Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Journalist Undergoes Torture, but not Hannity

Last week, perhaps joking around, perhaps not, Sean Hannity told Charles Grodin, on air, that he would let himself be waterboarded for charity with the proceeds to benefit military families. The offer arose from a discussion of the danger to the military from taking waterboarding out of the arsenal of tools available in the fight against terrorism.

Hannity's long time nemesis, Keith Olbermann, immediately took him up on it and offered Hannity $1,000 for each second that he was able to endure the waterboarding and would double the amount if he would admit, on air, that waterboarding is in fact torture. Not surprisingly, neither Hannity nor Fox News has responded.

For those who think the challenge from Keith Olbermann to Sean Hannity is theater - which it is, but not just theater - and that waterboarding isn't really torture, you should read Christopher Hitchen's take on the process of waterboarding. As he says, quite emphatically, "The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered."

To better understand what everyone was talking about, Mr. Hitchens, a journalist, asked to be waterboarded. His story detailing his experience appeared in the August 2008 issue of Vanity Fair Magazine titled Believe Me, It's Torture

"...I had read that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, invariably referred to as the “mastermind” of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, had impressed his interrogators by holding out for upwards of two minutes before cracking. (By the way, this story is not confirmed. My North Carolina friends jeered at it. “Hell,” said one, “from what I heard they only washed his damn face before he babbled.”) But, hell, I thought in my turn, no Hitchens is going to do worse than that. Well, O.K., I admit I didn’t outdo him. And so then I said, with slightly more bravado than was justified, that I’d like to try it one more time."
Even knowing what to expect, even knowing before the first episode and even more so before the second, Mr. Hitchens said afterwards:

"...Steeling myself to remember what it had been like last time, and to learn from the previous panic attack, I fought down the first, and some of the second, wave of nausea and terror but soon found that I was an abject prisoner of my gag reflex. The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it."
We still don't know how long Mr. Hitchens endured the watering. We do know from his story, that from an experience that lasted for seconds, under controlled conditions, knowing that all times he was completely safe, he developed symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Do we want to stop terrorism? Then we need to stop being terrorists.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Officer's Obligation by Matthew Alexander

Matthew Alexander writes about torture from an officer's perspective in An Officer's Obligation and provides what should be required reading for all the talking heads at Fox News, David Broder at the Washington Post, Bill Kristol, and Karl Rove. Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity should be required to read this on-air, Beck without any of his cutesy facial contortions and sad-sack put on.

They are fond of talking about the Constitution, about our soldiers, about how Obama has put the soldiers at risk by banning the use of torture, by releasing information on the practices of the Bush Administration, that the liberal right and the Democrats are somehow anti-veterans because of their deliberate mis-reading of a report written during the Bush Administration that states that returning veterans might be at risk of being recruited by right-wing extremist terrorist groups.

They so (deliberately I believe) misunderstand the military, the veterans, and the Constitution, that I'm not sure they could understand Mr. Alexander's point when he says:

Military officers have a sacred responsibility that is embedded in their oath of office: "I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same..."
He goes on to explain how:

The Constitution specifically prohibits cruelty to any person in the Eighth Amendment ... unusual punishments inflicted"). Those officers who ordered, authorized, or were complicit in the torture and abuse of prisoners violated their oath of office. The United States has a rich history of military ethics dating back to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. According to General Washington, "Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country." He said this in 1775, during a time when the birth of our nation hung in the balance.
Probably his most important point, is as he speaks about the capture and interrogations of detainees in Iraq, men who did not provide valuable information. Mr. Alexander speaks about the value of these detainees as opportunities for his men to learn to improve their skills, to become better interrogators. He said:

We are Americans and we are smart enough to win the battle of wits in the interrogation room. We cannot afford to doubt our abilities. We should focus on improving our methods within the legal framework of Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution. And military officers have a heightened responsibility to effect change and to lead our interrogator corps to its full potential. We are smart enough.
Mr. Alexander understands, in a way that the talking heads and politicians do not, that interrogation is about trust, not torture. That as a country of law, be are no better than terrorists is we use their tactics is we give up the law in order to protect it.

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We don't want retribution. We want justice.

How long does this conversation go on? And at what point do the talking heads and Republicans finally catch sight of the mirror and see how foolish they really are?

Ex-vice president Cheney has stated that yes, we waterboarded. The recently released OLC memos listed 10 different procedures that certainly meet the definition of torture according to those who read them. The FBI Director was so certain that the activities described in those memos was torture that he refused to allow any employee of the FBI to participate. The recently released Senate Report states that torture occured. More documents state that two detainees were waterboarded over 200 times in a period of 1 month.

It's pretty clear that torture occured.

Eric Holder, during his confirmation hearings in February 2009 stated unequivocally that, "yes, waterboarding is torture."

