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June 16, 2005

Comments

hmmm...

methinks you're courting a firestorm via what would have otherwise been a very good post with this von:

Nor are they comparable to the moral idiocy recently on display at Amnesty International.

We've dedicated gigabytes to the AI story...why confuse the issue here?

Absolutely.

Nor are they comparable to the moral idiocy recently on display at Amnesty International.

Oh, for heaven's sake, Von, can't you just admit you're profoundly wrong on this one - or at least, give up on the public and pointless attacks? "Moral idiocy on display"? That was the American right-wing viciously attacking a well-respected international organisation because the organisation dared to criticise the US's crimes against human rights in forthright terms.

Precisely, in fact, as Senator Durbin did. Which is why I foresee that most of the American right-wing will rise up and viciously attack him for exactly the same morally-idiotic reasons as they attacked Amnesty International.

Other than that one sentence, though, Von: good post.

Good post, von. Thanks. (Any views on IP in CAFTA?)

The 'absolutely' was to von. I do agree with Edward, as well, though -- my temptation was to pick up on the AI reference and get contentious about it.

Actually, there is a useful distinction that I'm sort of glad von pointed out: Durbin's remarks are defensible on their own terms, in a way that AI's "gulag of our time" remark was not. They are accurate in a way that AI's "gulag" quotation was not. Unlike AI's remark there is nothing in what Durbin said that could reasonably be read as a comparison of the scale of the abuses in Guantanamo to the scale of the actions by the tyrannies he mentioned--he said that the specific actions could have been mistaken for the actions of those regimes. That those regimes also committed worse atrocities, that they committed atrocities against many orders of magnitude more people--that is perfectly true, completely obvious, and totally irrelevant to what Durbin actually said.

I wonder whether
--he was making an emotional speech, didn't think anyone was watching C-Span 2, and forgot to be careful not to open himself up to the (ridiculously false but also ridiculously easy to anticipate) charazterization that "Durbin says our soldiers are Nazis!", or

--he was sticking his neck out deliberately, and chose his words carefully to increase the likelihood that he would get accused of slandering U.S. soldiers and calling them Nazis--and create the sort of firestorm that seems to be the only way to get most of the press to pay attention to this issue--without actually slandering U.S. soldiers.

I'd say the first option is more likely, but the second one is quite possible.

As far as I'm concerned, the ones insulting the troops are the ones who say that the actions described by the FBI memo are what we should expect from the U.S. army, and not a sign that the chain of command has broken down badly or the civilian leadership is failing in its obligations.

1,000 thank yous von.

Not me, Jesurgislac. But I'd think that although there will be some important exceptions, by and large your prediction will come true.

I think John Cole is already one of those exceptions, even if he hasn't posted on this specific aspects yet.

(I would not, obviously, characterize AI as morally idiotic or agree that it has lost its credibility. I would characterize it as taking a gamble that was probably foolish but probably did more short term good than long term harm, and in no way undermines its long record of factual accuracy. But we've been through that at great length.)

Slarti: Not me, Jesurgislac. But I'd think that although there will be some important exceptions, by and large your prediction will come true.

Well, sod. I'd really like to be wrong.

(And if Katherine thinks I'm wrong, I most likely am. Still, Von, see what happens when you insert one inflammatory sentence into an otherwise absolutely terrific post... :-)

"Actually, there is a useful distinction that I'm sort of glad von pointed out: Durbin's remarks are defensible on their own terms, in a way that AI's 'gulag of our time' remark was not."

Exactly so.

It has begun.

ANd now Hugh Hewitt's got roughly the same thing.

"There's a difference -- and it's not a small one -- between calling U.S. soldiers Nazis or stating that Gitmo is the "gulag of our times" and pointing out that some of the interrogation tactics used at Gitmo could be confused with interrogation methods used by the Nazis or in the Soviet Union. The former is dishonest and smacks of a partisan myopia; the latter, sad to say, is simply telling it like it is."

Unfortunately, there seems to be little or no difference in the eyes of far to many supporters of the Administration. Whether one sticks to the very words used (like Senator Durbin), uses mild and correct language to describe events (like the Red Cross) or deliberately inflammatory language (like AI), the reaction of the partisans are the same. So please explain why the partisan myopia is limited to AI.

It's sad that things have come to the point where a nontrivial number of fellow Americans cannot be thought to hold as an important principle, "Please do not let my country act in ways which will make us easily comparable to the despots of history." Instead, it seems their important principle is, "Keep your mouth shut when it happens." Sickening.

more screeching from the gang who interpret any criticism of the Executive* as treason. it's like 2003 all over again.

* - void if the President is not a Republican.

Slarti: It has been going on for a while.

(Note: comment threads not for the faint of heart.)

My reasons for including the "inflammatory" remark regarding AI (to the extent that I have a reason for anything) are exactly as posited by Katherine.

As for Hewitt: I'm surprised it took him so long. Careful and reasoned analysis is not much in evidence on his blog.

OT: I'm sorry, Hilzoy, but, at the moment, I don't feel comfortable taking a position on the IP provisions in CAFTA.

It's very telling that neither Boortz nor Hewitt quote Durbin quoting the FBI report on the actual abuses. You think maybe they aren't really so confident that he slandered anyone?

Von: My reasons for including the "inflammatory" remark regarding AI (to the extent that I have a reason for anything) are exactly as posited by Katherine.

Really? As in:

(I would not, obviously, characterize AI as morally idiotic or agree that it has lost its credibility. I would characterize it as taking a gamble that was probably foolish but probably did more short term good than long term harm, and in no way undermines its long record of factual accuracy. But we've been through that at great length.)

"more screeching from the gang who interpret any criticism of the Executive"

For clarity I have to point out that Durbin, at least in the excerpts I've read, came nowhere near criticizing the President, nor could his comments be interpreted as such except by those who believe the President is uniquely responsible for every action that occurs in the country (or in this case out of the country), an opinion which in the long run is counterproductive.

