Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Conservatives: Where to now?

Too busy today for blogging, but I can jot down some musings on the future of the GOP. Predictions are easy!

Some blog commenter the other day complained about the GOP that there's a contradiction between the economic hands-off approach of conservatives, and their moralistic hands-on approach.

Of course, this fellow was shouted down by the faithful, who pointed out the lack of any logical contradiction. But I think those faithful were missing a clue to the level of sophistication of many a voter.

The GOP has lost its national-security credentials, and is finding out how much it needed those to hold the center. What's left is the uneasy alliance of economic and social conservatives.

I think that we will see the GOP revive and prosper when it takes a hands-off approach in general. Gays want to get married? "Fine, go do it and hush up." Someone wants to get an abortion? "Not in my family, I teach my children better." Wilsonian Democrats want to invade some country? "Let the foreigners solve their own problems."

Not that this strain of thought doesn't have its own problems, but it's a lot more appealing to a certain part of the American character than the Republicans For Jesus bandwagon from which pragmatic Republicans keep tumbling off.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Simple-minded about venality

Tim Fernholz writes about Simon Johnson (via DeLong), and quotes some alarmingly naive Johnson critics:
Like another Johnson critic, Harvard's Dani Rodrik, has argued, [Martin] Wolf believes that free-market ideology, rather than the power of moneyed interests, plays a major role in the problem. While conceding that interest group politics is important, both Rodrik and Wolf cite John Maynard Keynes, who famously said that "practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist," to argue that the aggressively laissez-faire policies of the last three decades were driven not just by profit, but by an honestly acquired, if damaging, worldview.

"It really isn't true that Chicago economists and Alan Greenspan and all of these people had the ideas they had about the world because they were venal," Rodrik says. "They didn't do it because they were bought by anybody. They made these policy choices … because they had certain ideas about the way the world works."
Let us concede, arguendo, the good faith of Greenspan and the Chicago economists and their ilk.

Now, how did those people come to be in positions of power?

Because politicians and financiers genuinely respected the purity of their "ideas about how the world works," and decided to heed their advice and put them in power, irrespective of their own political and financial benefit?

Apparently the answer of Wolf and Rodrik is "yes." Good heavens.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Torture timeline -- April 2002 ... or earlier?

We saw last week that CIA was meeting with NSA as early as May 2002 to seek authority to torture prisoners. An excellent Newsweek item on Ali Soufan, the FBI agent whose interrogation of Zubaydah was cut short by CIA torturers, pushes the timeline back further:
As Soufan tells the story, he challenged a CIA official at the scene about the agency's legal authority to do what it was doing. "We're the United States of America, and we don't do that kind of thing," he recalls shouting at one point. But the CIA official, whom Soufan refuses to name because the agent's identity is still classified, brushed aside Soufan's concerns. He told him in April 2002 that the aggressive techniques already had gotten approval from the "highest levels" in Washington, says Soufan. The official even waved a document in front of Soufan, saying the approvals "are coming from Gonzales," a reference to Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel and later the attorney general. (A lawyer for Gonzales declined to comment.)

What this document was--and what, exactly, it authorized--is unclear. Soufan notes that, at that point, there had not been any talk in his presence of waterboarding, the most extreme of the techniques. But, as he later told Justice Department investigators, Soufan considered the methods he witnessed to be "borderline torture." A CIA spokesman declined to comment on what Soufan may have been shown, but wrote in an e-mail to NEWSWEEK: "The Aug. 1, 2002, memo from the Department of Justice wasn't the first piece of legal guidance for the [interrogation] program." "There are still gaping holes in the record," says Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who spearheaded the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that forced the disclosure of the Justice memos. The ACLU is now suing for further disclosures.
If May 2002 is when CIA went to NSA with its story of imminent attack, and if that was a cover story for torturing an Iraq-Qaeda link out of the prisoners, then pressure on CIA from Cheney/Rumsfeld would have happened sometime before May.

The article also supports the inference that Gitmo officials knew there were more effective methods than torture, but chose to ignore that:
Soufan became a teacher for other interrogators. McFadden says that in early 2002, Soufan flew to Guantánamo to conduct a training course. He gave a powerful talk, preaching the virtues of the FBI's traditional rapport-building techniques. Not only were such methods the most effective, Soufan explained that day, they were critical to maintaining America's image in the Middle East. "The whole world is watching what we do here," Soufan said. "We're going to win or lose this war depending on how we do this." As he made these comments, about half the interrogators in the room--those from the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies--were "nodding their heads" in agreement, recalls McFadden. But the other half—CIA and military officers—sat there "with blank stares. It's like they were thinking, This is bullcrap. Their attitude was, 'You guys are cops; we don't have time for this'."
If you haven't got time to do it right, do you have time to be indicted for war crimes?

One more piece of the puzzle: James Mitchell, ardent advocate of reverse-engineering SERE into a torture program, a man who had never himself conducted an actual interrogation, appears to have made Soufan's acquanintance:
... the tenor of the Abu Zubaydah interrogations changed a few days later, when a CIA contractor showed up. Although Soufan declined to identify the contractor by name, other sources (and media accounts) identify him as James Mitchell, a former Air Force psychologist who had worked on the U.S. military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training--a program to teach officers how to resist the abusive interrogation methods used by Chinese communists during the Korean War. Within days of his arrival, Mitchell--an architect of the CIA interrogation program--took charge of the questioning of Abu Zubaydah. He directed that Abu Zubaydah be ordered to answer questions or face a gradual increase in aggressive techniques. One day Soufan entered Abu Zubadyah's room and saw that he had been stripped naked; he covered him with a towel.

The confrontations began. "I asked [the contractor] if he'd ever interrogated anyone, and he said no," Soufan says. But that didn't matter, the contractor shot back: "Science is science. This is a behavioral issue." The contractor suggested Soufan was the inexperienced one. "He told me he's a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works." Mitchell told NEWSWEEK, "I would love to tell my story." But then he added, "I have signed a nondisclosure agreement that will not even allow me to correct false allegations."
Oh, by all means, let's release him from that.

... Okay, gotta get to work, but Emptywheel ratchets back the clock to "December 2001 or January 2002":
In December 2001 or January 2002, a retired Air Force SERE psychologist, Dr. James Mitchell, [redaction that I bet talks about a CIA contract] asked his former colleague, the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, Dr. John "Bruce" Jessen, to review documents describing al Qaeda resistance training. The two psychologists reviewed the materials, [half line redacted], and generated a paper on al Qaeda resistance capabilities and countermeasures to defeat that resistance. * * *

[classification redaction] Mr. Witsch stated that he worked with Dr. Jessen to develop a set of briefing slides for the [acronym redacted] training. The Department of Defense provided the Committee with slide presentations that appeared to have been produced by JPRA for the March 8, 2002 training. Mr. Witsch testified that the two slide presentations (1) [half line redacted--elsewhere this appears unredacted as Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training: Contingency Training for (redacted) Personnel] Based on Recently Obtained Al Qaeda Documents" and (2) "Exploitation" -- appeared to be the same as those used by JPRA in the March 8, 2002 training.
Emptywheel (whose bracketed comments those are) ties this to Jane Mayer's reporting of
a CIA officer who could not be identified, whom a colleague at the Agency described as "a nobody--a pocket-protector-wearing Joe Molecule" who was "in charge of the shrinks on the science side," [who] turned to the former SERE school psychologists. Having retired from the military and been sidelined from the war on terror, Mitchell and Jessen were eager to get involved. "Mike knew these guys," the source working with the intelligence community recounted," and when his colleagues were wimps, he said they would fit the bill."
Torture was not an ad hoc response to uncooperative prisoners. It was something planned for from 9/12/2001, if not sooner. Around the same time that Cheney and Rumsfeld were conceiving the Iraq War.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, urged President Bush to consider bombing Iraq almost immediately after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, says a former senior aide.

