Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Monster Cold


AaaarrRRRRrrggggHHHhh!


I don't know about anybody else, but when I'm sick (as now), in the morning I sound pretty much like Peter Boyle as Frankenstein's Monster, all unintelligible grunts, groans and bellows... with a smattering of muttering Tourette's-like profanity thrown in. (More than usual, that is.) It's cathartic, I suppose, and a rage, rage against the getting up out of bed, but mostly just a pathetic plea for sympathy to humanity and the cold, unfeeling cosmos. Thus, I try to curtail my inner illness-diva when other human beings are around, even if they're the sort who find gargling, even in the bathroom with the door closed, a horribly rude act only slightly less philistine than breaking wind in public.

I hope to avoid it turning into something worse that requires antibiotics, a remedy that always makes me think of the marvels of modern medicine. Prior to the 20th Century, with some exceptions, many a patient had a much higher chance of survival by avoiding the doctor. All the purgatives, bleeding, and many other misguided "cures" were often harsh or even lethal to the patient. That's not to mention the horrors of battlefield medicine in some eras, where the camp medic might have been a literal butcher in civilian life and where the remedy for a simple broken ankle was in some cases amputation. Brrrr. It does make me appreciate, looking back over the various drugs I've been prescribed in my life, that I and many other people would probably be dead several times over in other eras. It also brings to mind how relatively cheap drugs could help in other parts of the world where common ailments go untreated and can be crippling or lethal.

So my groaning is certainly more on the level of exhaustion and annoyance than Job-like affliction. Yes, a few social outings have or will likely be dropped. And I will say it's frustrating to have the scant hours of free time further curtailed by an even smaller window of lucidity. But for all that mental murkiness and petulant crankiness, I still haven't been a disaster on the level of Biblical plague as has been our preznit, nor have I yet managed to set myself on fire.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Eclectic Jukebox 2/28/08



Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová — "When Your Mind's Made Up"

Congratulations to these two on their well-deserved Oscar for Best Original Song, from one of the best films of 2007, Once. I previously featured their winning song, "Falling Slowly," here. This is probably my other favorite from the film. The video quality ain't great, but the audio track is clear.

Eclectic Jukebox

The Book Meme


D'oh! Tagged by Lance Mannion! (I'm not sure about the "gentleman" thing, though, nor even the "scholar"... )

Here's how you play:

• look up page 123 in the nearest book
• look for the fifth sentence
• then post the three sentences that follow that fifth sentence on page 123.

Monsieur Mannion mercifully grants a Liberal Fascism exception.

I'm sure you'd be shocked to know that in front of the two massive, overflowing bookcases (thankfully bolted to the wall at last, since I'm in earthquake territory) by my desk are stacks of books piled up in loosely organized piles. (Yes, ladies, I'm a catch.) In any case, I grabbed a book within reach, one of my favorites, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, "A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings" translated by Paul Reps:

No sooner had the Buddha spoken than that Bodhisattva sprang up from the earth and bowed and paid homage to the Buddha. Buddha directed him to arouse the girl. The Bodhisattva went in front of the girl and snapped his fingers, and in that instant the girl came out from her deep meditation.

Dude. That's deep.

(Certainly more serious than my entry for the Band Meme.}

If you're interested, that's from koan #42 of The Gateless Gate. "The Girl Comes Out From Meditation." It's pretty apropos for me since Mumon's comment includes: "If you can understand this intimately, you yourself can enter the great meditation while you are living in the world of delusion." So, um, I'm afraid I'll be stuck there 'til at least November 2008.

Anyway, if you'd like to be tagged — you're it!

Link Love


(Don't be fooled by this graphic. I still hate Valentine's Day.)

Some folks are saying blogrolls don't count toward link counts at Technorati and other similar sites, so a blogroll post is all the rage these days.

(Those crazy kids! What will they think of next with those internets?)

Anyway, here goes, the blogroll and some other random reciprocating links, although some of it's redundant:

Daily Howler
The Blue Herald
The Big Con
Crooks and Liars
Alicublog
Balkinizaton
Beggars Can Be Choosers
Blue Gal
Brad DeLong
Campaign for America's Future
Carnival of the Liberals
The Carpetbagger's Report — Steve Benen
Comrade Kevin's Chrestomathy
The Conscience of a Liberal — Paul Krugman
Corrente
Current Jam
driftglass
The Existentialist Cowboy
Ezra Klein
FranIAm
Gin and Tacos
Glenn Greenwald
The Horse's Mouth - Greg Sargent
House of the Rising Sons
Hullabaloo
Ice Station Tango
Incertus
I Was Just Wondering
James Wolcott
Jesus' General
Jon Swift
Last Left Turn Before Hooterville
Lawyers, Guns and Money
Les EnragésThe Mahablog
Matthew Yglesias
Media Bloodhound
Mental Detrius
Mock, Paper, Scissors
Morning Martini
The Newshoggers
No Comment - Scott Horton
The Non Sequitur
Obsidian Wings
Once Upon a Time - Arthur Silber
Orcinus - David Neiwert
A Poetic Justice
The Political Cat
PoliTits
The Poor Man Institute
PBD - Progressive Blog Digest
Sadly, No!
Shakesville
Simply Left Behind
Sir Robin Rides Away
skippy
Suzi Riot
Talking Points Memo
TPM Cafe
TAPPED
Taylor Marsh
Think Progress
A Tiny Revolution
Truth in Politics
Whiskey Fire
Wonkette
Zaius Nation
Angel of Wit and Melancholy
Eclectic Jukebox
midnight/noise (kimono hime)
The Nefarious Lair of LGPPP, Inc.
The Peace Tree
Flipside Movie Emporium
By Ken Levine
Kung Fu Monkey
Lance Mannion
Culture Vultures
Atomic Romance
Impolitic Eye
Rotus
Clark's Picks
A Blog Around the Clock
Pacific Views
God is for Suckers!
Drinking Liberally in New Milford
Blue Girl, Red State
the gideonse bible
StevenHartSite

Enjoy! Fly away, my pretties!

Update: I'm adding a few more links to this post. Just try and stop me!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Rigged Guantánamo Trials and Torture


All cruelty springs from weakness.

— Seneca

One of the Bush administration's chief defenses, besides a mostly gutless and complicit Congress and press, is that the harm they've done is so deep and widespread it's hard to keep track of it all. That said, the Guantanamo show trials and the use of torture are as fundamental a betrayal of American ideals as there can be, and even if the American press isn't watching, the world is. All of these pieces should be read or listened to in their entirety, but I'll provide some excerpts.

"Rigged Trials at Gitmo" (2/20/08) in The Nation, by Ross Tuttle:

According to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo's military commissions, the process has been manipulated by Administration appointees to foreclose the possibility of acquittal...

When asked if he thought the men at Guantánamo could receive a fair trial, Davis provided the following account of an August 2005 meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes--the man who now oversees the tribunal process for the Defense Department.

"[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time," recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, which had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals. We've got to have convictions.'"

Democracy Now!: "Rigged Trials at Guantanamo (2/20/08): Amy Goodman speaks with Ross Tuttle and Scott Horton.

"The Great Guantánamo Puppet Theater" (2/21/08) by Scott Horton:

The American media seems by-and-large not to understand the “justice” angle of the military commissions debate. They instantly want to run into the weeds with extended discussions of evidentiary issues, and they miss the glaring question that hangs over the entire affair. And now a week into the process, the proposed trials have taken a strange twist. Will the American media at last recognize that the real questions about this process go to the fundamental independence of the courts? Dramatic disclosures in an article published yesterday in The Nation require them to take a close look at it. So far, they don’t seem to be willing to do so...

Colonel Davis is not just any JAG officer. He was an up-and-comer widely viewed in his peer group as someone in line for a star, and ultimately perhaps, to be the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General. He is also no whining civil libertarian, but rather a no-nonsense conservative, whose prior scraps with civilians in the Pentagon came over the restraints they put on his ability to charge forward and prosecute cases...

But as foreign media were regularly observing, there was something extremely fishy about these “military” commissions. In fact one of the major insights critics offered up was that they were not really “military” at all. They had the appearance of being “military,” because the courtroom scene on which all the cameras focused were filled with men and women in uniform. But as the Hicks case showed, the military actors were all like so many marionettes. Behind the scenes, the puppet masters were pulling the strings. And the puppet masters were suspiciously partisan political figures...

"Guantánamo Puppet Theater: Intermezzo" (2/22/08), by Scott Horton:

The Bush Administration has been fighting a failing propaganda war over its plans to try six “high-value” terrorism suspects in Guantánamo. The criticism all around the world has been withering. Only the U.S. media seems to cut them some slack. Matthew Lee at the Associated Press reported last week that the State Department had issued a cable to embassies around the world with some helpful hints about how to handle critical comments.

“International Humanitarian Law contemplates the use of the death penalty for serious violations of the laws of war,” the cable, which was written by the office of the department’s legal adviser, John Bellinger, says. “The most serious war criminals sentenced at Nuremberg were executed for their actions,” it said.

The cable makes no link between the scale of the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis, which included the Holocaust that killed some 6 million European Jews and other minorities, and those allegedly committed by the Guantanamo detainees, who are accused of murder and war crimes in connection with September 11, in which nearly 3,000 people died. But it makes clear that the American administration sees Nuremberg as a historic precedent in asking for the September 11 defendants to be executed.

Bellinger’s mastery of international humanitarian law is demonstrated by his recent debatewith Philippe Sands, posted at the Guardian, in which his remarks turned him into a laughing stock. When I showed Bellinger’s statement to a prominent JAG prosecutor recently, I got an immediate response. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this Administration actually appreciated Nuremberg and respected what was accomplished there. But of course they don’t.”

Jonathan Turley (via Froomkin):

While it received relatively little attention, Bradbury not only acknowledged a formal program of waterboarding, he also casually distinguished President Bush's approach from historical models such as waterboarding by the Spanish Inquisition. Though Bradbury insisted that the "only thing in common is, I think, the use of water," he omitted that other common denominator: pain. Indeed, the primary difference appears to be that the administration rejected water ingestion rather than water saturation to cause the pain. It turns out that the administration thought seriously about its own style of waterboarding and opted for a Khmer Rouge style over the Spanish style.

