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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"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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Monday, 11 September 2006
September 11 - Five Years On
Topic: Perspective
September 11 - Five Years On
It's been five years.

The high-powered Wall Street Attorney who sometimes contributes to these pages (see here and here), called from Manhattan on September 11. His office is thirty-four floors above the hole where the World Trade Center once stood. He said it was crazy there that day - the ceremonies and the media jammed the streets. He got in early, just after six in the morning, and left early - he called from the car, stuck in traffic at the Holland Tunnel. He was angry. But it wasn't the traffic.

It's what has happened, and what had not happened, in the last five years. He lost friends on that day. Now, when he has a spare moment from securities law, he does pro bono work for one of the businesses in the long-gone buildings, struggling to get going again. You want to fix things. But there's that hole in the ground.

And there's the state of the nation these days - he studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino, the Watergate guy, so such things bother him. There's some odd constitutional stuff going down these days, of course. How the law is supposed to work, and who is really supposed to follow it, is changing in ways that just don't make sense, and seem to be very dangerous.

When I was visiting there more than a year ago and taking photographs (album here), he asked me why I wasn't photographing the World Trade Center site. Well, it was hard to get a good angle on anything. Framing was difficult. I told him I finally figured out that it was really hard to take a series of shots documenting the absence of objects. What do you shoot? How can you draw the viewer's eye to what's not there? The few shots I took were crap. Look, there's nothing there?

There's still nothing there. Years before, sitting in the courtyard at the foot of the south tower, you could hurt your neck looking up, trying to get a sense of one hundred ten stories of pure mass. The towers defeated the eye. They still do now, just in a different way.

Too, by then the site had been appropriated. You half expected to find signs rimming the sixteen acre ruins saying keep out, unless you're a registered Republican, a born-again evangelical, or a NASCAR fan. The city may have voted nine to one against George Bush in the last presidential election, but that part of the city was and is his. The Republicans claimed it when they had their presidential nominating convention in Manhattan the year before. Democrats, progressives, skeptics and lefties - and those of us who had visited France regularly and actually liked it - were not welcome. And if you're from Hollywood? Horrors!

Fine. Lower Manhattan elsewhere was a trip. The Lower East Side and mid-town - the Village, Times Square to Grand Central, Bryant Park and the library - felt like home. You fell into the rhythm of things and got loose. You were in the intense center of your country - things were getting done and you were a small part of the essential bustle. Los Angeles and Hollywood suddenly seemed like hick towns at the edge of nowhere. Manhattan is not intimidating. It wakes you up.

Still, some of us feel no small anger about that hole in the ground, for all sorts of reasons.

So, for our friend in Manhattan, and for those of us stuck elsewhere but feel we should be there, here's an array of comments that get at the issues. We're not alone.

Greg Saunders -
To me it's impossible to separate 9/11 from Hurricane Katrina. For four years we'd been promised that the leadership of George Bush and the Republican Party could keep us safe, yet the aftermath of a natural disaster showed us that the federal government can't even protect us from a threat they have a week to prepare for. How could we expect them to respond to a dirty bomb attack, on electromagnetic pulse, a nuclear bomb smuggled in a shipping container, another anthrax attack, a few trucks filled with fertilizer explosives surrounding a sports arena, or more airliners hijacked with terrorists using ceramic or plastic blades and crashing them into chemical plants, the New York Stock Exchange, or the Capitol building during the State of the Union? These are the scenarios that keep me up at night and, al Qaeda's motives aside, there are still plenty of crazy people out there who'd love to kill as many Americans as possible.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the presidential administration we're stuck with for the next two years is a deadly combination of arrogance, stubbornness, and being-wrong-about-everything-ness. But it is an election year (which you may have guessed from the President's suddenly sparked interest in Osama Bin Laden), so there's still an opportunity to change course. Who's holding the President's feet to the fire to ensure that Russia's missing nuclear weapons are tracked down? Or that shipping containers entering the United States are searched? Or that people entering this country aren't here under falsified documents? Or that the FBI and CIA are sharing information? Or that our intelligence agencies have enough people to translate the mountain of data they're receiving?

Right now the Legislative branch is controlled by people who have bent over backwards to protect the President, despite his string of failures. They excused his stonewalling of the 9/11 Commission, dragged their feet on investigating Iraq's many scandals (torture, WMD's, no-bid-contracts), ignored his extra-constitutional dalliances (imperial presidency, signing statements), and they've made the extraordinary choice of working to change the laws that the President has been willfully breaking rather than insist that he follow the laws like the rest of us. That's your Republican Party in action.

So on this fifth anniversary of the worst day of my life, I'm tired of watching the country be crippled by its grief and fear. We're in danger, things aren't getting better, and we need to keep asking the same goddamn questions until we get answers. Who's keeping us safe? Well, I know who isn't.
Digby at Hullabaloo with this -
I knew that our government and media would react to this event in exactly the way bin Laden hoped and that we would do to ourselves what the Islamic extremists could only dream of doing: turn the country into a permanent state of faux crisis - and enable the authoritarian right wing of this country, which was unfortunately in power at the time, to pursue a doomed military empire, create a powerful imperial presidency and build the American style police state they had longed for, for decades. I knew that they would run with this "opportunity" and run with it they did.

It became a cliché and then a joke when people would say "the terrorists have won" but there is little doubt in my mind that they have achieved much of what they set out to do. Rather than being the object of sympathy and solidarity we were in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the world now sees the United States as the terrorists do - a rogue superpower, untrustworthy and unpredictable. The irrational invasion of Iraq cemented an image in the minds of Muslims and others that the US intends to steal valuable mid-east resources and wants a permanent presence in the region in order to subjugate its people.

The next generation of Americans is going to be left with a crippling economic burden from the twin effects of runaway spending on Iraq and an insane fiscal policy. Our society is being trained to believe we live in a perpetually fearful state of suspended animation, waiting for the ax to fall and increasingly sure that we must be willing to allow the government to do anything to maintain our precarious safety. (As long as we can keep shopping, of course.)

… Good work Osama. If you wanted to create terror, you seem to have succeeded. Or someone has on your behalf. There are those who seem intent upon wallowing in this "fear," immersing themselves in it, rubbing it all over them and everybody else. And there's no question why they want to do that. After all, terror doesn't just benefit al Qaeda, does it?
Then he points to this -
The conservative Center for Security Policy will begin airing a new television commercial criticizing those who might oppose [Bush's proposed legislation on show trials for terror detainees].

Some in Congress think "that if we retreat our terrorist enemies will leave us alone," says the ad that will run in Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and New York. "They say we should close Guantanamo, where captured foes are kept from waging war against us. ... They seem to think we'll be safer if we cut and run."

With menacing music in the background, the commercial ends with an admonition: "Vote as if your life depended on it. Because it does."
To which Digby says -
And the Democrats, a day late and a dollar short when it comes to national security, have no choice but to feed into that sense of existential fear by nattering on about failed homeland security and accusing the president of feeble leadership because he hasn't caught Osama bin Laden, thus reinforcing the notion that we are under siege. Not that they have any choice really. To do otherwise would be, as Tom Kean said yesterday on This Week, "heresy."

… The problem is that this country simply cannot take an endless ginned-up "war" designed to benefit the Republican Party and Islamic terrorists and neither can the rest of the world. We have big problems to face and we need allies and cooperation to deal with them. Right now we are actively making things worse by allowing our government to pursue terrorism policies that create more of it.

This week the administration is planning to force the congress to rubber stamp its heretofore illegal torture and detention regime. They are going to use some of the 9/11 families to demagogue this legislation as the only proper response to the WTC attacks and they are going to try to trap Democratic politicians into voting for it or risk being "Clelanded" in the coming campaign.

… This torture and detention regime is making our country less safe and less free by creating more terrorists and degrading the US Constitution, but rather than dismantling it the Republicans are going to institutionalize it. It is only the latest of many such foolish actions our government undertook since 9/11. The question is whether we will continue to allow them to do Osama bin Laden's dirty work or if people of good sense will be able to resist their irrational warmongering and confront terrorists intelligently instead of giving them exactly what they want.

I'm not a big fan of Islamic fundamentalists myself. Like most fundamentalist religious fanatics, they are delusional, repressive, authoritarian tyrants and I have no desire for them to succeed in any way. I'm a liberal, after all. I'd really like to see the US government stop empowering them.

