Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When John Yoo Says You’ve Gone Too Far…

…then you know you’re way over the line on torture.

The White House counsel who wrote memos for the Bush administration defending the “enhanced interrogation techniques” told CNN on Sunday that what’s in the Senate torture report crossed the line.

Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo said the sleep deprivation, rectal feeding and other harsh treatment outlined in a U.S. Senate report last week could violate anti-torture laws.

“If these things happened as they’re described in the report … they were not supposed to be done. And the people who did those are at risk legally because they were acting outside their orders,” Yoo said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

It also sounds like Mr. Yoo is coming up with a legal defense strategy of his own.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Legal v. Moral

Justice Antonin Scalia told a Swiss radio interviewer that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly prohibit torture.

The 78-year-old justice says he doesn’t “think it’s so clear at all,” especially if interrogators were trying to find a ticking nuclear bomb.

Scalia says nothing in the Constitution appears to prohibit harsh treatment of suspected terrorists.

The Constitution doesn’t explicitly prohibit the mass murder of school children with assault rifles, either, yet I’m pretty sure that the people who wrote it were not in favor of it.  The Eighth Amendment does rule out “cruel and unusual punishment,” but to Justice Scalia, “rectal feeding” must be neither.  Okay….

Even if you accept his reasoning, just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Elephant in the Torture Room — Charlie Pierce on why the Senate torture report let the Bush administration off the hook.

The Iraq War always has been the elephant in the room as the investigations into the crimes of the last administration as regards torture were investigated. (Remember the default setting for that White House in its explanation for there having been no WMD’s was that the CIA screwed up and misinformed them.) Hanging this all on the CIA is to poke in the eye the institution wherein work the people who know how the intelligence used to lie this country into a calamitous war was barbered and stove-piped. They know where the memos are. Their memories are very good. They know the phone numbers of many reporters. It behooves the former president and his minions, no matter how unscathed they were left by the Senate report, to stay on the good side of people, even if that means cheering for torture on the television. And there is also one more reason for them to do it, more horrible than all the rest.

John McCain has come right up to the edge of saying it on a couple of occasions since the report was released. Many of the techniques used by this country in torturing its captives were not designed merely to produce actionable intelligence — and the report states clearly that very little of that was forthcoming anyway — but to produce confessions of any kind, whether that was for propaganda purposes or to furnish their captors with a ginned-up casus belli of their own. That was why the North Koreans used sleep deprivation on American GI’s. That was why the North Vietnamese trussed McCain up into stress positions.

I do not want to believe what I am about to write. I think it’s possible that the barbarians in the White House tortured people in order to produce statements they could use to validate further their bullshit case for their bullshit war. Even I don’t want to believe that we were ruled for eight years by that species of monster. If that is the case, however, somewhere at the CIA there’s a memo, and somewhere there’s somebody in a cubicle that knows where the memo is, and who knows the phone number of a reporter. I suspect the Christmas card list at the Cheney household will be lengthy for the next several decades.

Black Lives Didn’t Matter — Ta-Nehisi Coates on the genteel racism at The New Republic.

Earlier this year, [Franklin] Foer edited an anthology of TNR writings titled Insurrections of the Mind, commemorating the magazine’s 100-year history. “This book hasn’t been compiled in the name of definitiveness,” Foer wrote. “It was put together in the spirit of the magazine that it anthologizes: it is an argument about what matters.” There is only one essay in Insurrections that takes race as its subject. The volume includes only one black writer and only two writers of color. This is not an oversight. Nor does it mean that Foer is a bad human. On the contrary, if one were to attempt to capture the “spirit” of TNR, it would be impossible to avoid the conclusion that black lives don’t matter much at all.

