Unintended Consequences, Redux

by matttbastard

(Photo: Paul Keller, Flickr)

Jane Mayer on the sudden prominence of ex-W speechwriter (and current Hiatt-approved pro-torture propagandist*) Marc Thiessen and why those who don’t pop wood for enhanced interrogation [sic] should be wary:

The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Teach the controversy, maaan. Nothing is true; everything is permitted.

*As Harry Allen would say, don’t just read Alex Pareene’s superlative Gawker piece ‘The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America‘ — memorize it.

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Why Does Rep. Pete Hoekstra Hate America?

by matttbastard

Shorter Pete Hoekstra: “It’s totally Obama’s fault that unsuccessful terror attack was indeed unsuccessful”:

Shame, that. Maybe one day Hoekstra’s vibrant wet dream of death and destruction will actually come true. And then Darth Cheney (who already co-owns a successful terror strike on the homeland — in your fail-tastic face, Barry!) can finally have the satisfaction of saying “I told you so.” 

PS: Bull-fucking-shit.

h/t Crooks and Liars

Update: Roy Edroso explores the right-wing blogosphere so we don’t have to (thank God!)

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Panetta: “CIA pays a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist.”

by matttbastard

"I hope Broder appreciates the pastiche."

Shorter Leon Panetta: ‘Hey, remember all that shit I talked last year about how “[w]e either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground“? Well, surprise, I finally found that middle ground — hidden behind a desk @ Langley!’

Even shorter: ‘Accountability is for partisan suckers.’

‘Shorter’ concept created by Daniel Davies and perfected by Elton Beard.

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Don’t Go Back to the Bunker Just Yet, Dick!

by matttbastard

From Dan Balz’s latest WaPo piece on GOP discomfort with Dick Cheney’s recent media ubiquity:

Liz Cheney strongly disagreed with the claim that her father’s vocal defense of Bush administration policies has caused significant unrest within the GOP. She said he has received phone calls, e-mails and letters from people around the country, from officials in government and from members of the military and their families, thanking him for standing up and speaking out. “He’s got hundreds of people coming to him saying, ‘Please keep doing what you’re doing,’ ” she said.

Yes, well, unfortunately for the Grand Old Poopyheads, a number of the lurkers supporting Deadeye Dick in email are likely agent provocateurs from the Democrat Socialist Party.  Regardless, let me second the sentiment: Please, keep filling the wingnut leadership vacuum with the nostalgic stench of recent history, you overflowing shitbag of fetid amorality.

Please.

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Torture Architect John Yoo Gets Monthly Column in Philly Inquirer

by matttbastard

Clicky-clicky the image for more

Um, wha?

John Yoo has written freelance commentaries for The Inquirer since 2005, however he entered into a contract to write a monthly column in late 2008. I won’t discuss the compensation of anyone who writes for us. Of course, we know more about Mr. Yoo’s actions in the Justice Department now than we did at the time we contracted him. But we did not blindly enter into our agreement. He’s a Philadelphian, and very knowledgeable about the legal subjects he discusses in his commentaries. Our readers have been able to get directly from Mr. Yoo his thoughts on a number of subjects concerning law and the courts, including measures taken by the White House post-9/11. That has promoted further discourse, which is the objective of newspaper commentary.

Will Bunch nails it:

No personal disrespect toward Harold Jackson (a well-regarded colleague with whom I’ve crossed career paths in two far-flung cities, with many mutual friends) but I could not disagree more. None of this is a good enough justification for awarding a column to America’s top defender of such a serious human rights violation as torture — certainly not the fact that he’s now a celebrated Philadelphian (so is disgraced state Sen. Vince Fumo, who could be handed a political column based on this kind of rationale). Sure, his warped viewpoint that the president of our once-proud democracy can assume virtually dictatorial powers is controversial enough to “promote further discourse” (so did George Will’s recent blatantly misleading column on climate change) but that alone hardly makes something worth publishing.

But while promoting public discourse is a goal of newspaper commentary, it should not be the main objective. The higher calling for an American newspaper should be promoting and maintaining our sometimes fragile democracy, the very thing that Yoo and his band of torture advocates very nearly shredded in a few short years. Quite simply, by handing Yoo a regularly scheduled platform for his viewpoint, the Inquirer is telling its readers that Yoo’s ideas — especially that torture is not a crime against the very essence of America — are acceptable.

Hmm, I wonder if Charles Manson is too busy carving swastikas into his forehead to phone in 500 words a month, too? In the interest of “promoting further discourse,” natch. I hear he’s also really knowledgeable about legal subjects.

Cough.

h/t Sarah via tweet

Update: more from Sarah, who suggests that the Inky hire another celebrated Philadelphian to provide further discourse (and a counterpoint to  that whiny fuckhelmet Michael Smerconish.)

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Torture, Accountability and the Faux-Absolution of Collective Guilt

by matttbastard

In a must-read post, Dan Froomkin takes on recent attempts by OG ‘eventheliberal’ Michael Kinsley and pseudo-contrarian Slate guru Jacob Weisberg to whitewash the Bush Admin’s torture record by arguing that “the nation’s collective guilt for torture is so great that prosecution is a cop-out.”