The fact that it is doing so makes me angry, I admit. On this day, of all days, especially.
Bill Montgomery -
If you had told me, five years ago, that on the fifth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in history Ground Zero would still be nothing but an enormous hole in the ground, I wouldn't have believed you - just as I wouldn't have believed that a major American city could be thoroughly trashed by a Category 4 hurricane and then left to molder in the mud for a year while various federal, state and local bureaucrats and hack politicians tried to make up their minds what to do.

I would have said that while those kinds of things can and do happen in Third World kleptocracies or decaying Stalinist police states, they're simply not possible in the richest and most powerful nation in history. Even if the voters could somehow be bamboozled into accepting such incompetence, the wealthy elites and corporate technocrats who own and operate the world's only remaining superpower would never stand for it. You can learn a lot about a country in five years.

What I've learned (from 9/11, the corporate scandals, the fiasco in Iraq, Katrina, the Cheney Administration's insane economic and environmental policies and the relentless dumbing down of the corporate media - plus the repeated electoral triumphs of the Rovian brand of "reality management") is that the United States is moving down the curve of imperial decay at an amazingly rapid clip. If anything, the speed of our descent appears to be accelerating.

The physical symptoms - a lost war, a derelict city, a Potemkin memorial hastily erected in a vacant lot - aren't nearly as alarming as the moral and intellectual paralysis that seems to have taken hold of the system. The old feedback mechanisms are broken or in deep disrepair, leaving America with an opposition party that doesn't know how (or what) to oppose, a military run by uniformed yes men, intelligence czars who couldn't find their way through a garden gate with a GPS locator, TV networks that don't even pretend to cover the news unless there's a missing white woman or a suspected child rapist involved, and talk radio hosts who think nuking Mecca is the solution to all our problems in the Middle East. We've got think tanks that can't think, security agencies that can't secure and accounting firms that can't count (except when their clients ask them to make 2+2=5). Our churches are either annexes to shopping malls, halfway homes for pederasts, or GOP precinct headquarters in disguise. Our economy is based on asset bubbles, defense contracts and an open-ended line of credit from the People's Bank of China, and we still can't push the poverty rate down or the median wage up.

I could happily go on, but I imagine you get my point. It's hard to think of a major American institution, tradition or cultural value that has not, at some point over the past five years, been shown to be a.) totally out of touch, b.) criminally negligent, c.) hopelessly corrupt, d.) insanely hypocritical or e.) all of the above.

It's getting hard to see how these trends can be reversed.

… The jihadis in Afghanistan didn't really take down the Soviet empire - they just delivered a very hard punch to a giant that was already falling. Looking at the state of America five years after 9/11, it no longer seems completely implausible that the same thing might one day be said of us.

This is not, I know, the most inspiring way to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the event that essentially kicked off the new American century - which at this point seems unlikely to last even a decade. If you want the standard patriotic rhetoric (hallowed ground, blessings of democracy, forward strategy for freedom, etc.) you'll have no trouble finding it elsewhere. There's no shortage of the stuff today ( is a good place to start). But I personally don't think the record of the past half decade (or the current condition of Ground Zero) really justifies that kind of self-serving, self-justifying pablum.

Do you?
Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly here -
My biggest disappointment of the past five years - the biggest by a very long way - has been the way that George Bush transformed 9/11 from an opportunity to bring the country together into a cynical and partisan cudgel useful primarily for winning a few more votes in national elections.

Compare and contrast: FDR was surely one of the most partisan presidents of the 20th century, but after Pearl Harbor he announced that "Dr. New Deal has been replaced by Dr. Win the War." And he made good on that. World War II was largely a bipartisan war and FDR largely governed as a bipartisan commander-in-chief.

And Bush? Within a few months of 9/11 Karl Rove was telling party members what a great issue terrorism would be for Republicans. Andy Card was busily working on the marketing campaign for Iraq, timed for maximum impact on the midterm elections in 2002. Joe Lieberman's DHS bill was hijacked and deliberately loaded with anti-union features in order to draw Democratic complaints and hand Bush a campaign issue. The UN resolution on WMD inspections in Iraq was kept on fire until literally the day after the midterms, at which point the version acceptable to the rest of the world was suddenly agreeable to Bush as well. Democrats who supported Bush on the war were treated to the same scorched-earth campaigning as everyone else. Bipartisanship bought them nothing.

What else? Bush never engaged with Democrats in any way. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were both hawkish Dems who could have been co-opted early if Bush had had any intention of treating the war seriously. He didn't even try. He continued pushing divisive domestic issues like tax cuts and culture war amendments. ("Dr. Tax Cuts has been replaced by Dr. Win the War" would have been more appropriate.) He showed little interest in funding anti-proliferation efforts or working with serious Democratic proposals to improve domestic security at ports and chemical plants. The national security rhetoric from Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of the administration was relentlessly inflammatory and divisive.

I think this is a complaint that most conservatives don't accept - even conservatives who have soured on Bush over the past couple of years. But believe me: on the Democratic side of the aisle, Bush's intensely and gratuitously partisan approach to 9/11 and the war on terror is keenly felt. Sunday's Republican Party photo-op at Ground Zero was just more of the same.
And to cap it off for our Manhattan friend, broadcasting from in front of the sixteen-acre hole in lower Manhattan, Monday, September 11, 2006, Keith Olbermann on MSNBC has the final word. The video of his eight minute comment is here (Windows Media Player) or here (QuickTime).

If you don't have a fast connection to watch, the transcript is here -
And lastly tonight a Special Comment on why we are here.

Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space.

And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

And all the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and - as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul - two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me… this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft" - or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here - is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante - and at worst, an idiot - whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However. Of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast - of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds… none of us could have predicted… this.

Five years later this space… is still empty.

Five years later there is no Memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country's wound is still open.

Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later… this is still… just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial - barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field, Mr. Lincoln said "we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground." So we won't.

Instead they bicker and buck-pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing - instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush… we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir - on these 16 empty acres, the terrorists are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation.

There is, its symbolism - of the promise unfulfilled - the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party - tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election - ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications - forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics.

It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President - and those around him - did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused; as appeasers; as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken - a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated Al-Qaeda as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had "something to do" with 9/11, is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."

Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space… and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible - for anything - in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?

A mini-series, created, influenced - possibly financed by - the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death… after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections… how dare you or those around you… ever "spin" 9/11.

Just as the terrorists have succeeded - are still succeeding - as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.

So too have they succeeded, and are still succeeding - as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street."

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm.

Suddenly his car - and only his car - starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on.

As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced.

An "alien" is shot - but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help.

The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen, manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight.

"The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices - to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own - for the children, and the children yet unborn."

When those who dissent are told time and time again - as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus - that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American…

When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"… look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.
The guy thinks he's Edward R. Murrow. Well, someone has to be these days. He'll do.

So maybe all this will help our attorney friend feel he's not so alone. And, after all, he should be proud that, on his mother's side of the family, he is related to Rod Serling.

Posted by Alan at 22:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006 22:28 PDT home

Sunday, 10 September 2006
Stuck on Stupid - No One Seems to Know Much
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Stuck on Stupid - No One Seems to Know Much
Slavoj Zizek is the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. That would be these people from the University of London, and in the September 11 issue of The Guardian (UK), Zizek has some interesting thoughts on the 9/11 anniversary.

The idea is rather startling. It's that five years on we're still stuck on the big lesson we learned when the Berlin Wall fell. All this talk about how 9/11 changed everything is silly. Those who claim that, to justify whatever they wish to do - change the rules for just about anything - don't realize they're stuck on something that just isn't so any longer.

The core of the argument is here -
What, then, is the historical meaning of 9/11? Twelve years earlier, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin wall fell. The collapse of communism was perceived as the collapse of political utopias. Today, we live in a post-utopian period of pragmatic administration, since we have learned the hard lesson of how noble political utopias can end in totalitarian terror. But this collapse of utopias was followed by 10 years of the big utopia of global capitalist liberal democracy. November 9 thus announced the "happy 90s", the Francis Fukuyama dream of the "end of history", the belief that liberal democracy had, in principle, won, that the search was over, that the advent of a global, liberal community was around the corner, that the obstacles to this Hollywood happy ending are merely local pockets of resistance where the leaders have not yet grasped that their time is over.

September 11 is the symbol of the end of this utopia, a return to real history. A new era is here with new walls everywhere, between Israel and Palestine, around the EU, on the US-Mexico and Spain-Morocco borders. It is an era with new forms of apartheid and legalized torture. As President Bush said after September 11, America is in a state of war. But the problem is that the US is not in a state of war. For the large majority, daily life goes on and war remains the business of state agencies. The distinction between the state of war and peace is blurred. We are entering a time in which a state of peace itself can be at the same time a state of emergency.

