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June 18, 2005

Comments

And so well put, Phil, it deserves to be said on this one, too.

Too late, I'm afraid. Far too late.

Ah well. I'm such a good prophet, I can even tell what Charles was writing six months ago on a blog I don't read... ;-)

On the flip side, I tend to think that the more people are forced to look at pictures of true horror, the better. It's ugly and disturbing.

We could wallpaper everyone's homes with them, but as we saw with the videos of the WTC, repeated exposure quickly makes even horrific images less and less shocking.

rilkefan--I agree with hilzoy's characterization of Durbin's remarks. I don't think using a "Nazi" analogy is always offensive; you simply have to look at what the person actually says, and whether it is true or not. I think it is always inflammatory, and there is usually a less inflammatory and equally or mre effective way to make the same point. In this case, given the lousiness of media coverage of these issues, I'm not sure that there was.

I don't know if this was wise of Durbin to do--as far as his political career certainly not; as far as the torture issue I don't know--but I think he was taking a calculated risk that could only harm his own career, in a very good cause. (frankly it makes me a little verklempt.) I am not aware of any other politician in America who has a comparable amount to lose or a comparable chance to affect the debate taking a comparable risk on this issue. So I don't want to be construed as criticizing him.

I think it's quite reasonable to say: this was a foolish thing to do because the inflammatory use of the word "Nazi" distracts from his point. It is not reasonable to say he was minimizing the Holocaust or comparing Guantanamo to Auschwitz. He was not. He did not. That is a false characterization of not only intent, but of the actual words he said, and it is not something one should repeat. Demanding that Charles listen to the actual sentences a politician said, and not the indefensible things Charles wishes he said, is not "weaseling". The people using the genocide to score political points are the ones using these images to a respond to an argument Durbin never made and never would make.

"I fully expect to see a post from him attacking the Red Cross any day now."

Oh, that happened several months ago. "Non-netural Red Cross", December 21, 2004. Google cache here (2nd post down)

Katherine, if I understand your 03:33, my description of your position early in this thread was accurate - a position I'm in full agreement with (in fact in part I take the view I do following your expertise.) However, I don't think CB's take is that different - certainly in emphasis, but at core this post in its entirety seems to be on our side. (Except I'm not sure the pictures are acceptable for making the point - wish CB was here to debate that issue.)

Welcome back, Rilkefan.

I disagree with Katherine's point ... I think... regarding Durbin's rhetoric as distracting, from his message. And thus I agree with McManus, I think (though I can't be sure because of his Joycean way), that this is hardball.

Look, reasonable rhetoric directed at the rhetorical masters in charge now won't work. You need a big neon sign, or maybe a little clown pointing at the big dangerous clowns, or maybe an explosion saying pay attention. Democrats are now beggars; in Calcutta the beggars cut a hand off to draw attention. The alternative is to be ignored.

Quite frankly, I wish Durbin had said what he said and then resigned. And I then I wish another Democratic Senator would stand the next day and say what needs to be said regarding George Bush's conduct leading up to the war in Iraq (and that ain't all) and resign. And so on, until the Nation's business stops. Then disappear into the high grass.

Proof: The uproar caused Charles to read Durbin's substantive remarks in their entirety. And then agree with them in a post here. To be attacked, of course, but attack is now reflexive.

John: To be attacked, of course, but attack is now reflexive.

I disagree. Attacking Charles Bird happens frequently, but it's by no means a reflex action. Had CB simply agreed that Senator Durbin was right to say what he did, and the abuses he called attention to were wrong, he wouldn't have been attacked: he was attacked for deliberately misreading what Senator Durbin said and attacking his own misreading. Passionately, of course, because Charles is fond of the sport of messenger-shooting.

I'm back yet again -- curse my feeble resolve! -- with a brilliant piece by Jeanne at Body And Soul [h/t Making Light]:

Can you tell, without peeking at the linked articles, which group of torturers is on our side?

I don't know whether his rhetoric was politically effective or not. I'm saying, it's reasonable to think it was ineffective and reasonable to think it'll be effective--the jury's still out as far as I can see.

As far as I’m concerned, a man with a bright political future is risking it and painting a huge target on himself to do the right thing. And he did so without making an untrue statement or calling Guantanamo a death camp or the troops Nazis or everything else he is being accused of. Unless he’s stupid he knew he would be accused of those things—but he did not actually say them. Anticipating that your political opponents would distort and lie about what you said does not mean that you were saying what they accuse of saying.

Jes:

I write on the run, so my thoughts, confused as they are, emerge extravagantly confused.

What I mean to think, I think, and mean to say, I think, is that we are all conditioned by deliberate political strategy to attack reflexively. Which is why Charles can't write a post agreeing with you without a thumb gouge to the eye. And me too, right back at him. Because the fight is the thing. This is learned behavior, like my Welsh grandmother married to the German, condemning with full freshly regurgitated venom the Hun from 60 years before.

All bad and it will come to no good end. But it makes little difference to me any longer whether I'm right.
I wanna win. We can drink after, but I'll reassemble a semblance of being right from the wreckage of winning.

Gingrich and Delay didn't start the contest but they changed the rules. Fine. Using their rules, I want utter victory over them. I want to smirk precisely as Bush does as I raise his taxes to pay for his impeachment. I'll forego his torture. Back to Texas for him where he can swagger harmlessly with the fake bowleggedness.

And, yes, Charles, I hate Bush. Note that he likes it.
It gets him up in the morning. That you find it offensive is utterly inconsequential to him.

Here's the thing. GWB likes me, because I remind him of himself.

That said, You, Jes, are right, and Charles is brave in his way, and Rilkefan and Hilzoy will prevail, and Slart and Von and Sebastian are not to far away from me in true policy (well, I exaggerate now) and, as always, McManus rules.

It is not all the fight. And it is not reflexive. Not unless you let it be. But politics is too important for that.

I am writing in short sentences. I wonder why.

Like I said, Hilzoy, you will prevail.

I know why, unless I'm stupid, which would pretty much nail it.

I'm merely meeting the opposing tactics at their level.

You, should we be lucky, will win.

John: you aren't stupid ;) And I'm not sure whether I said this already, but welcome back. (Also, to blogbudsman, if he's reading.)

;)

"I am writing in short sentences. I wonder why."

Because you can. Perhaps. Or maybe not.

No, you definitely can. Wonder why.

It's not haiku. But it could be.

I wish the administration had set out specific rules for how to handle prisoners taken at the beginning of the WOT, if it felt they were not lawful combatants under the existing Geneva Conventions.

I wish that the keeping and interrogation of these prisoners had not been put in the hands of under-trained National Guard troops, and I wish that someone at any level of command in Abu Ghraib had stopped things before they got out of hand.

I wish most of my fellow conservatives weren't still shooting the messenger, as if Godwin violations (as unhelpful as they might be) were somehow worse than Americans systematically abusing prisoners.

I wish that I didn't agree the most honorable thing we can do now would be to close down Gitmo, and I wish that I didn't agree we can't afford to. I wish there was a better solution, but I can't think of one.

Most of all, I wish that I didn't have to defend the indefensible in order to be a Bush administration supporter.

Well, most of all, I wish that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had never been born, but fighting the monster they created doesn't give us an excuse to behave monstrously. And that's pretty much all I've got to say about this.

And that's pretty much all I've got to say about this.

You said plenty. Good post.

Ditto to Anarch's comments on your post, ThirdGorchBro. I think I'd add the wish that this administration not consistently get us into situations in which all the remaining choices are bad. But I realize that that's one you might not agree with.

Do you really think that is going to happen?

I really don't know, Randy. Even a lame duck faces political pressures.