Richard Clarke, the White House counter-terrorism coordinator at the time, has revealed details of a meeting the day after the attacks during which officials considered the US response. Already, he said, they were certain al-Qa'ida was to blame and there was no hint of Iraqi involvement. "Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq," Mr Clarke said. "We all said, 'No, no, al-Qa'ida is in Afghanistan.'"

But Mr Clarke, who is expected to testify on Tuesday before a federal panel reviewing the attacks, said Mr Rumsfeld complained in the meeting that "there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq." A spokesman for Mr Rumsfeld last night said he could not comment immediately.
More to come on all this, one suspects.

Torture and the Iraq War

One of the many things we've been unable to mention re: the torture memos, is the circumstantial evidence that waterboarding etc. were authorized because our prisoners were not confirming the Iraq-Qaeda link so dear to the hearts of Bush and Cheney.

Andrew Sullivan (and Frank Rich) point us towards this passage from the SASC report (still unread by me, alas), in which Major Paul Burney, an Army shrink assigned to Gitmo, states:
[T]his is my opinion, even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful in establishing a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link ... there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.
I.e., different results. Getting the wrong answer? Torture gives you the right answer. You say you're not a witch? Let's see what you say after we ....

N.b. that this quotation concerns Gitmo, not the CIA black sites where Zubaydah and KSM were held. But see this McClatchy story from last week, which quotes Burney and an unnamed "former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue" who
said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.
That provides the Cheney impetus behind CIA's push to allow torture. The "impending attack" rationale provided to the NSA, on that theory, was simply a cover story.

The way to get that on the record, of course, would be to indict some of the CIA folks who pushed that cover story. But it seems we're not doing that?

(Query: distinguish from torture the practice of indicting small fry to catch big fish.)

... This btw is the best explanation yet why the waterboarding videos had to be destroyed. How many of the questions were, "Tell us about Saddam's support for Osama"? Enough to look pretty damn bad, I suspect.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I'm terribly sorry about those valid, dubious legal conclusions I signed!

Jay Bybee's friends are letting it be known that the good judge is really, really sorry about his role in bringing the United States down to the level of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Good luck with the charm offensive, y'all.

But if we're supposed to decide he shouldn't be impeached for lacking the legal and moral competence for the federal bench, "help" like this is counterproductive:
Tuan Samahon, a former clerk who recalled Bybee's remarks at the reunion dinner, said in an e-mail that the judge defended the legal reasoning behind the memos but not the policy decision.
Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, which filed a freedom-of-information request regarding the latest memos, said any distinction Bybee may make between the logic of the memos and their application in secret prisons is theoretical at best.

"I don't think the August 2002 memos reflect serious attempts to grapple in good faith with the law," Jaffer said. "These are documents that are meant to justify predetermined ends. They're not objective legal memos at all."
Indeed. Which makes Bybee's efforts to downplay his responsibility all the more repugnant.
"I got the impression that he was not pleased with that bit of scholarship," said an associate who asked not be identified sharing private conversations. "I don't know that he 'owned it.' . . . The way he put it was: He was head of the OLC, and it was written, and he was not pleased with it."

"But he signed it," said Chris Blakesley, a friend and fellow professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas Boyd School of Law who was outraged by the memo, which was leaked in May 2004.

"The very evening it came out, we were going to dinner, and I told him how awful it was and I hoped he got a chance to repudiate it," Blakesley said. "He didn't say very much, and it was kind of awkward because our families were there."

"Getting to the personal side of him, my sense is he would love to repudiate them all," Blakesley said. "Which gets to: Why'd you sign it?"
A question the article does not answer in so many words, but I'll give the author credit for the ending:
Bybee's friends said he never sought the job at the Office of Legal Counsel. The reason he went back to Washington, [Bybee friend Randall] Guynn said, was to interview with then-White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales for a slot that would be opening on the 9th Circuit when a judge retired. The opening was not yet there, however, so Gonzales asked, "Would you be willing to take a position at the OLC first?" Guynn said.
Ambition explains a lot.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bad apples. Bad branches. Bad tree. Bad fucking orchard.

Scott Horton draws attention to
an amazing document that Attorney General Eric Holder released yesterday, which has still gained little attention. The Holder note presents a summary of CIA interaction with the White House in connection with the approval of the torture techniques that John Yoo calls the “Bush Program.” Holder’s memo refers to the participants by their job titles only, but John Sifton runs it through a decoder and gives us the actual names.
Maybe I've missed this before, but this seems huge to me. Observe:
“[The] CIA’s Office of General Counsel [this would include current Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods [on Abu Zubaydah] that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S. military and intelligence community. At this meeting, the CIA proposed particular alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.”

The report continues to implicate more Bush officials: “On July 13, 2002, according to CIA records, attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel [including Rizzo] met with the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [Bellinger], a Deputy Assistant Attorney General from OLC [likely John Yoo], the head of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice [Michael Chertoff], the chief of staff to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [Kenneth Wainstein], [Who he? -TBA] and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] to provide an overview of the proposed interrogation plan for Abu Zubaydah.”
Wowzers. We had assumed, ever since the first August 2002 torture memo came out, that such shoddy "advice" had to be written for the purpose of authorizing what someone had already decided to do. But this is the first thing that, in essence, confirms that was the case.

(Yes, in theory, CIA could've had this wish list but still been ready to drop it if OLC said no, and OLC could've been advising in good faith that all this was really okay ... if you believe that, I have some excellent mortgage-backed securities I'd like to sell you (and yes, I believe I have used that joke before, but no one reads my cruddy blog, so HAH)).

So, the $64,000 question: Where's Cheney? None of these people were Cheney's or Addington's creatures. Is Cheney less culpable than we'd imagined? Or -- and this is certainly what I'd expect CIA to say, but their motives are suspect -- did CIA "originate" this request at the behest of the Office of the Vice-President?

Scooter Libby had Addington's job back then, right? We suspected Cheney couldn't afford to let Libby go to prison -- the day the marshals came to pick him up, Libby might have started remembering a lot of things.

Like a good neighbor, Obama was there

Daniel Larison of The American Conservative, writing at The Week, is a welcome antidote to the Fox-News hyperventilating dumbassery re: Obama's recent South American jaunt:
During the Summit of the Americas last week, Obama avoided the hectoring condescension that all too often marked American foreign policy during the Bush years. Instead, he demonstrated that the American case can be made with a combination of humility and accountability. This shift in tone happens to be the best path for improving America’s reputation abroad, and for increasing U.S. influence. In fact, it has already had the effect of reducing tensions with Russia, opening doors for collaboration with alienated allies such as Turkey, and isolating inveterate critics of the United States to the margins of international discourse.

