Thursday, April 30, 2009

Condoleeza Rice's Heated Exchange With Stanford Students

There was a very interesting and rather heated exchange between former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and a student at Stanford University on Monday.

During this conversation Rice makes the statements that:

1. Al Qaeda is a bigger threat to the United States than the Nazi's were because Al Qaeda has attacked our homeland.

2. That the Supreme Court blocked detainees from standing trial under the Military Commissions that the Bush Administration had set up.

3. That because President Bush told his Administration that nothing they were doing violated the Convention Against Toture, this inherently means that it was legal.

I wonder if Rice was channeling Nixon when she gave her own "if the President authorized it, it means it was legal" defense. Watch:

Notice how condescending and defensive Rice was during this exchange. She not only tells this student that he can't begin to understand the pressure decision makers were under after 9/11, but denies responsibility for authorizing anything after dismissing the student with the "do your homework" line.

Out of the three points I listed above, the first needs no explanation and the third has been shown to be a narrow and warped Nixonesque view of excutive power, but for the second Ali Frick weighs in:

"Of course, the Supreme Court "stayed" the Bush administration's military commissions because they were woefully inadequate. The Court -- three separate times -- required the administration to come up with meaningful judicial review of suspects' detentions. Indeed, last June the court held that military commissions "are not an adequate and effective substitute for habeas corpus" and thus "operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ."">Of course, the Supreme Court "stayed" the Bush administration's military commissions because they were woefully inadequate. The Court -- three separate times -- required the administration to come up with meaningful judicial review of suspects' detentions. Indeed, last June the court held that military commissions "are not an adequate and effective substitute for habeas corpus" and thus "operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ."

The defenses for torture are flying fast and furious out of this Administration and as Spain proceeds with criminal investigations the pressure is mounting for investigations within the United States. In last night's Presidential Press Conference, President Obama voiced his direct opposition to the position put forth by Rice and other Bush Administration officials:

What I've said — and I will repeat — is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices.

So...if torture is against the law and if waterboarding is torture and if we know that the Bush Administration authorized waterboarding...then is there any reason why investigations should not move forward if we are a nation where no one is above the law?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama's First 100

Much is being made of President Obama's first 100 days in office and the tone that has been set for his policies during this time period. Various organizations, pundits, and politicians are issuing their own assessment on President Obama's performance thus far and attempting to read the tea leaves for what lies ahead.

Personally, I think that much of this coverage can be overblown and seem a little silly. It reminds me of ridiculous "holidays" like Sweetest Day where you ask yourself, is all the attention really that necessary? 100 is a nice, round number and all, but it really doesn't signify too much if you really think about it.

Regardless, the chatter persists and perhaps we can be persuaded to find value in taking a little time to review some of the actions taken by the Obama Administration (not that we haven't been doing this on Days 34, 81, and 94 of his Presidency).

Concentrating on foreign policy in this entry, I found myself agreeing with much of the assessment given by Human Rights Watch in their "Report Card" that they issued today. They broke down their report into areas in which President Obama has achieved key accomplishments, has made missteps and missed opportunities, and decisions where the jury is still out on how events will play out.

Key Accomplishments that are listed in the Report Card are:

- Closing Secret CIA Prisons
- Implementing the Ban on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
- Repudiating Past Authorizations for Torture
- Bringing Saleh Kahlah al-Marri to Justice

Certainly, these decisions are worthy of praise and the speed with which some of these decisions were made (two days into office for some) underscores the vehement opposition that this Administration has to these policies. The President's decision to release the Bush era "torture memos" indicates that this Administration is interested in greater transparency and setting themselves apart from some of the Orwellian doublespeak and outright lies of the last eight years.

Some of the Missteps and Missed Opportunities listed in the Human Rights Watch report are as follows:

- Maintaining that the War is a rationale for holding suspected terrorists indefinitely without Trial
- Denying basic rights to prisoners at Bagram
- Adhering to the Bush Administration's Expansive View of the State Secrets Privilege

These missteps, in my view, are very problematic are incredibly discouraging for the hope of a fundamental change away from the policies of the last eight years. From the report:

One of the most potentially far-reaching Obama administration positions came to light in a Justice Department brief filed in Guantanamo litigation. On March 13, in response to a federal court order seeking a definition of the term "enemy combatant," the Obama administration claimed the authority to pick people up anywhere in the world on the grounds of support for or association with al Qaeda or the Taliban, and to hold them indefinitely in military detention. Rather than rejecting the Bush administration's ill-conceived notion of a "war on terror," the Obama administration merely discarded the phrase and tinkered with its form. The position expressed in the filing was a worrisome portent for the administration's future detention decisions.

This decision far from reverses the policy of the Bush Administration but is rather a continuation of the practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial. Closing Guantanamo Bay is a good thing, but it is merely treating a symptom without addressing the underlying disease of indefinite detention without a right to be charged or challenge said detention.

Also alarming is the Obama Administration's position on the use of the State Secrets Privilege. Not only is the Obama Administration using much of the same reasoning that the Bush Administration used surrounding this issue, but they have attempted to expand the rationale for using this privilege. Glenn Greenwald from February:

What was abusive and dangerous about the Bush administration's version of the States Secret privilege -- just as the Obama/Biden campaign pointed out -- was that it was used not (as originally intended) to argue that specific pieces of evidence or documents were secret and therefore shouldn't be allowed in a court case, but instead, to compel dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance based on the claim that any judicial adjudication of even the most illegal secret government programs would harm national security. That is the theory that caused the bulk of the controversy when used by the Bush DOJ -- because it shields entire government programs from any judicial scrutiny -- and it is that exact version of the privilege that the Obama DOJ yesterday expressly advocated (and, by implication, sought to preserve for all Presidents, including Obama).

The Obama Administration certainly had a golden opportunity to reign in some of the expanded executive powers that the Bush Administration worked so hard to fight for over the last eight years, but instead, they have shown a willingness to adapt to and even defend these very same powers that Obama once criticized while running for office.

The final category that Human Rights Watch listed on their report card dealt with "Ongoing or Incomplete Reforms". Listed under this category was:

- Closing the Military Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay
- Suspending the Unfair Military Commissions
- Accounting for Past Abuses
- Ensuring that Prisoners are not Returned to Torture

It will be important to see how this Administration deals with these significant issues. While Obama has pledged to close down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, it is unclear how he will handle the estimated 240 prisoners that are being detained. A thorough review of each case is needed and those detainees who the government finds have credible evidence pending against them should be tried while those are being held on little to no evidence should be released.

While the heading in the Human Rights Watch report is labeled "Accounting for Past Abuses", they make clear that we need not simply account for these abuses, but assure that they never happen again by launching a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the policies implemented after 9/11. From the report:

President Obama initially signaled a willingness to set up a non-partisan commission to investigate the abuses, but his office quickly backed away from the idea. The president also seems to have ruled out prosecuting CIA agents who carried out orders that they believed were legal, but the president left open the possibility of prosecuting those higher up the chain of command who gave orders to the CIA permitting detainees to be tortured.

Human Rights Watch urges President Obama to work with Congress to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate, document, and publicly report on post-9/11 counterterrorism-related abuses. The commission should make specific recommendations for individuals to be criminally investigated.

