A Man with a Flashlight

Small war, big fear

Two former Reagan appointees notice an odd difference between today’s Permanent Emergency (popularly labeled the War on Terror) and World War Two and Vietnam:

To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam — where we both proudly served twice — America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.

I have seen remarkably little discussion of how this happened. In fact I cannot, at the moment, recall reading a single explanation of why, after shouldering the bitter weight of World War Two with such aplomb, and maintaining our principles, if not our winning streak, in Vietnam – what caused us to lose our nerve now, and to condone such desperate, doomed solutions from our President?

Are we simply spoiled? Has sixty years of wealth and comfort made us so desperate to avoid a fight that we will give up honor, if only we can buy a little more time, and be saved from death?

That is Bush’s bargain: betray the principles of our fathers, and I will give you safety from death. Let those take it who will, but forgive me if I don’t have the stomach for it.

“Come on, George.”

George Tenet is asked about “enhanced interrogation.” Nod to Andrew Sullivan.

“The image that’s been portrayed is, we sat around the campfire and said, ‘Oh, boy, now we go get to torture people.’ Well, we don’t torture people. Let me say that again to you. We don’t torture people. Okay?” Tenet says.

“Come on, George,” Pelley says.

“We don’t torture people,” Tenet maintains.

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammad?” Pelley asks.

“We don’t torture people,” Tenet says.

“Water boarding?” Pelley asks.

“We do not – I don’t talk about techniques,” Tenet replies.

“It’s torture,” Pelley says.

“And we don’t torture people. Now, listen to me. Now, listen to me. I want you to listen to me,” Tenet says. “The context is it’s post-9/11. I’ve got reports of nuclear weapons in New York City, apartment buildings that are gonna be blown up, planes that are gonna fly into airports all over again. Plot lines that I don’t know – I don’t know what’s going on inside the United States. And I’m struggling to find out where the next disaster is going to occur. Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through. The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know.”

“I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots,” Tenet says.

“But what you’re essentially saying is some people need to be tortured,” Pelley remarks.

“No, I did not say that. I did not say that,” Tenet says.

“You’re telling me that… the enhanced interrogation…” Pelley says.

“I did not say that. I did not say that. We do not tor…. Listen to me. You’re, you’re making…,” Tenet says.

“You call it in the book, ‘enhanced interrogation,'” Pelley remarks.

“…an assumption. Well, that’s what we call it,” Tenet says.

“And that’s a euphemism,” Pelley says.

“I’m not having a semantic debate with you. I’m telling you what I believe,” Tenet says.

Asked if anyone ever died in the interrogation program, Tenet says, “No.”

Asked if he’s sure of that, the former director tells Pelley, “Yeah. In this program that you and I are talking about? No.”

“Have you ever seen any of these interrogations done?” Pelley asks.

“No,” Tenet replies.

“Didn’t you feel like it was your responsibility to know what’s going on?” Pelley asks.

“I understood. I’m not a voyeur. I understand what I was signing off on,” Tenet says.

Asked if he lost any sleep over it, Tenet tells Pelley, “Yeah, of course you do! Of course you lose sleep over it. You’re on new territory. But that’s not the point! What’s this tension? The tension is, ‘I’ve just lived through 3,000 people dying. This is not a clinical exercise.’ Maybe for you guys it’s a clinical exercise. Not for me! 3,000 people died. Friends died. Now I’m gonna sit back, and then everybody says, ‘You idiots don’t know how to connect the dots. You don’t have imagination. You were unwilling to take risk to protect this country,'” Tenet says.

America is torturing people, as Tenet knows. If he thinks that’s right, why not come out and say it?

Tenet, the President, and the Vice-president know, and they are lying. It’s overwhelmingly obvious that their lies are well-prepared, not an ad hoc response. They know the question will be asked. They clearly have a rationalization of why they are allowed to speak falsely, and it is probably the same one: My lie serves the country.

And of course, being intelligent people, they have another voice inside, telling them: If I speak the truth, I may be held accountable for what I have done.

Notice the similarity between the President’s language and Tenet’s: “We do not torture,” and “We don’t torture people.” Unequivocal, bold, and obviously intended to decieve. It is as though they hope the very boldness of the lie will sow confusion.

