The Talking Dog

March 28, 2010, Building on success

Fresh from passage and enactment of a "health care reform" that Dick Nixon would have been proud of without so much as a single Republican vote, the President continues to be utterly undeterred by reality, and insists that he can "negotiate" with Republicans (including, amusingly, Long Island Republican Congressman Peter King, who despises all terrorists who aren't the I.R.A.) over "closing Guantanamo," featuring discussion of such "details" as statutory indefinite detention of un-charged and un-tried persons, having actual criminal trials in actual courts (with actual, real judges and everything!), and other stuff.

We have, of course, gone from "closing Guantanamo within one year" by executive order... to... maybe somehow close it by the end of Obama's first (and, if he keeps this chicksh*t up, only term), notwithstanding that his own "executive review team," has concluded that the majority of the 180 or so men left there should be released (just as the Bush Administration had determined that nearly 600 of the 800 men held on its watch should be released, and it released them)... the number of those for whom terrorism trials might be held, if ever, has never really been thought to be more than two to three dozen, leaving somewhere around 50, 60, or 70 men in official limbo (and everyone still at GTMO in actual limbo). You all know my feeling on the concept of "not enough evidence to try but too dangerous to release;" it's code for "totalitarianism." If there is "insufficient evidence to try," how is there possibly sufficient evidence for life imprisonment? Stalin and Mao would have appreciated the "logic" of such a category, but any American who believes in our Constitution, or at least the Bill of Rights (a tiny and ever-dwindling number, by my observation) will be appalled.

Anyway, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have been the top recruiting sergeants for America's enemies for years now; why stop now? Honestly: we could do no better good for ourselves than to promptly either try or release everyone we are holding... and if "bad guys" are acquitted, nothing would serve to save more American lives. That's right, folks: a demonstration that we aren't hypocrites-- a false one, since, of course, we are, as demonstrated by the absurdity of the fact that actually trying criminals in court is now controversial-- would still be far more successful at winning the hearts and minds of people in areas where our troops are now in harm's way than all of the "surges" and "awakenings" and other catch-phrases we can think of combined.

But... we're not going to go there. Honestly, our President is now in Afghanistan on a surprise visit, urging the inherently corrupt Hamid Karzai to swear off corruption. Like trying to get Republican support on anything (honestly, Mr. President, your condition, as viewed by Republicans, Tea-partiers, and the Davids Broder and Gergen, is best called "Governing While Black"... you'll get as much respect from them as you would have from an LAPD officer at a traffic stop during your early college daze at Occidental...), trying to get Karzai to clean up his corrupt act, or trying to "improve our security" by doing everything imaginable to undermine it, the Obama First/Bush Third Term seems to be hellbent on proving Einstein's axiom that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This has been "Building on success."

March 23, 2010, Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Candace writes to me from Tbilisi, Georgia, and passes along this press release from the United States Department of Justice, advising that three Guantanamo detainees have been released to the Republic of Georgia, pursuant to agreement between the United States and Georgian governments.

Candace has asked me to tell you that one of those released is none other than her client, Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi.

From time to time, I have let you in on Mr. Al-Ghizzawi's saga. He is a Libyan national almost exactly my age, who was just trying to live a quiet life as a baker in Afghanistan with his wife and young daughter, who found himself handed over to the Northern Alliance for a bounty along with every other nearby Arab shortly after the United States began bombing his adopted country in 2001. He was then handed off to the American forces who did with him what they did to every other Arab handed over to them in Afghanistan: transferred him to Guantanamo without a second thought... no reason, just policy. And indeed, the world forgot about him for years, until the Supreme Court's 2004 Rasul decision suddenly required "a legal process" for determining if men at Guantanamo were properly held. And the legal process-- called a "combatant status review tribunal," or "CSRT" which included a courageous officer named Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham (interviewed by me here) determined, unsurprisingly, that Al-Ghizzawi had no connection to terrorism and hence, was "not an unlawful enemy combatant." Notwithstanding this, the Defense Department decided to call a "do-over," and a second panel, on identical "evidence," concluded that Al-Ghizzawi was an "EC" after all. Col. Abraham went on to blow the whistle on the flaws in the CSRT process, which is widely credited with convincing the Supreme Court to grant the almost never granted: a motion to reargue in the Boumediene case.

In the meantime, Al-Ghizzawi languished at Guantanamo, and languished... as he has for the last eight years. And while he languished, his health deteriorated-- he suffered tuberculosis and liver disease, and at one point, was told by the military that he had AIDS... and then, when Candace brought a motion to demand access to his medical records... he was promptly told that he didn't have AIDS after all. His eyesight has deteriorated. We won't even talk about the mental state of a man cut off from his family--indeed, from all humanity as most of his confinement was in solitary confinement, in the company only of guards and interrogators.

Shortly after the Rasul case, when the Center for Constitutional Rights was arranging to obtain pro bono counsel for the detainees, Candace, a civil rights practitioner in Chicago, answered the call, and was eventually assigned the representation of two men at Guantanamo. Candace has been characterized as "the feistiest" of Guantanamo habeas lawyers, and I can tell you that her tireless has representation has gotten the Government's attention. From time to time, after my interview with her in 2007, Candace asked me for my suggestions to her publicly filed legal papers... so let's just say that, at this point, Al-Ghizzawi's cause is near and dear to my heart.

While many will celebrate the passage of a dubious "health care reform" package, I will celebrate this long overdue event... it only took over eight years, and brilliant and tenacious legal work by Candace, but this day has finally come for Mr. Al-Ghizzawi. Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! Allah be praised, and Godspeed to Mr. Al-Ghizzawi.

You'll excuse me, while I go cry now.

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March 22, 2010, TD Blog Interview with Matthew Alexander

Matthew Alexander (a pseudonym) spent fourteen years in the U.S. Air Force and is now part of the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He has personally conducted more than 300 interrogations in Iraq and supervised more than 1,000. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his achievement in Iraq, has two advanced degrees, and speaks three languages. When he's not chasing the world's most wanted, he goes surfing.He is the co-author of "How to Break A Terroristt: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq ," and is credited with having conducted the military interrogations that led directly to the killing of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musad al Zarqawi. On March 22, 2010, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Alexander by e-mail exchange.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on 11 Sept. 2001?

Matthew Alexander: I was at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations Academy. I was in my last week of training prior to graduation. My flight was outside in a training area conducting simulated law enforcement raids on makeshift houses. A delivery truck drove by and the driver yelled out that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Our instructor said that the driver smoked too much pot, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I asked that we make a phone call. Shortly thereafter we looked to the west and saw the black smoke rising from the Pentagon, where I had been assigned five months prior.

