Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Tuesday, 15 June 2004

Topic: The Media

We like being lied to, we really do...

The most popular cable news network in the United States, Fox News, the only news outlet Dick Cheney says he trusts, has a habit of lying. Perhaps that is a little too blunt. But they keep getting called on their lies. And the keep getting slapped down.

The topic has been around a long time. You will find it covered in some detail in the pages of Just Above Sunset here: October 19, 2003 Opinion - Thoughts on nailing mashed potatoes to a wall. Or - "We report, you decide." "Disseminating Ignorance." Basically, how watching the news can actually sometimes make you dumber, and have you believe things that just aren't so.

Al Franken's book about Fox News, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, pointing this out, is the seminal work on the topic, so to speak. Fox sued over this book, and for a review of the full court transcript of the Fox-Franken hearing where Fox News was laughed out of court see the Just Above Sunset "Links and Recommendations" page, here (scroll down for the link).

In the Washington Post of June 14, 2004 you will find more of this silliness:
On his show the other day, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly apologized to Texas columnist Molly Ivins for calling her a socialist. Now liberal author Eric Alterman wants a retraction from O'Reilly, who recently labeled him a fellow traveler of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Alterman's Miami-based attorney, Sarah Clasby Engel, sent a demand letter to O'Reilly last week, saying, "We would like to take this opportunity to identify a lie you recently broadcast." On his show in early May, the conservative yakker called Alterman "another Fidel Castro confidant."

Threatening a defamation suit unless O'Reilly makes a retraction, Engel states: "We are certain that you will be unable to point us to any proof whatever of a personal relationship between Alterman, a proud anti-Communist liberal, and Fidel Castro." The letter notes that in mid-May, Alterman signed a public rebuke of Castro, assailing the "brute repression" of his dictatorship.

The lawyer gave O'Reilly five business days to respond. A Fox News spokesman told us the missive arrived only yesterday and "our legal department is reviewing it."
What's with these guys at Fox?

And over at Media Matters we find this: Bill O'Reilly, on air, comparing Michael Moore and Al Franken to Goebbels - and saying Hollywood celebrities are just like the Nazi faithful in the forties.

Well, that's just name-calling. It's not really lying. It's a comparison - not the same as saying a liberal columnist is a close friend and supporter of Castro, or another liberal columnist is a member of this or that socialist party.

But there are lies. And the British government has just censured Fox News for flat-out lying.

See Fox News censured for rant at BBC
Ofcom says Murdoch station broke programme code
Matt Wells, media correspondent, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday June 15, 2004

What's this about? It's about the British Office of Communications, the office that controls who gets on the air in the UK, saying Fox News lies:
Fox News, the US news network owned by Rupert Murdoch, has been found in breach of British broadcasting rules for an on-air tirade that accused the BBC of "frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism".

Television regulators said the broadcaster failed to show "respect for truth" in a strongly worded opinion item ... which also accused BBC executives of giving reporters a "right to lie".

Ofcom, which licenses commercial channels shown in Britain regardless of where they are based, received 24 complaints about the remarks. In a ruling published yesterday, it described the offending item as a "damning critique" but said it did not stand up to scrutiny.

It is the third ruling by British regulators against Fox News, which is available in Britain to Sky Digital customers, in the past year. It broke the rules on "undue prominence" in two previous news items which plugged beauty products and a seed manufacturer.
Ah, habitual liars.

But the rules are different over there:
The Independent Television Commission, which preceded Ofcom, responded to complaints last year that Fox did not meet its strict "due impartiality" rules by issuing a ruling that is regarded in some quarters as a fudge to avoid a standoff with Mr Murdoch: it said "due" meant "adequate or appropriate", and Fox News could justifiably claim to have achieved a level of accuracy and impartiality that was appropriate to its audience in the US, where different rules apply.
Ah yes, we Yanks expect to be lied to.

But the Brits do not seem to like rants that lack any basis in facts.

According the The Guardian -
John Gibson, said in a segment entitled My Word that the BBC had "a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest"; that the BBC "felt entitled to lie and, when caught lying, felt entitled to defend its lying reporters and executives"; that the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, in Baghdad during the US invasion, had "insisted on air that the Iraqi army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American military"; and that "the BBC, far from blaming itself, insisted its reporter had a right to lie - exaggerate - because, well, the BBC knew that the war was wrong, and anything they could say to underscore that point had to be right".
Well, yes, he said that.

