Ezra Klein found a relatively new fundraising letter from Chuck Grassley, the Democrats' point man on health care. Note the classy dig at Ted Kennedy (who was alive at the time, but close to death). Ezra posted the pdf, but I've provided an excerpt below.
My views of Dick Cheney are hopefully clear by now. So I'm not getting into the immorality of his torture stance.
But I don't think that "winning" the torture debate is his actual goal. To me, the goal of his recent charm offensive is simply to kick up enough dirt to force a "draw." That is, he wants to politicize the torture debate as much as possible -- to transform a profound debate about our country's values into just another everyday Republican/Democratic partisan squabble that makes people throw up their hands and despair of knowing "the truth."
If you've noticed, Cheney tends to pop up in the aftermath of damning evidence. We just (re)learned, for instance, that our CIA agents murdered detainees, choked them, and threatened to rape their wives. Normally, you would think these revelations would give pause to even the most ardent Cheney supporters.
But then Cheney comes along, and tries to reframe the whole story. His intended audience isn't the nation as a whole, but conservatives. He wants to make sure that they view these stories through partisan-tinted lenses.
And in this, he'll probably be successful. Ideology is such a powerful force right now on the American Right that Cheney's strategy is probably a smart one. I mean, just look at how thoroughly ideology has colored perceptions of end-of-life counseling, which shouldn't even be remotely controversial. Heck, look at how thoroughly ideology is warping virtually everything these days.
And the press facilitates this process simply by reporting what Cheney said. I'm not exactly blaming them for this -- he is the former Vice President, and you have to quote him. But the mere fact of quoting his lines and airing his attacks helps trigger the ideological defense mechanism among conservatives. They naturally want to rally to their "team's" side when they perceive that the hated Dems are attacking for political reasons.
In short, Cheney wants to transform what should a broad consensus against torture into a "he said/she said" partisan squabble. And if most conservative blogs are any guide, he's probably been successful.
[UPDATE 3:00 -- Jonathan Bernstein, who recently started a new blog, has some additional thoughts. Specifically, he argues that granting pardons might break the partisan/ideological impasse (he actually has a 3-part series on this). Not sure I agree, but welcome to the Internets!]
Washington Post reporters Peter Finn, Joby Warrick, and Julie Tate lend credence Dick Cheney's fallacious argument that because Khalid Sheik Mohammed began cooperating with U.S. authorities after he was tortured, torture made him cooperate.
The story is based the reminiscences of unnamed intelligence officers who observed Mohammed in 2005 and 2006. They say that he'd evolved from defiance to enthusiastic cooperation. But it's not clear whether any of these anonymous officials watched the metamorphosis from the beginning. The story seems to imply that they showed up 2 or 3 years after he started cooperating. In which case, why should we trust their hunches about what turned the prisoner?
And if they were around for the torture, how much stock should we put in anonymous anecdotes from people who might be facing criminal charges? Of course they're going to say that the program was dazzlingly effective. At this point, good PR is their best chance of staying free and employed.
The WaPo's sources claim to have observed Mohammed directly. Surely, only a handful of people would have been allowed access to the U.S.'s top terror detainee. Chances are, anyone who got that close has a vested interest in presenting the program in the most flattering light. For all we know, the WaPo interviewed Khalid Sheik Mohammed's torturers. If the reporters grappled with this potential conflict of interest, they don't let on.
Cheney and his allies stress that KSM only started talking after he was
waterboarded. The thing is, the CIA waterboarded him as soon as they
got their hands on him--183 times during his first month of captivity.
We're supposed to believe that the hundred-and-eighty-third time was
the charm? Good thing there was no ticking bomb.
With no control group, we have no way of knowing whether KSM
broke any faster than he would have with traditional rapport-based
interrogation tactics. For all we know, torture actually prolonged the
process. Torture can harden the victim's resolve to resist the
Note that torture defenders aren't even trying to argue that KSM gave up valuable information while he was actually being tortured. (He falsely confessed to all kinds of crazy stuff including the murder of Daniel Pearl.) You might think this is evidence against the efficacy of torture. But here's where the Cheney faction does a bit of logical jujitsu: They point to the fact that KSM started talking after he was waterboarded. So, the waterboarding must have softened him up. The more parsimonious hypothesis is that once U.S. stopped torturing the prisoner, the real work of interrogation could begin.