This recommendation by Human Rights Watch is not only appropriate for a country that prides itself on being a nation of laws, but necessary. An open inquiry into these abuses with recommendations for prosecution are the only way that we can, as Obama often mentions, productively "move forward". We cannot be a nation of Peggy Noonans and simply pretend that none of this happened. We must first address the issue and then work to hold those who broke the law to account for their crimes. A Truth Commission, like the one proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), is simply not enough. While getting to the bottom of everything is important, it will be meaningless if the law is not upheld with consequences for its breach.

President Obama is correct to receive mixed reviews for his first 100 days in office. As noted above, there is some good, some bad, and some that is undecided. Much of the undecided is critical to see whether, as I wrote about before the election, this President will be a man who adapts to the existing institutions or a man who is ready to tear them down with the goal of building something better. This is Obama's challenge.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brian Kilmeade: John McCain's Personal Experience with Torture Should Disqualify Him From Speaking on the Subject

Fox & Friends anchor and radio host Brian Kilmeade made an interesting argument today on the radio show "Brian and the Judge" with Judge Andrew Napolitano. He says that John McCain should not talk about torture because he was...well...tortured. Sound crazy?

ANDREW NAPOLITANO (co-host): You may not know the name unless you live in California. Jay Bybee was a professional researcher for the Justice Department when he authored the principal of -- the main one -- of the torture memos.

President Bush awarded him by appointing him to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. That's the level of appellate court just below the Supreme Court. He was appointed to the 9th Circuit, which covers the western third of the United States.

There's a lot of pressure on Jay Bybee -- on Judge Bybee, now, because these memoranda, which obviously were not known about under -- during the time of his confirmation came -- came out.

Here's what John McCain had to say about it yesterday.

JOHN McCAIN [audio clip]: A resignation would be a decision he would have to make on his own, but he falls into the same category as everybody else as far as giving very bad advice and misinterpreting fundamentally what the United States is all about, much less things like the Geneva Conventions.

Plus, under President Reagan, we signed a agreement against torture. We're in violation of that.

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Oh, come on. Number one, we all know John McCain is not a lawyer; this guy is. Number two, Judge, you knew at that time, this is --

NAPOLITANO: This is your guy, John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, now. Come on.

KILMEADE: No, he's not my guy. I like John McCain. I respect him. But there's a lot of issues I don't understand. Plus, he should not be allowed to talk on torture because he is clearly somebody who went through unspeakable pain and punishment --

NAPOLITANO: You mean, he shouldn't be allowed to talk -- he has an opinion like everybody else. He represents the state of Arizona.

KILMEADE: But he was tortured. He was tortured. And --

NAPOLITANO: Therefore, his views on torture are --

KILMEADE: -- are skewed.

NAPOLITANO: -- irrelevant because of what happened --

KILMEADE: -- are skewed.

NAPOLITANO: -- in 'nam? I think his views are particularly telling because he's been through this kind of thing.

KILMEADE: But what do you think he's going to be -- pro-torture --


KILMEADE: -- after he's been through it?

NAPOLITANO: Of course, he's not going to be pro-torture.

KILMEADE: And plus, I don't think this is torture. And they don't subscribe to the Geneva Conventions. We had this debate in 2002. You were on our set -- you were on constantly saying, "Look, they don't -- right -- the way the courts look at it right now, they do not fall under the Geneva Conventions." And that was what they were going under.

NAPOLITANO: I never said they didn't fall under the Geneva Conventions.

dday's reaction to this piece sums it up nicely:

Kilmeade's belief that nobody should be allowed to have an opinion backed up with experience or knowledge tracks perfectly with the conservative movement, on a variety of subjects. We shouldn't listen to scientists on climate change, or health professionals on health care, or weapons inspectors on Iraq. The plural of data is not anecdote. Nobody with an informed opinion can possibly be dispassionate. Reality has a well-known liberal bias. This is simply a distilled form of that worldview.

How Far Should We Go?

Matt Yglesias states the obvious:

The orthodox conservative position at this point, it seems to me, is that waterboarding is not torture. Nor is having someone dangle from his shackled arms in a manner so painful as to prevent sleep for a period of days. What’s more, these non-torturous “harsh techniques” are highly effective at gathering intelligence. But if that’s true, and these are legal and effective means of securing reliable information, why are we doing so little of it?

After all, people doing organized crime investigations face a lot of challenges in terms of getting information from people. Maybe cops should do routine undercover drug buys, build a case against low level dealers, and then waterboard the guys they’ve arrested and move further up the food chain. Maybe waterboarding and “stress positions” should become routine treatment for battlefield detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why not?

Indeed, if one makes the argument that waterboarding is not torture, that it provides reliable information, and that authorizing this technique will not lead to abuses down the road, then shouldn't those who defend waterboarding be arguing for its extended application into the criminal justice system?

Digby weighs in:

I hope for their sakes that none of these Americans who think that torture should be "considered" ever find themselves in the grips of the legal system because allowing the government to ignore the constitution and disregard moral taboos against cruelty and barbarity can only logically lead to the same tactics being used at home.

If there is no further investigation of this terrible breach of American values and constitutional principles and this philosophy is allowed to become a mainstream, respectable way of thinking, we will have gone a long way toward making ourselves an elected dictatorship subject to the good intentions of our leaders. Personally, I'm not crazy about that idea. I've lived long enough now to know that even the best cannot be trusted with such power.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Trickle-Down Hypocrisy

After the story broke surrounding the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, former President Bush gave an interview to Al Arabiya television. Here is a portion:

Considering our recent discussion surrounding issues of torture and detainee abuse, it certainly puts into context just how deceptive and untruthful the previous administration was. Even after this story broke in 2004 there were people writing about just how absurd it was for the Bush Administration to claim that these were just a "few bad apples". Now you have a situation where, like Bush, you have those who feigned outrage over this "isolated incident" in 2004, lining up to defend these tactics today.

Take Charles Krauthammer on May 14, 2004:

This panic is everywhere and now includes many who have been longtime supporters of the war. The panic is unseemly. The pictures are shocking and the practices appalling. But how do the actions of a few depraved soldiers among 135,000 negate the moral purpose of the entire enterprise — which has not only liberated 25 million people from 25 years of genocidal dictatorship but has included a nationwide reconstruction punctuated by hundreds, thousands, of individual acts of beneficence and kindness by American soldiers?

Krauthammer called these acts "appalling" in 2004 so naturally he would be outraged to see that this was not an isolated incident, but the actual policy of the United States right? From an April 17, 2009 FoxNews Transcript:

BAIER: Charles, let's start with these documents, their release. What does it mean?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it does harm the United States. It gives away a lot of our techniques. And I disagree. I don't see it as a dark chapter in our history at all.

You look at some of these techniques — holding the head, a face slap, or deprivation of sleep. If that is torture, the word has no meaning.

I would concede that one technique, simulated drowning, you could call torture, even though the memos imply that legally it didn't meet that definition. I'm agnostic on the legalism.

BAIER: You're talking about waterboarding?

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. But let's concede that it's a form of torture. I think it's perfectly reasonable to use it in two cases, that the ticking time bomb, if an innocent is at risk and you've got a terrorist that has information that would save that innocent and isn't speaking. That's an open and shut easy case.

A second case is a high-level Al Qaeda operative, a terrorist, who knows names and places and numbers and plans and safe houses and all that, and by using techniques to get information, you're saving lives.

