November 30, 2010

Regarding Cablegate

American officials in recent days have warned repeatedly that the release of documents by WikiLeaks could put people's lives in danger.

But despite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone's death.

 Glenn Greenwald:
John Cole notes an added irony of the furor over this latest disclosure: "I have a hard time getting worked up about it - a government that views none of my personal correspondence as confidential really can’t bitch when this sort of thing happens." Note how quickly the "if-you've-done-nothing-wrong-then-you-have-nothing-to-hide" mentality disappears when it's their privacy and communications being invaded rather than yours.

I'd note an added irony: many of the same people who supported the invasion of Iraq and/or who support the war in Afghanistan, drone strikes and assassination programs -- on the ground that the massive civilians deaths which result are justifiable "collateral damage" -- are those objecting most vehemently to WikiLeaks' disclosure on the ground that it may lead to the death of innocent people. For them, the moral framework suddenly becomes that if an act causes the deaths of any innocent person, that is proof that it is not only unjustifiable but morally repellent regardless of what it achieves. How glaringly selective is their alleged belief in that moral framework.

Stephen Walt:
[T]he big question I keep pondering is this: would it be all that bad if diplomats understood that secret deals and two-faced diplomacy wasn't going to be that easy anymore, because the true facts might leak out sooner rather than in twenty or thirty years time? I can think of a few cases where secrecy has been useful (Kennedy's deal over the Jupiter missiles in Turkey during the Cuban Missile Crisis comes to mind), but in general I think human beings -- and this include foreign policy-makers -- are more inclined to do bad things when they think they can do so without being exposed.  If you have to keep something secret, that's often a sign that you shouldn't be doing it at all.

And at the risk of seeming like a naïve Wilsonian (the cruelest thing you can call a realist like me!), the whole episode raises the larger issue of whether the citizens of a republic have the right to know exactly what representatives are doing and saying in their name, backed up by the money and military power that the citizens have paid for with their taxes. And I don't mean finding out thirty years later, but now. I'm sure that most diplomats would prefer to minimize democratic scrutiny of their activities, as it would surely be annoying if Congress or the media or (God forbid!) ordinary citizens were to peer over their shoulders while they are trying to line up foreign support. But given that I am less and less convinced that our elites know what they are doing, I'm also less inclined to want to let them operate outside public view.

Ron Holland:
Wikileaks is doing Americans and citizens of other countries a real favor in showing the diplomatic intrigues and outright secrets of politicians and governments around the world acting without any accountability to their citizens. But why only tell the truth and create accountability with American foreign policy when our Federal Reserve, Congress and Wall Street elites have already created more economicwealth destruction during the last couple of years than occurred during World War Two?

There must be tens of thousands of productive, patriotic Americans working in many areas of government, Wall Street and banking and the many public and semi-private regulatory agencies out of the millions employed. Some are certainly brave enough, sorry for their past behavior or mad enough at parasitic upper level bureaucrats to want to bring the truth and dirty laundry out to the American public. Imagine the impact on power hungry political appointees, the bailed out banking elites and out of control bureaucracies if they began to fear the truth of their misdeeds could suddenly be leaked to the public on the internet...

It is time to open the closed doors of misinformation and lies from institutions ranging from the Social Security Administratio, the Federal Reserve, Treasury and Fort Knox to Wall Street and the global banking establishment. From TSA and Homeland Security to wasteful spending and corruption at all levels of government and special interests like big oil, big pharma, the military industrial complex and the agricultural and food cartels which threaten the health of Americans.

Those of you inside these institutions know the truth and millions want to hear your stories and allegations. Help free America, the European Union and other nations and peoples from elites who have done so much to confiscate our wealth and limit our freedoms.

Bradley Manning (May 25):

I want people to see the truth...regardless of who they are...because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

November 24, 2010

Airport Security, Another Right, Left Flip-Flop

(Updated below)

On his show last night, Bill O’Reilly pointed out [video] that the TSA’s new pat-down procedures are “whipping up a frenzy of indignation, especially in the conservative community.” He continued: “Now you would think the opposite, that right-wingers would want stringent security and that left-wingers would be opposed. But it is the opposite, with many left-wing pundits defending the airport chaos.”

And then, in a rare moment of sanity, O’Reilly said something that actually accorded with reality. “Why is the left on board with the intrusive security?” he asked. “Talking Points does not like to speculate, but I do think that it has to do with defending President Obama. I just can’t think of anything else. Remember, the left opposed nearly all of the Bush anti-terror programs. Everything. And now [they’re] okay with body-scanning and pat-downs?”