That explains why the family rows at TNR’s virtual funeral look like the “Whites Only” section of a Jim Crow-era movie-house. For most of its modern history, TNR has been an entirely white publication, which published stories confirming white people’s worst instincts. During the culture wars of the ’80s and ’90s, TNR regarded black people with an attitude ranging from removed disregard to blatant bigotry. When people discuss TNR’s racism, Andrew Sullivan’s publication of excerpts from Charles Murray’s book The Bell Curve (and a series of dissents) gets the most attention. But this fuels the lie that one infamous issue stands apart. In fact, the Bell Curve episode is remarkable for how well it fits with the rest of TNR’s history.

The personal attitude of TNR’s longtime owner, the bigoted Martin Peretz, should be mentioned here. Peretz’s dossier of racist hits (mostly at the expense of blacks and Arabs) is shameful, and one does not have to look hard to find evidence of it in Peretz’s writing or in the sensibility of the magazine during his ownership. In 1984, long before Sullivan was tapped to helm TNR, Charles Murray was dubbing affirmative action a form of “new racism” that targeted white people.

Two years later, Washington Post writer Richard Cohen was roundly rebuked for advocating that D.C. jewelry stores discriminate against young black men—but not by TNR. The magazine took the opportunity to convene a panel to “reflect briefly” on whether it was moral for merchants to bar black men from their stores. (“Expecting a jewelry store owner to risk his life in the service of color-blind justice is expecting too much,” the magazine concluded.)

TNR made a habit of “reflecting briefly” on matters that were life and death to black people but were mostly abstract thought experiments to the magazine’s editors. Before, during, and after Sullivan’s tenure, the magazine seemed to believe that the kind of racism that mattered most was best evidenced in the evils of Afrocentrism, the excesses of multiculturalism, and the machinations of Jesse Jackson. It’s true that TNR’s staff roundly objected to excerpting The Bell Curve, but I was never quite sure why. Sullivan was simply exposing the dark premise that lay beneath much of the magazine’s coverage of America’s ancient dilemma.

[…]

Things got better after Peretz was dislodged. The retrograde politics were gone, but the “Whites Only” sign remained. I’ve been told that Foer was greatly pained by Peretz’s racism. I believe this. White people are often sincerely and greatly pained by racism, but rarely are they pained enough. That is not true because they are white, but because they are human. I know this, too well. Still, as of last week there were still no black writers on TNR’s staff, and only one on its masthead. Magazines, in general, have an awful record on diversity. But if TNR’s influence and importance was as outsized as its advocates claim, then the import of its racist legacy is outsized in the same measure. One cannot sincerely partake in heritage à la carte.

In this sense it is unfortunate to see anonymous staffers accusing TNR’s owner Chris Hughes of trying to create “another BuzzFeed.” If that is truly Hughes’s ambition, then—in at least one important way—he will have created a publication significantly more moral than anything any recent TNR editor ever has. No publication has more aggressively dealt with diversity than BuzzFeed. And not unrelated to this diversity has been a stellar range ofstorytellingand analysis, that could rival—if not best—the journalism in the latest iteration of TNR.

Real Capitolism — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

The banking giant Citigroup announced on Friday that it would move its headquarters from New York to the U.S. Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C., in early 2015.

Tracy Klugian, a spokesperson for Citi, said that the company had leased thirty thousand square feet of prime real estate on the floor of the House of Representatives and would be interviewing “world-class architects” to redesign the space to suit its needs.

According to sources, Citi successfully outbid other firms, including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, for the right to move its headquarters to the House floor.

The Citi spokesperson acknowledged that the extensive makeover of the House is expected to cost “in the millions,” but added, “It’s always expensive to open a new branch.”

Explaining the rationale behind the move, Klugian told reporters, “Instead of constantly flying out from New York to give members of Congress their marching orders, Citigroup executives can be right on the floor with them, handing them legislation and telling them how to vote. This is going to result in tremendous cost savings going forward.”

Klugian said that Citi’s chairman, Michael E. O’Neill, will not occupy a corner office on the House floor, preferring instead an “open plan” that will allow him to mingle freely with members of Congress.