The Talking Dog:During the tour in Iraq described in your book, you were then an Air Force officer with the rank of major. As I understand it, you technically outranked the other interrogators, or 'gators, including the commanding officer, an Army Captain you refer to as "Randy," though I take it that this was an Army operation in which you were nominally "a guest". Did you find this to be an unusual situation for you? You describe working with colleagues in trying to steer them toward your "traditional" (or if you like, "professional") bent of "rapport building" in interrogation-- the concept that a subject with whom you have built a relationship of trust and respect is more likely to provide valuable information than one who has not built such a relationship with his interrogator, and some of your colleagues were more receptive to this than others. Did you find any correlation between who was more likely to consider alternatives (such as "rapport building" rather than "fear up" or "total control") and rank or experience?

Matthew Alexander: It was not unusual for me to be working in an Army run joint unit or for someone of lower rank. First, I’ve spent a good portion of my career working in joint units, such as my time as a Special Operations helicopter pilot working in the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force during the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. In the Special Ops joint arena, rank is often ignored in favor of expertise. What was interesting about my relationship with the unit in Iraq is that I was the highest ranking interrogator, meaning not that I was a Major and my direct supervisor a Captain, but that no one above me was an interrogator, which leads to the second portion of your question. Much of the opposition to rapport based interrogations came from those who had very limited experience and no law enforcement experience. There appeared to be a direct correlation between those who used racial epithets to refer to detainees and those who consistently wanted to use harsh methods. Prejudice against Muslims and Arabs was negatively affecting our ability to elicit information through interrogations because it promoted incorrect stereotypes which led to incorrect detainee analysis and, hence, misapplied interrogation approaches.

The Talking Dog: From my interview with Erik Saar, a former military Arabic linguist at Guantanamo with the rank of sergeant, who noted that many of the interrogators who he worked with at Guantanamo were themselves NCOs (and the GTMO interrogation operation was, at least originally, under the command of a reservist, Maj. General Michael Dunlavey), it had always struck me as somewhat odd that a purportedly critical mission like interrogating supposed al Qaeda figures was left to inexperienced NCOs (some, presumably on their first tours of duty)... leading me to wonder if the GTMO interrogation operation wasn't largely a "Potemkin Village"... in fact, command (if not necessarily the White House or Congress) was well aware it was holding a bunch of nobodies, and so (my supposition) it could afford not to send YOU to Guantanamo. My question is, based on your experience in the military, was this situation (by and large inexperienced NCO interrogators, sometimes or perhaps even often aided by NCO military linguists on their first tours) an exception, or was the situation you found in your "Gator Pit" in Iraq-- with experienced interrogators, often of officer rank-- more of "the exception"... or is there another answer? Also, with no disrespect to Mr. Saar, but following up something that you discussed when we met... am I correct that the type of linguist/interpreter you preferred tended not to be a native-born American trained as a linguist, but generally a contractor of Middle Eastern origins, because of their valuable cultural sensitivities?

Matthew Alexander: In 2006, when I was deployed to Iraq, I think it is fair to say that we were significantly short of interrogators everywhere. My group of Air Force special agents specifically was chosen to supplement an elite task force in Iraq based on our qualifications as criminal interrogators, yet we had to undergo even further scrutiny before being selected to deploy.

The problem with the Army model of recruiting interrogators is that it selects recruits based on an academic aptitude exam (which I think is based on the notion that a minimum level of academic aptitude is required for language training, which most interrogators attend). The problem is that interrogation is a social skill, not an academic one. So the Army is most likely recruiting the exact opposite personalities as those required for the art of interrogations. That said, they often get lucky and I found that the young Army interrogators that worked on my team in Iraq were extremely bright, intellectual, and quick to learn. The problem is supervision. If they are taught negative stereotypes and operate in a culture that tolerates violations of the regulations and law, then things can quickly digress.

My team of a dozen or so interrogators was about half US Army interrogators and most were on their first tour. A few had never been outside the U.S. or talked to an Arab or Muslim before arriving.

Chris Mackey in his book "The Interrogators" talks about their inability to distinguish good from bad and high level from low level detainees during the early months in the war in Afghanistan. He suggests that we sent a lot of nobodies to Gitmo.

I prefer a trained, native interpreter over a soldier with language skills because the interpreter is also a cultural encyclopedia. Several times my interpreters made crucial inputs to my interrogation strategies based on their cultural knowledge. Some of our Army interrogators were trained in Arabic but still had to use an interpreter as there were 14 dialects of Arabic in Iraq and also because interrogation is a very nuanced conversation.

The Talking Dog: In your "day job" in the Air Force, you had been a criminal investigator-- a detective as it were, experienced in questioning criminal suspects and witnesses. I take it you were "re-trained" in military interrogations (your book indicated a "crash course" at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, if I recall correctly). In terms of doctrine or theory (or perhaps in terms of the applicable Army Field Manual... 34-52?), did you find significant differences in the doctrine of military interrogation of captured hostiles and those of military criminal investigation? And obviously you found your criminal investigation experience to be an advantage in conducting interrogations, and you have suggested that a good interrogator needs to be flexible and creative... "a good interrogator needs to be a good American" I believe, to quote you. Given the seeming resistance you encountered among some of your colleague "gators" toward your "rapport building" (and "respect-based") methods, I'm wondering to what extent you attribute that to the orthodoxy of the military doctrine given in training? To what extent do you attribute this resistance to the rather crass politics of "your with us or against us," demonizing the enemy and so forth?

Matthew Alexander: I was trained by the Army at Fort Huachuca in a six-week crash course on interrogations. It was four weeks too long. I say that because many of the subjects we covered my group of Air Force agents had just completed in our separate pre-deployment tactics course. Subjects like how to use an interpreter, terrorism, and such. Still, the instructors did well at teaching us the Army Manual interrogation approaches. The Army techniques are mostly effective if tailored for the culture (there’s a couple that I would argue are ineffective and counterproductive – Fear Up and Pride and Ego Down). The main difference I noted is that as a criminal investigator there was heavy emphasis on the rapport building and analysis phases, but the Army program emphasized the interrogation techniques. What was disappointing about the Army training is that there were no Arab or Muslim instructors, so the cultural learning was basically limited to slide presentations. The best thing we can do to increase the effectiveness of our interrogation methods is to improve our culture training.

Because it’s the Army, I do think the organizational culture reinforces an "us versus them" mentality that results in a misplaced attitude towards the detainee/interrogator relationship. This is easily corrected with proper training and supervision.