When Bush celebrated the thirst for freedom in post-communist countries as a "fire in the minds of men", the unintended irony was that he used a phrase from Dostoevsky's The Possessed, where it designates the ruthless activity of radical anarchists who burned a village: "The fire is in the minds of men, not on the roofs of houses." What Bush didn't grasp is that on September 11, five years ago, New Yorkers saw and smelled the smoke from this fire.
So it seems we're stuck on this idea of "the big utopia of global capitalist liberal democracy" - what the Republicans say was Ronald Reagan's gift to the world. Our system works, and it's the best, and everyone should adopt it. The attacks five years ago were a resounding "no" to that, but are being used to say we should all think real hard about the lessons of November 9, 1989, in spite of the dead of 201 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Things have changed since 1989, dramatically, but that seems too hard to grasp. So who are the reactionaries here, clinging to what may no longer be significant, say "no, no, no" to what's really going on?

But it is a given these days - an axiom, like in mathematics but here accepted as true as the base of working out any geopolitical proof - that our system works, and it's the best, and everyone should adopt it. You cannot find a politician in the United States, from the far left to the far right, who does not build his or her position on this "indisputable" given. All else that follows is detail - the best way to follow up on what was demonstrated decisively in 1989 - no matter what happened five years ago.

Looking at things a new way, when events warrant reconsideration, is not something anyone likes to do. Who has time to question the really basic assumptions? And who thinks about such things at all?

These high-level and abstract sorts of things just elicit yawns, or derision. Where we're going, what we do, and who leads us, doesn't concern most people. They don't make decisions on who they will vote for, or whether they will vote at all, in that realm. And smart politicians know that. That's why you see things like this - In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal - Millions to Go to Digging Up Dirt on Democrats - "The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads."

People respond to the juicy stuff the opposition digs up. It works. It's not "deep thinking," but it will do just fine.

Reacting to that news item, Bill Montgomery says this -
I think it was P.T. Barnum who said that nobody ever went broke underestimating (or in Shrub's case, misunderestimating) the intelligence of the American people. That's not entirely fair: Americans can be very smart, even brilliant, about some things, particularly if those things involve gadgets and especially if those gadgets can be used to make money or kill people. We're a positivist wet dream - the most relentlessly practical people since the Romans. But our culture and economic incentives all tend to channel our intellectual energies away from subjects that have no immediate utilitarian value. And for most Americans, most of the time, that means away from politics and current affairs, which only rarely have any direct impact on or relevance to our daily lives.

… All this helps create the sea of political ignorance and apathy on which Rovian admirals (and their less competent Democratic opponents) launch their attack vessels, armed with sales techniques borrowed from the advertising industry and the social psychology departments of the major research universities.
It's not at all about thinking about things but more a crude sort of marketing, as in this, which was allegedly written by an anonymous Madison Avenue executive -
Understand that you are dealing with a target audience that doesn't care enough, or simply refuses to devote the time to learn the real facts regarding the real issues. Instead, their perception has BECOME the facts!

… Do not try to change this reality. Work with it. The perception you create IS the reality! Take heart! If they perceive something despite obvious evidence to the contrary, you will be able to make them perceive any number of things!
That sounds like a line from an early sixties Hollywood comedy about the advertising industry - something Rock Hudson or Tony Randall would say (with Doris Day in the background looking shocked). Maybe it is. But it is disturbingly close to something that has been quoted in these pages any number of times, that an anonymous White House official, before the 2004 elections telling Ron Suskind this -
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. While you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out.
Yep, these guys create their own reality, to which Montgomery says this -
There are many things you can call that point of view and the style of politics it supports. Democracy isn't one of them. If perception really is everything, and managing mass perceptions is the be-all and end-all of the political process, then Spengler was right - what we call "democracy" is really just a disguise for plutocracy.

Or worse. If all that matters is the science of perceptual manipulation, then the technicians pushing the media buttons can make the machine work for anybody - capitalists, Christian theocrats, little green men from Mars. It doesn't matter what ideological brand of soap you're selling, as long as you control the means of mass communication.

… But if perception management actually was all that mattered - if the Rovians really could "create their own reality" - they wouldn't be gearing up for the biggest negative campaign in the history of off-year congressional elections. They wouldn't have to, since media consumers would be cheerfully confident that the war in Iraq is being won, that the Cheney tax cuts are delivering prosperity for all, and that the GOP is a model of modern public administration.
So folks really are paying attention? They're certainly not reading Spengler's The Decline of the West. No one does.

Montgomery argues the Republicans are going negative - using ninety percent of their media budget - because reality still actually matters -
Voters are influenced not just by the chaotic scenes from Iraq they see on TV or the steady drip of US casualties they read about in the obituary sections of their local newspapers, but also by their own finances, their job prospects, the price of gas, the value of their homes, etc. These perceptions aren't so easy to manipulate with propaganda trickery - unlike claims of "victory" in an invisible war against terrorism or 30-second spots about the personal or political foibles of a little-known Democratic congressional candidate.

What's worse (from a Rovian point of view), the American people may still be capable of learning from reality, despite their distaste for anything that smells like a political debate.
The evidence of that is from the recent Pew Research polling, with results like this, on our current approach to the world - threaten the pesky, then go for regime change, with invasion and occupation and setting up a government we want -
An increasing number of Americans see nonmilitary approaches - such as decreasing US dependence on Middle East oil and avoiding involvement with the problems of other countries - as effective in this regard. Fully two-thirds (67%) say that decreasing America's dependence on oil from the Middle East is a very important step in preventing terrorism - the highest percentage for any option tested.
Not war? What this - pragmatism? Montgomery calls it "a pretty impressive outbreak of popular common sense?" And it's so dangerous the administration is doing all that Hitler and "Islamofascist" stuff. Common sense is the enemy too.

So it's showdown time -
The Rovian propaganda-based reality versus the rest of the world's reality-based reality, with the voters as the judges and the corporate media elites as the referees-on-the-take. The last few rounds should be bloody, and most likely downright vicious, in the Mike Tyson, bite-off-your-opponent's-ear sense of the word.

… Personally, I tend to believe it will take a rather massive eruption of reality - and probably a catastrophic one - to produce fundamental political change in America, of the kind that might allow a progressive left-wing movement to smash the Rovian machine, break the political stranglehold of private wealth and bring the corporations, including the corporate media, back under some kind of check and balance.

… Call me a wild-eyed radical, but I'm hoping for a 1932, or at least a 1980 in reverse, not a 1994 in reverse - although we all could certainly do without a repeat of the Great Depression or the stagflationary '70s.

We're obviously not looking at a realignment election yet. We're probably not even close (although I wouldn't put money on that proposition.) But it's getting hard to see how an economic and/or foreign policy train wreck can be avoided, one that will eventually force large numbers of voters to fundamentally reassess their existing political loyalties.

… I still believe (call it an article of faith) that a majority of the voters will eventually figure out they've been had - sold not just a bill of goods but a counterfeit reality, one that is crumbling in front of their eyes. When that happens, they're going to be enraged, in a way that makes this year's discontent look like the passing tantrum of a grumpy two-year old. We can only pray they'll be angry at the right people.
That last warning is important. The Disney-ABC 9/11 movie seems to have a clear subtext - sure, 9/11 was awful, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq a god-awful mess now, but that's all because of Bill Clinton. When that's the official position of one of the largest media organizations in the world, and a major television network, and soon ABC News itself no doubt - based on evidence they, frankly, just made up on the spot - then all bets are off. Heck, everyone knows it's all the fault of someone else - John Lennon. That miniseries is no doubt in production in Burbank right now.

Turning away from what's just "not reality" doesn't necessarily mean you turn to anything else more real. People are funny that way.

And the spin goes on to work on all sorts of realities. See Andrew Sullivan in the Times of London here on that speech Bush gave the week before, saying he was pulling the bad guys from our secret overseas prisons and think they should be tried in a special kind of court where they cannot defend themselves or hear the evidence against them (the Bush speech was cover in these pages here). The president also said we learned a lot from these bad guys because we sort of maybe tortured it out of them. So he wants the odd trials approved by congress, and the "techniques" used on these guys approved too.

Sullivan -
Without describing them, Bush's speech essentially said that without these interrogation techniques thousands of Americans would have been murdered, and so they have to be retained as options by the CIA. Wouldn't this violate the Geneva conventions and American law, as the Supreme Court found? Under any rational interpretation, yes. But Bush has asserted that these techniques are not "torture" as he defines it and if Congress goes along with this, such techniques become legal with the president's signature.