For civil libertarians, it was like having the Inquisition's Toms de Torquemada calmly testifying on "10 charming facts about torture." Yet, while members of Congress are falling over themselves this month to demand criminal charges in the scandal over performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, there is a conspicuous silence in the wake of Bradbury's torture tour de force...

Even our closest allies, such as Britain, have stated the obvious: The United States is now an official member of torture-practicing nations.

Obsidian Wings: "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!" (2/25/08): Hilzoy examines the retirement of General Counsel of the Department of Defense William J. Haynes II, one of the central players in authorizing torture. I'll also link my earlier post on Alberto Mora because of Haynes' key role in lying to and obstructing Mora in his efforts to uphold the law.

TomDispatch: "Visiting the Torture Museum: Barbarism Then and Now" by Karen J. Greenberg:

The similarity in methods across a torture gulf of at least four centuries would have been but the first of many striking lessons for our modern moment from a tour of this museum, only steps from the famed Charles Bridge with its own medieval and religious statues, a museum modest in everything but its subject matter. Perhaps the eeriest lesson would be just how many of the torture techniques illustrated in these rooms are still painfully recognizable, are, in fact but minor variations on those practiced today in America's name...

And don't forget the Vigil or Cradle of Judas, which today we far more mundanely term "sleep deprivation." Or what about the medieval use of cold water sprinkled onto naked bodies (another kind of water torture), today mimicked with what official documents call "exposure to freezing temperatures"? Of course, with those infamous photos from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in mind, you would have no trouble recognizing the persistent themes of nakedness and sexual humiliation endemic to what no one back in the less civilized days of the Inquisition hesitated to label "torture"...

Had Stephen Bradbury come along with you, eager to discover the differences between pre-Enlightenment torture and today's "enhanced interrogation" methods, he might feel satisfied indeed as he passed through this part of the exhibit -- if, that is, he avoided the accompanying texts that sit on small easels near these horrifying arrays of instruments. For on them, you and he would find the theory that lay behind the practices of those torturers from a barbaric past, and he would discover that those torturers of old, like his colleagues in the Bush administration, distinguished between torture and Torture Lite. The former was indeed meant to result in permanent damage or simply death. The latter was consciously meant to cause "mere" suffering, however protracted.


(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

An Obama Rumor Litmus Test

Take the following Sadly, No! post:

Another reason to elect Hussein Obama X as Supreme Leader of Crackerland

Posted at 3:12 by Brad

So he IS a stealth Muslim candidate after all! Kickin’.


Hussein X’s first act in office should be to free Mumia and appoint him as the first official Secretary of the Kill Whitey Department.

If you read this S,N! post and laughed, you're probably a liberal.

If you read this post and crapped your pants or said "he is too a Muslim!" you're probably a conservative.

If you read this post, tut-tutted and said, "I don't see how such language helps at all," you're probably Richard Cohen or another Beltway "centrist" pundit.

(S,N! follow-ups: "All part of Hussein X’s master plan, my friend" and "Uh-oh! They’re onto us!" Although I'll add I'm more a Luke Cage guy, myself.)


(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Misery?!?



DirecTV has run a number of movie remix ads, some of them quite funny and clever. I found this one rather disturbing. This scene in Misery is one of the most suspenseful, cringe-inducing I can think of. I love both Kathy Bates and black comedy, but at the very least, this is an interesting marketing choice. On the plus side, it's a memorable spot, but on the minus side, it's a negative association with their product (I'd say). Since DirecTV is trying to cover most film genres, I suppose they see this as one of the tamer "horror" clips they can use, although I would have thought their Aliens clip sorta covered that. I'd be interested to know the reactions of other people.

(As to the original scene — it's all the more terrifying because it deals with actual human beings and is possible even if not likely, unlike being attacked by hordes of CG monsters. William Goldman actually fought like hell to keep the scene the same as in Stephen King's book, where it's much more extreme. Goldman felt toning it down would ruin the movie, but he was overruled by director Rob Reiner and others. Goldman later realized, after seeing the finished film, reading reviews and seeing audience reactions, he was wrong. But that's one of many great things about Goldman — he calls it straight from his perspective even if it's impolitic, and will 'fess up to making mistakes. His books on screenwriting are still among the best on both the film industry and the art and craft of writing.)

Oscar Spoofs



Here's Conan O'Brien with "Conan on the Aisle: Oscar Edition." (I'm hoping NBC won't yank this one too quickly, or better yet, at all.) The Atonement spoof is quite good, but the No Country for Old Men segment is hilarious if you've seen the film.

Speaking of which, the Upright Citizens Brigade has a good spoof of No Country for Old Men award fever. Enjoy!

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Oscar Drinking Game, 2008 Edition


Last year's edition was used at three Oscar parties that I know of, and resulted in about two beers per person, so that seems about right. (Wine drinkers may wish to take daintier sips.)

Feel free to adapt or improve this list as you wish. House Rules always take precedence. (And remember, you don’t need to use this drinking alcohol!)

Oh, and don't drink and drive, but being a person of culture and taste who can still appreciate the glorious-and-ridiculous excesses of the Oscars, you'd never do that, would you?


Oscar Drinking Game, 2008 Edition

For every mention of the writers' strike, take only a sip. Take it easy there.

For every joke about Bush being a) dumb b) a dictator c) spoken to by God d) from Texas, take a drink.

For every joke about Dick Cheney being Darth Vader, Voldemort, Satan or the like, take a drink. Take another if it's "Cthulhu." Take no drinks for any reference to Cheney shooting someone, unless it uses some variation on the phrase "shooting an old man in the face."

For every joke about the Democrats in D.C. being spineless, take a drink.

For every joke about the race, gender or age of the remaining presidential nominees, take a drink.

If Kucinich gets a shout-out, take a drink. If his wife being gorgeous is referenced, take a drink, and if her tongue-stud is mentioned, take another.

For every joke about Romney being an animatronic robot escaped from Disneyland (or similar), take a drink.

If the competing endorsements of conservative action stars are referenced somehow, take a drink.

For every Arnold Schwarzenegger joke, take a drink. If they say “Cally-forn-nia” take another, and if they mention Conan, take three more.

If Michael Moore reminds the assemblage that they booed him off stage in 2003 when he said that Iraq was invaded under false pretenses, take a drink.

If Jon Stewart references his part in Death to Smoochy again, take a drink. If he says "third male lead," take another.

For every joke involving Tom Cruise and cult-like behavior, take a drink. If anyone mentions Xenu, take another. If anyone says "Hail Xenu!" finish your drink, and if it's said in earnest, head for the hills.

If any of the "train wreck girls" are invoked (Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Ritchie, Paris Hilton, etc.), take a drink. If "rehab" is mentioned, take another drink. If Amy Winehouse comes out and sings a few bars of "Rehab," finish your drink.

If Jack Nicholson is shown grinning, take a drink. If Jack is sitting with an actress younger than one-third his age (71), take three drinks.

If the Weinsteins have taken hostage a gorgeous actress to sit with them, take a drink (and say a prayer for the poor dear).

If George Clooney's love life is referenced, take a drink. If anyone makes a homoerotic joke about Clooney, take two drinks.

If anyone references "I drink your milkshake!" or spoofs another TWBB speech, take a drink.

If the director cuts from Brad Pitt to Jennifer Aniston or vice versa, take a drink.

If someone makes a joke about Russell Crowe and he scowls at it, take a drink.

For each American who wins an acting award, take a drink (look at the list!).

If one of the presenters can’t pronounce a nominee’s name or can’t read the teleprompter, take a drink.

For every lame joke that bombs — drink some water, you need to pace yourself.

If anyone thanks God, the almighty, etc. take a drink. If they thank Ganesha or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, finish your drink.
If anyone thanks his or her agent, take a sip of someone else's drink.
If anyone says he or she is “humbled” or “blessed,” take a drink.
If the music starts before the winner is finished, take a drink.
If not all the winners in a group get to speak, take a drink.
If someone forgets to thank their significant other, take a drink.
If anyone cries, whether onstage or in the audience, take a drink.
If a winner says, “Gosh, I don’t know who to thank,” only to begin thanking people, take a drink.

If anyone is caught snoozing in the audience, take a drink.

For any award presented by adorable moppets, adorable muppets, or animated characters, take a drink of soda or something sweet. If a live actor awkwardly banters with an animated character, take another drink of the same.

For every plea to stamp out movie piracy, take a drink.
For every seemingly purposeless montage, take a drink.
If the montage or a presenter in some way plugs seeing movies in the theater, take another drink.

If anyone climbs over Steven Spielberg and says they want to make love to the audience in the firmament, finish your drink.

For any interpretative dancing, take a drink. If any dance or musical number involves writhing on the ground amidst dry ice and burning trash cans, tap-dancing in a concentration camp, or dancing vermin, take a drink.

OSCAR PRE-SHOW (Optional)

If Joan Rivers insults her daughter, take a drink.
If she misidentifies someone, take a drink.

If Oprah snubs an interviewer, take a drink.

If anyone on the red carpet says, “it’s a honor just to be nominated,” take a drink.

If a normally stunning person is dressed in something hideous, make a snarky comment (as if you needed a prompt!).

If Billy Bush makes a bad pun to a celebrity, take a drink.
If anyone insults Billy Bush to his face — or punches him — send that person a case of champagne.

Oscar Dress Quiz


On the lighter side, the Washington Post has an Oscar Dress Quiz.

(I did surprisingly well on this, so if you actually follow this stuff, you'll probably ace it. One monstrosity was impossible to forget!)


A Toast to the Writers

Congratulations once again to the Writers' Guild on their new deal! While not perfect, it's a step in the right direction. (The Oscars made for one hell of an ace in the hole.)