Most controversially, Obama last week met and shook hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who continues to consolidate his power and tighten control over Venezuelan civil society. Obama also chose not to answer Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s long tirade against U.S. policy. This has led to accusations that Obama has encouraged authoritarian and left-wing leaders in Latin America while discouraging their political opposition. But such complaints fail to grasp that these leaders have always thrived on demonization by Washington.
This is exactly right, and welcome coming from Larison, who is no Obama fan. What strikes me is that FDR took exactly the same approach in his "Good Neighbor" policy (as I was just reading in Herring's From Colony to Superpower last night). That similarity points us to Larison's observation as to what is really ticking off the wingnuts:
Most important, Obama’s willingness to acknowledge America’s past tendency to dismiss the views of allies and to disrespect legitimate foreign interests reflects a degree of self-confidence that has been oddly lacking in the strongest advocates of U.S. hegemony. This is especially notable for a Democratic president--who often feel must prove their hawkishness. Instead of the almost-obsessive need to celebrate American achievements, Obama’s handling of foreign relations has shown a steady, humble confidence in the United States. This is a refreshing departure from foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, as well as from some of Obama’s own more aggressive campaign rhetoric. In contrast to that familiar Democratic “defensive crouch” on matters of national security, Obama has acted as a leader who feels no need to overcompensate for any perceived weakness and no need to apologize for giving priority to rebuilding damaged international relations with both allies and rivals. Indeed, it seems that the problem Obama’s critics have with him is not that he has been admitting American mistakes, but that he has failed to cringe and apologize to them for pursuing the course of action he thinks best for the United States.
Exactly. What maddens the Hannitys and O'Reillys is that Obama doesn't care what they think ... and neither do most Americans. The Fox crowd has internalized the "Democrats are pussies" meme so strongly that they don't know what to do with a non-pussy Democrat. (By which I do not of course mean any biological distinction b/t Obama and Hillary Clinton.)

... Speaking of which, non-biological sense I mean, note this from Emptywheel (whose blog, btw, you should be reading for the top-notch torture-memo coverage which TBA has so conspicuously failed to provide). The feds are going to quit blocking release of further photos of detainee abuse (it's not clear whether these are the photos said to be too shocking to release):
Whether you believe Obama is impeding investigation or playing 11 dimension chess to set it up without looking like the bad guy, his policy on FOIA has already begun to open up the floodgates that may enable public opinion make this happen.
I am reluctant to attribute to Obama the godlike subtlety that his more fervent supporters seem to see, but it would be fascinating if his backtracking on a truth commission, etc., was part of a tactic to seem to be dragged into investigating these crimes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Not dead, only resting (well, not that either, really)

Wow. A veritable torturepalooza in the media this week, combining with the regrettable misapprehensions of certain judges (ahem), has made it nigh impossible to post anything meaningful here.

Soon I hope to at least get a list of relevant links up for my own future reference, if nothing else; but don't miss ex-FBI agent Ali Soufan on the Zubaydah case (corroborated by Phil Zelikow). The torture memos were originally premised on Zubaydah's resistance to standard interrogation; Soufan and Zelikow call bullshit on that premise.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's not socialism, it's common-damn-sense

Judge Richard Posner, the "law-and-economics-(but-not-necessarily-in-that-order)" libertarian judge, the judge who's too smart to be on the Supreme Court ... says this:
Some conservatives believe that the depression is the result of unwise government policies. I believe it is a market failure. The government's myopia, passivity, and blunders played a critical role in allowing the recession to balloon into a depression, and so have several fortuitous factors. But without any government regulation of the financial industry, the economy would still, in all likelihood, be in a depression; what we have learned from the depression has shown that we need a more active and intelligent government to keep our model of a capitalist economy from running off the rails. The movement to deregulate the financial industry went too far by exaggerating the resilience--the self-healing powers--of laissez-faire capitalism.
Well knock me over with a feather. Almost as shocking as Alan Greenspan's admission that Ayn Rand's philosophy might not be the final word on real-life markets.

To the extent schmucks like me can figure it out, the problem is that Wall Street guys knew that short-term, they could reap huge bonuses, and long-term ... well, why think about the long term?

I believe in markets. I believe that people follow incentives. Which is why, where bad incentives threaten to lead to economic depressions of Biblical proportions, I think government needs to regulate to reduce the bad incentives. Unfortunately, the people running Washington the past 8 years have had a different philosophy, for which we are all now paying.

Obama: Torture Lawyers not off hook yet

I have to wonder whether this is bluff to fend off the Spanish prosecutions, but on its face, it's encouraging:
With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.
All eyes, then, on the OPR report that's still in the pipeline, which may well determine the Torture Lawyers' fate re: U.S. penalties at least. Senator Whitehouse, who appears to think he knows something we don't, says that report will be very bad indeed. One wonders, re: Bradbury, whether the fact that Philip Zelikow strongly disagreed with the 2005 batch of memos will figure in that analysis.

Après Manet, le deluge?

T.J. Clark finds that Manet isn't what he used to be:
The fallen idol whose fate leaves me by far the most uneasy--uncertain, that is, whether the fall is his or mine--is Manet. It keeps happening without my being wholly aware of it. This spring in Chicago, for instance, I realized at the end of a morning in the Art Institute that I had spent long minutes absorbed in the naiveties of a Delacroix lion hunt--wondering at the way the absurd wish-fulfillment called "North Africa" managed to focus and concentrate the painter's energies, producing a green and blue like nobody else's--and I'd never looked, for more than a moment or two, at Manet's street-people on the opposite wall of the gallery. "Velazquez kitsch," I found myself murmuring when I did. Whereas what Delacroix had done with Rubens!
I have my own uneasy feelings about Manet, wondering whether he was the beginning of the end for fine art. The Olympia -- look! a hooker on a bed! -- is only the most extreme example of what, for want of a better word, I call his postmodern tendency. Think of Victorine Meurent dressed up as a bullfighter, looking like ... Victorine Meurent dressed up as a bullfighter. (And did Manet's style really develop beyond, as Clark suggests, a pastiche of Spanish styles?)

The urinal on the museum wall, and Jackson Pollock for that matter, may just be differences of degree, not of kind, from what Manet did in his masterpieces.

Note to self

Lloyd Morgan (via DeLong) quotes a new book by John Kay:
I once debated the relationship between the social sciences with some anthropologists. We adjourned to the pub, and someone bought a round of drinks: the discussion naturally turned to the reasons why. For the economists, the explanation was obvious: the practice of buying rounds minimized transaction costs, reducing the number of exchanges between the patrons and the bar staff. The anthropologists saw it as an example of ritual gift exchange and described the many tribes that had developed similar customs. I proposed a test between the competing hypotheses: did you feel cheated or victorious if you bought more rounds than had been bought for you? Unfortunately, the economists and the anthropologists gave different answers to that question.
Note to self: accept pubcrawling invitation from anthropologists; decline same from economists.

But isn't that economist thinking? Maybe the anthro guys will rub off on me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The reins in Spain ...

... are not in its AG's hands, as Judge Garzon ignores Candido Conde-Pumpido's scoffing and submits the Torture Lawyers case to a random judge (one of six, who could be Garzon himself), who will then have to decide whether to respect the AG's opinion or else to proceed with the case. H/t Opinio Juris.

(Our last look at this issue suggested that the AG's views were dispositive, but apparently we are still learning how the Spanish legal system works.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why the CIA destroyed the waterboarding tapes?

Emptywheel finds a pretty big clue what CIA wanted to hide:
... the May 10, 2005 "Techniques" memo reveals that Abu Zubaydah's interrogator far exceeded OLC guidlines on how to administer waterboarding.

The IG Report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated, see IG Report at 5, 44, 46, 103-04, and also that it was used in a different manner. See id. at 37 ("[T]he waterboard technique ... was different from the technique described in the DoJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was the manner in which the detainee's breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject's airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency Interrogator ... applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee's mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency's use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is "for real--and is more poignant and convincing.") see also id. at 14 n14.[my emphasis]

Not only does this implicate Tenet--who was DCI at the time--for further mismanagement, but it implicates his successor Porter Goss.