The British regulators had three issues here.

Fox had failed to honor the "respect for truth" rule. They had failed to give the BBC an opportunity to respond. They failed to apply the rule that says, in a personal view section, "opinions expressed must not rest upon false evidence."

These guys simply do not understand Americans. We're used to false evidence. We love it. Think of the WMD stuff. Think of how the majority of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

These Brits are so picky about facts and truth (exclude Tony Blair here).

The official report is here, with comments.

You will find there is no objective evidence of BBC having an anti-American bias - which is explained in detail. There is no objective evidence the BBC felt "entitled to lie" - not a shred. And what John Gibson claimed the BBC reporters said on the air? They did not say what he claimed. The transcripts show John was being a tad fanciful, interpreting ... or, ah ... flat-out lying.

We're used to that. I guess the Brits aren't.

From the report - "Fox News accepted that Andrew Gilligan had not actually said the words that John Gibson appeared to attribute to him. However, Gibson was paraphrasing ..."

Close enough.

Not.

To quote the report:
We recognise how important freedom of expression is within the media. This item was part of a well-established spot, in which the presenter put forwards his own opinion in an uncompromising manner. However, such items should not make false statements by undermining facts. Fox News was unable to provide any substantial evidence to support the overall allegation that the BBC management had lied and the BBC had an anti-American obsession. It had also incorrectly attributed quotes to the reporter Andrew Gilligan.

Even taking into account that this was a 'personal view' item, the strength and number of allegations that John Gibson made against the BBC meant that Fox News should have offered the BBC an opportunity to respond.
Fox News didn't.

Busted.

At Fox News Gibson responds with this:

The U.K. Investigates John Gibson
John Gibson, Tuesday, June 15, 2004

He says he did nothing wrong.
My opinions about this major Brit media outfit are entirely buttressed by the truth, and they know it... which is what makes them so mad.

The Guardian newspaper in Britain now says this particular "My Word" from last January was so incendiary it "shocked many in the U.K."

I can't imagine that's accurate. I shocked many in the U.K.? How is that possible if they listen to and believe their major media outlet, which routinely trashes Americans, the American president, the American military and American policy?

That is what is truly shocking, and I suspect that even though 24 Brits complained, the vast majority knows that all the nasty things the major media outlet says about us cannot be true.
Get it?

Good Brits know the BBC hates Bush. And everyone, the Brits included, knows Bush, and his policies, should be loved and respected.

And lying a bit to prove that is okay.

Such is American news these days.

I ran this past my old college friend in Atlanta, Rick Brown, who worked for years for the Associated Press and then had a long career at CNN.

When he read these items, then the Gibson response? He wasn't happy.
Jesus H. Christ, he's gone and done it again!

And correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems this Gibson guy gave this response in the very same Fox News segment in which he committed his original offense! (Or is it "offence"? The offence was committed, after all, over there, where I suppose British rules ought to apply.)

I do hope they get 24-hundred, or even 24-thousand, letters this time. I wonder; does Ofcom have the power to deny Fox News permission to broadcast in that country? Or do they just have the right to levy a fine? Whichever, I would think UK public opinion will for sure be against the network on this one, which should be enough to make Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes to think twice about letting this continue.

It is interesting to see how someone can take the phrase "I'm at the centre of Baghdad ... and I don't see anything, but the Americans have a history of making these premature announcements," and, with neither shame nor explanation, paraphrase it so as to say Gilligan "insisted on air that the Iraqi Army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American Military."

Just incredible!

I know his comments are supposed to qualify as privileged opinion, but it's an opinion that contains within it a lie! Listeners or viewers who didn't know any better would think a BBC reporter actually said those things, which of course he didn't. And that's why this sort of thing is dangerous. If racism would not be allowed in its opinion pieces, why should a network allow outright lies?

If Fox were serious about its responsibilities as an information outlet, it would persuade Gibson to either straighten up or take a hike.

The irony is, if Fox doesn't do take serious action against Gibson, it is doing what Gibson falsely accused the BBC of doing: acting as if one of its on-air people has a right to lie!

And that would be reason enough for anyone, no matter what country they live in, to not trust, and therefore not patronize, a news network that willfully allows disinformation to get out, uncorrected, onto its air.
But Rick, Dick Cheney himself says Fox News in the only reliable news source out there.

