Fighting to save Christmas

It’s the middle of November. Yes, that means it’s time to take up arms to do battle in the “War on Christmas”! As we approach the joyous season of peace and goodwill, we can look forward to the moment, arriving any day now, when people like Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson of Fox News and their devoted followers come together in a spirit of unity to once again declare war on those who do not celebrate the holidays in their officially-approved Christian manner. This is a sure-fire ratings booster for the holiday season, not that I would think for a minute that these two Jesus-loving men would exploit this issue for their own gain.

A Jerry Falwell affiliated group Liberty Counsel has already started its annual “Friend or Foe” campaign where you can “pledge to be the “Friend” to those entities which do not censor Christmas and a “Foe” to those that do,” simply by buying buttons and bumper stickers that say “I helped save Christmas.” This is the perfect Christmas gift for all those ardent advocates for the war in Iraq who feel that they have done more than their part for the war effort by talking tough, flying flags, and having magnetic ribbons stuck on their cars that say “I support the troops.”

What defending Christmas also means is that during the season, these warriors for Christ are going to keep a sharp lookout for those people who betray their anti-Christmas bias. To avoid falling under suspicion, be sure to say “Merry Christmas” when you meet someone you don’t know or trust. To openly say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings,” either verbally or in greeting cards, is to open oneself to the suspicion of being an agent of the Antichrist.

Furthermore, you must only shop in stores that have explicitly Christian messages plastered over them and have overtly religious decorations involving mangers and crosses and baby Jesus statues. All other shops must be boycotted, unless they happen to run a really good sale on exactly the item you were dying to buy, in which case you are permitted to go in and buy just that item and no more. Stores can have pagan decorations like Santa Claus and reindeer and snow and mistletoe and holly if they like, but to escape censure there must be a clear core of Christian symbolism that is obvious to even the most obtuse because, let’s face it, most of the people who are out earnestly looking for anti-Christian activity are pretty stupid and have little else going on in their lives. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

If any store employee should greet you with the Christmas-hating code-words “Happy Holidays,” you must immediately report the incident to the war’s generals like O’Reilly and Gibson so that they can devote entire programs to this issue. You should also demand to the offending employees’ supervisors that they be fired, or at the very least be sent to re-education camps where they can learn the true meaning of Christmas, which is that it is the time of year when people who have both deep faith and lots of disposable income are strongly urged to engage in a orgy of conspicuous consumption and trample over other people in stores to obtain hard-to-get but highly desired toys for their already pampered children.

People are already sounding the alarm about the dangers to Christianity posed by the rise of Islamojihadifascism in the US. One Wal-Mart store this year has decided to preemptively deflect any accusations that it might be a front organization for al Qaeda, suspicions which were fueled last year by it having what it called a ‘holiday shop’, which everyone knows is code for saying they welcome Christmas haters. “They’re decking the halls inside this Wal-Mart in Germantown, Maryland. . .where a Christmas shop replaces last year’s holiday shop. Christmas carols will soon resonate throughout the store and a countdown to Christmas sign is front and center.”

But despite all this vigilance, the US is still not safe for Christians. Attempts at subverting its Christian heritage are everywhere. An example of the creeping Islamification that is going on is the election of Keith Ellison to Congress from the state of Minnesota. He is the first Muslim (converting to that religion at the age of 19) to be elected to that body and Important Questions are already being raised such as what book he will be using to be sworn in. Could it be (oh, the horror!) the Koran?

Unfortunately, because of the existence of Article VI, Section 3 of that pesky god-hating document known as the US constitution that bars any religious test for the holding of public office, no one is required to swear on the Bible but can simply affirm their intent to uphold the constitution. If people do want to bring their religion in using a book as a prop, they are free to do so and I am pretty certain that Jews and Christians in Congress do not swear on exactly the same book. Some of the secular humanist heathen hiding in our midst might use this to argue that the addition of yet another religious book for swearing should hardly be a problem.

This kind of subversive thinking must be suppressed. True soldiers of Christ view the prospect of Ellison swearing on the Koran as a source of major concern, the thin edge of the wedge. To allow such things is to risk have the US turn away from Jesus and becoming a godless heathen nation, or even worse, have everyone converting to Islam. It is only a short step from that to banning alcohol and insisting on having women fully covered from head to toe and kept separate from men who are not family members. This would take all the meaning out of traditional religious Christmas ceremonies like office parties, and eliminate such time-honored rituals like throwing up and passing out on the floor.

As I have written before, fortunately there are still some vigilant guardians of religious traditions, like the judge in North Carolina who ruled that a prospective juror could not swear on the Koran. Perhaps that decision could be used as a precedent to prevent Ellison carrying out his diabolical plan.

So in the next few weeks we should all listen carefully and get our instructions from upstanding Christians like O’Reilly and Gibson and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, all of whom will prescribe exactly what are the allowable forms that “peace on earth and goodwill to all people” should take so that we can celebrate the holiday the old-fashioned way, by making life miserable for those who don’t act the way we think they should.

Let’s all join the war against those who reveal their hatred of Christmas by trying to make it more inclusive. Because that’s what Jesus would do.

The Return of the Taliban

On October 3, 2006, the excellent PBS series Frontline broadcast a program with the above name. It examined the complexities of the politics of Pakistan’s northwest frontier provinces, which shares a 500-miles open border with Afghanistan, and explains why it has been a place where the Taliban could regroup and gain strength once again, threatening to cause the defeat of the US in Afghanistan.

(You can view the program here. This must-see one-hour program is split into seven parts. Be warned that part 1 contains some graphic and disturbing images of the victims of the brutal summary justice that the Taliban are notorious for.)

The program describes the complex web of shifting alliances and intrigue that characterize the region and why it is going to be so hard to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, even granting the assumption that going in militarily was a good idea. These rugged and difficult-to-reach regions of Pakistan are really quasi-independent entities over which the central Pakistani government has little or no influence, let alone control. The people living there also have long-standing ethnic and even familial ties with the Taliban and are unlikely to surrender them to either the US or the Pakistan government.