The Talking Dog: We seem to have a plethora of t.v. shows demonstrating detectives at their work (the Law and Order franchise, NCIS in the military context, the CSI's and so forth), and yet, you have observed, police officers continue to get suspects to confess despite the prevalence of these programs, just as you managed to get subjects to provide information, despite the presumed familiarity with general methods. Why do you think, despite the success that good old guile and trickery and what I'll call non-coercive methods of persuasion in both law enforcement (real and fictional), and, of course, in your own personal experience, has something as insidious as the purported effectiveness of torture as depicted in "24" managed to sink into the national consciousness, not only of our politicians, but of a huge number of people? I take it you would agree with me that our reputation for engaging in this kind of activity (such as what a number of members of Congress particularly of one party that shall remain nameless have been recently suggesting about the Christmas underpants bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, notwithstanding that he had actually been cooperating with good old law enforcement, he should still have been subjected to "enhanced interrogation" better known as torture) is by far the best recruiting tool our enemies have?

Matthew Alexander: First, shows like 24 that show torture are fiction. I’ve been on the set of 24 with Eric Maddox, the interrogator who found Saddam Hussein, to talk to the executive producer and writers about showing interrogations that are exciting and effective instead of torture. In the premier episode of the following season Jack Bauer tortures a suspect and it works. Our expertise fell on deaf ears. Why? Because torture sells.

The truth is that torture doesn’t work and the long term negative consequences are dramatic, as we’ve already experienced. Much of the fictional ballyhoo is accepted by the public because they simply are not educated on the art and science of interrogations and unaware of the success we’ve had in the past without torture or abuse. There are legendary interrogators from World War II such as Marine Major Sherwood Moran, TSgt Grant Hirabayashi, The Fort Hunt Interrogators, Colonel Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens, and even the German interrogator Hanns Scharff, who all successfully conducted interrogations lawfully. Also, Orrin DeForrest, a contract CIA interrogator in Vietnam, had tremendous success using relationship building approaches and taught the South Vietnamese to quit torturing.

It’s disappointing that the American people, wrongly informed by elected officials and others who spread stereotypes about Muslims and absolute falsehoods about interrogations, are not better educated about our rich history of successfully conducting non-coercive interrogations. I plan to change that.

I’ve written extensively about how Al Qaida used our policy of torture and abuse as a recruiting tool for foreign fighters who came to Iraq and killed Americans. That policy cost us the lives of American soldiers and will continue to do so.

The Talking Dog: I understand that your account of your interrogation of the subject you refer to as "Abu Haydar," a very senior figure in Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamea" organization whose information led directly to Zarqawi, which you indicate was conducted over an extremely compressed time frame of about 6-8 hours (or what amounted to a "peer to peer" conversation using techniques of respect, trickery and playing to the subject's ego... one certainly is inclined to "compare and contrast" similar egomaniacal figures like KSM...) before he would have been transferred to Abu Ghraib and out of your control, was originally the subject of military censorship, and that you eventually had to obtain a court order to get permission to publish a number of pieces of unclassified information; am I correct that in your view, the reason for the censorship was not to protect any matters of national security, so much as to protect the military from the embarrassment of revealing that it's seemingly preferred method of "fear-up" and "disrespect-based" interrogations, despite having gone on for days if not weeks, just weren't particularly effective? Did you see a political angle in this attempt at censorship?

Matthew Alexander: I’m not sure there was a political angle, but certainly there was an attempt by some entity in the Department of Defense to censor my manuscript such that the public would not know that we found Abu Musab Al Zarqawi by using non-coercive techniques. In fact, fear and control based techniques nearly cost us that opportunity. It may be that the unit I worked for in Iraq also did not want it to be known that they nearly transferred the guy who handed us Zarqawi because they refused to accept that there was a better way to interrogate than the methods used by the ‘old school’ interrogators.

The Talking Dog: One of the more poignant accounts in your book are of your interrogation of a bomb-maker, who seemed to have joined al-Qaeda not so much for the reasons many did (of trying to protect his family from rampaging Shiite militias unleashed by the American invasion and unchecked by the American occupation), but for money to satisfy the lifestyle demands of his young second wife, and of the case of the completely innocent men, who had the misfortune of owning the same make and model vehicle as a terrorist suspect. Let's start with this one, who you eventually tricked through the brilliant ruse of a fabricated Iraqi legal document. You noted that it was a category error of American mindset-- as confirmed by your attempt to brief a general on the subject-- that members of Al Qaeda in Iraq were all hard-core militants, motivated by the stereotypical ideology of trying to reconstruct the Caliphate, impose Sharia law throughout the former Caliphate and so forth, and could never be swayed out of this ideology-- rather than the harsh realities described earlier in this question (and of course, for other reasons). I believe you have said that in the hundreds of interrogations you did, and over a thousand you monitored, you encountered perhaps one "true believer zealot," and even in that case you found the subject to be potentially malleable if interrogated properly. And so my question on this is: Despite the reality you observed, why was it taken almost as an article of faith that the enemy's motives were purely ideological (if not "comic book" clear) , and do you believe (as I do) that such a belief has actually proven counter-productive at fighting a much more complex and fluid enemy?

Matthew Alexander: As I stated earlier, stereotyping our enemies led down a disastrous path in Iraq and significantly harmed our interrogations. It goes back to that old Sun Tzu saying, “Know they self, know they enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” Even some of the Iraqis who joined Al Qaida for social or economic reasons and then adopted the ideology were fairly easy to win back as Iraqis are very secular and tolerant. I actually believe that the most fanatical Al Qaida members are the easiest to interrogate simply because they are driven by emotions (probably how they were recruited) and those emotions can then be used by the interrogator.

The Talking Dog: The second, subject I found extremely compelling were an innocent pair of brothers, picked up based on a misidentification of their vehicle. As you know, one of the areas I focus in is American detention policy, particularly related to Guantanamo, from where almost 600 of the nearly 800 men who have passed through there have been released, six or seven have died, and a whopping three have been convicted by military commissions (and of those, one who stood mute during his trial received a life sentence, and the other two men have been released to Australia and Yemen respectively), and even over half of those remaining have been "cleared for release" by the executive and/or judicial branches. My point is that it has become clear that in picking up these men (a tiny number of whom were "captured on the battlefield," and many turned over for bounties by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance) that even had interrogators at Kandahar, Bagram or Guantanamo made a determination as you did in the case of the "BMW brothers" that "hey, we have the wrong guy," there was simply no mechanism at the operational level to make this call of "innocence" (indeed, famously, every Arab who arrived at Bagram was sent on to Guantanamo), notwithstanding how important it would have been culturally and politically to have shown our reasonableness in releasing innocent men and apologizing (and perhaps even compensating them) for wrongfully detaining them. I'm just wondering if you could comment on that situation, and tell me if in your view, the ability to determine that you had, rather than a recalcitrant hostile, an actual "innocent person," was something of an exception (if you like, unique to YOU), or was it somewhat more common than I think it was, or something else entirely? Also-- could you comment on the "adjudication" system in Iraq associated with those you interrogated-- such as, for example, if there were article 5 tribunals in place in Iraq, if you know, the Iraqi justice system, or anything else of relevance to this question (!) ?

