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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Sunday, 27 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not

First a follow-up… In these pages a month ago - October 23, 2005, Doing Good, Doing It Right - you'd find an extensive discussion of the Australian television footage of our soldiers burning the corpses of two dead Taliban fighters with their bodies laid out facing Mecca, and using the images in a propaganda campaign in southern Afghanistan. At the time our guys said they burned the bodies for hygienic reasons - but then a psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to the Taliban guys, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight, as in this -
Attention Taliban you are cowardly dogs," read the first soldier, identified as psyops specialist Sgt. Jim Baker.

"You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."
Something was lost in translation there. He probably said "girly men."

We said it never happened. Now? Reuters - Saturday, November 26, 11:47 AM ET - US military admits it burned bodies. Well, we're still claiming the "hygienic reasons" thing, but four psyops guys are facing charges. As before, for immediate tactical advantage you sometimes screw up your larger strategic aim, which in this case might be to appear to be the good guys who bring civility and democracy and the rule of fair and dispassionate law to a land of chaos. Will the reprimand of four soldiers give us a mulligan here? Sorry about that. Our bad. Let's move on.

Case closed, maybe.

Of course, now the Brits have a bit of the same sort of problem, as reported in the Sunday Telegraph (UK) on November 27th - 'Trophy' video exposes private security contractors shooting up Iraqi drivers: "A 'trophy' video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal."

You see, the private contractors who help out in the war, for a lot of money, don't fall under anyone's jurisdiction actually. The video shows these guys randomly shooting civilians, just folks passing by, for giggles. The video uses an Elvis Presley thing for a soundtrack - Mystery Train. The company involved here is Aegis Defence Services, set up in 2002 by one Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, a former Scots Guards officer, and we learn these folks were recently awarded a £220 million security contract in Iraq by the United States. Aegis helped with the collection of ballot papers in the country's recent referendum. Good guys? Aegis said this really wasn't their people - they have no idea who was randomly picking off civilians in the video. But then this Spicer fellow had a problem back in 1998 when his private military company, Sandlines International, was accused of breaking United Nations sanctions by selling arms to Sierra Leone. One wonders about them, and what they do for dun.

Well, someone was blowing off steam, and showing the video for laughs. The locals are rather angry. The British Foreign Office? - "Aegis have assured us that there is nothing on the video to suggest that it has anything to do with their company. This is now a matter for the American authorities because Aegis is under contract to the United States."

Will we do something, or pass this back to the Brits? Or will we say the new Iraqi government should bring charges? It's their country now. Aegis says it looks like them but it isn't their guys, the Brits say it's our problem. We will probably say it's the Iraqis' problem - our troops were not involved and, if a crime has been committed, let the new local legal system deal with it.

The video is here (Windows Media) or here (QuickTime) - via the media resource site Crooks and Liars.

Minor note. Aegis - the goatskin shield or breastplate of Zeus or Athena. Athena's shield carried at its center the head of Medusa. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, of course. Yeah, right.

Sunday, November 27th also brought us the tale of Colonel Ted Westhusing, in the Los Angeles Times, here, which they ran on the front page, upper left. This fellow was a West Point guy, very bright, one of the leading scholars in military ethics. Like all West Point guys he was big on honor and duty. The question posed is where he killed himself or was murdered when he uncovered a load of corruption and "human rights violations" (random killing again and torture and that sort of thing) by private contractors we have working for us in Iraq.

Key passage -
So it was only natural that Westhusing acted when he learned of possible corruption by U.S. contractors in Iraq. A few weeks before he died, Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company he oversaw had cheated the U.S. government and committed human rights violations. Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns to superiors, who launched an investigation.

Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.
That's a curious conflict. Free enterprise and lack of regulation is supposed to be a good thing.

His suicide note?
"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

Death before being dishonored any more.
Friends and family say this is crap. The guy was too bull-headed and single-minded in making things right to ever be suicidal. They go with the evidence the contractor bumped him off.

