I called it 'the petting zoo", it was so much more insidious than that; the public's overall ignorance just bled into the whole charade.
The Talking Dog Is there any doubt in your mind that the most notorious abuses, whether at GTMO or later Abu Ghraib, were the deliberate result of the deliberate Pentagon decision to split up lines of command between military jailers and (higher ranking!) military intelligence? Your book portrays Maj. Gen. Dunlavey in a somewhat less favorable light, then, say, Dunlavey's fellow Erie, PA resident Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld did in my interview with him; Lt. Col. Vandeveld noted that whatever else one might say about Dunlavey, he had a unique background in military intelligence, the law and interrogations that, along with being a reserve officer, really made him an excellent choice to head the GTMO interrogation operation (and Lt. Col Vandeveld makes an excellent point that, say what you will about Dunlavey, he was certainly no Geoffrey Miller!). The second part of my question, then, is, given that we had Cambone and Feith (the latter someone Gen. Tommy Franks called the stupidest man he ever met, and in my view, that may be being too generous to Mr. Feith) running Pentagon intel, is there a basis to conclude either (1) that the Pentagon (and Dick Cheney and the gang) actually wanted to commit military malpractice by creating a military black hole and unclear lines of command that led to the same pattern at Abu Ghraib (where Brig Gen Janis Karpinski found herself as out of the loop and unable to deal with abuses by military intel as Brig Gen Rick Bacchus found himself), OR worse, in my view, (2) they were actually so incompetent and clueless as to sincerely believe that pressuring a bunch of irrelevant nobodies handed over for bounties by recently trained NCOs who didn't even speak their language using impromised methods not found in the Army Field Manual for interrogations might actually yield "actionable battlefield intelligence"?
Karen Greenberg: This question makes me uncomfortable in some ways. The two branches of your question – whether the policy resulted from intention or incompetence- are not mutually exclusive.
Yes, they were trying to mess with the military. The Bush Administration disdained professionalism, be it in the military, the legal profession or even in the ingelligence services. Professionals were considered to be standing in the way of their agenda. This intentional lack of professionalism at Guantanamo was replicated at Abu Ghraib. Those who tried to diagnose what went wrong at Abu Ghraib were partially looking at the wrong thing. They failed to see how the story of detainee treatment was an experiment in getting the military to operate devoid of its usual protocols. The Bush Administration found that it could get results by messing with structure and rules. And so it did.
And there was incompetence as well- beginning with the lack of knowledge about who they had at Guantanamo – and extending even to who they let go from GTMO.
The Talking Dog Let's talk about images. Interestingly, Gen. Lehnert insisted on a measure of "openness" by, inter alia, inviting the Red Cross and trying to be reasonably candid with the press (both of which sort of backfired when Pentagon bigwigs realized they could use these for propaganda purposes), and of course, the early iconic image out of GTMO [this one, I believe], ends up ironically "charged" to Gen. Lehnert, even though he had little to nothing to do with it, and unlike just about everyone else associated with commanding Guantanamo's detention facility, interpreted his vague non-order orders to run a "Geneva compliant-ISH" facility to mean complying with both the spirit and letter of the Geneva Conventions. Of course, it's a somewhat disturbing image, and of course, taken by a military phot ographer and controlled (and released) by the Pentagon. One of the reasons given by some people I interviewed as to why the American public and press haven't taken a greater interest in GTMO (say, compared to the rest of the world) is this lack of images, particularly television images... can you comment on this?
Karen Greenberg: As to images, I'd just like to revisit my earlier answer on the need to find "the face" of Guantanamo for the public to latch onto and identify with the issue, whether it is Shafiq Rasul or Binyam Mohammed or someone else.
The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else that the public needs to know on these critically important subjects?
Karen Greenberg: I'll end somewhat optimistically: I am going to trust President Obama, and the great team of lawyers he has surrounded himself with, to keep his promise and get the job of closing Guantanamo done within a year. I want to believe that they're going to get it done. And in a way that respects due process, fairness, and power of legal precedent.
The Talking Dog: I join all of my readers in thanking Karen Greenberg for that fascinating interview, and I encourage all interested readers to look at The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days.
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, with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, and with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions to be of interest.
No matter what else we say about my college classmate President Barack Obama, he will always be credited with nominating America's first Latino U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, confirmed by the Senate today, with 68 votes yes, and 31 Republicans voting no and basically circling their wagons (and writing off their own future chances among Latino voters, America's fastest growing demographic, rather than risk alienating what's left of their reactionary, racist aging rural and exurban White base.)
Though hardly the "activist judge" or the "scary liberal" (or even "the wise Latina") she has been pitched as, Judge Sotomayor has been a solid, thoughtful presence on the federal bench here in New York, and we have no doubt she will be a credit to the Supreme Court. At only 54 years of age, we can hope that she will serve to offset the soulless, heartless, dishonest extremism of Roberts and Alito and the more straightforward extremism of Scalia and Thomas, for years and years to come.
Happy birthday to my college classmate, President Barack Hussein Obama, who turns 48. (Wherever it was he was actually born! Hey birthers... three words for you: GET. OVER. IT.) Helen Thomas, who turns 89 , joined in the birthday revelries with the President.
Enough of this: Mr. President, I never want to hear the word "bipartisan" or any variant thereof during the rest of your Presidency. You have enough votes in both houses of Congress to treat the Republicans as what they are: an irrelevance. (Indeed, given the tendency of GOP Senators from Latino heavy states to announce their opposition to soon-to-be-Justice Sotomayor's confirmation, they seem to have a political suicide pact as well as being irrelevant-- all the more reason not to try to do anything they want... they're politically insane as it is.) If your own party members think that they can stand in the way of your agenda-- the agenda the American people overwhelmingly support-- then the two words "primary challenger" should be enough to put them in their place and bring them back to the fold. And if not: pull the trigger and support primary challengers. And yes, Ben Nelson and Max Baucus, I'm talking to you.
ENOUGH. Now go enjoy your birthday, Mr. President. (At 14 months and change older than your talking dog, the President had best enjoy himself while he's still
young not quite old.)
Blogging lighter than usual here at Casa TD; a number of reasons for this. That day job that pays for the kibble has stepped up its demands (those slave-drivers!), I have some great interviews in the works (just as soon as I finish typing them!) and a coupla weeks ago... Mrs. TD brought home a pair of kittens... and let's face it... blogging... or kittens? Blogging... or playing with kittens? Blogging is usually not gonna win, people.
In coming to the realization that part of kittens' appeal is that they just live in the moment (and make those around them live in the amount as well), it dawned on me that of all higher mammals, only man is blessed with the gift of self-delusion. Indeed, that's kind of the subtext of this blog... we dogs (talking ones anyway) try to remember this, and hope some day to exchange our own gift of self-delusion for some nice throw-pillows...
And so... the Iranian regime deludes itself into thinking that all is well because it stages some show-trials at which formerly high-ranking dissidents now recant their prior questioning that the rigged elections in Iran were rigged.
Just as the Bush Administration deluded itself (and many of us) that it was getting "valuable intelligence" by torturing people, even when it tortured children. And evidently, were it up to the Obama Administration, at least in its assertion of state secrets in as broad (and offensive... and wrong) a manner as the Bush Administration ever argued... we'd never, ever even know.
Or, switching gears, the fact that the favorite new strategy to kill health care reform is for connected health insurance industry lobbyists to just sponsor well-dressed thugs to scare already cowardly Democratic lawmakers into their default position: doing nothing (while some of us delude ourselves into thinking that things might be different... that the last election might have resulted in... change...)
All of this just makes one want to go... play with kittens.
See you'all... whenever...