"When I was in Iraq, the few times I saw people use harsh methods [in Iraq in 2006], it was always counterproductive,” explained veteran interrogator Matthew Alexander, author of 'How To Break a Terrorist,' “the person just hunkered down, they were expecting us to do that,
and they just shut up. And then I’d have to send somebody
in, build back up rapport, reverse that process, and it would take us
longer to get information.”
Interestingly, the anecdotes from the anonymous officials who observed KSM suggest that his captors got their best information by exploiting the his intellectual vanity, not by beating confessions out of him.
We learn that KSM's captors shrewdly gave him a blackboard and let him "lecture" CIA agents about terrorism while they took notes. A lot of crazy claims have been made about the efficacy of torture, but no one's going to claim that waterboarding put KSM in the mood to deliver his "Advanced Topics in al Qaeda" talk. That gambit was the result of an astute interrogator who got to know the prisoner well enough to exploit his weaknesses.
Ann Althouse, defending and celebrating "harsh interrogation techniques":
Critics of "harsh interrogation techniques" — they, of course, call it
torture — bolster their moral arguments with the pragmatic argument
that it doesn't even work. How unusual it is for the media to
disillusion us about that and force the moralists to get by on moral
There are many things to say, but I have just a few simple questions.
(1) Is beating a detainee to death with a metal flashlight torture? Or merely a "harsh interrogation technique"?
(2) Is beating detainees with butts of rifles torture? Or merely a "harsh interrogation technique"?
(3) Is choking a detainee with your bare hands until he almost passes out torture? Or merely a "harsh interrogation technique"?
(4) Is threatening to rape wives and murder children torture? Or merely a "harsh interrogation technique"?
A key member of the Senate Republican Conference on Saturday blasted
Democrats for offering a healthcare solution distinctly at odds with
his party's goals.
Democratic healthcare reform will drive up
the deficit, discriminate against the elderly and do little to control
costs, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) alleged in the weekly Republican radio
If you read on, you'll see that Enzi adopted the contradictory arguments that reform is going to be really expensive and it's simultaneously going to raid Medicare -- you know, our socialized single-payer system that must not be touched. This, though, was my personal fave:
"The bills would expand comparative effectiveness research that would
be used to limit or deny care based on age or disability of patients,"
But by all means, let's halt all legislative progress so that this guy can reach a deal with Kent Conrad. (Steve has more).
By the way, given Grassley and Enzi's latest statements, I think we might actually see this post come true -- that is, we might see the Baucus committee approve a bill that literally does nothing.
I've retracted this entry because the first comment is correct. McKinneyTexas says:
Many well meaning white people view themselves as being passed the race issue and project their own, often under-developed sense of maturity and enlightenment onto others, particularly minorities. Best just to avoid being cleverly edgy or worse, condescending.
There is such a thing as being too clever -- by which I mean too in love with one's own perceived cleverness; or, to adopt McKinney's great turn of phrase, too in love with one's own "often under-developed sense of maturity and enlightenment." I am neither mature nor enlightened, but that doesn't mean that I can't write something stupid on occasion, even when my ultimate point is (I think) right on target. You can be right and still do it wrong, after all.
Retraction does not mean deletion, however. The original text -- in all its original retracted goodness -- is below the fold.
The document reads, like so much else from the Cheney years, like a document from a South American dictatorship in the 1970s or 1980s. If someone had told me a few years ago that it had popped up in the Soviet archives, I would have believed him. Read the whole thing if you can. It is a distressing document. Here's what the "CIA pros" did to prisoners (the non-CIA pros improvised the president's directive to torture and abuse prisoners in very similar ways): stress positions, nudity, hooding, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, long time standing, beatings, hypothermia, and walling. They key thing, according to the CIA, is to enhance "the potential dread a high-value detainee might have of US custody". Notice the shift from the standards of the past. In the past, the US was known for being a country whose soldiers would never mistreat prisoners; now, the US wants the world to know that US custody is something to be dreaded. That's what Cheney did to America. He's proud of it. If you are ever captured by a US soldier, and suspected of terrorism, you know that torture will be coming soon. The values of Washington and Eisenhower and Reagan are inverted. The reputation of the US as a defender of human rights is reversed. The point is that America must be feared for its willingness to abandon all human rights.