If I have to weigh on the one hand the numberless and nameless lives saved in America by the use of these techniques, and we had a CIA director who told us that these techniques on these high-level terrorists was extremely effective in giving us information.

If you have to weigh on one hand that the numberless and nameless lives saved, against the 30 seconds or so of terror in the eyes of a terrorist who is suffering this technique, I think the moral choice is easy.

It's not a dark chapter in our history. It is a successful one. We have not had a second attack, and largely because of this.

Here you have a clear case of trickle-down hypocrisy. President Bush and his Administration authorized these techniques, feigned outrage, and isolated blame when exposed 5 years ago. Today, these same players defend these policies all while some members of the media (like Krauthammer) eat it up and spit it back out. "Appalling" in 2004 when the President and his Administration says it is and "necessary" in 2009 because the President's Administration says it was.

Torture Laws

With all of this talk about torture, are you confused about the laws against torture?

Phronesisaiical has a good run down of the laws that are relevent in our continuing discussion of this issue.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Military Agency Warned Against Torture in July of 2002

The Washington Post has obtained a memo written in 2002 by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the military agency which provides advice on interrogation techniques.

This memo, written in July before the August, 2002 Bybee memo, uses the word "torture" when describing techniques that would apply "extreme duress" to those under interrogation and warns:

In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption.
(NOTE: The application of physical and or psychological duress will likely result in physical compliance. Additionally, prisoners may answer and/or comply as a result of threats of torture. However, the reliability and accuracy information must be questioned.)

The memo also goes on to warn of operational concerns associated with these interrogation methods:

In numerous cases, interrogation has been used as a tool of mass intimidation by oppressive regimes. Often, the interrogators operate from the assumption (often incorrect) that a prisoner possesses information of interest. When the prisoner is not forthcoming, physical and psychological pressures are increased. Eventually, the prisoner will provide answers that they feel the interrogator is seeking. In this instance, the information is neither reliable nor accurate

In addition to the warnings about the quality of information obtained by torture, JPRA also warns that the use of torture techniques by the United States could provide justification for other regimes who may capture U.S. personnel, to use torture techniques.

The memo concludes:

The application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture)has some serious operational deficits, most notably, the potential to result in unreliable information. This is not to say that the manipulation of the subject's environment in an effort to dislocate their expectations and induce emotional responses is not effective. On the contrary, systematic manipulation of the subject's environment is likely to result in a subject that can be exploited for intelligence information and other national strategic concerns.

Note that the word "extreme" is underlined in the original document.

While the memo is newly released, the information which it warns against has been known by many, but with so many torture apologists coming out in defense of law breaking, this memo is worthy of review. You can read the full Washington Post article by clicking here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Liz Cheney: We Did Not Torture

Liz Cheney joins the ranks of those who are defending torture. Somehow she thinks that because the United States used waterboarding as part of the SERE training and that since we would not torture our own people, that this means that waterboarding (along with the other techniques described in the torture memos) are not torture. She even goes so far as to say that the memos were very careful in outlining how far we could go before it was considered torture. (Waterboarding for 39 seconds = not torture, waterboarding for 41 seconds = torture?) Nevermind the fact that the Bush Administration did not even abide by the regulations set out in their own legal memos.

FBI Agent: Zubaydah Gave Up Information Prior to His Torture

Ali Soufan, an FBI Supervisory Special Agent from 1997-2005, has written an interesting Op-Ed in today's New York Times. From the piece:

FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.


Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rich Lowry: Torture Memos Took on a "Comic Aspect"

Rich Lowry thinks that the torture memos are a "source of pride" a way...kind of funny:

Rightly considered, the memos should be a source of pride. They represent a nation of laws struggling to defend itself against a savage, lawless enemy while adhering to its legal commitments and norms. Most societies throughout human history wouldn’t have bothered.


In contrast, we carefully parsed each of our techniques to ensure it wouldn’t cause “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” This touchingly legalistic exercise at times took on a comic aspect. We could put a caterpillar in a box with a detainee afraid of stinging insects, Abu Zubaydah, so long as we didn’t falsely tell him the caterpillar was a threat to sting. We could put detainees in diapers so long as “the diaper is checked regularly and changed as needed to prevent skin irritation.”

Bush Administration Pressured Interrogators to Elicit False Confessions Through Torture

McClatchy Newspapers are reporting that the Bush Administration applied "relentless pressure" on interrogators to apply "harsh techniques" on detainees in order to obtain information that would connect Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein. It was during this time period that Khalid Sheik Muhammed was waterboarded 183 times and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in a month.

McClatchy quotes a former Senior U.S. Intelligence official in the article:

"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.
"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

In addition, the Senate Armed Services Committee has released a 232 page report that discusses details on the treatment of detainees and the approval of said techniques by the Bush Administration. From the Washington Post:

The military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) has been reported to have reverse-engineered these methods to break al-Qaeda prisoners. The techniques, including waterboarding, or simulated drowning, were drawn from the methods used by Chinese Communists to coerce confessions from U.S. soldiers during the Korean War -- a lineage that one instructor appeared to readily acknowledge.

So, it becomes increasingly clear that the Bush Administration used torture techniques on individuals that were reversed engineered from the military's SERE program in order to elicit (false) confessions from detainees in U.S. custody and then retroactively attempted to provide legal cover for themselves via the torture memos. Astonishing that we would even consider NOT moving forward with a special prosecutor. Chris Floyd:

What's more, it is now undeniable that they began this program long before they had captured even one "high-profile al Qaeda detainee," and that they were using these heinous techniques not in a desperate bid to save the nation from further attacks – which has long been their preening, self-serving claim – but instead to produce spurious data about the non-existent link between Iraq and al Qaeda. In other words, George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld ordered their minions to beat and torment captives in order to get them to say something a – anything – that could then be used to "justify" a war of aggression that these grand statesmen had been planning long before the September 11 attacks.

You cannot disentangle the torture program from the war of aggression in Iraq – nor from the illegal wiretapping program, the corrupt war profiteering, and all the other degradations of liberty and law that have been so accelerated in the past eight years. They are all of a piece, part and parcel of a plan to expand and entrench America's "unipolar domination" of world affairs with a thoroughly militarized state led by an unaccountable, authoritarian "Unitary Executive."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Torture Memos and Accountability

As I posted last week, President Obama made the decision to release four of the torture memos that were written during the Bush Administration. Obama's decision to do so came as he was being strongly pressured from CIA officials, including former CIA Director Michael Hayden, to keep these documents secret. In releasing these memos it has given the public a glimpse into the rules that the Bush Administration felt legally comfortable in operating under during the so-called "War on Terror".

I will make my assessment fairly brief as much has already been stated and since this conversation is far from over. I spent the weekend reading these four memos and have found them nauseating and disturbing. It is simply astounding to read the lengths that Jay Bybee and Stephen Bradbury go to in these memos to justify policies like sleep deprivation, walling (slamming a detainee against a wall), stress positions, dietary manipulation, and waterboarding. I had to remind myself that I was reading memos that shaped American policy and not the policy of some brutal dictator in a far-away land.

These memos outline the reality that played out during the Bush Administration and what was deemed acceptable during the last eight years. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones:

Reading the OLC torture memos is enough to make you ill. The techniques in question are plainly and instinctively abhorrent by any common sense definition, and the authors of the memos obviously know it. But somehow they have to conclude otherwise, so they write page after mind-numbing page of sterile legal language designed to justify authorizing it anyway. It's not torture if the victim survives it intact. It's not against the law if it takes place outside the United States. Waterboarding is OK as long as it isn't performed more than twice in a 24-hour period. Sleep deprivation of shackled prisoners for seven days at a time is permissible as long as the victim's diaper is changed frequently. And on and on and on.