Not surprisingly, O’Reilly didn’t ask what seems like an equally relevant question: Why is the right suddenly against “intrusive security”? Now Peace Etc. does not like to speculate, but I do think that it has to do with attacking President Obama. For conservatives tended to think very little of civil liberties when Bush ruled the roost. For example:

Most conservative lawmakers supported the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded the powers of federal law enforcement officials. They praised President Bush for creating the Department of Homeland Security. Many of them advocated and still support racial profiling at airports—claiming that "we" must sacrifice our liberty in order to maintain security from terrorists.

Outside of terrorism and airport security, conservatives have also endorsed wide powers for law enforcement officials. They hate the Miranda ruling, which requires police officers to inform detainees of their constitutionally protected right to remain silent. Conservatives often criticize judicial rulings that enforce the Bill of Rights in criminal cases as allowing defendants to “walk” based on “technicalities.” Conservatives love to bash the ACLU, even though the organization is an ardent advocate of constitutional liberty. And, in a recent moment of conservative extremism, Justice Clarence Thomas provided the lone dissent in a case which held that school officials violated the Constitution when they subjected a young girl to a strip search in order to find nonexistent tablets of Advil. (h/t Glenn Greenwald)

Indeed this recent TSA controversy reveals just how hypocritical most of this nation’s pundits and politicians are. With some notable exceptions, few actually care about doing what’s best for the American people. The name of the game is winning elections, Republicans condemning Obama for the doing the very things that they defended while Bush was in office, and Democrats defending Obama for doing the very things they condemned under Bush.

We at Peace Etc., of course, abhor such hypocrisy, and for this reason we’ve continued doing all we can to support liberty. Speaking of which, we encourage you to participate in National Opt Out Day. And when you come before your TSA groper, you might want to follow the lead of Sam Wolanyk, who decided to avoid a pat-down by simply dropping his drawers. If this is too extreme for you, Roger Young suggests:

[H]ow about arriving to the search line wearing no underwear? This should bring some interesting feedback and facial expressions from your assigned molester. You can add to their discomfort by emitting soft, agreeable cooing sounds during the course of the molestation. That might just be enough to cause the depraved, tax eating hack to immediately resign his phony job in understandable disgust. Quite possibly, his threshold of shame and repugnance will have been exceeded.

Young continues:

There are always ways to sidestep tyranny and humiliate your oppressors. All it takes is a bit of courage, a dose of creativity, and just a pinch of psychological knowledge. In the end, you may help free yourself and others from state sponsored cruelty and injustice. You may even help state terrorists realize the error of their ways. And you may even have some fun along the way. I realize the probable serious consequences that may result from such fun, but what the heck. Why not have a good laugh before they slam the gate at your gulag.
* * * * *

 Update, 11/28:

 Ross Douthat makes the same point in his column today:
This role reversal is a case study in the awesome power of the partisan mindset. Up to a point, American politics reflects abiding philosophical divisions. But people who follow politics closely—whether voters, activists or pundits—are often partisans first and ideologues second...

A majority of Democrats spent the late 1980s convinced that inflation had risen under Ronald Reagan, when it had really dropped precipitously. In 1996, a majority of Republicans claimed that the deficit had increased under Bill Clinton, when it had steadily shrunk instead. Late in the Bush presidency, Republicans were twice as likely as similarly situated Democrats to tell pollsters that the economy was performing well. In every case, the external facts mattered less than how the person being polled felt about the party in power.

This tendency is vividly illustrated by our national security debates. In the 1990s, many Democrats embraced Bill Clinton’s wars of choice in the Balkans and accepted his encroachments on civil liberties following the Oklahoma City bombing, while many Republicans tilted noninterventionist and libertarian. If Al Gore had been president on 9/11, this pattern might have persisted, with conservatives resisting the Patriot Act the way they’ve rallied against the T.S.A.’s Rapiscan technology, and Vice President Joe Lieberman prodding his fellow Democrats in a more Cheney-esque direction on detainee policy.

But because a Republican was president instead, conservative partisans suppressed their libertarian impulses and accepted the logic of an open-ended war on terror, while Democratic partisans took turns accusing the Bush administration of shredding the Constitution.

Now that a Democrat is in the White House, the pendulum is swinging back. In 2006, Gallup asked the public whether the government posed an “immediate threat” to Americans. Only 21 percent of Republicans agreed, versus 57 percent of Democrats. In 2010, they asked again. This time, 21 percent of Democrats said yes, compared with 66 percent of Republicans.

November 18, 2010

Chuck Colson: Liar and Warmonger

Chuck Colson, commenting on the October 31 terrorist attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad:

[I]f all you knew about the attack was based on American news sources, you wouldn’t know that Christians were being specifically targeted. As columnist and media critic Terry Mattingly noted, news reports, at least initially, didn’t even identify what kind of Christian church had been attacked.