Matthew Alexander: What I can say is that for my last month in Iraq I was on a raid team and conducted interrogations at the point-of-capture (aka in a home, car, street…) and over half the time we raided a house it was the wrong house. I quickly learned that what you do in the wrong house is more important than what you do in the right house. I’d rather let a dozen guilty people go than detain one innocent one because the larger battle isn’t a tactical one – it’s a strategic one based on winning hearts and minds. That’s the nature of counterinsurgency and it’s extremely difficult to get accurate, timely intelligence information. But that’s why we wear the uniform, because we don’t shy away from our duties just because they are difficult. Instead, we have to risk letting guilty people go which may later cost us lives because it helps us in the long run which will ultimately end up saving more lives.

The critical node in this process is the commander in the field. They make the decisions on who gets detained or released. They are the ones that must use discretion.

The Talking Dog: One of the areas you brought to bear in your interrogations was knowledge and respect for the religion and culture of your subjects. Given the descriptions of interrogations from Guantanamo that have included, aside from sleep deprivation, stress positions (not to mention the occasional water-boarding), included religious and cultural disrespect, including kicking the Koran around, wiping fake menstrual blood on one of the detainees, sexual provocation, use of dogs, in at least one case, wrapping a detainee in an Israeli flag and so forth, does it surprise you (as it does me!) that the interrogators there not only had so little knowledge of the culture of the people they were interrogating as so little knowledge about what makes for effective interrogation? It strikes me that your knowledge of and interest in Islam and Middle Eastern culture was somewhat unusual for interrogators... am I correct on that? I take it you found it to be an advantage; my question is why it seemed (and correct me if I'm wrong) that the military did not seem particularly interested in providing its interrogators with such a broad knowledge base, rather than evidently reinforcing stereotypes (and further, if I'm not mistaken, after Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib's abuses were reported, "religion was off the table)?

Matthew Alexander: I’m still surprised by the reluctance in the military to embrace the positive attributes of Islam. They are the same as in Christianity and other major religions. Again, I think this goes back to stereotypes and prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. The first line of the Qu’ran is “Praise be to Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.” That line is repeated before every chapter. Understanding Islam as a religion of compassion and not stereotyping it as a religion of violence is key to our ability to interrogate detainees.

Religion was taboo when I went through the training and was in Iraq simply because the Army did not trust their interrogators to discuss religion since they had such little exposure to it. All the interrogators had to do was pick up a read a little of the Qu’ran or a book like Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History, versus the book that I saw people passing around, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam.” Reading that to understand Islam is like reading the Mein Kampf to understand Christianity.

The Talking Dog: On that note-- this touches on an earlier question-- but with your years of experience as an investigator-- were you not actually more experienced than most, if not all of the interrogators you encountered? Why do you think the military didn't recruit both similar investigators from within the military and from civilian law enforcement agencies for this function, seeing that it would seem to be such a logical fit?

Matthew Alexander: It would be a logical fit but it’s a matter of numbers. The Army has a LOT of interrogators and there just aren’t enough applicants, especially considering the low pay and benefits. If we want to recruit better interrogators, we have to offer better incentives. Also, there are no officer interrogators in the Army so they have no voice in the upper echelons where budgetary decisions are made.

Law enforcement officers are particularly well-suited to interrogate Al Qaida detainees because Al Qaida is organized like a criminal gang or the Mafia.

The Talking Dog:. Following up that point, and this is the "at least three trillion dollar question," referencing at least Nobel Prize winning economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz's estimate for the cost of the "war on terror," not to mention the potential incalculable damage to our republic by the willy nilly over the top electronic surveillance, the PATRIOT Act and so forth, none of which has been remotely successful at locating let alone capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda leadership, while it has given aid and succor to our enemy who can rightly point out that we as a nation, willing to embrace "enhanced interrogation" and "indefinite detention" and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo... are horribly hypocritical in so many ways... that said, given our predilection for trillions for Blackwater and high tech toys... why so little for actual human intelligence (I suppose in every sense of the word) and knowledge, cultural respect and plain old grit and cunning, and what you brought to the Zarqawi hunt, to wit, plain old "old school" interrogation? Why are we so wedded to the expensive stuff... are cynics like me who believe that lobbyists for the military industrial complex have seen to it that there is an incentive to keep our wars going rather than win them? As you and I discussed when we met, I guess the companion question to that is why are we allowing decisions to be made by amateurs (such as Dick Cheney, who never served in uniform let alone conducted an interrogation), and to what extent do you see basic operational decisions like what kind of interrogations to run being made as a result of political decisions?

Matthew Alexander: One problem for the career field of interrogations is that they have no lobby. We don’t build anything and we can’t offer any jobs to elected officials for which they can vote to support us. Hence, interrogators rely on the good will of senior military leaders to go to bat for us and afford us the proper resources. I believe it’s getting more funding and improving, but I don’t think we’re there yet. Interrogations are our best source of intelligence information. Zarqawi, Saddam, Noordin Muhammad Top (most wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia)….all were killed or captured because of interrogations. We lost our best chance at finding Osama Bin Laden when the CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.

It will take good leadership at the top for interrogators to get the resources and training they deserve to do their job, which pays off tremendously.

The Talking Dog: I join all of our readers in thanking Matthew Alexander for that fascinating interview.

March 20, 2010, Sportsmanship

As our esteemed members of Congress meet this weekend to do what Bill Clinton could not get done, and (perhaps) pass a bill called "health care reform," the Tea Party movement just wants you to know that they are incredible sports. If "health care reform" actually passes Congress and is signed into law, our Tea Party movement friends just want us to know that they don't really mean the thing about gun violence... it's, you know, a rhetorical device.

Honestly, I don't much like the basic "reform" myself. The basic bill, as I understand it, quite literally forces people by law to buy a terrible and defective service that shouldn't even exist (and indeed, a service that takes people's money and then defrauds them by refusing to provide them with actual "coverage" when it is most needed should itself be against the law). Instead, people who can't afford it will be forced to buy it, if necessary, subsidized by taxpayer dollars. This is not like the compulsion of automobile insurance-- one is not obliged by law to own a vehicle, and one can make the lifestyle choice of living somewhere where a vehicle is not necessary (admittedly, that's pretty much only the City of New York, but our fair city, for all its myriad flaws, is nonetheless the only place in America really worth living in, if I don't say so myself, and unlike "the choice" not to have health insurance, which will be taken away, you will have "the choice" to live here.) But to complete the analogy, health insurance these days is the equivalent of a "service" that will pay for oil changes, but not for damage in the event of an accident.

