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Created by marestivo on Oct 20, 2009
Last updated: 07/01/10 at 04:01 PM
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A newly released study from students at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government provides the latest evidence of how thoroughly devoted the American establishment media is to amplifying and serving (rather than checking) government officials. This new study examines how waterboarding has been discussed by America's four largest newspapers over the past 100 years, and finds that the technique, almost invariably, was unequivocally referred to as "torture" -- until the U.S. Government began openly using it and insisting that it was not torture, at which time these newspapers obediently ceased describing it that way:
Similarly, American newspapers are highly inclined to refer to waterboarding as "torture" when practiced by other nations, but will suddenly refuse to use the term when it's the U.S. employing that technique:
As always, the American establishment media is simply following in the path of the U.S. Government (which is why it's the "establishment media"): the U.S. itself long condemned waterboarding as "torture" and even prosecuted it as such, only to suddenly turn around and declare it not to be so once it began using the tactic. That's exactly when there occurred, as the study puts it, "a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboading." As the U.S. Government goes, so goes our establishment media.
None of this is a surprise, of course. I and others many times have anecdotally documented that the U.S. media completely changes how it talks about something (or how often) based on who is doing it ("torture" when the Bad Countries do it but some soothing euphemism when the U.S. does it; continuous focus when something bad is done to Americans but a virtual news blackout when done by the U.S., etc.). Nor is this an accident, but is quite deliberate: media outlets such as the NYT, The Washington Post and NPR explicitly adopted policies to ban the use of the word "torture" for techniques the U.S. Government had authorized once government officials announced it should not be called "torture."
We don't need a state-run media because our media outlets volunteer for the task: once the U.S. Government decrees that a technique is no longer torture, U.S. media outlets dutifully cease using the term. That compliant behavior makes overtly state-controlled media unnecessary. In his proposed Preface to Animal Farm, George Orwell noted how completely the British Government during World War II was able to control media content without formal or official censorship:
The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. . . .
So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. . . . At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady.
In 2007, Rudy Giuliani was widely mocked for explaining that whether a particular technique constitutes torture "depends on who does it" -- rarely does one find such an unapologetically nationalistic theory of morality and even language -- but that's exactly the same standard not only our government but also our establishment media has adopted.
The real issue here is the same one raised by the malleable, manipulative use of the term "Terrorism." It's to be expected that governments will try to propagandize their citizenry by applying completely different standards -- even completely different language -- to their own conduct as opposed to when other countries engage in exactly the same conduct. But when the media copies that behavior (as ours does), they're amplifying and bolstering government propaganda rather than critically scrutinizing and debunking it. Isn't that a fairly serious problem?
The behavior is even more egregious when government dictates (as of now, this is no longer torture) lead directly to the change in media behavior. And the ultimate effect of this joint government/media obfuscation is to further entrench the destructive notion that we're different, exceptional, better, and therefore we deserve even a different language to describe what it is that we do. This Harvard study documents the exact process by which the political class convinces itself and others that bad and illegal things are, by definition, only what those Bad, Other Foreign Countries do, but never ourselves.
UPDATE: For a classic example of the Everything-Is-Intrinsically-Different-When-We-Do-It syndrome, see the update to the prior post.
(updated below [reply to Joe Klein] - Update II)
Jeffrey Goldberg responded yesterday to my post detailing his long list of journalistic malfeasance by telling me that he and the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kuridstan would like me to travel there to hear how much the Kurds appreciate the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Leaving aside the complete non sequitur that is his response -- how does that remotely pertain to Goldberg's granting of anonymity to his friends to smear people they don't like or the serial fear-mongering fabrications he spread about the Saddam threat prior to the invasion? -- I don't need to travel to Kurdistan to know that many Kurds, probably most, are happy that the U.S. attacked Iraq. For that minority in Northern Iraq, what's not to like?
They had foreign countries (the U.S. and its "partners") expend their citizens' lives and treasure to rid the Kurds of their hated enemy; they received semi-autonomy, substantial oil revenues, a thriving relationship with Israel, and real political power; the overwhelming majority of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis whose lives were snuffed out and the millions of people displaced by the war were not Kurds, and most of the destruction took place in Central and Southern Iraq away from their towns and homes, while they remain largely free of the emergent police state tactics of the current Iraqi government. As Ali Gharib put it to Goldberg: "there are at least 600,000 Iraqis who, I imagine, are not too thrilled about the way it all turned out and with whom Greenwald will never get a meeting."
Goldberg apparently thinks that if you can find some citizens in an invaded country who are happy about the invasion, then it demonstrates the aggression was justifiable or at least morally supportable (I suppose I should be thankful that he didn't haul out the think-about-how-great-this-is-for-the-Iraqi-gays platitude long cherished by so many neocons, though -- given the hideous reality in Iraq in that realm -- that's now a deceitful bridge too far even for them). I'm not interested in an overly personalized exchange with Goldberg, but there is one aspect of his response worth highlighting: the universality of the war propaganda he proffers. Those who perpetrate wars of aggression invariably invent moral justifications to allow themselves and the citizens of the aggressor state to feel good and noble about themselves. Hence, even an unprovoked attack which literally destroys a country and ruins the lives of millions of innocent people -- as the U.S. invasion of Iraq did -- is scripted as a morality play with the invaders cast in the role of magnanimous heroes.
It's difficult to find an invasion in history that wasn't supported by at least some faction of the invaded population and where that same self-justifying script wasn't used. That's true even of the most heinous aggressors. Many Czech and Austrian citizens of Germanic descent, viewing themselves as a repressed minority, welcomed Hitler's invasion of their countries, while leaders of the independence-seeking Sudeten parties in those countries actively conspired to bring it about. Did that make those German invasions justifiable? As Arnold Suppan of the University of Vienna's Institute for Modern History wrote of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia (click on image to enlarge): And, of course, German citizens were told those invasions were necessary and just in order to liberate the repressed German minorities. To be a bit less Godwin about it, many Ossetians wanted independence from Georgia and thus despised the government in Tbilisi, and many identified far more with the invading Russians than their own government; did that make the 2008 Russian assault on Georgia moral and noble? Pravda routinely cast the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as one of protection of the populace from extremists. I have no doubt that one could easily find Iraqi Sunnis today who would welcome an invasion from Hamas or Saudi Arabia to liberate them from what they perceive (not unreasonably) as their repressive Shiite overlords; would Goldberg therefore recognize the moral ambiguity of that military action? If, tomorrow, China invaded Israel and changed the regime, there would certainly be many, many Palestinians who would celebrate; would that, in Goldberg's view, make it morally supportable? Saddam himself, in FBI interrogations after he was captured, was insistent that many Kuwaitis were eager for an Iraqi invasion and that this justified his 1990 war; if he were right in his facutal premise, would that render his actions just?
As Jonathan Schwarz wrote in 2007, responding to similar war-justifying claims from Christopher Hitchens that he saw Iraqis giving "sweets and flowers" to American and British soldiers:
The strange-but-true reality is that throughout history, whenever one country has invaded another, there have always been some people within the invaded country who've welcomed the invaders. Sometimes it's because they've been oppressed by their own government, are similar ethnically or religiously to the invader, or just know what side their bread is buttered on.
At the same time, those within the invading country who support the invasion have always seized on tales of the welcome they've received and declared it demonstrates the justice of their cause. And this is rarely pure cynicism. Human beings -- even (or especially) the worst of them -- need to believe they're moral.
To underscore the point, consider these photographs of ethnic Germans in Lithuania handing flowers to invading German soldiers, and citizens of Ukraine and Poland doing the same, all from the BBC documentary, Nazis: A Warning from History (click on photogaphs to enlarge):
As Schwarz wrote: "I don't know who took this footage, but I would bet a lot of money it was the Nazis themselves, and that they rushed it back to the home front to demonstrate the extraordinary morality of their cause." And just to bolster the point a bit more, compare the propagandistic photograph on the right (below) used by Germans in 1941 to show that Lithuanians welcomed their invasion (depicting citizens pulling down a statue of an oppressive Communist ruler, likely Lenin), to the virtually identical, iconic photograph on the left of the staged scene of Iraqis "celebrating" the American invasion by pulling down a statue of Saddam:
It should go without saying, but doesn't: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions. It may or may not be, but that's irrelevant. The point is that every nation which launches even the most brutal, destructive and unprovoked wars of aggression employs moralizing propaganda to claim that their aggression engenders magnanimous and noble ends, and specifically often points to segments of the invaded population which welcome the violence and invaders. Pointing to the happy and rewarded Kurdish minority no more justifies or legalizes the attack on Iraq than similar claims do for any of those other cases.
What's most pernicious about all of this is that any decent human being has a natural desire to see oppression of the type that the Kurds suffered under Saddam alleviated, and neocons exploit that natural human desire to drum up support for wars that have nothing to do with the noble goals that are touted (which is why so many of them who stood silently by while the U.S. supported Saddam [even as he brutally suppressed the Kurds] suddenly feigned concern for his crimes and his victims when it was time to attack him). This is how a state of endless war is always justified: with blatantly cynical, insincere and exploitative appeals to moralizing fairly tales that have nothing to do with the aggression itself.
No matter how many of Goldberg's Kurdish friends tell him how grateful they are, there are hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis dead, millions who were displaced, tens of thousands of American troops who are dead or wounded, hundreds of billions of dollars incinerated, and intense and enduring hatred of Americans in that part of the world -- all provoked by a heap of false pretenses. Pointing to some happy Kurds who remained largely shielded from all of that destruction, and who even benefited from it, doesn't erase the serial deceit of Jeffrey Goldberg's pre-war "reporting," and it certainly doesn't justify the untold human suffering that was and continues to be unleashed.
* * * * *
One added irony: Goldberg accuses me of having "an overly simplistic, black-and-white view of the situation" (yes, I think unprovoked acts of aggression are clearly wrong; as lead Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson put it in his Closing Argument about the crimes of World War II: "the kingpin which holds them all together, is the plot for aggressive wars"). But what's ironic is that this "simplistic, black-and-white" accusation comes from the very same Jeffrey Goldberg who, in 2002, wrote: "In five years . . . I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality." One last point: before the field trip to Iraqi Kurdistan proposed by Goldberg, would he like to travel to Gaza to explain to Gazans how they got what they deserved?
UPDATE: More proof that there is no language sufficiently clear to guard against either those who want to deliberately distort what you say and/or whose reading comprehension skills are extremely impaired:
Me, in this post (emphasis in original):
It should go without saying, but doesn't: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions. It may or may not be, but that's irrelevant. The point is that every nation which launches even the most brutal, destructive and unprovoked wars of aggression employs moralizing propaganda to claim that their aggression engenders magnanimous and noble ends, and specifically often points to segments of the invaded population which welcome the violence and invaders. Pointing to the happy and rewarded Kurdish minority no more justifies or legalizes the attack on Iraq than similar claims do for any of those other cases.
Time's Joe Klein -- who supported the attack on Iraq and then, once it went bad, pretended he didn't -- defending his friend Jeff Goldberg today:
Greenwald -- who, so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world -- has laid out the incredible notion that the liberation of the Kurds, which Jeff celebrates (and so do I, and so do civilized people everywhere) as a happy byproduct of George W. Bush's dreadful war in Iraq, can be compared to the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland . . . .This is obscene.
It's almost parody; Klein attributes to me (and then spends paragraphs hysterically railing against) a point I not only did not make but (anticipating that distortion) explicitly said was one I was not making. Klein adds: "For Greenwald, it seems, any honest political disagreement always winds up with charges of corruption and decadence." No, not "any" -- just some, and yes: I believe people like Goldberg who spouted blatant, unrecanted falsehoods and helped trigger a horrific war that slaughtered hundreds of thousands of human beings -- or who smear other people by printing catty insults from their anonymous friends -- are guilty of "corruption and decadence," not a mere "honest political disagreement." As for the rest of Klein's screed, his commenters, as always, do a quick and thorough job of demolishing it (see here and here as but two excellent examples).
Me: "It should go without saying, but doesn't: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions. It may or may not be, but that's irrelevant."
Jeffrey Goldberg, citing his friend Joe Klein, today:
For those for whom it's not already glaringly obvious, just read Klein's own comment section -- or John Cole here -- to see how deliberately dishonest these two Iraq War cheerleaders are being, again.
(updated below - Update II)
I've written numerous times about how "terrorism" is the most meaningless and most manipulated word in the political lexicon; the best demonstration of this dynamic is the work of NYU's Remi Brulin, whose dissertation documents how Western governments and media outlets have applied the term so inconsistently and self-servingly. One of the principal dangers of the Supreme Court's recent, free-speech-decimating decision in Humanitarian Law Project -- which held that the Government has a sufficiently compelling interest to restrict citizens' First Amendment rights by criminalizing even political speech made to designated Terrorist groups -- is that Terrorism means whatever the U.S. Government says it means: they create the list of off-limit Terrorist groups and they essentially have unfettered, un-reviewable discretion to do so. That's because the word is so ill-defined and manipulated that it's impoverished of any real meaning.
I happened to come across a typical though highly illustrative example of this manipulation when reading this NYT interview yesterday with Israeli politician Tzipi Livni. After railing against the Terrorists in Gaza, Livni said this:
NYT: Your parents were among the country’s founders.
Livni: They were the first couple to marry in Israel, the very first. Both of them were in the Irgun. They were freedom fighters, and they met while boarding a British train. When the British Mandate was here, they robbed a train to get the money in order to buy weapons.
If any group meets the definition of "terrorism," the Irgun does. In July, 1946, the group (led by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin) notoriously bombed the King David Hotel, which housed British government offices, killing 91 people (Irgun claimed they warned of the bombing in advance, a claim denied by many British officials). Israel and its defenders love to point to the naming of a public square after a Terrorist by the Palestinian Authority, while ignoring the fact that the current Israeli Prime Minister, in 2006, actually led a celebration of the King David Hotel bombing with an official commemorative ceremony and plaque outside the building. Irgun also perpetrated numerous armed attacks on civilian structures, train stations, government buildings, and bridges. On December 30, 1947, the first paragraph of The New York Times read as follows:
IRGUN BOMB KILLS 11 ARABS, 2 BRITONS
A bomb thrown by the Jewish terrorist organization Irgun Zvai Leumi from a speeding taxi today killed eleven Arabs and two British policemen and wounded at least thirty-two Arabs by the Jerusalem Damascus Gate, the same place where a similar bombing took place sixteen days ago.
In reporting on a plot egged on by Begin to kill the German Foreign Minister, The London Times wrote that the Irgun "used terrorist tactics against the British occupation of Palestine."
It was once commonly accepted that Irgun members were Terrorists. But that was then and this is now. Bombings, stealing and killing in pursuit of statehood by some groups is Terrorism and by other groups it is "freedom fighting." And thus does Israel, which justifies the most extreme brutality and violence based on the pure evil of Terrorism, celebrate those acts as "freedom fighting" when done by its own side. This would be all tolerable if it were merely about rhetorical inconsistencies. But since our wars are justified, our laws are enacted, and our rights increasingly restricted based on this term -- see Leon Panetta justify the Government's targeting of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki based on his unchecked decree that Al-Awlaki is a Terrorist due to his constitutionally protected advocacy of Muslims fighting against the U.S. (video below: Trial By CIA Director, just like the Constitution guarantees) -- the malleable, manipulated, meaningless nature of this all-justifying term deserves much more attention.
UPDATE: I'll be on MSNBC with Dylan Ratigan at 4:00 pm EST today talking about the presidential assassination program.