If anyone lives in Illinois, I just got off the phone from a woman in Senator Durbin's Marion office who said they've gotten 3 favorable calls to 40 unfavorable ones and was ridiculously happy to hear a friendly voice.

Normally it's best to call the Washington office about these things but their phones have been busy all day. I also couldn't get through to Chicago, though I tried fewer times.

Washington, DC
332 Dirksen Senate Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-2152
(202) 228-0400 - fax

Chicago
230 South Dearborn St.
Suite 3892
Chicago, IL 60604
(312) 353-4952
(312) 353-0150 - fax

Springfield
525 South 8th St.
Springfield, IL 62703
(217 ) 492-4062
(217) 492-4382 - fax

Marion
701 N. Court St.
Marion, IL 62959
(618) 998-8812
(618) 997-0176 - fax

If you prefer email, there's a form here. Or heck, do both.

I don't know about calling from out of state. Normally I tell people: they really only pay attention to their own constituents, and it's a much better use of time to contact your representatives about these issues & add on a request that they stand behind/refrain from misleading attacks on Durbin. Today--on the one hand, it would tie up the phone lines even worse, and prevent in-state callers from getting through. On the other hand, any positive feedback might be a morale booster if nothing else; I'm sure they're getting plenty of out of state calls from the other side.

For clarity I have to point out that Durbin, at least in the excerpts I've read, came nowhere near criticizing the President, nor could his comments be interpreted as such except by those who believe the President is uniquely responsible for every action that occurs in the country (or in this case out of the country), an opinion which in the long run is counterproductive

i didn't mean to imply he was - only that the subsets people who screech "treason" is nearly equivalent to the subset of people who are now screeching "Dems play the Nazi card".

Really? As in: ...

Since what follows is not a reason "posited" by Katherine for "for including the 'inflammatory' remark regarding AI," I have to ask: Why intentionally misread what I write? Do you think it's convincing to me? To others? Do you think it's clever? Have you given up on substantive debate, and decided that it's fun to be a troll? Do you think because I disagree with Katherine on one point, I'm compelled to agree with her on them all (or she with me)?

Really, I'm mystified.

Pace Katherine, I interpreted Durbin's remarks under (3): a very calculated way to point up the nature of our country's behavior without directly comparing said behavior to Gestapo or NKVD tactics. "Emotional" though he may've been, I think his rhetoric was very carefully chosen.

Isn't that #2?

I think #2 would be even more admirable than #1 at some level.

Von, you claimed that Amnesty International was "morally idiotic": that was nonsense, and a pointless attack on AI. When you write nonsensical, pointless, attacks, it is kind of hard to fathom your purpose for doing so, or your reasons for defending your writing pointless nonsense.

Katherine suggested you made a valid point in distinguishing Amnesty International's description of Guantanamo Bay as a gulag, with Durbin's point that had he not publicly attributed the atrocities committed by US soldiers in Guantanamo Bay, anyone would have thought they had been committed by the Nazis. She's right; they're two different ways of pointing out the US is committing atrocities.

But the moral idiocy still lies with those who defend the US's record on atrocities, not with those who point out the atrocities in trenchant, upfront language.

"But the moral idiocy still lies with those who defend the US's record on atrocities, not with those who point out the atrocities in trenchant, upfront language."

Fortunately, we're allowed only those two choices. And there's no subjectivity whatever in such judgments! Only one possibility is correct! Absolutely correct! Deviationism must be punished.

I should say up front that this is going to sound ingracious, and I'm sorry about that. I sincerely consider any backing off, however qualified, from the de facto pro-torture position of the Republican Party and its supporters, as a positive development, and I don't want to discourage any further developments in this direction by irritating people who begin on this path. That said:

1. I note with some surprise that Mr. Johnson is "wrong" - mistaken, in error, inaccurate - for calling Sen. Durbin an insane suicide-murder terrorist cult leader, but that Amnesty International's statement that Gitmo represents "the gulag of our time" is "moral idiocy", which seems to me to be a rather stronger charge. I am as tired as anybody of the endless parsing of these similies, but I find this worthy of note.

2. It is also interesting that Sen. Durbin, a politician, whose every move must necessarily be colored by his own political needs, appears to be "telling it like it is"; while Amnesty International/USA, a group which is not beholden to any particular constituency, which is not - to the best of my knowledge - planning to run for any elected political office, and which, until quite recently, was considered an objective source by the Bush administration, is being "dishonest", myopic, and "partisan". We truly live in an amazing world where such things can happen and all eyebrows remain in the default, stowed position.

3. Again, enough keys have been clicked over this "gulag of our time" comparison, and I sure don't want to get into that again. However, I'd like to approach it from a different angle than the usual one, as I think it would be educational, for me at least. Rather than make a free-associative list of connotations we disapprove of, or of ways in which the comparison is inapt - Gulag bigger, colder, less salsa dancing, etc. - maybe someone could address in what ways, if any, the comparison as made is "wrong", "morally idiotic", or whatever. Here is Amnesty USA's William Schultz:

The United States is maintaining an archipelago of prisons, many of them secret prisons in which people are being disappeared. They are being held in incommunicado detention without access to the judicial system.

That is similar to the gulags. They are being held without access to their families; that is similar. And in many cases, they are being mistreated, abused, and even killed. In fact, there have been at least a hundred deaths of detainees, 27 of which have been ruled to be homicides by medical examiners. [...]

And we've heard reports of female interrogators smearing what they represented as menstrual blood upon the faces of those prisoners, some of the prisoners there, which certainly is inhumane and degrading treatment, even if it doesn't rise to the level of torture.

And finally, we also know that the United States is clearly in violation of the Geneva Conventions because the conventions require that if a captor does not want to label captives prisoners of war.

Even though they have been taking prison in the course of combat, then that question of the status of the detainees has to be taken to what the conventions call a competent tribunal to determine whether or not they are POW's or instead, as we claim, enemy combatants. And, in fact, no such competent tribunal has ever ruled on these detainees' status. So that's some of the reasons that this charge has been made.

