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.

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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.
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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.
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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?
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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:


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.

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.

The warmongers’ insatiable desire for violence

The dirty little (but open) secret is that people like Jonah Goldberg never really cared for all the finer points of the case for or against war, all the geopolitical calculations. They wanted blood and revenge for the attacks of 9/11 and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan were merely the most convenient targets for their bloodlust. In a macabre way we are fortunate, despite the barbarism of his views, to have people like Goldberg because he moves around in the circles of influential opinion makers, and he often reveals what they say in limited circles and might prefer not to have repeated to a broader public. He is like a child who blurts out to visitors the unflattering things his parents said about them just before their arrival, causing red-faced embarrassment all around.
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Rewriting the history about the Iraq war – the pundits keep trying

The pro-war agitators other attempt at rewriting history is to say that the people who opposed the war were partisan simpletons who were against anything that Bush did, while supporting the wars that Democrats started. This is blatantly false as editorial director Justin Raimondo has repeatedly pointed out.

Raimondo delivers a blistering dissection of the phony apologias of these once cock-a-hoop warmongers, such as that they were right to support the war but that they were let down by the incompetence in executing it. They now call for more troops, firing Donald Rumsfeld, or other tactical changes, without conceding that the invasion of Iraq was a massive strategic blunder and that the current debacle followed inexorably from it.

In the veritable tsunami of recantations and recriminations pouring out of former supporters of the war, from Francis Fukuyama to various Republican members of Congress, there is one constant theme: Don’t blame us! Who knew that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction? No one could have known about the rise of the insurgency. Nobody told us!

The only proper answer to this is: Poppycock!
. . .
America’s looming defeat in Iraq was easily predictable: after all, the British, the Turks, the Ottomans, and, further back, the Romans, the Persians, the Mongols, and the Macedonians under Alexander the Great had all been driven out of Mesopotamia, some quicker than others. Why did anyone think the Americans would be the exception?
. . .
If only we knew then what we know now” – that’s the mantra we’re hearing from the excuse-makers, Democrats as well as Republicans and repentant neocons, now that the truth about this rotten war is out there in the open, plain enough for even the willfully blind to see. Well, I’m not buying it. There were plenty of indications that the “intelligence” cooked up by the neocons was faked, but nobody in Washington wanted to hear it.

Raimondo takes to task warmonger Andrew Sullivan who, like Jonah Goldberg and Francis Fukuyama, has now come to the same realization that his prior support for Iraq war was a mistake, not because it was the wrong thing to do in principle, but because he misjudged the competence of the Bush administration in implementing it.

Sullivan’s appeal to the “incompetence” angle shows that there is no shame, no real remorse, for having led us all down the garden path: according to his lights, he was right, in principle – it was only in the execution that the administration got it all wrong. Instead of regretting that we ever sent our troops into the Iraqi maelstrom, Andrew opines that we sent too few.

The fact is that many who opposed the war made a much more fundamental claim, that a “preventive war” was illegal and immoral, that Iraq had neither attacked nor threatened to attack the US, and thus there was no grounds for attacking it.

The fact also remains that many of the reasons for invading Iraq were base and shameful and the current attempts at rewriting history should be exposed. Take for example, another example from war enthusiast Jonah Goldberg. He wrote recently: “The failure to find weapons of mass destruction is a side issue. The WMD fiasco was a global intelligence failure, but calling Saddam Hussein’s bluff after 9/11 was the right thing to do.”

Really? WMDs were a side issue? Who would have guessed? Where was he during all of 2002 and 2003 when that was constantly given as the rationale for the war, in press conference after press conference, and then echoed in talk show after talk show? What about all the images of mushroom clouds billowing all over the world? And what exactly was Saddam Hussein’s ‘bluff’ that Goldberg is referring to? He doesn’t say. Does he think war is like a card game? Does he think the 600,000 Iraqi lives lost in this war are just so many poker chips?

Goldberg then goes on to further castigate the antiwar activists for their supposed naivete:

Those who say that it’s not the central front in the war on terror are in a worse state of denial than they think Bush is in. Of course it’s the central front in the war on terror. That it has become so is a valid criticism of Bush, but it’s also strong reason for seeing our Iraqi intervention through. If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened. (my emphasis)

His statement that “If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened” is another one of those sweeping generalizations which are pure fancy with no empirical basis. When the British withdrew from India, did the Indians start marauding the streets of London? When the US withdrew from Vietnam and Lebanon, did the people of those countries roam around the world, wreaking havoc? When the people of Afghanistan drove out the Soviet Union, did they follow them to Moscow? As is usually the case, when an occupying force has been driven out, the people of those countries go back about their own business.

Goldberg gives merely a casual acknowledgment to the fact that thanks to this unnecessary war, the Iraqi people are dying in their hundreds of thousands, and are now the victims of their country becoming a magnet for violent extremists and a battlefield for warring factions that he himself acknowledges was never the case before. He seems to think its quite ok for the US to have made Iraq a “central front in the war on terror.” Who cares what tragedy it has created for the Iraqi people? For these ‘hardheaded political realists’ with their grand geopolitical calculations, it does not matter if hundreds of thousands of people are killed and the remainder live in constant terror because of the violence and instability that has been unleashed by their actions.

As long as the deaths happen elsewhere to people they don’t know, they can sleep well at night, blissfully dreaming of future wars that they can advocate.

Rewriting the history about the Iraq war – The US warmongers start hedging

The best indicator that the current Iraq policy has failed is that in the US, many former gung-ho and giddy war advocates have now decided that the war was a mistake and are now desperately casting around for excuses and planning where to lay the blame. And as they do, the policy itself descends into incoherence as people start making different claims about the causes for the war, the current status, and the reasons for the setbacks.
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