This gives the Taliban a safe haven from which to organize, train fresh cadres, and launch attacks against the NATO forces in Afghanistan. And yet if the US goes after them into Pakistan (as they have done on occasion with air strikes at the very least) they are violating Pakistani sovereignty and thus creating major political problems for their ally, Pakistani President Musharraf, who has had to repeatedly assure his own restive public that US forces will not be allowed to operate within Pakistan.

Furthermore, the program points out that the Pakistan intelligence agency ISI (their equivalent of the CIA) also has long standing ties with the Taliban, having supported and groomed them in their fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and are possibly undermining Musharraf’s attempts at reigning in the Taliban.

All this has led to a no-win situation for both the US and Musharraf. The latter has tried to deflect local opposition by trying to forge treaties with the tribal leaders in those regions, but this has raised the hackles of the US who feel that this will result in giving the Taliban an even freer hand to operate.

The BBC says that the number of casualties in Afghanistan has increased four-fold this year, another sign of the worsening situation there.

Monday, November 13, 2006 was the fifth anniversary of the routing of the Taliban that sent them fleeing from Kabul. The London Times has an article describing what has happened during that time, reporting on how “triumph and hope have given way to despair and disappointment.”

Meanwhile, the Times’s Christina Lamb describes the deteriorating security situation in that country where that which was once unthinkable, that the Taliban would return to power, is now seen as a real possibility. Once again, it is the war in Iraq that has been the cause.

If there is one factor most responsible for the Taliban resurgence it is the war in Iraq, which distracted the attention of London and Washington at a critical time. While US marines were toppling statues of Saddam Hussein and then finding themselves fighting a bloody insurgency, the Taliban regrouped and retrained in Pakistan.

The seemingly easy victory by the US and its allies in Afghanistan, like that of the initial Soviet Union military deployment in 1979, was deceptive. The Soviet Union then lost 15,000 troops in the subsequent decade and the British suffered similar losses in the 19th century. Lamb quotes the prescient warning of Sir Olaf Caroe, the last British governor of North West Frontier Province: “Unlike other wars, Afghan wars become serious only when they are over.”

The saddest moment for me while watching the Frontline program was the story of Hayat Ullah Khan. He was a young Pakistani reporter hired as a stringer by Frontline and given a video camera to use. He stumbled on a scoop when visiting his village in December 4, 2005 after an explosion in which a high-level al Qaeda operative Abu Hamza Rabia (rumored to be #3 in that organization) was killed.

The Pakistan government claimed that the explosion that killed Rabia was due to a bomb going off while he was working with explosives. But Khan captured photographs of bomb fragments that clearly confirmed that it had been fired by the US, presumably by a Predator drone. This photographic proof that the US was attacking inside Pakistani territory appeared all over the world and embarrassed the Pakistani government because of the violations of its sovereignty, leading to protests against the government.

Khan confessed to his mother that he feared reprisals for his reporting and sure enough, five days later, while riding in a taxi with his brother, he was abducted by people suspected of being government operatives. He was missing for six months before his body was found in a ditch, He had been shot five times and was handcuffed with government-issue handcuffs.

During Khan’s absence, the Frontline reporter Martin Smith questioned Pakistani president Musharraf about his whereabouts, saying that they had reports that the government was holding him. While Musharraf denied having any knowledge of the case or even the. name of Hayat Ullah Khan, it quickly became clear that he did know of the case. There seems little doubt that Khan was murdered by agents of the Pakistani government.

In its fight against terrorism, the US has thrown in its lot with lying, murderous dictators like Musharraf. It is not something to be proud of.

Although I have never visited Afghanistan (and don’t recall ever having met a single Afghan in my whole life), I feel a deep sense of sympathy for the Afghan people, ever since I saw the riveting 2003 documentary Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror by veteran Australian journalist John Pilger. Pilger has covered war zones for many decades going back to Vietnam and Cambodia and describes Afghanistan as a country “more devastated than anything I have seen since Pol Pot’s Cambodia.”

Perhaps more than any other nation, the Afghan people have been long-suffering victims, caught between foreign powers interfering in their affairs, brutal tribal warlords, and cruel and repressive religious extremists like the Taliban. I wonder if they will ever know peace.

The October Surprise That Failed?

Waiting for the ‘October Surprise’ has become a standard ritual of the American election season, and this year was no exception. As usual, nervous Democrats anxiously wondered what sort of manufactured event and tricks the Bush administration, weighed down by its abysmal approval ratings, would unleash in the week or two prior to November 7 that might sway voters and reverse the deteriorating fortunes of the Republican party. Would they announce the capture of Osama bin Laden? Would they launch an attack on Iran? Would they announce a dramatic change in strategy in Iraq?

When none of these things happened and the only news of significance to emerge in the waning days of the election campaign was the break up of Britney Spears’ marriage, and the Republicans ended up getting a drubbing at the polls, people began to wonder if alleged political genius Karl Rove’s well of tricks had simply run dry.

However there is reason to think that there actually was an attempt at creating an October surprise, but that it went horribly wrong, and that was the missile strike that killed 80 people by destroying a madrassa in the Bajaur region of northwest Pakistan on October 30. There is strong evidence to suggest that the strike was an attempt by the US at killing the number 2 man of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri.

The Pakistan military immediately claimed responsibility, saying that they were the ones who had ordered and executed that strike because the madrassa “was no longer being used for imparting religious lessons and was instead in use as a military training camp”, presumably to train people to go across the border into Afghanistan and fight the US and NATO forces there.