One can find a similiar explanation in the offending Amnesty statement; I find it telling that Amnesty's critics rarely quote their actual, full remarks.

4. Durbin's point is that the tortures inflicted in by Americans sound like things the Nazis might have done. They might also, I propose, have been done by, for example, Jeffrey Dahmer, or any number of not nice people. Perhaps Dahmer's basement was the gulag of Milwaukee, or perhaps that's moral idiocy - it's really neither here nor there. But the most significant difference I can see between Durbin's comparison and Amnesty's is that Durbin's is consistant with the "bad apple" theory, while Amnesty's appears deliberately calculated to be irreconcilably inconsistant with that. To put it another way, Amnesty's reprehensible criticism seems to place primary blame on our Republican leaders who are writing and executing policy, while Durbin's provisionally acceptable comments apply only to nameless, easily replaceable low-level functionaries. To quote the Amnesty report:

Women’s human rights are not the only casualty of the assault on fundamental values that is shaking the human rights world. Nowhere has this been more damaging than in the efforts by the US administration to weaken the absolute ban on torture.

In 1973 AI published its first report on torture. It found that: “torture thrives on secrecy and impunity. Torture rears its head when the legal barriers against it are barred. Torture feeds on discrimination and fear. Torture gains ground when official condemnation of it is less than absolute.” The pictures of detainees in US custody in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, show that what was true 30 years ago remains true today.

Despite the near-universal outrage generated by the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib, and the evidence suggesting that such practices are being applied to other prisoners held by the USA in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and elsewhere, neither the US administration nor the US Congress has called for a full and independent investigation.

Instead, the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to “re-define” torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding “ghost detainees” (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the "rendering" or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process.

The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and “counter-terrorism”.

(Sorry for the long quotes, but I just want to be 100% sure we're all on the same page.) I wonder if this difference can be related to the difference in reactions in some way. That would be something.

And forget Hugh Hewitt, Slarti; the White House has jumped on the bandwagon.

Yo Editors: what happened to your site?

the White House has jumped on the bandwagon.

that's just sad

I'd like to say the sort of people who write the blogs linked to are crazy, but they have entirely too great a sense self-preservation -- they're just tilling the fields with salt. Trogodytes, obviously, (im)moral idiots, hey hey, but I won't believe they're cazy until they start pushing the "Democrats are traitors" line to my face. That would probably show a sufficient lack of a sense of self-preservation.

Um, Durbin is definitely attacking the President and the administration, and utterly rejecting the bad apple theory.

Here are some salient excerpts.

Unfortunately, the President rejected Secretary Powell's wise counsel, and instead accepted Alberto Gonzales' recommendation, issuing a memo setting aside the Geneva Conventions and concluding that we needed ``new thinking in the law of war.''

After the President decided to ignore Geneva Conventions, the administration unilaterally created a new detention policy. They claim the right to seize anyone, including even American citizens, anywhere in the world, including in the United States, and hold them until the end of the war on terrorism, whenever that may be.

For example, they have even argued in court they have the right to indefinitely detain an elderly lady from Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charity that helps orphans but actually is a front that finances terrorism.

They claim a person detained in the war on terrorism has no legal rights--no right to a lawyer, no right to see the evidence against them, no right to challenge their detention. In fact, the Government has claimed detainees have no right to challenge their detention, even if they claim they were being tortured or executed....

Using their new detention policy, the administration has detained thousands of individuals in secret detention centers all around the world, some of them unknown to Members of Congress. While it is the most well-known, Guantanamo Bay is only one of them. Most have been captured in Afghanistan and Iraq, but some people who never raised arms against us have been taken prisoner far from the battlefield....

I had hoped the Supreme Court decision would change the administration policy. Unfortunately, the administration has resisted complying with the Supreme Court's decision.

The administration acknowledges detainees can challenge their detention in court, but it still claims that once they get to court, they have no legal rights. In other words, the administration believes a detainee can get to the courthouse door but cannot come inside.

A Federal court has already held the administration has failed to comply with the Supreme Court's rulings. The court concluded that the detainees do have legal rights, and the administration's policies ``deprive the detainees of sufficient notice of the factual bases for their detention and deny them a fair opportunity to challenge their incarceration.''

The administration also established a new interrogation policy that allows cruel and inhuman interrogation techniques....

Secretary Rumsfeld approved numerous abusive interrogation tactics against prisoners in Guantanamo . The Red Cross concluded that the use of those methods was "a form of torture."

This administration wants all the power: legislator, executive, and judge. Our founding father were warned us about the dangers of the Executive Branch violating the separation of powers during wartime. James Madison wrote:

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."....

The issue debated in the press today misses the point. The issue is not about closing Guantanamo Bay. It is not a question of the address of these prisoners. It is a question of how we treat these prisoners. To close down Guantanamo and ship these prisoners off to
undisclosed locations in other countries, beyond the reach of publicity, beyond the reach of any surveillance, is to give up on the most basic and fundamental commitment to justice and fairness, a commitment we made when we signed the Geneva Convention and said the United States accepts it as the law of the land, a commitment which we have made over and over again when it comes to the issue of torture. To criticize the rest of the world for using torture and to turn a blind eye to what we are doing in this war is wrong, and it is not American.



He's even more blunt in response to the calls for an apology:

No one, including the White House, can deny that the statement I read on the Senate floor was made by an FBI agent describing the torture of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. That torture was reprehensible and totally inconsistent with the values we hold dear in America. This Administration should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions and authorizing torture techniques that put our troops at risk and make Americans less secure.

McClellan seems to lie, just to keep in practice. The article you refer to has McClellan attacking something that Senator Durbin didn't say.

hilzoy - since you don't allow profanity, I can't really give you a precise reason, but I'm offline for 2-3 weeks. I shall return in triumph.

