Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 21st, 2010

Lying about torture

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Kevin Drum has a good post at Mother Jones:

A few days ago, Jonathan Bernstein pointed out that former Bush/Rumsfeld speechwriter Marc Thiessen was continuing to claim that the torture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in 2003 helped foil a terrorist plot to crash an airplane into a Los Angeles skyscraper. This was obviously a lie. Why? Because the cell leaders of the LA plot were arrested a year before KSM was captured.

Apparently this kind of crude, low-rent deception isn’t limited to Thiessen. It turns out that the same sort of clumsy lying was also part of the CIA’s classified "Effectiveness Memo," which the Bush administration relied on to bolster its legal case for torturing terrorist suspects. In Newsweek yesterday, Michael Isikoff reported that the recently released Justice Department report about the lawyers who approved the CIA’s interrogation program spilled the beans on what this memo said. In particular, the memo defended torture by claiming it was critical to the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubayda:

One key claim in the agency memo was that the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogations of Zubaydah led to the capture of suspected “dirty bomb” plotter Jose Padilla….“Zubaydah’s reporting led to the arrest of Padilla on his arrival in Chicago in May 2003 [sic].”

But as the Justice report points out, this was wrong. “In fact, Padilla was arrested in May 2002, not 2003 … The information ‘[leading] to the arrest of Padilla’ could not have been obtained through the authorized use of EITs.” (The use of enhanced interrogations was not authorized until Aug. 1, 2002 and Zubaydah was not waterboarded until later that month.)….As Newsweek reported last year, the information about Padilla’s plot was actually elicited from Zubaydah during traditional interrogations in the spring of 2002 by two FBI agents, one of whom, Ali Soufan, vigorously objected when the CIA started using aggressive tactics.

If torture were really as effective as the Thiessen/Cheney wing of the conservative movement thinks, they’d hardly risk resorting to such obvious lies to defend it. They’d have so much good evidence in favor of it that they wouldn’t need to bother. But apparently they don’t.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2010 at 7:11 pm

Sardine-avocado sandwich

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Man, that sounds good to me. Not quite so good as a sardine-avocado-bacon sandwich, but still highly satisfactory. I’m going to make it, but not as a basis for a diet, as Alton Brown did. (Sandwich recipe—and photo!—at the link.)

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2010 at 6:59 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Pen spinners

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Via Boing Boing:

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2010 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Daily life

How do Conservative pants-wetters get a rep for strength in national defense?

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It amazes me how tremulous Conservatives are: afraid to bring terrorists into US prisons, afraid to have terrorist suspects tried in court, afraid of so many things, including, it now appears, books. Yes, if the topic of a book is, say, a history of the Socialist Party in the US, Conservatives back away in terror and try to have the book removed before it attacks them. Carolyn Kellogg in the LA Times:

When conservative Rob Port took a tour of the White House this week, he was scandalized by the books he found on shelves in the White House library. "Photo Evidence: Michelle Obama Keeps Socialist Books in the White House Library," he blogged. He took a photo of the books in question, which includes "The American Socialist Movement 1897-1912" by Ira Kipnis (1952) and "The Social Basis of American Communism" by Nathan Glazer (1961).

Well, it was a first lady who put those books there, the Washington Post reports, but it wasn’t Michelle Obama. It was Jacqueline Kennedy, who was known for the care and attention she gave to outfitting the White House; she hired Yale’s librarian to stock it for her.

The books Port photographed have been sitting in the library since 1963.

The library came into being during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy asked Yale University librarian James T. Babb to oversee a committee that would select books for the library. In 1963, 1,780 were placed on the shelves.

The Washington Post went to a document from the White House Historical Assn., "The White House Library: A Short Title List," in which Babb wrote:

It is intended to contain books which best represent the history and culture of the United States, works most essential for an understanding of our national experience. The collection has to be strictly limited because the attractive library on the ground floor of the White House has shelf space for only twenty-five hundred volumes. Authors, with few exceptions, are citizens of the United States; fiction and poetry by deceased writers only have been included.

At this writing, there are more than 200 comments on the blog, which include a fair share of side discussion on George Bush’s Harvard MBA and the location of Barack Obama’s birth. But few were on point: One posted a link to a photo of books in the White House Library during the Bush administration, which included "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." Another wrote, "These are history books, not how-to books."

Which is the point that’s being missed: owning a book means an intellectual curiosity, not blind allegiance to what’s inside it. We have a history of reading to understand and learn. The American Library Assn. has a seven-point statement on the Freedom to Read, which begins:

The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label "controversial" views, to distribute lists of "objectionable" books or authors, and to purge libraries. These actions apparently rise from a view that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals. We, as individuals devoted to reading and as librarians and publishers responsible for disseminating ideas, wish to assert the public interest in the preservation of the freedom to read.

That was originally written not in response to this latest to-do, but in 1953, in the heat of the McCarthy Era. Which is long over, right?

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2010 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, GOP

Office of Professional Responsibility Bixby/Yoo Report

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Very interesting reading (PDF). The report’s conclusion:

Click image to enlarge.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2010 at 2:35 pm

I’ve read the "reform government" PDF

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And I’m eager for some town to try it. Here’s the full James Fallows post with a link to the PDF. Read the post, then read the PDF:

Previously here; "going to hell" article here. Many correspondents have argued, as I did in my original article, that something basic in the structure of government has made it hard or impossible for national officials to concentrate on real national problems. (As opposed to score-settling, posturing, fund-raising, and so on.)