Thus, I am stunned to hear Mr. Holder, the Democratic leadership, and President Obama dancing around the issue, continuing to use the phrase "enhanced interogation" and talking about the need for a thorough review, proper analysis, and complete understanding of everything that occurred before any decisions about prosecutions are made. President Obama states that pursuing this is retribution. What? Criminal prosecution is retribution? This, from a constitutional lawyer?

We do not want retribution. We want justice. We are not too busy. Congress had the time to impeach President Clinton. They had the time to investigate everything that the Clintons ever did including anyone who ever associated with them (and I would add, found no wrongdoing, ever - oh excuse me. President Clinton lied under oath about having sex). I think we can take the time to investigate the Bush administrations commission of war crimes.

This issue will not go away. We will not be quiet. As Americans, torture was done in our name and as such, we have the right to hold those responsible accountable.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Update Anonymity

I wrote Anonymity awhile ago on a previous blog, but brought it over hear as it appears to be topical still.


What happens when we think we’re anonymous, but we’re not? As bloggers, we choose to be anonymous for many reasons, but I think that most share the desire to be judged by the content of our words and ideas, rather than the labels that we wear. What happens to the content of our words and ideas then, if we are no longer anonymous? If those reasons are more than shyness or a desire for privacy?

Studies have shown that the brain and thought are closely linked. The process of learning causes a neural pathway to be opened, such pathway carved wider and deeper each time we “re-think” that piece of information. Thus the virtue of study, of repetition, of practice.

Persons engaged in scientific research using human subjects, pollsters, attorneys, psychologists, and others whose work involves the questioning of others, know that it is very easy to taint the answers to questions by the very nature of the questions asked. That no hypothesis can ever be proven because no condition can be truly replicated. Life has happened. Test subjects do not exist in stasis waiting for the next experiment.

Pollsters–or perhaps I should say dishonest pollsters–know the value of push-polling to generate the answers they want (witness McCain’s loss in 2000).The point, is that how we think, and what we think, is changed by what happens around us. When we are anonymous, we can speak truth to power. We can open our minds, our hearts, our very souls if we so desire. I imagine that most bloggers have few readers and are content with the opportunity to unburden themselves behind the screen, knowing that they are perfectly safe.

When we are no longer anonymous - particularly when we are no longer anonymous through the actions of others - our thinking changes. We wonder who that we know is reading our words. We wonder if our boss, or our neighbor, or our friend is reading what we write. If what we write is different from the conventional thinking in our community, our workplace, our home. If so, then we are at risk. Perhaps that risk is minor - embarrassment, teasing, whispers behind hands. But perhaps that risk is major - job loss, loss of friends, shunning, bricks through windows, or worse?

We choose our own risks. We decide who we want to be when we join this internet community. We have a unique opportunity in a unique moment in history to speak and have an equal opportunity to be heard. We may speak truth to power. We may be as insightful or as trite as we choose. It is our diary, our newsletter, our boring annual Christmas letter listing our children’s accomplishments written daily. If we can, we can be heard and listened to by many.

We all have the same chance, limited only by the quality of our writing, our thinking, and our research. We are limited only by our ability to capture the interest and imagination of others. As we do, we decide who we are, who we want to be, who we allow in and how far we allow them into our lives. Just as we decide who we want to be and the risks we want to take, and what those risks are, we must allow others the same. Are their risks the same? Are the consequences of voicing my opinions the same as for someone else? Who knows? We can’t know. We don’t know. And that is why, it is the height of arrogance for anyone to decide that they know the answer to any of those questions for anyone but themselves.

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David Broder - Stop Scapegoating?

Today, David Broder wrote an editorial in the Washington Post Stop Scapegoating:Obama Should Stand Against Prosecutions

Like many (most?) these days, Mr. Broder has forgotten the part in the Constitution that explains the three branches to our government—the legislative, the judicial, and the administrative, and why. He has also forgotten that in addition to having three branches, the importance of maintaining a wall between the judicial and administrative branches. He states,

One administration later, a different group of individuals occupying the same offices has -- thankfully -- made the opposite decision. Do they now go back and investigate or indict their predecessors?

That way, inevitably, lies endless political warfare. It would set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness -- and injustice.

Suppose that Obama backs down and Holder or someone else starts hauling Bush administration lawyers and operatives into hearings and courtrooms.

It’s been so long since we’ve had that wall, that President Obama’s involvement in the discussion of investigation and prosecution of torture has seemed reasonable and normal, and most people continue to claim that the Bush Administration’s use of torture was a reasonable response to 9/11 and a policy decision. Thus, any response by the Obama Administration—including from the Dept. of Justice—is a policy difference: a political decision based on differences in policy.