Katherine - I'm glad to hear that, and I wonder how folks' reactions might be different if those comments were under discussion, rather than his criticims of PFC John Doe.

Editors: since we don't allow for profanity, I can't post my reaction. But it involves howls. (Howls of scary, scary wolves!)

Would a fund-raising drive for the aptly named Poor Man be in order?

Editors: Gary asks a very good question.

At what point does all this become self-parody? Really, reading the Poor Man and Fafblog seems like the only way to remain sane.

(whew) with some sanity restored, here is Mark Danner:

Let me give you a last example. The example is in the form of a little play: a reality-based playlet that comes to us from the current center of American comedy. I mean the Pentagon press briefing room, where the real true-life comedies are performed. The time is a number of weeks ago. The dramatis personae are Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (and soon to be promoted) General Peter Pace of the Marine Corps; and of course, playing the Fool, a lowly and hapless reporter.

I won't quote the whole thing, but the punch line (this is rip-and-read, folks):

Secretary Rumsfeld: And have you seen one that characterized it [investigations of abuse], as systematic or systemic?

General Pace: No, sir.

Rumsfeld: I haven't either.

Hapless Reporter: What about-?

Rumsfeld: Question?

[Laughter]

And, as the other reporters laughed, Secretary Rumsfeld did indeed ignore the attempt to follow up, and went on to the next question.

Of course, this explains the disappearance of the wolves. America's Wolves Held Hostage! -- Day 3!

He'll only return the wolves if we pay. Instructions will follow shortly. Do not notify the FBI! They're busy investigating excessive portions of lemon chicken, anyway.

"Um, Durbin is definitely attacking the President and the administration"

I stand corrected!

Unlike AI's remark there is nothing in what Durbin said that could reasonably be read as a comparison of the scale of the abuses in Guantanamo to the scale of the actions by the tyrannies he mentioned--he said that the specific actions could have been mistaken for the actions of those regimes.

As I pointed out in one comment thread or another - the abuses in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere *ARE* directly comparable in scale to the abuses of the Soviet gulag system - after it, too, had been going only a few years. What you're doing is comparing the American gulag after a couple of years of operation to the Soviet gulag at its peak after thirty or forty years.

I could dig out the stats again, if I had to. IIRC, the US is apparently holding around 70,000 prisoners. The Soviet gulag, after a decade, had around 200,000 - making it comparable. It expanded up to, I think, around 2 million after a few decades - but can you guarantee that the US system won't follow suit, given, say, a terrorist nuke going off and the invasion of Iran and Syria?

Note to self - remember to close the tags.

"IIRC, the US is apparently holding around 70,000 prisoners."

You're apparently including all prisoners/detainees taken in Iraq, who are, for better or worse, held under a different legal regime than those in the "WOT." Presumably you may wish to argue that this isn't an important distinction, but then you'll also have to argue for the inclusion of Soviet treatment of all their prisoners of war, in which case their account goes up about three million people or so. Not to mention that no one has ever considered them as being part of the "gulag." (It would be tiresome to bring up the fact that the gulag was used for purposes of domestic political repression, and not for keeping foreigners [with a handful of exceptions], that it was a third of the Soviet economy, etc., again, so I won't.)

That or you're using a number I've never seen anyone use before. Cite, please?

"The Soviet gulag, after a decade, had around 200,000...."

What date are you using for your "start"?

begone!

We needn't be so bold, , surely.

That's a really, really nice offer, but my problem isn't exactly financial right now - the site will be down for a spell, and money won't bring it back much quicker. I'm seeing what I can do on my end to make sure it won't happen again, as I'm sick to death of this happening all the time.

Again, though, I'm really, really, really flattered that you'd offer to do that for me. Maybe I'll take you up on it a little later on, if I can't work out something reasonable. But I'm very grateful to you. Look at me: I'm verklempt!

Gary: Don't worry, they're just playing tag.

Poor Man: If your host is gouging you for bandwidth, tell us how much you're in the hole and (with permission of our hosts) put up a link to your Paypal in the comments.

I posted too soon. Sorry to hear it.

Editors: Nice has nothing to do with it. It's need ;)

Katherine, thanks for the link and the push to do a follow up with Senator Durbin... As an Illinois resident I just forwarded the following message.

"I want to offer my total support for the principled stand you took in your comments on the Senate Floor regarding the shameful treatment of detainee's described by the FBI. I am well aware of the right wing spin machine starting it's predictable vociferous, smear campaign which will parse the words you spoke. (conveniently leaving out or downplaying the description from the FBI that you read) Fox's O'Reilly, in his talking point memo tonight attacked you and played the first part of the Senate Quote but did not include the full quote of the behavior you were addressing but claimed you were upset because terrorists were being "... kept in hot and cold rooms..." Their dishonesty is just plain astounding.

You have had my vote in the past and you will have it in the future.

Okay, let's see if I can find this info again:

Soviet Gulag: Either set up in 1918, or 1929/30 depending on definition. 200,000 prisoners in 1931-32, 1.1 million 1935, and 2.5 million in the early 50s.

The American 'gulag of our times': 70,000 prisoners. After about 2 years.

Quite comparable.

Now, the scenario of the US ramping up to a million prisoners in a decade or two seems unbelievable. Then again, the scenario of the US justifying torture and beating prisoners to death seemd unbelievable a decade ago. I think that if a nuke went off in a US city, killing, oh, 20% of the number of Iraqis killed by US conventional bombs, the American public could easily be stampeded into turning all of Cuba into a prison camp.

You're apparently including all prisoners/detainees taken in Iraq, who are, for better or worse, held under a different legal regime than those in the "WOT."

[Raises an eyebrow] And this legal regime would be... what, exactly?

I think everyone probably has a fairly good idea where I stand on this, so read with that in mind. I think an important distinction is being missed here, that may be at the root of the miscommunication between the sides, if there are two. The outrage generated at AI's and Durbin's remarks are not necessarily based on either quantity of victims or harshness of treatment.