Isn’t the point of America that no lie can serve it? Aren’t we the followers of a way of life which speaks for itself, which needs no deceit to defend it? No, in the opinion of our President, and our Vice-President, we are not. We are a regime just like any other, which must torture, lie, and go to any length to perpetuate its own control.

Precedents exist for prosecuting former heads of state for crimes committed during tenure. And a law without enforcement is no law at all.

The coming Republican revolt
April 29, 2007, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Politics, The Imperial President, The War on Terror

William F. Buckley – yes, the leading light of the conservative movement – doesn’t think Iraq is winnable. To wit:

What can a “surge,” of the kind we are now relying upon, do to cope with endemic disease? The parallel even comes to mind of the eventual collapse of Prohibition, because there wasn’t any way the government could neutralize the appetite for alcohol, or the resourcefulness of the freeman in acquiring it.

How long will Bush have enough votes in Congress to keep his veto power secure? He’s going to get a spending bill after he vetoes the timetable (um, right?), but will he get the next one?

In the past month or so, the political fight over Iraq has taken on the feel of an endgame. Even if the President lives to fight another day for now, I just don’t see what else he can pull out of a hat. Particularly if he doesn’t really think Iraq is winnable – just postponeable to the next president’s term.

Surge, or time-delay fuse?
April 29, 2007, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Politics, The Imperial President, The War on Terror

Joshua Micah Marshall at Talking Points Memo argues, citing circumstantial evidence, that the surge is designed to push the inevitable loss of Iraq into the tenure of the next U.S. president, protecting Bush from some of the blame for it.

I’m reluctant to believe that anyone could be that ruthless, let alone the man who still has nearly two years left to lead our country. And I don’t see how it could succeed – the war is just so integral to Bush’s presidency that I find it hard to imagine a McCain, an Obama, a Clinton, or a Giuliani in any way diminishing Bush’s identification with it.

But I’ve underestimated the administration’s shameless self-service so many times that I’m tempted to give Marshall’s argument some credence. And it would explain something I just can’t fathom. We are at the war’s most desperate hour (well, so far anyway). If our leadership can make it happen, they have to act now. Everyone needs to focus on what must be accomplished.

So why hasn’t Bush made any indication of what his tactical goals are? What exactly is the measurement that will tell us – or at least tell him – if he is succeeding? Shouldn’t this information be in the hands of every soldier? Do our Americans on the ground have any idea what the president wants them to achieve in the next few months?

Far from it. We have no goals in Iraq. “Stop it going to hell” doesn’t count. There is no sense of ambition, of hungering for something achievable. In fact, Marshall cites a NYTimes article saying that the administration is actually lowering its expectations of the Maliki government.

So the good news is that the surge is having some effect. The bad news is, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all a sham. A good tactic doesn’t matter if you don’t have a strategy.

Meanwhile, in case you hadn’t contemplated how losing Iraq could be worse for America than losing Vietnam was, the Washington Post counts the ways.

Stand by your man
April 25, 2007, 12:31 am
Filed under: The Imperial President

Bush stands by Gonzales. He seems to have liked Thursday’s performance. Money quote:

“The attorney general went up and gave a very candid assessment and answered every question he could possibly answer, in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job,” Bush told reporters in the Oval Office yesterday. “Some senators didn’t like his explanation, but he answered as honestly as he could.”

Not “completely honestly,” mind you. But “as honestly as he could.”

The punch line is that Bush didn’t even watch the hearing, according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. That does explain things somewhat, but you don’t expect them to just come out and say it.

Expect more mutiny from Republican lawmakers. He’s giving them nothing to believe in, and hurting the chances of those who are up for re-election.

The Gonzales Hearing – a Youtube retrospective
April 20, 2007, 1:10 pm
Filed under: Politics, The Imperial President

Alberto Gonzales flame-grilled, with a side of barbecue sauce…

I wouldn’t want to get on Schumer’s bad side. Maybe Alberto Gonzales is wishing he hadn’t.

Leahy twists the knife, with a dash of Vermont humor:

Republicans aren’t exactly throwing themselves in front of the bullets. Unless telling Gonzales to resign counts:

Lindsay Graham calls Gonzales a liar, in courtly southern fashion:

Gonzales even manages to piss off Arlen Specter. Is there anyone for him not to argue with?