Suppose the investigators decide that the country does not want to see the former president and vice president in the dock. Then underlings pay the price while big shots go free. But at some point, if he is at all a man of honor, George W. Bush would feel bound to say: That was my policy. I was the president. If you want to indict anyone for it, indict me. [emphasis added]

In all the discussion amongst all the Washington pundit class, this is probably the most amusing statement I have heard recently. Of course, Mr. Broder, the Dean of the Pundits, the coolest, calmest, most reasoned head of the punditry, is the wise man on the mountain who is looked to to provide the voice of reason when all about him have been reduced to a chattering class.

Tell me Mr. Broder. When has Mr. Bush ever been bound to say, that was my policy, I was the president? When has Mr. Bush ever said, I was wrong, I accept responsibility? When asked if he regretted that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Mr. Bush replied that he regretted that they hadn’t been found. When asked if he regretted the delay in responding to Hurricane Katrina, he stated that they saved 30,000 people off the roofs of houses. He refused to explain why early warnings were ignored, why response was late, and limited. And why, years later, the majority of the funds appropriated for Katrina relief were still not spent? He has, to this day, not ever, not once, said, “I’m wrong, I made a mistake, I’m sorry.” About anything. Ever.

And you expect him to be a man of honor? To think of those who served under him? Take off your blinders Mr. Broder. His actions speak quite loud enough, thank you very much.

Secretly, right before the inauguration, he gave secret memos to Harriet Miers and Karl Rove (and who knows how others) forcing them to claim executive privilege should they be called to testify before Congress. A privilege, by the way, that Harriet Miers at least, knew wouldn’t stand up to legal scrutiny. And more telling, prior to leaving office, he refused to give Presidential immunity to anyone for committing or authorizing acts of torture. He could have, and could have very easily. Why didn’t he. Oh yeah. If he did, then he would have had to admit “we do not commit torture” was a lie. He told a lot of lies, but that was one of the few where he looked right into the camera and very firmly, clearly, and loudly, stated a declarative sentence that could in no way be spun or later massaged into meaning something else.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

The Serial Stupidity of Congressional Republicans

Wow. These Congresspeople are really on a roll. It’s hard to keep up with their serial idiocy. My mama always told me not to call people names, and to never, ever, call people an idiot. But really. What can I do? Yesterday, they tried to get Hillary to answer a non-question with a yes or a no. Don’t these people have a Freshman Congressperson 101 class? Basic Committee Skills? Simple Interview Skills? Don’t they understand the difference between an open and a closed question? You can’t ask an open ended question and then demand a yes or no answer. Well, yes you can. But you only succeed in making yourself look really stupid.

Rep. Joe Barton (R) Texas at a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday, asked Dr. Steven Chu, Energy Secretary, where Alaska got its oil and gas. The little smirk and phrasing used were a clear signal that this was a set-up of some sort. The ‘expert’ (Mr. Barton) was going to ‘get’ Dr. Chu. And the fact that he posted this video clip with the heading “Where Does Oil Come From? Question Leaves Energy Secretary Puzzled” tells us that he he did. He thinks.

Check this out.

What an idiot. And I don’t mean Dr. Chu, who by the way, has a Nobel Prize, and was clearly not puzzled or confused. What he was, was trying not to fall out of his chair laughing while answering another stupid question from a Congressman trying to play “gotcha” politics and make himself look good and gather campaign clips (which by the way, I hope his opponent has bookmarked for the next campaign!).

See? I can’t help myself. If they’re going to get together and plan ways to make themselves look like idiots in committee, then post the video on YouTube, what can I do? Rep. Joe Barton, another Serial Idiot.

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Jonathan Mann of Rockcookiebottom has a goal to write a song a day and has put the OCL memos to music. Something that should generate a Glenn Beck/Hannity/O’Reilly comment or three. His previous tunes have included my personal favorite “Hey Paul Krugman” recently featured on the Rachel Maddow Show, and “You’re Doing it Right, Jon Stewart.”

For a good source of interesting and topical clips each day, plus his great “Mental Health Break” video finds–including one of the few conservative voices I can stomach–Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish is perhaps the longest running voice for accountability on the subject of torture in the Bush administration. His blog today brings us this clip from Mann.

Putting torture to music somehow makes that torture even more evil. It reminds me of the orchestras playing in the death camps of World War II where music was an integral part of most of the camps. Some say it was to lull the prisoners on their arrival, others to dupe them as they entered the ’showers,’ but the consensus from the surviving orchestra members, is that the prison guards simply enjoyed listening to music as they went about their daily tasks. The juxtaposition of music and torture, music and evil is somehow appropriate as it is because of these guards and their ‘just doing their jobs’ that brought about the trials at Nuremburg and the revisions to the Geneva Conventions in 1949.

And so we have gone full circle. If we need any justification for investigation and prosecution it is this. The circle will turn, and turn again. We have prosecuted and convicted and yet, our leaders felt justified and comfortable in committing torture in our name.

For more information about music in the camps in WWII, go here

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