Sol Erdman, of the non-partisan Center for Collaborate Democracy, and his colleague Lawrence Susskind of MIT, wrote in with a proposal to change the nature of Congress by changing the way Congressmen are elected. Before you ask: they argue that the changes they propose would not require a Constitutional Amendment, and therefore are in the realm of "things that could actually be done."

Their whole paper is now online as a PDF here. It is long but worth reading. A few representative quotes:

What’s wrong with Congress now (may sound familiar, but stay tuned…)

U.S. elections are organized in such a way that each lawmaker gets powerful incentives to act against the public interest. To begin with, a typical member of Congress can win reelection just by convincing a majority of his or her district’s voters that the other party is more untrustworthy, incompetent or corrupt than his own. And any politician knows how to make that case in graphic terms that voters can easily grasp.

Voters today have equally perverse incentives. That is, in each congressional district, every voter — every young single, middle- aged parent, senior citizen, truck driver, teacher, salesperson, lawyer, business owner, conservative, liberal and moderate — has to share the same representative. These diverse groups of district residents have distinct — often opposing — needs, values and political beliefs…. So, if a member of Congress advocates a detailed solution to a controversial issue, several large blocs of voters in his or her district are likely to oppose his stand, perhaps even enough to want to throw him out of office. The typical lawmaker therefore avoids proposing real solutions to the most controversial issues.

The behavior current incentives reward:

The members of Congress have found that there are far safer ways to stay in office [than dealing with the nation’s real problems]. The safest tactics include:

1) Reducing hard issues to simple slogans.

2) Passing measures that seem to address major problems but which put off the hard decisions into the future.

3) Blaming the country’s direst problems on the other political party.

These strategies succeed so often because of how congressional elections are organized today. Typically, one Republican competes against one Democrat for each district’s House seat. Any lawmaker can therefore stay in office just by convincing most voters that the other party is more incompetent than his own.

Could a change in Congressional election procedure be Constitutional?

Fortunately, the Constitution doesn’t require that members of the House represent districts. The Constitution doesn’t even mention districts. It lets each state decide how to elect its own Representatives, with Congress having the right to supersede the states’ decisions.

More in their paper, including an elaboration of a new election system they have in mind. Worth checking out.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2010 at 2:08 pm

More on Bybee/Yoo

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James Fallows:

When you are done reading this month’s issue of the Atlantic, and, as previously instructed, you should start with this article by Don Peck; then read Bruce Falconer’s incredible and riveting profile of a “Dr. Death” in Switzerland; and then read all the rest of the great offerings….

But after that, please read the full Office of Professional Responsibility report on the “torture memo” misconduct of Jay Bybee, now a Federal appeals court judge; and John Yoo, now a tenured professor at the UC Berkeley law school. The report is available as a 10MB, 289-page PDF download here. Seriously, this is a document that informed Americans should be familiar with, as a basis for any future discussion about the costs and consequences of a “global war on terror” and about the maintenance of American “values” in the world.

Through American history, there have been episodes of brutality and abuse that, in hindsight, span a very wide range of moral acceptability. There is no way to “understand” lynchings that makes them other than abominations. But — to use the extreme case — America’s use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will always be the subject of first-order moral debate, about whether any “larger good” (forcing an end to the war) could justify the immediate suffering, the decades-long aftereffects, and the crossing of the “first use” frontier that this decision represented.

My point now is not to go through the A-bomb debate. It is to say that anyone who is serious in endorsing the A-bomb decision has to have fully faced the consequences. This is why John Hersey’s Hiroshima was requisite basic knowledge for anyone arguing for or against the use of the bomb. The OPR report is essentially this era’s Hiroshima. As Hersey’s book does, it makes us confront what was done in our name — “our” meaning the citizens of the United States.

If you want to argue that “whatever” happened in the “war on terror” was necessary because of the magnitude and novelty of the threat, then you had better be willing to face what the “whatever” entailed. Which is what this report brings out. And if you believe — as I do, and have argued through the years — that what happened included excessive, abusive, lawless, immoral, and self-defeating acts done wrongly in the name of American “security,” then this is a basic text as well.

To conclude the logical sequence, if not to resolve this issue (which will be debated past the time any of us are around), you should then read the recent memo by David Margolis, of the Justice Department, overruling the OPR’s recommendation that Yoo and Bybee should be punished further. It is available as a 69-page PDF here. Margolis is a widely-esteemed voice of probity and professional excellence inside the Department. What is most striking to me as a lay reader is how much of his argument rests not on strictly legal judgments but rather on a historical/political assertion.

The assertion is that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, anxiety was so high, fears were so great, and standards of all sorts were so clearly in abeyance, that normal rules about prudence and arm’s-length deliberation cannot fairly be applied in retrospect. I.e., “you had to be there.” Perhaps. (And, of course, we all were there.) In normal life we recognize the concept of decisions made in the heat of the moment, under time pressure, and without complete info. But it is worth noting that the central “torture memos” were from mid-summer 2002, nine months after the initial attacks — by people whose job was supposed to be providing beyond heat-of-the-moment counsel.

The “torture years” are now an indelible part of our history. The names Bybee and Yoo will always be associated with these policies. Whether you view them as patriots willing to do the dirty work of defending the nation — the Dick Cheney view, the 24 view, which equates the torture memos with Abraham Lincoln’s imposition of martial law — or view them as damaging America’s moral standing in ways that will take years to repair (my view), you owe it to yourself to read these original documents. I tried to make this point in more halting real-time fashion yesterday in a talk with Guy Raz on NPR.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2010 at 1:31 pm

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