Still, at least the sentiment is quite clear: a country as rich and powerful as ours is not "supposed to" allow tens of millions of people who work God damned hard enriching some of our most powerful and otherwise socially destructive enterprises, to suffer from treatable medical conditions. A similar sentiment accompanies our food and housing subsidies, i.e., a country as rich and powerful as ours is not "supposed to" allow tens of millions of people who work enriching some of our most powerful and otherwise socially destructive enterprises, to suffer from hunger and/or homelessness. The Tea Party's sentiments on all of these subjects is the same: they work hard themselves, doing whatever it is they do... whatever that might be... and they'll be damned if their hard-earned money were used to prop up the welfare queen lifestyles of dark-skinned people. There. It's as simple as that.

So-called "progressives," and indeed, anyone without their head up their ass, comes to an interesting cross-roads here. The Obama Administration, whose election we supported, has betrayed us on virtually every value we hold dear, including of course, its version of "health care reform," that rather than do the only fair and sensible thing in this area, i.e. take steps to destroy the health "insurance" industry through such essential measures as eliminating the croupier function of permitting basic medical services such as routine office visits and common procedures to be covered at all (thereby destroying the only :cost containment" measure possible, that by the person receiving the service) and permitting only catastrophic coverage, and that extraordinarily regulated, instead, gives us a "reform" measure that not only proposes to continue the untenable system that already consumes 1 in 6 dollars spent in our entire economy (and growing... hopelessly), and compels everyone to be part of the folly, and provides yet more tax dollars to feed the beast.

And yet, we still know that some kind of "reform" is essential, and that it is an unforgivable national sin to allow millions of people not to have some means of paying for health care (as all other people in every other industrialized country have, as a matter of right.) And we know that it's "now or never" on this.

And yet we know that just as Obama blew it on banking reform (thereby insuring a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, only this one probably more devastating), and he blew it on GTMO/state/secrets/torture, etc. (thereby insuring a slow slide into totalitarianism... or perhaps not so slow), and he is doing his share to keep our twin Asian wars of aggression ongoing... we also know that the President's personal intervention was to see to it that there was no public option, that there was no Medicare buy-in, or indeed, no particular "reform" in the "health care reform" worthy of the name. It seems that this "reform", like the rest of the Obama program, will be insanely beneficial to the financial industry (which includes the insurance industry) who has owned the President for years (and for whose benefit he has single-mindedly devoted his Presidency)... at the expense of the rest of us.

The irony, of course, is that if the Tea Party movement were actually "rational," that is, itself motivated by anything other than racism (not to mention funded by plutocracy to masquerade as a "grass roots" movement)... I'd actually have sympathy with its position on this particular "reform." I am reasonably sure that this "reform" will "solve" little, at great cost, with yet more billions flowing to the usual recipients (hint: it ain't us,)

But that's just me. In the meantime ... come to think of it, I got nothin'. This has been "Sportsmanship."

March 16, 2010, Huh?

When questioned by an irrelevant member of the irrelevant minority party, Attorney General Eric Holder suggested that if Osama bin Laden were captured, he would not be read his Miranda warnings... because he won't be captured... er, he won't be captured alive.

And this is precisely why we will not, ever, win the so-called "war on terror". The terrorists have already won. Yes, Attorney General Holder was on track when he suggested to John Culberson, the moron Republican from Texas (excuse the redundancy) that OBL would have comparable rights to Charles Manson. But then the Congressman deked and suggested that "most of the American people" no longer favor Constitutional rights as evidence by their overwhelming selection of one Senator from Massachusetts. And Holder took the bait. Rather than saying something like, "Well, Congressman, I suggest your view-- that people charged with crimes by the United States Government somehow lack Constitutional rights-- is an outlier and anathema view that neither the largely Republican appointed Supreme Court nor anyone else without their head up their ass would ever view as anything but a stupid, totalitarian, UNAMERICAN position... we are not Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, nor is OBL some kind of super-human uber villain requiring us to suspend the rules for him. Doing so was an incredible mistake by the Bush Administration. Ultimately, it says more about us than him, and is BY FAR THE MOST IMPORTANT RECRUITING TOOL AL QAEDA HAS OR WIILL EVER HAVE. And the Underpants Bomber got read his rights because that's what we do. It's not about whether we might somehow "get more information" from a torture chamber, even if we would (which anyone without their head up their ass will tell you is as ineffective as it is evil and wrong and illegal and stupid.) No, Holder didn't say anything like THAT.

Instead, Holder did the expedient thing, and adopted the Neanderthal moron Republiscam asshole caveman shithead Congressman's (sorry for the redundancy) idiotic totalitarian worldview and frame, suggesting that the question was irrelevant because OBL will simply never be brought in. Er, brought in ALIVE, Yes, that's it.

And that's too bad. Because, you see, it seems that OBL is actually an actual criminal, on the FBI Most Wanted list and everything! Tee hee-- he really IS a criminal just like Charlie Manson! Nothing, you see, would make him smaller than to have to do a perp walk, and then enter a plea, and then sit next to a lawyer in a suit as the charges against him are read out. NOTHING.

We have so lost our way. We are such losers. And it starts right here, right now, with this fundamental issue, for which we THOUGHT that "Constitutional scholar" Barack Obama would make the forefront of his program. Boy were we wrong. So I'll just say it: a nation without the courage to follow its own laws is no longer a nation worth defending. It all happened so quickly, so seamlessly.

This has been... "Huh?"

March 14, 2010, Profound Thought

On this insanely rainy and unpleasant weekend here in the New York area, we give you this "profound thought" (from a chapter entitled "Profound Thought Number 15") from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery:

I understood that I was suffering because I couldn't make anyone else around me feel better. I understood that I have a grudge against... [them] because I'm incapable of being useful to them, because there's nothing I can do for them. They are already too fargone in their sickness, and I am too weak. I can see their symptoms clearly but I'm not skilled to treat them and so as a result that makes me as sick as they are, only I don't see it.... And one thing is sure, no matter what: I won't get any better by punishing the people I can't heal.

March 8, 2010, TD Blog Interview with Ellen Lubell

Ellen Lubell is a partner at Tennant Lubell, a law firm in Newton, Mass.  Ms. Lubell and her partner Doris Tennant represent Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian national detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On February 18, 2010, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Lubell by telephone; what follows are my interview notes, corrected as appropriate by Ms. Lubell.

The Talking Dog: The customary first question: where were you on 11 Sept. 2001?

Ellen Lubell: On 9-11, I was in my office in Newton, Mass., when a colleague came in and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  We turned on the TV, watched the news briefly, and then I started trying to reach my mother and other relatives in New York City to see if they were o.k. I kept trying most of the morning and finally succeeded. I picked my children up from school at midday and spent the rest of the day with them, talking about what had happened.