There is no denying that the United States is a nation that wanted to torture, did so on a regular basis, and tried to legally justify treating detainees in ways that would be condemned if the proverbial "shoe were on the other foot". This is not up for dispute. What is also no longer up for dispute is that the Bush Administration felt that these memos gave them enough legal cover to consistently claim that the United States "does not torture" all while feeling justified in the waterboarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammad 183 times in one month.

Despite all of these ugly revelations about our country over the last eight years, we still have commentators, talk show hosts, and a former Vice President who still stand by these tactics and are angry at the Obama Administration for discontinuing their use. These torture apologists not only try to make locking someone in a box with an insect into a political issue, but will continue to make excuse upon excuse for why this type of behavior is acceptable and necessary. For those who implemented these policies which have resulted in the torture and deaths of countless detainees, it is absolutely necessary to establish a special prosecutor to pursue charges of war crimes.

I have expressed concern in Obama's continued language of the need to "move forward" and his viewpoint that "retribution" is not the answer, but with so many conflicting statements coming out of the Administration over the last few days regarding prosecutions, a debate is more than likely happening behind closed doors. If Obama's language is intended to distance himself from the legal process, then an argument can be made that this action is justifiable. After all, bringing charges against former Administration officials should rest with the Attorney General. What is not justifiable is inaction. In order to uphold the laws of the land and to show that we are a nation of laws, there is no other option but to hold fierce and probing investigations into the Bush Administration's use and justification of torture. If these high crimes go unpunished, it undermines the very principles upon which this country stands. It is not simply enough to move on. Scott Horton:

Can anyone be surprised to learn that the new guardians of these vast and unchecked powers, while piously promising to reform and stop breaking the law, also feel that there is no really compelling reason to enforce the law–in the process breaking the oaths they just took a few weeks ago to uphold that very law? Is it not indeed amazing that these claims can be made on the public stage without being greeted with the peals of derision they deserve? Now comes the test of our democracy–will we close the door and walk away, or demand to know what’s been done in our name and hold those who guided any abuses to account for their misconduct? President Obama tells us there’s nothing to see here, just move along. But this will be a test of whether we have a citizenry worthy of that name.

I will continue to bring more opinions on this issue as we move forward.

More on Torture

Over the weekend I read the majority of the four torture memos that were released last week and will finish them at some point today. There have been a lot of good analysis and important reaction coming out and I while I will write my own this week, it is important to keep the conversation going.

Over the weekend we learned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) was waterboarded 183 times in March, 2003 by the CIA and that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August, 2002. At the blogger emptywheel pointed out:

So: two two-hour sessions a day, with six applications of the waterboard each = 12 applications in a day. Though to get up to the permitted 12 minutes of waterboarding in a day (with each use of the waterboard limited to 40 seconds), you'd need 18 applications in a day. Assuming you use the larger 18 applications in one 24-hour period, and do 18 applications on five days within a month, you've waterboarded 90 times--still just half of what they did to KSM.

The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM.

That doesn't sound very effective to me.

The figures that emptywheel used above, came directly out of the torture memos dictating how waterboarding was to be implemented. As Andrew Sullivan points out:

Moreover, it is worth pointing out that even if you accept the preposterous notion that waterboarding isn't torture - something no legal authority in human history ever has before Dick Cheney came along - and even if you accept the amazingly detailed limits that Bradbury placed on the frequency and severity of waterboarding to make it "legal," even then, we now know that the CIA violated those standards.


So even by the Bush-Cheney standards of legality, the waterboarders far exceeded what was allowed. They broke the law even by Bush's standards. And why, pray, is breaking the law in such a grave matter as a war crime no longer subject to prosecution or even investigation in the United States?

More to come on all of this. Meanwhile, the Daily Show takes on torture apologists:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Torture Apologists

Courtesy of ThinkProgress:

Reaction to Obama Releasing the Torture Memos

Reaction to yesterday's release of the toture memos is pouring in. Here is a sampling of the commentary:

Spencer Ackerman:

Something is very clear from these memos. The Bush administration often liked to say that they needed these memos to remain confidential in order to preserve the principle that the administration should receive the most candid legal advice available. What that secrecy fomented was a culture in which the precise conditions under which a man who had been shot in the leg could be placed inside a cramped box -- how many hours? -- and subjected to insects crawling on him without it being blatantly illegal. It wasn't just Abu Zubaydah's senses and personality that these memos warped.

Andrew Sullivan:

Human beings were contorted into classic stress positions used by the Gestapo; they had towels tied around their necks in order to smash their bodies against walls; they were denied of all sleep for up to eleven days and nights at a time; they were stuck in tiny suffocating boxes; they were waterboarded just as the victims of the Khmer Rouge were waterboarded. And through all this, Bush and Cheney had lawyers prepared to write elaborate memos saying that all of this was legal, constitutional, moral and not severe pain and suffering.

Bybee is not representing justice in this memo. He is representing the president. And the president is seeking to commit war crimes. And he succeeded. This much we now know beyond any reasonable doubt. It is a very dark day for this country, but less dark than every day since Cheney decided to turn the US into a torturing country until now.


The phrase "banality of evil" is very overused, I realized. But this is a case where it applies. Bybee writes as just another corporate-style lawyer finding a legal rationale for his client to do what he wants to do. Happens every day, no big deal. Except that he's writing memos justifying using techniques that have been known to be torture since at least the Spanish Inquisition.

Oh sure, he says it needs to be "medically supervised" and performed by only those who are "qualified" which makes it all bureaucratically neat and tidy. And he consistently asserts the twisted logic that because American military people had come through the SERE training without suffering any lasting harm, that prisoners would also suffer no lasting harm, which not only makes no sense, but gives him a quasi-legal and moral justification for perpetrating despicable acts. Everything is very sterile and very controlled. And that's what makes this opinion so chilling.

Chris Floyd:

And cannot every criminal on the face of the earth now claim the Obama defense: "Surely, your honor, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. So let's forget the fact that I (raped/murdered/robbed/tortured), and move forward, shall we?" For the Obama defense is nothing other than the Nuremberg defense: "I was only following orders. I was given assurance by the highest authority that my actions were legal in all respects." Is this what we have come to? Is that what now constitutes bold, progressive action? Is this, really, part of our "core values," an essential embedded component of our "national greatness?"

The more one considers Obama's remarks, the more offensive they become, and the more flagrantly they insult the intelligence. For the very memos that he has released give the lie to his own statement. Obama says it would be wrong to prosecute CIA underlings for carrying out actions that they were told were legal. Leaving aside the fact that apparently none of these great, courageous, self-sacrificing, vigilant defenders of our "core values" (as Obama lauds them) considered these tortures to be inherently immoral, but simply wanted to cover their ass legally before they wall-slammed the hell out of somebody or poured water down their throats until they began to choke and drown -- the fact is, they were told quite specifically by Bush's White House shysters that there was no guarantee that their actions would be considered legal by a court.