The claim that the school housed militants was immediately disputed by residents of the area, who said that the dead were students from the surrounding area, many of them young children. The Pakistan government has sealed off the area and prohibited journalists from entering, thus preventing independent verification of the competing claims. However, news reports said that “A group of lawyers from Peshawar who visited the site last week said they saw no evidence of training or weapons. What they did see was disturbing enough: a tense, angry crowd that surrounded their vehicles, shouting for holy war against the Pakistani and U.S. governments, less than a week after local leaders had been ready to sign a peace pact with the government.”

What raises suspicions about the Pakistan military’s version of this incident is the timing of the strike. In September 2006, the Pakistan government, incurring deep US displeasure, had entered into a peace deal with the pro-Taliban militant leaders of North Waziristan (one of Pakistan’s northwest frontier provinces that borders Afghanistan) and was in the process of negotiating other deals with tribal leaders of other border regions. This rugged mountainous region is hard to monitor, is friendly to the Taliban, and the Pakistan government has historically had little control over it, with its own troops being periodically attacked and hundreds of people dying in the periodic skirmishes.

A news report said “Intriguingly, the attack was launch [sic] on the very day when the pro-Taliban tribal militants led by Maulana Faqir Mohammad and the deceased Maulana Liaquat were scheduled to sign a peace agreement with the Pakistan government.” Maulana Liaquat ran the madrassa (seminary) that was destroyed and was a leader of the banned pro-Taliban organization called Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM). He was killed in the attack. “The TNSM Bajaur leader Maulana Faqir Mohammad, wanted for allegedly sheltering al-Qaeda and Taliban linked foreign militants, survived the attack as he wasn’t at the seminary at the time of the attack. He had attended a meeting at the seminary in the afternoon and left.”

This raises the puzzling question of why the Pakistani government would arrange to make a peace deal and then turn around and bomb the very people with whom it had made the deal, on the very day that the deal was to be signed. It did not make sense and the people of the region quickly dismissed the idea that Pakistani forces had been responsible for the attack. They said that the madrassa was destroyed by missiles fired from US Predator drones. They cited witness who said they heard the drones circling overhead and said that Pakistan President Musharraf was trying to hide the fact that the US had attacked targets within Pakistan. As a result, there has been a violent reaction against the Pakistani government, with demonstrations and rallies and a suicide bomber who killed 42 Pakistani government troops on November 8.

But why would the US embarrass their ally so publicly? One possible argument is that they wanted to scuttle any peace deals between the Pakistani government and pro-Taliban tribal leaders. But killing 80 seminary students seems an extreme step to take to achieve that goal, even if you suspect that some of them might be militants in training.

The more likely reason is that the US had received intelligence that Ayman al Zawahiri may have been at the seminary, either hiding there or talking to the students.

This would not be the first time that the US had tried and failed to kill him in that region, where Zawahiri is supposed to have relatives. On January 14, 2006, the US had launched similar Predator drone missiles at the village of Damadola in the same region. That attack ended up killing 18 people including women and children, but no Zawahiri. Two weeks later, Zawahiri released a video taunting the US for their failed attempts at finding him.

It was outrage over the January deaths in Damadola that forced Musharraf to publicly declare that the US would not be allowed to launch any more attacks within Pakistani territory, which may have been why the Pakistan authorities were forced to claim responsibility for the recent madrassa attack.

It seems quite plausible that the October 30, 2006 missile attack was an attempt at an October surprise, a gamble that hoped to net the death of Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command and the main strategist of al Qaeda. This would have allowed Bush to claim that he was achieving success in the war on terror, and put terrorism front and center in the minds of voters just days before the election.

If so, it failed in that goal. What is has done instead, apart from leading to more deaths of innocent people, is undermine and weaken the main ally that the US has in that region, Pakistani President Musharraf, an October surprise just for him that he neither wanted or needed.

The fallacy of torture’s effectiveness-3

(See part 1 and part 2.)

In the cover story of the October 2006 issue of The Progressive magazine, Alfred W. McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror dissects The Myth of the Ticking Time Bomb argues the apart from its immorality, the chief argument against torture is that the price it enacts is too high and ultimately defeats the people who use it.

The price of torture is unacceptably high because it disgraces and then undermines the country that countenances it. For the French in Algeria, for the Americans in Vietnam, and now for the Americans in Iraq, the costs have been astronomical and have outweighed any gains gathered by torture.

Although mass torture can get you useful information, the costs are so high as to make it useless. You end up not only alienating the population abroad (as has already happened to the US with the news of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo), you also eventually lose support at home as more and more people become disgusted with what their own government has done in their name. McCoy quotes British journalist Sir Alistair Horne as saying “You might say that the Battle of Algiers was won through the use of torture, but that the war, the Algerian war, was lost.”

McCoy then discusses a crucial question: If torture produces limited gains at such high political cost, why does any rational American leader condone interrogation practices “tantamount to torture”? He answers that the basic cause is insecurity in the leadership and the need to feel that they are doing something especially as events slide out of their control. “[T]he powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis, not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment.”

But this raises another problem. Once you have brutally tortured someone, you cannot just let them go, to freely speak about their treatment. You cannot bring them to an open trial where they can tell the judge and the public how they were treated. Allowing the victims of torture to speak about their conditions rebounds badly on you. The film Road to Guantanamo is one example of the negative consequences, because it is based on the story of three young Britons after they were eventually released from Gunatanamo.

The BBC radio program The World also had a report on October 24, 2006 in which their reporter went to a remote village in Pakistan. A young man there had returned home psychologically broken after being tortured in Guantanamo. His story was widely known in the entire region and had angered many other young men who had then joined up with various guerilla forces, trained, and then slipped into Afghanistan to fight the US there.

Then we have the story of Canadian Maher Arer who, while changing planes in the US on his way home from a business trip, was detained by US authorities and then sent to Syria to be tortured before being eventually released because they had nothing against him. He is now telling his story.

In a multipart report on MSNBC, reporter Bill Dedman confirms the essence of McCoy’s case that once you torture someone, you cannot let go and you cannot bring them to trial either.