The push for passage in the months before the election is intense. Last Thursday Bill Frist, the Republican leader of the Senate, even threatened to bypass a committee of three resistant, constitutionalist Republican senators (John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham) to get the measure to the Senate floor and force the Democrats to "side with the terrorists".

The rationale is clear. In the week of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 the president wants to change the debate from Iraq, from Iran, from the past and position himself once again as the indispensable protector. It's territory he knows and feels secure on: goading the opposition as appeasers and terror lovers.

But Bush had one more ace to play. Here's the critical quote from the speech: "We're now approaching the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks - and the families of those murdered that day have waited patiently for justice. They should have to wait no longer. So I'm announcing today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay … As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans can face justice."

So any congressional resistance to Bush's war crimes and military tribunal bill will be depicted as delaying justice for the perpetrators of 9/11. The choice in the November elections will be described as being between breaching the Geneva conventions or backing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

… It is, of course, a phony choice. In reality the detention policies pursued by Bush have made prosecution of many of the 9/11 perpetrators much more difficult.

Evidence procured by torture cannot be permitted in a trial without destroying centuries of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. Moreover, most American military lawyers believe the long-established procedures under the code of military justice are far preferable to the kangaroo courts devised by Bush.

As for the torture techniques, the army deputy chief of staff for intelligence testified last week that "no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that". Who are we to believe? The president or the army? It's also clear Bush's policy is a PR disaster. The trial of monsters like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could be a great propaganda weapon for the West. But only if the trials are seen to be fair and open and in line with Anglo-American justice. If the trials violate the Geneva conventions then the PR victory goes to Al-Qaeda.

Surely the president knows this. The most generous interpretation is that he believes that torture has worked in getting intelligence from suspected terrorists; and that interrogation techniques perfected by Stalin's secret police are not violations of the Geneva conventions. He may simply have persuaded himself that he hasn't authorized what he has plainly authorized. I'm not sure what level of psychological denial this amounts to; but it is unnerving in a president of the most powerful country on earth.

The more realistic interpretation is more depressing. It is that Bush knows exactly what he's doing, believes torture works, wants to cement it in law and simultaneously wants to declare the US is still in compliance with Geneva. Squaring this circle requires that his semantic distinction between "coercive interrogation techniques" and "torture" will become conventional wisdom.

For good measure, he must also see this as a political gamble. He has seen the polls - and they are grim for the Republicans. The only way to turn this around is a striking initiative - and returning to the prosecution of the 9/11 criminals is about as good as it gets.

The stakes are high. If the Democrats gain the House or Senate in November, congressional investigations into the torture policy could begin, and no one knows where that might lead. So Bush's war crimes bill is designed to do two things: recast the campaign as one in which only the Republicans are serious about terrorism, and pass legislation that can retroactively protect Bush officials from any future war crime prosecutions.

In the next two months the president is fighting for what remains of his political life. This much we now know: he is not going down without a struggle.
Ah, but will reality win?

Then there's this -
Next week, I'm informed via troubled White House sources, will see the full unveiling of Karl Rove's fall election strategy. He's intending to line up 9/11 families to accuse McCain, Warner and Graham of delaying justice for the perpetrators of that atrocity, because they want to uphold the ancient judicial traditions of the US military and abide by the Constitution. He will use the families as an argument for legalizing torture, setting up kangaroo courts for military prisoners, and giving war crime impunity for his own aides and cronies. This is his "Hail Mary" move for November; it's brutally exploitative of 9/11; it's pure partisanship; and it's designed to enable an untrammeled executive. Decent Republicans, Independents and Democrats must do all they can to expose and resist this latest descent into political thuggery. If you need proof that this administration's first priority is not a humane and effective counter-terror strategy, but a brutal, exploitative path to retaining power at any price, you just got it.
That's Sullivan too. He must hate America. And he's afraid of clever marketing.

And there's this from Sunday, September 10 -
Vice President Cheney said today that the ongoing national debate over the war in Iraq is emboldening adversaries to believe they can undermine the resolve of the American people to complete the U.S. mission in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They can't beat us in a stand-up fight, they never have, but they're absolutely convinced they can break our will [and that] the American people don't have the stomach for the fight, " Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press.

The vice president said US allies in Afghanistan and Iraq "have doubts" America will finish the job there. "And those doubts are encouraged, obviously, when they see the kind of debate that we've had in the United States," Cheney said. "Suggestions, for example, that we should withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq simply feed into that whole notion, validates the strategy of the terrorists."
Enough of talking about reality and trying, in fits and starts, to use common sense. People just need to shut the hell up. What the government does is not open for discussion. We cannot afford that sort of thing any longer.

And people know nothing, it seems.

But people have a way of figuring things out, one way or another, as in this, an open letter to George W. Bush from Bill Clinton's penis -
Well, George, I gotta say - even though I only have one eye, I should have seen this coming. I mean, I'd heard in various executive washrooms that you and your people harbored a massive grudge against me for being so irresistible, but to invade a sovereign nation, empty America's coffers, destroy the United States' reputation in the world, and make this planet much less safe because you wanted to show that yours is, at least metaphorically, bigger, wider, more powerful? That's just sick, man. What the hell is wrong with you? Tell me, when you were a kid, did that wire monkey that passes for your mama point at you "down there" and laugh because you were even less endowed than your sister, Doro? Did all those hours with your childhood imaginary friend blasting all those defenseless frogs to smithereens anesthetize you to the CIA torture rooms you reluctantly admitted really do exist? See, I want to understand why you spend so much time trying to prove your manhood to your dad and anyone marginally more popular than you are.

And now because your little Iraq adventure failed to make you BMOC in the Middle East (or anywhere else, for that matter), I hear that some of your right-wing, Bible-humping fans have scripted a "docudrama" blaming my boy for letting 9/11 happen, despite the fact that according to every Gregorian calendar I'm aware of, September 11, 2001 was officially on your watch. The HELL? It's Bill's fault that you didn't sit up and take notice when Harriet Miers handed you that Aug. 6 PDB because you were too busy trying to peer down her Dress Barn "cowboy style" blouse? I know, it was her smoky, kohl-lined eyes that distracted you from capturing Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora when you had the chance? Jeez, man, it's always anyone else's fault but yours, eh? Oh, and by the way, I hear this "docudrama" is so loosely based on the official 9/11 Commission Report that it might as well have been plagiarized from "Mildred Pierce." Whatever you're holding over Gloved Mouse, Inc. and its subsidiaries to guarantee they air this potentially libelous piece of revisionist crap must be something tasty, indeed.

Face it, George: you're already going down in history as the worst President this country's ever had. You really need to get a grip on something other than that fun-sized roll of Life Savers in your pocket.

Your nemesis, Li'l Bill
It's a true about what's happened as anything else. Figuring out what's really going on isn't that very hard.

Posted by Alan at 22:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006 06:44 PDT home

Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 37 for the week of September 10, 2006.Click here to go there...

Commentary will resume here tomorrow, or sooner.

As for this week's issue, I was out of town for a few days so this issue has only four of the usual long commentaries on current events, but they do dive deep into the issues. They are explained below. On the other hand, there are ten pages of photographs, and you may find some of them rather amazing. Some of that is the subject matter, and some of it technical - I may have actually figured out the Nikon D70. There's a deep array of nature shots, which is a something new. But there is Hollywood too, and there are fantastic cars, and the botanical close-ups get better.

And there are the weekly diversions - quotes on the nature of history, as that Disney-ABC 9/11 movie seems to be the big issue of the day, and the weekly dose of the weird from our friend in Texas.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

The Case for Pessimism - The new book the philosopher wrote about the history and utility of pessimism bumped up against current events…
Cartoons - Hollywood to the Rescue (notes on the ABC-Disney 9/11 movie)
The Last Challenge - The question is just what sort of people we are, really.
The Basics - Odd News and the Long View - As the September 11 anniversary approaches we find that everything we were told was not so.