The Talking Dog:   Please identify your GTMO client by name and nationality, and tell us something about his personality, family, circumstances of his capture, what, if anything, he has been accused of doing (such as "accused of staying in same guesthouse as someone who might be bad"), or anything else you believe of interest about him?

Ellen Lubell: Our client, Abdul Aziz Naji, is from Algeria. His family is there and we’ve spoken with them a number of times.  Aziz is 34 and he has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for nearly eight years.  He’s very likeable. He is an observant Muslim. Despite having attended school only through the sixth grade, he is bright, insightful, and has an excellent memory.  He readily expresses his feelings and views on issues. He is extremely appreciative of our efforts on his case and lets us know this frequently.  He loves children and very much wants go get married and have his own.

When Aziz was living in Algeria, around the time he was 17 or 18, he and his brother were attacked by a group of terrorists.  After that, his brother left the country and so did Aziz, after completing his required military service.  He went first to Mecca on a pilgrimage, and then traveled to Pakistan to perform "zakat"- charitable work – as is required of observant Muslims. Aziz worked for a charitable organization in the mountains of Kashmir for only a few months when he accidently stepped on one of the many landmines still buried left in this war-torn region. The explosion blew off the lower half of his right leg.  He was taken to a hospital in Lahore, where he was treated, and over the course of a year received rehabilitation and a prosthetic leg.  He decided then that he would try to find a wife. He was directed by friends to another Algerian man living in Peshawar, who was known to be helpful in arranging marriages.  Aziz visited the man and while he was there, the man’s house was raided by the Pakistani police. The raid may have been the result of the bounties that were offered by the US at the time to local people if they identified possible “terrorists” among them. The Pakistanis interrogated Aziz, concluded that he had done nothing wrong, and told him they would release him. Instead, they turned him over to the Americans. Aziz was taken to the US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and then on to Guantanamo.

When we took Aziz’s case, we were provided a file from the U.S. Department of Defense that included a list of allegations against him, with alleged “confessions.” None of the allegations or confessions was backed by any credible evidence. Ultimately, our view that the U.S. had no case against Aziz was validated by the Obama Administration, which cleared him in June 2009.
The Talking Dog:   Please tell me your impressions  of Guantanamo "the place"... the military personnel you have encountered, the physical place, the "gestalt" or anything you believe or note? 

Ellen Lubell: My reactions to Guantanamo have been mixed.  I’ve encountered both pleasant and unpleasant people there.  I don’t feel particularly welcome, as the military personnel on the base know what we and the other “habeas” lawyers are doing, but we’re treated with civility. Our interactions with the guards are often tense. The landscape is green and hilly and the views out to the ocean are beautiful. Unfortunately, when you turn around from the ocean view, you see the vast windowless prison complex surrounded by barbed wire, secured gates, and guard towers.

I like visiting Guantanamo, however, because that’s where Aziz is. I’m pained for him because he’s there, but our visits with him include wonderful moments. In addition to discussing his case, we talk about our families, we share food, imagine the future, and surprisingly-we laugh a lot. Aziz has retained a marvelous sense of humor. Perhaps that’s what has helped him survive.

The Talking Dog: I understand that your client (Mr. Naji) has been "cleared” by the Obama Administration.   Please tell me the status of his litigation(s)... such as "habeas stayed dead in tracks because of purported clearance" or whatever else is accurate.

Ellen Lubell:  The U.S. Government requested that our client’s case be stayed on the theory that the US is prepared to repatriate him to Algeria and this is no different a “remedy” (transfer out of Guantanamo) than he would obtain by prevailing in his habeas case. We don’t agree. It is critical that our client and other detainees like him have an opportunity to challenge the legality of the detention they have suffered for nearly eight years at the hands of the US government and to seek exoneration. The right to challenge their detention was hard fought for years and finally granted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Boumediene case. The situation for our client is made more difficult by the fact that he fears forcible repatriation to Algeria, so the government’s “remedy” is not at all a viable remedy as far as he is concerned. Our judge ruled for the government on this issue, however, so our client’s case is stayed.

The Talking Dog:   You and your partner Doris Tennant participated in an effort by the aldermen of your city of Newton, Mass. to join Amherst, Mass. in proposing to request the US congress to lift the ban on admitting cleared detainees in the US and, if they do, to welcome your client (symbolically if nothing else), to live in Newton. I understand your client fears persecution or worse should he be returned to his native Algeria.  Perhaps unsurprisingly given what a number of commentators are rightly calling "terrorist derangement syndrome" resulting in some level of popular opposition (i.e. most Americans simply hear that the government has accused someone of being a terrorist, and with nothing more, simply conclude that this is the end of the matter, even where the Government itself tells us that it was wrong), the Newton aldermen were put under enormous pressure by opponents in the city and withdrew the resolution.  Obviously, the fact that the debate over the resolution coincided with the Christmas underpants bomber probably didn't help much.  Notwithstanding how many times you've been asked this question, what do you think went wrong, and what advice would you have for the next municipality who considers such a proposition?

Ellen Lubell:  My understanding is that the opposition to the Newton resolution was quite small, but extremely vocal. Many residents of the city who supported the resolution were either shocked at the vitriolic and blatantly anti-Muslim ranting and didn’t know how to respond, or they were cowed into silence. When those who supported the resolution did finally speak out, it was too late and the resolution was withdrawn.

It’s difficult to know what could have done differently for the resolution to have succeeded. Clearly, more planning was needed. We probably should have sought advice from towns beyond Amherst that attempted such a resolution. We probably should have engaged more with clergy in the city and secured support from at least a few individual clergy, if not congregations. I like to think that a greater opportunity for public debate might have been helpful, but I’m not sure it’s possible in this country at this period in time to have a civil debate about many of the issues raised by Guantanamo. I wish Newton’s human rights commission, which strongly favored our efforts, could have played a greater role.

We also faced a problem from The New York Times. The Times has an online resource called the "Guantanamo Docket,” which purports to include in database form information from US Department of Defense records, as well as information about the detainees’ court cases and media reporting. In fact, the Docket includes only the U.S. Department of Defense records. Worse, it provides no context in which to understand the records. For example, it does not explain that the information was selected for public disclosure by the Department of Defense, that it was comprised of summarized and redacted portions of transcripts, that it included only preliminary conclusions of the government, and that it was outdated and did not represent a current factual record. The information that was posted on the Docket about our client was picked up by the opposition group in our community, interpreted as accurate and current, and provided fuel for the fiery reaction. I’ve contacted the Times about the misleading nature of the information on the Docket and the reporter with whom I spoke clearly understood the problem. I’m hoping the Times will now modify the Docket, at least to provide a context within which to interpret the information that’s posted. 