Even when they named the church, they missed the part about Christians being in the crosshairs. They used words like "standoff" and "hostage crisis" as if they were describing a bank robbery gone sour.

To get a more complete picture of what was going on, my colleagues had to turn to outlets like Germany's Die Welt and the BBC.

Oh really? Well that's strange, because I knew that "Christians were being specifically targeted," and I got my news from American sources. If you do a Google search, you'll find that, unlike Colson claims, American media outlets were indeed reporting that the attackers had targeted Christians. For example:

  • ABC: "Christians who cowered for hours inside the stone building that used to be their peaceful sanctuary wondered why they were yet again the target of violence."
  • NBC: "The attack, claimed by an al-Qaida-linked organization, was the deadliest recorded against Iraq's Christians since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion unleashed a wave of violence against them."
  • CBS: "A cryptically worded statement posted late Sunday on a militant website allegedly by the Islamic State of Iraq appeared to claim responsibility for the attack. The group, which is linked to al-Qaida in Iraq, said it would 'exterminate Iraqi Christians' if Muslim women in Iraq were not freed."
  • NY Times: "It was the worst massacre of Iraqi Christians since the war began here in 2003...Iraq’s Christians have dwindled; once numbering anywhere between 800,000 and 1.4 million, at least half are thought to have emigrated since 2003, their leaders say."
  • Time: "The Halloween murders at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad's middle class, mixed Karada neighborhood were followed by an announcement by the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda proxy, promising "'We will open upon [the Christians] the doors of destruction and rivers of blood.'"
  • LA Times: "The attack was widely denounced, with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki condemning it as an attempt to drive Iraq's small Christian community out of the country."
  • Washington Times: "The attack, claimed by an al Qaeda-linked group, was the deadliest recorded against Iraq's Christians, whose numbers have plummeted since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as the community has fled to other countries."

So, in other words, Colson's claim is entirely false.

He goes on to lament how "Iraq's Christians are largely invisible to our media." "From an American perspective," he states, "you might call it 'out of sight, out of mind,' but, then, we never really saw them in the first place."

One thing he fails to mention is that Iraqi Christians are only suffering so badly now because of people like him. Christians never faced this kind of persecution under Saddam Hussein. It was only after the 2003 American invasion, which Colson's support arguably helped enable, that Iraqi Christians began facing such hell. Since March 2003, over 2,000 Iraqi Christians have been murdered and over half a million have fled the country.

Yet, as far as I know, Colson has never admitted any culpability for their plight. And given that he's an influential Evangelical leader who did his best to marshal his followers behind George W. Bush, I think he is undoubtedly, to some degree, culpable for the plight of Iraqi Christians. But I doubt he'll ever admit wrongdoing. He'll just go on blaming others.

November 11, 2010

George W. Bush and Waterboarding. Again.

Bill O’Reilly, defending President Bush’s decision to waterboard Abu Zubaida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

In a time of war—and that’s what we’re in with Muslim jihadists—you have to do things you would not ordinarily do. For example, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. So to waterboard three high-ranking terror suspects in order to get valuable information that likely saved thousands of lives seems to be logical and responsible unless you live in a theoretical world where feeling noble is the ultimate objective.

Now first of all, just because Abe Lincoln did something doesn’t make it morally right. Abe Lincoln wasn’t a god. If one honestly looks at history, it’s actually difficult to avoid the conclusion that he was something of a monster. So appealing to his suspension of habeas corpus in no way justifies George W. Bush’s decision to torture defenseless human beings.

Second, there’s simply no evidence that Bush’s decision to waterboard these three men gained “valuable information that likely saved thousands of lives.” A 2004 CIA Inspector General Report [.pdf] discusses the interrogation of these men in some detail. Although the report concludes that interrogation yielded valuable information, nowhere in its 109 pages does it say that any of this information was obtained through waterboarding or any other enhanced interrogation technique. To the contrary, it claims that measuring the effectiveness of enhanced techniques is a “subjective process and not without some concern” (85), that “there is limited data on which to assess” the “individual effectiveness” of such techniques (89), that, although interrogation in general proved effective, “[t]he effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured” (100).

Indeed the report never gives a specific instance of enhanced techniques producing valuable information. The most it tells us is that Abu Zubaida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became more talkative after being waterboarded. Well of course they became more talkative after being waterboarded—but so what? As Jesse Ventura has quipped, “You give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.” The question we need to ask is, not whether waterboarding made these individuals more talkative, but whether it impelled them to say anything true, anything life-saving.