This is like saying the guy who rapes and murders one small child is morally superior to the guy who rapes and murders 100 small children.

That's not what I said, Bob. Read my final paragraph.

He did not assert any sort of moral equivalence between us and the Nazis, or Pol Pot, or Stalin.

What matters is not how Durbin inserted Nazis and gulags into the statement, but that he inserted them, Hil. The second ranking Democrat in the Senate deliberately made these associations, and the quicker he apologizes the less the fallout. He was trying to be clever by half and he was busted.

Let's falsifise, Charles. What would it take for America to need to apologize?

I assume you can say.

CB, did you see Durbin's follow-up?

"My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this Administration, which add to the risk our soldiers face," he said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings: Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support."

Also, is it your position that no Republican of similar stature has ever made comparisons of similar import?

Ehh, never mind on the last point, who cares.

Charles, I think you are arguing against what you perceive to be Durbin's intent, more than his actual words. You've partially conceded that he did not say the things that his critics attribute to him. You also can't mean this:

"Can we agree that, no matter how the words are weaseled, putting American in the same sentence with Nazis, gulags and the Khmer Rouge has no place in civil political discourse"

because if that sentence is correct, then that sentence itself has no place in civil political discourse. The words "American", "Nazis", "gulags" and "Khmer Rouge" all appear in it.

Obviously, that's not what you meant. Saying that "Americans defeated the Nazis" is obviously not what you're talking about. But I'm not trying to just be obnoxious and nitpicky, I'm trying to get you to concede this point: It's not just what words are in the sentence. How the words are used also matters.

I think what you object to is neither Durbin's actual statements (which you have not chosen to try to directly refute) nor the fact that he used certain words in the same sentence (because so did you and so do thousands of sentences about WW2 you've got no problem with), but that you think he "deliberately made these associations" between Bush/American soldiers/Guantanamo interrogators and the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge.

You often hand out "Karnak awards" to people who try to get inside politicians heads. I think you have a point, in doing that, but you overstate that point. The fact is, politicians' intent matters. While you are correct that we don't know for sure and in online discussions people often make silly, implausible, baseless guesses about politicians' intent--intent matters. And it is possible to make informed guesses backed up with evidence.

So rather than handing out a "Karnak award" to you for your guess about Durbin's intent, let me try to see if I can accurately state what you perceive his bad intent to be, and let me explain why I think that it was NOT his intent. (ctd.)

Thanks everyone.

Bob, there's plenty of things to think about re: timing. I expect that the DC Circuit is going to issue a decision in Hamdan relatively soon -- this is a pure Geneva Conventions case -- and it may well decide Khaled/Boumediene before October.

If the Circuit affirms Khaled, the Supremes might not even take cert, which ends the case say 5 months after decision. We can look forward to mass releases, I think, after that, as the government decides which half dozen or dozen cases it really cares to defend.

Padilla is better off, I'd bet, now that he's not in total isolation. He's still in jail, of course, but has reason to hope, and that's got to be something.

(I'm flying to Alaska tomorrow to argue a case on Tuesday. We filed the complaint in 1996. Win or lose Tuesday, the case won't be over. It's not Jarndyce, but patience is called for in this line of work . . .)

Okay, first--here is what I'm guessing you think his motivations were:

He wants to associate Guantanamo Bay and the Bush administration with the images of horror, atrocity and genocide we associate with the gulag, the killing fields, and the Holocaust. At the same time, he knew that such comparisons are politically very risky, and he did NOT want to be accused of slandering the troops or calling them Nazis or whatever else. So he was "too clever by half"--but the fact is, you don't use the words "Nazi" and "gulag" and "Pol Pot" without a reason. There are plenty of other of historical analogies you could make to denounce torture and abuse that are equally accurate and equally effective (and as you say, more imaginative), but he chose three of the worst mass murderers of the century. He can only have done so in order to evoke those horrors, and link them to Guantanamo & the Bush administration.

I apologize if I have that wrong, and you may correct me. I am not trying to set out a straw man though--that is the best guess I can make at what you think his motivations were.

Note that as far as I can tell, some of the liberal posters here and elsewhere seem to agree with you that this was Durbin's motivation. Their main disagreement is that they think that inappropriate historical analogies are justified if that's what it takes to stop these policies.

That is NOT the root of my disagreement with you. Not this time. I think the root of our disagreement is that I have another, entirely different guess about what Durbin's motivations were in using that imagery. Let me audition for the Karnak awards of all Karnak awards, and explain that guess.

I obviously do NOT know if this is accurate; I've never met Durbin. But he is my senior senator (as of this month) and has been my favorite Senator for a considerably longer. I have read a whole lot of news stories about him & speeches by him, especially as regards this issue; I have also bugged his staff about rendition and read the legislation he has co-sponsored on the torture issue.

No doubt I am also projecting my own views onto Durbin to a great extent. But, part of the reason I like Durbin so much is that his actions in the Senate suggest that his policy and moral views are quite similar to mine, and that he sees the U.S. political situation in general and the torture issue in particular in a way that is uncannily similar to the way I see it.


Which doesn't mean the following guess about Durbin's motivations is correct. But--just consider it, and ask yourself: how would I respond to his remarks if I thought that this, and not the less worthy motives I'm assuming he had, was what led him to use that inflammatory language?

I start from the same premise that you do: if you mention Pol Pot, the Nazis, and Stalin in the same sentence as U.S. troops, you are doing it for a reason. You know that those words are inflammatory. You know that the press is more likely to cover a speech where you use that comparison than an ordinary Senate floor speech. You know that you risk being accused of slandering American soldiers Nazis, of minimizing the Holocaust. You know your words will be taken out of context, honestly misunderstood by some and deliberately misrepresented by others. You know that those regimes slaughtered millions and committed worse tortures than those described in the FBI memo you are quoting from. You know that there are plenty of other analogies you could use--there is no shortage of countries that have tortured prisoners in history, no shortage of countries that torture prisoners today. Or you could simply read from the documents on torture, instead of making an analogy. There are dozens of ways to make this point. If you chose this one, you did it for a reason.

I agree with that. But, what if this is the reason?

Say you are just horrified and appalled and heartbroken by the U.S. torture and interrogation policies. Say you feel everything that hilzoy expressed here.

Say you are the minority whip in the United States Senate--the third most powerful Democrat in Washington and the second most powerful in the only branch where the Democrats have anything resembling a voice. It won't do just to be sad. Your position gives you an obligation to do something to stop your country from continuing down this road. It also gives you enough power that you ought to be able to do SOMETHING.
But you're running out of ideas of what to do.

You've tried making speeches (1, 2, 3) but they've been ignored.

You've tried writing and co-sponsoring amendments and attaching them to appropriations bills, but they've either been stripped out in conference, or watered down so that they wouldn't really have any legal force.

You've tried co-sponsoring bills, which could not be quietly deleted in conference committees. (to name a few from this session: S. 654, on rendition; section 223 and 224 of S.12) But none of them has gotten a single Republican cosponsor. None of them has gotten a committee hearing. None of them has gotten a committee vote. S. 654 has only four other Democratic sponsors and cosponsors; S.12 has only twelve. Neither of them has a chance in hell of passing.

You've held up the Haynes nomination for the Fourth Circuit, for now, but that's not going to change the policy.