Goss was in charge when the CIA - having been warned not to destroy the torture tapes - did so anyway. And this OLC memo provides proof that CIA had more to worry about than just that the identities of those depicted administering torture on the tapes would be revealed. We know that the tapes were clear evidence that the interrogators were breaking the law - exceeding even the expansive guidelines laid out in the Bybee Memo on how waterboarding should be used. This memo, in other words, proves what we already suspected - that the torture tape destruction served to obstruct justice.
As Emptywheel's linked post demonstrates, we should not be surprised that Mr. Goss is very, very upset that national security has been Teh Jeopardized!!! by the release of these memos.

... There's an even better explanation, too.

Where to read about the torture memos

The new memos are being given a close reading at Emptywheel and at Opinio Juris -- lots of good stuff, too much to link. Emptywheel is doing an especially good job of teasing out hints at the content of the CIA's report from its inspector general, who evidently found that torture was indeed going on -- and thus had to be squelched by the 2005 Bradbury memos.

No real discussion in Volokh Conspiracy posts, but I've been wasting a good bit of time in various threads.

Scott Horton hasn't gotten a real post up yet, but he does reprint at Balkinization an interview with "the UN rapporteur for torture" (who knew?), and Brian Tamanaha (the only Balkin poster who seems to care anymore, now that Obama's president) has a sharp post on the circular reasoning of the memos.

I'm sure there's lots more out there, but this is what I've seen so far.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

And now, the memos

The ACLU has 'em up.

Unfortunately, when not writing blog posts, I'm working on a reply brief today, so I'm not sure when I can go through these puppies.

... The sensation of being drowned is not "suffering," just "simply a controlled acute episode."

Good-faith reliance on legal counsel

Here’s a summary of what the CIA supposedly thought was kid-tested, mom-approved:
The methods include keeping detainees naked for long periods, keeping them in a painful standing position for long periods, and depriving them of solid food. Other tactics included using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls, keeping the detainee’s cell cold for long periods, and beating and kicking the detainee. Sleep-deprivation, prolonged shackling, and threats to a detainee’s family were also used.
And here’s the Torture Act:
(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality
“We’re gonna fuck your wife and kids ... sometime down the road! Not imminently!”

“I’m beating and kicking you and slamming your head into a wall … but not severely so!”

Gosh. How was the CIA to know that was bad legal advice?

(Quoting myself from comments at Yglesias.)

Obama's statement on torture memos, prosecutions

Yglesias has it somehow:
* * * While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However, after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release.

First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.
Well, that's a bit of a loophole, potentially anyway.
The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

Going forward, it is my strong belief that the United States has a solemn duty to vigorously maintain the classified nature of certain activities and information related to national security. This is an extraordinarily important responsibility of the presidency, and it is one that I will carry out assertively irrespective of any political concern. Consequently, the exceptional circumstances surrounding these memos should not be viewed as an erosion of the strong legal basis for maintaining the classified nature of secret activities. I will always do whatever is necessary to protect the national security of the United States.

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.
Legal immunity for all concerned does not strike me as high on the list of "steps to ensure that this never takes place again." But what do I know, I'm just a lawyer.

Torture Lawyers' vacation plans back on?

Contrary to earlier reports, Spain seems unlikely to indict Yoo, Bybee, et al.:
Spain's attorney general has rejected opening an investigation into whether six Bush administration officials sanctioned torture against terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, saying Thursday a U.S. courtroom would be the proper forum.

Candido Conde-Pumpido's remarks severely dampen the chance of a case moving forward against the Americans, including former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Conde-Pumpido said such a trial would have turned Spain's National Court "into a plaything" to be used for political ends.

"If there is a reason to file a complaint against these people, it should be done before local courts with jurisdiction, in other words in the United States," he said in a breakfast meeting with journalists.
Not sure how this fits with the fact that Spanish nationals are said to've been victims at Gitmo, but then, it seems that the wonderfully-named Candido Conde-Pumpido has motives beyond the merely legal:
[The proposed indictment] alleged that the men — who have become known as "The Bush Six" — cleared the path for torture by claiming in advice and legal opinions that the president could ignore the Geneva Conventions, and by adopting an overly narrow definition of which interrogation techniques constituted torture.

But Conde-Pumpido rejected that argument, saying the case had no merit because the men did not themselves commit the alleged abuses.

"If one is dealing with a crime of mistreatment of prisoners of war, the complaint should go against those who physically carried it out," Conde-Pumpido said.

Gonzalo Boye, one of the human rights lawyers who brought the case in Spain, said the decision by Conde-Pumpido was politically motivated and set a terrible course for Spanish justice.

"The attorney general speaks of the court being turned into a plaything. Well, I don't think the attorney general's office should be turned into a plaything for politicians," Boye told AP. "It is a terrible precedent if those intellectually responsible for crimes can no longer be held accountable."
Conde-Pumpido's votes at Nuremberg, had he been a judge there, can presumably be inferred. Goering didn't kill any Jews, after all.

Presumably this is the result of some phone calls from Washington to Madrid. I'll be curious to see whether the release of further memos has any effect on Spain, or provokes any other prosecutors to get frisky.

Classified on grounds of national insecurity

Earlier this week, we noted reports that Obama would blink on releasing the still-classified torture memos in detail.

It now appears that there will indeed be some redactions:
The Obama administration is expected to release some operational details of a Central Intelligence Agency interrogation program and its legal rationale, while seeking to keep secret the names of detainees and the way techniques were applied to particular prisoners, two officials familiar with the matter said Wednesday.

An announcement is expected Thursday on the release of memorandums in which Department of Justice lawyers gave legal guidance on CIA interrogations. During a fierce debate, CIA officials have argued for keeping sensitive information secret, while Attorney General Eric Holder and other Obama administration lawyers have favored a full release.

Administration lawyers on Wednesday were still deliberating what portions of three memos would be released. The two officials said the administration plans to propose redacting parts of the memos. In addition to the prisoner names, certain operational details of interrogations are expected to stay secret, they said.
I'm not sure what purpose is served by concealing the names, at least if they're already known to be in our custody (KSM for ex). One suspects it's motivated by a desire to hide from the courts whether a given detainee was tortured.

The other redaction, on applications, is hard to understand from the article. We'll know that waterboarding or beating was approved, but not get the details of what it did?

I would've thought those details would be only in CIA docs, not in OLC memos. The WSJ article refers to "[three] memorandums in which Department of Justice lawyers gave legal guidance on CIA interrogations." So it appears that, as suspected, CIA tortured first and sought legal cover afterwards?

The NYT reports the expected release, but not the redactions.

(H/t Political Wire.)

... Busy day. No prosecutions of CIA torturers, reports TPM. Though the scope isn't clear:
The Obama administration on Thursday informed CIA officials who used waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics on terror suspects that they will not be prosecuted, senior administration officials told The Associated Press.

* * * the statement being issued Thursday by Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, is the first definitive assurance that those CIA officials are in the clear, as long as their actions were in line with the legal advice at the time.
As noted above, the CIA may've been torturing folks *before* getting OLC cover. So I'm not sure what this means.