There is, at least in most people's minds, a major difference between the Gestapo torturing a French Resistance figure and an American soldier torturing an Iraqi insurgent. That difference being the nature of the topmost polity, its goals and values.

Of course "We are the good guys, so whatever we do is ok" is ridiculous and offensive, but it will not be effectively countered with:"Our actions make us the same as Nazis."

Senator Durbin and AI and Katherine are definitely not saying that we are the same, but I fear that is what too many people are hearing.

"Either set up in 1918, or 1929/30 depending on definition."

Any particular reason you're declaring 1918 to have been a year things became fundamentally from the pre-existing katorga camps? Not that I can't think of a few reasons to do so, but just trying to get some context for your reasoning.

"The American 'gulag of our times': 70,000 prisoners. After about 2 years.

Quite comparable."

Okay, so POWs/detainees in Iraq count for the "gulag," but not POWs taken by the Soviet Union, because?

Of course, everything is "comparable." A more interesting question is "what are the similarities and differences?" Naturally, there are some of both here.

"Then again, the scenario of the US justifying torture and beating prisoners to death seemd unbelievable a decade ago."

Not so much, if one is familiar with the horror of the history of war; it's not as if there haven't been plentiful examples of U.S. soldiers engaging in such actions in pretty much every previous war they've been engaged in. What makes the present circumstances remarkable are the way the tone and policies have been set by the Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and their underlings, and the endorsement of such by the President, although looked at in the light of, say, the Palmer Raids and other acts of that era, and the domestic side of the Vietnam War, again not to the point of an utter break with history, alas.

"I think that if a nuke went off in a US city, killing, oh, 20% of the number of Iraqis killed by US conventional bombs, the American public could easily be stampeded into turning all of Cuba into a prison camp."

Kinda sorta maybe, yes. Although if you believe there are reliable figures about said Iraqis, you have more faith in any of a number of accounts than I do (no, please, let's not debate the Lancet account, although someone else might be willing to).

"[Raises an eyebrow] And this legal regime would be... what, exactly?"

I'm a tad vague as to what the regime under which the "WOT" "detainees" are being held is, as might be clear from even the vaguest familiarity with either my blog or my stated opinions on the topic,but I've missed seeing claims by U.S. government officials that the majority of prisoners in Iraq aren't covered by Geneva, or claims by others that said prisoners are being spirited away into the [pick-your-word] or to Cuba. I have no trouble believing I've simply missed such assertions. I miss many things. Could you cite some such claims, though, please?

I still don't understand why it's so crucial to declare that the most appropriate word is "gulag," rather than, say, "horror," other than the sort of Erasmus thing I once mentioned on this blog long ago (see Erasmus quote on the sidebar of my blog), and the intensity of the justifications seem rather odd to me, in terms of setting priorities, but, hey, there it is. It's not as if I've been defending the camps, or system, or torture, or the President, or anything remotely in the same categories, after all, so I really don't understand the insistence on the correctness of a rather inapt comparison, but, hey, I'm just me, and my ability to understand is limited, and every day is a new one. Maybe it really is more important than discussing the facts of the horror.

Beg pardon. I hadn't read what was linked to at Jeralyn's site when I asked for citations, and now I see that although the post there is unsigned, it links to an AI cite, which is incredibly long, but which clearly originates the chart with "70,000" listed. Rather obviously, although math is not my strong suit, the figures on the chart literally do not add up. The AI link is, as I mentioned, immensely long, but a search doesn't turn up the "70,000" figure again. I assume that, since you take it as authoritative, you can explain its basis and derivation?

If you would be so kind, please, Phoenician in a time of Romans. Thanks!

To expand, if you will allow me, on my previous comment. I am suddenly reminded of Woddy Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors. A generally decent man, caught in difficult circumstances, commits a terrible crime, but escapes consequences, overcomes his guilt, and lives on to do much good for his community. Or maybe parts of Mayor of Castorbridge.

The right was furious at AI partly because its past behavior was in illuminating human rights abuses committed by generally terrible regimes. The abuse were connected to, and determined by the nature of the abusers.

Yet Senator Durbin was not led off the Senate Floor today by and Praetorians. Voices are not being silenced, repression is not widespread, the Patriot Act is being diluted. Why can't we compartmentalize? Torture as needed for those who might be our enemies, yet remain the general force for good we have always been?

My point is of course torture is bad. But I don't think an adequate job has been done on explaining to the American people why torture is important. And a very very good job must be done, for as in Woody Allen's dentist, immediate adverse consequences are a little difficult to see.

"...the sides, if there are two...."

Perhaps it's just me who thinks it's self-evident that there are more than that in relevant discussions, Bob, but it's also possibly not just me. I can't say for sure, though.

"Senator Durbin and AI and Katherine are definitely not saying that we are the same, but I fear that is what too many people are hearing."

Sure, but they're generally not very interesting people, although, to be sure, I am expressing a completely subjective opinion there. I do think Senator Durbin and Katherine have been more nuanced than AI, but I also, as I've said several times, don't find beating up on AI beyond an initial mention interesting or a priority, either.

Bob, I'd think you'd be somebody particularly sensitive to the problematic notion that discussions necessarily have only "two sides."

Gary, you scare me. It is Woody Allen, and I think maybe Casterbridge. I have an extra and in there, and Lord knows how many grammatical errors.

Not only do I have to careful about posting rules, but in coming up with contributory comments, I have to watch my spelling and grammar. I can envision future threads full of Greek, criticizing the inappropriate use of synecdoche and paraphrasis. Toughest crowd on the Web.

"Toughest crowd on the Web."

Try commenting at Unfogged.com.

Yeah, and the character played by Martin Landau in "Crimes and Misdemeanors" is an optometrist, not a dentist.

So, you know, there.

"Try commenting at Unfogged.com."

The name "ben wolfson" is enough to scare me away.