You questioned Gonzales as thoroughly as you could on these issues, and you managed to get a few answers, but not many. They stonewalled on the document requests. You helped persuade the wavering Democrats on judiciary to vote no unanimously, you worked to get as many no votes as possible on the floor, you even would have risked a filibuster if you could have gotten enough votes for it--but the votes just weren't there. Reid couldn't twist arms on this with the nuclear option and social security debates upcoming. Your side won the floor debate, but how many people were watching C-Span 2? Even in the political news it was totally swamped by the state of the union aftermath. The press noted in passing that there were more no votes than originally expected, and that was that. Gonzales was the Attorney General, and worse, the administration had learned that there was no real political cost for these policies. John Yoo said so in the New Yorker:

[Yoo] went on to suggest that President Bush’s victory in the 2004 election, along with the relatively mild challenge to Gonzales mounted by the Democrats in Congress, was “proof that the debate is over.” He said, “The issue is dying out. The public has had its referendum.”

No Republicans broke ranks on the Gonzales vote. No Republicans have broken ranks to support supboenas of documents. No Republicans have broken ranks to call for an independent investigation. Warner and Specter can be shamed into sponsoring a hearing occasionally when the issues in the news, but you already know how the hearing tomorrow will go: most of the Republicans will be outraged by the outrage. A few of them--Specter, Graham, maybe DeWine--will ask half-hearted questions in front of the cameras, and when they're not answered they won't even bother to submit written followups. And a lot of the other Democrats will read statements rather than ask questions. So maybe four of you will actually be asking questions, and you'll have time for maybe three to five questions each, and you can't ask about certain subjects--just forward looking questions about Guantanamo, not Bagram, not rendition, not the CIA facilities, not the torture memos, not the reports of torture at Guantanamo. You won't get any real answers--and that will be that. Better luck at the next hearing six months from now.

Without hearings, or subpoenas, or a confirmation vote, or a filibuster, or a bill that can't be quietly killed in committee or stripped out in conference--the press will not cover this, not in a sustained enough way to make any difference in the print media, and not at all on TV. Things would've been different if Kerry had been willing to raise this during the campaign, but he wasn't. Press conferences and floor speeches by the minority whip do not make the papers, nor do document requests and legislation and calls for an investigation that don't have any chance at all of passing. If the Democrats would make this an issue in the midterms, it might be different, but that's a year and a half from now. And if a large percentage of the caucus is afraid of this issue now, two years before the election--they're not going to get less afraid of it in the months leading up to one.

So. None of these things will work.

When AI called Guantanamo gulag--that didn't work, exactly, but it came closer than anything has since the Abu Ghraib to working.

It was a lousy historical analogy. The horrors were not on the same scale. Not only is Guanatanamo not Stalin's gulag archipelago; it is not even close to the worst prison in the U.S. archipelago. Bagram is worse, the Salt pit and the other CIA jails are worse, Abu Ghraib was worse, Egypt and Syria are worse.

But you had to admire the risk they took. Maybe it wasn't a risk a neutral human rights organization should be taking--but you were hardly in a position to criticize that, when not a single U.S. politician had risked much of anything to stop that.

Maybe it was time that a U.S. politician take that risk.(ctd.)

*waits with bated breath*

[Although what's currently up is great.]

ThirdGorchBro: I wish that I didn't agree the most honorable thing we can do now would be to close down Gitmo, and I wish that I didn't agree we can't afford to.

Why do you think the US cannot afford to?

Katherine: But you had to admire the risk they took. Maybe it wasn't a risk a neutral human rights organization should be taking--but you were hardly in a position to criticize that, when not a single U.S. politician had risked much of anything to stop that.

*applauds*

I'm getting sick of writing the second person so let me continue in a more normal tone, and let me proceed more on the basis of what Durbin said last week than on his previous record on these issues, or my guesses as to his evaluation of the political situation.

One of the things that's striking about Durbin's statement is that it is very inflammatory and very careful at the same time. As hilzoy and von and I have noted, he does NOT say that Guantanamo is gulag. He does not criticize any U.S. troops other than those directly involved in prisoner abuses--and when charged with insulting the troops, he was immediately ready to say: actually, they could be contractors or CIA agents, I never even said that it was the armed forces and we don't know that. He does not talk about genocide, only brutal interrogation. He does not say that these horrors are comparable in scale to the gulag. He does not say that these abuses are as bad as what happened to individual prisoners in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or under the Khmer Rouge.

And yet--Durbin is a very smart, very effective politician. He doesn't tend to get into trouble for his remarks like Dean does. He's also pretty good at anticipating the other side's moves. I read his questions at the Gonzales hearings; he's very good at anticipating the ways that someone is going to try to evade the question. He was also apparently the one who wanted to respond the nuclear option by forcing debate on popular Democratic bills that the GOP wouldn't allow a vote on, rather than "shutting down the Senate" as Reid had originally threatened.

Well, you don't have to be half that good at anticipating your opponents' arguments to realize that when you not only talk about the gulag in the same sentence as Guantanamo, but throw in the Nazis and Pol Pot for good measure--if a talk radio host or far right weblog or whoever else hears about it, they are going to go into hysterics. And they are very good at all going into hysterics at the same time, and these stories tend to get picked up by Fox News and the Murdoch papers and the Washington Times, and from there to the mainstream press--the dailies and the TV shows. And when they do, the administration and GOP Congressional leadership are not exactly shy about joining in.

I wouldn't have necessarily predicted that anyone noticed this speech, and even after they did, I wouldn't have thought it would become quite this vicious this quickly or reach quite this high up--I didn't expect the Bush administration to join in or Newt Gingrich to call for censure, and apparently once again I overestimated John McCain. I also would have thought that some prominent Democrat would have actually defended what Durbin said by now, and that the ADL and the veterans' groups would have been more careful to respond to what he actually said and not what he was accused of saying. So I'm not saying he would've anticipated all of this. But he had to know that this was a risk.

His statement seems perfectly constructed to guarantee he would be accused of saying all sorts of horrible things about the military and minimizing the horror of genocide, without actually saying horrible things about the military or minimizing the horror of genocide. That suggests premeditation.But what it does NOT suggest to me, is cynical self-interest.

How big a moron would Durbin have to be to think that this would help his career? It's not like he needs the attention; he's the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, he's close to Reid, and the Democratic caucus just about always taps the deputy to lead the house or senate caucus when the leader retires or loses his seat.

He's scrupulously built up a long record as an oppose-the-war-support-the-troops Democrat. I think he genuinely believes that, but say it is just political calculation. Isn't that all the more reason not to blow it up with a few careless words? And if he got carried away and misspoke, why isn't he apologizing? (That statement of regret Friday was an unusually blatant non-apology apology.)

I just can't see how this could help his career. I can see very easily how it could harm it. And very few people LIKE being called a traitor. There had to be some another reason.

He could be trying to help the Democrats for the midterm elections, but that also seems extremely unlikely to me. The Senate is weighted towards red states. I really can't see this comment helping.

So, I think he's genuinely motivated by concern about the torture issue, to the point where either he wasn't thinking at all, or that he deliberately made himself a target to keep the story in the news, get to a place where people would listen when he spoke about these issues, perhaps guilt trip some of his colleagues into acting. And if he wasn't thinking, I'm not sure why he phrased his statement in such a careful yet such an inflammatory way, and I'm not sure why he's refused to apologize.

And if he was just making careless allusions because he wants to associate Guantanamo and Bush and the military with these past atrocities--come on. This is a U.S. Senator, not some poster on Democratic Underground or undergraduate protest organizer. He's not Cynthia McKinney or Robert Byrd, either. He's in the leadership. He has a lot to lose. And I will guarantee you, he does not believe that Guantanamo is as bad as those images you post, or that U.S. troops are comparable to the S.S., which is why he very carefully avoided saying all the things the talk radio hosts are accusing him of saying. Was he counting on the right wing press', the administration's, and Republican Congressmen's scrupulous refusal to misquote and distort what he said? Was he counting on the mainstream press to call them on it? He's going to risk his career to make a cheap, false insinuation that will get nowhere with the electorate, alienate veterans, and which he doesn't actually believe?