A preliminary conclusion? Americans LIKE being lied to. They LIKE believing what they want to believe. Fox News has dominated the news market because they say what we WANT to think is true. We sort of know they lie. That's okay. We like that. It's patriotic.

And these Brits want to rip away our comfortable, pleasant delusions. Heck, they're getting to be as bad as the French - except for Tony, except for Tony ....

Posted by Alan at 19:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 16 June 2004 12:02 PDT home


Topic: Couldn't be so...

The wheels turn slowly, but they do turn... A follow-up...

In Just Above Sunset see December 21, 2003 Odds and Ends. At the end of the left column you will find this:

Enqu?te sur l'affaire Halliburton
Eric Decouty, le Fiagro, 20 d?cembre 2003
Pour la premi?re fois en France, une information judiciaire a ?t? ouverte pour ?corruption d'agent public ?tranger?. Elle vise notamment la soci?t? fran?aise Technip et l'am?ricaine Halliburton associ?es dans une op?ration au Nigeria. Une telle enqu?te internationale est possible depuis l'adoption en 1997 de la convention de l'OCDE ?sur la lutte contre la corruption d'agents publics ?trangers dans les n?gociations commerciales?, entr?e en vigueur en droit fran?ais depuis 2000. C'est donc dans ce nouveau cadre juridique que le juge Renaud Van Ruymbeke m?ne ses investigations et que le parquet de Paris envisage la mise en cause de l'actuel vice-pr?sident de Etats-Unis, Richard Cheney, en sa qualit? d'ex-PDG de Halliburton... .
And it goes on.

You get the idea.

This week you will find this:
SEC OPENS NEW INQUIRY: Halliburton this weekend announced the Securities and Exchange Commission has "commenced a formal investigation" into $180 million worth of potentially illegal payments made by the company to Nigerian officials at the time Dick Cheney was CEO of the company.

Halliburton is already undergoing a Justice Department inquiry for the same allegations, which focus on whether the company's payments were actually illegal bribes to Nigerian officials in connection with a natural gas plant in the country.

If they were, they would violate the U.S. government's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Halliburton has already admitted that a subsidiary made "improper payments" in Nigeria under Cheney.

For his part, Cheney has refused to comment.
No comment is necessary.

Posted by Alan at 10:04 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home


Topic: Photos

Embrace the Zeitgeist

Early morning here in Hollywood - a deep marine layer rolled in off the cold Pacific during the night - dark and damp. Coffee helps. Sun by noon? Perhaps.

Two days ago I noticed another LAPD helicopter circling low just outside my window. A double murder. A drifter broke into a few apartments three blocks away and took out two old men, a seventy-year old doctor and a ninety-one-year-old screenwriter - Robert Lees, one of the first screenwriters to be blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthy days. Lees wrote a lot of the Abbott and Costello movies. Lees was decapitated and the drifter fellow trotted off with his head. The drifter fellow in now in custody. Life in the big city.

Perhaps this drifter fellow read Ann Coulter's stirring defense of Joe McCarthy in Ann's latest book, "Treason" - and took her seriously.

Ah, probably not. Just another crazy.

This note from my friend Rick Brown in Atlanta.
I heard that beheading story this morning on the radio! You left out the part that said he was arrested outside Paramount Studios where he was apparently trying to find out the telephone number of someone who worked there. Makes me wonder what's going through the head of that Paramount person right now; well, at least they still have a head through which such thoughts can go through.
Stanley Avenue, the crime scene, on a sunny morning - looking south from Hollywood Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard...



Posted by Alan at 08:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 15 June 2004 11:20 PDT home

Monday, 14 June 2004

Topic: The Media

David Brooks - "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

I came an interesting assessment of the writer David Brooks. My email discussion group has batted about things Brooks has said, particularly regarding his book Bobos in Paradise. Brooks has a new book now, On Paradise Drive that is, by all accounts, much weaker.

But this assessment is more comprehensive than a discussion of those two books.

See David Brooks
Why liberals are turning on their favorite conservative.
David Plotz - SLATE.COM - Posted Monday, June 14, 2004, at 3:17 PM PT

Plotz runs the table on Brooks. And he discusses the two books.

But more interestingly, he covers the political matters -
As a conservative columnist at the New York Times -- a job he has held since September 2003 -- Brooks is the steer at the steakhouse. Liberals who admired him when he was the jolly voice of reason at the Weekly Standard resent him now that he occupies the throne of American journalism.