The article (from the AP) also has more detail on the memos to be released:
The Holder statement was being issued by the Justice Department along with the release of four significant Bush-era legal opinions governing — in graphic and extensive detail — the interrogation of terror detainees, the officials said. One of the memos was produced by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in August 2002, the other three in 2005.
Four, not three, then?
The memos, released to meet a court-approved deadline in a lawsuit against the government in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union, detail the dozen harsh techniques approved for use by CIA interrogators, the officials said. A statement from Obama was also being released along with Holder's comments and the documents.

One memo specifically authorized a method for combining multiple techniques, a practice human rights advocates argue is particularly harmful and crosses the line into torture even if any of the individual methods do not.

* * * There is very little redaction, or blacking out, of detail in the memos, the officials said.

The methods include keeping detainees naked for long periods, keeping them in a painful standing position for long periods, and depriving them of solid food. Other tactics included using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls, keeping the detainee's cell cold for long periods, and beating and kicking the detainee. Sleep-deprivation, prolonged shackling, and threats to a detainee's family were also used.

Among the things not allowed in the memo were allowing a prisoner's body temperature or caloric intake to fall below a certain level, because either could cause permanent damage, the officials said.
Holy shit. No need to prosecute anyone for beating and kicking, is there? Not if the lawyers said it was okay!

Bush's best cabinet appointment

TNR relays Robert Gates, who is please recall the successor to Donald Rumsfeld, sounding very much like someone intelligent:
Using his strongest language on the subject [of a preemptive strike on Iran] to date, Gates told a group of Marine Corps students that a strike would probably delay Tehran's nuclear program from one to three years. A strike, however, would unify Iran, "cement their determination to have a nuclear program, and also build into the whole country an undying hatred of whoever hits them," he said.
That's so obvious, I shudder for the country where that is actually news.

The stupidest neocon of them all

Via a commenter at Tom Ricks's blog ("bourbonandlawndarts," which I misread as "bourbon and law and arts," which is me I guess), Robert Baer provides another anecdote on Douglas "Stupidest Fucking Guy on the Planet" Feith. Baer is chatting with Feith in summer 2000, when Feith feels confident of some job or other in the potential Bush administration:
... as we sat at opposite ends of the couch in his office, Feith wanted to talk about Iraq, not Iran. Could the Iraqi exiles overthrow Saddam Hussein? Or more to the point, did Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress stand a chance of getting rid of them? Feith thought that Chalabi could, given a little help.

Listening to Feith, I wondered why he wasn't more skeptical of Chalabi, a lifelong exile who hadn't seen Baghdad since he was a child. More to the point, I wondered why Feith wasn't more suspicious about Chalabi's ties to Iran. In the nineties, Chalabi had traveled through Tehran to get into Kurdish northern Iraq. He also had unexplained ties to Iran's hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, one reason the Clinton administration dropped contact with him.

I pointed this out to Feith, telling how in 1994 and 1995, Chalabi had turned over Iraqi National Congress houses and cars to Iranian intelligence, which then used them to stage the assassinations of Iranian dissidents living in the part of Iraq Saddam controlled. Didn't this sound suspicious to Feith? And that wasn't to mention Iran's long-term interests in Iraq, with or without Chalabi. I wondered why Feith couldn't draw the obvious parallels between Iraq and Lebanon, which Iran was then effectively annexing.

The longer Feith didnt respond, the more I wondered whether he thought I was making all this up, trying for some inexplicable reason to undermine Chalabi. I told Feith that if George Bush won the presidency, he'd be in a position to confirm everything I'd just told him.

At that Feith stood abruptly and thanked me for my visit.

Ahmed Chalabi will be a wonderful leader of Iraq,” he said firmly, before showing me out and closing the door behind me.
I would like to think that no one can be this stupid, and that corruption is a better explanation; but then I remember, this is Doug Feith.

After the beginning

Mark Kleiman's Tanakh study group turns to Genesis, and finds that perhaps the familiar first verses--
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
--could be translated better like this:
When God began separating the heavens from the earth, the earth was all jumbled up; and darkness was upon the face of the ocean depths. And a breath from God moved upon the face of the waters.
"Heavens," shamayim, includes mayim, waters, says Kleiman. I wonder, does "sha-" connote "great" as in similar languages? So "heavens" would be "great waters," or "higher waters"? (Wiki says shamayim "comes from shameh, a root meaning to be lofty" and "literally means the sky." Whereas shah is Persian, not a Semitic language. So my proposed etymology is incorrect as to derivation, but seems right on the merits. The connection to mayim would seem to be a pun by the author of (this part of) Genesis, if the derivation from shameh is correct.)

Anyway, as Kleiman notes:
So the story is not one of the creation of something from nothing, but about separation and arrangement. As the Talmud says, the first letter is bet, not aleph. Hebrew alphabetical order is parallel to Greek: for alpha-beta-gamma substitute aleph-bet-gimel. So the text starts with the second letter of the alphabet, not the first.
I note that the NRSV, a descendant by revision of the KJV, notes "When God began to create" as an alternative for "In the beginning," but clearly the theological implications prevent the translators from being any more frisky with the text.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

No, we can't?

File this under "appalling, if true":
The Obama administration is leaning toward keeping secret some graphic details of tactics allowed in Central Intelligence Agency interrogations, despite a push by some top officials to make the information public, according to people familiar with the discussions.

These people cautioned that President Barack Obama is still reviewing internal arguments over the release of Justice Department memorandums related to CIA interrogations, and how much information will be made public is in flux.

Among the details in the still-classified memos is approval for a technique in which a prisoner's head could be struck against a wall as long as the head was being held and the force of the blow was controlled by the interrogator, according to people familiar with the memos. Another approved tactic was waterboarding, or simulated drowning.
Hm. I had actually been inclined to half-disbelieve that part of the Red Cross report; silly me.
A decision to keep secret key parts of the three 2005 memos outlining legal guidance on CIA interrogations would anger some Obama supporters who have pushed him to unveil now-abandoned Bush-era tactics. It would also go against the views of Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Greg Craig, people familiar with the matter said.

Top CIA officials have spoken out strongly against a full release, saying it would undermine the agency's credibility with foreign intelligence services and hurt the agency's work force, people involved in the discussions said. However, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair favors releasing the information, current and former senior administration officials said.
That is a surprise; good for Blair. He may welcome anything that reins in CIA.
Human-rights groups and many in the administration have called the techniques torture.

People familiar with the matter said some senior intelligence advisers to the president raised fears that releasing the two most sensitive memos could cause the Obama administration to be alienated from the CIA's rank and file, as happened during the Bush administration when Porter Goss, who was unpopular among CIA officers, headed the agency.
Memo to Obama: THEY'RE TORTURERS. FUCK 'EM. They should be grateful NOT TO BE IN PRISON.

(And I really doubt how many of the "rank and file," as opposed to a few cowboys in Operations -- excuse me, the National Clandestine Service -- give a damn.)

If Obama can't control the CIA, then we need a president who can.
Making those details public, one official said, would make CIA officials disinclined to take any risks in the future.
Considering the disasters and fiascos typical of CIA risktaking, is that a bad thing? They're supposed to be an intelligence agency, not cowboys.

Time will tell. But I'm already wondering whom the Democrats should nominate in 2012.

... Sullivan: "If CIA staffers believe that covering up war crimes is integral to maintaining their morale, then we need new CIA staffers." Word. He also uses the A-word about Obama: "accomplice."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How civil should we be about torture?