The Times reports the position of the military. Suicide. It comes down to the guy being too inflexible. They quote an Army psychologist explaining -
Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.
Yep, you read that right. We take the position that the guy just didn't understand that sometimes profit matters more than doing the right thing. He should have lightened up.

Will our military contractors, our mercenaries for whom we accept no responsibility, be the topic of the week? Probably not.

Will this?

Ayad Allawi, formerly prime minister in the interim government of Iraq (his fifteen minutes of fame as the US-backed good guy, with a visit or two to the White House), drops this bomb in the British press -
In a damning and wide-ranging indictment of Iraq's escalating human rights catastrophe, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centres. The brutality of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police, he said.

... 'We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated,' he added. 'A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.'

He said that immediate action was needed to dismantle militias that continue to operate with impunity. If nothing is done, 'the disease infecting [the Ministry of the Interior] will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government', he said.
Didn't Donald Rumsfeld say democracy was messy? Well, lots of lefty-loonies say we have made things worse - bringing back the terror of the Saddam regime (with different players this time) combined with little running water and no electricity in the major cities for large parts of each day, a strangled oil industry producing little funds for running things, roaming militias in army uniforms, or in the army, doing nasty things to old enemies, and so on. Now our guy, the former prime minister, is saying this? Drat. Time for Karl Rove to go after him.

On the other hand, as reported the Washington Post, you have Abdul Aziz Hakim, who heads the Shiite Muslim religious party that leads the current government, and who oversees the party's rather scary Badr Brigade ("death squads and secret torture centers" the specialty there), saying this is not so. He says we, the squeamish Americans, are keeping him from important work -
The leader of Iraq's most powerful political party has called on the United States to let Iraqi fighters take a more aggressive role against insurgents, saying his country will only be able to defeat the insurgency when the United States lets Iraqis get tough.

... Hakim gave few details of what getting tough would entail, other than making clear it would require more weapons, with more firepower, than the United States is currently supplying.

... In Iraq, "there are plans to confront terrorists, approved by security agencies, but the Americans reject that," Hakim said. "Because of that mistaken policy, we have lost a lot. One of the victims was my brother Mohammad Bakir, because of American policies."

"For instance, the ministries of Interior and Defense want to carry out some operations to clean out some areas" in Baghdad and around the country, including volatile Anbar province, in the west, he said.
Sounds like a Shiite civil or tribal war (they'll get around to "cleansing" the Sunnis later), and we're being asked to choose sides.

Which way will we go? Which Shiite faction will we support in eliminating the other? Decisions, decisions?

Then there's this, a rundown on investigative reporter Seymour Hersh's Sunday, November 27th appearance on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" discussing his latest New Yorker article "Up in the Air" - a chat providing a little more detail on the Bush administration's withdrawal proposal.

Yeah, you heard that right - White House Lays Foundation for US Troop Withdrawal, Sunday, November 27 - and they're saying that the plan is "remarkably similar" to a plan by Democratic senator Joe Biden, but they thought of it first, but this is not "cut and run." You see, things are going so well in getting the new Iraqi government up and running we've sort of, kind of won, or something.

So what was all that anger about that late Friday night with the witch-lady from Cincinnati calling the decorated Marine a coward and that forced vote to "stay the course" and all the rest? We're getting out anyway? This very odd.

But during the CNN interview Hersh said that although the Bush administration will probably withdraw US troops from the ground next year, that won't mean that will be the beginning of the end of the war. Not at all. Hersh has great sources in the military (in those Vietnam years he broke the story of the My Lai massacre) and says we will shift to an air war. We'll just let the guys in power there, whoever they are, tell us where to drop the bombs and let the chips fall where they may.

Of course the problem is obvious. We don't know why we're bombing this and that.
HERSH: It's the concern of a lot of people in the Pentagon. They'll tell you no, that they're going to be joint units. The Pentagon will officially say there's going to be joint units, Iraqi and Americans together. But eventually we know it will evolve into Iraqis calling in targets.