But you're worried some of your Hollywood survival skills may have atrophied, you say? Never fear! We'll get you back up to speed on pitches and script notes!

Via John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey, here's Denis McGrath's new pitch, inspired by a certain Oscar nominee:

"You see, I am a TELEVISION WRITER. And I wish to speak to you today about WRITING FOR TELEVISION. There are those who will say they can craft you a pilot, and that may VERY WELL be TRUE. But can they get you to SIXTY EPISODES? Can they craft a decent ACT BREAK? Will they rely on a creaky FOUR ACT structure, or have they mastered FIVE? It is THESE QUESTIONS you must consider.

I have a six episode strike over at the former CHUM, you see. I have had meetings with executives both HIGH and LOW. You could go with someone from the Film Centre, or someone who's developed a CANADIAN FEATURE, yes, about a man having sex with his GRANDMOTHER. But only I can have the FIRST DRAFT and the BIBLE for your series by APRIL. I can do it, I can have it, and I can make it exciting, with explosions and sexual interplay. YOU can GO WITH SOMEONE ELSE, that is your right. BUT you CANNOT say that you were not PRESENTED with the option to skip all that; to just DEVELOP WITH ME.

I await your decision. I will sit here and calmly wax my mustache. Please don't mind my son, J.W. He will be stepping out momentarily to procure a SMOOTHIE.

NOW, what is for LUNCH?"




So that's pitches covered. Now let's get a quick refresher on script notes from Hollywood execs (hat tip to Ursus):



Remember, execs never, NEVER own up to a bad note.

As to the writing itself, well, you're on your own there.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Eclectic Jukebox 2/21/08



Tito Gobbi — "Credo in un Dio crudel" from Verdi's Otello

Sorry, another multiple video entry. I only really got into opera after college, but Verdi's Otello is one of my favorites, and I'm seeing it again tonight. This is one of my favorite arias, as Iago explains his "belief in a cruel God." The video's a bit out of synch here, but Tito Gobbi really sells the juicy deviltry of the piece. A translation is here. Opera buffs might enjoy comparing it to Mephistofele's "Son lo spirito che nega" ("I am the spirit who says no") from Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele, since Boito wrote the librettos for both operas. (Alas, I could not find an English translation of the Mefistofele piece online. I actually worked on the Verdi aria a bit in college, but was far too shy at the time to commit to the unabashed melodrama of the piece.)



Renée Fleming — "The Willow Song" from Verdi's Otello

I just couldn't pass up this performance of one of Otello's signature arias. A translation is here. Fleming's voice is simply gorgeous as well as nuanced, and I appreciate her acting in this clip, too. She's completely present, and that helps her fully inhabits this piece musically as well.

Eclectic Jukebox

A Pox on One of Your Houses


(Another Obama-Clinton thread gone terribly wrong.)

Bob Somerby delivered a fantastic line today: "We got the phrase “kill the pig” from Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. We’ve often been told it’s a novel." I feel the same way about Animal Farm and The Crucible, actually (although The Crucible is at least based more directly on history). For that matter, Paddy Chayefsky stated that Network was not a satire, and I'd say Dr. Strangelove is barely one anymore. Regardless, there are times I feel as if I've been asked to grab my pitchfork, light a torch and join in a hearty chorus of "Die, heretic!" only to realize it's not a rally for impeachment or investigations after all.

It's been interesting to read candidate advocacy in the liberal blogosphere, especially since John Edwards dropped out. I've read plenty of posts by former supporters of Edwards (or other candidates) weighing Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama, as well as posts by people who were backing one of those two already. I've seen a wide range of emotion, from dismay to pragmatism to tepid approval to enthusiasm to furious dislike. The folks for and against Clinton and Obama really run the gambit, too, from the rational to the passionate to the rational and passionate to the pretty irrational. To be clear, there are meaningful differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and also completely legitimate reasons for supporting or opposing each. (There are quite a few good posts out there on all that, and I hope to link some within the week.) However, those differences pale when one views McCain, Bush and the GOP.

Thers at Whiskey Fire captures some of the madness in "A Contest Featuring Human Beings":

Your favorite candidate sucks.

My favorite candidate is the best.

I hope this argument has convinced you to overcome your personal deficiencies and start supporting my favorite candidate.

In conclusion, once again, your favorite candidate sucks.

Thank you.

See also Fade's "Friends, Liberals, Countrymen" and driftglass' "The Department of "Please Grow The Fuck Up" Asks". I'll add what I wrote in "That Damned Liberal Racism":

America could use much more good discussion on race, gender and, even more importantly, class and power. The problem is, our national public discourse is still managed by shallow pundits.

Nor do I see the point of the blogosphere repeating the worst sins of the MSM in this regard. (Good discussion is another matter, of course.)

It's important that we political junkies remember that, as dday points out, "Voters Like These Candidates":

This nugget from the CNN exit polls is an important point:

There's no doubt Democrats are torn between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But the early exit polls show they are not bitterly divided: 72 percent of Democrats said they would be satisfied if Clinton won the party's nomination, while 71 percent say the same about Obama.

That's what I see when I talk to actual Democrats, particularly those who don't spend all their time on the Internet. Not only do Democrats like both candidates, not only do they think they are going to get to vote FOR someone instead of AGAINST the Republican this year, but the primary is improving that view. I don't think either of these two are saviors, which is why I think a movement that will hold them accountable is the most important thing (as disclosure, it is for this reason I voted for Obama today). As frightened as Democrats are about a brokered convention and hurt feelings, it should be known that these two candidates are overwhelmingly acceptable to Democrats, and a longer primary contest (which would wind up with a scant 7 or 8-month general election instead of 9), if it's played fair - and I think there's an overwhelming desire for it on both sides to keep it fair, considering how negative campaigning has generally turned out in this race - will actually put Democratic ideas in front of the electorate in very positive ways. That's what I see when I talk to actual Democrats, particularly those who don't spend all their time on the Internet. Not only do Democrats like both candidates, not only do they think they are going to get to vote FOR someone instead of AGAINST the Republican this year, but the primary is improving that view. I don't think either of these two are saviors, which is why I think a movement that will hold them accountable is the most important thing (as disclosure, it is for this reason I voted for Obama today). As frightened as Democrats are about a brokered convention and hurt feelings, it should be known that these two candidates are overwhelmingly acceptable to Democrats, and a longer primary contest (which would wind up with a scant 7 or 8-month general election instead of 9), if it's played fair - and I think there's an overwhelming desire for it on both sides to keep it fair, considering how negative campaigning has generally turned out in this race - will actually put Democratic ideas in front of the electorate in very positive ways.

Voter turnout for primaries and caucuses have been higher than usual, hitting historic records in some states, and the youth turnout rate is especially exciting. Democrats have been creaming the Republicans on the turnout front, sometimes 2-1 or better, and most Democrats will vote for the eventual nominee regardless of who it is.

There are those who will view the eventual Democratic nominee as merely the lesser of two evils, and I understand that general attitude. However, there are still huge differences between the two parties and their candidates, particularly on four glaring, important issues:

1. Iraq
2. Judicial Appointments
3. The Economy
4. Health Care

With the GOP, there's also a greater chance of continued general cronyism, and a possible assault on reproductive freedom, which sort of falls under judicial appointments, but also entails agency appointments and other factors. A minimum wage increase, family leave and affordable child care (as one of my friends with a young kid just reminded me) also aren't likely under a Republican administration.

None of this is to say that the current Democratic leadership in Congress isn't awful. I'm very concerned about our current surveillance state and further pushes in that direction, regardless of who's in power. Still, while there are a handful of politicians I actually sorta like, I tend toward Brad of Sadly, No!'s view, that "When you start talking about politicians like they’re anything more than tools to be used to further goals, you’re setting yourself up to get horribly punk’d." The best politicians still need relentless scrutiny and the occasional kick in the ass.

In any case, examining Obama and Clinton certainly has it place, but it's also wise to turn our focus to the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, who after all, is basically running as Bush.


(Cartoon by Bruce Beattie, 2/8/08 — click for a larger view.)

Buck, Questiongirl and Buck got the ball rolling for Valentine's Day. (There's also the infidelity rumor, but I'd like to see more confirmation, and the real issue for me is any lobbyist corruption angle.)

Crooks and Liars has provided "Countdown: John McCain’s Tortured Logic And Flip Flop On Torture," "John McCain — Panderer Extraordinaire," "Mr. Vague Generalities strikes again" and a roundup of three McCain critiques, "At What Price The Quest?"

One of my favorites to date is Digby's "Dumb As Posts," which summed up my reaction to one of McCain's recent inane statements perfectly:

Can someone explain to me why Republican presidential candidates are always saying completely brain dead things like this?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe in mandates. I believe that every American should have affordable and available health care and I'd like to talk just an additional minute about that. But I'm not going to mandate that they do. I want every American to have affordable and available education. But I'm not going to mandate that they do.

Is he planning to dismantle the public school system?

It looks like we're going to have an instant replay of the memorable 2000 campaign where Junior kept saying things like "Down in Washington they're playing with social security like it's some kind of government program."

I think it's pretty clear that a majority of the American people have had enough of that.

Aaaahh, but don't forget our intrepid, vapid reporters! And they luuuuuvs them some McCain, as well as some White House talking points! Believe it or not, sane, supposedly intelligent adults actually think that
Iraq is McCain’s winning issue (it might help if they actually read one of their beloved polls on the topic) and have made excuses for McCain's capitulation on torture. And there's plenty more where that came from!

Let's end with a Howard Dean mailer, via dday:

How we'll beat John McCain

Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are done. John McCain will be the Republican nominee -- he's the only one with a reasonable path to the nomination.

So how do we beat him? We stand up -- right now -- start fighting, and show the American people that he's not who they think he is.

We can't wait for Hillary or Barack to win the nomination. Now that the Republicans have a candidate, the dollars are starting to pour in from special interests who will do anything to beat the Democratic nominee. They're just waiting for us to decide so they can start smearing [...]