The Washington Post has the story here and here.

Five years into the War on Terror, it seems fair to say that the Bush administration has been fighting on two fronts: abroad, a war against Islamic terrorism, and at home, a war against the coequal branches of government.

While Republicans controlled Congress (and they could count on the President to boost their election chances, instead of hurt them) this war at home went well.

All that ended with the 2006 election. If that wasn’t completely clear at the time, it’s being driven home now. U.S. Attorney-gate is the first big engagement in a power struggle between the president and congress, and Alberto Gonzales is the administration’s soldier.

It is clear that many in Congress, led by Democrats but including Republicans, want to take him down – both to punish the President’s actions in the Attorney scandal, and as part of a broader fight to reclaim Congress’s parity with the Executive. This is compounded by Gonzales’ apparent cluelessness about the actions of his own office, which wins him even more enemies, while giving plentiful political cover to those who already dislike him for other reasons. And that Gonzales seems to be either lying, or extraordinarily forgetful, puts the cherry on top and tips the Senate over into semi-riot mentality.

Watch the January Gonzales hearings on Youtube. Or click here, or here. Watch how Leahy, Specter, and Feingold question Gonzales, before the Attorney scandal. They wanted his blood then too, they just couldn’t find anywhere to sink their teeth in.

Now their opportunity is here, and they’re going to do him if they can. Unfair? I’m not sure. The Attorney firings were something of an Executive raid into no-man’s land – especially if, as seems likely, the goal was to use Attorneys to pursue political prosecutions. Now Congress is sending the message that the border between the President’s authority and theirs is patrolled, and anyone on a foray across it had better watch where they step. Gonzales didn’t.

Why Gonzales’ silence?
April 17, 2007, 11:34 am
Filed under: Politics, The Imperial President

Unless he’s been setting us up for a surprise, Alberto Gonzales isn’t going to reveal much when he testifies today. (Update: the hearing was rescheduled for Thursday due to the murders at Virginia Tech.)

Is he protecting the president? The Albuquerque Journal reports that New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was fired by Bush as a favor to senator Pete Domenici. Talking Points Memo has the story:

Gonzales…told Domenici he would fire Iglesias only on orders from the president… Domenici called Bush’s senior political adviser, Karl Rove, and told him he wanted Iglesias out and asked Rove to take his request directly to the president.
Domenici and Bush subsequently had a telephone conversation about the issue.

It would be ironic that the Senate holds hearings and calls in witnesses, while one of their own number has the whole story, yes?

Gonzales chooses his words
April 17, 2007, 11:23 am
Filed under: Politics, The Imperial President

From his Sunday piece in the Washington Post:

I know that I did not — and would not — ask for the resignation of any U.S. attorney for an improper reason.

Interesting how the words “I know that” actually add uncertainty to his statement, isn’t it? And:

During those conversations, to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign.

Gonzales’ own actions, apparently, are like an obscure academic field that he has intrepidly researched, to report back to us what he has learned.

I could go on, but Dan Froomkin does it better.

The Marines’ new toy
April 14, 2007, 12:46 pm
Filed under: The Imperial President

The V-22 Osprey is deployed to Iraq. Okay, this is pretty cool.

A tragedy in six acts…

I. Don’t worry, we’ll be greeted as liberators.
II. Wait, finding Saddam and Zarqawi will turn this around.
III. Wait, the reconstruction will turn this around.
IV. Wait, the elections will turn this around.
V. Wait, the surge will turn this around.
VI. Wait, the V-22 will turn this around.

Act VII… the Army reanimates Captain America…

Gonzales’ response to Leahy
April 14, 2007, 11:09 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, The Imperial President

Also from the same hearing.

We understand what our legal obligations are with respect to when someone is either removed, extradicted, or rendered to another country. We understand what our obligations are under the convention against torture. And we do take the steps to make sure that those obligations are being met.”

Like a bedpan left out all night, Gonzales manages to be both tepid and full of shit.

Okay, this is getting absurd.
April 14, 2007, 1:20 am
Filed under: The Imperial President

Now the RNC can’t find four years worth of emails from Karl Rove.

Note to my representatives in congress: just issue the damn subpoenas already.