And it's not just spotting. We use a lot of sophisticated laser guided weapons and you have to have somebody on the ground to actually do a strike or illuminate a target with a laser beam for the plane to come in. And as I've had people in the Air Force say to me, what are we going to be bombing? Barracks? Hospitals? You know, who knows who's going to be telling us what to do?

BLITZER: So what you're hearing is that the U.S. air power, the U.S. Air Force, they're getting jittery even thinking about the fact that they may be called in to launch air strikes based on what they're getting from Iraqis on the ground.

HERSH: It is good to know there is a lot of ethics in the Air Force. There's a lot of guys that are, that drop the, they know the force of the weapons they have, and they don't want to be responsible for bombing the wrong targets. They don't want non-Americans telling them what to do. This is a real doctrinal issue that's being fought right now in the Pentagon.
But our guys will not be on the ground any longer. So what if we're asked to bomb some dude's cousin's wedding with a five hundred pound laser-guided thing because some uncle pissed him off?

Yeah, we get out and provide muscle for the Iraqi equivalent of the mob. We went to war for that? We lost over 2,100 of our guys to end up doing the bidding of folks with this grudge or that?

Great solution.

But it's not a "news" story. It's in the realm of "later" - where we might be soon.

In the realm of "now" there are other stories that might be good this week. There's that Abramoff scandal that might take down more than half of the Republican congressional leadership. That's cool. The links has all the names. Over in the UK the opposition party may do what Senator Pat Roberts' intelligence committee can't seem to get around to doing on this side of the pond - there, a full investigation of Blair's responsibility for manipulating questionable intelligence to con the Brit politicians into supporting this war. Here? More farting around. The other odd story - either a blip or something more - may be this from the Telegraph (UK), Bolton loses British backing for UN tactics. It seems Bolton suggested stopping all UN spending of any kind until there was real reform, shutting the place down, and even our best and truest ally decided that was madness. When you lose the Brits?

But will this week have more on Walter Pincus' Washington Post troubling scoop, Sunday, November 27, on the Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA?
The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.

The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts - including protecting military facilities from attack - to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.

The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
Why does that sound a little scary? Read a little into this and you'll see Harris Technical Services Corporation (HTSC) provides services to CIFA, as does Unisys, ISX and Sytex. All the branches of the armed services are involved too. The military hired the geeks to watch out for "treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage."

Is the military supposed to do this? What about laws like laws like that Posse Comitatus business?
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the data-sharing amendment would still give the Pentagon much greater access to the FBI's massive collection of data, including information on citizens not connected to terrorism or espionage.

The measure, she said, "removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." She said the Pentagon's "intelligence agencies are quietly expanding their domestic presence without any public debate."
Who needs public debate? You have to trust the military, right?

You'll find a ton of supporting documentation here if you want to know more.

I see also CIFA has been reading at least two blogs - Jesus's General and Uncommon Thoughts. They report finding CIFA logons in the site statistics. Neither says nice things about the Bush administration, and they're pretty sarcastic. Treason? You never know. Time to check out the Just Above Sunset and As Seen from Just Above Sunset site meters. There are a lot of .MIL logons each week. May have to tone it down. Who would take care of Harriet-the-Cat if the editor has been "disappeared" as an enemy combatant? But the number of site visits each week is far too low for this to be a real worry.

Still, this is where we are these days. One should watch what one says.

And one might worry when that Hersh fellow adds this in his Sunday chat with Wolf Blitzer -
You know, Wolf, there is people I've been talking to - I've been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming.

They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.

I don't want to sound like I'm off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able - is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years.

He talks about being judged in 20 years to his friends. And so it's a little alarming because that means that my and my colleagues in the press corps, we can't get to him maybe with our views. You and you can't get to him maybe with your interviews.

How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he's not going the right way?

Jack Murtha certainly didn't do it. As I wrote, they were enraged at Murtha in the White House.

And so we have an election coming up - Yes. I've had people talk to me about maybe Congress is going to have to cut off the budget for this war if it gets to that point. I don't think they're ready to do it now.

But I'm talking about sort of a crisis of management. That you have a management that's seen by some of the people closely involved as not being able to function in terms of getting information it doesn't want to receive.
Blind at the top? On a mission from God and listening to no one?