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Heavenly Pond - An exercise in nature photography -
High on Sunset - Some very strange images -
Hollywood Walls - Looking closely at things -
Faded Stars - Old Hollywood
Car Crazy - We love our cars out here -

- 1949 Super Sport
- Flaming Fenders
- Oddities
Botanicals - Brightness
One Shot - Perspective - The Vanishing Point

Diversions ______________________________

Quotes for the Week: History and Truth and All That
Weird, Bizarre and Unusual

Posted by Alan at 19:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 8 September 2006
Odd News and the Long View
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Odd News and the Long View

The odd news always comes on Friday. Friday, September 8, 2006 - the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that there's no evidence that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda or to that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi fellow before we invaded Iraq. The Washington Post story is here. One wonders what Christopher Hitchens will say. He scoffed at the doubters. The administration said Zarqawi has been there, and even if in the northern part of Iraq Saddam Hussein didn't control, that was good enough. The war resolution congress passed way back when, the authorization to use force to get the bad guys, justified that we invade Iraq and take over the joint, because they were part of this. The White House pretty much stipulated there was a connection - "pretty much" because it was just assumed by everyone. The Vice President harped on the Zarqawi connection, and Condoleezza Rice, who was National Security advisor at the time, said it was so - there's a neat video on that all here, with all the quotes.

And now this. This "oops" is part of a four-hundred page set of reports - summarized here if you're short on time. No one can get Pat Roberts, the Bush-is-God chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, get off the dime and investigate whether someone was manipulating information - that required report is three years late now - but the basic facts did get released, and Pat isn't happy. Of the two things to be investigated - prewar intelligence and the manipulation of same - we only get the first part. It'll do.

The new report "reveals" - for the first time - that a CIA assessment in October 2005 concluded that Saddam Hussein "did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates." It also seems the CIA had been reporting the guy had all along been a bit afraid of al Qaeda - those mad jihad-types were, as Saddam Hussein saw it, a real threat to his power. Many had argued this, but now we get confirmation. Not that it matters now. When you're scammed, you're scammed. Suck it up. Move on.

The scam? Cheney and Bush repeatedly argued that there really was a linkage between Saddam and Zarqawi. Bush on October 2004 here - "Zarqawi's the best evidence of a connection to al-Qaida affiliates and al-Qaida." He kept that up through March of this year - six months after the CIA had concluded that Zarqawi had no relationship with Saddam. He didn't get the memo? One can assume the idea was that no one would double-check anything. But they did.

In the Associated Press account here, Senator John Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, says the new report shows how the Bush administration "exploited the deep sense of insecurity among Americans in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, leading a large majority of Americans to believe - contrary to the intelligence assessments at the time - that Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks." He doesn't like being the sucker while Cheney and Rove giggle. But it's a bit late now.

As for the committee's Republican chairman, Roberts, he says whatever Rockefeller is saying is "little more than a vehicle to advance election-year political charges." The Democrats are trying "to use the committee to try and rewrite history, insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime."

This is a very odd concept of what it means to rewrite history. And perhaps it doesn't matter. Suck it up. Move on.

The other odd story of the day concerned John Bolton, our UN ambassador, who the president put in place as a "recess appointment" because the Senate would not confirm him. The thought was that we needed someone up there who would tell all the others they were corrupt fools and probably common thieves, and the whole UN was a joke, and only the United States could save them from any more foolishness. But as a recess appointee, Bolton needs to be confirmed for real, before the new congress convenes early next January. Otherwise, he's out. And that not going well, as reported here, and many other places - the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has postponed a confirmation vote for the guy, as a key senator balked. It's just not going to happen. This is very odd. Will the president defy the Senate and just keep him on? Can he do that? We'll see. That would be a new constitutional crisis.

But wait! There's more! Osama bin Laden!

The CIA very, very quietly disbanded its "find bin Laden" unit last fall. And then there was this - in the Senate Thursday, Democrats pushed through a measure that would re-fund the unit. Democratic Senator Kent Conrad -"What does it say to violent jihadists that a terrorist mastermind remains alive and well five years after killing 3,000 Americans? Our bill tells the terrorists that protecting our nation is the first priority - and that we are going to deliver to bin Laden the justice that a mass murderer deserves." The Republican "bridge to nowhere" guy from Alaska, Ted Stevens, here whined that the measure was an election-year "slam on the intelligence community" - then he encouraged his fellow Republicans to vote for it anyway. Very odd, but it's an election year.

And there's this, regarding wiretaps and warrants - Senator Arlen Specter was forced to call off a committee vote on his bill to expand the president's wiretapping authority. That bill would make the president's following the law his own choice - the president would have the option to disregard the rules, and the option to, if he chose, to inform the Senate that he had. Russ Feingold spoke at length against the whole idea, and a group of senators from both parties called for hearings. Very odd, but it's an election year. There must be rumbling from the folks back home.

And there's this -

The US military hasn't had much success in building the hospitals or health clinics it promised, but the Iraqi government is moving forward on another building project: As the Washington Post reports today, the Iraqi Health Ministry plans to open "two new branch morgues in Baghdad and add doctors and refrigerator units to raise capacity to as many as 250 corpses a day."

There's plainly a need. Officials at the Baghdad morgue say they took in 1,536 victims of violent deaths in August. As the Post notes, their initial tallies for August suggested that they had received only 550 bodies - such a dramatic decrease from the 1,800 deaths in July that US and Iraqi officials began to claim that their security plan for Baghdad was working. As the Post says, the new number appears to "erase" most of that.
It seems you should be careful what you say is the truth. Things do keep coming up. Reality can be such a pain.

But all that is ephemera - detail. The fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks is coming up, and people are looking at the broader issues.

For example, Joan Walsh is working out What We Lost, and, after discussing how the number of American soldiers who have dies is now equal to the dead on that day five years ago - and our 30,000 military casualties and the reported 46,307 dead Iraqi civilians - she's pretty down. And she adds that quick victory in the Afghan war against the Taliban, which everyone here and around the world supported, now seems on the verge being just pointless - every week there's more killing, more repression and the New York Times reported that the Afghan city known as Little America is now the capital of Taliban resurgence and opium production. Add that global sympathy in the wake of what happened five years ago "has turned to global distrust and disdain." It's the usual laundry list.

But she gets personal -
Maybe the loss I regret most was the shimmer of national and international unity we enjoyed after the attack - the warmth I felt from friends and acquaintances and even strangers those first raw days, a seriousness and purpose I felt more broadly in the following weeks. Like most Americans, I didn't vote for this president. To me, December 12, 2000, the day the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount that Al Gore would have won, is another day of infamy in US history. But I was willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt in the weeks after 9/11, let him build on the global support we'd won and do something thoughtful and effective about al Qaeda. His response in those early weeks seemed uncharacteristically measured; he warned against targeting Muslims, he took almost a month before striking Afghanistan.

Since that time, though, we've seen hubris beyond imagination. We've watched an unbridled executive-branch power grab, warrantless wiretaps, the curtailing of privacy rights; a pervasive smog of secrecy descended to obscure our government. Outrage about torture, rendition and secret prisons here and abroad is dismissed with a flippant "We don't torture" from the president. And all of it has been shellacked with an ugly culture of bullying in which dissent equals treason, shamelessly, five years after the attack. Last week it was Donald Rumsfeld comparing war critics to people who appeased Hitler; this week we had Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying they're the sort who would have ended the Civil War early and let the South keep its slaves. Their intimidation is meant to say that the very freedoms worth fighting for - the right to dissent, the right to question our government - might have to be abridged while we fight. Politically, that truly is more than we can bear.

Still, we've seen nothing so brazen as the president's "war on terror" victory lap this 9/11 anniversary week, three speeches to tell us he's made us safer though there's still more to be done, and pay no attention to the carnage in Iraq.
Well, yes, that's about it. But not much can be done.

She says that's not true -
… there's reason to believe 2006 will turn out differently from 2002. This time around the midterm elections are looking grim for the GOP, thanks to the war in Iraq, high gas prices and overall gloom about the country's direction. A CBS News/New York Times poll reported Thursday that when asked if the government had done "all it could reasonably be expected to do" to prevent another terror attack, nearly two-thirds of Democrats and Independents said no. Even among Republicans, only 56 percent said yes. Bush's campaign to convince us we're wrong is just beginning, and maybe it will work as it did in 2002 and 2004, but it won't be easy. The great thing about freedom and democracy is we have multiple chances to get things right.
And we don't always screw up? We'll see.

All of what Walsh says is very emotional, perhaps appropriately so. But can one look at all this dispassionately.

That is what Dahlia Lithwick, the legal expert at SLATE.COM, discusses here in her comments on the new book by Richard Posner, Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency. That calls for a bit of disclaimer - a reader who has contributed these pages in the past has argued many a case in front of Judge Posner and has privately commented that the man is devastating brilliant (and fluent in French, of all things), and she preferred dealing with him and not Scalia down in DC at the Supreme Court, who she found just gratuitously mean.

Lithwick is impressed with Posner because in this new book he raises interesting questions that are above emotion, or below it, or beside it.