And Brooks' Times column is a drag. Occasionally he reminds us of his talent (and his enormous decency)--as when he gently mocks college admissions or pleads for gay marriage.

But after 10 months, it's become clear that he doesn't have enough ideas--or anger--to sustain a twice-a-week column. (To be fair, few columnists do.) ...
I can relate to that.

And Plotz dissects those columns.

But he says there really is another problem with Brooks - and it is in his latest book:
... The most interesting section of On Paradise Drive outlines Brooks' notion that America has become a "cellular" instead of hierarchical nation. No single elite remains, he says. We all live cheerfully in our own separate tents, no group subordinate to any other. Everyone, in fact, feels happily superior to everyone else.

Everyone can be an aristocrat within his own Olympus. You can be an X Games celebrity and appear on ESPN2, or an atonal jazz demigod and be celebrated in obscure music magazines. ...

Perhaps you are an NRA enthusiast, an ardent Zionist, a Rush Limbaugh dittohead, a surfer, a neo-Confederate, or an antiglobalization activist. Your clique will communicate its code of honor, its own set of jokes and privileges. It will offer you a field of accomplishments and a system of recognition. You can look down from the heights of your own achievement at all those poor saps who are less accomplished in the field of say, antique-car refurbishing, Civil War reenacting, or Islamic learning. And you can feel quietly satisfied about your own self-worth.

The implication of cellularity for Brooks is that Americans get along by not paying attention to each other. Because we all get to achieve in our own way, we don't need to lord it over others (or even notice them). There's a sharp insight here: Cultural fragmentation has diffused hierarchy. But because Brooks believes in the primacy of culture, he seems to think that all that excelling means that we don't clash. This is a delightful view to hold, and it certainly felt true in the late '90s, when Brooks was writing Bobos: The economy was booming, the world was at peace, and the big worries were stock options, lattes, and oral sex with interns.
But Plotz doesn't buy it.
... Brooks' cellularity wishes away conflict.
He ignores that not every distinction is cultural and that much more is at stake than self-esteem.
His "antiglobalization activist" isn't simply happy to wear his hemp shirt, as Brooks suggests; he also wants to shut down the polluting factory where the "Rush Limbaugh dittohead" works. And the "NRA enthusiast" actually believes the Islamic scholar is a probable terrorist who should be jailed or deported. Sometimes it's not enough to "feel quietly satisfied about [our] own self-worth." Sometimes we need to kick the other guy in the teeth. The stakes are real in America: We are constantly truncheoning each other for more money, more liberty, more power. By making Americans merely smug emperors of our own little consumer worlds, he ignores the bigger, brutal battles that we fight against each other.

And Brooks also ignores the even bigger, even more brutal battles that we are fighting in the world.
Maybe so.

I too think the battles are real.

Plotz reminds us that Brooks himself helped "set the table" for the wars on terror and Iraq. He remembers that in 1997, Brooks wrote an influential manifesto for the Weekly Standard, "A Return to National Greatness." In it Brooks claimed the United States was losing the sense of grand national mission that built the Panama Canal, conquered the West, won the Cold War, built the interstates, and walked on the moon. The idea was that America needed to "reanimate itself" with a cause, and the federal government needed to "convey a spirit of confidence and vigor that can then spill across the life of the nation." And Brooks said that it didn't really matter what the cause was--maybe colonizing Mars--but it had to be something.

I guess he got his wish with the Iraq business.

The problem, as Plotz notes -
As the occupation has soured, Brooks has wilted. His columns have lost their swagger: "We're a shellshocked hegemon," he wrote last month. "This has been a crushingly depressing period." Optimistic and conflict-averse, Brooks didn't see how our good intentions could go wrong, because our superior ideas were bound to win the day. He has shied away from the bloody strife that is the requirement of his National Greatness ideas. At the pit of the prisoner-abuse scandal Brooks wrote:

There's something about our venture into Iraq that is inspiringly, painfully, embarrassingly and quintessentially American. No other nation would have been hopeful enough to try to evangelize for democracy across the Middle East. No other nation would have been naive enough to do it this badly. No other nation would be adaptable enough to recover from its own innocence and muddle its way to success, as I suspect we are about to do.