Senator Urges Bush To Explain Iraq War, Sunday, November 27 - and that would be super Republican Warner of Virginia suggesting a series of FDR-style "fireside chats." Maybe Warner needs to rethink that.

We'll see what happens.

Posted by Alan at 21:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 27 November 2005 21:59 PST home


Topic: Announcements

The Mother Ship Has Landed

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 48 for the week of Sunday, November 27, 2005 - is now online. This is the magazine-format parent to this web log and contains much that does not appear here.

In current events, last week opened with a curveball, a fellow who said things we knew weren't true that we decided were true, and it was off to war - the details come out. But then all those folks who said the war wasn't about oil may have been right - it was about sexual insecurity (maybe). Then there is the country's reputation now - an analysis with additional and new comments from our writers in Paris and Atlanta. But then again, events in Iraq seem now a lot like events in the eighties in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador (and the players are the same). And who can forget Jack and Bobby? Everyone.

Compare and contrast the religious beliefs of a cynical Las Vegas magician and the dean of American conservatives? Why not? It was on the radio.

The International Desk? Ric Erickson, Our Man in Paris, notes things are back to normal. No riots - a publishing scandal, and good photos. (Mick McCahill, Our Man in London will return next week.)

Bob Patterson casts George Bush (the younger) as a philosopher, specifically as an existentialist. Yeah, it's a stretch, but that's Bob. They don't call him the World's Laziest Journalist for nothing. As the Book Wrangler, though, he suggests a class you might want to take, if only for the guest speakers.

Photography covers two sides of the world, with a walk through Paris and an oddity in Morocco, and in these parts a tour of a local mansion featured in many, many feature films (along with botanical shots for those who keep asking for those). There's also a link to an extensive photo album of that.

The quotes this week? Who do you trust? It seemed appropriate.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Big Story Weekend: The Sunday Funnies Featuring Curveball
Authentic Motivation: It Really Is Always About Sex
Reputation: Does What Others Think Matter?
Resolving Dissonance: Explaining the Inexplicable (and Iraq as El Salvador)
November Anniversaries: Times Have Changed

Religion ______________________

Deep Thoughts: Mondays With Murrow

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in Paris: Nicolas to the Rescue
Our Man in London: [will return next week]

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the Desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Is Dubya Heading for the Existentialist Hall of Fame?
Book Wrangler: Writing Suspense and Horror Fiction

Guest Photography ______________________

Paris Winter: Sunday in the City of Light
Markers: Signs of Victory (one sign from Casablanca)

Hollywood Photography ______________________

On Location: Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills
Botanicals: The Gardens of Greystone Mansion

Quotes for the week of November 27, 2005 - Who do you trust?

Links and Recommendations: New Photo Album - As Seen in Many Major Films

Ignore all signs -



Posted by Alan at 10:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 27 November 2005 10:39 PST home

Saturday, 26 November 2005

Topic: Announcements

No Blogging Today

The new issue of Just Above Sunset will be along shortly.


Posted by Alan at 22:40 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 27 November 2005 09:58 PST home

Friday, 25 November 2005

Topic: World View

Our Man in Paris: Nicolas to the Rescue
No Riots! Today's news from France, from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis is an account of a scandal - the top law and order guy in the government blocks the publication of a book about his wife that may say a bit too much. Back to the good stuff. And see the photos of Paris on Friday.

Nicolas to the Rescue

PARIS - Friday, November 25 -

A week ago Le Parisien had an exciting headline. 'The Incredible History of a Forbidden Book' spread over five columns, followed by, 'Nicolas to the Rescue of Céilia' in 96-point bold, equally over five columns, with two very poor photos of these lovely people flanking the essential of the story.

Since we were having no riots last Friday, the front-page scoop continued on pages 2 and 3, filling them with everything we need to know about the private relations between the short minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife, Cécilia Sarkozy, his apparently former right-hand man.