It doesn't make any sense. I know you don't share my opinion of Durbin, but two decent assumptions to make about politicians are:
1) they want to keep their jobs
2) they want to be able to sleep at night

So. There you are.

Well said, Katherine.

Jes: For one thing, we're still at war, and the vast majority of the prisoners we have taken really are insurgents or terrorists. We have every right to keep them prisoner until the war ends. Maybe not at Gitmo itself, I guess what I meant was we can't just let them all go, even though we are now in the position of having abused them.

FWIW, I don't think Durbin said anything out of line, and I am mostly in agreement with Katherine's 2:58 and 4:12 posts.

Bravo, Katherine.

Again, the meaningless call for a "commission" without one word of comdemnation for those reponsible for all that you claim to deplore.

Misreading yet again, dm. I've been consistently railed against the piss-poor treatment of detainees. Read the final paragraph, particularly the sentence where I agree with Durbin that our treatment of detainees has been deplorable. My positions have been clear.

A question for Charles or anyone else truly offended by Durbin's remarks-- What ought he to have said?

A fair question, AS. He could've compared Guantanamo to how we treated prisoners in previous wars and conflicts. See BrianM's comments above. He could've said that the detainee treatment doesn't measure up to American standards: "This is not America. This is not the America I know." This would be a way to measure ourselves against our own standards. He could've gone generic. "This is the conduct of a totalitarian state, not America." He could've said that Guantanamo looks like any other prison on the island of Cuba (which is admittedly a stretch). He could've specified countries without referring to regimes that mass-murdered by the millions: "This isn't China. This isn't a Turkish prison. This is about the Bill of Rights. This is about America fighting a war AND respecting the rule of law." Like I wrote, what Durbin said was unimaginative.

How is it possible for Rush to use to word "feminazis" on a daily basis and earn high praise from you, yet Durbin is somehow over the line?

First, he doesn't he use it daily. In fact, very seldom if at all anymore. There's a lot of things I don't agree with Rush on (including using feminazi), and he's rated lower than NPR in my book.

You were asked politely and more than once to put them below the fold.

The pictures are integral, Nell. For that reason, I politely refuse your and others' reqest. If von-Edward-Hilzoy deem them not appropriate for the front page, then they are free to do as they wish.

ThirdGorchBro: Jes: For one thing, we're still at war

(conceded for the sake of argument)

and the vast majority of the prisoners we have taken really are insurgents or terrorists.

Really? Please cite the evidence at which you looked before you came to that conclusion. There are 540 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay: show me evidence that at least 271 of them (by name, since you have looked them all up*) are in fact insurgents or terrorists. Note that the mere fact that they have been accused of so being is not evidence that they actually are.

We have every right to keep them prisoner until the war ends. Maybe not at Gitmo itself, I guess what I meant was we can't just let them all go, even though we are now in the position of having abused them.

If they have in fact been taken fighting against US forces/allied forces in Iraq or in Afghanistan, they can be PoWs, in which case they should be held in proper PoW camps.

But the US has no right to hold any of them extralegally. And the longer the US holds them all extralegally, declining to show evidence in court that it has any right to hold any of them, the more I become convinced that it has no evidence to show, beyond confessions obtained under torture.

*This is sarcasm. I am fairly certain that you've not investigated many** of them, let alone the "vast majority".

**I originally wrote "any" and then decided you deserved the benefit of the doubt. ;-)

For the sake of everyone else, ThirdGorch, feel free to just e-mail me the details of the 271 prisoners you looked up and can show me that they're insurgents/terrorists. I'll comment here and post at my livejournal that you've done so.

Charles Bird claimed: My positions have been clear.

You certainly have! You've railed against Newsweek for the story about US soldiers desecrating the Koran (and have yet to update the post in which you claimed it was false - which it wasn't): you've railed against Amnesty International (for calling a gulag a gulag): you've railed against Senator Durbin: and when I sarcastically said you'd rail against the Red Cross next, someone pointed out that you already had. In all cases, the "crime" these people committed was to protest against the crimes committed by the Bush administration in the name of the US. You don't like that at all. You have made your position extremely clear.

Serious question:

What is the war for the duration of which the US is holding its prisoners? What constitutes victory in it?

He could've said that the detainee treatment doesn't measure up to American standards: "This is not America. This is not the America I know." This would be a way to measure ourselves against our own standards. He could've gone generic. "This is the conduct of a totalitarian state, not America." He could've said that Guantanamo looks like any other prison on the island of Cuba (which is admittedly a stretch). He could've specified countries without referring to regimes that mass-murdered by the millions: "This isn't China. This isn't a Turkish prison. This is about the Bill of Rights. This is about America fighting a war AND respecting the rule of law." Like I wrote, what Durbin said was unimaginative.

Ah. So now we've gone from "outside the realm of civil discourse" to "unimaginative." So you're conceding that it's OK to measure our actions vis a vis detainees against totalitarian regimes, you just don't like the ones he picked?

138 comments in and apart from Lilly, Bob McManus or CharleyCarp they can be summed up as “Well Bush (or his policies) isn’t a Nazi, but he is Nazi-like”. You people whine when others outside your self-congratulatory echo chamber employ rhetorical excess against you like hating America or having a serious case of BDS. However, this is just fine? Well, something about a goose and a gander. Personally I’m not outraged by Durbin because if I was part of the Illinois GOP I bash him over the head with this for an easy senate seat in 2008.

138 comments in and apart from Lilly, Bob McManus or CharleyCarp they can be summed up as “Well Bush (or his policies) isn’t a Nazi, but he is Nazi-like”. You people whine when others outside your self-congratulatory echo chamber employ rhetorical excess against you like hating America or having a serious case of BDS. However, this is just fine? Well, something about a goose and a gander. Personally I’m not outraged by Durbin because if I was part of the Illinois GOP I bash him over the head with this for an easy senate seat in 2008.

Charles Bird: He could've specified countries without referring to regimes that mass-murdered by the millions: "This isn't China. This isn't a Turkish prison." [Emph mine]

I think I just swallowed my tongue in shock, which is preferable to rupturing my innards with laughter. Not only does no-one remember the Armenians, it looks like we're in danger of forgetting both the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Bravo, Charles; that takes some ballsy revisionism.

Sulla: or having a serious case of BDS.

BDS?

What would it take for America to need to apologize?

It would take knowing whom to apologize to, and the Bush administration to do it, Gary.

CB, did you see Durbin's follow-up?

Yes, rilke. Durbin regretted that so many didn't understand his brilliance. Captain Ed was right.

Okay, first--here is what I'm guessing you think his motivations were:

He's the one who made the association, Katherine. The person who should explain his motivations is the Senator himself. But if I were guessing, I would guess that most of the motivations you ascribe to the Senator are accurate.

Jes- Heh, yeah.

Charles Bird: He could've gone generic. "This is the conduct of a totalitarian state, not America."

This would be followed by an outpouring of right-wing blogger anger and discussion of what REAL totalitarian governments do to detainees, along with sarcastic references to lack of elections in the US. Followed by "I heart Gitmo" tshirts.

He could've said that Guantanamo looks like any other prison on the island of Cuba (which is admittedly a stretch).

Followed by outraged posting of actual testimonies of Cuban political prisoners, angry denouncements of Durbin comparing Bush to Castro, and sarcastic comparisons of the US and Cuban political systems. Followed by "I heart Gitmo" tshirts.

He could've specified countries without referring to regimes that mass-murdered by the millions: "This isn't China. This isn't a Turkish prison. This is about the Bill of Rights. This is about America fighting a war AND respecting the rule of law."