Glenn Greenwald:

I agree entirely that it is the DOJ lawyers who purported to legalize torture and the high-level Bush officials ordering it who are the prime culprits and criminals, as compared to, say, CIA agents who were proverbially just following orders and were told by the DOJ that what they were doing was legal. But leave aside the question of whether prosecutions would produce good or bad outcomes. After all, the notion that the law can and should be ignored whenever we think doing so would produce good results or would constitute good policy was the engine that drove Bush lawlessness. If, as Barack Obama proclaimed yesterday, "the United States is a nation of laws" and his "Administration will always act in accordance with those laws," isn't it the obligation of those opposing prosecution to justify that position in light of these legal mandates and long-standing principles of Western justice? How can they be reconciled?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama To Release Torture Memos

It is now being reported that President Obama has made the decision to release the Bush Administration's infamous "torture memos" with minimal redaction. This is very encouraging news considering the considerable pressure that Obama faced from former CIA Director Michael Hayden and other CIA officials.

While these CIA officials (including Obama's terrorism advisor, John Brennan) argued that releasing these memos would hurt national security and burden CIA officers with inquiries, Glenn Greenwald is right to point out:

I want to underscore one vital point about this controversy that is continuously overlooked and will be undoubtedly distorted today in the event of non-disclosure: these documents are not intelligence documents. They are legal documents and, more specifically, they constitute what can only be described as secret law under which the U.S. was governed during the Bush era. Thus, the question posed by the release of these OLC memos is not whether Obama will release to the public classified intelligence programs. The question is whether he will release to the public the legal doctrines under which the U.S. Government conducted itself regarding interrogation techniques he claims are no longer being used.

It is also being reported that Obama agreed to release these memos while promising that no CIA officials would be prosecuted for the torture of detainees in U.S. custody. In fact, it is believed that the CIA agent's names are going to be the only portion of these memos that will be redacted. We will have to wait and see if this is the case, but it indicates that President Obama has attempted to issue a kind of compromise in the release of these memos, but did not extend this same promise to Bush Administration officials.

In the same breath Obama, once again, used "look to the future, not the past" type of language when making this announcement:

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

This should mark the beginning in taking the necessary action to make sure that this type of behavior never happens again. Simply releasing these memos will not allow us to "move forward with confidence". We should make this the first step in recommitting this country to a land where political leaders are not above the law.

With that being said, Obama certainly deserves credit for making a decision that was a true test of his commitment to move away from some of the secrecy of the last eight years. Here is a clip of Former CIA Director Hayden on MSNBC to underscore the pressure that Obama was up against in making such a decision:

UPDATE: This story is breaking and the memos are slowly becoming available. Here is the August 1, 2002 memo.

May 10, 2005 Number One

May 10, 2005 Number Two

May 30, 2005

I have just glanced at these so far, but they are quite disturbing and worth your time. I will be reviewing them over the next few days and will have more analysis.

More Reaction to Homeland Security Report Warning Against Right-Wing Extremism

dday over at Hullabaloo agrees with Greenwald's assessment of the Homeland Security Report:

It was obvious that the same cheerleaders for excessive government surveillance, warrantless wiretapping, and police-state crackdowns would turn on a dime the moment that the federal apparatus transferred to Democrats. And it was obvious they would not fall back on their previous justifications - "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about," - once their party lost power. So they really have no right to complain at all. If they had any intellectual honesty at all, maybe they'd work with civil liberties groups to dismantle the national security state and put an end to the threat of concentrated power in the hands of the few. But they won't, because they're perpetual victims and rage addicts who just want to feel oppressed by their enemies.

Oh yeah, and one more thing: love it or leave it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Greenwald Nails the Conservative Reaction to Homeland Security Report

The Department of Homeland Security has recently issued a warning to local law enforcement officials about the rise in rightwing extremist activity. From the Washington Times article:

A footnote attached to the report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines "rightwing extremism in the United States" as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority.

"It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration,"

Glenn Greenwald documents the response from the right:

Conservatives have responded to this disclosure as though they're on the train to FEMA camps. The Right's leading political philosopher and intellectual historian, Jonah Goldberg, invokes fellow right-wing giant Ronald Reagan and says: "Here we go Again," protesting that "this seems so nakedly ideological." Michelle Malkin, who spent the last eight years cheering on every domestic surveillance and police state program she could find, announces that it's "Confirmed: The Obama DHS hit job on conservatives is real!" Lead-War-on-Terror-cheerleader Glenn Reynolds warns that DHS -- as a result of this report (but not, apparently, anything that happened over the last eight years) -- now considers the Constitution to be a "subversive manifesto." Super Tough Guy Civilization-Warrior Mark Steyn has already concocted an elaborate, detailed martyr fantasy in which his house is surrounded by Obama-dispatched, bomb-wielding federal agents. Malkin's Hot Air stomps its feet about all "the smears listed in the new DHS warning about 'right-wing extremism.'"

While Greenwald states that this report is, in some instances, comprised of some generalizations and is "overly broad", he rightly points out the irony that those who supported the creation of the surveillance state are now suddenly concerned about its existence:

the political faction screeching about the dangers of the DHS is the same one that spent the last eight years vastly expanding the domestic Surveillance State and federal police powers in every area. DHS -- and the still-creepy phrase "homeland security" -- became George Bush's calling card. The Republicans won the 2002 election by demonizing those who opposed its creation. All of the enabling legislation underlying this Surveillance State -- from the Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act, from the various FISA "reforms" to massive increases in domestic "counter-Terrorism" programs -- are the spawns of the very right-wing movement that today is petrified that this is all being directed at them.

Talk about coming full circle:

Indeed, thanks to the very people who are today petulantly complaining about politically-motivated federal police actions (now that they imagine it's directed at them rather than at people they dislike), the Federal Government today has the power to eavesdrop on telephone calls and read the emails of American citizens without warrants; monitor bank records without court approval; obtain all sorts of invasive personal records, medical and financial, without Subpoenas; and obtain and store a whole host of other personal information about American citizens who have not been accused, let alone convicted, of having done anything wrong. Also thanks to them (and things like the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments Act, etc. etc), most of this is carried out without any real oversight or safeguards, left entirely to the judgment and good faith of federal officials to wield these powers carefully and for proper ends. And, better still, federal officials can hide behind sweeping claims of secrecy and National Security to prevent courts from scrutinizing what they did and determine if it was illegal (we call that "the state secrets privilege").


This is all as laughable as it is predictable. Just a couple months out of power and they have suddenly re-discovered their fear of the Federal Government and their belief in the need to limit its powers.

Greenwald nails this and I will end with one more excerpt from his piece:

Apparently, though, the Right has forgotten these important lessons about Trusting Our Political Leaders and instead is now embracing a newfound and quite disturbing devotion to Terrorist Rights. To borrow from Sarah Palin, they are apparently more worried about whether the Timothy McVeighs and Eric Rudolphs of the world can plan their next violent attack without interference from the DHS than they are in having the Government keep us all Safe. What kind of twisted, warped, subversive political movement prioritizes Terrorist Rights over the Safety of Americans like this?

CNN Reporter Challenges Chicago Tea Party Protesters

Media Matters documented this item and Digby posted the transcript of CNN's Susan Roesgen challenging the protesters in Chicago:

Kira Phillips: Susan Roesgen getting a taste of that Chicago style tea. Does that come with a pizza too?

Roesgen: Well you know Kira, this is a party for Obama bashers. I have to say that this is not entirely representative of everybody in America. This was organized by three different conservative groups and if you lok at some of the signs Kira ... Let me intorduce you to this guy. Could you come over here please?

