Topic: NOW WHAT?
Are Things Changing?
There were three big news stories on Tuesday, July 11, and two were astounding, and one just depressing. That third was the massive railway bombing in India, in what used to be Bombay but has a different name now - Mumbai. But it's still the financial center of that nation, and, depending on what source you use, 147 or 163 people died, and nearly five hundred were badly injured. Being precise about the number dead is for the sensationalists. It was more than enough. Precision is for the cable news channels wanting more eyeballs on the commercial slots they sell to advertisers - how awful, so watch more. Horror keeps people from switching to Antiques Road Show.
And what was this about - Kashmir? Or are the Muslims still ticked about splitting things up in 1947 and the Hindus getting modern India while they got Pakistan? Is that still playing out internally? Pakistan has condemned the bombings, but that is pretty much pro forma these days. All the commentary on the right over here is that this was obviously al Qaeda and they're out to kill everyone, and only George Bush can stop them, if we'd just let the man do whatever he wants that we don't want to know anything about. The commentators on air from India found that idea rather stupid, but they were polite about it - no, this is something else. But we over here need a narrative that feels both familiar and scary, so that got a bit of play. But this wasn't about America and those who despise our policies and actions. This just wasn't about us. That's hard for Americans to understand. Everything else is, isn't it? Yeah, it's not fair.
The two other big stories of the day were all about us, much to the relief of many a news anchor and media sales department.
The first was that, in a stunning reversal, which the administration said wasn't a reversal at all, the Pentagon sent out a directive ordering civilians and uniformed commanders in the field to review all practices and paperwork to ensure that they follow Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions, the one they said just didn't apply to those we have held down Guantánamo way. That one outlaws violence, torture, cruel treatment, and "humiliating and degrading treatment" of prisoners of war. That's explained here. We would never do any of that of course, officially (only a few "bad apples" did such things), so this is just a clarification. We said we could do such things if we decided we should, and now we're saying we won't, maybe.
We'll play by the rules of the treaty we ratified and signed, as the Supreme Court ruled here (PDF format) that this was, in effect, the law - treaties are the law of the land when ratified - and the law is clear, it does apply to the guys we picked up here and there. All the stuff about these folks being a different sort of prisoners - not prisoners of war and not criminals but something entirely new and amazing, with no traditional rights - was baloney. What we ratified clearly and explicitly accounted for such "enemy combatants" - so the proposed military tribunals, where you couldn't know what you were being charged with, you couldn't see the evidence or know your accuser, and you couldn't attend much of the proceedings, where evidence obtained by torture was entirely admissible, and you could only challenge anything at all after you were convicted, were clearly lame, to be generous. The rights of prisoners of war pertained. Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions (here) had to be followed. The administration had argued in court that following such rules would make hunting down terrorists impossible. And now they say they've really been following the rules all along, and this directive is no big deal, just paperwork.
That's very puzzling, but you have to save some face. And if Common Article Three is to be followed, not only are the odd tribunals unlawful, so are the other approved techniques to get these people to say things - waterboarding, stress positions that sometime end in death, forced nakedness, the dogs, the sexual stuff and so on and so forth. Of course when they don't die, or commit suicide, what they do say is rather worthless - just anything at all to make it all stop. That this is obvious makes what's been going on even odder. Perhaps one thing said in a thousand might be important, but you just never know what. But then it is doing something. That seems to matter a lot, or did until now. And of course you feel powerful and in control.
Timothy Noah here is puzzled by the claim we've been following the rules all along, and unpack the logic this way - "1.) The United States is inherently good; 2.) Inherently good countries don't violate the Geneva conventions; 3.) Ergo, the United States can do anything it wants to suspected terrorists and it still won't be violating the Geneva conventions." And at this link he posts the actual directive ordering everyone to play be the rules (scroll down), and highlights what bullshit it contains. It's depressing.
Andrew Sullivan, the one conservative who seems to have had a little problem with torture, here, is very happy with the directive -
And he points to the New York Times quoting some of those JAG and military officers here -
Yep, these guys didn't give into what Sullivan calls "the demands of foolish expediency or the cult of the president-as-monarch."
And there's what the Army captain who blew the whistle to the business at Abu Ghraib said here -
Yeah, yeah, but Dick Cheney is pissed.
And other things are afoot. The fellow who made the Pentagon announcement was James Haynes, and on the same day the Senate opened nomination hearings - an appointment to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth District. The item is here. When he was general counsel to the president, back in November 2002, he endorsed this list of "interrogation techniques" for use by the military and CIA -
It's a little joke. Pack the court with judges who start moving things back to where they had been. Very clever.
Andrew Sullivan is all worked up about this matter here, and links to others who are too. But the man will be approved. It's a loyalty test for the Republican senate.
And too there's this, someone pointing out the directive about following the rules is fine and dandy, except it doesn't have much to do with those we won't say we have in custody, the ghost detainees we don't report to the International Red Cross or anyone, and those in places no one knows about. Cheney and his chief-of-staff Addington, wanted to create what they call "outer space" - beyond our laws and anyone's knowledge - where all bets were off and no one would know what we're doing at all. That's still out there.
So should the president have given in here? There's a lot of anger out there at what seem to be what the Supreme Court forced him to do. Why not just let the man do whatever he wants that we don't want to know anything about?
See what one conservative says to other conservatives at "Right-Thinking from the Left Coast" here -
Things aren't going well on that side. As Nelson Muntz would say - "Ha, ha."
The other big story of the day on Tuesday, July 11, wasn't really a story about an event, but a realization that something else has changed. That started with the Time Magazine cover story here - we witnessing a "seismic" shift in the Bush administration's foreign policy - "the end of cowboy diplomacy" and the substitution of "patience" for "pre-emption."
The end of Cowboy Diplomacy? The New York Times said just about the same thing here, and the Washington Post and others ran similar items.
Fred Kaplan has something to say about all that here - Reports of the death of "cowboy democracy" are greatly exaggerated.
The Time item did say Bush's response to North Korea's Fourth of July missile tests "even more surprising than the tests" themselves -
And the New York Times said Bush "finds himself in an unaccustomed position: urging patience."
Kaplan says this is no big deal -
Same with Iran. There's nothing new, just no other options.
It comes down to this -
Oops. There was no story there. Or the story is that the administration looks like it's changing quite a bit, but it's just because they can't avoid the conclusion that Plan A is crap and there is no Plan B. They don't do Plan B's - that's for the weak-willed. So whatever it is they're doing looks all new. But it's just deer-in-the-headlights panic, both harmless (no new wars), and completely ineffectual.
Hey, it's an improvement. The news of the day was dismal enough as it is. Take what you can get.