Here's how she frames it -
The Bush administration is marking the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 this week by launching a charm offensive touting its war on terror. At the less charming end of the spectrum: Donald Rumsfeld's nasty attacks on war critics. More charming: the president's new willingness to empty secret CIA prisons and put the 9/11 ringleaders on trial. But what's missing from all these election-year defenses of the government's actions is the same ingredient that's been missing from the outset: a fair-minded balancing of what's been lost against what's been gained.

Imagine, for instance, if the president had, in his speech this week defending his actions at Guantanamo, confessed that separating real terrorists from unlucky clods is next to impossible; that some detainees may still be there by mistake, but that the risks are worth it. Instead, he offered the preposterous claim that the 450 men who remain there are virtually all dangerous terrorists, even when evidence to the contrary is indisputable.

Like the administration's old rationalizations for the war on terror, the new ones write off the president's critics as "appeasers" or insist that we are foiling terrorist plots through torture (or, to use the most recent euphemism, "alternative interrogation procedures"). The president claims that his every suspension of the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions, and domestic civil liberties is justified because it is necessary, and, invariably, it is necessary because he says so. There is never even token recognition that any important freedoms are lost; that water-boarding a prisoner is more than just "tough, and … safe, and lawful"; or that programs like the warrantless NSA surveillance of citizens come at a price for everyone.

That is why Judge Richard Posner is such a welcome voice in the national conversation about balancing freedom against security. Posner, the brilliant and prolific federal appeals court judge, is renowned - and not always in a good way - for putting a price tag on everything. But whatever quibbles liberals may have with his law-and-economics approach to anything from rape to unwanted babies, they should celebrate the intellectual rigor he brings to the problem of civil liberties in wartime.
And in the new book he does just that, approaching the wartime civil-liberties problem "in precisely the manner the Bush administration will not: with a meticulous, usually dispassionate, weighing of what is gained against what is lost each time the government engages in data-mining, indefinite detentions, or the suppression of free speech."

This of course makes him a hero with the pro-Bush crowd. With every new instance of the president breaking the law we all have our conservative friends who repeat that line that "the constitution is not a suicide pact" and how breaking the law is sometimes the right thing to do (sometimes quoting Thoreau from his jail cell). Of course this causes no end of other problems as that would make him a classic "activist judge" - one who says what the constitution literally means can be useless, as times change. That sort of thing led to the idea we have a right to privacy, and that led to Griswold and saying birth control and private sexual behavior was not the government's business and that Lawrence case where the gay guys in Texas said the state had no right to raid their bedroom and arrest them, and it led to the idea the decision to abort a pregnancy was really not the government's business.

Lithwick points out that a famous hyper-conservative blogger out here in Los Angeles, Glenn Reynolds, got all messed up when he snagged an interview Posner - here getting wrapped around his own axle regarding Posner doing the "living Constitution" thing. That's so BAD, but he likes the idea Bush can break the rules.

But how else do you determine which suspensions of constitutional rights are justifiable in wartime?

Lithwick is impressed because Posner is actually moving the whole issue beyond black and white, beyond all-or-nothing rants from the left or the right. It's far better than the president's simple-mindedness, or the convoluted constitutional theories of his attorneys, however clever. Put the passion and emotion aside. This is a cost-benefit calculation.

Here's the deal -
What Posner offers is the suggestion that careful balancing of liberties lost against security gained is a better alternative than the current regime that recognizes no cost to freedoms lost and no accountability for security achieved. By virtue of this careful balancing, Posner even criticizes a few Bush administration decisions. He questions, for instance, the decision to suspend the right to habeas corpus of US citizens or foreign terrorists captured in the United States because he deems the cost of indefinite detention to exceed the gain in public safety.

It is this exercise that makes Posner's book so important, as we begin the pre-election analysis of which elements of the president's surveillance, detention, and prosecution strategy have made us safer, and which actions have merely made us less free.
And here's the problem (emphases added) -
… if we are really to follow Judge Posner's lead; that is, if we are really going to undertake a sober national conversation on the costs and benefits of suspending civil liberties, we need better information on both. Surely Judge Posner would be the first to agree that a good consumer is an informed consumer. And ultimately, the question becomes whether anyone knows enough to engage in such a cost-benefit analysis. For instance, Posner seems to share Bush's assumption that torture is, broadly speaking, worth it, in that it generally extracts information that can disrupt terror plots. He goes on to argue that even in the face of anti-torture statutes, there is a moral obligation in, say, "ticking time bomb" situations, for state actors to exercise a form of "civil disobedience" and ignore those torture statutes. But without fuller information on who is being tortured, and how, and for how long, and how many false confessions are elicited, it's just not clear to me that a cost-benefit assessment is possible.

I am willing to be persuaded, five years later, that provisions of the Patriot Act really do make us safer. But I am not persuaded by assertion alone. How can I balance the security benefits of so-called national-security letters, or the subpoena of my library records, if the government refuses to disclose how that information is used and why? If I am only weighing the curtailment of my civil liberties against the government's bare assertions that such curtailment makes me safer, then there is no real balancing to be done. And if that information is unknowable, am I not just balancing my own subjective sense of freedom against the president's promise that I am safer?
So doesn't that make the whole thing academic? Posner also argues that our judges don't have the institutional capacity to decide these questions of national security. So who does?

The whole idea that anyone can decide these things seems silly. None of us has the right information, and everyone has an agenda.

But even so Lithwick says this -
The real power of Posner's project is that he is absolutely willing to stand back and measure whether Guantanamo is really worth it; whether wiretapping is really worth it. And even if we don't know enough to really offer final conclusions, the very promise of such a reckoning is a good start. It's proof that often the best cure for overheated partisan shrieking is a good old-fashioned pickup game of cost-benefit analysis. Now if the Bush administration would just follow suit by framing the debate about freedom and war in terms of painful civil-liberties sacrifices and corresponding gains in security (as opposed to cheap attacks on its critics or grandiose claims of unlimited wartime authority), we might begin to undertake the sort of measured, careful debate about this possibly never-ending war on terror - a debate that is long overdue.
Don't hold your breath. The elections are coming - overheated partisan shrieking is the order of the day. That's how we decide things.

And the week ended on a Friday full of the expected posturing.

Posted by Alan at 21:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 9 September 2006 06:26 PDT home

Thursday, 7 September 2006
The Last Challenge
Topic: Election Notes
The Last Challenge
Now what? Wednesday, September 6, the president announced he was ordering fourteen "terrorist leaders" transferred from secret CIA prisons overseas to our military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

But we didn't have any secret CIA prisons overseas. We said so, or, when pressed, kind of implied if we did we would never admit it.

No one was supposed to know about them, and when the Washington Post revealed that we really did (here), Bill Bennett and half of the commentators on the right wanted to try Dana Priest, the reporter, and the Post, for treason. Yeah, Priest got the Pulitzer Prize for the story, but that didn't matter. If we didn't have the secret prisons this was unforgivable lying to hurt America, and if we did, no one was supposed to know. (The same crew was calling for the New York Times to be charged with treason for revealing the president had ordered clearly illegal wiretapping of American citizens - saying he needed no warrants as stipulated in the law - and for discussing how we were monitoring international banking transactions, as we had long said we were, but how we were on some shaky legal ground there too.)

So the Bush administration has officially acknowledged the existence of the secret prisons, and certain European countries would now like to know just where they were - to clear up questions from their own people, who'd like to know just what was going on and who approved what. But we're not saying - not our problem.

Why this, and why now? The congressional elections are coming up in November and it looks as if the Republicans will lose the House, and could lose the Senate. If that happens, the president will lose the power to get much done in his last two years in office, becoming the lamest of lame ducks. And all the investigations blocked in the first six years - regarding who knew what, when, and who was lying - could begin. No one is talking impeachment, yet, but just requiring answers to specific questions, under oath, would be deadly. This sudden change - saying that, yes, we did have secret prisons and those we held should now be tried - is seen by most as a bit of political gamesmanship.

The thinking is that Karl Rove has advised the president to jam the Democrats here. At the same time that the president is moving these special detainees to Guantánamo, he's pushing Congress to adopt new rules for trying them once they're there. Of course, earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down the president's plan for military tribunals at Guantánamo (details here) - they held that holding that the tribunals, as the administration envisioned them, would violate the Geneva Conventions and weren't authorized by any act of Congress anyway. So forget it. To work around that ruling, the White House is now asking Congress to authorize the tribunals and to adopt rules governing them that might get around the Geneva conventions. Note here a Republican Senate aide says the rules the White House has in mind would allow the use of evidence "obtained through coercion" - whatever they screamed out when we made them think they were going to die, or when the pain was unbearable, must be true. Yes, this has been thought kind of dumb since the sixteenth century in almost every nation on earth - no one allows such evidence. But 9/11 changed everything, perhaps. And the Senate aide said too that the proposed rules would additionally allow the tribunals to deny detainees access to evidence used against them - if the administration declared the evidence classified.