(Pointing to picture of Obama dressed as Hitler) You know, what is this supposed to mean? What do you mean by that?

Dittohead freak: Well, I mean he's a fascist, the real pirates ...

Roesgen: Wait, why do you say he's a fascist? He's the president of the United States.

Dittohead freak: I think he's a fascist.

Roesgen, Do you realize how offensive that is?

DF: I think he's a fascist

Roesgen: Why?

DF: Beacuse he is. He's a fascist.

Roesgen: Why can you say that?

DF: beacuse the real pirates are in the white house and the senate and in the congress. We need one term limits for all these elected politicians.

Roesgen: Why be so hard on the president of the United States with such an offensive message?

DF: Because he is. He's a fascist.

Roesgen: hooookay (moves away) We've got a fascist ... uh... allright

(points to other signs)

"Drop the taxes, drop socialism"

(approaches man)

Ok, you're here with your two year old and "you're already in debt" (referring to sign he's holding) Why do you say that?

Ditto head freak 2: Because I hear a president say that he believed in what Lincoln stood for. Lincoln's primary thing was that he believed that people had the right to liberty.

Roesgen: Sir, what does this have to do with taxes? What does this have to do with your taxes?

DF2: Let me finish speaking!

Roesgen: Do you realize that you are eligible for a 400 dollar ...

DF2: Let me finish my point. (Crowd getting surly, yelling at Rojan to shut up) Lincoln believed that people had ther right to share in the fruits of their own labor and that government should not take it. And we have clearly gotten to that point.

Roesgen: Alright. Did you know that the state of Lincoln gets 50 billion dollars out of this stimulus? That's 50 billion dollars for this state sir.

DF2: (looking at someone off camera) Can you stop this sir? (people milling closely around, Rojan looking harried. )

Roesgen: Ok Well, Kira, we'll move on over here. I think you get the general tenor of this. Uh, it's anti government, anti-CNN since this is highly promoted by the right wing conservative network Fox. And since I can't really hear much more and I think this is not really family viewing, toss it back to you, Kira.

Fox Reporter: "Wake up and Start Fighting the Fascism!"

A Fox Business Channel reporter wants people to "wake up and start fighting the fascism!"

Fox News Says Tea Parties are Not Funded by the Right-Wing While Promoting Newt Gingrich's Think-Tank

Kudos to ThinkProgress for catching this gem.

During today's Fox News coverage of the tea parties, host Gretchen Carlson attempted to push back against those who are pointing out that the tea parties are being funded by corporate lobbyists. Carlson interviews three organizers of a tea party this morning and asks them to respond to those who say that the protests are a "right-wing conspiracy". The organizers deny it, but at the same time, the chyron that is scrolling at the bottom of the screen directs those who wish to learn more about the Bergen County tea party to go to the Americans Solutions for Winning the Future. This organization happens to be Newt Gingrich's corporate-funded think tank. Watch the video:

More on the Tax Day Tea Parties

It is tax day which means that tea parties are happening all over the United States. Here is a collection of thoughts from around the web on the events:

Domenico Montanaro of MSNBC:

But let’s be clear about one thing: These tea parties are hardly non-partisan events. While there’s certainly a grassroots component here, these parties have been co-opted by a major America political party (the RNC's Web site allows for creating send-a-tea-bag post cards to Dem leaders) and an entire cable news channel (which has been promoting the events). The main Web site for the events today, Tax Day Tea Party, is funded by conservative groups, and a public records search shows it's registered to a conservative techie, Allen B. Fuller, who used to be a legislative correspondent for GOP Sen. Richard Shelby and who touts creating Web sites for Republican elected officials. Also reportedly involved in today’s protest events are FreedomWorks, a conservative group founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Americans for Prosperity.

Glenn Reynolds disagrees in the Wall Street Journal:

So who's behind the Tax Day tea parties? Ordinary folks who are using the power of the Internet to organize.


The movement grew so fast that some bloggers at the Playboy Web site -- apparently unaware that we've entered the 21st century -- suggested that some secret organization must be behind all of this. But, in fact, today's technology means you don't need an organization, secret or otherwise, to get organized. After considerable ridicule, the claim was withdrawn, but that hasn't stopped other media outlets from echoing it.

"Bloggers at the Playboy Web site" Reynolds says. As if the promotion by Fox News and the funding by corporate lobbyists are just a figment of the imagination of bloggers on Playboy's website. Nice try Glenn.

So we have those like Reynolds who still continue to claim that these protests are not being organized by organizations who are funded by corporate lobbyists, while at the same time these very same organizations are admitting that they are helping to organize these events. From the Freedom Works website:

Thank you for joining the massive movement of citizens that are opposed to the trillions of dollars in federal spending and the bailouts of Wall Street and failed businesses. With your help, we have been able to organize hundreds of Taxpayer Tea Parties across the country, from Santa Barbara, California to Amarillo, Texas, and all the way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Together, as one united force for liberty, we can take our country back!

Adam Brandon of Freedom Works says that they are helping coordinate these events much like helps to coordinate similar events:

"If you look at MoveOn's model...if you consider that AstroTurfing, I'd probably have to say that we're AstroTurfing," Brandon told me. But if critics assume the organization is top-down, he said, "they're gonna underestimate us."

but as Digby has pointed out, there is quite the difference between the two organizations. Here is how MoveOn does business:

MoveOn uses e-mail as its main conduit for communicating with members, sending action alerts at least once a week.

The web site also uses multi-media, including videos, audio downloads, and images. In addition to communicating via the Internet, MoveOn advertises using traditional print and broadcast media, as well as billboards, bus signs, and bumper stickers, digital versions of which are downloadable from its web site. It also contains an area called the "Action Forum", which functions much like a traditional electronic discussion group. The Action Forums act as a grassroots organization allowing members to propose priorities and strategies.

Through this grassroots methodology, MoveOn collaborates with groups like in organizing street demonstrations, bake sales, house parties, and other opportunities for people to meet personally and act collectively in their own communities.

Some of its core principles are that it is not dependent on foundation money and that it has the ability to use 'hard money' – as opposed to grants and tax-deductible contributions – which enables them to be partisan, contribute to political campaigns, and exercise clout in the political process.

and here is how Freedom Works does business:

FreedomWorks claims a membership of over 360,000 and a multi-tentacled legal structure that includes a 501 c(3), a 501 c(4), a 527, a federal PAC, and various state PACs. John Stauber, co-author of Banana Republicans: How The Right Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State, recently pointed out that that according to internal documents leaked to the Washington Post in January 2000, the bulk of Citizens for a Sound Economy's revenues ($15.5 million in 1998) came not from its members, but from contributions of $250,000 and up from large corporations, including Allied Signal, Archer Daniels Midland, DaimlerChrysler, Emerson Electric Company, Enron, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Philip Morris and U.S. West (now Qwest).

While the differences in these organizations are clear, Andrew Sullivan continues to maintain that the goals of these tea party protests are anything but clear:

But it seems odd to describe this as anything but a first stab at creating opposition to the Obama administration's spending plans, manned by people who made no serious objections to George W. Bush's. The tea-parties are as post-partisan as Reynolds, one of the most relentlessly partisan bloggers on the web. When you see them holding up effigies of Bush, who was, unlike Obama, supposed to be the fiscal conservative, let me know.