According to Céilia she met with the journalist, Valérie Domain, for a half hour, 'not more.' She admits that she liked the journalist's earlier book, 'Femmes de, filles de,' which also includes a brief portrait of her.

But after the new book, 'Céilia Sarkozy, entre le coeur et la raison,' rolled off the presses to the tune of 25,000 copies and was headed to bookstores for its debut on November 24, Céilia freaked out.

Although apparently separated from Nicolas since a late June trip to Disneyworld, when Céilia discovered the book's sale was imminent she phoned the minister, told him her worries and asked him to take care of it.

Sarkozy had the editor visit him at the ministry of the interior, for, as Le Parisien puts it, a 'muscular' discussion. The following day the publisher called the author and told her the book wouldn't go on sale.

Then there was public silence for a week, except quite a bit of talk that is imagined to have gone on within the cabinets of several lawyers.

Books don't get banned all that often in France but it happens. A book about President Mitterrand's health was stopped before finally appearing eight years later. Alain Delon banned a book about himself before it was written, but it might have come out two years later with a different publisher.

The author, Valérie Domain, former 'grand' reporter for France Soir and head of the information department at Prisma magazine's 'Gala,' is not an amateur. She has given her lawyer a CD-ROM containing two hours and forty minutes of recorded conversations between the author and her subject.

Note of this has turned up on page six of today's Le Parisien, which goes on to mention that the lawyer for the author will go after the publisher, and that the publisher's lawyer will counter-sue the author for damages. Meanwhile the book was supposed to appear yesterday, and 25,000 copies of it are collecting fresh dust in some cool warehouse.

Le Monde noted on November 18, talking to other publishers, that Sarkozy seemed to be unaware that there are legal methods for suppressing a book, which in turn raised questions about the courage of the book's publisher. Another pointed out that books used to be banned for 'state reasons,' but the level is lower now.

At this point the publisher isn't talking so it is impossible to know exactly what arguments Sarkozy used to prevent the book from going on sale. In France everybody is guilty of something so the poor guy probably expected to spend Christmas in the Santé if he didn't do as he was told.

This is also probably much ado about very little, except that Sarkozy is involved, maybe a bit over-excited, momentarily forgetting his presidential candidate status. According to those who might know, there can't be much in the book that the public hasn't already read - except for some juicy tidbits possibly served up by Céilia exclusively to the author.

-

Paris, Friday, November 25 - Street Scenes -


































Matching Smart Cars on rue de Rivoli -

















Things are quiet behind La Samaritaine now that it has closed -

















Text and Photos, Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis


Posted by Alan at 13:08 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005 13:16 PST home


Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Reputation

The item in these pages - It Really is Always About Sex - was, in its final conclusions, about just that, but much leading up to that was about this mid-week news - In Legal Shift, U.S. Charges Detainee in Terrorism Case - "The Bush administration brought terrorism charges on Tuesday against Jose Padilla in a criminal court after holding him for three and a half years in a military brig as an enemy combatant once accused in a 'dirty bomb' plot."

The New York Times here didn't put it so bluntly, but comes down to the fact that Padilla was detained at Chicago's O'Hare airport in early 2002, and held as a "material witness" in New York, then our government, facing a legal deadline to defend this decision to hold him as a material witness indefinitely, labeled this guy an "enemy combatant" and shipped him off to a military brig - claiming congress gave the president full authority to do what was necessary to disarm Saddam and deal as he saw fit with any threats associated with terrorism – and thus they determined this fellow had no legal rights at all, as in no right to counsel or to be charged with a crime - even if he was an American citizen (he is a Brooklyn-born, or Chicago-born, former gang member who converted to Islam). They first said he was plotting to set off a "dirty bomb" – then there was some legal maneuvering and in June 2004, as the courts considered the case - can you hold an American citizen and take away all his rights on the president's word? - the government released a surprise document saying, well, no, the dirty bomb thing may have been a mistake - he was really plotting to blow up a particular apartment building, so throw away the key based on that. Now they're actually going for a criminal trial, with all the features that all of us think we as citizens have a right to, charging him with being part of "a broad conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas." This change of tactics was puzzling, but seemed a way to keep the issue of whether the president has this power - to suspend any citizen's legal rights as will - off the docket. Charge him with a lesser crime, so this issue goes away.