Mohammed al-Qahtani, detainee No. 063, was forced to wear a bra. He had a thong placed on his head. He was massaged by a female interrogator who straddled him like a lap dancer. He was told that his mother and sisters were whores. He was told that other detainees knew he was gay. He was forced to dance with a male interrogator. He was strip-searched in front of women. He was led on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks. He was doused with water. He was prevented from praying. He was forced to watch as an interrogator squatted over his Koran.

That much is known. These details were among the findings of the U.S. Army’s investigation of al-Qahtani’s aggressive interrogation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
. . .
Although they believed the abusive techniques were probably illegal, the Pentagon cops said their objection was practical. They argued that abusive interrogations were not likely to produce truthful information, either for preventing more al-Qaida attacks or prosecuting terrorists.
. . .
Will Mohammed al-Qahtani, the suspected 20th hijacker, ever face trial?

The cops who directed the investigation, Col. Mallow and Fallon, said they were told several times by prosecutors in the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, as the military trials are known, not to keep bringing forward a case against al-Qahtani, that there would be no case.

“The techniques made some detainees unprosecutable,” Fallon said. “It would provide the defense counsel a tremendous advantage at trial to sway the presiding officer and members, as well as it would have disclosed those techniques to the public.”

More recently, the Washington Post reports on the case of Majid Khan. The US government is trying to prevent any access to him because of what he might say about how he has been treated.

The Bush administration has told a federal judge that terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be allowed to reveal details of the “alternative interrogation methods” that their captors used to get them to talk.

The government says in new court filings that those interrogation methods are now among the nation’s most sensitive national security secrets and that their release – even to the detainees’ own attorneys – “could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage.” Terrorists could use the information to train in counter-interrogation techniques and foil government efforts to elicit information about their methods and plots, according to government documents submitted to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton on Oct. 26.
. . .
Joseph Margulies, a Northwestern University law professor who has represented several detainees at Guantanamo, said the prisoners “can’t even say what our government did to these guys to elicit the statements that are the basis for them being held. Kafka-esque doesn’t do it justice. This is ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ “

Kathleen Blomquist, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said yesterday that details of the CIA program must be protected from disclosure. She said the lawyer’s proposal for talking with Khan “is inadequate to protect unique and potentially highly classified information that is vital to our country’s ability to fight terrorism.”

Government lawyers also argue in court papers that detainees such as Khan previously held in CIA sites have no automatic right to speak to lawyers because the new Military Commissions Act, signed by President Bush last month, stripped them of access to U.S. courts. That law established separate military trials for terrorism suspects.

To avoid this kind of post-torture situation, governments end up keeping torture victims locked up and out of sight forever. But then after awhile, as the numbers get larger, even that option gets unwieldy and expensive in terms of money and manpower. So the temptation is to “pump and dump,” i.e. pump people for information, then kill them and dump the bodies. It is estimated that the CIA’s Phoenix program in Vietnam resulted (by the CIA’s own count) in over 20,000 such murders. So once you get started on the torture road, the final destination is state-approved murder, and that is the road we are currently on.

This is where torture inevitably leads you. It should never be condoned.

POST SCRIPT: Russ Feingold

Politics is a dirty business and it is hard to remain ‘pure’ and still get elected to high office. Although I have repeatedly said that the Democratic and Republican parties are just two factions of a single pro-war/pro-business party, I recognize the need to find and support the least worst elements of each.

Sadly, the person I would have been most likely to support enthusiastically for President has said he has no intention of running for that office. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin made the announcement on Saturday.

Feingold has distinguished himself by staking out positions on principle. Here are some of his accomplishments:

1. He was the only senator to vote against the notorious “USA Patriot” Act, that began the rapid slide towards dismantling civil liberties.
2. He introduced a motion to censure President Bush for authorizing warrantless wiretaps.
3. He supports the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.

Glenn Greenwald points out how the beltway pundits and politicians (who wouldn’t recognize a principle if it was handed to them on a plate surrounded by watercress) simply could not understand Feingold and tried desperately to interpret his actions as either Machiavellian scheming or the actions of a political naif.

When people ask why the political culture does not produce better candidates, we tend to rightly blame the strong influence of money. But a good share of the blame must be placed at the feet of the oh-so-smug-and-knowing insider cynicism of the political chattering classes.

With Feingold’s departure from the race, we are headed closer to a nightmare scenario in 2008 where the two factions of the pro-war/pro-business party will send their most cynical and opportunistic and unprincipled representatives to vie for the presidency: Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain. The pundits will love them because they play the games according to the debased rules they understand, where the only things that matter are strategy and tactics, and principles are irrelevant.

The fallacy of torture’s effectiveness-2

(See part 1 here.)

In the cover story of the October 2006 issue of The Progressive magazine, Alfred W. McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror dissects The Myth of the Ticking Time Bomb and points out that there is little evidence that useful information is gleaned from torturing this or that individual.
[Read more...]

The fallacy of torture’s effectiveness

I have written before that the passage and signing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) means that the US, as a nation, has decided that it has accepted the idea that the government can arrest and detain and torture people indefinitely without giving them access to family, lawyers, or courts. Thus, in one stroke, the US has abruptly removed individual freedoms and protections that took years of hard struggle to attain.

It always amazes me that those who support these moves invoke fiction as a basis for their reasoning, often mentioning the TV show 24 hours. Although I have not watched that program, from the way it is invoked it appears that it regularly involves the hero Jack Bauer having to confront a ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario where he, in order to avert a major disaster, has to get crucial information from an individual who won’t talk. Bauer then tortures the person, the person reveals the information, and thus the day is saved. (Those who watch the show please correct me if my inferred impression is wrong.)