But the substantive critique must remain the primary one. Protesting government spending is meaningless unless you say what you'd cut.

If you favor no bailouts, then say so. If you want to see the banking system collapse, then say so. If you think the recession demands no fiscal stimulus, then say so. If you favor big cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, social security and defense, then say so. I keep waiting for Reynolds to tell us what these protests are for; and he can only spin what they they are against.

All protests against spending that do not tell us how to reduce it are fatuous pieces of theater, not constructive acts of politics. And until the right is able to make a constructive and specific argument about how they intend to reduce spending and debt and borrowing, they deserve to be dismissed as performance artists in a desperate search for coherence in an age that has left them bewilderingly behind.

I think Sullivan's points are quite valid and deserve mentioning when we are engaged in discussion surrounding these protests.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is Bagram the New Guantanamo?

Rachel Maddow and Michael Isikoff discuss the Obama Administration's push to deny habeus corpus rights to detainees held at Bagram airfield in Afghanistan (sound familiar?) and Thursday's important decision on whether to release the Bush Administration's "torture memos":

Astroturf Tea Parties

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Fox News host Glenn Beck and his recent antics during an on-air special during which he repeatedly broke into tears because he loves (and fears) for his country. Since Beck aired that special, video clips of the program have circulated around the Internet, Stephen Colbert has mocked Beck for his odd behavior, and Fox News continues their mission to be the voice of opposition to the Obama Administration.

As many of you have probably read by now, there are protests scheduled in various cities around the United States for April 15. These "tea-parties" were first conceived after CNBC host Rick Santelli floated the idea in his now infamous on-air rant. Since then people have gathered in cities across America to protest against the government bailouts, taxation, spending, and large deficits, supposedly in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party where colonists were protesting taxation without representation.

Though many of these protests claim to hold no party affiliation, there has been a common theme of railing specifically against the Obama Administration's policies with some participants echoing some of the ugly sentiments that we saw during the campaign. While it is clear that people are very angry at the Obama Administration, it is not always clear why or what alternatives are being suggested at these tea-parties. Andrew Sullivan explains:

It's a protest of the bank bailouts orchestrated by Bush and now Obama. But surely these tea-partiers understand what would happen if we didn't bail the banks out. Are they advocating letting major banks fail? Or are they advocating a Krugman-style government take-over? No idea.


It's a protest against tax hikes. But there have barely been any! Are they arguing that the planned return to Clinton era marginal rates is an outrage worthy of the colonists ... only months after an election in which the winning candidate ran on exactly that platform?


It's a protest against government debt. Yay! I will leave aside the somewhat awkward fact that Fox News and Pajamas Media barely covered the massive debt racked up by the Republicans during a period of economic growth.

Don't get me wrong, there are some people who are also angry at the Republicans for getting us into this economic mess, but as Fox News has entered the scene to actively promote these acts that stem from supposed populist anger, the situation gets more complicated and seems a bit, well...contrived.

Fox News is dispatching their anchors all around the country in order to "cover" these tea party protests and for weeks now, have gone beyond just covering the story and engaged in actively embracing and promoting these events:

In fact, yesterday Fox News host Stuart Varney even exclaimed: “It’s now my great duty to promote the tea parties. Here we go!”.

Not only is Fox News promoting these tea parties, but corporate donors are helping to fund the demonstrations. From ThinkProgress:

...the principle organizers of the local events are actually the lobbyist-run think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. The two groups are heavily
and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests:
– Freedom Works staffers coordinate conference calls among protesters,
contacting conservative activists to give them “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country.”
– Freedom Works staffers apparently moved to “take over” the planning of local
events in Florida.
– Freedom Works provides how-to guides for delivering a “
clear message” to the public and media.
– Freedom Works has
several domain addresses — some of them made to look like they were set up by amateurs — to promote the protests.
– Americans for Prosperity is writing press releases and planning the events in
New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states.

Freedom Works is an organization run by registered lobbyist and former Republican Majority Leader, Dick Armey and Americans for Prosperity is run by Tim Phillips, Ralph Reed's former lobbying partner. Is there any doubt that these organizations are actively involved in planning these "grassroots" uprisings? From the Freedom Works website:

Thank you for joining the massive movement of citizens that are opposed to the trillions of dollars in federal spending and the bailouts of Wall Street and failed businesses. With your help, we have been able to organize hundreds of Taxpayer Tea Parties across the country, from Santa Barbara, California to Amarillo, Texas, and all the way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Together, as one united force for liberty, we can take our country back!

and where does the "donate" button link to if you are interested in donating to causes like the tea-party:

Your contribution to the FreedomWorks Foundation will make a real difference
in the fight for limited government and economic freedom. Thank you. I look
forward to working with you.

Matt Kibbe
President and

As Jane Hamsher points out, Matt Kibbe was behind the attempt to keep Ralph Nader off of the ballot in the state of Oregon in 2004 which led to a complaint with the FEC for illegal collusion with the GOP.

So we have a supposed "grassroots" movement of people who are opposed to taxation, deficits, bailouts, and a host of other issues, who are having tea parties that are being promoted by Fox News (whose stated mission is to be the voice of opposition to this Administration) and funded by corporate lobbyists. As Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, this means that this movement is not a spontaneous grassroots uprising of the people, but an astroturf movement.
Here is an exchange that happened on Fox Business Network recently where a Think Progress editor called out Fox for promoting these tea parties. The host of the program says that there is a "big difference" in covering something and promoting something, but check out the what the host says coming out of the segment:

Thank you, panel. Excellent job. Okay. Why it’s time to party like it’s 1773. Next.


What is right though is the growing chorus of Americans that want their country and their liberties back. Anti-tax tea parties will happen all over the country Wednesday, carrying on in the American spirit that will send a message to Washington and Wall Street. … Remember, you have a right to voice your opinion and fight back.

the video:

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Role of the News Anchor

Charlie Brooker takes a look at the role of news anchors both in Britain and in the United States in this funny and relevant video:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tea-parties or Tea-tantrums?

Andrew Sullivan explains why he views the "tea-parties" that are taking place around the country as "tea-tantrums":

As a fiscal conservative who actually believed in those principles when the Republicans were in power, I guess I should be happy at this phenomenon. And I would be if it had any intellectual honesty, any positive proposals, and any recognizable point. What it looks like to me is some kind of amorphous, generalized rage on the part of those who were used to running the country and now don't feel part of the culture at all. But the only word for that is: tantrum.

These are not tea-parties. They are tea-tantrums. And the adolescent, unserious hysteria is a function not of a movement regrouping and refinding itself. It's a function of a movement's intellectual collapse and a party's fast-accelerating nervous breakdown.

17 Socialists and Dousing the Public with Gasoline

With the Easter season upon us it is interesting to see the ideas that are being resurrected. Let's start with the resurrection of the McCarthy era.

Recently, Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama stated that he has a list of 17 members of Congress who he believes are socialists. He would not disclose names on this list except for Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who openly identifies with the Democratic Socialist Party as it exists in Scandinavia. From the Birmingham News:

Interviewed in Washington, Sanders' spokesman Will Wiquist said the senator is an independent who identifies with the Democratic Socialist Party as it is in Scandinavia, where government achievements include high education and childhood health rates and little poverty or crime. It is not related to the Socialist Party.
"It's a different brand of socialism than the congressman is probably thinking of," Wiquist said. Wiquist said there are no other socialists in Congress. He said his boss is the only member who identifies as such.