But that the guy was held for three and a half years without charges does matter to some of us bleeding-heart liberals (and to some conservatives), those of us who think this isn't how the country ought to be run, even if "everything changed after September 11" and all that. We kind of liked the constitution. It seemed like a fine document, laying out some "inalienable rights" that, even if rights asserted in the middle of the eighteenth century, were pretty good even now.

Over at MSNBC, Eric Alterman put it this way -
You know, if the Bush administration says it can pick up an American citizen off the street, hold him incommunicado, refuse him the right to a trial and refuse to explain what the nature of his crime is, I think this pretty much makes the United States Constitution inoperative. Sure, not many of us are likely to face the problems that Mr. Padilla faces, and for all I know he is a bad guy. But our Constitutional protections are supposed to apply to bad guys as much as good guys. What’s more these dishonest incompetent ideological extremists are almost always hiding something significant whenever they claim to be operating in our national security interests, and you’d have to be an idiot (or a White House reporter or a Fox News anchor) even to be able to pretend to believe them this time. I’m sure when this is over we will find out they are just covering up their own incompetence and dishonesty. But the lack of outcry over this naked police state tactic is one more example of how increasingly hollow are our claims to be an example to anyone of anything, save hypocrisy.
A bit overheated, but not wrong-headed.

But are these guys just covering up their own incompetence and dishonesty?

Seems so. Thanksgiving Day, the New York Times, citing "unnamed current and former government officials," ran a front page story saying there was indeed something else going on - the administration backed down from the more serious charges against Jose Padilla because the "Dirty Bomb" case relied on testimony of two al Qaeda suspects who are secretly being held by us at those "black sites" - and they gave their testimony while being tortured. An internal CIA report concluded that one of the men had talked while being subjected to what the Times call "excessive use" of waterboarding.

Oops. The item indicates the government decided they just could not have a trial that would raise the issue of whether we really could (or should) be kidnapping folks and torturing them. Now whether waterboarding is torture or not is in dispute. The subject is convinced he or she is drowning and will die, and always says anything at all, very quickly, to make it stop. But they don't die, usually, and no bones are broken and no major organs fail, so is it really torture? You can look up all the discussion of that. There are some internal government memos.

No opinion is offered here, but when you have to wonder what sort of country we've become when the discussion is whether we're doing something that seems like torture or something really very close but not quite the same thing - and no matter how you decide that, whether it is or is not a good thing, if it saves innocent lives. Were, say, one of our pilots captured and this technique used to find out what village would be bombed next so the other guys could get the women and children out and save innocent lives, would the definition change?

There's the question, too, of whether you use torture, or this almost-torture-but-not-quite-the same-thing, when the subject may be innocent and know nothing, but you're not sure. Should we do this in a sort of "exploratory" way, and be willing to say "sorry" if we're dealing with someone who turns out to be a nobody who knows nothing?

And do such techniques work? If the subject will say anything to make the pain stop or to stay alive, how do you evaluate what you hear?

And last year, Phil Carter here hit on another problem - obtaining information through torture makes criminal prosecution more difficult, if not impossible.
Any information gained through torture will almost certainly be excluded from court in any criminal prosecution of the tortured defendant. And, to make matters worse for federal prosecutors, the use of torture to obtain statements may make those statements (and any evidence gathered as a result of those statements) inadmissible in the trials of other defendants as well. Thus, the net effect of torture is to undermine the entire federal law enforcement effort to put terrorists behind bars. With each alleged terrorist we torture, we most likely preclude the possibility of a criminal trial for him, and for any of the confederates he may incriminate.
The courts have long recognized these techniques do not provide information that passes any test for veracity.

As pointed out here, recently CIA intelligence officers leaked information about CIA interrogation techniques and the "questionable confessions" that have been obtained through them. "They can tell you to the minute how long it will usually take before someone will give up information under different techniques. They also know that the information is as likely to be a lie as the truth."