This would not be like Nuremberg, where we wanted to show the world how our legal systems works - the charges are clear, you get to see the evidence against you, you get to respond to the charges and challenge the evidence, in public, and everyone can see if you're guilty or not. The president is pressing congress here to approve something quite different - these people don't deserve what used be thought of as fairness. And that's the gambit. Anyone who wants to follow the Nuremberg model must be soft on terrorism and want these guys to walk. Oppose this and you get the Max Cleland treatment - as you recall he questioned the new Department of Homeland Security's personnel policies, suggesting some folks shouldn't be forced to quit their unions, and that turned out to be the same as really wanting al Qaeda to take over the world. Bad move on his part. And this is one of those. Oppose the new rules and you must hate America, and you'll be sorry.

There's a lot of talk on the right about how brilliant this is - it could save the House and Senate. For example there's this -
The President just pulled one of the best maneuvers of his entire presidency. By transferring most major Al Qaeda terrorists to Guantanamo, and simultaneously sending Congress a bill to rescue the Military Commissions from the Supreme Court's ruling Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the President spectacularly ambushed the Democrats on terrain they fondly thought their own. Now Democrats who oppose (and who have vociferously opposed) the Military Commissions will in effect be opposing the prosecution of the terrorists who planned and launched the attacks of September 11 for war crimes.

And if that were not enough, the President also frontally attacked the Hamdan ruling's potentially chilling effect on CIA extraordinary interrogation techniques, by arguing that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is too vague, and asking Congress to define clearly the criminal law limiting the scope of permissible interrogation.

Taken as a whole, the President's maneuver today turned the political tables completely around. He stole the terms of debate from the Democrats, and rewrote them, all in a single speech. It will be delightful to watch in coming days and hours as bewildered Democrats try to understand what just hit them, and then sort through the rubble of their anti-Bush national security strategy to see what, if anything, remains.
No longer operative is what Robert Jackson, the head prosecutor at Nuremberg, said in his closing address before that tribunal. That would be this -
Of one thing we may be sure. The future will never have to ask, with misgiving, what could the Nazis have said in their favor. History will know that whatever could be said, they were allowed to say. They have been given the kind of a trial which they, in the days of their pomp and power, never gave to any man.

There's all this talk that these are the new Nazis. But it seems they're not. They don't get the rights we gave the German guys.

So, will the strategy work, this "Cleland Gambit?"

The Post was reporting here that three Republican senators - John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham - are working on legislation that would ensure detainees the right - which the Sixth Amendment would guarantee them in regular civil courts - to see the evidence against them. The Post reports these three believe that the administrations plan to deny detainees access to the evidence against them would "violate long-standing due-process standards and set a dangerous precedent for trials of captured US military personnel." Well, that's a thought. We'd be outraged if someone did this to our guys. And McCain here says this - "I think it's important that we stand by 200 years of legal precedents concerning classified information because the defendant should have a right to know what evidence is being used."

How quaint, as the Attorney General would say.

By Friday we were getting this -

Brig, Gen. James C. Walker, the top uniformed lawyer for the Marines, said that no civilized country should deny a defendant the right to see the evidence against him and that the United States 'should not be the first.'

Maj. Gen. Scott C. Black, the judge advocate general of the Army, made the same point, and Rear Adm. Bruce E. MacDonald, the judge advocate general of the Navy, said military law provided rules for using classified evidence, whereby a judge could prepare an unclassified version of the evidence to share with the jury and the accused and his lawyer.

Senate Republicans said the proposal to deny the accused the right to see classified evidence was one of the main points of contention remaining between them and the administration.

'It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them,' said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has played a key role in the drafting of alternative legislation as a member of the Armed Services Committee and a military judge. ''Trust us, you’re guilty, we’re going to execute you, but we can’t tell you why'? That's not going to pass muster; that's not necessary.'
Tim Grieve here -
The president and his supporters plainly see it differently. As Bill Frist prepares to push the Bush plan as part of a flurry of terrorism-related measures in the run-up to the November elections, an aide to the Senate majority leader says it's a "dangerous idea that terrorists and those around them automatically receive classified information about the means and methods used in the war on terror."

We wonder what Bush and Frist would think if an American soldier were tried and convicted based on evidence that was obtained through torture - evidence that he was never allowed to challenge or explain away because he was never allowed to see it in the first place. We hope they never have to ponder that sort of injustice. But if they do, they'll have left themselves, and the rest of us, with precious little room to complain.
No kidding. And he adds this -
By moving Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other high-level terrorism suspects to Guantánamo, the president changes the debate from the rights owed to some nameless and not-particularly-scary detainees to the rights owed to one of the alleged masterminds of 9/11.

But will Bush's move have much of an effect on November? That's clearly part of the plan. Just hours after the president's announcement Wednesday, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman was e-mailing supporters about al-Qaida's plot to obtain biological weapons and the ways in which "some Democrats in Washington" have "questioned why our government" needs the tools Bush wants to fight terrorism. It's all standard-issue, Democrats-are-soft-on-terror stuff: "They have questioned the terrorist surveillance program, and bragged about 'killing' the Patriot Act," Mehlman wrote. "The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate even likened America's interrogation practices to those in Nazi or Soviet concentration camps."

Will it work?

… Well, maybe. For better or for worse, the manner in which we try terrorism suspects isn't exactly at the top of most Americans' minds. According to the latest Fox News poll, the economy and Iraq are the top two issues voters say they'll consider as they head to the polls in November. Terrorism, in the general sense, is third; the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo doesn't make the list at all. Worse still for Bush, Americans just aren't that afraid anymore. A New York Times/CBS News poll out today shows that only 22 percent of Americans are "very concerned" about the possibility of a terrorist attack where they live. And, in what the Times calls a "political paradox," the president's approval ratings tend to be lowest in the parts of the country where Americans fear terrorism most.

Now, will jamming Democrats on Guantánamo help raise the profile of terrorism as an issue? Sure it will, and that has been the point of all the fear-and-appeasement talk coming out of the White House and the Pentagon over the last week.

… But we're betting the issue for most Americans will still be Iraq. The president can say what he wants about the attacks five years ago and the attacks that may come again someday. The polls and our own sense of things tell us that Americans care more about the soldiers who are dying every day in a war that shouldn't have begun and has no clear way of ending. Unless the president and his supporters can shift November's battlefield entirely - that is, unless they can move it away from Iraq and toward the war on terrorism more generally - then Bush's announcement about the detainees will prove to be a tactical victory in what is, again, the wrong war.
So we'll see.

Andrew Sullivan here suggests the president knows he and his party are in deep trouble this November. So he needs "a real Hail Mary pass to avoid a crushing defeat." And he adds this -
This is the Rove gambit: make this election a choice between legalizing torture or enabling the murderers of 9/11 to escape justice. The timing is deliberate; the exploitation of 9/11 gob-smacking; the cynicism fathomless. There is only one response: call them on it and vote for their opponents in November. And pray that in the meantime, John McCain won't lose his nerve or his integrity.
Well, McCain wants to be the next president. He has to decide what sort of president he wants to be, fair or ruthless. Which do people want these days?

See John Dickerson here discussing the matter -
After the 9/11 attacks George Bush kept a facebook in his desk drawer. It contained the pictures, where possible, of the key al-Qaida leaders. CIA Director George Tenet gave it to him not long after the attack. When one terrorist would get killed or captured, the president would cross him off. Wednesday, with the five-year anniversary of the attack approaching, the president hauled out the facebook again. In announcing that he was bringing 14 of the world's most dangerous terrorists out of their secret prisons, he reminded the world how many bad guys we've caught.

… The president tries to make the case that he and the Republicans are the only ones who understand the nature of the terrorist threat and how to combat it. In today's speech, he produced the best evidence to date to back up that assertion. While the Democrats complain about inattention and drift, he can say: Here's what we've been up to. And he's given Congress an assignment as well - to codify his proposal for handling detainees—in their few remaining days before members return home to campaign.