Blogger Thoreau suggests a handy threshold:
On another forum I’ve tried to argue with people who want to split some legal hairs and it just doesn’t work for me. There’s a place where “Well, I respectfully dissent from your view, while appreciating the spirited and intelligent manner in which you offer it” ends and “Fuck you, this sh!t is just plain wrong” begins. We can argue over where that exact point is, but once you’re beating somebody according to a KGB manual, it’s safe to say that that bad point has been reached.
Weren't the KGB the bad guys? I distinctly remember seeing that in a Tom Clancy movie, or someplace like that. (Via Sullivan.)

Outsourcing justice

Scott Horton reports allegedly impending indictments of the Torture Lawyers by the Spanish courts. We'll see shortly if he's correct; meanwhile, this to me was the most interesting part of his report:
contrary to a claim contained in an editorial on April 8 in the Wall Street Journal, the Obama State Department has been in steady contact with the Spanish government about the case. Shortly after the case was filed on March 17, chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza was invited to the U.S. embassy in Madrid to brief members of the embassy staff about the matter. A person in attendance at the meeting described the process as “correct and formal.” The Spanish prosecutors briefed the American diplomats on the status of the case, how it arose, the nature of the allegations raised against the former U.S. government officials. The Americans “were basically there just to collect information,” the source stated. The Spanish prosecutors advised the Americans that they would suspend their investigation if at any point the United States were to undertake an investigation of its own into these matters. They pressed to know whether any such investigation was pending. These inquiries met with no answer from the U.S. side.
What a disgrace. The biggest presidential crimes since Watergate (at least). Could Watergate even be prosecuted today? Or would it be "too political"?

Best used when most efficiently abused

It is indeed getting more and more difficult, even pointless, for me to write in formal English. And more and more my language appears to me like a veil which one has to tear apart in order to get to those things (or the nothingness) lying behind it. Grammar and style! To me they seem to have become as irrelevant as a Biedermeier bathing suit or the imperturbability of a gentleman. A mask. It is to be hoped the time will come, thank God, in some circles it already has, when language is best used when most efficiently abused. Since we cannot dismiss it all at once, at least we do not want to leave anything undone that may contribute to its disrepute. To drill one hole after another into it until that which lurks behind, be it something or nothing, starts seeping though--I cannot imagine a higher goal for today’s writer.

Or is literature alone to be left behind on that old, foul road long ago abandoned by music and painting? Is there something paralysingly sacred contained within the unnature of the word that does not belong to the elements of the other arts? Is there any reason why that terrifyingly arbitrary materiality of the word surface should not be dissolved, as, for example, the sound surface of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is devoured by huge black pauses, so that for pages on end we cannot perceive it as other than a dizzying path of sounds connecting unfathomable chasms of silence? An answer is requested.

-- Samuel Beckett, in a letter to Axel Kaun (written in German) (via Wyatt Mason's notice of The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1940).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Resurrection or nothing, please.

Via Sullivan, a day too late for Easter, here's a poem by John Updike:
Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
TBA endorses the either/or, and varies from day to day as to on which side of the virgule it descends.

"Perhaps the most famous Easter poem of the second half of the 20th century," says David E. Anderson (no relation), who takes us on a spin through Updike's poetry of faith.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sontag contra Sontag

Daniel Mendelsohn has a long, excellent appreciation of Susan Sontag in TNR, apropos of her published journals but really an overall consideration, from which I could quote entirely too much. Let's jump to the conclusion:
Sontag's was, essentially, the eighteenth-century sensibility that she so brilliantly evoked in the character of Hamilton, whom she ends by damning. An aesthete and an accumulator of experience, she nonetheless yearned all her life--because she was so taught by the kind of novels that she ingested but could not, in the end, ever write--to inhabit the century to which her son touchingly assigns her, the nineteenth, with its grand passions and its Romantic energies. Emotionally, she thought she was the one; intellectually, she was the other. This confusion helps to account for so much about her life and her work: the strange analytical coldness about normal human passions--that desire to make sex "cognitive"--and the remarkably hot passion for the stimulation of books, theater, films; the initial embrace of the importance of the daringly new, the avant garde, the louche and outre, followed by the retreat into the conventional (the historical novel!), the canonical, the established, the "great"; the wobbly relationship between the criticism, which was her calling, and the fiction, which was not.
A thoughtful, sympathetic, objective piece, very much worth reading.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Documenting our financial disaster

Simon Johnson, former IMF chief economist, whose Atlantic article on the banking oligarchy we linked some days back, has a blog, The Baseline Scenario, which is worth watching. See the current post on why preserving the present banking system won't work, and also the helpful Financial Crisis for Beginners page.

And can't you make your food taste normal, too?

Texas Republicans are a continuing source of delight:
A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.”

The comments caused the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday to demand an apology from state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. But a spokesman for Brown said her comments were only an attempt to overcome problems with identifying Asian names for voting purposes. […] “Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.
This after all from the state whose governor famously declared, "If the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, then it's good enough for the schoolchildren of Texas."

But would you let your daughter read it?

Jessica Valenti has a book out, The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women:
Through in-depth cultural and social analysis, Valenti, the founder and executive editor of, reveals that powerful messaging on both extremes--ranging from abstinence curriculum to “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials--place a young woman’s worth entirely on her sexuality. Morals are therefore linked purely to sexual behavior, rather than values like honesty, kindness, and altruism.
I'm sorry, but that part I've boldfaced reminds me of the French ancien-regime father who walks in on his daughter and her lover, in flagrante delicto. He's furious, and the daughter cries out, "Oh, but papa, so little trouble for me -- so much pleasure for him!" Kindness and altruism.

Anyway, via 3QD, which links to a discussion of Valenti's no doubt worthy book.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The man who signed the torture memos

Jay Bybee, sitting pretty on the Ninth Circuit, has been one of the quieter Torture Lawyers, despite having his John Hancock on the August 2002 memo that's the most shocking we've seen to date.

Via How Appealing, we get a couple of items on Bybee.
Bybee declined to talk about his work at the Office of Legal Counsel. But when he gathered former clerks last year at a Las Vegas steak house for a five-year reunion, he was more revealing.

"He said our work has been well-researched, carefully written, and that he was very proud of the work that we've done and the opinions his chambers has issued," said Tuan Samahon , who was Bybee's first judicial clerk and is now a UNLV professor.

According to Samahon, the judge then added: "I wish I could say that of the prior job I had."
I can't cry too much for the lawyer who read John Yoo's draft memo on executive CINC power to disregard statutory law, and apparently didn't ask, "Hey, John, shouldn't there be something about Youngstown in here?"

The PDF article is also interesting for its confirmation that SERE techniques directly "informed" the torture memos:
According to information Bybee submitted to the Armed Services Committee last fall, as his office prepared the memos, Bybee saw a CIA assessment of the "psychological effects of military resistance training."

The assessment came to him in a meeting with Yoo and two other OLC attorneys in July, and Bybee told the committee that it informed the Aug. 1 memo, which is believed to have approved specific interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding.
This does not bode well for CIA's insistence that it was just following orders, methinks .... The Levine article is well worth reading in full.

And never mind the summary of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"

“Regina is getting very literary. 'Who is this Kafka?’ she says. ‘People ask me.’ A German Jew, I says, I think. He wrote a book about a man that turns into a roach. ‘Well, I can’t tell people that,’ she says.”

-- Flannery O'Connor, in a letter to her friend, describing her mother Regina (quoted in Blake Bailey's review of Brad Gooch's O'Connor biography).

Mississippi in top 10 states!

... for neurosis, that is:

Via Marginal Revolution, we get not just this map but also the maps for extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness.