So the prosecution of Padilla was jeopardized "by the means of collecting information against him," and these folks also don't want anyone to know any more details about how we are treating prisoners. We are not looking good around the world. So we get a lesser count.

How bad are we looking around the world? Try this:

Replant the American Dream
David Ignatius, The Washington Post, Friday, November 25, 2005 - Page A37

Okay, Ignatius started traveling all over as a foreign correspondent twenty-five years ago, and spins a tail of celebrating Thanksgiving here and there around the world, most times with a sentimental toast to America - and "more than once I had my foreign guests in tears." They loved the American dream as much as he did.

Now? -
I don't think Americans realize how much we have tarnished those ideals in the eyes of the rest of the world these past few years. The public opinion polls tell us that America isn't just disliked or feared overseas - it is reviled. We are seen as hypocrites who boast of our democratic values but who behave lawlessly and with contempt for others. I hate this America-bashing, but when I try to defend the United States and its values in my travels abroad, I find foreigners increasingly are dismissive. How do you deny the reality of Abu Ghraib, they ask, when the vice president of the United States is actively lobbying against rules that would ban torture?

Of all the reversals the United States has suffered in recent years, this may be the worst. We are slowly shredding the fabric that defines what it means to be an American.
Well, the counterargument is that what they think doesn't matter - everything changed on September 11, 2001, and we have to protect ourselves. And they never liked us much anyway. (But why did so many want to come here, and why do they still want to come here?)

In any event, this is what he's seen in recent years -
We inherited incredible riches of goodwill - a world that admired our values and wanted a seat at our table - and we have been squandering them. The Bush administration didn't begin this wasting of American ideals, but it has been making the problem worse. Certainly George W. Bush has been spending our international political capital at an astounding clip.

When I began traveling as a foreign correspondent ... I thought I understood what the face of evil looked like. There were governments that used torture against their enemies; they might call it "enhanced interrogation" or some other euphemism, but it was torture, and you just hoped, as an American, that you were never unlucky enough to be their prisoner. There were governments that "disappeared" people - snatched them off the street and put them without charges in secret prisons where nobody could find them. There were countries that threatened journalists with physical harm.
Yeah, and now we do all that. But the counterargument is that we have to do all that. See what "changed everything" above. The counterargument is that nostalgia is not reality.

Ignatius says this really should change, but the government is not going to do it. Who will? You and me -
I would love to see the Bush administration take the lead, but its officials seem not to understand the problem. Even if they turned course, much of the world wouldn't believe them. Sadly, when President Bush eloquently evokes our values, the world seems to tune out. So this task falls instead to the American public. It's a job that involves traveling, sharing, living our values, encouraging our children to learn foreign languages and work and study abroad. In short, it means giving something back to the world.

We must stop behaving as if we are in a permanent state of war, in which any practice is justified by the exigencies of the moment. That's my biggest problem with Vice President Cheney's anything-goes jeremiads against terrorism. They suggest we will always be at war, and so it doesn't matter what the world thinks of our behavior.

That's a dangerously mistaken view. We are in a long war but not an endless one, and we need to begin rebuilding the bridges to normal life.
Ah, had I funds I would gladly return to Paris, and get my meager French working again, and visit Prague, where my grandparents lived, and see if any of the Pittsburgh-tainted Czech comes back.

But anyone traveling and sharing and listening and knowing the language would now, of course, be seen as "the exception to the rule." It may be too late. The damage may be too deep.

We now have this reputation, and that will take more than a few "exceptions" to overcome.

We elected those who are proud that the public around the world hates us and their governments are thus reluctant to support us. They see that as a sign of strenghth - we have resolve and the balls to do what's hard to do when no one else will.

We've got three more years of such leadership. No one outside these borders will be impressed with a random curious and eccentric long-term visitor from America upstairs or down the street. They'll wait and see who we next elect as the man who represents just who we are. And that's a long way off.

Posted by Alan at 00:21 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005 09:22 PST home

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