Apparently, Rep. Michelle Bachman's recent call for the media to investigate whether her colleagues were "pro-America or Anti-America" resonated with Bachus.

Glenn Beck has also resurrected his brand of crazy from the last few weeks. On yesterday's show, he compared Obama's first three months in office to dousing Americans with gasoline and setting them on fire. He demonstrated this, by pouring fake gasoline on an actor and lighting a match in his vicinity:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pirating is a Lucrative Business

In what continues to be a very interesting story, the U.S. Navy is reportedly engaged in negotiations with the pirates that took control of a U.S.-operated container ship. The ship (the Maersk Alabama) with a crew of about 20, was seized by four or five pirates about 200 miles off the southeast coast of Somalia. It was reported that the crew of the ship was able to take one of the pirates hostage, but that the pirates had also taken the captain of the ship hostage. One of the crew members of the ship, Ken Quinn, was able to call into CNN and had this exchange with host Kyra Phillips:

Phillips: Can you tell me the situation right now?

Quinn: Right now they want to hold our captain for ransom and we're trying to get him back. We have a coalition that will be here in three hours. So we're just trying to hold them off for three more hours and then we'll have a warship here to help us.

Phillips: Can you tell me where your captain is in proximity to your cargo ship? where is the -- who was he with? what type of boat is he on right now?

Quinn: He's in the ship's lifeboat. When they board, they sank their boats so the captain talked them into getting off the ship with the lifeboat. But we took one of their pirates hostage and did an exchange.
What? Huh? Okay. I've got to go.

Phillips: Ken, can you stay with me for just two more seconds?

Quinn: What?

Phillips: Can you tell me about the negotiations, what you've offered these pirates in exchange for your captain?

Quinn: We had one of their hostages. We had a pirate we took and kept him for 12 hours. We tied him up and he was our prisoner.

Phillips: Did you return him?

Quinn: Yeah, we did. But we returned him but they didn't return the captain. So now we're just trying to offer them whatever we can. Food. But it's not working too good.

Phillips: Are you in control of the vessel right now?

Quinn: Yeah. they are not aboard now. We're controlling --

Phillips: So can you see that lifeboat with your captain, with the pirates? Is he okay? Is he still alive?

Quinn: yeah. yeah. He talks on the -- he's got one of our ship's radios. We talk to him.

Phillips: So what is it that the pirates want now in exchange for your captain?

Quinn: I've got to hang up.

So it sounds, from this exchange, as if the crew had planned a prisoner swap...the captured pirate for the captain of the ship, but that something went wrong which led to the pirates getting their man back without the return of the captain. Now, with the arrival of an American warship on the scene, it looks as if negotiations will continue to take place for the safe return of the captain.

I found an interesting article on this topic by Jeremy Scahill which dives beyond the normal media coverage of pirates as a randomly striking group of sea gangs. Scahill writes:

But this type of coverage of the pirates is similar to the false narrative about "tribalism" being the cause of all of Africa's problems. Of course, there are straight-up gangsters and criminals engaged in these hijackings. Perhaps the pirates who hijacked the Alabama on Wednesday fall into that category. We do not yet know. But that is hardly the whole "pirate" story. Consider what one pirate told
The New York Times after he and his men seized a Ukrainian freighter "loaded with tanks, artillery, grenade launchers and ammunition" last year. "We don't consider ourselves sea bandits," said Sugule Ali:. "We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard." Now, that "coast guard" analogy is a stretch, but his point is an important and widely omitted part of this story. Indeed the Times article was titled, "Somali Pirates Tell Their Side: They Want Only Money." Yet, The New York Times acknowledged, "the piracy industry started about 10 to 15 years ago…as a response to illegal fishing."

and further:

Take this fact: Over $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are "being stolen every year by illegal trawlers" off Somalia's coast, forcing the fishing industry there into a state of virtual non-existence. But it isn't just the theft of
seafood. Nuclear dumping has polluted the environment. "In 1991, the government
of Somalia collapsed," wrote Johann Hari in
The Independent. "Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since -- and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas."

It seems as though pirating has become a more lucrative business venture than fishing. From the Washington Post article I initially reference above:

Last year, private shipping companies paid roughly $150 million in ransom to pirates

Monday, April 6, 2009

Obama Administration Again Delays Release of the "Torture Memos"

The ACLU has been trying (for over a year) to get various memos and documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These memos are the infamous "torture memos" which detail how the Bush Administration attempted to give legal authority to their decisions surrounding the treatment and interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody.

For obvious reasons, the Bush Administration was very resistant to the requests from the ACLU and now that the Obama Administration has taken power, there have been murmurs that they will end up releasing these controversial memos. Despite these murmurs and court-ordered deadlines by which the Administration would have been forced to either release the memos or give reasons to why they would continue to keep them sealed, the Obama Administration has asked for a total of four extensions to these deadlines. The most recent deadline of April 2 has now been extended to April 16.

Scott Horton has recently reported that there is conflict within the Obama Administration regarding the release of these documents and considerable push back from Republicans and John Brennan. Horton writes:

Brennan is a protege of former CIA director George Tenet and although he expressed some reservations about waterboarding, he was a defender of other
Tenet-era torture programs. Now ensconced as a senior counterterrorism advisor, he has become the principle advocate of the “don’t look back” mantra with respect to the misdeeds of the Bush years. And in this, Brennan’s principal concern is the protection of Brennan and Tenet–but in the process he has emerged as Dick Cheney’s clear champion.

The disclosure of the OLC memoranda presents a key policy fork in the road for Obama. If he is faithful to his commitment to transparency and to end torture, the government will have to come clean with these memos. If Obama keeps them under wraps, the public will have good reason to question his undertaking to end torture–and good reason to question whether a Cheney “shadow administration” actually has the power to influence policy.

Not only is Brennan apparently leading this opposition, but Horton also reported today that Republicans are threatening to vote against some of Obama's nominations if he doesn't keep these memos sealed:

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era.

Alarming, but per usual, Glenn Greenwald hits the nail on the head in his analysis of this situation today:

If the Obama administration releases these memos in largely unredacted form, they will deserve credit for doing so. These memos, which an anonymous Obama official told Newsweek were quite "ugly," are virtually certain to fuel calls for investigations and prosecutions and erase all remaining doubt in the eyes of the world how directly and knowingly involved in the torture regime were our highest government officials. Disclosure will require a fair amount of political courage, and if they do that, credit ought to be given.

Conversely, a refusal to disclose these memos, or disclosing them with so many redactions as to render them meaningless, will be absolutely inexcusable. It doesn't matter how loudly John Brennan screams or how many nominations Republican Senators threaten to filibuster. Put simply, there is no legal authority for these memos to remain secret -- ongoing concealment is itself an act of profound lawlessness -- and, beyond that, keeping them secret will constitute the most extreme complicity yet on the part of the Obama administration in the last administration's war crimes. It was Obama who chose to place someone like Brennan in a position of high authority in his administration. That Brennan is now working with Bush-following Republicans to hide evidence of war crimes is, quite obviously, no excuse for continuing to hide it.

This is indeed a big test for the Obama Administration and if they are to assert their commitment to the principle that "no one is above the law", they will release these memos which will be essential to continue to build a case against the law-breakers of the last eight years.