Mississippi is also top-10 on agreeableness, high on conscientiousness (duty?) and extraversion, but low on openness (defined as "curiosity, intellect, and creativity at the individual level" -- can't fault 'em there). So, we're a state of agreeable, dutiful, extraverted but narrow-minded neurotics. Sounds about right.

Today in torture

Via NMC, we find this Slate article setting forth the issues regarding Spain's investigation of the Torture Lawyers. Here's a good counter for the "universal jurisdiction" talking point:
The Spanish investigation is not premised on universal jurisdiction in its purest form, at least not yet. The proceeding arises primarily because America held five Spanish citizens and residents at Guantanamo, including one who later escaped criminal conviction when Spanish courts found the evidence procured against him at Guantanamo "totally void." So if the allegations are true, Spain actually has its own dog in this fight: harm done to its citizens by foreign criminals. That leaves this prosecution on substantially the same footing as a U.S. prosecution of the mastermind of the Cole bombing in Yemen (because the victims were American) or the recent federal conviction of Chuckie Taylor for perpetrating torture in his father's country of Liberia (because the defendant is American).
Not that I think universal jurisdiction is any more incorrect in the case of torture than it is re: genocide.

At the Daily Beast, John Sifton observes that top CIA officials have a lot to lose by further investigation of their torture program, and speculates that Leon Panetta is supporting a cover-up at their behest.

What criterion for "The New Criterion"?

Crooked Timber posts on an old (1995) book review by George Scialabba, taking a look at a collection of New Criterion articles. The review is spot-on, chastising TNC for its polemical manners, while praising its less political coverage:
In its crusade against the politicization of contemporary culture, The New Criterion is -- on the whole, in the main, and not to put too fine a point on it -- right.
The comment thread at CT is worth a look, as Michael Bérubé gets some chops in, and then Scialabba (which I am remembering how to spell by thinking of it as a dialectal variant of "see ya later!") shows up. Best MB quote:
You may know that I have a fondness for conservatives who aren’t hard-bitten ideologues and who take arts and letters seriously; I miss them the way I miss Republicans who understood economics.
Scialabba has a paperback out, What Are Intellectuals For?, which I think I'm going to have to find somewhere.

My own thought is much like Scialabba's: the politics of TNC are childish at best, but I like to pick it up for the reviews.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

"Panicked, Sweat-Covered Pope Reverses Longstanding Ban On Abortion"

A new Onion classic:
Overturning 2,000 years of religious doctrine, an out-of-breath and visibly flustered Pope Benedict XVI announced Sunday that the termination of unwanted pregnancies was now "completely and perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God." * * *

"My friends in Christ, brothers and sisters of the cloth, having an abortion is ... err ... not that big a deal," announced the anxious pontiff while reading from a series of hastily scrawled edicts. "In fact, it is written, uh, somewhere, that the taking of an innocent life might even be something of a blessing in some cases."

"For example, when a mother's life is at risk," continued Benedict, wiping several beads of sweat from his forehead. "Or, say, when someone is just way too old to become a father at this point."

Shocking a crowd of thousands that had gathered in St. Peter's Square, the infallible religious leader declared Sunday that the killing of an unborn child is "not really a mortal sin," especially if everyone involved pretty much wished the whole thing had never happened.

"The Lord hath come unto me when I could not sleep and He hath said, 'This is totally an option now,'" proclaimed Benedict, taking off his miter to fan himself. "Also, He hath said that some people should probably go out and get this done, like, today, and that they shouldn't tell anyone else about it. Umm...Amen."

The pope, who on many occasions prior had called abortion a "crime against society," admitted Sunday that, on second thought, "some things are not actually that straightforward."

Pausing momentarily to take a drink of water, Benedict went on to stress that certain religious doctrines no longer apply in today's world, and that, perhaps, they ought to be weighed against more modern considerations, such as making a problem go away.

Other important factors outlined by Benedict included length of pregnancy, the possibility of health complications, and whether or not two people just met one crazy night, got a little carried away, and made the biggest mistake of both their lives.
This is why they always pick old guys to be popes.

But wait, there's more:
Though he spent most of his papal address on the issue of abortion, Benedict also delivered a number of lesser decrees. Stunning all in attendance, the head of the Catholic Church announced that contraceptives were, in fact, not a grave evil, and recommended that birth control be used by everyone, even those who claim they are already on it, but as it turns out, are really not.
Which false claim, btw, is *definitely* a mortal sin.

"This is what defeat looks like."

Military pundit David Silbey thinks Iraq is not looking so good:
Counterinsurgency operations succeed when they can co-opt the nationalism of the country in which the insurgency is being fought. But they have to co-opt the entirety (or as as near as makes no difference) of that nationalism, not just the attractive parts. In Iraq, that means Sunni as well as Shi’ite nationalism needs to be brought in out of the cold.

Having said this, it’s not clear that the Americans can do anything useful any more. Long-term, the Sunnis and Shi’ites have to figure out a way to live with each other. Any kind of realistic solution has to come from them. Unfortunately, a “realistic” solution might include an all-out civil war which ends with one side or the other emerging on top. Winning the counterinsurgency doesn’t stop Iraq’s ethnic, cultural, or political divisions; it only creates the opportunity to resolve them.
That lines up Silbey on the Tom Ricks side of the fence, it seems.

Say it ain't so

Telegraph, via OTB:
Airport face scanners designed to verify travellers’ identity against their passport photographs are working at such a low level that they would be unable to tell the difference between Osama bin Laden and the actress Winona Ryder, it has been claimed.
Is it really that the scanners don't work? Or has Osama been hiding in plain sight?


First, do harm

More news on the "America tortures" front! Mark Danner's source(s) at the Red Cross have slipped him another report, this one on the participation of medical professionals in torturing prisoners.
Facilitating such practices, which the Red Cross described as torture, was a violation of medical ethics even if the medical workers’ intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury, the report said. But it found that the medical professionals’ role was primarily to support the interrogators, not to protect the prisoners, and that the professionals had “condoned and participated in ill treatment.”

At times, according to the detainees’ accounts, medical workers “gave instructions to interrogators to continue, to adjust or to stop particular methods.”
Expect a crashing silence from the AMA and the APA.

Danner's article has a lot more in it, so take a look. In particular, he predicts that the full text of the Senate Armed Services Committee report will soon be released.

Meanwhile, Jack Balkin relays a report from Scott Horton that the Senate Republicans are conditioning the confirmation of Dawn Johnsen (OLC) and Harold Koh (State Dep't legal counsel) on a pledge *not* to investigate Bush-era torture. This is so awful, I don't even want to believe it:
Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.
And not just the torture memos, but the OPR report on Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury:
Republican senators have expressed strong reservations about their promised exposure, expressing alarm that a critique of the memos by Justice’s ethics office (Office of Professional Responsibility) will also be released. “There was no ‘direct’ threat,” said the source, “but the message was communicated clearly--if the OLC and OPR memoranda are released to the public, there will be war.” This is understood as a threat to filibuster the nominations of Johnsen and Koh. Not only are they among the most prominent academic critics of the torture memoranda, but are also viewed as the strongest advocates for release of the torture memos on Obama’s legal policy team.

A Republican Senate staffer further has confirmed to me that the Johnsen nomination was discussed at the last G.O.P. caucus meeting. Not a single Republican indicated an intention to vote for Dawn Johnsen, while Senator John Cornyn of Texas was described as “gunning for her,” specifically noting publication of the torture memos.
Say it with me: "The Party of Torture."

As Orin Kerr notes, "I don't know if this is true. But if it is, it makes me eager to see those memos."