On a recent Real Time with Bill Maher program, Maher pointed out that with the passage of the MCA, the US government has now become identical with those reviled South American juntas where people just ‘disappeared’ and were never heard from again. Wall Street Journal editor Stephen Moore immediately sprang to the administration’s defense saying that he sees nothing wrong with shooting someone in the leg to get information, invoking Bauer again for support. He argues that what he calls ‘Jack Bauer justice’ is what the American people want. The fact that this may be true (as evidenced by the passage of the MCA) is not a cause for rejoicing.

Hillary Clinton had earlier opposed the MCA saying it “undermines the Geneva Conventions by allowing the president to issue executive orders to redefine what are permissible interrogation techniques. Have we fallen so low as to debate how much torture we are willing to stomach?” But now, clearly feeling that she needs to be as barbarous as the current administration in order to have a chance of occupying the White House in the future, she is quoted as telling the New York Daily News “that the president should have “some lawful authority” to use torture or other “severe” interrogation methods in a so-called ticking-bomb scenario.” She has, in fact, fallen to that low level that she despised just a short while ago.

This ticking time bomb scenario is a favorite of those who seem to take actual pleasure in inflicting pain on others, such as Charles Krauthammer. The reason that such people invoke such fictitious scenarios is that they have little else going for them. Careful analysis of actual situations shows that torture is not only immoral, but it also does not work, and requires for its success on the simultaneous existence of multiple factors, each of which is unlikely by itself.

In the cover story of the October 2006 issue of The Progressive magazine, Alfred W. McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror dissects The Myth of the Ticking Time Bomb.

He writes that this myth originated with the academic speculations of philosopher Michael Walzer and went largely unnoticed until resurrected recently by another torture advocate Alan Dershowitz.

McCoy points out that:

In the real world, the probability that a terrorist might be captured after concealing a ticking nuclear bomb in Times Square and that his captors would somehow recognize his significance is phenomenally slender. The scenario assumes a highly improbable array of variables that runs something like this:
– First, FBI or CIA agents apprehend a terrorist at the precise moment between timer’s first tick and bomb’s burst.
– Second, the interrogators somehow have sufficiently detailed foreknowledge of the plot to know they must interrogate this very person and do it right now.
– Third, these same officers, for some unexplained reason, are missing just a few critical details that only this captive can divulge.
– Fourth, the biggest leap of all, these officers with just one shot to get the information that only this captive can divulge are best advised to try torture, as if beating him is the way to assure his wholehearted cooperation.

But this combination of factors is highly unlikely to occur. It is only after an event has occurred that people look back and see clearly the chain of events that led up to it and are able to unerringly “connect the dots”, to use a currently popular cliche. He points out that Zacarias Moussaoui was in captivity for weeks before 9/11 being desultorily questioned without any useful information being obtained, because the “FBI did not have precise foreknowledge of Al Qaida’s plot or his precise role.”

“After the event,” Roberta Wohlstetter wrote in her classic study of that other great U.S. intelligence failure, Pearl Harbor, “a signal is always crystal clear; we can now see what disaster it was signaling since the disaster has occurred. But before the event, it is obscure and pregnant with conflicting meanings.”

But suppose that this highly unlikely sequence of events does happen. In such cases does torture yield useful information? This will be examined in the next posting in this series.

POST SCRIPT: Meanwhile, in other elections. . .

In a less-watched election, those Ohio candidates favoring the teaching of evolution and opposed to introducing intelligent design ideas into the science curriculum won seats in the State Board of Education elections. This continues the losing slide, both legal and electoral, for intelligent design creationism (IDC) advocates that began with the reversal in Dover, PA.

The losses for the IDC side follow similar defeats in the Kansas primaries. The Ohio pro-evolution candidates were supported by the group HOPE which stands for “Help Ohio Public Education, a group of scientists angered by the board’s flirtation with intelligent design, which courts have barred from science class.”

In the race that drew national attention, Tom Sawyer, a former Akron mayor and 16-year congressman, was beating incumbent Deborah Owens Fink nearly 2-1 for a board seat that covers Summit, Ashtabula, Portage and Trumbull counties.
. . .
Three other HOPE-backed candidates appeared headed for victory Tuesday: former state legislator John Bender of Avon and retired school teacher Deborah Cain of Canton were clinging to narrow leads, and incumbent Sam Schloemer of Cincinnati was winning handily.

But the group’s biggest target was Owens Fink, a University of Akron marketing professor. She was one of the most articulate proponents of a model lesson for 10th-grade biology teachers that called for a “critical analysis” of Charles Darwin’s widely held theory that life on Earth descended from common ancestors.

Fink apparently got less than 30% of the vote, which has to be considered a pretty devastating loss for an incumbent.

Michael Ledeen – The ultimate revisionist

Of all the people that are mentioned in the Vanity Fair article that are seeking to escape responsibility for their role in urging the Iraq war, none sinks lower than that Michael Ledeen.

Jonah Goldberg alerted us to the fact that Ledeen was an “entertaining speaker” but he did not tell us the half of it. In the Vanity Fair interview Ledeen turns out to be real yukmeister when he argues that the influence of the neoconservatives paled in comparison to a much more powerful bloc: “Ask yourself who the most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes.” So according to Ledeen, it is women, those lovesick, lovelorn women surrounding George Bush and assiduously competing for his affections, who are to blame for the Iraq mess! Bush was too enraptured by the sirens around him to listen to those who were giving him good advice. Who would have suspected that the whole Iraq war was a soap opera, the result of romantic intrigues within the White House?

But Ledeen’s ability to generate laughs does not end there. Ledeen has also received widespread ridicule because he has been the most shameless in trying to rewrite history, and his feeble and transparent attempts have been quickly exposed. Following the emergence of the Vanity Fair article, he claims that he never supported the invasion of Iraq and so feels no reason to apologize.

I do not feel “remorseful,” since I had and have no involvement with our Iraq policy. I opposed the military invasion of Iraq before it took place and I advocated – as I still do – support for political revolution in Iran as the logical and necessary first step in the war against the terror masters. . . So it is totally misleading for Vanity Fair to suggest that I have had second thoughts about our Iraq policy.