I thought maybe Patrick Leahy was overreacting…
April 14, 2007, 1:12 am
Filed under: The Imperial President

You know, about the emails congress wants apropos of the U.S. attorney crisis being missing. But Glenn Greenwald sets the record straight. Leahy was right, it really is like saying the dog ate your homework.

Cross us, and we can just lock you up.
April 14, 2007, 12:46 am
Filed under: The Imperial President, The War on Terror

Jesus Christ on a stick. Will somebody tell the president to knock it off? The spree of incarceration goes on… (Nod to Andrew Sullivan)

A Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer is seized by U.S. Forces and locked up for one year. The U.S. refuses to bring any charges. When American military spokesmen suggest their “suspicions” in interviews with the media, virtually all of them are exposed as false within a matter of weeks. No matter. He is still held. But surely this is some dark alternate universe, and not the one we inhabit, you think?

Actually it’s some dark alternate universe, and it’s the one we inhabit.

America standing for democracy, fair play, humanity, and the rule of law? That’s so five years ago.

Did Bush order mock executions?
April 11, 2007, 10:00 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, The Imperial President

And if so, is he criminally liable?

This article in the Wall Street Journal describes the Guantanamo treatment of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, suspected of aiding the 9/11 hijackers. (Nod to Andrew Sullivan)

The independently corroborated treatment of Mr. Slahi includes death threats:

…a masked interrogator told Mr. Slahi he had dreamed of watching detainees dig a grave… The interrogator said he saw “a plain, pine casket with [Mr. Slahi’s] identification number painted in orange lowered into the ground.

The threat to have his mother raped:

He gave the prisoner a forged memorandum indicating that Mr. Slahi’s mother was being shipped to Guantanamo, and that officials had concerns about her safety as the only woman amid hundreds of male prisoners…

And mock execution:

Two men took a shackled, blindfolded Mr. Slahi to a boat for a journey into the waters of Guantanamo Bay. The hour-long trip apparently led Mr. Slahi to think he was to be killed and, in fear, he urinated in his pants.

Mr. Slahi also claims he was beaten, sexually humiliated, and subjected to extreme temperatures. I wouldn’t necessarily credit everything he says, but one does note that these techniques have a familiar ring.

Who gave the orders? Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch, assigned to prosecute Mr. Slahi, realized that he had been tortured and refused to proceed. The chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bob Swann, was indignant. Their debate mentioned the president:

An impassioned debate followed, the prosecutor recalls. Col. Swann said the Torture Convention didn’t apply to military commissions. Col. Couch asked his superior to cite legal precedent that would allow the president to disregard a treaty. The meeting ended when Col. Swann asked the prosecutor to turn over the Slahi files so the case could be reassigned, Col. Couch recalls.

It seems likely that someday, perhaps soon, we will know who was responsible for this. The truth will out. Torture cannot be allowed to stand. And we will have to decide what to do about it, legally speaking.

Is the Bush administration putting critics on no-fly?
April 9, 2007, 11:06 am
Filed under: The Imperial President, The War on Terror

That’s what American Airlines clerks told Princeton University professor emeritus Walter F. Murphy. Murphy, who criticized the administration in a televised speech in 2006, found he was on the no-fly list last week when he checked in for a flight to a conference at Princeton. Airline staff told him this was the likely reason he was on the terrorist watch list and expressed no surprise, suggesting they had seen it before. They said anti-war demonstrators were commonly placed on the list. (Nod to Andrew Sullivan)

We need to know more about this – why was Murphy then allowed to fly, to begin with. Normally I would dismiss his story as just too improbable.

But this administration outed Valerie Plame. They abducted and tortured a man because his name was spelled similarly to a suspected terrorist’s. Under them the FBI infiltrated peaceful protest organizations and videotaped interrogations of protestors in American cities about their political and religious beliefs. And they have made no bones about their belief in nearly limitless presidential power.

So would they put a political critic on the no-fly list? I can’t responsibly put it past them.

I mean, the beauty of it is no-one would ever know. We can’t. They don’t have to explain why anyone is on the list. There are congressmen who can’t get off it.

So it’s like when a cop makes a drug bust, and they’re standing in a motel room with hundreds of thousands of dollars lying on the bed, uncounted. Who’s going to know if they pocket some?

Do we want our president to have this power? Do we want anyone in our country to have this power?