... Via Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald makes a good point:
It sounds more like a responsibility-shifting excuse than anything else -- a way of blaming Republicans rather than Obama officials for the failure to disclose these memos -- but it doesn't matter in the slightest if the claims are true. There is absolutely no justification whatsoever to continue to conceal these memos, and the fact that the GOP will stomp its feet and obstruct nominees doesn't come close to constituting an excuse for ongoing concealment.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Not your father's galaxy

Checking up on how many stars are in our galaxy, I find that my pre-teen education in astronomy has misled me once again: the galaxy does not look like I thought it did.
The Galaxy consists of a bar-shaped core region surrounded by a disk of gas, dust and stars forming four distinct arm structures spiralling outward in a logarithmic spiral shape. The mass distribution within the Galaxy closely resembles the Sbc Hubble classification, which is a spiral galaxy with relatively loosely-wound arms. Astronomers first began to suspect that the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy in the 1990s rather than an ordinary spiral galaxy. Their suspicions were confirmed by the Spitzer Space Telescope observations in 2005 which showed the Galaxy's central bar to be larger than previously suspected.
Here is a picture of Messier 109, which may resemble our own galaxy:

If I had known this sooner, surely "it would have prevented some mistakes."
... the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once a system of earths like ours. If I had remembered this it would have prevented some mistakes. This was not the light in which I hoed them.

L'etat, c'est Stalin?

Jonathan Zasloff catches Cass Sunstein (and/or coauthor Richard Thaler) "Red-baiting":
[Emissions regulations] have sometimes been effective: the air is much cleaner than it was in 1970. Philosophically, however, such limitations look uncomfortably similar to Soviet-style five-year plans, in which bureaucrats in Washington announce that millions of people have to change their conduct in the next five years.
Sunstein and Thaler seem not to understand the concept of "government." If people's conduct did not need any changing, we would have no need of government.

It becomes Stalinism when failure to reach the emissions target results in one's being sent to a slave-labor camp in northern Alaska. Though I do think Sarah Palin would be a superb commandant.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The bookshelf

As usual, I have been trying to read too many books at once:

George C. Herring, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. Longest war perhaps, but not Herring's longest book ... his survey of American foreign policy rests on my sidelines, while I'm liking this concise, thoughtful survey of the Vietnam debacle. His notes on further reading are inadvertently amusing for their use of the word "competent," as in "a competent biography," which begings to sound like faint praise when one sees it repeated. I would like to find a solid military history of Vietnam, but the only one he lists is "Philip B. Davidson, Vietnam at War, The History: 1946-1975," which is "a competent military history by a retired senior U.S. Army officer, [that] emphasizes the importance of North Vietnamese strategy in the outcome of the war [good] and concludes -- unconvincingly -- that with a proper strategy the United States might have prevailed [less good]."'s indefatigable reviewer of military histories, R.A. Forczyk, would seem to dispute the "competency" -- he finds "a whitewashed history" by "a major apologist for General Westmoreland," under whom Davidson indeed served. Don't think I'll be picking that one up.

Alan Wolfe, The Future of Liberalism. As a counterpoint to my curiosity about defining conservative thought, I picked up Wolfe's book for a glance at the opposing definition. Whatever liberalism's future, I hope TBA's future will include some posts on Wolfe's main points.

E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus. Sanders appears to be the go-to guy on the subject, and his book is reassuringly given to extensive preliminaries on the background, sources, and other issues regarding what we can hope to know about Jesus as a matter of historical records. Enjoyably readable -- the guy is from Texas and writes in the best friendly-English-don-who-knows-everything-there-is-to-know manner.

Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich at War. Evans finishes his trilogy on Nazi Germany, and I was sufficiently impressed by the first two volumes to grab this one in hardback. For a 700-page book, it's a fast read. He does about as well as can be expected in covering only the outline of the war, so that he's not sucked into writing yet another WW2 history -- my only fault is that he spends a trifle too much time on the Soviet perspective, necessary for a WW2 history but not for his work, where an excess page on what happened to Soviet-occupied Poland is a page cut, doubtless, from something happening in Germany. But the book is splendid, incorporates quite recent studies, and manages to appall the reader who thought he couldn't be more appalled by the Nazis.

H.P. Willmot, The Great Crusade: A New Revised History of World War Two. What was that about "yet another WW2 history"? So far, this is the best replacement I've found for Liddell Hart's dated operational-level history of the war. Willmot has opinions and isn't afraid to share them (MacArthur gets mentioned in passing as simply "the clown who lost the Philippines"); he's particularly good at rebutting the myth of German military genius (as opposed to tactical brilliance).

Liaquat Ahamed, Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World. Tyler Cowen recommended this, and I've found it good. Ahamed follows the careers of the central bankers of USA, UK, France, and Germany in the 1920s and their failed responses to the Depression, with Keynes tracked as well in a sort of counterpoint. Explains the gold standard and its pitfalls as well as an economic illiterate like myself could hope to understand it, and the biographical approach doesn't hurt. (His epigraph is Disraeli: "Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory." Surely Disraeli can't have been so naive as to believe that literally, though I take his point.)


From the Newsweek profile of Paul Krugman (hey, I didn't know it was pronounced "Kroogman"):
Krugman says he found himself in the science fiction of Isaac Asimov, especially the "Foundation" series--"It was nerds saving civilization, quants who had a theory of society, people writing equations on a blackboard, saying, 'See, unless you follow this formula, the empire will fail and be followed by a thousand years of barbarism'."

Who's running this place?

This story came out last week, but the NYT has now deigned to notice:
The Obama administration is intensely debating whether and when to release documents from the Bush administration related to harsh interrogation methods used on prisoners belonging to Al Qaeda, according to administration and Congressional officials.

Some officials, including Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., have argued for disclosing the material as quickly as possible to distance the new administration from the most controversial policies of the Bush years. Mr. Holder and other top officials have condemned the most extreme of the past interrogation techniques, waterboarding, as illegal torture, and they see no reason to hide from public view what they consider the mistakes of their predecessors.

But some former and current Central Intelligence Agency officials say a rush to release classified material could expose intelligence methods and needlessly offend dedicated counterterrorism officers. Some administration and Congressional officials said John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who now serves as President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, has urged caution in disclosing interrogation documents.
Another reason to thank God we didn't put Brennan atop CIA.

"Needlessly offend CIA officers" -- fuck 'em. If they're the kind of people to get their panties in a wad, they shouldn't be at CIA in the first place.

"Expose intelligence methods" -- really? Exposing *torture techniques*? Those are "intelligence methods" now?

There's also an update on the OPR review of Yoo et al:
On Tuesday, two Democratic senators, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, wrote to the Justice Department to complain about delays in the release of a report by the its ethics office on the role of department lawyers in providing legal advice on waterboarding and other interrogation methods under President Bush.

A draft of the report completed in December by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is described by officials who have been briefed on its contents as highly critical of three authors of legal memorandums on interrogation: Jay S. Bybee, John C. Yoo and Mr. Bradbury.

Answering a query from the two senators last week, M. Faith Burton, the acting head of legislative affairs at the Justice Department, suggested that the report was far from ready for public release. She said copies had been given to the former department lawyers whose work it criticizes and the department was awaiting their comments before beginning additional reviews.

“Due to the complexity and classification level of the draft report, the review process described above likely will require substantial time and effort,” Ms. Burton wrote.
I must presume there's a time limit on the replies, so that the lawyers can't delay the report indefinitely. But who knows. Of course, if the memos were all made public, perhaps the "classification level" would drop a few notches?