Henry or Eszter have studied the connections among blogs, but have not yet delved into the comment sections.
You visit ogged, wolfson visits

Weblog

where I never see you, but do see John Emerson, who as far as I know, has never commented here.

In general, I only lurk at the high academic blogs. But God Bless the Web, that I can listen to so many people smarter than I.

FWIW, the http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20050616-121815-1827r.htm>Washington Times doesn't quote him in full. That's e.g. what http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/archives/10975>Steve Verdon missed.
Anyway, thanks von.

I've seen bad headlines in my day, but "Gitmo Called Death Camp" is up there. They usually don't explicitly lie like that.

This is so depressing. Has anyone seen the Simpsons where Lisa goes to Washington? "Senator, come quick--a little girl is losing faith in democracy."

Billmon is my favorite blogger, at least today:

Strictly on the facts of the case, they are correct: The American archipelago is just a series of flyspecks compared to its Soviet predecessor. At its peak, the Soviet gulags held an estimated 2.5 million prisoners. The number of deaths -- by torture, execution, disease or deliberate starvation -- has to be counted in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The KGB, meanwhile, set a record for the assembly-line murder of political prisoners that I don't think has been matched since, not even by that wannabe Saddam.

As for the central European extremist leader, well, we all know what he did.

I guess that's enough to satisify most conservatives. (Maybe they should print up some bumper stickers: "America: Still better than Stalin.")

Thanks Bill! It's a great idea. I don't know if it will fit on a a magnetic ribbon, but something can be worked out...

I only look at comments on other blogs bascially when someone gives a permalink or someone says 'look at these comments!'. How the hell do you guys do it?

Emerson is an absolute gas, a poke around his website is like going into a bookstore that specializes in a subject that you know nothing about except that it exists. I also love the fact that his website has 'occasionally seen at'.

"Try commenting at Unfogged.com."

Eh. Too cliquey/in-jokey. I don't have the patience - or the cliff's notes - to bother figuring out what Regular #22 is saying in code to Regular #43.

"How the hell do you guys do it?"

Firefox, seven-to-eight tabs open at any given time, each leading to more, and an extremely fast (apparently) skimming reading rate. (I was pre-kindergarten when my psychologist father tested my reading spead on a machine, and I comprehensively answered the questions reflecting retention at the highest speed on the machine; I don't claim this reflects anything larger than that, and can discuss at lengths the limits of such a silly measure, mind.) But since you asked. On the flip side, I'm apt to kill myself if I try anything mechanical, I have no clue about sports, I'm not good on a lot of visual things, and, well, let's say I have a lot of balancing lacks. It's possible that most of us get a not dissimilar amount of points to play with.

Also, I'm not afraid to make a fool of myself. You may have noticed.

"I was pre-kindergarten...."

I shouldn't have said that; my memory is vague, and it might have been any time up to at least third grade, actually.

Gary und Phoenician: I commend unto both of you (as well as anyone still interested in this inane flap over the word "gulag") this post by Fred Clark at Slacktivist.

There is, at least in most people's minds, a major difference between the Gestapo torturing a French Resistance figure and an American soldier torturing an Iraqi insurgent. That difference being the nature of the topmost polity, its goals and values.

One polity being a nation that lied in order to invade another country in search of resources, treating the inhabitants as less than human, engaging in collective punishment and torturing prisoners for information?

Did you ever consider, Gary, that people don't judge your goals and values by what you say, or the comfortable national myths you tell about yourselves, but by how you actually act outside your country?

Gary und Phoenician: I commend unto both of you [...] this post by Fred Clark at Slacktivist.

Noted. Thank you.

Did you ever consider, Gary, that people don't judge your goals and values by what you say, or the comfortable national myths you tell about yourselves, but by how you actually act outside your country?

Can I have a Hallelujah!

I've seen bad headlines in my day, but "Gitmo Called Death Camp" is up there. They usually don't explicitly lie like that.

What's the percentage of the prisoner population that has died?

Oh...right. We don't know.

That said, I agree. It's probably not a "Death Camp"...in the classical sense. Just a camp in Cuba where the rule of law is as dim a memory as your first mojito.

"Did you ever consider, Gary, that people don't judge your goals and values by..."

I think you may have mistaken my comment for one of Farber's...which is cool, we actually look quite alike. Check the picture at Amygdala.

And I don't have much hope that international pressure will stop the torture. Without too much damage to those comfortable myths, because I think we need them, I am trying to find a way to make stopping the torture a high priority for everyone. In fact those comforting myths, that we are better than our behavioral lapses might indicate, will likely be quite useful in getting the Reynolds and Volokhs and Hindrockets to help us out. The alternative story, that we are really as bad as we have behaved, lacks a happy ending.

bob: The alternative story, that we are really as bad as we have behaved, lacks a happy ending.

Right now I'm not seeing any happy ending:

A Halliburton Co. unit will build a new $30 million detention facility and security fence at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States is holding about 520 foreign terrorism suspects, the Defense Department announced on Thursday.

Anytime a politician uses the 'N' word there is a reason. Durbin is a smart smartass and knows exactly what he was saying and what emotions it would inflict. If it a symbolic dirge of the liberal legion, such as the confederate flag or the other 'N' word, this blog would have lit up like a 'holiday' tree. Grouse on, good Americans. That's who we are, that's what we do. And Von, AI is a contributing member of the Democratic Party and their comments are in direct parallel to the Honorble Mr. Durbins. You have support in your beliefs beyond the expectation of 100% capitulation required to enjoy consensus amongst the obtructionists.

Editors: If the issue is technical, perhaps I could be of some assistance. You can reach me at [email protected]

Gary, the 70,000 figure comes from a spokesman for the Department of Defense, Colonel Pete Champagne:

When you consider the fact that we've had about a million servicemen deployed over the last couple of years in the global war on terrorism, and there's only been about 300 cases of detainee abuse, and we've handled over 70,000 detainees, that equates, if you do the math, to less than one-tenth of 1 percent. Of course the department doesn't condone any incident of abuse, and we're aggressively pursuing any allegation of abuse.