Froomkin points out the elephant in the room–and it’s wearing a press pass:

While it’s true that the public’s outrage over torture has been a long time coming, one reason for that is the media’s sporadic and listless coverage of the issue. Yes, there were some extraordinary examples of investigative reporting we can point to, but other news outlets generally didn’t pick up these exclusives. Nobody set up a torture beat, to hammer away daily at what history I think will show was one of the major stories of the decade. Heck, as Weisberg himself points out, some of his colleagues were actually cheerleaders for torture. By failing to return to the story again and again — with palpable outrage — I think the media actually normalized torture. We had an obligation to shout this story from the rooftops, day and night. But instead we lulled the public into complacency.

Wait, you mean the corporate media may have collectively (and quite willingly) played the role of useful idiot in the tragicomic post-9/11 GWOT farce put on by the Bush-Cheney Review? NO WAIS, DUDE!

Froomkin continues:

Secondly, while it’s certainly worth exploring why any number of people were either actively or passively complicit in our torture regime — and I’m all for some national self-flagellation here — that has nothing to do with whether senior administration officials willfully broke the law, and whether they should be held accountable. It doesn’t change the law.

Froomkin’s case for accountability has since been inadvertently and unintentionally bolstered by–wait for it–former Bush AG John Ashcroft (h/t Think Progress):

The government must hold accountable any individuals who acted illegally in this financial meltdown, while preserving the viability of the companies that received bailout funds or stimulus money. Certainly, we should demand justice. But we must all remember that justice is a value, the adherence to which includes seeking the best outcome for the American people. In some cases it will be the punishing of bad actors. In other cases it may involve heavy corporate fines or operating under a carefully tailored agreement.

Ok, so Ashcroft is talking about the financial meltdown, not the widespread erosion of human rights and the complete subversion of the rule of law that occurred under, um, his watch.

Still, as Jack Balkin notes, the principle is universal:

According to this same logic, the government should demand a full accounting of what Bush Administration officials did and it should institute new methods for monitoring and preventing abuses in the future. It should find ways to hold individuals who broke the law accountable without jeopardizing our existing national security. What the government should not do is what Attorney General Ashcroft argues against in the financial context– to sweep illegal actions under the rug or to go easy on the individuals who broke the law because they work for the federal government.

Sen. Chris Dodd underscores the bottom line:

[N]ot to prosecute people or pursue them when these acts have occurred is, in a sense, to invite it again in some future administration.

Special prosecutor NAO.

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Losing My Religion

by matttbastard

Three must-reads on the consequences of embracing torture as official US policy at the expense of long-established (if not always consistently applied) American values.

Glenn Greenwald:

It’s certainly true that Reagan, like most leaders, regularly violated the principles he espoused and sought to impose on others, but still, there is an important difference between (a) affirming core principles of the civilized world but then violating them and (b) explicitly rejecting those principles.  Doing (a) makes you a hypocrite; doing (b) makes you a morally depraved barbarian.  We’re now a country where the leading “intellectuals” of the conservative movement expressly advocate torture on the pages of The Washington Post, and where most of the political and media class mocks as Far Leftism what Ronald Reagan explicitly advocated and bound the U.S. by treaty to do:  namely, “prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

Karen J. Greenberg:

One day, perhaps soon, much of the rest of the minutiae produced by the Bush administration’s torture-policy bureaucracy will come to light. Procurement lists, for example, will undoubtedly be found. After all, who ordered the sandbags for use as hoods, the collars with chains for bashing detainees’ heads into walls, the chemical lights for sodomy and flesh burns, or the women’s underwear? The training manuals, whatever they were called, will be discovered: the schooling of dogs to bite on command, the precise use of the waterboard to get the best effects, the experiments in spreading the fingers just wide enough in a slap to comport with policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, released last week, has already begun to identify the existence of training sessions in techniques redefined as not rising to the level of torture.

For now, however, we have far more than we need to know that what the United States started when, in 1948, it led the effort to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became the moral figurehead for human rights concerns worldwide for more than a half-century, has come to an end. Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the commission that drafted that 1948 Declaration, remarked at the time that the United States was “the showcase” for the principles embodied in the declaration. Sixty-one years later, that is no longer true.

Gary Kamiya:

Ever since 9/11 we have been living in a twilight country, one where it is not clear whether laws apply or not, a morally relativist place in which unembarrassed emotionalism has replaced adherence to ethical and legal principles. When one of the country’s leading pundits, the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, can argue that the Bush administration torturers should suffer no legal consequences because “Al Qaeda truly was a unique enemy, and the post-9/11 era a deeply confounding war in a variety of ways,” and that Americans “would have told the government (and still will) ‘Do whatever it takes,'” he is basically saying that the inchoate fears and primal emotions of the people should override morality and law.

This widely shared attitude is like a dormant virus: It may appear to be harmless now, but it could come to life at any time.

DJ rewind — what Frank Rich said:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Yes, this.