John McCain is a media darling, but don't trust his carefully-crafted image - he's worked for years to brand himself. From Iraq to health care, Social Security to special interest tax cuts to ethics, he's promising nothing more than a third Bush term.

After championing campaign finance reform and ethics legislation to score political points, he now has a staggering amount of lobbyists involved in every aspect of his campaign. In fact, two of the top three sources for John McCain's campaign cash are D.C. lobbying firms, and he looked the other way as Jack Abramoff bought and paid for the Republican Party and the Culture of Corruption.

On immigration reform, he's run as far to the right as he can, aligning himself with the most extreme elements of the Republican Party.

On the war, McCain scoffed at Bush's call to leave troops in Iraq for 50 years, saying "Make it a hundred!"

On a woman's right to choose, McCain has vowed to appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

On the economy, one of the issues that the American people care most about, McCain has said: "I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated."

We can't afford four more years with a President who drives the economy into the ground. We can't afford four more years with a President who fights an endless war in Iraq. We can't afford four more years with a President who gives tax cuts to companies who ship jobs overseas; with a President who can't get every American the health care they deserve; with a President we just can't trust.

Sounds good to me. Where's my pitchfork?



(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More Hillary Videos

The "Hillary (for You and Me)" video received a strong reaction, and deservedly so. However, I do want to note yet again that it was apparently made by some Hillary Clinton supporters, not commissioned by the campaign itself. (Although how creator Gene Wang can call himself a marketing "expert" and produce that is beyond me. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt that he's a nice guy, and perhaps is good at marketing overall, but dude, no offense, let someone else work on the whole "catchy tune" thing.)

But as I mentioned in one of the comment threads, there is worse. Oh yes, my pretties. Because I am a misanthropic bastard, for equal time or just increased sadism, via TBogg, here's Michelle Malkin's anti-Hillary song. As TBogg writes:

We already knew that she can't jump, act, interview, demagogue, and do satire.

Now she tries her hand at singing and playing piano:




Don't hold me to it, but I sorta think aesthetically-atrocious-but-sincere isn't quite as horrible an assault as aesthetically-atrocious-and-painfully-unfunny-from-sneering-hatemonger. I mean, I don't want to hear the first group sing, but I think I could at least talk to 'em at a party without despairing for humanity and wanting to kill myself.

(Of course, should Hillary win the nomination and the presidency, the life of Malkin and those like-minded could well hang by a thread.)

I see since I started this post that Crooks and Liars has featured this video as well, and quoted TRex, who brings the rant:

They should market Michelle’s musical stylings as an alternative to Ipecac syrup, seriously…

Listen, Michelle, you sad, pathetic shrew, leave comedy and music to professionals like me and other creative people on the Left. We own you guys on this stuff. Conservatives are just not creative people. You people spend your lives like baby birds; heads back, mouths gaping, passively awaiting the next set of talking points and marching orders from your corporate and political masters. This is not how art is made, even satirical art. To create something moving, or funny, or even engagingly nasty (a specialty of my own) requires a certain amount of soul, of individuality, of spark.

And that’s something that’s just beyond your ken. You are a fabulously uninspired thinker, an automaton, a one-note reactionary. Powerful people tell you what to do and you do it. It’s when you venture out on your own and attempt to color outside the lines that you run aground, as with your decision to stalk and harass various people on the Left including the Frost family, college administrator Denice Denton, and groups of student activists who oppose the war.

Or, god forbid, when you decide to sing. Just, whatever you end up doing with yourself, don’t do that anymore. For America. For the children. That’s just crossing the line and being needlessly cruel and hateful to everyone in America, Conservative and Liberal alike.

Thanks for your prompt attention in this matter.


Also via TBogg comes a video made by a Hillary supporter and posted by Jeralyn at TalkLeft:



I think it's fair to say that, whether you like Martina McBride or not, she's sure no Michelle Malkin or Gene Wang.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the wingnut crazy angle on this second video, TBogg provides us with Ann Althouse's characteristically unhinged, narcissistic take on it. Because remember kiddies, no matter what the nominal subject, every Althouse post is — like the world itself — All About Althouse. Follow the link, if you dare.

I suppose I've avoided eternal damnation by linking a post mocking Althouse versus Althouse herself, but I believe by posting the Malkin video, I've now earned another year in Purgatory. I hope you're happy, you bastards.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Torture Watch 2/19/08


(Cartoon by Mike Keefe, 2/15/08)

In the past two weeks, the Bush administration has finally admitted to torturing prisoners. We've seen artful dodges from Attorney General Mukasey and shameless and vile hackdom from many other Bush allies. Some exceptional news articles and commentary have been produced, but sadly and unsurprisingly, they have yet to be rewarded with congressional action.

Torture, due process, intelligence and related issues will continue to play a prominent role in politics for the rest of the year. This piece is intended as a resource in those essential (and tragically, necessary) battles. This is a long post because of all the links and excerpts; it's essentially several posts in one. Please feel free to skim over sections as needed.

Major Themes

1. The "debate" over torture is a stalling tactic. Mukasey and other Bush allies are trying to protect the Bush administration from criminal liability for authorizing torture. Every time a reporter asks "Is waterboarding torture?" as if there's any question after several centuries of consensus as well as clear American case law, it's a small victory for the Bushies. These are standard hack tactics of muddying the waters, running out the clock, and dragging the Overton Window to the far right. It works in environments where not only everyone gets their say (a good thing), but no one calls bullshit — certainly not "objective" journalists, who pretend that truth and falsehoods have equal validity.

2. Torture proponents consistently favor fantasy over reality. Their most common argument is some sort of "ticking time bomb" scenario. Torture is immoral, illegal, ineffective and counterproductive as a policy. Still, as we explored in "Jack Bauer versus Maher Arar" and other posts, despite their affectations of being grim realists, torture proponents not only propose highly improbable hypothetical situations, they ignore actual evidence. They ignore numerous studies and a mountain of anecdotal evidence that show torture doesn't work, or is at least highly unreliable. They rarely if ever acknowledge that we have in fact tortured people, and sometimes innocent people at that. It's extremely rare to see a torture proponent argue honestly on this, namely: that we have tortured anyone, especially innocents, is horrible, but a necessary cost. Typically, they either pretend that everyone arrested is guilty and a hardened terrorist, or they ignore the issue altogether. Similarly, even when experts on torture explain why waterboarding has been known to be torture since the Spanish Inquisition, torture apologists typically refuse to explain why the experts are wrong or offer convoluted arguments. Most commonly, though, they just ignore this evidence altogether.

3. True believers in torture view the issue differently than hacks. A hack knows that torture is wrong but argues otherwise, or else simply doesn't care. Meanwhile, authoritarian conservatives view the issue differently. As with virtually every other issue, they hold that torture is right when their side does it but wrong when the "Enemy" does it, with no independent standard of morality separate from tribalism. John Yoo and other Bush allies often employ similar arguments, but I suspect Yoo does not completely believe his own arguments (I could be wrong). Authoritarians of movement conservatism actually do.

4. The undecided have been poorly served. I do want to note that people do exist who oppose to torture in general but still wonder if there are extreme situations where it might be necessary. Generally, these people are unaware of the facts on torture, and have not been helped at all by the rhetoric of the Bush administration and their allies. In fact, disclosing that the U.S. government waterboarded three prisoners, and starting the Guantanamo capital trials now in motion, seem targeted at precisely this group of people, to win them over for Bush's radical measures and the November 2008 elections.

(We'll delve into this more later, but for now let us note that the Bush administration's claims of crucial, actionable intelligence obtained through waterboarding are currently completely unsubstantiated, and existing accounts contradict some White House claims.)

Authoritarian conservatives form the core base of support for all of the Bush administration's radical policies, filled out by a large number of hacks, shills and apologists. Their ultimate success, however, depends on a signature conservative move, the poker bluff. Congress has to stay non-confrontational and weak (it's mostly happy to oblige), and the public has to stay ill-informed, not only about torture, but about the lack of public support for torture. As Professor Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy points out:

Every scientific national poll I’ve looked at since 9/11, for example, shows consistently anti-torture majorities in America. This number hasn’t varied, always hovering between 55 to 65% opposition, and includes both Republicans and Democrats. When pollsters ask not about “torture” in general but specific techniques like waterboarding, the opposition spikes to 80% opposed even if there is a ticking time bomb. What best predicts whether you’re for torture turns out not to be a partisan issue, though there is a slight Republican trend. What predicts whether you’re for torture best is if you approve of President Bush’s policies; basically it’s a loyalty vote. The pro-torture folk have always—and I mean always, in every poll I’ve seen—been a minority of 35-45% and I’m pretty sure the number is shrinking as the President’s approval numbers dip.

So the good news is that opponents of torture are not alone. I suspect people think the majority of Americans are for torture, but this just isn’t supported by any of the polling. It’s just hype from partisan media, talking heads, and the politicians. The real truth is that there is intelligence out there. What it requires is for government to tap into it and start using it.


Recent Coverage


(Cartoon by Stuart Carlson, 2/13/08)

Dan Eggen of The Washington Post has written several excellent pieces on recent developments, including "Justice Official Defends Rough CIA Interrogations: Severe, Lasting Pain is Torture, He Says" (2/17/08).

Meanwhile, Richard E. Mezo's WaPo op-ed "Why It Was Called 'Water Torture'" (2/10/08) is the latest in a series of pieces about the realities of torture, and waterboarding in particular, which Mezo was subjected to as part of Navy survival training:

I remember that the blindfold was heavy and completely covered my face. As the two men held me down, one on each side, someone began pouring water onto the blindfold, and suddenly I was drowning. The water streamed into my nose and then into my mouth when I gasped for breath. I couldn't stop it. All I could breathe was water, and it was terrifying. I think I began to lose consciousness. I felt my lungs begin to fill with burning liquid.

Pulling out my fingernails or even cutting off a finger would have been preferable. At least if someone had attacked my hands, I would have had to simply tolerate pain. But drowning is another matter.