It's one thing to say you're on the hunt for terrorists. It's more powerful to offer graphic details. The president went on at some length giving descriptions of the work necessary to capture these men. He offered lots of hard-to-pronounce names that he might normally steer away form because in this context, granularity trumps his normal love of generalizations. He outlined several al-Qaida plots foiled as a result of the secret prisons and countless others quashed in their infancy. At the same time, the White House provided a catalog of the crimes committed by the terrorists in custody.

Bush further explained the lengths to which CIA interrogators go to follow the law, or at least the administration's reading of it. (His assurance that the CIA and Justice Department had vetted the detainee program was a stretch given their penchant for rubber-stamping his requests.) This was an effort to head off protests that his administration used torture in its secret prisons. But it was also part of the larger effort to show how careful, thoughtful, and methodical his administration can be.

… Of course we have to take the president's word for it that all of this happened as he describes it. In the end, whether the president gets political credit for changing his detainee policy will depend largely on whether voters still trust him. The failure to find WMD or connections between Saddam and al-Qaida undermined the president's trustworthiness. As the Iraq war has gotten worse, and the administration's spin has gotten heavier, Bush's credibility has suffered more damage. Katrina compounded this problem. Now Bush is offering lots of extraordinary detail and tales of competency no one can really challenge. Will the public discount this as more spin and exaggeration? Or will it buy his story about how hard his administration has been working to protect the country behind the scenes? I thought the details Bush offered today sounded fairly persuasive. But for him to ask us to simply trust him about anything at this point is a hard sell.
Indeed it is.

And see Mark Benjamin here -
On Wednesday afternoon, President Bush announced the transfer of 14 high-value terrorism suspects to Guantánamo for trials. He said that the suspects had been held outside the country by the CIA, and then admitted they had been detained as part of a secret program that also included specialized interrogation techniques, techniques the president described as "tough." Most observers believe the president was referring to a long-rumored program involving secret CIA prisons, or "black sites," where terrorism suspects have allegedly been sequestered, interrogated and perhaps tortured.

Bush defended those "tough" interrogation tactics, which he described as an "alternative set of procedures" specially approved by the Department of Justice. Bush said the tactics had saved American lives.

… Bush would not provide any specifics about the "tough" tactics, other than to insist improbably that they didn't constitute torture. "I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world. The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it." He did say, however, that the Supreme Court's recent Hamdan decision "has put in question the future of the CIA program," because it effectively bars "outrages upon personal dignity and humiliating and degrading treatment." The Hamdan decision, in other words, bars torture, and forces the United States to observe the Geneva Conventions.

Meanwhile, across the Potomac, an Army general unveiled a new Army interrogations manual designed to fit squarely within the protections of the Geneva Conventions. That new manual specifically bars hooding, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, mock executions and many of the other "tough" techniques allegedly practiced in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo and the black sites.

The new manual was presented by Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence in a press conference that aired live Wednesday morning on the limited-circulation Pentagon Channel. During the press conference, Kimmons expressed a view about the effectiveness of "tough" interrogation techniques utterly different from the president's.

"No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices," Kimmons said. "I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the past five years, hard years, tells us that." He argued that "any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility." And Kimmons conceded that bad P.R. about abuse could work against the United States in the war on terror. "It would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used," Kimmons said. "We can't afford to go there."

Kimmons added that "our most significant successes on the battlefield - in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically, all of them" - came from interrogators that stuck to the kinds of humane techniques framed in the new Army manual. "We don't need abusive practices in there," Kimmons said. "Nothing good will come from them."
The "sell" gets harder when your own guys say you're wrong, but the general does say he's just speaking for the military. He has no idea what the CIA and Special Ops folks do. He's just a military guy - "You abide by the Geneva Conventions, and if you don't do that, you are endangering soldiers' lives."

Benjamin notes that after referring to the secret CIA interrogation program, the White House did ask Congress to modify the War Crimes Act of 1996 to shield participants in the program and those who approved it at the Justice Department from liability - should courts now determine that the techniques approved were not just "tough" but also illegal.

But the president said, flat-out, this -
I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it - and I will not authorize it.
And he added this -
I cannot describe the specific methods used - I think you understand why - if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.
You have to trust him on that. Andrew Sullivan, conservative, gay, on the staff at Time Magazine, doesn't -
But we know - and the enemy knows - what the techniques are. They've been listed and documented and debated. We also know what was done to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the case cited specifically by the president in his speech yesterday - because Bush officials told us. The New York Times reported the following: "Senior officials have said Mr. Mohammed was 'waterboarded,' a technique in which his head was pushed under water and he was made to believe that he might drown."

In another case of a detainee, Mohammed al-Qhatani, we actually have a log of what was done to him. He was deprived of sleep for 55 days, subjected to the KGB-perfected "cold cell" hypothermia treatment, and terrorized by unmuzzled dogs. Medics had to administer three bags of medical saline to Qhatani, while he was strapped to a chair, and aggressively treat him for hypothermia in hospital, before returning him to a torture cell. These facts are not disputed. Far, far worse has been done to detainees in less closely monitored "interrogations" in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the secret sites (now admitted) in Eastern Europe. (Yes, Dana, you deserve your Pulitzer.) Dozens of corpses are the result of the president's "safe and lawful" interrogation methods.

If the president wants to argue that all this is necessary, that we need to breach the Geneva Conventions in order to protect the public, then he should say so. He should make the argument, and persuade Americans that torture should now be official policy, and seek explicit legislation amounting to a breach of the Geneva Conventions. That would be an honest position. He would gain the support of much of the Republican base, a large swathe of the conservative intelligentsia, and the contempt of the civilized world. We could then debate this honestly, including the torture techniques he has authorized and supports. Instead he lies.

Am I splitting semantic hairs here with the word "torture"? The definition of the word, in the U.N. declaration to which the U.S. is a signatory is as follows: "[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession ... when such pain or suffering is inflicted at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

In the cases the president cites, he authorized torture as plainly stated in U.S. law and common English. Moreover, he says he has set up an elite group trained specifically for torture, the kind of elite torture-squads once dear to South American dictators. They have, he reassures us, 250 extra hours of torture-training over regular CIA interrogators. The president is asking the Congress to establish this in law. Yes, this is America. It just no longer seems like it.

The item links to all the sources. Sullivan is unhappy, but let us take this one step further. What if the administration was "honest" in the manner Sullivan would like, and the newest version of the Cleland Gambit was reframed? What if the challenge to congress were to dump the Geneva Conventions and make torture official American policy?

To do that you would have to argue that torture is necessary to keep America safe. You could not honestly argue that what is revealed when someone is tortured saves lives - those in excruciating pain and thinking they are about to die will say anything to stop what is happening to them, anything they think their torturer wants to hear. They make up stuff. It's useless. You end up believing foolish threats and having to verify what is said anyway. What's the point? And if something said in all of that is true, how do you know which part that is?

For detail see this -

Besides the 14 prisoners identified on Wednesday, some officials and human rights advocates questioned the fate of dozens of others believed to have moved through the C.I.A. prison network over the past four years.

Human Rights Watch, in response to a request from The New York Times, provided a list of 14 men who the organization believes have been secretly detained since the Sept. 11 attacks and whose whereabouts are still unknown.

One of the men, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, is believed to have given false information about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda after C.I.A. officials transferred him to Egyptian custody in 2002. Mr. al-Libi’s statements were used by the Bush administration as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons.

It emerged later that Mr. al-Libi had fabricated these stories while in captivity to avoid harsh treatment by his Egyptian captors.
No, the argument must be made differently. The argument would have to be that there's a deterrent effect here - the bad guys need to know that if we capture them they will be disappeared, they will face years of incredible pain, mixed with intense humiliation, and maybe they will be beaten to death, and we'll grab their wives and kids too, and sometimes there will be photos of them naked, and so on - and the kicker, we don't really give a damn what they say at any time during the process. We just let them know the true price for opposing us. That would be the argument. It's a statement, or more precisely, a warning.

The challenge to congress would be to make this our official policy, arguing those who oppose such a policy want us to appear weak and just not serious about the threats we really face. That would put people on the spot. And since we've done each of these things, with high-level approval, it would be more honest to argue it in this way. Why kid around? No one is fooled.

This whole business with giving these guys "fair" trials is a charade, given what the new rules will be - can't show you the evidence against you and what you said when you'd been awake for fifty-five hours and we had thinking you were drowning can and will be held against you. Why not get down to brass tacks? To win this thing we have to be the meanest and most unfair people on the planet. We cannot appear too pathetically idealistic to play rough. Agree or disagree. Then let the voters decide whether you should stay in office.

All else is pointless maneuvering.

Posted by Alan at 22:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006 09:18 PDT home

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