He also asserted this opposition to the Iraq war in his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross. When I heard him say it on the radio, I was surprised since it seemed so inconsistent with the strong support that the neoconservatives had for the invasion, but Terry Gross did not challenge him. Since I had not personally been keeping track of what Ledeen had been saying all these years, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that perhaps he had been a more sophisticated thinker than his fellow neoconservatives. But it turns out he is simply and brazenly lying.

People like Ledeen seem to keep forgetting that things like Google and Lexis-Nexis now exist and keep records of whatever you have published. Gone are the days when you could deny what you said in the past, confident that few people will bother to go to libraries and dig up archives of old publications to check on you. Now that information is available at everyone’s fingertips and there are legions of bloggers out there tirelessly doing the detective work to expose these shameless efforts at rewriting history. And Ledeen’s come-uppance was not slow in arriving.

Thanks to Mona at Inactivist we have proof that Ledeen is lying. In August 2002, this is what he wrote in response to former National Security Advisor (to George H. W. Bush) Brent Scowcroft’s misgivings about invading Iraq:

It’s always reassuring to hear Brent Scowcroft attack one’s cherished convictions; it makes one cherish them all the more.
. . .
So it’s good news when Scowcroft comes out against the desperately-needed and long overdue war against Saddam Hussein and the rest of the terror masters.
. . .
He fears that if we attack Iraq “I think we could have an explosion in the Middle East. It could turn the whole region into a caldron and destroy the War on Terror.”

One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today. If we wage the war effectively, we will bring down the terror regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and either bring down the Saudi monarchy or force it to abandon its global assembly line to indoctrinate young terrorists.

That’s our mission in the war against terror.

So not only was Ledeen for the war in August 2002, he so lacks basic human feeling for the lives of the people of that region that he wanted to turn it in to a “cauldon.” But there’s more. In an August 12, 2002 interview with other panelists on the topic “To Invade Iraq or Not; That is the Question?”, he responds to questions this way:

Question #1: Gentlemen, should we go to war against Iraq?

Ledeen: We have been at war with Iraq for years, since we performed victory interruptus at the end of the Gulf War phase. Iraq has attempted to assassinate a former American president, broken the agreement to permit international inspectors, aided anti-American terrorists both internationally and within the United States, and called for anti-American jihad with monotonous regularity. The only question is whether or not we’re prepared to finally wage the war in such a way as to win it.

Question #2: Okay, well if we are all so certain about the dire need to invade Iraq, then when do we do so?

Ledeen: Yesterday.

Once Mona had pointed out these examples of Ledeen’s lie, others quickly began to investigate and found even more. Jonathan Schwarz makes up a damning compendium of Ledeen’s self-incriminating words. On August 19, 2002, Ledeen said “I think in the case of Iraq, the strongest argument for a preemptive strike is to say what I believe which is that we have in effect been at war with Iraq for quite a long time. They have attacked us repeatedly. They tried to assassinate one former American president. They’ve supported terrorists that have carried out terrorist activities within the United States. . .So this would not be a preemptive strike. This would be a response. . .I think that if President Bush is to be faulted for anything in this so far, it’s that he’s taken much too long to get on with it, much too long.”

And then on February 18, 2003 he says, urging war on Iran as well as Iraq, “As in the war against Iraq, we have already waited far too long to get on with it. Faster, please!”

Suddenly finding himself in the crosshairs for his transparent attempts at rewriting history, Ledeen resorts to that old debating ploy, the non sequitur, by pointing to some other writing of his where he did not urge an invasion, without addressing the substance of the case that has been made against him. It is like someone accused of assaulting his wife trying to absolve himself by saying “But I bought her flowers just last week!” People like Ledeen have no shame.

Glenn Greenwald, as usual, puts his finger on the key point:

People are entitled to express a wide range of opinions and to be forgiven for being wrong sometimes. We are all wrong sometimes. But the type of dishonesty and willingness to say anything, no matter how false, that is evident in Ledeen’s efforts to save himself has become so pervasive and acceptable at the highest levels of our government and pundit class, and it has completely destroyed the quality and value of political debate in our country. Nobody is entitled to do that, and it’s difficult to think of a more important priority than re-establishing the most minimal standards of honesty in our political discourse. That begins by making liars like Ledeen have some accountability and consequences for their lies.

The one big question that arises from all this is the following: How could it be that the US, the most powerful nation in the world, with all the information and expertise and resources at its disposal, be persuaded by people like this to make one of the most disastrous blunders in the history of modern warfare?

You can be sure that this question will be pondered by historians for generations to come, providing the raw material for many doctoral dissertations.

Trying to avoid blame for the Iraq fiasco-2

(See part 1 here.)

Of course, one thing that all the people interviewed in the Vanity Fair article share is that they never acknowledge any personal responsibility for causing the mess in Iraq. They never apologize. Instead they are anxious to say that they are not to be blamed for this mess. So scapegoats must be found.

Rumsfeld is turning out to be everyone’s favorite target and the knives are definitely out for him, fueled by the ringing endorsement that Bush gave him and Cheney last week, a move that stunned those who perhaps thought the Iraq policy might be salvaged with someone new as Secretary of Defense.

Kenneth “Cakewalk” Adelman is one of those disillusioned by his former hero. He had expected great things from Rumsfeld but now says: “I’m very, very fond of him, but I’m crushed by his performance. Did he change, or were we wrong in the past? Or is it that he was never really challenged before? I don’t know. He certainly fooled me.”

The Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times and Marine Corps Times released a joint editorial on Saturday, November 4, 2006 under the headline “Time for Rumsfeld to go” in which it argues that the current military leadership has lost faith in him. The editorial ends:

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with
Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth:

Donald Rumsfeld must go.