The Talking Dog:   Can you tell me what efforts you have made other than with respect to Newton, whether with respect to our own national government or the governments of other nations (and whether this includes Algeria) with respect to resettling Mr. Naji?  How have those been received?

Ellen Lubell:  Two years ago we petitioned Switzerland for asylum for our client, with the assistance of several Swiss asylum attorneys. These attorneys had approached the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and offered their assistance because Switzerland has a relatively unique law that permits applications for asylum from people outside the country. The Swiss attorneys selected our client and two other detainees. All three cases were initially denied (as we all expected), but we then appealed.  The Swiss Appeals Court held in our client’s case that the lower court had not provided due process for our client by failing to take into consideration sources of information about him other than the outdated information that had been disclosed years earlier by the U.S. Department of Defense. The Swiss Appeals Court sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration. We are now waiting for a decision from the court. We have also made inquiries with other countries in Europe and Central and South America, but without any success so far.
The Talking Dog:   We're just over a year into the Obama Administration; my college classmate the President has now unquestionably blown the promise of "closing Guantanamo in one year."  Let me ask you to predict where we'll be, say, in one year's time (when we will probably have more Republicans, if not an outright majority in one or both houses of Congress) or in three years (when it is certainly not inconceivable we will see a Republican in the White House). Will most of the over 100 "cleared" detainees be released "somewhere," shifted to the Thomson prison in Ilinois, or something else?  Will many of the 50 "too tortured to try even in a kangaroo court, but too politically dangerous to release" have had their day in habeas court, and joined the "cleared for release?" Will any GTMO detainee see a civilian trial, given the NIMBY hysteria of even having such a trial?  Or, as I fear, will we still be in the unfortunate holding pattern we now seem to be in?   Also... given the troubling doctrines of "indefinite detention" and "liquidation of enemies of the state," along with the de facto legalization of torture and murder if done by high enough officials, do you have a broader view of where our human rights laws (and standing in the world) is going?

Ellen Lubell:  I’ve stopped believing that I have any idea of what will happen to the men in Guantanamo. I would never have believed when we took on our client’s case four years ago that we would be where we are now. I try to be optimistic, but part of me despairs that this country will ever again be a leader of human rights. I hope that in one year’s time the "cleared" men like our client will be able to leave Guantanamo, but I don’t know whether they will be resettled in a safe place or will simply be transferred into a prison in another country.

As to the Thomson, Illinois prison, it’s not clear yet which of the men would be transferred there. Would they transfer men like our client who have never been charged with a crime to rot in a supermax prison? This would be unthinkable except for the fact that it is precisely what happened in Guantanamo, albeit off-shore. Perhaps Thomson will be only for men who have been charged and for the 50 or so men who have not been cleared and will continue be detained indefinitely without charge. The fact that the Obama Administration intends to hold this latter group is egregious. I have listened closely to every argument I’ve heard in favor of indefinite detention and have not heard a single one that does not ultimately come down to fear and a lack of confidence in our own judicial system..

The Talking Dog: How would you characterize media coverage of (1) Guantanamo in general, (2) your representation of your client, and (3) the Newton resolution, and its aftermath?

Ellen Lubell:  Media coverage of Guantanamo has been variable—from great to horrendous.  In my view, the New York Times editorial pages have been consistently thoughtful and intelligent and address important questions; Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald has been excellent; The Wall Street Journal and Fox News have been one-sided and engaged mostly in fear-mongering. I was disappointed in the quality of coverage of the Newton resolution by our local newspaper, the Newton Tab. The Boston Globe has run a few stories about our work that have been reasonably accurate, but some of the television reporters who have interviewed us have been woefully ill-informed. I did, however, have a good interview with Ari Shapiro of NPR. He was smart, insightful and understood the issues. Of course all the media has been hampered by the paucity of information released (or permitted to be released) by the US government.
b>The Talking Dog: How did you first get involved in Guantanamo representation, and how has it effected your legal practice or your life in general?

Ellen Lubell:  In 2006, after the media reported that three of the detainees had committed suicide, my partner Doris and I decided as a matter of conscience that we had to do something.  Neither of us is a constitutional lawyer or even a litigator, but we were encouraged by colleagues at WilmerHale, who had already gotten involved in representing a group of detainees, to contact CCR and inquire about being assigned a client. We did so, and CCR explained that although representing a detainee would be very expensive (aside from our time), there would be a great deal of support available to us from our fellow attorneys. We decided to forge ahead and were assigned a client by CCR.

I’ve been changed in many ways by the experience. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the most amazing lawyers in the country. I’ve had to become conversant with areas of law that are entirely new for me – constitutional law, federal court procedure, international law, and asylum law. I no longer keep my political opinions to myself. I no longer look at problems around me and think someone else will fix them. I’ve become terribly skeptical of everything I read in the newspaper. Most importantly, I’ve been changed by getting to know our client and his family. While it’s easy to see all the ways the life of a Jewish woman from Newton with a law degree differs from that of a young Muslim man from Algeria with only a primary school education, we’ve discovered so many things we have in common. We’ve been able to enjoy each other’s company, disagree and laugh, and trust each other. Despite the struggle, this is something I will value forever.

 The Talking Dog: I join all of our readers in thanking Ms. Lubell for that most 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 former Guantanamo combatant status review tribunal/"OARDEC" officer Stephen Abraham, 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, with Karen Greenberg, author of The LeastWorst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days, and with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions to be of interest.

March 8, 2010, The long run

In the long run, we're all dead, of course (a quote widely attributed to John Maynard Keynes). But... in the short run, some of us can go on "the long run"... anyway, to add to my 25 marathon finishes, we add yesterday's USATF Championship/Caumsett Park 50-K, around 5 miles longer than a marathon. Only the showing up of five more people who hadn't pre-registered kept me from an age group medal... bastards! While not quite expiating the demons of last year's failed attempt at a 50-miler, it does, as Mrs. TD suggests, begin to put me in the realm of perhaps "honorary Tarahumura" (a reference to the fabulous book Born to Run, which, like the 50-K, I also recently finished; thematically, btw, I heard that the great Scott Jurek came out to yesterday's event, to pace his girlfriend in the companion 25-K race.)

Anyway, while having not seen the multiple Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker"... that certainly feels like a place I should put my clothes right now... as... I'm hurting.

A 69-year old veteran ultramarathoner called out to me (as he was passing me on a turnaround!) to note my toughness for continuing through what was clearly visible pain and discomfort... the kind of "toughness" the marshmallows in the White House (led by the mis-named "Rahmbo," and the accurately named "Obambi") are not showing on the single issue that will rightly cost them the next election while they foolishly calculate that it will actually help them.)

I'm just going to soak my feet now. This has been... "the long run."