UPDATE II: The MSNBC segment I did is here (note the vastly improved technology for TV appearances via Skype):
Mac McClelland is a Mother Jones reporter who has been providing some of the nation's best on-the-scene coverage of the BP oil spill from the day the rig collapsed more than two months ago. She has been particularly tenacious about chronicling the joint BP/government efforts to block media coverage of both the spill and the inadequate clean-up efforts. Last week, she reported on a truly disturbing incident where a local police officer first warned an environmental activist not to film near a BP building (off of BP's property) because BP did not want any filming; when the activist left in his car, the officer pulled him over -- along with a BP security official in the squad car -- and the BP security official proceeded to interrogate him for 20 minutes. Her report on that incident, along with video, is here, and it really conveys a creepy corporate police state headed by BP that has emerged in the Gulf.
McClelland is my guest today on Salon Radio, and we discuss what she has seen over the last two months in the Gulf, the inadequacy of the clean-up efforts, and especially the joint BP/government effort to severely restrict media coverage. The discussion, which is roughly 15 minutes long, can be heard by clicking PLAY on the player below or downloaded on MP3 here; a transcript will be published shortly.
UPDATE: The transcript is now posted here.
With his Rolling Stone article on Gen. McChrystal, Michael Hastings has become both the personification of, and spokesperson for, Real Journalism, and as a result, has provoked intense animosity from establishment-serving "reporters" everywhere. He apparently committed the gravest sin: he exposed and embarrassed rather than flattered and protected a powerful government official, and in our upside-down media culture, doing that is a sign of irresponsibility rather than fulfillment of the basic journalistic function. As Barrett Brown notes in this excellent defense, Hastings in 2008 did to the establishment media what he did to Gen. McChyrstal -- exposed what they do and how they think by writing the truth -- after he quit Newsweek (where he was the Baghdad correspondent) and wrote a damning exposé about how the media distorts war coverage. As Brown put it: "Hastings ensured that he would never be trusted by the establishment media ever again."
Yesterday, Hastings was interviewed on CNN's Reliable Sources about the criticisms he has received from media figures over his article, and that was followed by a segment with CBS' Lara Logan, who lambasted him. I really recommend watching these two segments (video below), as they illustrate the two poles of journalism: those who view their role as exposing the relevant secrets of the powerful (Hastings) and those who view their role as protecting those secrets and serving the interests of those officials (Logan). Amazingly, Logan sounds like the most devoted member of McChyrstal's P.R. staff or even his family: so furious is she that Hastings would publish an article that reflected negatively on this Fine, Great Man (whom she supposedly covers) -- so devoted is she to the interests of this military official -- that, at one point, she drops the neutral journalist mask and shows her Bill Kristol face, and actually spat: "Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has."
These two segments should be put into a museum, or a journalism class, to illustrate what journalism is supposed to be (Hastings' views) and what it has actually degenerated into (Logan's). That's why the passage in Politico which ended up being deleted -- on how regular beat reporters would never have published these McChrystal quotes out of fear of losing favor with their subjects they cover and due to an oozing identification with the powerful -- was so revealing. Logan has done good and courageous reporting over the years, but she clearly sees herself as part of the government and military, rather than an adversarial watchdog over it, and that's what makes her views so illustrative [on a distantly related note, The New York Times has an article today on how the Manning/WikiLeaks story has been covered differently because it has mostly taken place online rather than in old media, with a discussion of the coverage I gave to that story, including the fact that I could write a long story without purporting to have all the Authoritative Answers and also was willing/able to disclose all of my original source material in full]:
In a stunning display of self-unawareness, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg pointed to last week's forced "resignation" by Dave Weigel from The Washington Post as evidence that the Post, "in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training." Goldberg then solemnly expressed hope that "this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards." Numerous commentators immediately noted the supreme and obvious irony that Goldberg, of all people, would anoint himself condescending arbiter of journalistic standards, given that, as one of the leading media cheerleaders for the attack on Iraq, he compiled a record of humiliating falsehood-dissemination in the run-up to the war that rivaled Judy Miller's both in terms of recklessness and destructive impact.
Except unlike Miller, who was forced to leave the New York Times over what she did, and the NYT itself, which at least acknowledged some of the shoddy pro-war propaganda it churned out, Goldberg has never acknowledged his journalistic errors, expressed remorse for them, or paid any price at all. To the contrary, as is true for most Iraq war propagandists, he thrived despite as a result of his sorry record in service of the war. In 2007, David Bradley -- the owner of The Atlantic and (in his own words) formerly "a neocon guy" who was "dead certain about the rightness" of invading Iraq -- lavished Goldberg with money and gifts, including ponies for Goldberg's children, in order to lure him away from The New Yorker, where he had churned out most of his pre-war trash.
One of his most obscenely false and damaging articles -- this 2002 museum of deceitful, hideous journalism, "reporting" on Saddam's "possible ties to Al Qaeda" -- actually won an Oversea's Press Award for -- get this -- "best international reporting in a print medium dealing with human rights." Goldberg, whose devotion to Israel is so extreme that he served in the IDF as a prison guard over Palestinians and was described last year as "Netanyahu's faithful stenographer" by The New York Times' Roger Cohen, wrote an even more falsehood-filled 2002 New Yorker article, warning that Hezbollah was planning a master, Legion-of-Doom alliance with Saddam Hussein for a "larger war," and that "[b]oth Israel and the United States believe that, at the outset of an American campaign against Saddam, Iraq will fire missiles at Israel -- perhaps with chemical or biological payloads -- in order to provoke an Israeli conventional, or even nuclear, response," though -- Goldberg sternly warned -- "Hezbollah, which is better situated than Iraq to do damage to Israel, might do Saddam’s work itself" and "its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, maintain extensive biological- and chemical-weapons programs." That fantastical, war-fueling screed -- aimed at scaring Americans into targeting the full panoply of Israel's enemies -- actually won a National Magazine Award in 2003. Given how completely discredited those articles are, those are awards which any person with an iota of shame would renounce and apologize for, but Goldberg continues to proudly tout them on his bio page at The Atlantic.
Despite all of those war-cheerleading deceits -- or, again, because of them -- Goldberg continues to be held out by America's most establishment outlets as a preeminent expert in the region. As Jonathan Schwarz documents, Goldberg is indeed very well-"trained" in the sense that establishment journalists mean that term: i.e., as an obedient dog who spouts establishment-serving falsehoods. That's why Goldberg is worth examining: he's so representative of the American media because the more discredited his journalism becomes, the more blatant propaganda he spews, the more he thrives in our media culture. That's why it's not hyperbole to observe that we are plagued by a Jeffrey Goldberg Media; he's not an aberration but one of its most typical and illustrative members.
* * * * *
To see what a representative blight on journalism Jeffrey Goldberg is, one need not go back several years. Just look at what he did in the past several days when lamenting the erosion of journalistic standards while dancing on Dave Weigel's grave. In his first post arguing that Weigel's hiring evinced the Post's journalistic decline, Goldberg relied upon "one of [his] friends at the Post," to whom he granted anonymity to trash Weigel as an "idiot" and someone who has "destroyed" the paper's reputation. Just think about that: in the very same post where Goldberg pretentiously grieved for the collapse of journalistic standards, his "source" was a cowardly "friend" of his at the Post who was granted anonymity solely to spit out catty, petulant name-calling. Is that supposed to be journalism: granting anonymity to your friends to puke up conclusory condemnations of other reporters? That's like lamenting the decline of American journalism while quoting the answers provided by one's Ouija Board.
Goldberg's second post on the topic was even worse: he quoted still more cowardly, anonymous friends of his at the Post complaining about "the serial stupidity of allowing these bloggers to trade on the name of the Washington Post," that "they hurt the newspaper when they claim to be reporters," that Ezra Klein is "just an absolute partisan. If this is where journalism has to go, so be it, but I don't want to go there," and that Weigel and Klein suffer from a "lack of toilet-training" and are "embarrassing." Think about that: at the very same time that he righteously sermonized on the need to elevate journalistic standards, Goldberg turned his Atlantic blog into an anonymous bulletin board for multiple friends to do nothing but spit petulant playground epithets with absolutely no accountability. That's like writing solemn sermons on the sanctity of human rights while you simultaneously poke someone's eyes out with a dull pencil.
Even Goldberg's backtracking later in the day was itself fueled by full-scale journalistic sloth and shoddiness. Did Goldberg reconsider his condemnation of Weigel and Klein based on the flagrantly irresponsible act of relying upon the insults of his anonymous friends? No. It was the opposite. Other anonymous friends of his -- "a couple of people I know and respect" -- called him to say his criticisms of Weigel were "misplaced." Virtually the entirety of Goldberg's multi-post discussion that day was driven by nothing more than what his nameless Important Friends told him to think.
That -- granting anonymity to friends for no reason other than they're too cowardly to attach their names to their own opinions -- was from the person who prances around as the Beacon of Journalistic Excellence. It's exactly what the equally pompous, slothful and admired Jeffrey Rosen did in The New Republic to trash Sonia Sotomayor as being stupid and abrasive. That's Respected American Journalism: writing down and publishing snide insults from Important People and Friends who are too spineless to say it themselves. And just to contrast Goldberg's Important True-Journalist Friends with the young, untrained, undeserving, ideologically blinkered bloggers who are supposedly embarrassing The Washington Post, consider that Post blogger Greg Sargent courageously went to his own column, under his own name, to explain his opposition to his employer's decision to accept Weigel's resignation. Who's more of a journalist: Sargent, who took to his own column to oppose his own newspaper's decision with a respectful though unflinching argument, or Goldberg's friends (who hide behind anonymity to shoot spitballs at people they dislike) and Goldberg (who recklessly grants them anonymity to do so while turning his blog into a snide little gossip column)?
Other recent comments from Goldberg illustrate the menace to journalism that he is. In re-affirming his initial attack on Weigel, who had written on Journolist (with obvious levity) that Matt Drudge should set himself on fire, Goldberg attributed his strong negative reaction to the fact that he "despise[s] violent keyboard-cowboyism." Can you even believe that? Goldberg -- who relentlessly pounded the drums for war from his keyboard, which helped to bring about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings -- is willing to say with a straight face that he "despise[s] violent keyboard-cowboyism." How can self-delusion be more all-consuming than that?
Two weeks ago, Goldberg -- like all Israel-obsessive devotees -- turned his ire toward Turkey for daring to oppose Israel's policies, and threatened: "I have nothing original to say about Turkey's turn toward darkness (except that I hope to be blogging more about Turkey's disgraceful treatment of its Kurdish citizens!)" As one emailer put it to me: Goldberg is open about the fact that "he's only interested in the plight of the Kurds when he can gleefully use it as a cudgel against Israel's enemies." Similar vindictive, thuggish, threatening behavior was evident when Goldberg claimed that he, too, has been sent discussions from Journolist before and warned, with the tough-guy facade that is the defining symptom of the Little Man Syndrome with which he is so obviously afflicted: "I haven't had the opportunity to use them, but would be happy to if the need arose." That's the mark of a True Journalist: self-absorbed blackmail -- if you cross me, I will try to destroy you with your listserv emails I've obtained. He sounds like some sort of petty, demented cartoon version of J. Edgar Hoover.
And then, worst of all, Goldberg replicated the cowardice of his anonymous friends by responding to unnamed and unlinked critics (so none of his readers could see the actual critiques), and when doing so, repeated and re-affirmed the lie that Saddam and Al Qaeda were working together prior to the war. That Saddam/Al-Qaeda lie is among the most discredited in American politics, and those who continue to peddle it are no different than those maniacal right-wing Dead-Enders who continue to insist that Saddam really did have WMD. As The New York Times explained, even the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee acknowledged in its 2006 report that claims of this relationship were not credible. Goldberg's "reporting" in particular was exposed as an easily-detected scam from a laughably unreliable "source." Yet here is Goldberg, under the banner of The Atlantic, once again propagating this complete myth. As Matt Yglesias put it: "Jeff Goldberg stands foursquare behind his made-up reporting." That'd be like Judy Miller returning tomorrow to the NYT, teaming up again with Michael Gordon, with a front-page article warning that Saddam really was seeking dangerous aluminum tubes for use in his nuclear weapons program. Congratulations, Atlantic; you should be very proud.
* * * * *
Beyond the direct causal relationship between Goldberg's journalistic failings and his advancement in establishment journalism, Goldberg is so representative of the American media because of how he thinks about himself. He really believes that he is part of a special, elevated, exclusive caste endowed with great journalistic judgment and wisdom, and that nobody other than those admitted to that club is worth listening to. To see how true that is, just look at the praise which he constantly lavishes upon himself.
It was so telling that his first reaction to the Weigel "resignation" was to complain that media outlets are now hiring those "who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training." He sounds exactly like some snotty, snooty, bloated Guardian of Aristocratic Privilege, wallowing in resentment over the fact that they let anyone into his Journalistic Country Club these days. Identically, when Andrew Sullivan criticized his views on Israel last year, Goldberg turned up his nose and snapped: "Andrew Sullivan doesn't know that much about the Middle East. . . .One of the many reasons I don't engage his blog more frequently on matters relating to the Middle East is that he's not very knowledgeable about the intricacies of the American-led peace process, or of internal Israeli politics, or internal Palestinian politics." Identically, when arguing for the invasion of Iraq in Slate in October, 2002, Goldberg insisted that war opponents -- unlike him, of course -- were people "with limited experience in the Middle East" and "their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected."
How can someone with the record that he has continue to view himself as possessed of unique and superior opining credentials? That's why I say: in this self-praising, desperately insecure need to tout his own wisdom, knowledge and expertise, while demeaning those who are not admitted to his Special Club, Jeffrey Goldberg is a perfectly illustrative face of the American establishment media. In much of what he writes, one finds the common, desperate refrain of self-preservation and unearned entitlement issued by all dying castes: Our record is abysmal and embarrassing; we've been wrong about everything; we never admit error or account for the destruction we cause; but we still are inherently superior and have an intrinsic right to shape and dominate the conversation, because we've been anointed for that role, and those who haven't been have no right to participate.
But the problem for the Jeffrey Goldbergs is that several factors, primarily the Internet, have made it so that nobody is captive any longer to the institutions that vest him with credibility and foist him on a helpless public. People have choices now, and that caste system has therefore broken down. Self-regarding proclamations of wisdom and credibility no longer impress people when unaccompanied by evidence that warrants that self-regard, or -- as in Goldberg's case -- when abundant evidence negates it. Jeffrey Goldberg can and will do what people typically do as they lose their unearned entitlements: they'll screech and complain more loudly and bitterly and shrilly, and lash out with increasing vindictiveness against those whom they perceive as responsible for their unfair plight.
That's what Goldberg did this week when Dave Weigel was forced to "resign," and it's what many establishment journalists do as they observe the crumbling walls of their merit-free fiefdom (witness the outburst from his anonymous friends). Deep down, though, they know it's futile, which is what makes it simultaneously pity-inducing and gratifying to watch. Who wouldn't turn away from someone with Goldberg's unrecanted record who keeps telling you how smart and wise and filled with expertise and wisdom they are? The Jeffrey Goldberg Media continues to exert substantial influence and wreak real havoc, but as is true for most of America's once-respected institutions -- and, indeed, as is true for America itself -- it's inexorably weakening and crumbling, and the merit-free elites (like Goldberg) who cast themselves as the unfair victims are, in fact, the prime authors of their own demise.
There was the Long Depression, then the Great Depression, and now we are in the early stages of a third depression. This one is primarily a failure of policy.