Rumsfeld, with his strutting, his overbearing language and demeanor, and his browbeating of anyone who might deign to challenge him, epitomized the know-it-all arrogance of this administration and is fully deserving of criticism, But this editorial is quite an extraordinary and disturbing development for a democracy. Although these newspapers are not part of the military, they seem confident that they are expressing the sentiments of the current military leadership. When the current military people quasi-publicly criticize the defense secretary, this undermines the principle of civilian control of the military. It does not rise to the level of a coup but is disturbing nonetheless. More than anything, this illustrates how dangerously out of balance the whole government has been brought to by the Iraq war.

Other former war supporters interviewed in the Vanity Fair article are also gloomy about the possible outcome of the war. Eliot Cohen, director of the strategic-studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and member of the Defense Policy Board, says: “I wouldn’t be surprised if what we end up drifting toward is some sort of withdrawal on some sort of timetable and leaving the place in a pretty ghastly mess.”

Frank Gaffney, an assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan and founder of the Center for Security Policy, delivers perhaps the unkindest cut of all: “[Bush] doesn’t in fact seem to be a man of principle who’s steadfastly pursuing what he thinks is the right course. He talks about it, but the policy doesn’t track with the rhetoric, and that’s what creates the incoherence that causes us problems around the world and at home.”

Bush’s appeal to many voters has been that he is a man of principle who knows what he believes and acts on those beliefs. To be accused by his erstwhile friends of being weak and confused must hurt.

Richard Perle wants everyone to understand that none of the current mess is the fault of the neoconservatives. He says: “Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I’m getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war.” (my emphasis)

Meanwhile infamous Iranian exile Ahmed Chalabi, now living in London, has emerged from the shadows and blames Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon, the Americans, anybody. This is the same Chalabi who regaled gullible and now disgraced New York Times reporter Judith Miller with stories about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs provided by Iraqi “defectors” who turned out to be frauds. She then published those stories on the front pages of that paper, and the Administration then completed that incestuous cycle by using those same stories to argue that there was independent proof that Iraq had WMDs.

An article in Editor and Publisher excerpts an article by reporter Dexter Filkins that just appeared in the New York Times, giving us Chalabi’s own revisionist history:

Now, in an interview in his London home, Chalabi, betraying what Filkins calls “a touch of bitterness,” declares, “The real culprit in all this is Wolfowitz,” the former assistant secretary of defense, whom he still considers a friend. “They chickened out. The Pentagon guys chickened out. . .The Americans screwed it up. . .America betrays its friends. It sets them up and betrays them. I’d rather be America’s enemy.”

Chalabi has nothing to say about his leaks to Judith Miller of The New York Times, but Filkins does recall her famous email from 2003 when she boasted that Chalabi had “provided most of the front-page exclusives on WMD to our paper.” 



David Kay, the weapons inspector, weighs in on Wolfowitz: “He was a true believer. He thought he had the evidence. That came from the defectors. They came from Chalabi.”
. . .
Chalabi counters views that he was the catalyst [for the war], saying that it was Bush officials who “came to us and asked, ‘Can you help us find something on Saddam?'”

Chalabi, after doing all that he did to provide the US with arguments to go to war, now “claims that he warned the Bush people that various Iraqi informants were unreliable, only to hear the Americans say, referring to the source, “This guy is the mother lode.” Chalabi, of all people asks, “Can you believe that on such a basis the United States would go to war?”

These people are a real piece of work. After feeding each other stories that they all wanted to believe, and foisting them on a gullible American public through an equally gullible media, they now express amazement that anyone would have taken the case for war seriously.

We have to leave it to editorial cartoonist Tom Toles to sum up the idiocy of this position:

tomtoles.jpg

Trying to avoid blame for the Iraq fiasco

I had thought that I had said all that I had wanted to about the warmongering pundits attempts at rewriting the history of the Iraq war, but some dramatic developments over the weekend compel me to revisit the question. The recognition that the situation in Iraq is very bad, if not hopeless, is more widespread among war advocates than even I had thought. Consequently, the attempts to avoid blame for the debacle have become even more desperate

It is clear that the Iraq war debate has long past the point at which the options could be described as to whether the US should “stay the course” or “cut and run.” Now the options are better described as a choice between those advocating “stay and lose” (which is the position of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and a rapidly shrinking coterie of their true-believer allies) and the “run and blame” crowd, which has seen an explosive growth in its ranks, consisting largely of conversions from the once-enthusiastic war supporters.

Nowhere is the extent of the disaffection with the war and the Cheney administration revealed more than in an extraordinary preview of a Vanity Fair article released over the weekend. (The full article will be in the January 2007 issue.) The article, titled Neo Culpa, consists of interviews by David Rose of the leading lights of the neoconservative movement. Rose says that as he prepares for the interviews: “I expect to encounter disappointment. What I find instead is despair, and fury at the incompetence of the Bush administration the neoconservatives once saw as their brightest hope.”

All of the people interviewed by Rose are now distancing themselves from any responsibility for the war. The Vanity Fair articles lists an astonishing number of influential former war cheerleaders who have turned against the Bush administration. In the process, they are scrambling to find excuses, seeking to blame others for their grand dream going sour. Once again, though, their chief complaint is not that the war was wrong in principle but that they had no idea that the current administration would be so incompetent in executing the war or that the Iraqis would be so stupid as to not realize what was in their own best interests. In fact, according to them, everyone and everything is to blame except the one thing that is obvious: that the idea of the invasion itself was wrong and that they were wrong to promote it.

Take Richard Perle, once chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee and popularly known as “The Prince of Darkness”. He blames all the problems on the “depravity” of the Iraqi people and the “devastating dysfunction within the administration of President George W. Bush.” He says that “The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly. . . At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible. . .I don’t think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty.”