Resulting in spittle-producing outrage by conservative lements who point out that China executes tens of thousands of prisoners each year with a shot to the back of the head and then uses their organs for transplant. Followed by "I heart Gitmo" tshirts.

Like I wrote, what Durbin said was unimaginative.

Unimaginative is not the issue. Being critical of the human rights conditions of US "detainees" is the issue, and unless the words used to do so are suitable meek and fawning in the eyes of the supporters of this administration, the critic will face a wall of right-wing hysteria. A hysteria-tsunami, if you will.

Correction: When I was suggesting alternatives, I should've said (and meant to say) "This isn't present day China." China under Mao was every bit as bad as murderous as Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and Cambodia under Pol Pot.

There are 540 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay: show me evidence that at least 271 of them (by name, since you have looked them all up*) are in fact insurgents or terrorists.

Because they've faced tribunals and 94% were found to be enemy combatants, Jes.

So now we've gone from "outside the realm of civil discourse" to "unimaginative."

No "we" haven't, Phil.

I stand corrected, Charles. You have gone from "outside the realm of civil discourse" to "unimaginative." I was not so dense as to fall victim to mischaracterization and irrelevancy in the first place. Thanks for clearing that up!

Hahahahaha . . . did you even read your own link?

In January, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled that the tribunals are illegal, unfairly stacked against detainees and in violation of the Constitution. The Bush administration has appealed her decision . . .

Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington-based expert in military law, said Green appropriately chided the tribunal for not considering the overwhelming conclusion of the government that Kurnaz was improperly detained and should be released.

"It suggests the procedure is a sham," Fidell said. "If a case like that can get through, what it means is that the merest scintilla of evidence against someone would carry the day for the government, even if there's a mountain of evidence on the other side."

Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who supports the tribunal process, said the lack of evidence against Kurnaz is "very troubling" and should prompt a military review of this particular tribunal . . .

You actually think that link supports your argument? HAHAHAHAHAHahahahahaha! I would actually have expected Jes to post that link to show where you were wrong!!! If I'm ever accused of a crime, dude, I want you prosecuting me.

Let me give you a clue: A 94% success rate when everyone thinks you're cheating is not as significant as you appear to believe.

Charles: Because they've faced tribunals and 94% were found to be enemy combatants, Jes.

Did you read the article you linked to? Sure, it says:

According to the Defense Department, 558 tribunal reviews have been held. In the 539 decisions made so far, 506 detainees have been found to be enemy combatants and have been kept in prison. Thirty-three have been found not to be enemy combatants. Of those, four have been released.

But the article picks out one particular tribunal that turned out to be grossly flawed:

In recently declassified portions of a January ruling, a federal judge criticized the military panel for ignoring the exculpatory information that dominates Kurnaz's file and for relying instead on a brief, unsupported memo filed shortly before Kurnaz's hearing by an unidentified government official.

The reason for picking out this particular tribunal is that:

The Kurnaz case appears to be the first in which classified material considered by a "combatant status review tribunal" has become public.

And so:

In January, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled that the tribunals are illegal, unfairly stacked against detainees and in violation of the Constitution. The Bush administration has appealed her decision.

In January, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled that the tribunals are illegal, unfairly stacked against detainees and in violation of the Constitution. The Bush administration has appealed her decision.

In short, in the only one of those 558 tribunal reviews where the "classified evidence" that was used has become public, it turns out the evidence shows the detainee was most likely innocent, even though the tribunal found him guilty. Shall we assume this was one bad apple of a tribunal, and all the other 557 were just fine?

ThirdGorchBro, I'll await your response.

Bet we'll see Charles Bird railing against Sean Baker soon.

Any takers?

Bet we'll see Charles Bird railing against Sean Baker soon.

I don't think Sean Baker compared the actions of his attackers as Nazi-like or made any other comparisons or metaphors of that sort. Which is what Charles' post focuses on.

Teach me to make an unsourced assumption. Truthfully, I just assumed most of our prisoners were taken either in combat or in raids on insurgent hideouts where there was other evidence lying around (weapons, bomb-making materials, etc.) If I'm wrong, and the majority of our prisoners are just random dudes we picked up off the street, then our problems are even more serious than I thought. Tell you what, Jes, I'll do a little research (later, 'cause right now I'm at work) and get back to you.

Sulla: "138 comments in and apart from Lilly, Bob McManus or CharleyCarp they can be summed up as 'Well Bush (or his policies) isn't a Nazi, but he is Nazi-like'.

Wrong: our general point has been: that's not, in fact, what Durbin said.

And I second Anarch's response to Charles' amazing choice of less bad comparisons.

Hugh Hewitt has actually written something useful on this. His breathless conspiratorial tone is of course ridiculous, but he does quote at length from Durbin, including a radio interview I'd not heard before.

After reading that interview--I'd say I was more or less right about his motivations, but he did not think it through as carefully as my comments would suggest, and he was not fully prepared for the response.

I'd wondered about that, because while clarifying his meaning is worthwile, it seems to me his best bet is to confront his critics with a whole lot of factual information about allegations which are even more disturbing than the FBI report he quoted. And he hasn't done that; he had one press release prepared but after that he's floundered a bit.

Hopefully his staff is picking themselves off the mat and preparing a more complete response.

3Gbro
I haven't heard a refutation of this story, though this is not the original version. If there has been a refutation (other than 'hey prisoners lie') I'd love to hear it.

- They fed them well. The Pakistani tribesmen slaughtered a sheep in honor of their guests, Arabs and Chinese Muslims famished from fleeing U.S. bombing in the Afghan mountains. But their hosts had ulterior motives: to sell them to the Americans, said the men who are now prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Bounties ranged from $3,000 to $25,000, the detainees testified during military tribunals, according to transcripts the U.S. government gave The Associated Press to comply with a Freedom of Information lawsuit.
snip
Several detainees who appeared to be ethnic Chinese Muslims - known as Uighurs - described being betrayed by Pakistani tribesmen along with about 100 Arabs.

They said they went to Afghanistan for military training to fight for independence from China. When U.S. warplanes started bombing near their camp, they fled into the mountains near Tora Bora and hid for weeks, starving.

For the benefit of Chas, I should point out that Chinese Muslim separatists are of the Sufi variety, and that the Chinese government has, according to Stephen Schwartz, been supporting Wahhabi Muslim groups.


In March 2002, the AP reported that Afghan intelligence offered rewards for the capture of al-Qaida fighters - the day after a five-hour meeting with U.S. Special Forces. Intelligence officers refused to say if the two events were linked and if the United States was paying the offered reward of 150 million Afghanis, then equivalent to $4,000 a head.


On Powerline and Durbin: this is funny.

Hilzoy
Defend Durbin’s Nazi hyperbole all you want, no foul here. However, I expect you not write some weepy rant defending yourself against anti-Americanism if that happens because of this.

I think it's more un-American to assert unbounded executive privilege and to do this sort of thing than to be occasionally intemperate in criticizing it.

However, I expect you not write some weepy rant defending yourself against anti-Americanism if that happens because of this.

I can't speak for Hilzoy, but I was planning on writing a weepy rant defending the Nazi hyperbole and hypocritically decrying the resulting anti-Americanism on my own blog. Would that be okay with you?

Whatever, if the GOP can unseat a triple amputee Vietnam Vet for a Senate vote canning this guy should be a walk in the park. The more attention brought to this the better.

Sulla: you thought that I was defending myself in that piece?

...

Wow.

If you're looking for anti-Americanism, look to the folks who are saying that keeping people chained up and defecating on themselves and depriving them of sleep for days in unbearable heat and noise sounds more like the actions of Americans than Nazis. That's what Durbin's critics are saying, if you actually read the statement they're disagreeing with.