The headline from this morning's New York Times article by Charlie Savage says it all -- not just about this issue but about the administration generally:
Savage writes that it is "unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013"; quotes Sen. Carl Levin as saying that "the odds are that it will still be open" by the next presidential inauguration; and describes how Sen. Lindsey Graham -- who is actually trying to close the camp -- is deeply frustrated with the White House's refusal to spend time or energy to do so, quoting him as saying that the effort is "on life support and it's unlikely to close any time soon." So that appears to be a consensus: Guantanamo -- the closing of which was one of Obama's central campaign promises -- will still be open as of 2013, by which point many of the detainees will have been imprisoned for more than a decade without charges of any kind and without any real prospect for either due process or release, at least four of those years under a President who was elected on a commitment to close that camp and restore the rule of law.
None of this is news to anyone even casually watching what's been going on, but there are several aspects of this article which are so noteworthy for illustrating how this administration works. Let's begin with this: Obama officials -- cowardly hiding behind anonymity as usual -- raise the typical excuse which they and their defenders perpetually invoke for their "failures" to fulfill their campaign positions: it's all Congress' fault ("They blame Congress for failing to execute that endgame," Savage writes). It's true that Congress has enacted measures to impede the closing of Guantanamo, and threatened to enact others, but the Obama administration's plan was never so much to close Guantanamo as to simply re-locate it to Thompson, Illinois (GTMO North), in the process retaining one of its key, defining features -- indefinite, due-process-free detention -- that made it such a menace in the first place (that's the attribute that led Candidate Obama to scorn it as a "legal black hole").
The only meaningful way to "close Guantanamo" is to release the scores of detainees whom the administration knows are innocent and then try the rest in a real court (as Pakistan just did with Americans they accused of Terrorism). Imprisoning only those people whom you convict of crimes is a terribly radical, purist, Far Leftist concept, I know -- the Fifth Amendment is so very un-Pragmatic and pre-9/11 -- and that is something the administration therefore refused from the start even to consider.
But more important -- and this goes to the heart of the debate I had all week with Obama defenders over his alleged inability to influence Congress -- the primary reason why Congress has acted to impede the closing of Guantanamo is because the Obama White House has allowed it to, and even encouraged it to do so with its complete silence and inaction. I was accused by various Obama defenders all last week of being politically ignorant for arguing that Obama possesses substantial means of leverage to influence Congress to do what he wants, and that often, when the excuse is made that it's not Obama's fault because he can't control Congress, the reality is that Congress is doing what it does because the White House is content with or even supportive of that, while pretending in public to lament it. I provided numerous examples proving that was true, none of which was answered, but one need not believe me and my starry-eyed political ignorance. Just listen to Carl Levin, who sort of knows how the process works given that he's been in the Senate for about 400 years, explaining the real reason Guantanamo will not close:
"There is a lot of inertia" against closing the prison, "and the administration is not putting a lot of energy behind their position that I can see," said Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee . . . . .
Mr. Levin portrayed the administration as unwilling to make a serious effort to exert its influence, contrasting its muted response to legislative hurdles to closing Guantánamo with "very vocal" threats to veto financing for a fighter jet engine it opposes.
Last year, for example, the administration stood aside as lawmakers restricted the transfer of detainees into the United States except for prosecution. And its response was silence several weeks ago, Mr. Levin said, as the House and Senate Armed Services Committees voted to block money for renovating the Illinois prison to accommodate detainees, and to restrict transfers from Guantánamo to other countries -- including, in the Senate version, a bar on Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. About 130 of the 181 detainees are from those countries.
"They are not really putting their shoulder to the wheel on this issue," Mr. Levin said of White House officials. "It's pretty dormant in terms of their public positions."
That -- what Levin just said there -- is the heart of the critique of the Obama administration which its defenders steadfastly refuse to address, opting instead to beat the same strawman over and over no matter how many times it's pointed out what they're doing. After The American Prospect's Mori Dinauer completely mischaracterized my argument by claiming that I "believe that the president can bend Congress to his will," I wrote: "Why is it that no matter how many times you say 'I am not arguing and do not believe X,' someone will come along and say: 'can you believe that he's arguing X?' How much clearer could I have made it over the course of three posts that I do not believe that the President can bend Congress to his will'?"
Yesterday, Matt Yglesias reasonably enough requested that "people who’ve been on the Glenn Greenwald side of the Great Presidential Power Debate" look at what happened with the failure of the Senate to pass the administration-supported tax extender bill, but then argued this episode negates "the Glenn Greenwald side of the Great Presidential Power Debate" because it demonstrates that "just because Barack Obama wants congress to do something doesn’t mean it happens." It's particularly disappointing to see Matt resort to this complete strawman and mischaracterization of the views of Obama critics, because he knows that's not the claim. I had a Twitter discussion with Matt on this topic and told him: "The strawman is that Obama is all-powerful and can get any legislation he wants passed - NOBODY claims that." And Matt independently knows that "the Glenn Greenwald side of the Great Presidential Power Debate" has nothing to do with the claim that "just because Barack Obama wants congress to do something [it] mean[s] it happens," because he read the posts this week where I explicitly and repeatedly renounced that view:
As I've acknowledged from the start, the President does have some constraints in the area of domestic policy and will not always be able to move Congress to do what he wants. . . . None of this is to say that the President is omnipotent. It's certainly possible that he could truly devote himself to inducing the Congress to do something he wants, but fail. The fact that the President fails to get something he wants is not proof that he failed to try.
Instead, the issue has been and still is exactly what Carl Levin just explained. The administration has substantial leverage to influence what Congress does, but they use it only on those issues that are actually important to them. And in those White House actions, one finds their actual priorities. The White House applied vast pressure on Congress to get what it wanted by having a war-funding bill enacted without conditions, demanding progressive provisions be stripped out of the financial reform bill, preventing drug re-importation from being enacted in order to please the pharmaceutical industry, negotiating the public option away with industry interests, and (to their credit) blocking funding for obsolete fighter jets. They exerted great influence over Congress because those were important priorities for Obama. By contrast, they do nothing on a whole slew of issues which they claim they support and which were at heart of the Obama campaign -- such as closing Guantanamo -- thus conveying to Democrats in Congress that they do not really care about such measures (or even oppose them) despite their public assurances to their base that they continue to support them. As I wrote:
The complaints have never been that the Obama White House failed to force Congress to enact progressive legislation it claimed it wanted, but rather, that they never really tried using the substantial leverage and influence they have, thus illustrating that they never really wanted it in the first place.
That's exactly what Levin just said. Matt says that the White House can't "engage in a maximum, 100 percent push for each item on the Obama agenda" and "you can’t just be going nuclear thirty times a year." That's true enough. But look at the issues where they do "go nuclear"and contrast it with the ones where (at best) they do nothing. As one of Matt's commenters writes:
I actually support Obama and think Greenwald's basically wrong, but this isn't a great argument. If this president isn't willing to go all in for healthcare, climate change, gay rights, or immigration [GG: or closing Guantanamo], just what IS he willing to push for?
The answer to that is clear: war funding, killing the public option, preventing drug re-importation, and stripping out FinReg provisions which Wall Street hates most. Beyond Levin's complaints, Savage's article provides a perfect illustration for how this works. Just marvel at this passage:
In any case, one senior official said, even if the administration concludes that it will never close the prison, it cannot acknowledge that because it would revive Guantánamo as America's image in the Muslim world.
"Guantánamo is a negative symbol, but it is much diminished because we are seen as trying to close it," the official said. "Closing Guantánamo is good, but fighting to close Guantánamo is O.K. Admitting you failed would be the worst."
That is so vintage Obama administration: we're not going to do the things we said we would, but we're going to keep pretending that we will and claim we want to in order to keep our rubes devoted and believing. That deceit works with many Democrats, but it does not seem to be working in the Muslim world, where people are far less politically faithful and gullible and want to see actual actions, not pretty words, and thus are growing increasingly disenchanted with both the U.S. and Obama. The reality is that closing Guantanamo has been discarded because of the Obama administration's general embrace of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism template; if you are going to retain a system of due-process-free indefinite detentions, then closing Guantanamo makes little sense. One could almost respect the administration more if they admitted that -- as John Brennan came close to doing yesterday -- rather than pretending that it is trying but is just oh-so-tragically and helplessly thwarted by Congress.
* * * * *
Related to all of this: see Eric Lichtblau's excellent article on how Obama officials have been meeting with lobbyists outside the White House in order to avoid having to disclose these meetings pursuant to Obama's much-touted "transparency" policies.
UPDATE: Speaking of the financial reform bill, this, too, is a revealing headline, from AP:
Among the big winners:
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. rose 3.5 percent, while JPMorgan Chase & Co. gained 3.7 percent. Bank of America rose 2.7 percent and Citigroup Inc. rose 4.2 percent.
Regional banks also scored big gains. Suntrust Banks Inc. rose 4.7 percent and Synovus Financial Corp. gained 5.3 percent.
Apparently, "investors" celebrated the fact that the most stringent regulations did not end up in the final bill, though I really can't imagine why any rational person would have ever thought they would.
When The Washington Post's Dana Priest first revealed (in passing) back in January that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens targeted for assassination, she wrote that "as of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens." In April, both the Post and the NYT confirmed that the administration had specifically authorized the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. Today, The Washington Times' Eli Lake has an interview with Obama's top Terrorism adviser John Brennan in which Brennan strongly suggests that the number of U.S. citizens targeted for assassination could actually be "dozens":
Dozens of Americans have joined terrorist groups and are posing a threat to the United States and its interests abroad, the president's most senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security said Thursday. . . . "There are, in my mind, dozens of U.S. persons who are in different parts of the world, and they are very concerning to us," said John O. Brennan, deputy White House national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism. . . .
"If a person is a U.S. citizen, and he is on the battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq trying to attack our troops, he will face the full brunt of the U.S. military response," Mr. Brennan said. "If an American person or citizen is in a Yemen or in a Pakistan or in Somalia or another place, and they are trying to carry out attacks against U.S. interests, they also will face the full brunt of a U.S. response. And it can take many forms."
Nobody -- or at least not me -- disputes the right of the U.S. or any other country to kill someone on an actual battlefield during war without due process. That's just obvious, but that's not remotely what Brennan is talking about, and it's not remotely what this assassination program is about. Indeed, Brennan explicitly identified two indistinguishable groups of American citizens who "will face the full brunt of a U.S. response": (1) those "on the battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq"; and (2) those "in a Yemen or in a Pakistan or in Somalia or another place." In other words, the entire world is a "battlefield" -- countries where there is a war and countries where there isn't -- and the President's "battlefield" powers, which are unlimited, extend everywhere. That theory -- the whole world is a battlefield, even the U.S. -- was the core premise that spawned 8 years of Bush/Cheney radicalism, and it has been adopted in full by the Obama administration (indeed, it was that "whole-world-is-a-battlefield" theory which Elena Kagan explicitly endorsed during her confirmation hearing for Solicitor General).
Anyone who doubts that the Obama administration has adopted the core Terrorism policies of Bush/Cheney should listen to the concession -- or boast -- which Brennan himself made in his interview with Lake:
Mr. Brennan toward the end of the interview acknowledged that, despite some differences, there is considerable continuity between the counterterrorism policies of President Bush and President Obama.
"There has been a lot of continuity of effort here from the previous administration to this one," he said. "There are some important distinctions, but sometimes there is too much made of those distinctions. We are building upon some of the good foundational work that has been done."
I would really like never to hear again the complaint that comparing Bush and Obama's Terrorism and civil liberties policies is unfair, invalid or hyperbolic given that Obama's top Terrorism adviser himself touts that comparison. And that's anything but a surprise, given that Brennan was a Bush-era CIA official who defended many of the most controversial Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies.
I've written at length about the reasons why targeting American citizens for assassination who are far away from a "battlefield" is so odious and tyrannical, and I won't repeat those arguments here. Suffice to say -- and I'm asking this literally -- if you're someone who believes, or are at least willing to acquiesce to the claim, that the U.S. President has the power to target your fellow citizens for assassination without a whiff of due process, what unchecked presidential powers wouldn't you support or acquiesce to? I'd really like to hear an answer to that. That's the question Al Gore asked about George Bush in a 2006 speech condemning Bush's claimed powers merely to eavesdrop on and imprison American citizens without charges, let alone assassinate them: "If the answer is yes, then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? . . . If the president has th[is] inherent authority. . . . then what can't he do?" Can anyone defending this Obama policy answer that question?
One other thing that is truly amazing: the U.S. tried to import this same due-process-free policy to Afghanistan. There, the U.S. last year compiled a "hit list" of 50 Afghan citizens whose assassination it authorized on the alleged ground (never charged or convicted) that they were drug "kingpins" or funding the Talbian. You know what happened? This:
A U.S. military hit list of about 50 suspected drug kingpins is drawing fierce opposition from Afghan officials, who say it could undermine their fragile justice system and trigger a backlash against foreign troops. . . .
Gen. Mohammad Daud Daud, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister for counternarcotics efforts . . . said he worried that foreign troops would now act on their own to kill suspected drug lords, based on secret evidence, instead of handing them over for trial . . . "They should respect our law, our constitution and our legal codes," Daud . "We have a commitment to arrest these people on our own" . . . .
The U.S. military and NATO officials have authorized their forces to kill or capture individuals on the list, which was drafted within the past year as part of NATO's new strategy to combat drug operations that finance the Taliban.. . . . "There is a constitutional problem here. A person is innocent unless proven guilty," [Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister] said. "If you go off to kill or capture them, how do you prove that they are really guilty in terms of legal process?"
In other words, Afghans -- the people we're occupying in order to teach about Freedom and Democracy -- are far more protective of due process and the rule of law for their own citizens than Americans are who meekly submit to Obama's identical policy of assassination for their fellow citizens. It might make more sense for Afghanistan to invade and occupy the U.S. in order to spread the rule of law and constitutional values here.
What makes all this most remarkable is the level of screeching protests Democrats engaged in when Bush merely wanted to eavesdrop on and detain Americans without any judicial oversight or due process. Remember all that? Click here and here for a quick refresher. Yet here is Barack Obama doing far worse to them than that without any due process or judicial oversight -- he's targeting them for assassination -- and there is barely a peep of protest from the same Party that spent years depicting "mere" warrantless eavesdropping and due-process-free detention to be the acts of a savage, lawless tyrant. And, of course, Obama himself back then joined in those orgies of condemnation, as reflected by this December, 2008, answer he gave to Charlie Savage, then of The Boston Globe, regarding his views of executive power:
5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?
[Obama]: No. I reject the Bush Administration's claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.
So back then, Obama said the President lacks the power merely to detain U.S. citizens without charges; indeed, when asked if "the Constitution permit[s]" that, he responded: "no." Yet now, as President, he claims the power to assassinate them without charges. Could even his hardest-core loyalists try to reconcile that with a straight face? As Spencer Ackerman documented in April, not even John Yoo claimed that the President possessed the power Obama is claiming here. Given Brennan's strong suggestion that there are not merely three but "dozens" of Americans who are being targeted or at least could be ("they also will face the full brunt of a U.S. response") -- and given the huge number of times the Government has falsely accused individuals of Terrorism and its demonstrated willingness to imprison knowingly innocent detainees -- is it time yet to have a debate about whether we think the President should be able to exercise a power like this?
China is playing games with its foreign-exchange policy at the world’s expense.
(updated below - Update II - Update III [Thurs.])