This is what the neocon right believe in, even as they prattle on about extending human rights as an American value. They say they believe in democracy. What they also believe in is what we saw done to innocent human beings at Abu Ghraib:
Nudity. The HVD's clothes are taken from him and he remains nude until the interrogators provide clothes to him.
Sleep deprivation. The HVD is placed in the vertical shackling position to begin sleep deprivation. Other shackling procedures may be used during interrogations. The detainee is diapered for sanitary purposes, although the diaper is not used at all times.
The diapers are necessary because when you shackle someone in the same position for hours and hours on end and feed him Ensure, he will shit himself. All torturing regimes deal with shitting torture victims. The US followed other regimes in both diapering prisoners or, better still, forcing them to lie in their own excrement, as was discovered by horrified FBI agents at Gitmo. Other torture regimes capture piss and shit in bowls beneath the torture victims. Various forms of nude shackling, sleep deprivation and dietary manipulation (all barred under Geneva and the UN Convention) are then supplemented by constant bombardment with light, loud noise, water-dousing and walling. These techniques can be used in combination. [emphasis added]
Don't it make you proud? Don't you wonder why the Obama administration would want to politicize criminal conduct by actually investigating torture and holding those that tortured accountable under the law?
As for the techniques, maybe we took diapering tips from the North Koreans, one of our new sources of emulation. And for those that don't consider the use of sleep deprivation and stress positions (let alone waterboarding) torture, here are some passages from Kim Yong's horrific tale of torture at the hands of the North Korean regime, some of whose torture methods Dick Cheney and George Bush adopted for the US government:
I was completely sleep deprived and could not react any longer. I had lost track of how many hours or days had passed. But I knew that if I told them what they wanted to hear, there would be no other punishment but a death sentence waiting for me. At moments, the sleep deprivation became so severe that I simply wanted to surrender, but I bit my lips to remain silent. As time went by, the interrogators became more and more furious.
Kim Yong was subjected to certain forms of physical torture that even Cheney didn't push for, such as bamboo under the fingernails and electric shocks. And yet, according to Yong, stress positions were amongst the most grueling:
One of the worst tortures I endured was to have my body, waist down, submerged in water in a tiny cell that prohibited me from moving. The cell was so tiny that I had to bend slightly in order to fit my body in...[Later] they put me in solitary confinement in a tiny cell about two feet wide and five feet long and ordered me not to move an inch. When I couldn't bear the pain any longer, they brought me blank paper and made me write confessions.
Ironically, the Republican Party, which has come to stand for full throated support of torture for various categories of detainees (inevitably, and in practice, the innocent and guilty), is prone to flag lapel pin demagoguery and other ostentatious displays of ostensible patriotism. And yet, Party members seem entirely unaware of just how contrary their support of torture is to the vision of the revered, if only in the abstract, founding fathers (let alone the more recent object of adulation, Ronald Reagan).
Consider that George Washington, then facing a truly existential crisis, refused to allow prisoners to be tortured - even as the fledgling republic teetered on a precipice in the midst of an improbable military campaign against the British. Thomas Paine, too, offers no equivocation (via Glenn Greenwald):
An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. [...]
The executive is not invested with the power of deliberating whether it shall act or not; it has no discretionary authority in the case; for it can act no other thing than what the laws decree, and it is obliged to act conformably thereto...
And yet the torture cheerleaders attack the patriotism of those that would uphold the values of Washington, Paine, Jefferson, Madison and, even, Reagan - as opposed to the policies and values of Dick Cheney, George Bush, John Yoo, Jay Bybee and David Addington.
Tell me again which group is truly defending America and the ideals we aspire to?
It's ironic, but fitting perhaps, that the agency in charge of broadband policy has a website from the Flintstones era. It's truly the worst. Q-Bert arcade games from the 1980s are more advanced than today's FCC website. Retro cool is fine, but it's not very functional.
For instance, I'm currently researching for filed comments on this page. I typed in the date "5/03/2007." That's not good enough, because the month has to be entered "05," with the zero. Otherwise, it won't work. I usually remember to enter the zeros (and of course the full year, 2007, not "07").
But I forgot today, and then I thought "why is this site so terrible." And because the world should know, I'm telling you.