I’m not looking for anything except a further increase in the Senate GOP majority and Mr. Durbin is bringing that about just fine.

I’m not looking for anything except a further increase in the Senate GOP majority and Mr. Durbin is bringing that about just fine.

Then stop complaining.

Yet another in a long series of right wing "but we are still better than Nazis and al-Qaida" posts. And reading comprehension still hasn't improved with the pro-war crowd.

When this comes up in a discussion, just ask the question - do you think America should torture prisoners. Thank goodness, most people say no and the conversation can turn towards the facts.

Don N.

When this comes up in a discussion, just ask the question - do you think America should torture prisoners. Thank goodness, most people say no and the conversation can turn towards the facts.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is exactly Charles' point, no?

DPU- got me there, it was a pre-emptive whine.

3Gbro: Tell you what, Jes, I'll do a little research (later, 'cause right now I'm at work) and get back to you.

That's a remarkably temperate and thoughtful response. Thank you. You might find this post of interest. ;-)

kenB: Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is exactly Charles' point, no?

No. Charles' point, made repeatedly, is that no one should be complaining about America torturing prisoners - certainly not out loud, in public, in ways the mass media pays attention to. I've never yet seen Charles rail against America torturing prisoners as we have seen other ObWingers, from Katherine to Sebastian Holsclaw, protest it. Charles always rails about someone else protesting America's human rights violations: loudly, passionately, and with conviction. Then he may slip in a face-saver that naturally he doesn't think the US should be torturing people, but just the same, it's wrong for the Red Cross, or Amnesty International, or Newsweek, or Senator Durbin, or whoever this week's villain is, to be talking about it.

What would it take for America to need to apologize?

It would take knowing whom to apologize to, and the Bush administration to do it, Gary.

Okay. So suppose your daughter is somehow on the wrong list, and is picked up, and given peroneal kicks a few hundred times, because American patriots find it amusing how many times she screams. Could that happen? Would she deserve an apology, albeit after her death? How would she be different than Dilawar, Charles? How would this be different from reality?

Charles' point, made repeatedly, is that no one should be complaining about America torturing prisoners

Of course you're overstating. CB says in this very post that he agrees with the thrust of Durbin's statement, just not the reference to Nazis, etc. I guess he's not saying it loudly enough for your taste?

This Sullivan post deserves a linking to:

I've now read and re-read Senator Dick Durbin's comments on interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay. They are completely, perfectly respectable. The rank hysteria being perpetrated by some on the right is what is shameful. [...] I'm just amazed that some can view what has happened and their first instinct is to attack those who have criticized it, rather than those who have perpetrated it. It is this administration that has brought indelible shame on America, and it's people like Dick Durbin who prove that some can actually stand up against this stain on American honor and call it what it is. Good for him. Thank God for him.

As does this post at Body & Soul, though for different reasons.

kenB: I guess he's not saying it loudly enough for your taste?

CB is spending far more of his passion on attacking the critics of those who commit the abuses than he is on the abuses themselves. He's never this passionate about actually attacking the abuses, nor does he ever bother to attack the abuses unless he can, at the same time, far more passionately, attack those who criticise the abuses.

Going by Charles' own, frequently-used word count criterion, he cares 24% more about what words Durbin used than he does about the actual abuse situation (217 words to 175 words.)

I suspect that another reason some of us are skeptical about Charles' criticism of torture and abuse of US captives is that his major solution seems to be a bipartisan investigation. Very little in his posting history leads one to feel that he in general has a high regard for such things, or for the general desirability of Democrats anywhere near the levers of power. So it comes across as misdirection, even if in fact he feels that something in this situation warrants an exception to his general support for a Republican hold on as many aspects of power as possible.

I'm trying to phrase this in a descriptive rather than perjorative way, because even though I don't see it, maybe there is something that makes a bipartisan commission desirable here when it wouldn't be on other matters. I am doubtful rather than flat-out denying.

Pardon me for pointing it out, but these are the same sorts of arguments certain conservatives use to "prove" that [fill in liberal blogger here] is really an America-hater. Always criticizes America! (no, look what I wrote here -- I love America!) Well then, why are 75% of your posts devoted to criticizing America? Why do you never devote a post to talking about how America is a great country, without getting several jabs in? Etc., etc.

My preference would be for us to discuss the actual arguments advanced, rather than mind-reading based on word count and topic selection. But that's just me.

kenB: My preference would be for us to discuss the actual arguments advanced,

I thought we were. Charles is raising two arguments here: (1) Senator Durbin is bad because he criticised US human rights abuses; (2) US human rights abuses are also bad. Charles himself devoted more attention to (1) in his post, including three attention-getting pictures, and is getting more discussion on that topic as a result.

Charles is raising two arguments here: Senator Durbin is bad because he criticised US human rights abuses;

Jes, WTF?? What blog do you think you're commenting on? CB is specifically criticizing the reference to the Nazis et al. That's what his post says. He agrees with Durbin's message. Your Jes-ified version of his post is pure mindreading and likely evidence of Bird Derangement Syndrome.

kenB: CB is specifically criticizing the reference to the Nazis et al. That's what his post says

Actually, it's not. What CB's post says is that he isn't specifically criticizing Durbin's reference to the Nazis et al: he's specifically setting up a straw man of an argument which Durbin did not make, and specifically criticizing his own straw man. Then he has the gall to accuse Durbin of "weasel words".

Had CB actually written a post criticizing Durbin's actual reference to the Nazis et al, your argument would make sense. I'm not sure what that post would have read like, though.

Jes, can I ask a favor? Please restrict yourself to commenting on what people actually write. For example, CB's post explicitly says that he's criticizing the Nazi reference while endorsing Durbin's broader point. Whatever you think about his critique and his endorsement, please, give him at least that much credit.

Can we agree that, no matter how the words are weaseled, putting American in the same sentence with Nazis, gulags and the Khmer Rouge has no place in civil political discourse?

No.

(The image, by the way, is from the BBC. It's a soccer stadium in Fallujah which has been turned into a mass grave.)

Half a million children dead through ten years of sanctions. 100,000+ civilians killed in the war, mainly by bombs. And counting.

And if the US pulls out, Iraq collapses, and a civil war rages, we could have another Somalia or Congo.

Since these seems likely, let's start practicing our denials now. All together - "It has nothing to do with us, uh-huh!".

Hahahahaha . . . did you even read your own link?

Yep, I did. The GC states that should any doubt arise, then the detainee should face a competent tribunal to clarify status. If the US tribunal was incompetent--and it looks like the one in question was--then that detainee deserves another tribunal, this time by competent adjudicators. What we know now is that there were problems with Kurnaz, and more activity is underway. According to this source:

These included combatant status review tribunals to confirm that, in fact, each individual is, in fact, an unlawful enemy combatant. Every detainee currently at Guantanamo has received such a hearing. As a result, some 38 individuals were released.

Military commissions, trials with full representation by defense counsel for those suspected of committing war crimes. The commissions have been temporarily suspended pending further review by the U.S. federal court system.

And third, administrative review boards that annually assess the remaining potential threat and intelligence value represented by each detainee. These boards are designed to reexamine detainees regularly in order to identify detainees who can be released.

We'll find out soon enough if the judge's case holds water.

Charles' point, made repeatedly, is that no one should be complaining about America torturing prisoners - certainly not out loud, in public, in ways the mass media pays attention to.

That is false, Jes. You should be judging my writings on what I actually write, not on your feelings or what you perceive my feelings are. Your tack has all too often led to false conclusions and flat out misstatements.

Charles is raising two arguments here: (1) Senator Durbin is bad because he criticised US human rights abuses

Except I didn't, Jes. Read the actual words and refrain from stating positions that I explicitly did not take. You smeared me on the Amnesty Travesty post on multiple occasions. Doing it again here crosses the line. If you do not stop, you are violating the posting rules. Consider this a warning.