“He doesn’t want to come off like he’s their boss,” the spokesperson said. “Basically, he wants to send the message, ‘We’re all on the same team. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get stuff done.’ ”

Doonesbury — Covering an epidemic.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

Room For Two

Dick Cheney is not going down alone.

Fox News anchor Bret Baier asked the former vice president whether the agency deliberately kept Bush in the dark about its so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

“Not true. Didn’t happen,” Cheney responded. “Read his book, he talks about it extensively in his memoirs. He was in fact an integral part of the program, he had to approve it before we went forward with it.”

Asked if there was ever a point where he knew more about the CIA’s activity than the President, Cheney said “I think he knew everything he needed to know and wanted to know about the program.”

As a sign of generosity, he’ll let Mr. Bush have the top bunk in the cell at The Hague.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In Our Name

The executive summary of the CIA torture report from the Senate Intelligence Committee will hit the streets this morning, but the reaction to it is already hitting the fan.

Various senators of both parties are worried that our enemies will use it as justification for attacks against American embassies around the world.  The Obama administration has already put them on heightened alert, which is a prudent thing to do, but it’s not as if we don’t already know what’s in the report and if anyone was going to hit back at us for doing what we did, they would have done it already.

It is right to be concerned about the response.  We already know that some very bad people will exploit the report for their own ends or use it to justify attacks on the administration.  And I don’t mean just Dick Cheney and the GOP; I’m talking about ISIS and their ilk.  But, to echo Paul Waldman, acknowledging the horrors done in our name should make us accountable for what was done.

The darkest chapters in our history and the most outrageous government decisions and programs eventually move from a place of contestation to a place of consensus in public debate. Outside of a few fringe extremists, no one today holds the position that slavery, the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, Jim Crow, or the witch hunts of McCarthyism were the right and proper thing for America to do. The Bush torture program may not be even remotely close in scale to those atrocities. But just as there is now consensus that all of those things are moral blots on the country’s history, if the full truth about torture comes out, a consensus could eventually emerge that this, too, is an unambiguous stain.

The cynicism necessary to attempt to blame the blowback from their torture program on those who want it exposed is truly a wonder. On one hand, they insist that they did nothing wrong and the program was humane, professional, and legal. On the other they implicitly accept that the truth is so ghastly that if it is released there will be an explosive backlash against America. Then the same officials who said “Freedom isn’t free!” as they sent other people’s children to fight in needless wars claim that the risk of violence against American embassies is too high a price to pay, so the details of what they did must be kept hidden.

The world already knows what we did.  We already know who ordered it and who should be held responsible for what happened then.  But like they say in every rehab program, the first and most vital step is admitting we have a problem.  The rest is recovery.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Out of Gas

A story in the New York Times revealed that American soldiers found rotting, rusting, and forgotten chemical weapons shells that the U.S. had sold to Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran in the 1980’s.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of international will and at the world’s risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims.

Then, during the long occupation, American troops began encountering old chemical munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, they were remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.

All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them.

In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.

No, wingnuts, this does not prove that President Bush was right about WMD’s all along.  It’s roughly the same as finding an old Soviet warhead from World War II buried in a backyard in Warsaw and claiming that Mikhail Gorbachev was plotting to invade Poland.

The real crime is that the Pentagon for whatever reason decided not to train their soldiers on how to deal with the old ordnance when they encountered them, and covered up the injuries when they did.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Short Takes

Israel: Security forces from Israel fought with Palestinian citizens after a revenge killing of a Palestinian teen.

Homeland Security raised the alert level at several airports overseas that have direct flights to the U.S.

The Federal Privacy Board said the N.S.A. program to monitor foreigners is legal.

Boston Pops moving up their 4th of July show to tonight.

Tropical Update: TS Arthur will be a hurricane by this afternoon.

The Tigers swept the A’s 9-3.  Still on top of the division.

Thursday, May 29, 2014