Thursday, May 28, 2009

You Give Me a Waterboard, One Hour, and Dick Cheney And I'll Have Him Confessing to the Sharon Tate Murders

One of Al Qaeda's goals, it's not just to attack the United States. It's to prove that we're hypocrites—that we don't live up to American principles.

I can't say that I agree with his claim that torture is enough to create an enemy. The issue of torture as a damnable act—as clearly as I stand where I do—is debated for a reason. Because all sorts of behavior can be damned and justified by those who are usually more interested in damning and justifying the people who engage in the behavior.

If the question is simply what would be American? then the argument of torture can be lost as easily as Cheney makes his arguments. Because when enough Americans accept the trajectory of his morality the value is American. Let's be honest. This country is not a sanctuary of moral clarity. And we don't want it to be, because that requires puritanism.

The harder argument to make is about the efficacy of torture. Because results have to be there. And while Cheney likes to speak as an authority on the wisdom of torture, his only credential is faith. Those who are trained and experienced should really provide a sober counter if they have one. And my only credential is faith that they have one.

I'm kinda hoping that the strongest and clearest sober counter doesn't have to be Jesse Ventura.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Proposition 8 Upheld

This could be a very disappointing decision. But it's not for a pretty important reason. The ruling was on a technical decision regarding the passage of proposition that was voted on at the California ballot. It's not so much about an interpretation of the state's constitution. The constitution was interpreted a certain way last year and the proposition was a small-minded and fearful response. There aren't laws against small-mindedness and fear. And so the vote stands.

What's much more discouraging than the court decision is the determination of some voices to spread the desire for inequality:

Jorge Riley, 31, of Sacramento had to get up earlier to make the drive to San Francisco to hoist his sign reading, " 'Gay' = Pervert."

"I don't know how many times it's going to take for the judges to listen to the will of the people," Riley said.

And so we're back to why this isn't so hopeless. Because the wheels are still spinning where the important changes are taking place. Mr Riley is blissfully ignorant of the shifting will of the people. In more and more minds homosexuality is not a perversion, and it's not even taking a 'liberal' court to recognize rights in some states. Legislators are listening to the will of the people. And they're pushing hard to pass respectable laws and barrel past governors' vetoes when necessary. Not with 100% success. But with more and more strength. And more and more support.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The GOP: Smart as a Whip

It's amazing to me how determinedly daft the Republican rhetoric has been. This interview with Eric Cantor is about two months old. But it holds up. What three things other than tax cuts would he do if he were president? I'll sum up his answer with quotes.

We've all got to work together.

Yes. I agree.

What is needed most right now is focus on getting the job done.

That's almost as good as his first suggestion.

We've got to do all we can to address this situation [of jobs being lost].

He must be reading my mind!

Not to think about a 20-year Great Society redux program.

Wait -- so just not thinking about it will help?

Narrow the focus.

Hold on a minute. Not only does he want to focus but he wants it to be a narrow focus? Man, this guy is got some revolutionary thinking!

Get this economy back on track.

You know. I think that might work. I'd put that in the top three too.

And he adds that he wouldn't pass Obama's budget if he were President because it's taxing the job creators. Does that count as something other than a tax cut? I guess technically he's suggesting a tax avoidance rather than a tax cut because if he was president he wouldn't have instituted the taxes in the first place. Cantor is sneaky sneaky.

So he finishes with his big three.
  1. Need some focus.
  2. Stop the politics.
  3. Start working together to get this job done.

This is not only the GOP that talks and argues like this. It's not even only politicians. But the GOP is flailing and they all need to address the palpable weakness of their philosophy soon.

Michael Steele is supposed to be guiding them, but what does he have to offer?

He wants the Republican party to convince America that the Right Wing view of spending, taxes, freedom, "responsive and responsible government", and defense are best for the country.

To accomplish this goal Republicans are turning a corner in three important ways:

First, the Republican Party will be forward-looking – it is time to stop looking backward … I believe it is now time for Republicans to focus all of our energies on winning the future by emerging as the party of new ideas.

Second, the Republican Party will not shy away from voicing our opposition to the president’s policies.

Third, the Republican Party will seize upon momentum for a GOP resurgence that is already under way in states and local communities.

In this same short essay he argues that looking forward is what Reagan would have done, and he offers no idea more concrete than the principle of small government. He opposes Obama's policies only based on the assumption of righteous principles. Where's the momentum in that?

A better word than momentum would be inertia. The GOP is an object at rest, staying at rest.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Let Him Who Hath Understanding...

A few years ago our friend Casey had a 'different' blog. I was browsing through the archives and found this gem from S11 Republican, who chimed in to dampen a "leftist" thread, offering up this criticism of a article:

The truth is that (1) there is zero evidence of authorized torture (2) the wiretapping in question isn't illegal, and (3) winning the war in the Middle East just might save Western Civilization.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Is This Becoming a Metaphor?

There's something heartening about these kids. There's also something canned about their responses. They sound a little too ready to attack the questions. But that might be a good thing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

...By Any Other Name

Student: So I read a recent report recently, that said that you did a memo. You were the one who authorized torture to the—

Condoleezza Rice: Is that what you read?

Student: I'm sorry. Not torture. I'm sorry.

Rice: Thanks.

Student: Waterboarding. Waterboarding.

Rice: Uh huh.

Student: Is waterboarding torture?

Rice: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations—legal obligations—under the convention against torture. So that's —And by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.