It seems clear that torture did not elicit any valuable intelligence from Zubaida. As the Washington Post reported in March 2009:

…not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida—chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Similarly, al-Nashiri and Mohammed later admitted that they made all sorts of false confessions while being tortured. As Mohammed told [.pdf] the International Red Cross:

During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told the interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the U.S.

Whether al-Nashiri and Mohammed also made true confessions under torture and whether these true confessions in turn saved American lives is something that we simply don’t know. But even if such were the case, it would still be possible that the same, or perhaps better, information could have been obtained through legal methods. Regarding Mohammed, Jane Mayer from The New Yorker has told Keith Olbermann:

[A]s anybody knows who knows anything about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he was dying to tell the world, when he was interviewed by Al Jazeera before he was in US custody, about everything he knew and everything he did. He was proud of his role as the mastermind of 9/11. He loves to talk about it. So there’s no evidence that I see in this that [enhanced techniques] were necessary. I spoke to someone at the CIA who was an advisor to them who conceded to me that “We could have gotten the same information from tea and crumpets.”

So Bill O’Reilly, as Bill O’Reilly is wont to do, can go on telling lies in defense of his favorite criminal-in-chief, but I think the historical record speaks for itself.

November 6, 2010

On Tuesday’s Election

Let me begin by quoting the (sometimes) great Bill Maher, from September 17’s Real Time:

The polls say we will be throwing out the Democrats in November and bringing back the Republicans. Which is like hearing the words “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and saying, “I’ll take Frankenstein.” I mean, Abbot and Costello aren’t the greatest museum guards in the world, but they’re better than a murderous monster made out of pieces of the dead.

Now his analogy is a little off. Unlike many people think, it’s really not the case that the Democratic Party is the Stupid Party and the GOP is the Evil Party. In all actuality the Democratic Party is the Evil Party and the GOP is the Really Fucking Evil Party. Barack and the Democrats have continued the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia, continued pushing us closer to war with Iran, continued turning a blind eye to Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinians, and continued destroying our civil liberties. And yet I’d rather have those evil fucks than these new ones.

The next Speaker of the House will likely be Eric Cantor, whom Justin Raimondo describes as

a walking, breathing stereotype, a neocon through and through, who pays lip service to the “tea party”-ish idea of limiting government spending, but is in reality committed to lavishing tax dollars on any project as long as it can be somehow construed as contributing to US security…

Cantor is a big fan of Israel’s, and has gone so far as to say that, in the context of tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv over the settlements and other issues, “Israel is not the problem” – leaving unspoken the presumption the US is at fault. In line with the Israel lobby’s campaign to goad us into war with Iran, he demands that the US cease negotiations with Tehran, impose draconian sanctions unilaterally, and openly threaten the use of force.

And there’s also Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who will become Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Raimondo describes her as someone who

never saw a war she didn’t salivate at the prospect of and has called for the assassination of Fidel Castro. She is a militant supporter of Israel, constantly criticizes the US for not kowtowing quickly enough to Tel Aviv, and is a vocal supporter of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a Marxist terrorist organization that has provided much of the phony “intelligence” purporting to show Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

Although the Dems maintain control of the Senate, Russ Feingold, a true defender of liberty and voice of reason, lost his reelection bid. And to my great consternation, Rand Paul won his race in Kentucky. My libertarian friends insist that, although Paul talked like a neocon nutcase on the campaign trail, he’ll shape up once January rolls around. I suppose anything’s possible, but I can’t hold out much hope for a man who stated that the US should reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations.

And speaking of nutcases, let me say something about the people of Oklahoma. Politico reports:

Oklahoma on Tuesday approved a ballot measure blocking judges from considering Islamic or international law when making a ruling.

Nearly 70 percent of voters in the state cast ballots approving the measure

The proposition’s sponsor, Republican Rex Duncan, told reporters Tuesday that the proposition is a “preemptive strike” against judges who he worries could be “legislating from the bench or using international law or Sharia law.”

Really? Sharia law is such a concern in Oklahoma? For God’s sake, only one-tenth of one percent of the state’s population is Muslim. One-tenth of one percent. Yet Oklahomans are worried that a bunch of Islamo-fascists are plotting to impose Sharia law on them?

As a lover of liberty, I’m far more concerned about having Christian law imposed on me. And by Christian law, I don’t mean the teachings of Jesus—you know, all that love God, love your neighbor stuff. I’m talking about the religious system that all these Evangelical assholes want to force on us. They want to strip gays of their rights, they want to ban books from our libraries, they want to force our schools to teach creationism, they want to continue the prohibition of drugs, they want to tell women what to do with their bodies, etc., etc. And yet I’m supposed to be afraid of a bunch of non-existent Islamo-fascist jurists?