Perle now says that “total defeat – an American withdrawal that leaves Iraq as an anarchic “failed state” – is not yet inevitable but is becoming more likely.” He still believes in some of his earlier delusions, though. “I don’t say that because I no longer believe that Saddam had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, or that he was not in contact with terrorists. I believe those two premises were both correct.”

But he has suddenly realized that there were options other than going in with guns blazing. “Could we have managed that threat by means other than a direct military intervention? Well, maybe we could have.” Thanks, Prince. I am sure that the hundreds of thousands of dead people and their loved ones, casualties of the war you helped instigate, feel so much better now that you have seen the light.

Of course, Perle was one of the very people who poo-poohed any overtures by the Iraqi government to avoid war and was gung-ho about the invasion. The London Guardian newspaper reported in November 2003 that these overtures were actually channeled through Richard Perle but went nowhere because of stringent conditions imposed by Perle himself. This has become a standard pre-war tactic, to impose conditions that you know will be refused, and then justify invasion because of that rejection.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum also says something extraordinary. “I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.”

Pause for a moment to understand how low Frum’s opinion of Bush is. What he is saying is that by him putting words in Bush’s mouth, Bush might come to act on them. In other words, he thought of Bush as an idiot who could be made to say things that other people want him to say, and having said them, believe in them because he had said them. Frum is saying now that Bush is even more of an idiot than he had thought, because although he did say the words Frum put in his mouth, he did not really understand or know what he was saying, and therefore did not wholeheartedly act on them.

And then there’s the famous Kenneth “Cakewalk” Adelman. He too now says that he was wrong to have placed his faith in Bush and his fellow bunglers.

Kenneth Adelman, a lifelong neocon activist and Pentagon insider who served on the Defense Policy Board until 2005, wrote a famous op-ed article in The Washington Post in February 2002, arguing: “I believe demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” Now he berates the entire administration, saying: “I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional. . .There’s no seriousness here, these are not serious people. . .The problem is a performance job. . .Rumsfeld has said that the war could never be lost in Iraq, it could only be lost in Washington. I don’t think that’s true at all. We’re losing in Iraq.”

Next: More neo culpas

Why the pro-war pundits must be countered

I have spent this week trying to explain why we should not take seriously even those pro-war pundits who now think invading Iraq was a bad idea. The reason is that they have never acknowledged the fundamental wrongness of that policy and instead have tried to portray it as errors in implementation. This kind of thinking merely lays the groundwork for future wars by persuading people that it can be done correctly.

There have been many conflicting reasons given for invading Iraq. These reasons have been endlessly recycled so that as one argument is shown to be false, the next one is produced, with defenders of the war saying “But the real reason for the war is. . .” By filling in the blanks with changing rationales, they can go through the entire cycle and come back to the beginning and act as if it is a fresh argument.

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow is, as usual, ahead of the curve in identifying and skewering this tactic.
TMW06-14-06.jpg

Currently, the favored point in that cycle is the argument that the invasion of Iraq was to bring democracy to that country. This ‘motherhood and apple pie’ argument is always the next-to-last refuge of the scoundrel since no one opposes democracy. The fact that this was not the argument made at the time shows that the proponents of the war want us to forget the actual reasons given for invading that country.

Why is that? Because then those same arguments can then be recycled to make the case for going to war against Iran or Syria or North Korea. The same warmongers and think tanks who urged war on Iraq are now re-positioning themselves saying that while that war may have not turned out well due to tactical failures (such as not having enough troops, or disbanding the Iraqi army, or failing to hand over power quickly enough, planning ahead for the post-war occupation, or whatever), the US has learned from that unfortunate experience and will do the next invasion correctly, with glorious success.

One does not know where to begin in dismantling such a hubristic attitude. Comedian Bill Maher on the New Rules segment of his program Real Time with Bill Maher says it best as to why we should never listen to these people anymore.

And finally, New Rule, in two parts: A) You can’t call yourself a think tank if all your ideas are stupid. And B), if you’re someone from one of the think tanks that dreamed up the Iraq War, and who predicted that we’d be greeted as liberators, and that we wouldn’t need a lot of troops, and that Iraqi oil would pay for the war, that the WMD’s would be found, that the looting wasn’t problematic, and the mission was accomplished, that the insurgency was in its last throes, that things would get better after the people voted, after the government was formed, after we got Saddam, after we got his kids, after we got Zarqawi, and that the whole bloody mess wouldn’t turn into a civil war…you have to stop making predictions!
. . .
You know, it’s a shame what happened to think tanks. They used to produce valuable, apolitical analysis. But partisanship crept into many of them. And the Bush Administration doesn’t just come up with something as stupid as “If we leave now, they’ll follow us home.” No, they have someone from a think tank say it first. It’s a way to lend respectability.
. . .
The think tanks that incubated the Iraq war have lofty names like the Heritage Foundation and the Project for a New American Century. Whatever. They’ve been wrong so often, I’m surprised they’re not my broker. Richard Perle thought we could win Iraq with 40,000 troops. Paul Wolfowitz predicted, in 2003, that within a year, the grateful people of Baghdad would name some grand square in their fine city after President Bush. And he was right when he said they’d be waving American flags. They were on fire.

William Kristol pooh-poohed the fears that Sunnis and Shiites would be at each others’ throats, as “the stuff of pop psychology.” Right.
. . .
And now, Mr. Kristol proposes immediate military action against Iran, predicting the Iranians will thank us for it. Hey, you know what, Nostrodamus? Why don’t you sit this one out? We’ll get by using the Magic Eight Ball for a while.

(You can see the video of this Maher segment here.)

But they will not sit this one out, nor the next one, nor the next one. They will remain fixtures in our media, endlessly recycling their ideas, pushing for more wars, hoping that the public will not notice the hollowness of their arguments or their lack of any empirical support or the fact that they have been wrong so often in the past.

Our only option is to treat them with the contempt they deserve.

POST SCRIPT: Stephen Colbert again

See Colbert have fun with the ridiculous flap over Kerry’s botched joke.