March 5, 2010, Same great disappointment-- even less surprise!

It's all just a broken record at this point, but the President and his feckless Democratic allies (who f'ed not just all of us and the Constitution, but each other with their bigoted cowardice on Guantanamo and the war on terror) will ultimately reap what they have sown in terms of their service of the Bush Administration's agenda come Election Day, when one, if not both houses of Congress will be returned to the Republicans, despite the fact that most people still hate them too. Thing is, it's pretty automatic: if you try to do things that David Broder and David Gergen think are good ideas, then you are wrong. Not a little wrong, but invariably, 100% of the time... while a stopped clock may be right twice a day... Broder and Gergen aren't. Ever.

Which is why "centrism" and "moderation" toward official policy to hold acknowledgedly innocent men in a tropical military gulag, and then refuse to have the courage of the convictions to even have trials of the alleged 9-11 perps in anything resembling actual court rooms, will blow back on Obama and the Democrats, even as the Republicans, if anything, are even more cowardly and bloodthirsty on the very same issues. Which is why the Obama Administration caving to the very people they have to run against... is not merely an affront to "American values," immoral and stupid... it is actually suicidal politics. But the Administration will evidently do it anyway.

Well, Glenn Greenwald gives us a bunch of examples of Barack Obama's political cowardice, of which the decision, apparently, to completely backtrack on any civilian trials at all, based solely on Republican "pressure", is but the latest. What's interesting is that a constituency with some interest in this-- the 9-11 families who want the murderers of their loved ones brought to actual justice, as opposed to some Dick Cheney constructed parody of it... are urging the President to go forward with the civilian trials.

Just as "bipartisanship" is another word for "date rape," so "pragmatism" is another word for "politically suicidal cowardice." Not that my college classmate the President cares a whit of what I think anyway... but let me just say it: it's not just my vote you lost by selling us out on this one, Barack. It will be millions of people who may not vote against you (though I personally won't commit to not doing that), but they may just stay home and not bother to vote for you, because they feel sold out from having actually believed your "rule of law" rhetoric... and indeed, were proud of the idea of restoring American moral authority by actually taking the risk of having fair trials in fair courts, even if people that were accused of bad things actually had a possibility of acquittal.

Well... this day has been coming a while... it was pathetic enough when only five suspects were put forward for civilian trials... but even that's too much? Health care is bad enough of course-- there is lobbyist disagreement and interference, complexity in its own right, deep internal division in each party as well as division among the two parties... but trying accused criminals in courts DOESN'T EVEN REQUIRE SO MUCH AS A PEN-STROKE. All it requires is that the White House NOT politically interfere with the supposedly "independent" Justice Department. But even that seems too much.

The country hoped that we were finally electing grown-ups. It seems... we weren't. We have the same children, once again afraid of their tushies that Davids Broder and Gergen might call them bad names. And the cost of it will be the ability to get anything at all done come next year, as huge wroking majorities are wasted out of pure cowardice. Utterly pathetic.

Maybe the Obama Administration will grow a pair on this one. Not how you bet, of course. It seems that bothering to have due process of law is just "too dangerous." Well... it seems to me that it's probably too dangerous to live in a country that feels that way... if Constitutional rights aren't universally applicable, it tends not to take too long before they tend to be universally inapplicable. And we're well along that path. For Christ's sake, a pathetic five trials of alleged 9-11 perps after over eight years of lawless imprisonment was "symbolic" at best... and we can't even do that much.

Let's just say "things would have been different if John McCain were President." But they would have been exactly the same if George W. Bush were still the President. Again... pathetic. This has been... "Same great disappointment -- even less surprise!"

March 1, 2010, A munificent bequest in a pauper's will

It should come as no surprise to anyone at all that the Supreme Court decided to duck the question of whether or not Constitutional rights exist any longer, at all, by permitting the Government to duck the Kiyemba case, in which the Government argues-- I'm not making this up-- that habeas corpus is a dead-letter if the Government feels like it being a dead letter. To wit, even if the only available remedy to a federal judge to effectuate the writ is to admit the Guantanamo prisoner into the United States, but the Government doesn't want to... then too bad. The legislative or executive prerogative to pass immigration statutes takes precedence over the most fundamental constitutional right of them all. The Supreme Court, at least, vacated the horrible federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that actually expanded on the Government's dictatorial-enough-as-it-is position, finding reasons to deny prisoners' rights that the Government didn't even argue for! However... the beat (of unlawful imprisonment of acknowledged to be innocent men)... goes on... and on. Candace has more. (Short explanation: the Government offered resettlement, albeit on obscure Pacific islands, to Uighur detainees it acknowledges are completely innocent and is using this offer as a basis to moot an appeal of a case finding that even where a U.S. District Court Judge found that the only way to effectuate the habeas corpus writ was to admit the subject men into the United States because they could not be returned to China, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said "too bad, these completely innocent men are still Muslims terrrrrrrrorists." Today, the Supreme Court ducked that appeal.)

Way back in 2007 when I interviewed former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, he quipped that:

The illusion of habeas corpus was just something to hold on to. To quote, I believe it was Justice Kennedy, “Habeas corpus is a promise to the ear to be broken to the hope... a teasing illusion, like a munificent bequest in a pauper’s will.”

I remember this, that’s how the idea floats– habeas corpus means you get your day in court... But in reality, no one at Guantanamo in reality will ever get to court... this is a game, a charade, an illusion...

U.S. justice at Guantanamo is an oxymoron. The Supreme Court decides that there is a right to be heard– for detainees to present their case in court. And the government doesn’t afford that right. Anywhere else, the government would be in contempt of court. And yet, the court ruling is simply ignored, or sidestepped by the government.

And there is also the inconceivably long time it is all taking. Why is it taking so long? It became understood by detainees that this was all part of the sentence– another means of keeping us locked up... On paper we’re offering you the right to present your cases to court... but in reality, it is nothing but a munificent bequest in a pauper’s will.

One can see just what he means. Most Americans have no idea that the disappearance of the most fundamental right of them all-- the right to petition a court to demand that the Government show a lawful basis for incarceration, thereby at least checking the unbridled ability of the executive to consign whomever he (and its always a "he") to a dungeon is over 800 years old-- is effectively, our only real check on absolute dictatorial power. But that's what it's come down to, in the interest of short term political expedience and battling "terrrrrrrrorists", we are willing to flush all of our rights. (Of course, since the current dictator is "our guy," a Democrat, notice how little criticism he gets from so many on "our side," notwithstanding just how severe criticism flowed when Bush engaged in similar, and in many ways, less offensive conduct.)

Well... this is where we find ourselves. The frog is boiling... it happened so smoothly... with the proverbial whimper following the poverbial bang of 9-11.