We've covered similar pieces in previous posts (here's the BH and VS categories for torture). True to form, movement conservatives apparently ignored Mezo's piece, as they have ignored virtually every major piece on the subject that wasn't pro-torture in the past few years. (According to Sphere, Technorati and Google, atypical conservative, Bush critic and torture opponent Andrew Sullivan linked Mezo, as did liberal sites such as Think Progress, Talking Points Memo, Brad DeLong and many less trafficked sites. Let me know if I missed a major movement conservative piece.)

Meanwhile, the AP reported:

The Bush administration has instructed U.S. diplomats abroad to defend its decision to seek the death penalty for six Guantanamo Bay detainees accused in the Sept. 11 terror attacks by recalling the executions of Nazi war criminals after World War II.

The cruel irony of this wasn't lost on Lance Mannion, who exclaimed:

Nuremberg? Nuremberg?

Weren't the torturers the ones on trial in that one?

And weren't we the ones trying them? The shame is painful.

The Key Paradigm at Work


(Cartoon by Tom Toles, 2/15/08)

I keep coming back to The Washington Post's superb Angler series on Dick Cheney (check it out if you haven't), and back to this extraordinary passage in particular:

On June 8, 2004, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell learned of the two-year-old torture memo for the first time from an article in The Washington Post. According to a former White House official with firsthand knowledge, they confronted Gonzales together in his office.

Rice "very angrily said there would be no more secret opinions on international and national security law," the official said, adding that she threatened to take the matter to the president if Gonzales kept them out of the loop again. Powell remarked admiringly, as they emerged, that Rice dressed down the president's lawyer "in full Nurse Ratched mode," a reference to the head nurse of the mental hospital in the 1975 film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

I've featured it before, but Hilzoy perfectly expresses my reaction:

Stop and think about that for a moment. A memo making an absolutely radical, 180 degree change in US detention and interrogation policy in ways that will predictably have an enormous impact on our standing in the world is signed, and neither the Secretary of State nor the National Security Advisor finds out about it until two years later? From a newspaper article?

As Hilzoy details, Cheney also bypassed Powell and Rice in setting up military tribunals at Guantanamo. Additionally, he spied on communications from Condoleezza Rice's subordinates to her, which puts his whole telecom amnesty push in perspective, doesn't it?

The main point, besides the deep dysfunction of the Bush administration, is that these people have not been operating in good faith. At the very least, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo, Bush and others were fully aware that what they were doing in secretly authorizing torture was absolutely radical, in defiance of the Geneva Conventions, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Constitution and at least a century of American case law. It's hard to even comprehend exactly how astonishingly reckless and arrogant this is.

As is often the case with movement conservatism, this aspect is a feature, not a bug. Think Progress (11/3/07) linked several major news stories on Daniel Levin, the conservative DOJ official who underwent waterboarding to see what it was like, reported it was clearly torture, and was then forced out by the Cheney gang. Steve Benen covered the same story, quoting a Keith Olbermann special comment (video here) as did law professor and blogger Marty Lederman:

I have been reluctant to say such things before now, but those stubborn facts keep adding up, and, if the Greenburg story is accurate, it's hard to resist the simple conclusion that Gonzales and others were engaged, not only in an effort to completely distort the proper functioning of OLC (see generally Jack Goldsmith's book), but also in a conspiracy to violate the Torture Act. When responsible, thoughtful lawyers -- loyal conservative, Republican lawyers, mind you --- told them that what they had approved was unlawful, they insisted that the lawyers change their advice, and then got rid of the lawyers and hired another willing to provide alternative advice that no one could have sincerely believed (and then rewarded the lawyer who was willing to sign his name to that advice).

I'm trying to avoid hyperbole, honest. But how is this not a huge scandal?

(More on Levin later.)

I've written on this dynamic many times before, but to quote one earlier post:

…the Bush administration makes bad decisions because Bush has happily let Cheney and his cabal completely undermine a rational decision-making process. Honest brokers do not last long, and are often shut out entirely…

The Bush administration and their many allies are essentially the Nixon and Reagan administrations all over again. The crime of Watergate to them was getting caught, and they have vowed to prevent that.

These are bullies, always intent first and foremost on getting their own way, not on making good decisions or crafting good policy. It is no accident that this crew employs an authoritarian abuse of power to push through radical, authoritarian policies in conflict with core American values and laws. Neither is their corruption, fear-mongering or lying some quirk (over-hyping the Iranian threat and misrepresenting FISA laws being two of the latest examples). Fighting to get one's own way no matter what — and succeeding — is especially dangerous when one wields enormous power, has almost unfailingly disastrous judgment, and does not learn from mistakes. None of these are accidents. (The peril of this sort of executive is why in theory we have checks and balances and impeachment, but fat chance of that.)

This same attitude can be seen in Justice Scalia's latest remarks:

Justice Antonin Scalia told the BBC that "smacking someone in the face" could be justified if there was an imminent threat.

"You can't come in smugly and with great self satisfaction and say 'Oh it's torture, and therefore it's no good'," he said in a rare interview.

He also accused Europe of being self-righteous over the death penalty...

"I suppose it's the same thing about so-called torture. Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the constitution?" he asked.

"It would be absurd to say you couldn't do that. And once you acknowledge that, we're into a different game.

"How close does the threat have to be? And how severe can the infliction of pain be?"

Scalia is a sharp guy, and occasionally votes in favor of civil rights and due process, but generally speaking is a conservative authoritarian. He also claims that he's an "originalist" (see Lithwick, Lemieux and Lithwick for more on this). We've examined Scalia's Jack Bauer love before, but as Scott Horton writes on Scalia's latest assertion:

The problem, of course, is that Jack Bauer doesn’t exist and the ticking-timebomb scenario on which “24” is built has never occurred in the entirety of human history. It seems a strange basis on which to be making law. But then it’s also strange that a man who becomes violently unsettled at the idea of considering how a court in Britain or Canada addresses a legal problem has no inhibitions about importing specious reasoning from Hollywood.

It's also ironic that Scalia derides opponents of the death penalty and torture as smug. Ignoring the Constitution he supposedly reveres, the Geneva Convention and American case law is apparently not smug. Discounting centuries of evidence on torture and recent expert testimony is apparently not smug. Making sweeping, uninformed judgments without concern for the dire consequences is apparently not smug. Is The New York Times too obscure a source for Scalia? They covered how our "enhanced" interrogation techniques were borrowed from the KGB and similar agencies, and how "there is little evidence… that harsh methods produce the best intelligence." In fact, less intrusive, non-coercive methods, including those used with German and Japanese prisoners during the WWII era, have proven more effective.

While Nino may insist that "Scalia Knows Best" and want to play Jack Bauer, Hilzoy raises the obvious question:

One of the things that has always perplexed me about the debate about torture is this: I would have thought that anyone who was thinking about endorsing torture would first stop and think very, very carefully about whether it is actually effective. Torture is presumptively immoral and abhorrent. If you care about morality at all, the question of using torture will not so much as arise unless you truly have no good alternative at all. Even then, I think it's just wrong. But if it is not the most effective way of getting information, then debating whether or not we should use it is just stupid: of course we shouldn't engage in torture if some other technique is just as good, or better. Arguing about torture without asking this question is like arguing about whether you must, absolutely must, eat your children to keep yourself from starving to death without first checking to see whether you have any other food available.


Dan Froomkin


(Cartoon by Rob Rogers, 2/15/08)

Dan Froomkin delivers a splendid roundup of general news every weekday, and has consistently followed torture as an issue. The past two weeks gave him plenty to cover. The entire posts are valuable to read, but I've provided excerpts, with links to other key pieces.

"We Tortured and We'd Do It Again" (2/6/08):

Yale Law Professor and blogger Jack Balkin interprets yesterday's testimony: "Translation: we waterboarded, and we may want to do it again, and wouldn't like to break the law, so don't prohibit it."

Balkin then explains: "The problem is that waterboarding is already in violation of the anti-torture statute and the war crimes statute. The only reason the Administration won't admit that is because of self-serving OLC opinions that twisted the law precisely to avoid concluding that the Administration engaged in torture and war crimes. . . .

"Attorney General Mukasey's argument last week that waterboarding is not torture is based on OLC opinions that willfully distort statutory language. They argue that for something to be torture, it is not enough that it is intended to inflict severe physical or mental suffering, as the torture statute provides; it must also inflict prolonged physical suffering, a requirement absent from the text. Thus, under the OLC's reasoning, not only is waterboarding not torture (because it causes suffering so severe no one can stand it for very long), electric shocks to the genitals are not torture.

"This additional requirement is made up out of whole cloth, and it has been constructed precisely to conclude that waterboarding is not torture. This is not an interpretation on which reasonable minds can differ; it is an unreasonable interpretation that has been chosen precisely to absolve the executive of criminal responsibility and accountability under the torture statute (and the war crimes statute, even after it was limited by the Military Commissions Act of 2006). The executive has acted as a judge in its own case in a way that absolves it of having to obey the law. . . .

"It is worth recalling that at his recent hearings Attorney General Mukasey refused to explain the legal basis for why the CIA interrogation techniques (including waterboarding) are not illegal, arguing that the legal explanations themselves are classified, so that no one can know what the laws are."

"The White House's Perverse Argument" (2/7/08):

When you get right down to it, the White House's new argument in favor of waterboarding is that the ends justify the means.

The White House line: Yes, we did it, but only to three chief terrorists, and only when we thought the nation was in imminent danger. We got life-saving information in return. And so we'd do it again in similar circumstances. (See yesterday's column for more.)

Putting aside for a moment the question of whether the ends did in fact justify the means -- and there is considerable evidence that the waterboarding of those three men miserably failed that test as well -- the White House argument is deeply perverse and goes against core American values.

Waterboarding is undeniably cruel. It is undeniably an assault on human dignity. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution -- the one banning cruel and unusual punishment -- doesn't come with an asterisk indicating: Except when you think it's really, really important.

It's true that on TV, the ticking time bomb scenarios are crystal clear, being tough means using torture, and torture always works. But none of those things are remotely true in the real world. Which is why we have rules that we're supposed to follow, even in emergencies.