National Review's Jay Nordlinger cites a truly repellent (and false) comment made this week by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "A million and a half people are living in Gaza, but only one of them is really in need of humanitarian aid," Barak said. Nordlinger points out that Barak was referring to Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held hostage for years by Hamas, which refuses to permit the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to him. After observing that neither "the Cuban dictatorship or Chinese dictatorship permit the Red Cross to see prisoners," Nordlinger then claims -- with the needy victimization that typifies the Right -- that "there'd be mass demonstrations in [Shalit's] behalf all over Europe, and on American streets, too" if "Shalit were other than Israeli." In other words, Nordlinger believes that the Western World would never tolerate the denial of ICRC access to detainees except when the detainee is Israeli.
I'm asking this literally: is Nordlinger ignorant of the fact that the United States of America denied ICRC access to non-Israeli prisoners for years during the prior administration?
The US has admitted for the first time that it has not given the Red Cross access to all detainees in its custody.
The state department's top legal adviser, John Bellinger, made the admission but gave no details about where such prisoners were held. . . . He stated that the group International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had access to "absolutely everybody" at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which holds suspects detained during the US war on terror. When asked by journalists if the organisation had access to everybody held in similar circumstances elsewhere, he said: "No".
That happened because, among other reasons, the U.S. maintained a network of CIA secret prisons -- black sites -- where detainees were barred from any and all contact with the outside world for months and even years, including international monitoring groups such as the ICRC. Maybe Nordlinger has heard of someone named Dana Priest, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for revealing, in The Washington Post, the existence of those secret American prisons:
It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA's internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.
As Priest wrote, these detainees -- never charged, let alone convicted, of any crime -- "exist in complete isolation from the outside world. Kept in dark, sometimes underground cells, they have no recognized legal rights, and no one outside the CIA is allowed to talk with or even see them, or to otherwise verify their well-being." Even once those black sites were revealed by Priest, the Bush administration explicitly rejected the ICRC's request for access to those detainees (the ICRC was also long denied access to prisons in Iraq run by the Iraqi Government during the U.S. occupation). And the BBC reported in April of this year that the U.S. continues to maintain a secret prison at Bagram where prisoners are apparently abused and denied ICRC access. Could someone point me to the "mass demonstrations" that took place in Europe and the U.S. over any of these American secret prisons?
This raises an important and under-appreciated point. Many Americans defend the U.S.'s conduct not because they support it, but because they're completely unaware of what those actions actually are. Many of the people who support what they call the "enhanced interrogation" program really believe they're defending three instances of waterboarding rather than scores of detainee deaths, because they literally don't know it happened. And here you have Nordlinger -- a Senior Editor of National Review -- claiming that denial of access to the ICRC is the hallmark of brutal tyrannies (it is), and arguing that a country could only get away with it if they do it to an Israeli, making clear that he is completely ignorant of the fact that his own Government did this for years (without, needless to say, prompting a peep of protest from his magazine), and reportedly continues to do it. That the U.S. did this systematically just doesn't exist in his brain; he really believes it's something only China, Cuba and Hamas do. They really do live in their own universe and just block out whatever facts they dislike while inventing the ones that make them feel good.
UPDATE: Just to convey a sense for how much National Review polemicists care about detainees being denied ICRC access (when it's the U.S. doing the denying): the only mention found in NR's archives of Dana Priest's revelation that the U.S. was maintaining a network of secret prisons with no ICRC monitoring was this one by Byron York, in which he suggested that, based on the Plame precedent, the persons responsible for the disclosure -- but not the ones denying the ICRC access to detainees -- should be prosecuted (h/t TS). So it's not really a surprise that Nordlinger managed to remain completely ignorant of what the U.S. did for all those years, since his "political magazine" barely even mentioned it.
All of this is redolent of what George H.W. Bush said in 1988 when running for President, desperate to prove his manly bona fides, which were being widely questioned: "I will never apologize for the United States of America, I don't care what the facts are." Bush said that in response to being asked his reaction to the fact that a U.S. Naval warship had just blown an Iranian passenger jet out of the sky, killing all 300 civilians people aboard (h/t stacy,esq.). That's the ethos of the Right: when the U.S. does it, it's either intrinsically different or (as in Nordlinger's case) it doesn't exist.
UPDATE II: A reader reminds me that the only other time I wrote about Nordlinger was back in September, 2009 when, amazingly, he essentially did the same exact thing: he revealed a total ignorance of major scandals involving the Bush DOJ -- not the details of those scandals, but their very existence -- because those events contradicted his desired perceptions and were therefore just never acknowledged by his brain. Mark Adomanis has a very amusing and insightful post on how Nordlinger's "thought process," on display here, epitomizes the essence of movement conservatism in the U.S.
All of this raises a tangentially related point: I spent the first three years or so of my political writing focused on how extremist and odious America's Bush-supporting Right is (I even wrote three books with that as a central theme). I don't write much about them these days -- largely because I'm much more interested in writing about the faction in power than out of power, and because there are countless Democratic blogs and other venues devoted to reflexively spouting the "GOP-is-Evil" talking points on a daily basis -- but it is worth being reminded now and then, with episodes like this one, exactly why the faction that still dominates the American Right is as loathsome and irrational as ever, if not more so.
UPDATE III: If someone told me I had to select one paragraph to describe the crux of political disputes, I very well might choose this one from George Orwell's Notes on Nationalism (h/t Hume's Ghost):
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage -- torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians -- which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side . . . The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.
Note how perfectly that last part describes what Nordlinger did here and what those like him do continuously. Of course, Orwell's description applies (as he pointed out in the first paragraph of his essay) not only to nationalism but tribal identities of all types. Speaking of which, Israel, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, imprisoned scores of Lebanese detainees without any access to the outside world (including the ICRC) and without even acknowledging to anyone that they were doing so. I'm fairly certain that the Western World did not erupt in massive demonstrations any more than it did in response to the U.S.'s doing so.
(updated below - Update II [Wed.] - Update III [Wed.])
After I fulfilled Jonathan Chait's plea for a substantive response to his and Jonathan Bernstein's argument that the President is weak and impotent when it comes to influencing Congress and thus not to be blamed for what they do or don't do, he "replies" today by ignoring most of the arguments I made and distorting the rest. Others have responded to my argument a bit more substantively, but I'm content to let stand the extensive arguments I made yesterday which, in my view, disprove this excuse-making and detail the extensive leverage Obama has over Congress (and which he's used when it was important to him). But since this "weak Presidency" excuse has become so prevalent, I just want to make three brief, additional points about all of this:
First, just read this -- and focus on the last sentence -- from a New York article last month by John Heilemann about the role the Obama administration played in killing numerous progressive provisions in the financial reform bill:
Geithner's team spent much of its time during the debate over the Senate bill helping Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd kill off or modify amendments being offered by more-progressive Democrats. A good example was Bernie Sanders's measure to audit the Fed, which the administration played a key role in getting the senator from Vermont to tone down. Another was the Brown-Kaufman Amendment, which became a cause célèbre among lefty reformers such as former IMF economist Simon Johnson. "If enacted, Brown-Kaufman would have broken up the six biggest banks in America,'' says the senior Treasury official. 'If we'd been for it, it probably would have happened. But we weren't, so it didn't'."
Please read that last quote again. How bizarre that a "senior Treasury official" believes that Brown-Kaufman died because the administration wanted it to, but would have been enacted if the White House wanted that outcome. According to Jonathan Bernstein and Jonathan Chait, anyone who believes that the administration can exert substantial leverage over the domestic policy which Congress enacts is spouting "ignorant nonsense that betrays a deep lack of understanding of how the government of the United States works." How delusional of this senior Treasury official to think that the administration had the power to make the financial reform legislation more progressive than it is if it wanted that. It's almost as though he thinks that the White House exerts influence over members of the President's party with regard to what legislation is and is not enacted. That Treasury official probably just needs to sit in on one of Bernstein's Political Science classes to learn about how the Government really functions: all that super-sophisticated Bernstein analysis about how weak the President is because it's the Congress that introduces legislation and the President has no vote and thus no leverage.
Second, Chait -- hauling out the decades-old, trite TNR playbook -- says that anyone (such as me) who believes that "Obama secretly opposed the public option. . . is revealing himself as a fanatic." Hey, Jon Chait: meet that ignorant "fanatic" Russ Feingold, who said this about the public-option-free health care bill:
Liberals have blamed Lieberman, some publicly and many privately, for forcing Reid to drop the public option, which for many liberals had been a crucial piece of reform. . . .
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), among the most vocal supporters of the public option, said it would be unfair to blame Lieberman for its apparent demise. Feingold said that responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.
"This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth," said Feingold. "I think they could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect."
Just compare what Jon Chait said (anyone who believes that "Obama secretly opposed the public option. . . is revealing himself as a fanatic") to what Russ Feingold said ("This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place"). Also, Jon Chait: meet those "fanatics" at The New York Times, who explained that Obama killed off the public option extremely early in the process because of how opposed to it industry interests were:
For months I've been reporting in The Huffington Post that President Obama made a backroom deal last summer with the for-profit hospital lobby that he would make sure there would be no national public option in the final health reform legislation. (See here, here and here). . . .
On Monday, Ed Shultz interviewed New York Times Washington reporter David Kirkpatrick on his MSNBC TV show, and Kirkpatrick confirmed the existence of the deal. Shultz quoted Chip Kahn, chief lobbyist for the for-profit hospital industry on Kahn's confidence that the White House would honor the no public option deal, and Kirkpatrick responded:
"That's a lobbyist for the hospital industry and he's talking about the hospital industry's specific deal with the White House and the Senate Finance Committee and, yeah, I think the hospital industry's got a deal here. There really were only two deals, meaning quid pro quo handshake deals on both sides, one with the hospitals and the other with the drug industry. And I think what you're interested in is that in the background of these deals was the presumption, shared on behalf of the lobbyists on the one side and the White House on the other, that the public option was not going to be in the final product."
On the subject of whether it was the White House which from the start worked to kill the public option, I'm content to let others weigh all of this evidence against Chait's adorably steadfast faith that if the President said he was for the public option and was trying to get it, then by gosh, that means he was, but because he's so weak, his valiant efforts on behalf of the public option tragically failed.
Third, Chait says that although he doesn't "agree with [my] positions on foreign policy and civil liberties" -- the example I used in my reply to him yesterday was Obama's imprisoning detainees which the Government knows to be innocent; does Chait support that? -- he does agree that I "have a valid beef with Obama in these areas" and that "the president has enormous influence over foreign policy and civil liberties issues." Indeed, the President does, and I welcome that concession, since much (though by no means all) of the liberal discontent with Obama falls within those areas, rendering the "weak presidency" excuse inapplicable at least to those objections (Bernstein's original post contained no such caveats, arguing instead that in general: "the idea of an 'Impotent, Helpless President' . . . [is] basic American politics" and that "the presidency is a very weak office").
As I've acknowledged from the start, the President does have some constraints in the area of domestic policy and will not always be able to move Congress to do what he wants. The complaint has been not that Obama is omnipotent and thus failed to get good progressive bills, but that he did not use his substantial leverage to try (again, just contrast what the White House did on the war supplemental bill). But the claim that he has virtually no leverage to influence what Congress does on domestic policy is silly, and to see how true that is, just look at the central role the White House played in killing the public option and -- according to its own Treasury official -- is now playing by dictating which progressive provisions will be killed from the financial reform bill and which ones will remain.
UPDATE: From The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim and Shahien Nasiripour, last week (h/t Presumptuous Insect):
The White House is intervening at the last minute to come to the defense of multinational corporations in the unfolding conference committee negotiations over Wall Street reform.
A measure that had been generally agreed to by both the House and Senate, which would have affirmed the SEC's authority to allow investors to have proxy access to the corporate decision-making process, was stripped by the Senate in conference committee votes on Wednesday and Thursday. Five sources with knowledge of the situation said the White House pushed for the measure to be stripped at the behest of the Business Roundtable. The sources -- congressional aides as well as outside advocates -- requested anonymity for fear of White House reprisal.
What's all this business about "fear of White House reprisal"? What could the weak, impotent White House possibly do to someone that would make them shake in fear? The Obama White House sure does seem to find a way to muster all the leverage it needs to dictate legislative outcomes -- when it actually wants to.
UPDATE II: Robert Farley writes:
I haven't really seen anyone claim that the US Presidency is "weak, helpless, and impotent"; Glenn certainly intimates that his interlocutors have this view, but he fails to demonstrate such, and my own cursory reading of the discussion has thus far failed to uncover anyone who holds such a view of the US executive.
Oh, really? From Jonathan Bernstein's original post on this topic, which started this discussion and which virtually every proponent of this "the-Presidency-is-Weak" theory (including Farley himself) has approvingly cited:
Is the idea of an "Impotent, Helpless President" a joke? No, it's basic American politics. As I usually do, I'll go straight to Richard Neustadt: . . . . Neustadt's classic is all about how the presidency is a very weak office. . . .
Gee, I wonder where I got that idea from. And you know what the title of Bernstein's post was? This: "The Presidency Is Weak. Really." Farley says that he's never encountered anyone who argued that the presidency is weak, helpless and impotent even though Bernstein's post -- which Farley himself cites when disputing (and thus presumably read) -- says exactly that ("Is the idea of an 'Impotent, Helpless President' a joke? No, it's basic American politics").
Meanwhile, over at The American Propsect, Mori Dinauer says that my "focus on the abuse of executive power has led [me] to believe presidents have powers they don't" and that I "believe that the president can bend Congress to his will." Why is it that no matter how many times you say "I am not arguing and do not believe X," someone will come along and say: "can you believe that he's arguing X?" How much clearer could I have made it over the course of three posts that I do not believe that the President can bend Congress to his will ("As I've acknowledged from the start, the President does have some constraints in the area of domestic policy and will not always be able to move Congress to do what he wants. . . . None of this is to say that the President is omnipotent. It's certainly possible that he could truly devote himself to inducing the Congress to do something he wants, but fail. The fact that the President fails to get something he wants is not proof that he failed to try").
Rather, the argument is that there are substantial tools of leverage the President has to influence what Congress does -- I identified eight separate such tools, and Bernstein himself in a comment yesterday on his site acknowledged that "Greenwald's list of eight weapons the president had is on the right track." The argument is not that he will automatically win every battle he undertakes, but that he has refused and continues to refuse to employ those weapons in support of much progressive legislation he and his defenders claim he wants, but uses those same weapons aggressively and effectively for the opposite (uncondititional war-funding, stripping out provisions from financial reform which Wall Street dislikes, defeating drug re-importation to ensure that the pharmaceutical industry remains happy, negotiating the public option away at the start of the process to please industry interests, etc.). One can reasonably argue that there may be good reasons why he chooses to exert (or not exert) his influence in the way he does -- as Matt Eckel does in admirably trying to find middle ground in this debate -- but one cannot reasonably claim that he lacks substantial leverage to influence the legislative process if he chooses to.
UPDATE III: Here's Politico today on last night's victory of Blue Dog Democratic incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson in Utah over his liberal primary challenger:
He was the beneficiary of late support from Organizing for America, President Barack Obama’s grassroots organization, which used e-mails, text messages, and campaign mailers to urge Democrats pull the lever for the incumbent.
Similar to what they did for Blanche Lincoln, the Obama White House unleashed its OFA Army to help protect a Blue Dog incumbent against a progressive challenger. Being able to do that, or not do it, or doing it in the other direction (i.e., to support the primary challenger) sounds to me like some pretty substantial leverage to use over members of Congress.