While other conservatives--Charles Krauthammer, his old boss William Kristol, President Bush--have the courage of their convictions and believe that Americans are killing and dying and torturing for a great cause, Brooks, squeamish, still sees it as a kind of academic dispute, where ideas can clash without bloodying noses. Tellingly, Brooks hasn't gone to Iraq, perhaps because he doesn't want to see what these ideas look like on the ground...
Yeah, talk is cheap.

Plotz concludes -
In Brooks' ideal world, Americans should all reasonably discuss the war, reach a consensus that it's righteous, persuade Iraqis of same, and win. In real life, it is a much nastier business, and there is no consensus among Americans of either party about the morality of this war. In peace, Brooks' genial mockery and optimism are delightful. In wartime, they're a cheat. Other conservatives confront the ugliness and bloodshed of the occupation and redouble their commitment. Brooks, whose national-greatness ethos lent more energy to the war than anything his colleagues have written, will neither embrace the war, nor disown it, nor even look it square in the face. He hides.
One is reminded of the last paragraphs in Hemingway's post-WWI novel "The Sun Also Rises."

The final disillusionment.
Oh, Jake," Brett said, "we could have had such a damned good time together."

Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.

"Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
Indeed.

Posted by Alan at 19:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: Dissent

Christopher Hitchens - Speak for yourself, white man!

Christopher Hitchens. What to make of him - former leftie journalist for The Nation (who else knew and chatted with Che Guevara?), who transformed himself into a pro-Bush hawk (seeing Bush as dumb as a post but the man we need now, given the circumstances) - immensely well-informed (ask him about any minor Kurdish splinter group or who's who the secondary struggles for control of select and obscure areas of Cypress) - and amazingly articulate in his hard-drinking British way. Hyper-intelligent. Watch him on the cable news discussion shows make a blithering fool of Ann Coulter (smiling slyly) - then turn around a rail about our need to destroy the evil forces of odd Muslim thought in this world with a new Crusade. Well, his positions are far more nuanced than Ann's - as she has famously said she just wants us to convert all the leaders of the Arab world into Christians or kill them, one or the other, and she said Terry Nichols should have blown up the New York Times offices instead of that federal office building Okalahoma City. Hitchens adds other options and more subtle detail.

But he is getting a little worried about the Abu Ghraib scandal. Torture is on his mind.

See A Moral Chernobyl
Prepare for the worst of Abu Ghraib.
Christopher Hitchens - SLATE.COM - Posted Monday, June 14, 2004, at 1:46 PM PT

Chernobyl? Yep. Here's his set-up:
In a recent public debate, so I was told, an American officer referred to the Abu Ghraib scandal as a "moral Chernobyl." You might think that this was overstating matters, even if in one important sense--because Chernobyl was morally an accident, albeit in some ways a "systemic" one--it is actually understating them.

But get ready. It is going to get much worse. The graphic videos and photographs that have so far been shown only to Congress are, I have been persuaded by someone who has seen them, not likely to remain secret for very long. And, if you wonder why formerly gung-ho rightist congressmen like James Inhofe ("I'm outraged more by the outrage") have gone so quiet, it is because they have seen the stuff and you have not. There will probably be a slight difficulty about showing these scenes in prime time, but they will emerge, never fear. We may have to start using blunt words like murder and rape to describe what we see. And one linguistic reform is in any case already much overdue. The silly word "abuse" will have to be dropped. No law or treaty forbids "abuse," but many conventions and statutes, including our own and the ones we have urged other nations to sign, do punish torture--which is what we are talking about here at a bare minimum.
Yes, for the last week or more the word has been floating around the news sites on the web, and on the opinion sites, that there are stills and video of US soldiers raping Iraq women prisoners, a tape of the homosexual rape of an Iraqi pre-teen fellow by a enthusiastic male contractor, one of the interrogators we hired from a San Diego company, and various stills and videos of US soldiers beating Iraq prisoners to death.

True?

We'll see.

As for the silent Senator Inhofe from Okalahoma, if you read Just Above Sunset - May 16, 2004 - Responsibility - Military Style... and legal issues - you see Inhofe said, at the initial hearings on all this, "I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment ... These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.."