And even on the twisted terms the White House is advocating, the evidence suggests that the ends in this case did not justify the means. The White House asks us to believe that in this case it was worth it. But despite all the generalized assertions that countless lives have been saved by the CIA's interrogation program, Bush and his aides -- as I wrote in my Dec. 11 column -- have yet to offer a concrete case where intelligence produced by torture saved a single life. To the contrary, as I wrote in October, Bush has repeatedly cited examples of thwarted attacks that turned out to be wildly exaggerated.

Finally, the White House argues that waterboarding is legal because the Justice Department said so. But waterboarding is flatly, objectively illegal -- according to both U.S. and international law. Try to find one independent expert to tell you otherwise. And, despite their heated assertions, no one in the White House or at the Justice Department has yet to provide a single vaguely reasonable argument to support their position. All those legal briefs are conveniently considered top secret.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto was his usual shameless self. Froomkin quotes a couple of reporters, starting with the Los Angeles Times' Greg Miller:

"The surprise assertion from the Bush administration reopened a debate that many in Washington had considered closed. Two laws passed by Congress in recent years -- as well as a Supreme Court ruling on the treatment of detainees -- were widely interpreted to have banned the CIA's use of the extreme interrogation method.

"But in remarks that were greeted with disbelief by some members of Congress and human rights groups, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that waterboarding was a legal technique that could be employed again 'under certain circumstances'…

Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press relates Fratto's comments in the off-camera gaggle yesterday morning: "'There's been a lot written out there -- newspaper, magazine articles, some of it misinformation,' Fratto said. 'And so the consensus was that on this one particular technique that these officials would have the opportunity to address them -- in not just a public setting, but in a setting in front of members of Congress, and to be very clear about how those techniques were used and what the benefits were of them.'"

Ah, the benefits.

The Wall Street Journal has shown its eagerness to lie (or play dumb) for partisan ends on many occasions (read over their Whitewater and Plamegate coverage if you need a refresher), and they lowered their journalism standards yet again for the "justifying-torture challenge." As Froomkin writes:

The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote yesterday: "Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri planned the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Abu Zubaydah was the mastermind of the foiled millennium terrorist attacks, which had Los Angeles airport as one of its targets. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed directed the September 11 attacks, and has claimed to have personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl.

"All three men were captured by the CIA in 2002 and waterboarded in the course of their interrogations. They are also the only U.S. detainees to have been waterboarded. That fact, publicly confirmed yesterday by CIA Director Michael Hayden, shreds whatever is left to the so-called torture narrative, according to which the Bush Administration has engaged in widespread, needless and systematic torture of detainees.

"Instead, we have sworn public testimony that the waterboarding was conducted against the three individuals best positioned to know about impending terrorist atrocities. The interrogations took place when a second major terrorist attack was widely seen as inevitable. And we know that the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah helped lead to the capture of KSM, and to the foiling of an active terrorist plot against the United States."

The New York Daily News editorial board writes today: "Hayden revealed under oath that the CIA used waterboarding in interrogating three, just three, top Al Qaeda leaders: 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, architect of the Cole bombing, and Abu Zubaydah, who hatched the so-called millennium plot.

"The questioning was urgent. 'There was the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were inevitable,' Hayden testified. And the technique worked. Zubaydah gave up information that led to Mohammed's capture.

"The CIA has dropped waterboarding from its approved tactics. But, should the need arise, the agency can seek presidential permission to employ it again. This leeway is imperative."

But here are just a few of the problems with these arguments. I don't know much about al-Nashiri, but according to investigative reporter Ron Suskind in his latest book, Zubaydah was a mentally ill minor functionary and, under torture, a serial fabricator. The most valuable information Zubaydah gave investigators about Mohammed was his nickname, which, as Dan Eggen and Dafna Linzer reported in The Washington Post in September 2006, the CIA had already learned seven months earlier. And as Lawrence Wright wrote in the New Yorker last month: "Among the things that Mohammed confessed to was the murder of Daniel Pearl. And yet few people involved in the investigation of Pearl's death believe that Mohammed had anything to do with the crime; another man, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, was convicted of killing Pearl."

In a previous post I covered Suskind's account of Zubaydah. You may have noticed, too, that the WSJ editorial board insists that an unsubstantiated assertion by the Bush administration is a "fact." Their "fact" is that the U.S. received crucial, actionable intelligence from torture and that waterboarding was only used on three people. Even if both these highly questionable assertions are true, the WSJ crew conveniently elides over the other torture perpetrated, outsourced or allowed by the Bush administration.

Froomkin continues:

The Boston Globe editorial board writes: "In 1901 in the United States, the military court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years hard labor a US major who had waterboarded a prisoner in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. The United States officially outlawed the practice after World War II, when the Germans and Japanese had both used it against Allied troops. The Allies executed eight Japanese officers for waterboarding British prisoners and sentenced another to 15 years hard labor for waterboarding a US civilian, among other crimes.

"The United Nations' Convention Against Torture prohibits any treatment of prisoners causing long-term physical or mental damage, which human-rights advocates believe includes waterboarding. . . .

"The Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Germany, militarist Japan, Pol Pot - this is the roster that Bush wants the United States to join. Congress should act to make sure that the United States does not once again stoop to using tortura del agua (water torture). That's what it was called during the Inquisition."

And despite Fratto's assurance that, because waterboarding's use in the past was approved by the attorney general, it was therefore legal and not torture, Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin blogs: "Actually, it violates the law whether or not you call it illegal. Generally speaking, war criminals don't usually admit that they have engaged in war crimes. They usually say they were justified in acting as they did.

"But as we've argued on this blog many times, the statutes (and the Geneva Conventions) do not support the White House's strained interpretation. Waterboarding is torture. And torture is a war crime. If the White House has admitted to waterboarding, it has admitted to both."

"Bush Thinks This Will Help?" (2/11/08):

Lara Jakes Jordan and Pamela Hess write for the Associated Press: "The Justice Department long has resisted exposing the Bush administration and its employees to criminal or civil charges or even international war crimes if waterboarding were declared illegal.

"Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, called [Mukasey's] testimony an example of 'the gold standard of double standards.'

"'Everyone in the world knows that waterboarding is torture and illegal,' Cox said. 'The U.S. government admits having done it. Yet the highest law enforcement official in the land refuses to investigate this scandal.'"

Mukasey's argument that he can't prosecute the people who carried out the waterboarding because they were told it was legal makes a certain amount of sense. But what about the people who told them it was legal? It seems to me that they are the ones who could more likely be prosecuted. But the Justice Department obviously can't prosecute itself.

Isn't this exactly what special prosecutors are for?

It All Comes Back to the OLC -- and Addington

Charlie Savage writes in the Boston Globe that "the controversy surrounding Bush's counterterrorism policies on such matters as interrogation and surveillance has centered on whether the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, a small group of politically-appointed attorneys who advise the president, has correctly interpreted the law…

Savage writes that Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.) "said Mukasey was essentially giving 'immunity from any criminal culpability' to anyone who breaks a law, so long as the Office of Legal Counsel secretly signs off on the conduct - even if the legal advice was 'inaccurate.' . . .

As Georgetown Law Professor Marty Lederman blogs: "I was shocked last week when Judge Mukasey told Senator Feingold that DOJ would not share with the Judiciary Committee -- even in closed session -- the legal explanations of why the 'approved' CIA techniques are not unlawful. He repeated essentially the same thing to Representative Conyers yesterday. . .

"As I've argued here repeatedly, there is almost never any justification for the existence of what is, in effect, secret U.S. law about the limits of how or government can use force against individuals -- or of the existence of a 'classified' law that departs so fundamentally from how the law is widely understood by the lawmakers and by the people.

"But certainly where, as here, the underlying facts (and legal conclusions) are now acknowledged, and where there is such a stark and important contrast between the law as the public and Congress understands it and the law as the Executive interprets it, it is critical that the legislature and public be able to understand and evaluate the Administration's legal arguments.

"Why hasn't the Department's audacity incensed more legislators? If the Administration will not even provide Congress, let alone the public, with a public accounting, and explanation, of how it is interpreting Congress's own enactments, we really are setting a new benchmark for the degradation of our system of meaningful checks and balances."

"Return of the 9/11 President" (2/12/08):

Said Bush: "First of all, whatever we have done was legal, and whatever decision I will make will be reviewed by the Justice Department to determine whether or not the legality is there. And the reason why there is a difference between what happened in the past and today, there is a new law."

Then, however, Bush made an unsupported claim, and issued a challenge that the media and his critics should pick up with vigor: "The American people have got to know that what we did in the past gained information that prevented an attack. And for those who criticize what we did in the past, I ask them, which attack would they rather have not permitted -- stopped? Which attack on America did they -- would they have said, well, you know, maybe it wasn't all that important that we stop those attacks."

But if the American people have "got to know" that torture gained information that prevented an attack, Bush needs to start making a better case. As I've written repeatedly, he has yet to offer any evidence that intelligence produced by torture thwarted a single plot or saved a single life.

The media should demand that he back it up or take it back…

And yet, Fox News's Chris Wallace responded not with a challenge but with what may go down as one of the most inappropriate and insufficient follow-ups in presidential history.

Said Wallace: "I want to follow up on that. Whether it is interrogation of terror prisoners or the intercepting of surveillance among al Qaeda members, are you ever puzzled by all of the concern in this country about protecting of rights of people who want to kill us?"…

Even Bush had to come to the defense of his critics.

Blogger John Amato shows video of Bush's bizarre expression while listening to Wallace's questions about waterboarding: He can't stop smiling.


"Fear Rules the Day" (2/13/08):

Why, after years of refusing public comment on particular CIA interrogation methods, have top Bush administration officials suddenly begun pressing a controversial argument that it was legal for the CIA to strap prisoners to a board and pour water over their face to make them believe they were being drowned?