American discussions about what causes Terrorists to do what they do are typically conducted by ignoring the Terrorist's explanation for why he does what he does. Yesterday, Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to attempting to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, and this Pakistani-American Muslim explained why he transformed from a financial analyst living a law-abiding, middle-class American life into a Terrorist:
If the United States does not get out of Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries controlled by Muslims, he said, "we will be attacking U.S.," adding that Americans "only care about their people, but they don't care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die" . . . .
As soon as he was taken into custody May 3 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, onboard a flight to Dubai, the Pakistani-born Shahzad told agents that he was motivated by opposition to U.S. policy in the Muslim world, officials said.
"One of the first things he said was, 'How would you feel if people attacked the United States? You are attacking a sovereign Pakistan'," said one law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the interrogation reports are not public. "In the first two hours, he was talking about his desire to strike a blow against the United States for the cause."
When the federal Judge presiding over his case asked him why he would be willing to kill civilians who have nothing to do with those actions, he replied: "Well, the people select the government. We consider them all the same" (the same rationale used to justify the punishment of the people of Gaza for electing Hamas). When the Judge interrupted him to ask whether that includes children who might have been killed by the bomb he planted and whether he first looked around to see if there were children nearby, Shahzad replied:
Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It's a war, and in war, they kill people. They're killing all Muslims. . . .
I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people. And, on behalf of that, I'm avenging the attack. Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don't care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.
Those statements are consistent with a decade's worth of emails and other private communications from Shahzad, as he railed with increasing fury against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, drone attacks, Israeli violence against Palestinians and Muslims generally, Guantanamo and torture, and asked: "Can you tell me a way to save the oppressed? And a way to fight back when rockets are fired at us and Muslim blood flows?"
This proves only what it proves. The issue here is causation, not justification. The great contradiction of American foreign policy is that the very actions endlessly rationalized as necessary for combating Terrorism -- invading, occupying and bombing other countries, limitless interference in the Muslim world, unconditional support for Israeli aggression, vast civil liberties abridgments such as torture, renditions, due-process-free imprisonments -- are the very actions that fuel the anti-American hatred which, as the U.S. Government itself has long recognized, is what causes, fuels and exacerbates the Terrorism we're ostensibly attempting to address.
It's really quite simple: if we continue to bring violence to that part of the world, then that part of the world -- and those who sympathize with it -- will continue to want to bring violence to the U.S. Al Qaeda certainly recognizes that this is the case, as reflected in the statement it issued earlier this week citing the war in Afghanistan and support for Israel as its prime grievances against the U.S. Whether that's what actually motivates that group's leaders is not the issue. They are citing those policies because they know that those grievances resonate for many Muslims, who are willing to support radical groups and support or engage in violence only because they see it as retaliation or vengeance for the violence which the U.S. is continuously perpetrating in the Muslim world (speaking of which: this week, WikiLeaks will release numerous classified documents relating to a U.S. air strike in Garani, Afghanistan that killed scores of civilians last year, while new documents reveal that substantial amounts of U.S. spending in Afghanistan end up in the hands of corrupt warlords and Taliban commanders). Clearly, there are other factors (such as religious fanaticism) that drive some people to Terrorism, but for many, it is a causal reaction to what they perceive as unjust violence being brought to them by the United States.
Given all this, it should be anything but surprising that, as a new Pew poll reveals, there is a substantial drop in public support for both U.S. policies and Barack Obama personally in the Muslim world. In many Muslim countries, perceptions of the U.S. -- which improved significantly upon Obama's election -- have now plummeted back to Bush-era levels, while Obama's personal approval ratings, while still substantially higher than Bush's, are also declining, in some cases precipitously. As Pew put it:
Roughly one year since Obama's Cairo address, America's image shows few signs of improving in the Muslim world, where opposition to key elements of U.S. foreign policy remains pervasive and many continue to perceive the U.S. as a potential military threat to their countries.
Gosh, where would they get that idea from? People generally don't like it when their countries are invaded, bombed and occupied, when they're detained without charges by a foreign power, when their internal politics are manipulated, when they see images of dead women and children as the result of remote-controlled robots from the sky. Some of them, after a breaking point is reached, get angry enough where they not only want to return the violence, but are willing to sacrifice their own lives to do so (just as was true for many Americans who enlisted after the one-day 9/11 attack). It's one thing to argue that we should continue to do these things for geopolitical gain even it means incurring Terrorist attacks (and the endless civil liberties abridgments they engender); as amoral as that is, at least that's a cogent thought. But to pretend that Terrorism simply occurs in a vacuum, that it's mystifying why it happens, that it has nothing to do with U.S. actions in the Muslim world, requires intense self-delusion. How much more evidence is needed for that?
* * * * *
Three other brief points illustrated by this Shahzad conviction: (1) yet again, civilian courts -- i.e., real courts -- provide far swifter and more certain punishment for Terrorists than do newly concocted military commissions; (2) Shahzad's proclamation that he is a "Muslim soldier" fighting a "war" illustrates -- yet again -- that the way to fulfill the wishes of Terrorists (and promote their agenda) is to put them before a military commission or indefinitely detain them on the ground that they are "enemy combatants," thus glorifying them as warriors rather than mere criminals (see this transcript of a federal judge denying shoe bomber Richard Reid's deepest request to be treated as a "warrior" rather than a common criminal); and (3) the Supreme Court's horrendous decision yesterday upholding the "material support" statute is, as David Cole explains, one of the most severe abridgments of First Amendment freedoms the Court has sanctified in a long time; this decision was justified by the need for courts to defer to executive and legislative branch determinations regarding "war," proving once again that as long as this so-called "war" continues as a "war," the abridgments on our core liberties will be as limitless as they are inevitable. At some point, we might want to factor that in to the cost-benefit analysis of our state of perpetual war (for more on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, see my podcast discussion from February with Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, counsel to the plaintiffs in this case, on the day the Court heard Oral Argument, regarding the issues that case entailed).
(updated below [Reply to Chait])
As I noted earlier today, there is a newly minted Obama apologist meme that has been created and is being disseminated by Obama-defending pundits far and wide: namely, liberals are blaming Obama for too much because the Presidency is actually quite a weak and powerless office, and he's powerless to do most of what liberals advocate. This claim was articulated by Jonathan Bernstein in response to my post documenting how Barack Obama -- by supporting Blanche Lincoln rather than remaining neutral or supporting her primary challenger -- likely swung the election in her favor. I argued that the central role Obama played in Lincoln's race illustrates that Presidents possess substantial means for influencing members of Congress. In describing my argument as "ignorant nonsense that betrays a deep lack of understanding of how the government of the United States works," Bernstein did not bother to address, let alone refute, that extremely formidable presidential leverage that Obama just used to help Lincoln win in Arkansas.
Instead, he broadly asserted that "the idea of an 'Impotent, Helpless President' . . . [is] basic American politics," that "the presidency is a very weak office," and that Obama has no real leverage to influence Democratic members of Congress to support legislation he wants. Since then, a whole slew of Obama defenders have cited Bernstein's "Impotent Helpless Presidency" excuse to argue that progressives expect too much of Obama and that their criticisms of him are unfair, irrational and unwarranted. Today, Jonathan Chait complains that I have only derided and mocked but not responded in detail to this argument. That's basically true, as I find the argument self-refuting, but permit me to change that by responding in detail now.
Initially, this issue arose in the context of the health care debate, when progressive critics were complaining that the Obama White House was doing nothing to ensure passage of the public option. In response, Obama defenders insisted that the fault lay not with Obama, but with Democratic members of Congress over whom Obama had no leverage. All year long, they told their readers not to blame Obama for the lack of a public option because there was just nothing the helpless, powerless leader could do. Except now it is conclusively clear that Obama never wanted the public option from the start -- Russ Feingold said as much, and The New York Times revealed that Obama secretly negotiated away the public option in deals with industry representatives very early on in the process. Thus, critics who were complaining that Obama was publicly claiming to want to the public option while ensuring it would not be enacted were correct, while those who kept telling their readers that the fault lay with Democratic members of Congress -- not Obama -- were engaged in pure apologia.
More broadly, after 8 years of Bush/Cheney, the very idea that the Presidency is a weak and largely powerless office is laughable on its face. It's Barack Obama -- not the U.S. Congress -- who is detaining innocent people without trials, targeting U.S. citizens for due-process-free assassinations, secretly ordering covert wars via Special Operations Forces, ordering a "surge" in the nine-year-old war in Afghanistan, and launching cruise missile strikes with cluster bombs in Yemen. The more honest commentators who are invoking this "weak presidency" defense on behalf of Obama -- such as Matt Ygleisas, Ezra Klein, and Scott Lemieux -- acknowledge its basic inapplicability to Terrorism and foreign policy, which accounts for a substantial part of the liberal critique of the Obama presidency. And, for that matter, many of the positive steps Obama has taken -- changes in drug policy, an improvement in tone with the Muslim world, release of the OLC torture memos -- were also actions taken unilaterally using the power of the Presidency.
Apparently -- to hear Bernstein, Chait and their "weak presidency" excuse-makers tell it -- the country, once every four years, spends twenty-four straight months completely fixated on who is going to be elected to a weak and powerless office. What a strange thing to do. And we probably all owe George Bush and Dick Cheney a huge apology for blaming so many of America's problems on them when -- as it turns out -- they really had very little power over our political system (and were Bernstein, Chait and friends chiding Democrats during the Bush presidency for excessively blaming Bush and Cheney for problems that they couldn't possibly solve [or cause] given their powerless positions?). And all Democratic anger at Ralph Nader for helping to elect Bush and defeat Al Gore surely must be misplaced, since the presidency is just a weak and impotent office without much influence anyway. And I guess all that stuff about the "imperial presidency" we heard so much about over the last decade was pure fantasy; it turns out the office is so weak it barely has any purpose beyond the purely symbolic. Who knew?
This "weak presidency" excuse-making rests on an incredibly naïve, Schoolhouse-Rock-level understanding of our political system. Yes, it's theoretically true -- just like we learn in the Sixth Grade -- that the Congress is the body that introduces and enacts laws, while the President has no vote in that process. But the reality is that the President has vast and unfettered control over a sprawling Executive Branch. More important, he presides over the Democratic Party and exerts extreme influence over its fund-raising infrastructure on which virtually every Democratic incumbent relies. The means he has to exert influence over members of Congress when it's important to him -- as he just demonstrated in the Blanche Lincoln race and in other instances -- are numerous and formidable, as set forth below.
None of this is to say that the President is omnipotent. It's certainly possible that he could truly devote himself to inducing the Congress to do something he wants, but fail. The fact that the President fails to get something he wants is not proof that he failed to try. The complaints have never been that the Obama White House failed to force Congress to enact progressive legislation it claimed it wanted, but rather, that they never really tried using the substantial leverage and influence they have, thus illustrating that they never really wanted it in the first place. To claim that they have no such leverage is to ignore reality:
(1) The Obama White House has proven empirically that they have leverage over recalcitrant members of Congress. When progressive House Members were refusing to vote for Obama's unconditional war-funding bill, this is what happened (though the White House, unsurprisingly, denied it):
The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won't get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday. "We're not going to help you. You'll never hear from us again," Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen.
Though it seemed very unlikely at the beginning of the process, the White House succeeded in whipping enough progressive votes to secure approval for this war package. That's what the President can do when he actually cares about a particular bill, such as war-funding.
(2) As Obama just proved in the Arkansas race, his endorsement carries significant sway with large numbers of Democratic voters, including in conservative states. As The Washington Post documented, Obama's endorsement of Lincoln is likely what enabled her victory. In 2006, the Democratic establishment's actual neutrality in the Connecticut Senate race -- paying mere lip service to supporting Democratic nominee Ned Lamont but doing nothing meaningful to help him win -- is what helped Joe Lieberman to win that race.
Lieberman and Ben Nelson are up for re-election in 2012, and Lincoln is this year. Does anyone actually doubt that an Obama threat to support a primary challenge against any Democratic incumbent, to encourage Democratic fund-raisers to send their money elsewhere, or to refrain from playing any role in their re-election, would influence their votes on matters important to the White House? Again, that's not to say it would guarantee compliance, but the fact that the White House did exactly that on the war-funding vote, but not on the public option, reflected their priorities.
(3) There is a huge and critical Democratic Party fund-raising apparatus that relies on the White House for access, influence, jobs and a whole variety of other benefits over which the President exerts great influence. Is there anyone in D.C. who doubts that the most important priority of virtually every progressive and liberal political group -- to say nothing of major corporate donors -- is to stay in good standing with the White House? If the White House subtly directs the major Party fund-raisers and its money apparatus to refrain from supporting a particular incumbent who impedes Obama's agenda, that would be a serious impediment to that incumbent's re-election bid.
(4) Using his control over his Party, the President exerts substantial influence over the various perquisites which Senators have. It was Obama's decree that Lieberman should retain his Homeland Security Chairmanship despite his support for John McCain which led to his keeping that important position. In 2004, after Arlen Specter suggested he might impede Bush's anti-abortion nominees to the Supreme Court, he had to beg and plead to keep his position as Judiciary Committee Chairman. There are countless ways for a Party -- and its leader, the President -- to severely diminish the influence and power a recalcitrant member wields.
(5) One of the principal aspects that make the "weak presidency" claim so laughable is that the post-World-War II presidency has done virtually nothing but expand in power. The President controls virtually the entire Pentagon and intelligence industry, and all administrative agencies, with very few limits. That includes a massive amount of jobs, contracts, access, and projects the White House single-handedly directs, and the President can expand or cancel a whole slew of pet projects for various members of Congress and their home states or districts.
(6) It is extremely common for the White House to horse-trade with members of its own party to secure support for legislation it wants. It can and does trade appointments, concessions on other bills, pork projects in the Executive Branch's discretion, and favors for political allies in exchange for a certain vote; conversely, it can threaten to impose all sorts of political costs on incumbents using those same measures. Again, anyone whose understanding of the political process has advanced beyond Saturday morning cartoons recognizes this is the case.
(7) With regard to matters such as the BP spill, which many Obama defenders have cited to argue that liberals are unfairly criticizing the weak and impotent President, it is the Executive Branch which exerted full control over the approval of BP's off-shore leases and which has serious statutory authority to exert real control over the response to the spill.
(8) Because the President is far and away the dominant political actor, he can exert far more influence on our political debates than anyone else using the proverbial "bully pulpit," and can bring substantial pressure to bear on incumbent members of Congress through that advocacy and public pressure.
Let's repeat: to argue that the President has substantial leverage over members of his own Party is not to claim that he can exert total control. Even when he tries his hardest, he's likely to lose in some instances (although you can count on one hand the instances when Bush/Cheney failed to control members of their Party). But this debate first arose in the context of the stimulus package (when the White House never tried to secure a greater amount of funds), and then reached its peak in the health care debate (when the President not only failed to try to win support for the public option, but actively worked against it from the start). Whatever else is true, to posit that the Presidency is some sort of weak, powerless, impotent office -- all as a means of claiming that no problems can be laid at Obama's feet, because his office is barely above that of a functionary when it comes to Congress -- is patently absurd, and it's Obama himself who, when actually motivated, has proven that to be the case.
* * * * *
Note the revealing irony that Chait, while complaining that I failed to address the "substance" of this "weak presidency" excuse, completely ignored -- as in: pretended it did not exist -- the argument I made: that cases such as Obama's knowing imprisonment of innocent detainees is purely his own doing, and reveals the moral and political bankruptcy of the claim that progressive criticisms of Obama are grounded in unrealistic views of his power. Obama defenders like Chait studiously ignore abuses like this one because they do not want to defend such things (who would?) but also do not want to acknowledge the profound flaws of this President and the vast power he asserts.