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‘Somebody’s going to jail behind this stuff.’

by matttbastard

Something to keep in mind, bottom-lined by former FBI special agent Ali Soufan:

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Also, what Frank Rich said:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Yes, this.

Methinks the inimitable Charles Pierce is wearing soothsayer garb here:

It seems fairly plain now that the torture story has the kind of legs that neither this administration, nor, certainly, the previous one, wish that it had. The question of whether there will be an investigation is now off the boards. There will be a number of them, official and unofficial. There are now too many people talking for anything else to happen. The career military and the FBI are pretty pissed and, sooner or later, the CIA lifers are going to push back and pin the whole thing on the political apparatchiks inside the Bush White House. That the apologists now seem to be simply rooting for another attack, after which they plan to gloat themselves back into power, is demonstration enough that they perceive the moral bankruptcy of their own position, and that they sense a very strong tide turning against them. The oddest thing is how seriously the rising outrage seems to have wrong-footed the Obama Administration. They had to know this was coming, even though torture–and the theories of executive power from which the atrocities sprang — was nowhere near the issue during the campaign that it should have been.They’ve been stumbling around for two weeks looking for some way to spin this into the message of “Change” without actually doing anything about it. The best thing they can do is let the investigations — all of them, official and unofficial — continue to gather steam and see where the whole thing leads. Events are in the saddle now, and I don’t think the president is comfortable with that, but there isn’t anything else he can do about it. A while back, in response to some tut-tutting by the insufferable Parson Meacham, I suggested that, while anger might not take us very far, as he suggested, we should see how far it would take us anyway. I suspect we’re about to find out. I didn’t believe this for a long time, but I do now. Somebody’s going to jail behind this stuff.

Please, let it be so.

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‘These people belong in a prison cell.’

by matttbastard

Re: revelations in the newly released Senate Armed Services Committee report on US torture that the Bush admin began planning the program in 2001 and that torture was utilized to gin up a link between Iraq and al-Qaida, what Radley Balko said:

So they tortured Gitmo detainees to get information, which turned out to be false, to build support for a war they had already made up their mind they would wage.

And keep in mind, these decisions were made by political appointees. Not JAGs, not military generals, not even veteran CIA agents (most people in all three positions actually opposed these policies). They were made by neocon warmongers with little to no actual military or interrogation experience who hadn’t the slightest idea what they were doing.

These people belong in a prison cell. To excuse them is to say that no abuse of power should be punishable so long as you can come up with some tortured justification about how you were only trying to protect the country.

The headline to a recent op-ed by Simon Jenkins (h/t Sarah) bottom-lines things perfectly:

‘Cheney and the apologists of torture distrust democracy.’

Special prosecutor NAO.

Related: Hilzoy on the ‘”perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm” that helped put the CIA torture program into action (although ‘ignorance’ seems to be a bullshit excuse):

This is what happens when we stop demanding minimal competence in our Presidents; when we start caring more about who we would rather have a beer with than, oh, who would be most likely to seek out the best advice and listen to all sides of an argument before making an important decision, or whose judgment we can trust. We end up with people who toss aside our most fundamental values because someone who has never conducted an interrogation before thinks it might be a good idea, and no one bothers to do the basic background research on what he proposes.

Of course, keep in mind what Nell points out (and Balko implicitly recognizes) in this must-read post:

One of the most persistent and discouraging themes that crops up in discussions of torture is the question of whether it “works” or not. The people engaging this question make a fatally wrong assumption: that the goal of torturers is the same as that of legitimate interrogators — to get reliable information useful for active, circumscribed military operations or police investigations.

But torture does something else altogether, and is designed to do so: it extracts false confessions. These confessions, along with the agony of the torture itself, serve the goals of limitless, lawless “war”: to humiliate and break opponents, to divide them from supporters, to terrify those not actively in opposition into staying inactive, and, most importantly, to justify the operations of the dirty war within which torture takes place: commando raids, assassinations, spying, kidnaping, secret and/or indefinite (and unreviewable) detention, and further torture.

The mistaken assumption that those in the previous administration who set the torture policy were motivated solely by an urgent need for information has several other bad effects. It reinforces the absurd ticking-bomb hypothetical that allows so many people to justify torture to themselves. It provides a noble-sounding excuse for the officials who promoted torture, making it harder for citizens to muster the will to hold them legally accountable for their crimes: “They were just trying to keep the country safe.”

The euphemism of “enhanced interrogation” for torture was chosen by both the Nazis and the Bush-Cheney regime exactly because of its propaganda value in reinforcing this false picture: It’s just legitimate questioning that goes a little further. An error of enthusiasm, if you will. An understandable mistake, a policy difference that we sure don’t want to criminalize, looking backward with our 20-20 hindsight.

But, as useful as these effects are to the torturing regime, the most important role of the spurious linkage with intelligence-gathering and interrogation is as a screen: It hides the role of torture in creating and expanding the dirty war itself.

Flashback: Via Democracy Now: Mark Benjamin and Katherine Eban on Mitchell Jessen & Associates, the shrinks who transformed SERE into CIA torture (yes, torture).

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