Dan Eggen raises that question in today's Washington Post, and comes up with a possible answer: "The issue promises to play a role in the historic military prosecution of six al-Qaeda detainees for allegedly organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in cases described by the Defense Department on Monday."

And knowing that, the administration's strategy of acknowledging waterboarding but arguing that it was legal "appears to be aimed primarily at ensuring that no CIA interrogators face criminal prosecution for using . . . methods that top White House and Justice Department lawyers approved."

Froomkin Q&A (2/13/08):

Lititz, Pa.: So to summarize the Bush administration's view on law: If a lawyer says it is legal, it is. Seems to leave the Supremes out in the cold with nothing to do.

Dan Froomkin: Almost. You mean: If one of our hand-picked, possibly too-radical-to-get-confirmed lawyers, doing the unbending will of the vice president's office and allowed to create our own secret law says it's legal, it is.

"A Question of Human Dignity" (2/14/08):

And here's an astonishing way of looking at torture, from none other than Attorney General Michael Mukasey: The three men who were waterboarded, he said yesterday, brought it upon themselves.

NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke to Mukasey yesterday.

Shapiro: "Mukasey quoted CIA director Michael Hayden's statement that out of a large number of terrorism detainees, 100 were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques."

Mukasey: "And of those, three were waterboarded. So these are people who self-select for their ability to resist the technique."

"The House Strikes Back" (2/15/08):

Georgetown Law Professor and blogger Marty Lederman responds with outrage: "Bradbury later confirmed (see the video at 36:20-37:00) what I've often speculated here: OLC's view is that a technique is not torture if, 'subject to strict safeguards, limitations and conditions, [it] does not involve severe physical pain or severe physical suffering. . . and something can be quite distressing or comfortable, even frightening, [but] if it doesn't involve severe physical pain, and it doesn't last very long, it may not constitute severe physical suffering. That would be the analysis.'

"Let's be very clear: This so-called 'analysis' is at the very core of the OLC justification for waterboarding, and possibly several other components of the CIA program, as well. And it is flatly, 100% wrong, and indefensible. . . .

"Waterboarding, even the CIA version, entails excruciating and intense physical suffering. That's why they use it. . .

"To say that this is not severe physical suffering -- is not torture -- is absurd. And to invoke the defense that what the Spanish Inquisition did was worse, that we use a more benign, non-torture form of waterboarding -- after all, we don't stomp on the victim's chest! -- is obscene."

"Bush's BFF Going Down" (2/19/08):

Bruce Fein writes in his Washington Times opinion column: "The beginning of the end of the rule of law has emerged under President Bush, i.e., a systematic twisting of language or precedents to advance a political agenda.

"The Bush administration has bettered the instruction of Humpty Dumpty in 'Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There': 'When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less,' said Humpty Dumpty. . . .

"Mr. Bradbury's assertion that waterboarding by the CIA fell short of torture as defined by the federal anti-torture statute was first cousin to semantic jugglery and sophistry. He defended the now-abandoned practice on the fog of intelligence ignorance in the aftermath of September 11, 2001; and, President Bush's and CIA Director Michael Hayden's unsubstantiated claims that the CIA's enhanced interrogation program has proven invaluable in helping to prevent international terrorism either at home or abroad.

"The definition of torture, however, does not expand or contract like an accordion based on the objective of the interrogator or the intelligence need. The statute condemns torture period, with no commas, semicolons, or question marks."

Morris Davis writes in a New York Times op-ed that "we need to come to grips with the practice known as waterboarding, the simulated drowning of a person to persuade him to talk. . . .

"Why a few others in positions of power still find it so difficult to admit the obvious about waterboarding is astounding. We can never retake the moral high ground when we claim the right to do unto others that which we would vehemently condemn if done to us. . . .

"My policy as the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo was that evidence derived through waterboarding was off limits. That should still be our policy. To do otherwise is not only an affront to American justice, it will potentially put prosecutors at risk for using illegally obtained evidence.

"Unfortunately, I was overruled on the question, and I resigned my position to call attention to the issue -- efforts that were hampered by my being placed under a gag rule and ordered not to testify at a Senate hearing."

The Baltimore Sun editorial board writes: "Waterboarding is torture, and torture is not consistent with what we believe in as a nation, regardless of the circumstance. Prosecutors at the Nazi war trials at Nuremberg knew it more than 50 years ago, and many senior intelligence and military officials question its value and morality now. . . .

"White House officials insist a ban on waterboarding would force the CIA to shut down its program of enhanced interrogation of terror suspects. When pressed to defend the president's position, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino . . . relied on partisan sniping: 'Americans will have to ask themselves, "Do you trust the intelligence community more than you trust Democrats who are beholden to their left wing?"'"

Dana Perino, ever charming. Apparently, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, only Dirty Friggin' Hippies care about such pesky problems as torture. Perino might want to run that by Alberto Mora, the rule-of-law conservative and general counsel for the U.S. Navy who the Cheney gang lied to and undermined for opposing torture. For starters. It's that same paradigm of unaccountable power and radical decisions we discussed earlier. As I wrote previously on Mora:

It’s impossible to avoid the fact that the Bush administration is not ignorant of the mistakes they have made. But they do not view them as mistakes, or at the very least did not at the time. Whether it comes to the 4th Amendment, judicial review, and the illegal NSA eavesdropping program — or using discredited reports of Nigerian uranium sales to sell the case for war — or disregarding plans for the reconstruction of Iraq — or pushing for a policy of torture — they have been warned of the dangers and proceeded anyway. The Bush administration has not been given solely bad counsel. It has ignored, suppressed, and aggressively attacked good counsel. Given the ongoing disastrous consequences, “hubris” is just too tame a word.


Scott Horton


(Cartoon by Ed Stein, 2/13/08 — click for a larger view.)

Scott Horton is a "wicked smart" lawyer who writes for Harper's. He's occasionally debated torture apologists, and has written extensively on torture, due process, surveillance, and other issues of civil rights and justice.

"Deconstructing John Yoo" (1/23/08): "Once again, poor John Yoo, the author of the original torture memorandum and steady defender in public fora of waterboarding and crushing the genitalia of small children, feels he is being persecuted." (How cool is it, by the way, that he used "fora"?)

"Bulletins from the Ministry for Torture" (1/27/08)

"Burke on Terror, Ignorance and Tyranny" (1/29/08): "No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear."

"‘Reasonable Minds Can Differ’" (1/31/08): Horton assesses Mukasey's latest evasions, and quotes from three of my favorites on legal issues, Jack Balkin, Dahlia Lithwick and Marty Lederman.

"Blackstone on Torture" (1/31/08).

"Challenging Torture": A prepared speech by Horton that serves a fascinating recap of torture through the ages, using as a starting point Paul about to be tortured by the Romans in the Book of Acts. An excerpt:

Few societies had a more carefully charted system of torture than the Romans. They used torture much as President Bush contemplates its use, namely as a tool for interrogating enemies. They specified permitted techniques and detailed who could use it and under what circumstances. They regulated its admissibility as evidence in legal proceedings. They refrained from negative moral judgments about torture, but while embracing its use, they also noted that it really wasn’t particularly effective or useful in extracting information from subjects. The prime rule they devised is the one that Paul relies upon in Acts–they forbade torture to be used against a citizen who was uncondemned. That is to say, torture could be used as a punishment, but not in connection with interrogation.

But [Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy] tells us that the barriers and internal rules could not hold. Once torture emerged as a practice authorized by law in some circumstances it spread very quickly, and ultimately the prohibition against torturing citizens could not be sustained.

"Six Questions for Alex Gibney, Producer of the Oscar-Nominated ‘Taxi to the Dark Side’" (2/5/08).

"Torture Groundhog Day" (2/7/08):

…the Bush Administration is nothing but a series of Groundhog Days, just the sort to which Bill Murray finds himself condemned in the movie of that name. And the cycle that the Bush White House serves up is torture, and particularly waterboarding, 24/7.

"Nino Scalia, Your Hairshirt Is Showing, and Your Bishop Has a Message for You" (2/12/08): Quoted earlier, but here's a new section:

His legal posture is very interesting. The Constitution, he argues, bans the use of “cruel and unusual” punishment. That means no torture if you’ve been convicted of a crime. So in Scalia’s internal legal world, the application of torture to someone who’s not even been charged with a crime and who may simply be completely innocent—say a witness to some serious plot, but not a conspirator—might be just fine. This may well reflect a sort of logic, but it doesn’t reflect an appreciation of the historical roots of the prohibition on torture, which evolved over hundreds of years in English jurisprudence.

"Treating the Constitution as a Doormat" (2/13/08) – More on the FISA bill, but the issues are related, I'd say.

"Six Questions for Darius Rejali, Author of ‘Torture and Democracy’" (2/13/08). A great piece, quoted earlier in this post.

"A Valentine from the Ministry of Love" (2/14/08): The chilling tale of Sami al-Hajj, which Horton puts into larger context:

…today Kristof gives us the story of a journalist who was seized and locked away in Gitmo, and who is being tortured, twice a day. What’s his offense? None has been charged. It seems evident that his prime offense is simple: he is a journalist who worked for a broadcaster that the Bush regime despises: al Jazeera. That was plenty of reason to seize and torture him.

"Indeed, the Offender May Be Your Boss" (2/14/08):

Indeed, some of the perpetrators [of human rights violations] have not just gained entrance to the United States and acquired citizenship, some of them are senior officials of the Department of Justice. Steven Bradbury and John Yoo, for instance, are probable target for criminal proceedings in the not too distant future… Let's hope so, because justice in this world for crimes of this magnitude seem all too rare.

"The Valentine’s Day Torture Trifecta" (2/16/08): Horton examines the lies, evasions or cluelessness of Steven Bradbury, Bush, and Lieberman:

On Valentine’s Day the Bush Administration was out on a mission, straight from the Orwellian Ministry of Love. That ministry of course served in Nineteen Eighty-Four as the center for torture. And as the shortest month reached its middle point, three apologists appeared on behalf of the administration to explain to the American public that they needed to relax and start getting comfortable with torture. It’s the new American Way, after all.