UPDATE: My reply to Jonathan Chait's response is here.
(updated below - Update II - Update III [reply to Chait])
Even in the context of America's wretched civil liberties abuses over the last decade, the case of Mohamed Hassan Odaini stands out. He was 17 years old in 2001 when his father sent him from Yemen to study at a religious university in Raiwand, Pakistan, and when a campus house in which he was staying there was raided by Pakistani authorities in early 2002, he was turned over to the U.S. and shipped to Guantanamo, where he has remained without charges for the last eight years (he's now 26). A federal court this month granted his habeas petition for release, finding that the evidence "overwhelmingly supports Odaini's contention that he is unlawfully detained." Worse, the court described the multiple times over the years -- beginning in 2002 and occurring as recently as 2009 -- when the U.S. Government itself concluded that Odaini was guilty of nothing, was mistakenly detained, and should be released (see here for the court's description of that history).
Despite that, the Obama administration has refused to release him for the past 16 months, and fought vehemently in this habeas proceeding to keep him imprisoned. As the court put it, the Obama DOJ argued "vehemently" that there was evidence that Odaini was part of Al Qaeda. In fact, the Obama administration knew this was false. This Washington Post article this weekend quotes an "administration official" as saying: "The bottom line is: We don't have anything on this kid." But after Obama decreed in January that no Yemeni detainees would be released -- even completely innocent ones, and even though the Yemeni government wants their innocent prisoners returned -- Obama DOJ lawyers basically lied to the court by claiming there was substantial evidence to prove that Odaini was part of Al Qaeda even though they know that is false. In other words, the Obama administration is knowingly imprisoning a completely innocent human being who has been kept in a cage in an island prison, thousands of miles from his home, for the last 8 years, since he's 18 years old, despite having done absolutely nothing wrong.
It really is hard to imagine many things worse, more criminal, than imprisoning people for years whom you know are innocent, while fighting in court to keep them imprisoned. But that's exactly what the Obama administration is doing. Every day that Odiani is kept in a cage is a serious crime. Just imagine what has happened to his life by being shipped off to Guantanamo for 8 years, starting in 2002 during that camp's darkest days, with absolutely no justification. As the court put it:
I honestly don't understand how any Obama DOJ lawyer or official could involve themselves with anything like this. If you're willing to work to keep a person whom you know is innocent imprisoned, what aren't you willing to do? What decent human being wouldn't be repulsed by this? I don't care how many times someone chants "Pragmatism" or "The Long Game" or whatever other all-purpose justifying mantras have been marketed to venerate the current President; these are repellent acts that have no justification.
Of course, none of this is new for the Obama administration; it's consistent with their course of conduct from the start. I highlight this today only because there is an obvious, concerted effort by a slew of Democratic Beltway pundits over the last month or so to attack the so-called "Left" for daring to express displeasure with the Obama administration, and to demonize those objections as unserious, shrill, irrational, purist and all the other clichés long used by this same cadre of party apparatchiks for the same purpose. This is all coming from a homogeneous clique of Democratic Party pundits who have strikingly similar demographics and background, most of whom supported the Iraq War, and who spend a great deal of time talking to one another in public and private and reinforcing their talking point platitudes, and have spent years railing against the Left. Just look at who is purporting to lecture liberals on how to promote progressive goals.
The New Republic's Jonathan Chait -- vocal Iraq War cheerleader (from a safe distance) who works for a magazine whose declared editorial mission is to have Joe Lieberman's worldview "once again guide the Democratic Party" -- has written yet another lecture chiding liberals for unfair and irrational discontent with his beloved leader. Peter Connolly -- a D.C. lobbyist and telecom lawyer for Holland & Knight -- published a screed this weekend at The Huffington Post condemning progressives who are mounting primary challenges against conservative Democratic incumbents for creating a terribly unjustified "civil war" in the Democratic Party, which, after all, is led by what he called that "unabashed liberal" Barack Obama. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter -- the first known mainstream pundit to explicitly call for torture in the wake of the 9/11 attack and one of the creepiest Obama loyalists around -- has been running around the country promoting his book by spouting "the typical warmed over Village sentiments, particularly as it relates to liberal critics of the President."
Lanny Davis published a column this weekend arguing that "the Left" is a threat to good Democratic principles and that Obama should "Sister Souljah" progressives who are criticizing him. The New York Times' conservative columnist Ross Douthat even adopts their script today by pronouncing liberal disenchantment with Obama to be "bizarrely disproportionate" and grounded in unrealistic expectations of Obama. And a whole slew of other, similar Obama-defending Democratic Party loyalists (Jon Chait, Ezra Klein, Jonathan Bernstein) -- for whom the excuses of "not-enough-time-yet" and "Pragmatism" are now dry wells -- have together invented a new one: none of this is Obama's fault because the Presidency is so weak and powerless (though Klein, to his credit, accurately acknowledges that that excuse is "less true on foreign policy than on domestic policy").
So the homogeneous Party loyalists who cheered for Bush's invasion of Iraq, who spend their time privately railing together against those misguided liberal critics, have all magically come forward in unison, with the same script, to decree that The Left's discontent with the President is so terribly shrill, unrealistic, unfair, and unSerious. The same trite pundits who reflexively ingest and advocate whatever the political establishment spits out are announcing that criticisms of the President are so unfair. Jon Chait, Jon Bernstein, Jon Alter, Lanny Davis, Peter Connolly, Ross Douthat and friends know what good Progressives must do -- with their track record, who could possibly disagree? -- and that's be grateful for the President we have and to refrain from all this chattering, irrational, purist negativity. Meanwhile, the administration does one thing after the next along the lines of what it's doing to Mohamed Hassan Odaini, rendering these You-Leftists-are-so-UnSerious sermons no more impressive or worthwhile than when the same unfailingly wrong establishment spokespeople, driven by exactly the same mentality, were spouting them back in 2003.
UPDATE: For a classic expression of the Unserious-Liberals-Must-Stop-Criticizing-Obama mindset, see this TPM post from Theda Skocpal last week, arguing that "liberal pundits [on MSNBC and The Huffington Post] are making absolute fools of themselves bashing Obama over the Gulf spill" and decreeing that "Liberals right now should not be joining in Obama bashing on the oil spill." That's because "If liberals do not support Obama and the Democrats for the next two election cycles, a rabid Right will be back in control" (h/t doosra).
Democratic apparatchiks now use the Scary Spectre of Sarah Palin the way GOP apparatchiks long used The Terrorist: you better stay in line and not dissent or else that scary right-wing/Terrorist monster hiding under your bed will get you! Apparently, we're all supposed to just smile and remain silent no matter what the U.S. Government does -- imprison innocent people, target citizens for assassinations, serve the corporate factions that own the Congress -- lest the Democratic Party be politically weakened by debate, dissent, and critiques (just like we were all supposed to smile and remain silent lest the U.S. and the Bush Presidency be weakened by debate, dissent, and critiques [and that refusal of Republicans to criticize their leader from 2001-2008, due to Party loyalty, worked out so very well for them, didn't it?]). Apparently, our overarching duty as citizens is to work to strengthen the Democratic Party leadership, no matter what it does.
As Atrios said about the Skocpal/TPM post: "It seems we have Very Serious People on the Left too." What's odd is that liberal blogs once existed -- one could say they even emerged -- in order to combat this mentality. Along with the establishment media, the capitulating, principle-free Democratic establishment (and its Shut-up-you-Unserious-Childish-Purist-Leftists mentality) was long the prime target of the liberal blogospheric critique. Yet now, that mentality is often spewed (rather than opposed) by many liberal blogs, as though what the world needed to be a Better Place was an Amplifying Mechanism for The New Republic, the DNC, and the DLC.
UPDATE II: The Guardian reports that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has "surfaced" in Brussels in order to address a conference of European parliamentarians on the issue of free information, but says that though he does not "fear for his life," he has been advised by his lawyers to stay away from the U.S. How revealing that Assange apparently feels free to travel the entire Western World -- other than the U.S. But we probably should avoid discussing what that does reveal lest we weaken the Democratic Party.
UPDATE III: My response to Jonathan Chait's reply is here.
The government needs to spend now, while the economy is depressed, and save later. But politicians seem determined to do the reverse.
On June 6, Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter of Wired reported that a 22-year-old U.S. Army Private in Iraq, Bradley Manning, had been detained after he "boasted" in an Internet chat -- with convicted computer hacker Adrian Lamo -- of leaking to WikiLeaks the now famous Apache Helicopter attack video, a yet-to-be-published video of a civilian-killing air attack in Afghanistan, and "hundreds of thousands of classified State Department records." Lamo, who holds himself out as a "journalist" and told Manning he was one, acted instead as government informant, notifying federal authorities of what Manning allegedly told him, and then proceeded to question Manning for days as he met with federal agents, leading to Manning's detention.
On June 10, former New York Times reporter Philip Shenon, writing in The Daily Beast, gave voice to anonymous "American officials" to announce that "Pentagon investigators" were trying "to determine the whereabouts of the Australian-born founder of the secretive website Wikileaks [Julian Assange] for fear that he may be about to publish a huge cache of classified State Department cables that, if made public, could do serious damage to national security." Some news outlets used that report to declare that there was a "Pentagon manhunt" underway for Assange -- as though he's some sort of dangerous fugitive.
From the start, this whole story was quite strange for numerous reasons. In an attempt to obtain greater clarity about what really happened here, I've spent the last week reviewing everything I could related to this case and speaking with several of the key participants (including Lamo, with whom I had a one-hour interview last night that can be heard on the recorder below, and Poulsen, with whom I had a lengthy email exchange, which is published in full here). A definitive understanding of what really happened is virtually impossible to acquire, largely because almost everything that is known comes from a single, extremely untrustworthy source: Lamo himself. Compounding that is the fact that most of what came from Lamo has been filtered through a single journalist -- Poulsen -- who has a long and strange history with Lamo, who continues to possess but not disclose key evidence, and who has been only marginally transparent about what actually happened here (I say that as someone who admires Poulsen's work as Editor of Wired's Threat Level blog).
Reviewing everything that is known ultimately raises more questions than it answers. Below is my perspective on what happened here. But there is one fact to keep in mind at the outset. In 2008, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center prepared a classified report (ironically leaked to and published by WikiLeaks) which -- as the NYT put it -- placed WikiLeaks on "the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States." That Report discussed ways to destroy WikiLeaks' reputation and efficacy, and emphasized creating the impression that leaking to it is unsafe (click image to enlarge):
In other words, exactly what the U.S. Government wanted to happen in order to destroy WikiLeaks has happened here: news reports that a key WikiLeaks source has been identified and arrested, followed by announcements from anonymous government officials that there is now a worldwide "manhunt" for its Editor-in-Chief. Even though WikiLeaks did absolutely nothing (either in this case or ever) to compromise the identity of its source, isn't it easy to see how these screeching media reports -- WikiLeaks source arrested; worldwide manhunt for WikiLeaks; major national security threat -- would cause a prospective leaker to WikiLeaks to think twice, at least: exactly as the Pentagon Report sought to achieve? And that Pentagon Report was from 2008, before the Apache Video was released; imagine how intensified is the Pentagon's desire to destroy WikiLeaks now. Combine that with what both the NYT and Newsweek recently realized is the Obama administration's unprecedented war on whistle-blowers, and one can't overstate the caution that's merited here before assuming one knows what happened.
* * * * *
Adrian Lamo and Kevin Poulsen have a long and strange history together. Both were convicted of felonies relating to computer hacking: Poulsen in 1994 (when he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, ironically because a friend turned government informant on him), and Lamo in 2004 for hacking into The New York Times. When the U.S. Government was investigating Lamo in 2003, they subpoenaed news agencies for any documents reflecting conversations not only with Lamo, but also with Poulsen. That's because Lamo typically sought media publicity after his hacking adventures, and almost always used Poulsen to provide that publicity.
Despite being convicted of serious hacking felonies, Poulsen was allowed by the U.S. Government to become a journalist covering the hacking world for Security Focus News. Back in 2002, Information Week described the strange Lamo-Poulsen relationship this way: "To publicize his work, [Lamo] often tapped ex-hacker-turned-journalist Kevin Poulsen as his go-between: Poulsen contacts the hacked company, alerts it to the break-in, offers Lamo's cooperation, then reports the hack on the SecurityFocus Online Web site, where he's a news editor." When Lamo hacked into the NYT, it was Poulsen who notified the newspaper's executives on Lamo's behalf, and then wrote about it afterward. Poulsen told me that the above picture was taken at a lunch the two of them had together with convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick back in 2001. When I asked Poulsen if he considers Lamo his friend, he would respond only by saying: "He's a subject and a source."
Actually, over the years, Poulsen has served more or less as Lamo's personal media voice. Back in 2000, Poulsen would quote Lamo as an expert source on hacking. That same year, Poulsen -- armed with exclusive, inside information from Lamo -- began writing about Lamo's various hacking adventures. After Lamo's conviction, Poulsen wrote about his post-detention battles with law enforcement and a leaked documentary featuring Lamo. As detailed below, Lamo is notorious in the world of hacking for being a low-level, inconsequential hacker with an insatiable need for self-promotion and media attention, and for the past decade, it has been Poulsen who satisfies that need.
On May 20 -- a month ago -- Poulsen, out of nowhere, despite Lamo's not having been in the news for years, wrote a long, detailed Wired article describing serious mental health problems Lamo was experiencing. The story Poulsen wrote goes as follows: after Lamo's backpack containing pharmaceutical products was stolen sometime in April (Lamo claims they were prescribed anti-depressants), Lamo called the police, who concluded that he was experiencing such acute psychiatric distress that they had him involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for three days. That 72-hour "involuntary psychiatric hold" was then extended by a court for six more days, after which he was released to his parents' home. Lamo claimed he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a somewhat fashionable autism diagnosis which many stars in the computer world have also claimed. In that article, Poulsen also summarized Lamo's extensive hacking history. Lamo told me that, while he was in the mental hospital, he called Poulsen to tell him what happened, and then told Poulsen he could write about it for a Wired article. So starved was Lamo for some media attention that he was willing to encourage Poulsen to write about his claimed psychiatric problems if it meant an article in Wired that mentioned his name.
It was just over two weeks after writing about Lamo's Asperger's, depression and hacking history that Poulsen, along with Kim Zetter, reported that PFC Manning had been detained, after, they said, he had "contacted former hacker Adrian Lamo late last month over instant messenger and e-mail." Lamo told me that Manning first emailed him on May 20 and, according to highly edited chat logs released by Wired, had his first online chat with Manning on May 21; in other words, Manning first contacted Lamo the very day that Poulsen's Wired article on Lamo's involuntary commitment appeared (the Wired article is time-stamped 5:46 p.m. on May 20).
Lamo, however, told me that Manning found him not from the Wired article -- which Manning never mentioned reading -- but from searching the word "WikiLeaks" on Twitter, which led him to a tweet Lamo had written that included the word "WikiLeaks." Even if Manning had really found Lamo through a Twitter search for "WikiLeaks," Lamo could not explain why Manning focused on him, rather than the thousands of other people who have also mentioned the word "WikiLeaks" on Twitter, including countless people who have done so by expressing support for WikiLeaks.