But the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Taguba report both point out sixty to ninety percent of those imprisoned were just picked up at random. Senator Inhofe seems to be claiming our Army and the ICRC are just flat-out wrong, or perhaps that it doesn't matter. If you are arrested, you must be guilty. That, to him, is common sense. These are bad people who would kill all Americans if they got the chance. How does he know that? Well, otherwise they wouldn't have been arrested - and that's the proof. And thus, QED, they do not deserve kid glove treatment.

Now he's saying nothing.

And for what Trent Lott had to say, see May 30, 2004: A whole Lott of love here... Conservative Thought.

Trent too has gone silent.

What up with that?

Hitchens points out that, so far, the press has focused on the questions "who knew" and "how far up did it go?" But he is equally interested in the question of how far down it has gone and how widespread it is, even though: " ... the original imperative for harsh measures came from a Defense Department, and by extension a White House, that was under intense pressure to get results in the battle against al-Qaida and felt itself hampered by nervous lawyers."

Yep. Just so.

But Hitchens is arguing that almost the whole of public opinion is complicit in this, "... as is shown by the fury over the administration's failure to pre-empt the Sept. 11 assault: a pre-emption that would almost certainly have involved some corner-cutting in the interrogation room."

We wanted this?

Speak for yourself, white man!

But here's his argument:
Many, many people must have fantasized about getting Osama Bin Laden into some version of an orange jumpsuit and then shackling him for a while to the wrong end of a large pig. It's not very far from that mass reverie to "Hey, Mustapha, you're gonna get to really know this porker" and similar or worse depravities. So in a distressing sense--of course you can all write to me if you like and say that you never even thought about it--we face something like a collective responsibility, if not exactly a collective guilt.
Yeah, right.

Speak for yourself, white man!

Anyway, everyone knows, as does Hitchens, none of what happened "produced any 'intelligence' worth the name or switched off any 'ticking bomb.' How could it? It was trashily recreational. But this doesn't relieve the security forces of democratic countries from their sworn responsibility to protect us -- yes us, the very people who demand results but don't especially want to know the full price of our protection."
Speak for yourself, white man!

Hitchens, true Brit that he is, then adds a curious historical illustration of the madness of all this:
... In the early 1970s, there was a gigantic scandal in England over the torture of Irish Republican detainees. (Harold Evans, then editor of the Sunday Times, deserves credit for printing the facts in spite of immense government pressure not to do so--or not to do so without being accused of "helping the terrorists.") The resulting outrage led to a commission of inquiry chaired by a judge named Sir Edmund Compton. His report took a dim view of some of the methods used but said that these did not amount to "torture," at least in most cases, because those inflicting them had not derived any pleasure from doing so. At the time, I thought this must be some kind of a sick joke, perhaps derived from Monty Python or the rigors of English boarding school. ("I didn't really enjoy it, Sir." "Oh well, that's all right, then. Carry on, Perkins.") However, the government did tell the army to stop it, and it pretty much did stop, and the terrorists didn't win.

They didn't win because their idea of bombing a large Protestant community into joining a united Catholic Ireland was a bit mad to begin with. And they also didn't win because security methods became tremendously more professional. Skill, in these matters, depends on taking pains and not on inflicting them. You make the chap go through his story several times, preferably on video, and then you ask his friends a huge number of tedious questions, and then you go through it all again to check for discrepancies, and then you watch the first (very boring and sexless) video all over once more, and then you make him answer all the same questions and perhaps a couple of new and clever ones. If you have got the wrong guy--and it does happen--you let him go and offer him a ride home and an apology. And you know what? It often works. Only a lazy and incompetent dirtbag looks for brutal shortcuts so that he can get off his shift early. And sometimes, gunmen and bombers even have changes of heart, as well as mind.
Fine. Too late now. Lazy and incompetent dirtbags rule.

His conclusion?
... we shall be fighting a war against jihad for decades to come. And the jihadists will continue to make big mistakes based on their mad theory. And they are not superhuman: They can be infiltrated, bribed, and turned. You don't have to tell them what time of day it is, or where they are, or when the next meal will be served. (Though it must be served.) But you must not bring in that pig or that electrode. That way lies madness and corruption and the extraction of junk confessions. So even if law and principle didn't enter into the question, we sure as hell know what doesn't work. The cranky Puritan voice of Sir Edmund Compton comes back to me down the corridor of the years: If it gives anyone pleasure, then you are doing it wrong and doing wrong into the bargain.
I hate to agree with this man.

But I do.

Posted by Alan at 18:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 14 June 2004 18:52 PDT home

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