Going by Charles' own, frequently-used word count criterion, he cares 24% more about what words Durbin used than he does about the actual abuse situation

Tell me where I've used this "frequently-used word count criterion", Phil. This is rank silliness.

CB and TGB, you ought to take the government at its word when it says that the little old lady in Switzerland is within the ambit of 'enemy combatant.' Although I'm quite confident that even on this standard, a 94% conviction rate could not be had with a fair process, surely this is a standard with which you have some difficulty.

Man, I suck at googling. Here's what I've found so far: A US DOD statement (PDF file) which talks about how some of the Gitmo detainees were captured but doesn't give any hard numbers. I've also found the AI report on Guantanamo, which gives some totals for prisoners and where they are held but doesn't have any percentages for how they were captured either (unless I'm missing something, it's a long report). If anybody out there has a link to anything giving numbers or percentages of exactly how most detainees are captured, I'd appreciate it.

If there isn't any real information available, the question becomes, how much credence to we give the US government on this issue? I suspect most people here already have their minds made up on that, no matter what their political persuasion. I would like to believe my government, but I confess I find it increasingly hard to do so.

I have a question for you, though, Jes (and anyone else who wants to answer): What should we do to get intelligence on international terrorists out there? Our policies prior to 9/11 prevented some terrorist attacks (the planned attacks in Seattle at the Millenium, for example) but - obviously - failed to prevent a number of others. If we shut down our interrogations and release all those detainees we can't prosecute, what should we do instead?

Not trying to score any points here, I'm asking in all seriousness. How then should we go about finding and stopping these groups?

BTW, I did read the post you linked to, Jes, as well as the material regarding those same detainees (and others like them) in the AI report. And it's very troubling, I admit. I hope very much that these are the exception rather than the rule.

Tell me where I've used this "frequently-used word count criterion", Phil. This is rank silliness.

First, it's the frequently-used "word count" criterion. Second, you haven't been the main offender there -- although you've just accused both von and Slarti of "rank silliness" -- but off the top of my head there's this contender:

Judging by the 2005 news releases, Amnesty International spends much more effort on the United States than Cuba, by a factor of 15 (75 articles on the USA, 5 on Cuba). Is the United States really a fifteen-times-worse human rights violator than Cuba? Apparently yes in Amnesty International's cocooned world, betraying a view that is plainly whacked.

[Which statistical tomfoolery, incidentally, you never rescinded.]

TGB, I'd be the last to say we should surrender in the WOT. I think we ought to be aggressively trying to infiltrate, and at the same time, working hard to curry favor among those on the fence.

I heard a couple of years back about a proposed joint Dole-McGovern program for worldwide school lunches. My source (GMcG) suggested it's cost would be dwarfed by our then impending invasion of Iraq, but that the actual benefits would be many times greater. It's not the only answer, of course, but it might be part of the answer.

The necessary element of this kind of thing, though, is we have to do it without triumphalism. If, as I believe, the central motivating factor for the people who would attack us is not their religion, but their feeling of collective humiliation, actions on our part that would increase the latter are counterproductive. The Pres understands this -- or at least seemed to in the 2000 debates with VP Gore -- but has given in to the (apparently) greater need to be surrounded by people holding their index fingers aloft chanting 'we're number one!'

Which statistical tomfoolery, incidentally, you never rescinded.

Some blame for said tomfoolery rests squarely on my shoulders, truth be told.

ThirdGorchBro: My impression - and I'm really willing to be shown I'm wrong here, I have no ego invested in this - is that the major problem in dealing with terrorism is not the acquisition of raw data, but rather A) putting the data together into real information and B) acting effectively on it.

We need, I would think it obvious, more people who understand the languages and cultures in which terrorism most often emerges. We need more people who can live among them, and work undercover. We need an analytical culture which rewards being right no matter how uncomfortable that may be to prevailing wisdom, and we need a political culture in which those correct analyses become the basis of sound policy, hitting our actual enemies and (ideally) no others at all, and reinforcing our presence in the world as one of justice, law, intelligence, prudence, and respect.

For all its manifold failings, I think the Clinton administration did much better on this overall picture than the Bush administration. Bush could have had a glorious legacy on this front if he'd taken the good work he inherited from his predecessor, went over the plans of people like Richard Clark, and scaled them up, backing good data with good action.

It's really unclear to me that anything beyond really good espionage and interrogation entirely compatible with the Geneva Conventions and other protections of universal rights actually does any good. And it invites disbelief from the people we need as informants, reporters, and the like, as well as having other bad consequences.

An operation can be really big and yet focused intently on its targets. Speaking for myself, I think it appalling that Bush professes not to even think much about Osama bin Laden, and I think it very likely that if his administration had stuck to the goal of getting Al Qaeda and its supporters that we would actually have been good for Middle East democracy with many, many fewer problems.

ThirdGorchBro,

First off, I have to say that I'm quite impressed with your willingness to apply your conscience even at the risk to your ideology. It is too bad that has become a praiseworthy feature in this day and age.

Instead of answering your question, I'd like to ask you a question. Should we attempt to stop international terrorists?

Now, most people would say yes I think. So my next question is, how much should we be willing to spend to stop international terrorists? Seriously, what is the dollar amount you are willing to spend to stop terrorists? $100 per citizen per year? $1,000? $10,000? $50,000?

I'm dead serious here. The problem with talking about strategies for dealing with international terrorism is that all too often those discussions take place in a vacuum where there are no costs. Yes, terrorists kill people, but so do accidents, infections, and cigarettes, and from where I'm standing, you're just as dead no matter how you go.

Let me be very clear here: I'm not saying that we should not fight terrorism. What I am saying is that if we're going to fight terrorism, we need to apply the same basic rules we apply to fighting other serious problems. Rules like Cost benefit analysis. More importantly, we need to start actually measuring the effectiveness of our counterterrorism efforts. Most of the dollars spent on reducing airline terrorism since 9/11 has been wasted, and no one seems to care. Moreover, I don't think we could justify the amount of money we spend on preventing aircraft terrorism through any rational cost benefit analysis.

If we're going to seriously discuss counter terrorism techniques, I suggest we keep the following questions in mind:

1. How much does technique A cost?

2. Does it actually solve a real problem?

Do you think terrorism will go away on the day that we kill Bin Laden? Because there are some experts who believe that Al Queda is not a command and control organization, in which case killing Bin Laden does nothing. If that is true, then we're wasting money looking for him.

3. Assuming that technique A works flawlessly all the time, what is the cost to our adverseries of bypassing it?

For example, even if we spent trillions of dollars searching every container ship that docks in the US for nuclear weapons, would that actually deter terrorists given that driving across the mexican border is pretty easy and that mexican ports are not likely to screen cargo to the extent we are? That suggests that searching cargo ships may be a massive waste of money that does not make anyone safer.

4. How often does technique A fail in the real world? No, seriously. Vendor supplied failure rates are not an acceptable answer to this question. That means that you can't trust the CIA to accurately asess the quality of the CIA's efforts.

The point here is that security from terrorism is something we're buying, and so far, we've been the worst possible consumers imaginable. As a result, we have spent vast sums of money and gotten very little in return. Its true, there haven't been lots of attacks in the US recently, but given the massive flaws in our security, I would suggest this has little to do with our efforts to stop real terrorism. Until we become intelligent consumers, counter terrorism funding will simply be a boondoggle for private industry and government agencies.

3GB
If we shut down our interrogations and release all those detainees we can't prosecute, what should we do instead?