Although none of the Wired articles ever mention this, the first Lamo-Manning communications were not actually via chat. Instead, Lamo told me that Manning first sent him a series of encrypted emails which Lamo was unable to decrypt because Manning "encrypted it to an outdated PGP key of mine" [PGP is an encryption program]. After receiving this first set of emails, Lamo says he replied -- despite not knowing who these emails were from or what they were about -- by inviting the emailer to chat with him on AOL IM, and provided his screen name to do so. Lamo says that Manning thereafter sent him additional emails encrypted to his current PGP key, but that Lamo never bothered to decrypt them. Instead, Lamo claims he turned over all those Manning emails to the FBI without ever reading a single one of them. Thus, the actual initial communications between Manning and Lamo -- what preceded and led to their chat -- are completely unknown. Lamo refuses to release the emails or chats other than the small chat snippets published by Wired.
Using the chat logs between Lamo and Manning -- which Lamo provided to Poulsen -- the Wired writers speculated that the Army Private trusted Lamo because he "sensed a kindred spirit in the ex-hacker." Poulsen and Zetter write that Manning confessed to being the leaker of the Apache attack video "very quickly in the exchange," and then proceeded to boast that, in addition, "he leaked a quarter-million classified embassy cables" to WikiLeaks. Very shortly after the first chat, Lamo notified federal agents of what Manning told him, proceeded to speak to Manning for the next several days while consulting with federal agents, and then learned that Manning was detained in Iraq.
* * * * *
Many of the bizarre aspects of this case, at least as conveyed by Lamo and Wired, are self-evident. Why would a 22-year-old Private in Iraq have unfettered access to 250,000 pages of diplomatic cables so sensitive that they "could do serious damage to national security?" Why would he contact a total stranger, whom he randomly found from a Twitter search, in order to "quickly" confess to acts that he knew could send him to prison for a very long time, perhaps his whole life? And why would he choose to confess over the Internet, in an unsecured, international AOL IM chat, given the obvious ease with which that could be preserved, intercepted or otherwise surveilled? These are the actions of someone either unbelievably reckless or actually eager to be caught.
All that said, this series of events isn't completely implausible. It's possible that a 22-year-old who engaged in these kinds of significant leaks, sitting in isolation in Iraq, would have a desire to unburden himself by confessing to a stranger; the psychological compulsion to confess is not uncommon (see Crime and Punishment), nor is the desire to boast of such acts. It's possible that he would have expected someone with Lamo's hacking and "journalist" background to be sympathetic to what he did and/or to feel compelled as a journalist not to run to the Government and disclose what he learns from a source. Still, the apparent ease with which Manning quickly spilled his guts in such painstaking detail over an Internet chat concerning such serious crimes -- and then proceeded to respond to Lamo's very specific and probing interrogations over days without ever once worrying that he could not trust Lamo -- is strange in the extreme.
If one assumes that this happened as the Wired version claims, what Lamo did here is despicable. He holds himself out as an "award-winning journalist" and told Manning he was one ("I did tell him that I worked as a journalist," Lamo said). Indeed, Lamo told me (though it doesn't appear in the chat logs published by Wired) that he told Manning early on that he was a journalist and thus could offer him confidentiality for everything they discussed under California's shield law. Lamo also said he told Manning that he was an ordained minister and could treat Manning's talk as a confession, which would then compel Lamo under the law to keep their discussions confidential (early on in their chats, Manning said: "I can't believe what I'm confessing to you"). In sum, Lamo explicitly led Manning to believe he could trust him and that their discussions would be confidential -- perhaps legally required to be kept confidential -- only to then report everything Manning said to the Government.
Worse, Lamo breached his own confidentiality commitments and turned informant without having the slightest indication that Manning had done anything to harm national security. Indeed, Lamo acknowledged to me that he was incapable of identifying a single fact contained in any documents leaked by Manning that would harm national security. And Manning's capacity to leak in the future was likely non-existent given that he told Lamo right away that he was "pending discharge" for "adjustment disorder," and no longer had access to any documents (Lamo: "Why does your job afford you access?" - Manning: "because i have a workstation . . . *had*").
If one believes what the chat logs claim, Manning certainly thought he was a whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives, and probably was exactly that. And if he really is the leaker of the Apache helicopter attack video -- a video which sparked very rare and much-needed realization about the visceral truth of what our wars entail -- then he's a national hero similar to Daniel Ellsberg. Indeed, Ellsberg himself said the very same thing about Manning just yesterday on Democracy Now:
The fact is that what Lamo reports Manning is saying has a very familiar and persuasive ring to me. He reports Manning as having said that what he had read and what he was passing on were horrible -- evidence of horrible machinations by the US backdoor dealings throughout the Middle East and, in many cases, as he put it, almost crimes. And let me guess that -- he’s not a lawyer, but I'll guess that what looked to him like crimes are crimes, that he was putting out. We know that he put out, or at least it's very plausible that he put out, the videos that he claimed to Lamo. And that's enough to go on to get them interested in pursuing both him and the other.
And so, what it comes down, to me, is -- and I say throwing caution to the winds here -- is that what I've heard so far of Assange and Manning -- and I haven't met either of them -- is that they are two new heroes of mine.
To see why that's so, just review some of what Manning said about why he chose to leak, as reflected in the edited chat logs published by Wired:
Lamo: what's your endgame plan, then?. . .
Manning: well, it was forwarded to [WikiLeaks] - and god knows what happens now - hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms - if not, than [sic] we're doomed - as a species - i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens - the reaction to the video gave me immense hope; CNN's iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded - people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . . - i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.
Manning described the incident which first made him seriously question the U.S. war in Iraq: when he was instructed to work on the case of Iraqi "insurgents" who had been detained for distributing "insurgent" literature which, when he had it translated, turned out to be nothing more than "a scholarly critique against PM Maliki":
i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled "Where did the money go?" and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…
And he explained why the thought of selling this classified information he was leaking to a foreign power never entered his mind:
Manning: i mean what if i were someone more malicious- i could've sold to russia or china, and made bank?
Lamo: why didn’t you?
Manning: because it's public data
Lamo: i mean, the cables
Manning: it belongs in the public domain -information should be free - it belongs in the public domain - because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge - if its out in the open… it should be a public good.
That's a whistleblower in the purest form: discovering government secrets of criminal and corrupt acts and then publicizing them to the world not for profit, not to give other nations an edge, but to trigger "worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms." That's the person that Adrian Lamo informed on and risked sending to prison for an extremely long time.
Making Lamo's conduct even worse is that it appears he reported Manning for no reason other than a desire for some trivial media attention. Jacob Appelbaum, a well-known hacker of the Tor Project who has known Lamo for years, said that Lamo's "only concern" has always been "getting publicity for Adrian." Indeed, Lamo's modus operandi as a hacker was primitive hacking aimed at high-profile companies that he'd then use Poulsen to publicize. As Appelbaum put it: "if this situation really fell into Adrian's lap, his first and only thought would have been: how can I turn this to my advantage? He basically destroyed a 22-year-old's life in order to get his name mentioned on the Wired.com blog." [There are efforts underway to help secure very competent legal counsel for Manning, including a legal defense fund for him; assuming the facts are what the current narrative suggests, I intend to post more about that shortly].
None of Lamo's claims that he turned informant out of some grave concern for "national security" and "the lives of his fellow citizens" make any sense. Indeed, Lamo several months ago contributed $30 to WikiLeaks, which he's use to tout his support for whistle-blowing, and told me has has long considered himself on "the far left." Yet in the public statements he's made about what he did to Manning, he's incoherently invoked a slew of trite, right-wing justifications, denouncing Manning as a "traitor" and a "spy," while darkly insinuating that Manning provided classified information to a so-called "foreign national," meaning WikiLeaks' Assange. Lamo told me that any embarrassment to the U.S. Government could cause a loss of American lives, and that he believes anyone who breaks the law with leaks should be prosecuted. Yet he also claims to support WikiLeaks, which is run by that very same "foreign national" and which exists to enable illegal leaks.
Then there's the fact that, just in the last two weeks, Lamo's statements have been filled with countless contradictions of the type that suggests deliberate lying. Lamo told me, for instance, that Manning first contacted him with a series of emails, but told Yahoo! News that "Manning contacted him via AOL Instant Messenger 'out of the blue' on May 21." Lamo told Yahoo! "that he spelled out very clearly in his chats with Manning that he wasn't ... acting as a journalist," that it "was clear to Manning that he had taken his journalist hat off for the purposes of their conversation," and that "Manning refused" a confidentiality offer, but last night he said to me that he told Manning their conversations would have journalist-source confidentiality and that Manning never refused or rejected that. Just listen to the interview Lamo gave to me and make your own judgment about his veracity.
* * * * *
And what about Wired's role in all of this? Both WikiLeaks as well as various Internet commentators have suggested that Poulsen violated journalistic ethical rules by being complicit with Lamo in informing on Manning. I don't see any evidence for that. This is what Poulsen told me when I asked him about whether he participated in Lamo's informing on Manning:
Adrian reached out to me in late May to tell me a story about how he'd been contacted by an Army intelligence analyst who'd admitted to leaking 260,000 State Department diplomatic cables to a "foreign national." Adrian told me he had already reported the matter to the government, and was meeting the Army and FBI in person to pass on chat logs. He declined to provide independently verifiable details, or identify the intelligence analyst by name, because he said he considered the matter sensitive.
Several days passed before he was willing to give me the chat logs under embargo. I got them on May 27. That's when I learned Manning's name and the full details of his claims to Adrian. . . . If you're asking if I informed on Manning or anyone else, the answer is no, and the question is insulting.
At the time when Lamo was conspiring with federal agents to induce Manning into making incriminating statements, Poulsen, by his own account, was aware that this was taking place, but there's no indication he participated in any way with Lamo. What is true, though, is that Lamo gave Wired the full, unedited version of his chat logs with Manning, but Wired published only extremely edited samplings of it. This is what Poulsen told me when I asked if Lamo gave him all of the chat logs:
He did, but I don't think we'll be publishing more any time soon. The remainder is either Manning discussing personal matters that aren't clearly related to his arrest, or apparently sensitive government information that I'm not throwing up without vetting first.
This part of Wired's conduct deserves a lot more attention. First, in his interview with me, Lamo claimed that all sorts of things took place in the discussion between him and Manning that are (a) extremely relevant to what happened, (b) have nothing to do with Manning's personal issues or sensitive national security secrets, and yet (c) are nowhere to be found in the chat logs published by Wired. That means either that Lamo is lying about what was said or Wired is concealing highly relevant aspects of their discussions. Included among that is Manning's explanation about how he found Lamo and why he contacted him, Manning's alleged claim that his "intention was to cripple the United States' foreign relations for the foreseeable future," and discussions they had about the capacity in which they were speaking.
Second, one can't help but note the irony that two hackers-turned-journalists -- Poulsen and Lamo -- are now the self-anointed guardians of America's national security, the former concealing secrets he learned as a journalist on vague national security grounds and the latter turning informant by invoking the most extreme, right-wing platitudes about "traitors" and "spies" and decrees that his actions were necessary to "save American lives."
Third, Wired should either publish all of the chat logs, or be far more diligent about withholding only those parts which truly pertain only to Manning's private and personal matters and/or which would reveal national security secrets. Or they should have a respected third party review the parts they have concealed to determine if there is any justification for that. At least if one believes Lamo's claims, there are clearly relevant parts of those chats which Wired continues to conceal.
Given Poulsen's mutually beneficial and multi-layered relationship with Lamo, they have far more than a standard journalist-source relationship. None of Poulsen's articles about the highly controversial Lamo is ever even remotely critical of him, in any sense of the word. From the start, there were countless bizarre aspects to Lamo's story which Poulsen never examined or explored, at least not when writing about any of this. I see no reason to doubt Poulsen's integrity or good faith. Still, in light of the magnitude of this story on several levels and his long relationship with Lamo, Kevin Poulsen should not be single-handedly deciding what the public is and isn't permitted to know about the Lamo-Manning interaction.
* * * * *
The reason this story matters so much -- aside from the fact that it may be the case that a truly heroic, 22-year-old whistle-blower is facing an extremely lengthy prison term -- is the unique and incomparably valuable function WikiLeaks is fulfilling. Even before the Apache helicopter leak, I wrote at length about why they are so vital, and won't repeat all of that here. Suffice to say, there are very few entities, if there are any, which pose as much of a threat to the ability of governmental and corporate elites to shroud their corrupt conduct behind an extreme wall of secrecy.
What makes WikiLeaks particularly threatening to the most powerful factions is that they cannot control it. Even when whistle-blowers in the past have leaked serious corruption and criminal conduct to perfectly good journalists at the nation's largest corporate media outlets, government officials could control how the information was disclosed. When the NYT learned in 2004 that the Bush administration was illegally eavesdropping on Americans without warrants, George Bush summoned the paper's Publisher and Executive Editor to the Oval Office, demanded that the story not be published, and the paper complied by sitting on it for a full year until after Bush was safely re-elected. When The Washington Post's Dana Priest learned that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret prisons -- black sites -- she honored the request of "senior U.S. officials" not to identify the countries where those prisons were located so as to not disrupt the U.S.'s ability to continue to use those countries for such projects.
Both WikiLeaks and Manning have stated that The Washington Post's David Finkel, when writing his book on Iraq two years ago, had possession of the Apache helicopter video but never released it to the public (Manning: "Washington Post sat on the video … David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded out here"). As Columbia Journalism Review reported, both the Post and Finkel were quite coy and evasive in addressing that claim, pointedly insisting that "the Post" had never possessed that video while refusing to say whether Finkel did. The same thing happened when, on the same day, I called Finkel to ask him about WikiLeaks' claim that they possesse
As I finish up my lengthy piece on the detention of accused WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning, which will be posted very shortly, I wanted to make certain you were up to date on the latest glamorous gatherings of White House officials and the aggressive, adversarial press corps which holds them accountable. From the gossip column of Politico's Mike Allen, this morning (apologies for that triple redundancy):
WOLFGANG PUCK is in town from Beverly Hills to cook for YOUSEF AL OTAIBA, ambassador from the United Arab Emirates, where more U.S. Navy ships are ported than any other foreign country. The ambassador (who was G’town classmates with Norah O’Donnell and knows the Morrells) hosted 14 young Washingtonians for dinner and convo at his McLean home, followed by Game 7 (and a life-size Kobe) on his 103-inch TV screen. What Puck whipped up: 1) terrine of foie gras with toasted brioche, seared foie gras with cherry chutney, and mousse on apricot tartlet (Riesling, Hirtzberger, “Singerriedel,” Austria 2004); 2) seared wild salmon with cucumber raita and sweet pea puree (Chardonnay, Littorai, “Mays Canyon,” California 2006); 3) risotto with porcini mushrooms (pinot noir, Clos De Tart, “Grand Cru,” Burgundy 1995); 4) veal Milanese (Barolo, Oddero, Italy 2000); 5) slow braised Kobe short ribs and grilled Kobe New York (cabernet sauvignon, Beaulieu Vineyard, “Georges de Latour,” Napa 2001); 6) strawberry shortcake, chocolate raspberry soufflé and peach cobbler (Grüner Veltliner Eiswein, Anton Bauer, Austria).
GUESTS INCLUDED [White House Deputy Press Secretary] Bill Burton, Laura Burton Capps [lobbyist, wife of Burton and daughter of Rep. Louise Capps], Helene Cooper [of The New York Times], [Deputy White House Press Secretary] Josh Earnest, Betsy Fischer [Executive Producer, Meet the Press], Jonathan Karl [of ABC News], Ryan Lizza [New Yorker political reporter and author of forthcoming White House book], Norah O’Donnell [MSNBC reporter], Rep. Aaron Schock, Jamal Simmons [CNN reporter], Jim VandeHei [Politico's Editor-in-Chief], Natalie Wyeth [former Treasury spokesperson and now corporate spokesperson] and Jessica Yellin [CNN reporter].