I'm not qualified to either endorse or condemn the gulag comparison, however.

nervous: Yeah, and the character played by Martin Landau in "Crimes and Misdemeanors" is an optometrist, not a dentist.

Actually, he is an opthalmologist.

Or, more to the point, that is one cite for the figure. AI might have gotten it from another source.

If the conditions really were like Nazi camps, gulags or Pol Pot's reeducation farms, the detainees would've been dead years ago, most likely with unceremonious bullets to the backs of heads. However Durbin packages it, his image conjuring and moral equation between Gitmo (involving mistreatment of hundreds of enemy combatants) and Nazi-gulag-Cambodia (involving starvation and death of millions of innocents) is disgusting, offensive and bone stupid. Durbin deserves as much derision as can be ladled out, especially since he is supposedly a mainstream Democratic politician. Because of this nonsensical and, yes, hysterical comparison, the factual information he relayed was drowned out and wasted. It takes the issue completely out of proportion, minimizing the real atrocities that occurred in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and communist Cambodia, and irresponsibility overblowing the treatment of bin Laden foot soldiers. This is no different from the "gulag of our times" idiocy by Amnesty International. Judging by the media reaction by AI, it makes me wonder if Durbin did it for that purpose, to get a good hearty media reaction. For those who the believe the reaction is "screeching", fine. There has been, but the original screech came from Durbin himself. He may have pleased the hyperlibs with this, but the rhetoric will damage him among the rest.

Presumably then, when you hear about events like those recited in the FBI agent's report but without them being attributed to a particular nation's forces, they don't sound to you like things that Nazis, or Soviets, or the Khmer Rouge would have been more likely to do than the United States. Why not? Saying that those groups also did worse things isn't obviously an answer.

If the conditions really were like Nazi camps, gulags or Pol Pot's reeducation farms, the detainees would've been dead years ago, most likely with unceremonious bullets to the backs of heads.


If this were true, everybody in Dachau and Auschwitz and Treblinka would have been dead when the Allies arrived. Which they weren't.

Verily unto Charles I say:

*yawn*

And also: please keep the screeching down. Some of us are trying to sleep.

Charles: I didn't take what Durbin said to imply moral equivalence at all. He said: these techniques sound as though they belong in various dreadful places. The people in those places did these things; we should not. Moral equivalence would require that there were no other worse things done by those people. This is obviously false in all three cases. And it is not what Durbin said. You can only get to there by hearing 'Guantanamo, Nazi, Pol Pot' and disregarding the whole rest of the statement in which these terms occur.

Charles Bird writes: If the conditions really were like Nazi camps, gulags or Pol Pot's reeducation farms, the detainees would've been dead years ago

Ah, a new standard for America: Not As Bad As The Nazis.

Or, put another way: "We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right."

Is this your method of "clarifying the choice"?

Ah, a new standard for America: Not As Bad As The Nazis.

Billmon beat you to it:

(Maybe they should print up some bumper stickers: "America: Still better than Stalin.")

Jesurgislac, old pal, nice shot, but how wide is the human continuum? Gitmo is currently serving as a Club Med for the criminally insane Islamic extremists - Worse Than the Nazis. So how far a distance between (some of ?)us and them? Wait'l Halliburton gets the mother of all prisons built there. I can't wait for the movie.

Thanks, Anarch.

I note from Billmon's post:

But if Durban had wanted to be completely honest, he would have skipped the rhetorical flourish about the Soviets, the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge, and instead pointed out that if we didn't know better, we might think today's horror stories out of Guantanamo and Abu Graib and Baghram were tales told about prisons in El Salvador, Honduras and Argentina thirty years ago -- or South Vietnam, forty years ago.

And if he really wanted to get reckless with the truth, he could have explained the reasons for that resemblance.

"Guantanamo Bay: You'll think you're in the Honduras!"

*grin* Actually, one that I think you might actually sell to the kind of right-wingers who are defending America's oubliette:

"Guantanamo Bay: Not as bad as Cuba!"

However Durbin packages it, his image conjuring and moral equation between Gitmo (involving mistreatment of hundreds of enemy combatants) and Nazi-gulag-Cambodia (involving starvation and death of millions of innocents) is disgusting, offensive and bone stupid.

This ties into a point Gary was making around here somewhere about the uselessness of demanding that evils be denounced with sufficient vehemence. That I absolutely agree with, and I would add what I think is a related point, that complaining about inappropriate 'moral equivalence' is also useless and counterproductive. An analogy is an analogy. By its nature, it claims that two things are similar, but not identical. If you think that two things have been analogized that are not similar, point out their lack of similarity. If you think that someone has misrepresented facts to make two things appear similar when they are not, point that out. Complaining that you're offended that two things have been analogized that you think are importantly dissimilar just appears entirely pointless to me.

Guess what? Paul at Powerline said this, about Durbin: "The big lie is nothing new in politics. Hitler and Stalin were master practicioners."

Under the 'comparing one thing that X does to a similar thing done by Y is asserting the moral equivalence of X and Y' rule, Paul has just asserted that Senator Durbin is as bad as Hitler and Stalin. But wait: Senator Durbin has not killed tens of millions of people! He has not unleashed war on a continent, or established a bloodthirsty and ruthless dictatorship in his country! Therefore we can conclude that Paul is "disgusting, offensive and bone stupid", and "deserves as much derision as can be ladled out."

Or, well, maybe not.

blogsbudsman: Gitmo is currently serving as a Club Med for the criminally insane Islamic extremists

Ah: one more person who knows nothing about the prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay except what Dick Cheney has told you.

So how far a distance between (some of ?)us and them?