Knowing and being able to surveill is much better. Intelligence work doesn't stem from holding more and more people, it grows from being able to plot and understand the connections. I don't know if the current admin is unwilling or unable to do it, but whatever the reason is, it is a pretty damning point either way.

Which statistical tomfoolery, incidentally, you never rescinded

If Phil had said article count, Anarch, instead of word count, then you would've had a point. Again, AI obligated itself in its mission statement that every person should enjoy all the human rights codified in the UNDoHR and other international human rights standards. What I did was measure them against their own standards. Since I am not AI, it makes no sense for you or Phil or anyone else to measure my words to the standards of some other entity.

Anarch: Jes, can I ask a favor? Please restrict yourself to commenting on what people actually write.

And ignore the pictures that they use to add to what they've actually written? Why?

ThirdGorchBro: I have a question for you, though, Jes (and anyone else who wants to answer): What should we do to get intelligence on international terrorists out there?

On this point, I don't really have anything to add to what liberal japonicus said (June 21, 2005 12:51 AM). (Except that it really doesn't make sense, if you're out to build a surveillance network in the Arab world, to sack Arab translators from the military for reasons beyond my comprehension [apparently about 150 Arab translators have been sacked from the military for being gay since 2001, though I admit I don't have a good source for this]).

Our policies prior to 9/11 prevented some terrorist attacks (the planned attacks in Seattle at the Millenium, for example) but - obviously - failed to prevent a number of others. If we shut down our interrogations and release all those detainees we can't prosecute, what should we do instead?

The question I feel you should ask yourself, and I mean this with all due respect, exactly what does it accomplish to keep prisoners locked up in extra-legal detention, when you really have no means of knowing whether they're guilty or innocent? Some of the 540 prisoners have been in Guantanamo Bay for three years: they cannot possibly have any recent news about what's going on in the al-Qaeda network, even if they were connected to it.

Whether or not more recently-captured prisoners can be interrogated, I think it's clear that they ought not to be tortured - for all sorts of reasons, from the moral to the pragmatic.

Properly-constituted tribunals had to be held for all prisoners the US captured in Afghanistan or Iraq (leaving aside the prisoners who were taken elsewhere, with even less legal justification). That's what the Geneva Convention requires.

Had such tribunals been held as soon as possible after each prisoner was taken, it's just possible that the sheep could have been sorted out from the goats - PoWs, civilians for whom there was good cause to suspect they were al-Qaeda, and civilians for whom there was no good cause. Both PoWs and civilians have legal rights, even in war time, and while they can be interrogated, they can't be held indefinitely or forced to respond. That this didn't happen is, I hope, one of the mistakes the Bush administration made that is not going to come back and bite us all in the ass - because eventually, I think that some US administration is simply going to have to let them all go - regardless. (And some of them may be al-Qaeda: and by this time, some of them may have decided to become al-Qaeda if they ever get out. But because the Bush administration decided to break the Geneva Conventions from the start, they put themselves in the wrong when dealing with them.)

That's what I think the US should do instead: adhere strictly to the Geneva Conventions. Make sure every prisoner gets a tribunal, and that the evidence used by that tribunal can be made public. If there is real need to take someone prisoner and hold them for life, then make sure the legal procedures are followed. It's not just concern for the prisoners in the US system who are innocent, or if guilty, not deserving of a life sentence: it's the fact that once you move away from the law, once you stop caring if the sheep are sorted from the goats, you end up either with the need to keep all the prisoners (because no one knows which are which) or else being compelled to release goats and sheep alike. I don't think that the US will be able to maintain their prison camp at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely: it may well last out this present administration, but I doubt it will still be there in twenty years.

Israel has been trying to operate for many years on the basis that if you kill nine innocent bystanders and one suspected terrorist in a missile attack on a neighborhood, you are at least down one terrorist. The problem with that arithmetic is that terrorists are not a finite sum. It is precisely the power and the attitude that leads to killing nine innocent bystanders in order to assassinate one man that leads to the creation of more terrorists. In the same way, locking up 540 people because 40 or 400 of them are terrorists but you have no idea which, does not mean the world is at least down 40 terrorists: it means that somewhere out there there are an indefinite number of people who see this and see the US acting as if it can break the law with impunity, lock any Muslim up it chooses, and nothing will happen, nothing will change, no peaceful means will make it stop.

And that makes more terrorists, not fewer.

Again, AI obligated itself in its mission statement that every person should enjoy all the human rights codified in the UNDoHR and other international human rights standards. What I did was measure them against their own standards.

The wha . . ? Having Amnesty International articles written about your country is now a human right? Absent that interpretation, I can't see any way in which a head count of pieces written has anything to do with believing that all people should enjoy the fullness of the Declaration of Human Rights.

Would you really prefer that AI write exactly the same number of articles, news releases and reports about each country? That's what you appear to be implying.

What I did was measure them against their own standards.

No, you didn't: what you did was to measure them against a stupid standard of your own making, as I pointed out in the comments to that thread. You assumed, for example, that the United States and Cuba had the same populations; you assumed that the number of articles written had any correlation, let alone causal relevance, to AI's "standards"; you assumed that the language in these reports was functionally equivalent; and probably a few more that I can't think of off the top of my head. You never addressed the statistical tomfoolery of that first point, nor did you ever provide a justification for the latter contention -- against such possibilities as the relative transparency of the political process, the number of members in each country, the question of effectiveness &c -- nor did you ever address the fact that the "number of articles" standard is a standard entirely of your own creation. It's not even a straw man, it's a snow poodle.

As it happens, I don't think you were the biggest offender on the whole "word count" standard; that was primarily von, IIRC, as I noted above. [And it sure would be nice if you started acknowledging the entirety of my posts instead of a snippet here and there.] The "article count" standard, however, isn't much of an improvement... as Phil has just remarked (yay preview!). In both cases, one can produce a statistic that looks superficially meaningful without actually possessing any real meaning at all, let alone any relevance to the broader question.

And you should know this, Charles, because it was pointed out to you in comments repeatedly. I don't know whether you're ignoring us because we're critical or because you don't have the time, but either way your failure to take these criticisms on board is crippling the utility of much of your work.

CharleyCarp, Bruce, Common Sense, lj and Jesurgislac, thank you for your responses. As far as the intelligence gathering aspect goes, I think you're right that guys captured three years ago aren't going to be able to give us any actionable intelligence. And Jes, I totally agree that we should never torture people for information, under any circumstances. Maybe the fact that we're getting better cooperation from other intelligence services these days, and the fact that our own people are highly focused on this issue, will be enough to prevent the next major attack. I certainly hope so.

TGB: I don't think I'm being defeatist when I say that I don't think we can prevent all major attacks. Common Sense's comments about cost/benefit analysis say all I'd want to on that subject - even if we put every conceivable dollar, erg, and body to the task, we couldn't guarantee success, and we'd increase the death and misery from other neglected causes. (Have you read C.S. Lewis' essay "Learning in Wartime"? Very good explanation of how and why total mobilization and dedication to war destroy nations.) So I look at what, first of all, gets us a lot of return with as little hassle or side effect as possible, to do that, and what creates a lot of nuisance and cost but doesn't actually help, so as not to do that. But I think that if we demand total safety, we will end up getting less overlal than if we look to maximize safety on as many fronts as possible rather than making one absolute.

I hope none of that sounded snarky, as I don't mean it that way.

No, you didn't: what you did was to measure them against a stupid standard of your own making, as I pointed out in the comments to that thread.

Because AI has its own transparency problems, you work with what they give you, Anarch. How much are they spending on the respective countries they report on? You and I don't know because they don't provide a proper accounting. I received a batch of financial information in the mail from Amnesty the other day. As a member and as a onetime CPA, the information provided little enlightenment.

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