Horton provides video of Bradbury's waterboarding defense (which other excerpts have touched on as well). Horton analyzes:

So the key is brevity. Do it in a few seconds, no lasting effects, and it’s fine. And that’s the beauty of waterboarding, in Bradbury’s mind. A former OLC attorney advisor, Georgetown Prof. Martin Lederman says this is “flatly, 100% wrong, and indefensible.” I’d say that is a charitable characterization. My own view is that this opinion constitutes evidence of Bradbury’s participation in a criminal conspiracy to introduce a regime of torture as defined in American and international law. The law may provide defenses for the interrogators who act in misplaced reliance on the Justice Department’s opinions, but it provides no shield for those who in bad faith formulate the policies that foment torture. Bradbury has no business serving in the Justice Department or in any other public office. He should now be the target of a criminal investigation, together with the other policy-level figures who drove the introduction and propagation of this torture regime. Indeed, beyond their essential criminality, no group of people have done more in the last seven years to undermine the security of every American citizen than these shadowy, ethically-challenged figures who seem propelled by the credo that they stand above the law because they can twist it to say whatever they want.

As for Bradbury’s future career, I suggest he take up acting. He is a natural to play the Grand Inquisitor in Schiller’s Don Carlos or Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov–he has the reasoning down pat, he actually looks sincere and clean-cut as he explains that “torture is good for you.” Our use of waterboarding is humane compared to the Spanish Inquisition, he says. And then he demonstrates the key distinction: the Japanese or Spanish would fill the stomach with water and then stand on the body. For the American version, we fill the lungs with water and don’t do any standing. You can exhale now. Isn’t that a great relief? It’s a kinder, gentler form of waterboarding. A waterboarding of which all Americans can be proud. A waterboarding that reflects America’s core values of respect for human dignity.

Lieberman, no surprise, doesn't understand what waterboarding entails when he says "It is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological." Perhaps more important than exposing Lieberman's ignorance is Horton's illuminating focus on the familiar "ticking time bomb" scenario and how torture has been used in "general intelligence gathering," not only imminent threat situations (if any have ever even existed):

But there’s another aspect of Lieberman’s statement which needs some attention. He presents his rationale as an outtake from the Fox Network’s “24,” he talks about ticking bombs and the urgent needs to wrestle information from a participant in a plot in the course of performance. But of course, not a one of the instances in which waterboarding was actually applied related to anything like such a scenario.

Indeed, a Judiciary Committee staffer who carefully tracked Bradbury’s testimony earlier in the day drew this conclusion from it: “This is an official acknowledgment that we do not use these tactics only in (fanciful) ‘ticking bomb’ scenarios — we use them to find about ‘potential’ ‘planning’ of attacks and enemy ‘whereabouts’ — that’s just general intelligence gathering.” That’s precisely correct and it demonstrates the fraudulent way the “ticking bomb” argument is being used. Students of moral philosophy of course will recognize the technique. It was put forward by Sophists in the post-Platonic period. They suggested that they could contrive a set of facts sufficient to topple any moral law that a moral philosopher could postulate. The “plank of Carneades” is a prime example of their approach comstructed by the Sophists from a teaching of the second century BCE skeptic Carneades. It suggested that in extremis, a person could violate most natural and moral laws to save himself. Carneades did not actually believe this, he presented it as an example of a powerful and malicious form of argumentation with strong appeal to the weak-minded against which society must ever be on guard. And the “ticking bomb” scenario is merely an updated version of this line of reasoning. The way to approach such arguments entails a series of questions:

(1) Has the factual scenario that is posited ever occurred? Is it likely to occur?

(2) What is the consequence to society of taking the exception as a basis for overturning the general rule? How is the exception granted and applied?

(3) What is the objective of those advancing the exception?

However, this approach suggests we treat Lieberman’s comments as something serious and worthy of analysis. In fact the man is not a serious figure and his argument—that “waterboarding is better than placing burning coals on the flesh”—is simply ludicrous, and that’s the best way to treat it.

In the end, Lieberman’s comments add nothing to the debate. But they tell us much about Lieberman.


Miscellaneous


(Cartoon by Dan Wasserman, 2/12/08)

NPR's Fresh Air (10/10/07):

This year the Human Rights First Award for Excellence in Television will be given to a show that "depicts torture and interrogation in a nuanced, realistic fashion." According to interviews with military leaders, portrayal of torture on television shows has changed interrogation techniques in the field.

TV producer Adam Fierro (The Shield), intelligence expert Col. Stuart Herrington and human rights advocate David Danzig discuss TV violence.

"5 Myths About Torture and Truth" by Darius Rejali (12/16/07). (Rejali poses one "myth" rather unfortunately, well examined by Matt Weiner.)

Democracy Now!: "The 9/11 Commission & Torture: How Information Gained Through Waterboarding & Harsh Interrogations Form Major Part of 9/11 Commission Report" (2/7/08).

"Damage That Must Be Undone" by Eugene Robinson (2/8/08):

Did you ever imagine that we would have a president who uses legalistic euphemisms and craven rationalizations to justify strapping prisoners down and subjecting them to simulated drowning? A president who claims the right to use waterboarding, and God knows what other "techniques," in the future if he wants?

Think Progress: "Charles Swift: Use Of Waterboarding Evidence In Court Unheard Of Since ‘Spanish Inquisition’" (2/12/08).

"Why Now?: The timing of the Guantanamo trials is not an accident." by Charles Swift (2/15/08).

Steve Benen and Blogenfreude cover Joe Lieberman's support of waterboarding.

Meanwhile, never underestimate the ability of our press corps to painfully miss the point. As Digby noted in a (superb) post on Mukasey's Senate testimony:

Kelli Arena says the good news is that this is a very cordial hearing, without the "apoplectic fits" one is accustomed to from this committee. I don't think Kelli has ever heard about the "banality of evil."

(There's much more, of course, and I've linked Digby, Glenn Greenwald and Arthur Silber in previous posts on the subject, but I can't cover it all. Please link any other good pieces or sites in the comments.)

A Final Metaphor (or Two)


(Cartoon by David Horsey, 2/15/08)

There's something quite sad about John McCain, tortured as a P.O.W. and once an eloquent opponent of such treatment, voting to allow it. There's something pathetic in major pundits trying to make excuses for McCain, even on this Faustian bargain, for which there's really no positive interpretation.

Regardless of any possible noble intent on the part of a torture proponent, there remains the reality of the practice's actual use, as on Sami al-Hajj (as written about by Nicholas Kristof and referenced in the Horton "Ministry of Love" post above). Apparently innocent, al-Hajj has been kept imprisoned for six whole years, and started a hunger strike over a year ago. His force feeding has been one more unnecessary brutality, "really a regime to make it as painful and difficult as possible.” Yet again — sadly — this is no accident. As Horton writes:

There are in fact clear internationally agreed upon standards for forced-feeding... What is going on in Guantánamo consciously avoids the Malta standards not because there would be any difficulty complying with the standards, but because it is intended to be a form of torture.

Imagine being imprisoned, unjustly, for even a day. Imagine it for a week. Then a month. Imagine losing a whole year of one's life. Imagine, if it's possible, what it must be like to have been imprisoned for six years without knowing when, if ever, one will be freed. On top of all that, and all the other indignities, imagine, if it is possible, what it must be like to be tortured.

Not everyone who has been arrested is innocent, of course. But guilt also doesn't make torture effective or moral, and at the very least, the risks and costs are very, very high. All this brings to mind an arresting example from Darius Rejali:

And let’s remember, torturers aren’t chosen for intelligence; they are chosen for devotion and loyalty, and they are terrible at spotting the truth when they see it. In the “Five Myths” piece I talk about how the Chilean secret service lost valuable information in that way when they broke Sheila Cassidy, an English doctor, and she told them everything but they didn’t believe her. And one can just repeat dozens of stories like this. My favorite is when Senator John McCain tried to explain the concept of Easter to his North Vietnamese torturer. “We believe there was a guy who walked the earth, did great things, was killed and three days later, he rose from the dead and went up to heaven.” His interrogator was puzzled and asked him to explain it again and again. He left, and when he came back, he was angry and threatened to beat him. Americans couldn’t possibly believe in “Easter” since no one lives again; McCain had to be making this up.

Even though it was North Vietnam in a different era, it's striking that this torturer was unaware of such a central tenet of a major world religion. Likely he could have learned the truth without too much effort. Of course, it's also remarkable that authoritarian conservatives, mainly of them self-identifying as Christian, could support torture, seeing as their religion clearly opposes it and Jesus was himself tortured and put to death in cruel fashion. It's likewise truly incredible that so many supposedly smart, trustworthy officials and pundits are unaware (or pretend not to know) the history and facts about torture. They, too, could learn this with little effort, but they have chosen not to, and seem to have willfully ignored such evidence even when presented directly to them.

Picture John McCain and his torturer, as McCain patiently (or desperately) tries to explain the truth yet again but simply is not believed. Imagine him knowing what's likely to come. Imagine him having been a prisoner for years, and not knowing when and if his captivity, and this treatment, will ever end.

Torture is a most un-Christian sacrament. Much more importantly, it's also an immoral and un-American one. Torture proponents on the whole prize "devotion and loyalty," and not only are "terrible at spotting the truth" about torture, they reject it completely, just as McCain's torturer refused to believe the truth when told to him. Some apologists such as Mukasey may be highly intelligent, but they cannot be accused of wisdom. The same is true of all the key players in the Bush administration, with their assertion of divine, monarchial powers. Such awesome power married to such poor judgment with so little accountability has been disastrous. The myth about torture that proponents flog so relentlessly it that it will somehow make us stronger, help us ascend over peril and fear, let us rise up again and save us from the Dread Enemy. It's all a lie. But with all these lies, myths and fantasies, for Sami al-Hajj and all those others imprisoned and tortured, the body and blood remain.


(Cartoon by John Sherffius, 2/18/08)

Update: I added two more excerpts.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)