I don't know, blogbuds: are you a middle-aged businessman who sometimes flies with a phone-charger in your luggage? If so, you're not too far from Bisher al-Rawi, who has spent well over two years in Guantanamo Bay. Of course, he was an Iraqi refugee who came to the UK with his family to escape from Saddam Hussein, and I strongly suspect that this is not true of you. So, you can certainly distance yourself from him - he's not a US citizen, you're probably not Muslim, very likely you never will be arrested in a foreign country, interrogated by that country's police and the CIA, and then taken to another country and held prisoner there indefinitely. No one says you have to feel compassion for someone to whom these awful things have happened: compassion can't be regulated. You can shrug it off, put distance between yourself and Bisher al-Rawi, say (and be right) that this would never happen to you.

But you can also refrain from referring to him as a "criminally insane Islamic extremist", and you can refrain from trying to claim that the prison in which he is held is a "club med". That's not just calm indifference to the plight of a stranger: that's ugly.

Gitmo is currently serving as a Club Med for the criminally insane Islamic extremists - Worse Than the Nazis.

Fun For Kids: See how many logical fallacies, misstatements and groundless presumptions you can find in this sentence! Careful, some of them are very tricky!

I mentioned Bisher al-Rawi specifically because it seems to me that one of the worst things the gulag-supporters do is try to make all the prisoners there faceless clones - to claim, as Blogbudsman did, that they're all "criminally insane Islamic extremists" and never look for any difference between any of them, or - which is what makes them gulag-supporters - never inquire into any evidence that the US might have against any prisoner. They're in prison: they were arrested: that makes them guilty.

But the same applies to the other 500+ prisoners. Each of them has a name, a history: although the US prefers to have them forgotten, they were and are human beings with family and friends who have not forgotten them. That they were locked up without any evidence or legal process is disturbing: that Dick Cheney and other US politicians like to slander them to justify their imprisonment is genuinely - Stalinist. That's what the Stalinist authorities did to the prisoners in the gulag.

The Martin Landau character was an opthamologist (yes) ... was an optometrist ... was a dentist??

Bob McManus, in Joycean or maybe Pynchonian fashion, may have been alluding to "Marathon Man", wherein the Olivier character was a "dentist" by profession, but we knew his ideology the rest of the time: orthodonture ...

... if my childhood memory of braces (the tightening with gleaming pliers, the foot on the chest for leverage) is accurate. Was it safe? Yes, you can't believe how safe it was. No, it's not; we're in great danger; run for your lives.

Were AI in the hailstone or tumor classification business, they might have to go back and reclassify. Although it is show-stopping, is it not, that we now have marble-sized hail and pea-sized tumors to deal with right here in the U.S.A., and the patient is so ---king outraged that the words "dangerous weather" and "cancer" have been uttered? They don't care for any sort of rhetorical caliper.

Will we be lucky if we get off with a new roof or a little chemotherapy, or will more radical measures be required for total remission?

Maybe the Landau character was an oncologist, because if you've ever observed someone undergoing chemotherapy, you'll see why the patient sometimes identifies the doctor by the heighth of his goosestep.

It makes no difference to this White House, from the head down to its nerve endings in the media and the body politic, whether AI is not clever with the language, or whether Durbin parses his rhetoric, or whether Katherine the liberal delineates the case for all to see, or whether Von the moderate Republican can tell the difference among rhetorics, or whether Charles the conservative sides with them but objects to a few details over at Red State, or whether the rest of us ponder whether Bush et al. merely lie or somehow have no regard for the truth.

It's all varying degrees of polite discourse directed into a howling, smirking black wind.

"This ties into a point Gary was making around here somewhere about the uselessness of demanding that evils be denounced with sufficient vehemence."

Conveniently reposted here.

Ah: one more person who knows nothing about the prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay except what Dick Cheney has told you.

I'm genuinely curious here: wtf is up with all the conservatives making these unfounded claims about the guilt of the detainees at Gitmo and other facilities?* I mean, it would be one thing if we simply didn't know anything about them, but given that we know (inasmuch as we can meaningfully speak of such knowledge**) that the US government has no meaningful evidence whatsoever connecting many, perhaps even most, of the detainees to Al Qaeda or terrorism in general, how the hell are they managing to put forth these claims with such burning ideological fervor? I'd normally say it's just rhetorical excess but I've read too many comments that convince me otherwise. Something deeply, deeply wrong is going on here and I want to know what it is.

And Jes, no offense, but this isn't directed at you. I know what you're likely to say and it's not going to help.

[BTW, Gary, remember what I was saying about rationalism being overrated? This is precisely the kind of thing that I'm talking about. It'll likely win in the end; I just hope it wins before severe damage is inflicted.]

* To be crystal clear: the "all" here quantifies over "conservatives making these unfounded claims", not over the set of all conservatives. I'll happily broaden it to "people" if a non-negligible number of non-conservatives are demonstrated to suffer from the same syndrome.

** i.e. absent the mother of all conspiracy theories. And I'm sorry, but if you think Bush is hiding the absolute ironclad proof of detainees' guilt down his boxer shorts, you've got a whole barrelful of other problems you need to deal with first.

Therefore we can conclude that Paul is "disgusting, offensive and bone stupid", and "deserves as much derision as can be ladled out."

Or, well, maybe not.

Are you sure?

Gary: to be more precise: we can't reach that conclusion on those grounds, just as we cannot conclude that George Bush is President based on the argument: the moon is made of green cheese, 2+2=5, therefore George Bush is President. It might be demonstrable -- even really, really obvious -- on other grounds.

;)

Gary: to be more precise: we can't reach that conclusion on those grounds, just as we cannot conclude that George Bush is President based on the argument: the moon is made of green cheese, 2+2=5, therefore George Bush is President. It might be demonstrable -- even really, really obvious -- on other grounds.

Ahem. That argument is valid, albeit stupid: a false statement (e.g. 2+2=5) implies any statement, true or false.

[Insert usual disclaimers about classical v. intuitionist logics here.]

Anarch: I thought it was contradictory statements, not false ones. But then, it has been ages. In any case, it's still not a good reason for concluding that Bush is President, since even if valid, it is unsound.

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