Student: OK. Is waterboarding torture in your opinion?

Rice: And I just said, The United States was told, we were told nothing that violates our obligations on the convention against torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

Knowing that the word "torture" is a sure way to surrender the charity of public opinion, Rice takes a legal path to the technical censure of its applicability. Does such censure end the argument? Let's say it's true, that presidential approval is sufficient to keep something from being called torture. Does that mean that a severed finger isn't technically torture, and that any argument that calls it torture is using a slick tactic?

The use of torture in the argument is not a dirty trick or a cheap shot. Because anyone who disagrees with the label can simply choose to ignore the conclusions and focus on the terms, as Casey has done on the last post. But regardless of the term I use, even Casey isn't confused about the techniques I'm talking about. If he's read the Bybee memo and followed the discussions, he knows that I'm talking about certain techniques, and because he's a smart guy I'm sure he can figure that I'm focusing mostly on facial slaps, walling, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. Those are techniques that are approved on paper. There's no doubt that other techniques as distasteful as sexual debasement, religious affronts, and techniques as violent as beating to the point of injury and even death took place. The death of Dilawar at the Bagram Air Base was not just the result of a careless interrogator. It was the result of a system that valued information from broken individuals, even questionable information from innocent individuals.

As we evaluate an administration we have to take into account those fruits of its philosophy, when we can see where that philosophy has encouraged disregard for certain values.

Is waterboarding torture? When the very techniques suggested are those that are used because they push an individual to the limits of surrender, then my use of the word is irrelevant. The US Code defines torture as severe physical or mental pain and suffering, and trials have proceeded on the premise that waterboarding is torture.

Alain Grignard serving with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called Guantánamo model facility, but added that any indeterminate incarceration without informing them of their status or fate is "mental torture."*

The International Committee of the Red Cross in the Report on the Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody, categorizes the relevant treatment of detainees comprising the following "Methods of Ill-treatment" in individual sections under the following headings: Suffocation by water; Prolonged stress standing; Beatings by use of a collar; Beating and kicking; Confinement in a box; Prolonged nudity; Sleep deprivation and use of loud music; Exposure to cold temperature/cold water; Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles; Threats; Forced shaving; Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food.

And the same ICRC report while referring to the treatment of Guantánamo detainees torture, says regarding the terminology:

The general term “ill-treatment” has been used throughout the following section, however, it should in no way be understood as minimising the severity of the conditions and treatment to which the detainees were subjected. Indeed, as outlined in Section 4below, and as concluded by this report, the ICRC clearly considers that the allegations of the fourteen include descriptions of treatment and interrogation techniques—singly or in combination—that amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

That's the policy being defended. Those techniques, Michael Scheuer is willing to defend as appropriate even when they're not a last resort. If I don't get to call that torture, fine. I don't think I need to.

Whether or not the defenders of the techniques are comfortable with the use of the word torture, they have argued that techniques that are effective because they are unbearable should be allowed. I'm using torture to refer to any technique that is unbearable and is repeatedly employed with no attempt to attenuate that discomfort.

We are not talking about punishment for crimes that have been tried. These are not criminals in the legal sense. These are detainees who we expect can something for the United States: give information. Yes, my stance might be criticized as resting on "idealistic pacifist foundations." And yes, I am in many ways a pacifist. But I'm no more an idealist than those who would like us to believe that pain is the most effective way to get the information that will help us. I've heard both arguments. I have seen no convincing moral or pragmatic defense of such imposed suffering. Even tho Casey sees a possible defense because Inflicting discomfort obviously can be an effective measure, I don't see a defense available there. Call me an idealist. But even if I believed that an imminent threat was a reasonably relevant consideration, I hope I wouldn't view the evidence differently. And why should I?

If prisoners of war are to be held accountable for their actions, then make the claim and prove that they are criminals. But when they are off the battle field. When they are away from their resources. When they are under control, unarmed and removed from every institutional and affiliative power they have, there is one power that we can never take away from them: the power to remain silent. That is a power that we have to accept, no matter how frightening it is that their silence is not in our interest. The idealists are those who believe we can we control their values.

So what do we do to convince them not to be silent? Right now the debate has two parts. Those who are in disagreement have to navigate two courses:

1) Arguing for the proper reaction to what is done/has happened

2) Arguing for/against the defense of what is done/has happened.

The second course is absolutely necessary because in combination with the first, it is an argument for what we are willing to let happen.

* Imprisonment is not a single thing. So we would have to argue against different experiences with prison. Torture takes place in prison. And it takes place because of the system's accommodation of it, and disregard for the suffering of inmates. Honestly, that's another issue. If I was to address that, I would have to address corruption, public attention, politics then the death penalty, solitary confinement, the difference between punishment and excision. Simply put: I'm against the death penalty and I don't believe that imprisonment should have anything to do with punishment.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Even Unnecessary Torture Is OK?

David Martin: How will we know that less coercive techniques couldn't have produced the same results

Michael Sheuer: Well who— Why would you care? If we got the information we needed and America's better d— better protected, who cares? These are not Americans.

Well we know that Scheuer's way of thinking is out there. It's the foundation of Cheney's current claim that once people know how effective torture was, it'll be all the proof they need that it was necessary. But it's frustrating to see the level of antagonism Scheuer shows to the very thought that many people in this country will care about torture no matter what it revealed. And especially frustrating is his casual insistence that torture doesn't even have to be a last resort.