Please remember that, as CNN's Ed Henry so helpfully and persuasively reminded us just last week, anyone who thinks that the press corps and political class are too cozy simply lacks a sense of humor and needs to lighten up. See The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Ann Telnaes' two cartoons this week (one a republished classic from 2003) for her view about all of this.
The rise of the deficit hawks in Germany and the rest of Europe is depressing.
(updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV [Thurs.] - Update V [Thurs.])
When ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero last week addressed the progressive conference America's Future Now, he began by saying: "I'm going to start provocatively . . . I'm disgusted with this president." Last night, after Obama's Oval Office speech, Jon Stewart began his show with an 8-minute monologue on Obama's executive power and civil liberties record which, in essence, provided just some of the reasons why Romero's strong condemnation is so justified. None of this will be remotely new to any readers here, but it's still nice to see its being distilled so clearly by a voice which even the most hardened Obama loyalists have decided is a credible and trustworthy one (at least when he's mocking Sarah Palin and exposing Fox News; we'll see what reaction this provokes from them, if any). One point: contrary to the blatant strawman incessantly raised by those loyalists, note that the criticisms here are not grounded in complaints that Obama has failed to act quickly enough to usher in progressive policies -- let's repeat that: the vast bulk of criticisms of Obama are not grounded in complaints that he has failed to act quickly enough to usher in progressive policies -- but are instead based on horrendous policies which Obama himself has affirmatively and explicitly adopted as his own, many of which directly contradict what he vowed to do as President (speaking of which: see this NYT Editorial today lambasting what it describes as the Obama administration's disgraceful and inexcusable conduct in the Maher Arar case):
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UPDATE: I'm working on writing about the extremely strange case of Bradley Manning, the Army Private and intelligence analyst who -- according to Wired's Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter -- contacted convicted hacker and mental illness sufferer Adrian Lamo, out of the blue, and confessed, over the Internet, to leaking a slew of sensitive materials to WikiLeaks, including the Apache helicopter attack video that caused so much controversy recently. Lamo then quickly converted from ex-hacker and supposed "journalist" into government informant, turned over his conversations with Manning to federal authorities, thus causing Manning's detention by the U.S. Army.
While I hoped to have something posted today, this is a very complicated and bizarre case in several ways, and I'm still trying to explore a few remaining questions I have, so it may not be until tomorrow. In the meantime, the long-time, superb commenter (and blogger), DCLaw1, recently unveiled himself on his blog -- welcome to the world of non-pseudonymous blogging, Chris Martinez -- and today, on his blog, has posted an interview he conducted with me about a variety of issues, which can be read here.
UPDATE II: Kevin Drum writes about the case of an American Muslim who has been effectively banished from returning to the U.S. by being placed -- with no explanation, no due process, and no evidence -- on the no-fly list. Kevin writes, correctly, that "this is an abomination, pure and simple" and ends by asking: "How on earth can Barack Obama stand by and continue to allow stuff like this to happen?" Isn't it clear by now that he "allows stuff like this to happen" because it's what he supports and believes in? Just look at his own policy pronouncements, which ought to dispel any doubt about that.
UPDATE III: I'll be on Democracy Now tomorrow morning (Thurs.) at roughly 8:20 a.m. EST, along with Daniel Ellsberg, discussing Manning/WikiLeaks. I'm not sure if I'll have my piece posted by then, but certainly parts of it will be discussed. Live video stream and local listings are here. And for our lovely Neighbors to the North, I'll be on the CBC tonight at 8:45 8:20 p.m. EST, on Mark Kelley's program, discussing the Obama presidency and his speech last night. I believe CBC shows are live-streamed here.
UPDATE IV: Several emailers have objected to my use of the term "mental illness sufferer" to describe Lamo in the first Update. Here is the response I sent to them:
I was referring to the fact that very shortly before this very strange series of events -- which led to the arrest of what appears to be a noble 22-year-old whistle-blower who now faces a very long prison term -- Lamo was involuntarily committed in a mental health facility for 9 days after he called the police reporting that his backpack full of pharmaceutical products had been stolen. I wasn't referring to the Asperger's as much as I was to that incident.
That said, I'll acknowledge that I probably shouldn't have used the term, especially without context. As I wrote on Twitter last night: "The difficultly one has in writing about the Manning/WikiLeaks story is the blinding contempt one has for what Adrian Lamo did." That blinding contempt is probably what led me to use a term for him that, under normally reasoned circumstances, I would have and should have refrained from using.
It is true that Asperger's, with which Lamo claims he was just diagnosed, is classified as a mental illness by The Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. So what I said was probably technically correct, but nonetheless gratuitous and motivated by less than noble impulses, so I'll stand by my statement to these emailers that I should have refrained from using that term. My piece on this whole matter will be up shortly.
UPDATE V: There's a chance that I may not be ready to post the Manning/WikiLeaks story until tomorrow, as the issues are quite complex and I'm still trying to resolve a few questions. Last night, the Icelandic Parliament -- inspired by and working in conjunction with WikiLeaks -- passed a new law that provides the world's greatest protections to investigative journalists and their confidential sources, intended to provide a safe haven for journalists (such as WikiLeaks) from around the world. The impetus was that Iceland's recent financial collapse was enabled by the extreme secrecy behind which its governmental and financial elites could hide, and they now want to do whatever they can to ensure much greater transparency and protection for whistle-blowing.
I was on Democracy Now this morning with the chief sponsor of this bill from Iceland's Parliament, along with Daniel Ellsberg, discussing all of those matters, including the Manning case. The segment, which I can recommend highly, can be seen here (it's roughly 40 minutes long; my participation begins about 20 minutes into it).
(updated below - Update II)
Over the weekend, NPR's Brooke Gladstone conducted quite a good interview with CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry concerning Henry's defense of frivolous fraternization between some in the White House press corps and the politicians they cover. It was Henry who not only attended the Biden "beach party" but then giddily reveled in the experience afterward. The whole interview is only 4 minutes long but well worth listening to (the transcript is here), as Henry giggles and chuckles his way through the questions, clearly oblivious to the serious issues of media credibility Gladstone repeatedly raises.
There is one part of the exchange that I just have to highlight, as it illustrates so much. Gladstone asked Henry the same question raised by The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates in the last paragraph of the post he wrote last week about the Biden media beach party:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If these events don't influence coverage, why do you think the White House throws them? Do they just want to shoot you with a super-soaker?
ED HENRY: Maybe they wanna actually get to know us as people sometimes.
The audio makes clear that he said that sincerely, with no irony. Marc Ambinder disclosed that it was the DNC that paid for the party. But Ed Henry thinks that they do that because Rahm Emanuel and Joe Biden and the other White House officials just decided they wanted an opportunity to get to know Ed and Wolf and the other members of the media just a little bit better as people. They want to get behind the facade of the grizzly, ornery reporter and get in touch with the Real Ed, the Human Being. That's how CNN's Senior White House Correspondent thinks. But remember: it's wrong to accuse them of lacking sufficient skepticism of the politically powerful officials they "hold accountable."
Along those same lines, White House adviser David Axelrod was on Meet the Press this weekend and tried -- with total futility -- to explain to David Gregory the concept of holding someone accountable, which is ostensibly the crux of Gregory's job. Leave aside the obvious question of whether the White House is actually doing any of the things Axelrod claims they're doing concerning BP; observe Gregory's complete inability even to understand the concept of arms-length, verification-based accountability (h/t Stuart Zechman):
MR. GREGORY: You were quoted this week saying this isn't a very sympathetic figure, Tony Hayward.
MR. AXELROD: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Does the president trust this guy?
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, it's not a matter of who -- we, we -- it's not a matter of trust. We have to verify what they're doing, we have to stay on them, and we have from the beginning. That's why we want this escrow account. I'm not here to, to make judgments about any individual's character, but we do know that they have pecuniary interests that may be in conflict with, with the interests of, of our interests, and we...
MR. GREGORY: But, but let --but...
MR. AXELROD: ...need to make sure that the interests of people in the Gulf are protected. That is what our job is.
MR. GREGORY: But this is a straightforward question. If you are in partnership with somebody -- and make no mistake, the government is in partnership with BP to get this problem solved -- does the, does the president of the United States trust the man on the other end who is leading this operation?
MR. AXELROD: Our, our mission here is to hold them accountable in, in every appropriate way, and that is what we're going to do. I, I'm not -- I don't consider them a, a, a partner, I don't consider them -- they're not social friends, they're not -- I'm not looking to make judgments about their soul. I just want to make sure that they do what they're required to do.
MR. GREGORY: Do you trust them to get the job done? Yes, no or maybe?
MR. AXELROD: We're going to make sure they get the job done.
MR. GREGORY: But it doesn't sound like there's a lot of faith there at the moment.
MR. AXELROD: Well, our job is to hold them accountable, David, and that's what we're going to do.
Axelrod is explaining exactly what the media is supposed to do concerning political officials if they are going to fulfill the function they like to pretend they have, and Gregory is simply incapable even of understanding what's being explained. It's as though it's a completely foreign concept that he's never encountered or thought about before. As Zechman put it in an email to me:
Inadvertently, Axelrod makes the case . . . for an independent press corps -- in front of Gregory's nose that, in order to hold an elite institution (British Petroleum) with whom another elite institution (the government) has obviously conflicting interests, the party tasked with enforcing accountability cannot allow itself to be influenced by whatever social contact exists. Recognizing this, he states rather categorically that fulfilling the state's mission requires not merely taking British Petroleum's word for how things are going, and that the government must "verify what they're doing." The character of Tony Hayward, what can be known about him from social contact, "judgments about their soul" -- all of these are irrelevant to the function of holding interested parties accountable for what they say and do.
Of course, this is precisely the opposite of the role that virtually the entire establishment political press corps -- and Gregory himself -- plays with respect to the accountability of government officials.
Axelrod's description of a functional vs. a non-functional institutional mechanism of accountability could not have been better made, save if he had said "I don't consider them -- they're not social friends, they don't come to my home when I hold fun-filled family water parties, laughing and splashing about with my Administration, playing with super-soakers, and enjoying superb meals and drinks with me in a casual, outdoor atmosphere, they're not -- I'm not looking to make judgments about their soul. I just want to make sure that they do what they're required to do."
Again, leave aside whether that's an accurate description of the relationship between the Government and BP (also put to the side Gregory's bizarre though ideologically revealing conception that "the government is in partnership with BP" on the oil leak). The point is that Gregory, like Henry, cannot even begin to comprehend the issue. It's not that these media figures fail to perform their assigned function or consciously decide that they won't. They don't even conceive of their purpose in this way, because holding government officials accountable is not actually their purpose. With some accidental exceptions, the corporations which own these media outlets don't choose people for these positions who want to or who will perform these accountability functions. They choose the ones who have no interest in doing so, no ability to do so, and who simply won't -- and thus don't. Gregory and Henry don't succeed in their corporations despite their failure to do their jobs of holding government officials accountable; they succeed because they do their job, which doesn't include that function.
UPDATE: NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen is one of the country's most insightful media critics, and he has a new, lengthy post on the ideology of the standard establishment journalist which -- though I don't agree with all of it -- is well worth reading.
UPDATE II: One other point: what Axelrod tried to explain to Gregory about accountability -- "trust" and attempts to understand someone's character are irrelevant; what matters is evidence and "mak[ing] sure that they do what they're required to do" -- is also a good guide for how citizens should think of political leaders, even (especially) their favorite ones.
The Supreme Court today denied a petition of review from Maher Arar, the Canadian and Syrian citizen who was abducted by the U.S. Government at a stopover at JFK Airport when returning to Canada in 2002, held incommunicado for two weeks, and then rendered to Syria, where he spent the next 10 months being tortured, even though -- as everyone acknowledges -- he was guilty of absolutely nothing. Arar sued the U.S. Government for what was done to him, and last November, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of his lawsuit on the ground that courts have no right to interfere in these decisions of the Executive Branch. That was the decision which the U.S. Supreme Court let stand today, ending Arar's attempt to be compensated for what was done to him.
I've written in detail several times about Arar's case, including in November when the appellate court upheld dismissal of his lawsuit; see here for how extreme his treatment has been at the hands of the U.S. Government, which was most responsible for his harrowing nightmare and then spent years fighting to deny him any remedy for what was done. I won't reiterate those points here, as everything I have to say about the Supreme Court's actions today was said in that November post (read the last part of that post, where I excerpted the court's description of what was done to Arar). But I do want to highlight one aspect of this episode:
Just compare how the American and Canadian Governments responded to what everyone agrees was this horrific injustice. The Canadians, who cooperated with the U.S. in Arar's abduction, conducted a sweeping investigation of what happened, and then publicly "issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured," and made clear he had done absolutely nothing wrong. Then, Canada's Prime Minister personally and publicly apologized to Arar, and announced that Canada would compensate him with a payment of $ 8.5 million.
By stark contrast, the U.S. Government, which played a far more active role in his abduction and rendition to Syria, has never apologized to Arar (though individual members of Congress have). It has never clearly acknowledged wrongdoing (the only time it even hinted at this was when Condoleezza Rice called U.S. conduct in this case "imperfect" -- you think? -- and generously added: "We do not think this case was handled as it should have been"). In fact, it continuously did the opposite of providing accountability: in response to Arar's efforts to seek damages from the U.S. Government, the U.S. raised -- under two successive administrations -- a slew of technical arguments to persuade American courts not to hear his case at all, including the argument that what was done to Arar involved "state secrets" that prevented a judicial adjudication of his claims. The U.S. even continued to ban Arar from entering the U.S. long after it was acknowledged that he had done nothing wrong, thus preventing him for years from appearing before Congress or in the U.S. to talk about what was done to him. Indeed, after the Bush administration spent years arguing that courts were barred from hearing Arar's case on the ground of "state secrets," the Obama administration embraced those same arguments and then urged the Supreme Court not to hear his appeal.
As the Center for Constitutional Rights pointed out today:
The Obama administration could have settled the case, recognizing the wrongs done to Mr. Arar as Canada has done. . . . Yet the Obama administration chose to come to the defense of Bush administration officials, arguing that even if they conspired to send Maher Arar to torture, they should not be held accountable by the judiciary.
So congratulations to the U.S. for winning the right to wrongfully abduct people and send them to their torture with total impunity. What a ringing statement about our country's willingness to right the wrongs it commits and to provide access to our courts to those whose lives we devastate with our behavior. Andrew Sullivan today referred to "the cult of the inerrant leader": the inability and refusal of our political class to acknowledge wrongdoing, apologize for it, and be held accountable. The Maher Arar case is a pathological illustration of that syndrome.
(updated below - Update II - Update III)
Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC) was walking on a public sidewalk last week when he was politely asked a question by someone holding a camera, and this is what happened:
That's a clear case of assault and battery (the unedited video from the first camera is here). There is some speculation that the individuals questioning him have some connection to the right-wing organization of Andrew Breitbart. I hope it goes without saying how irrelevant that is. The only reason I think this is worth noting is this: imagine what would have happened to those students if this situation had been reversed, and it was they who had physically assaulted Rep. Etheridge, rather than the other way around. How quickly would they have been arrested and prosecuted? The application of our laws isn't supposed to depend upon who is perpetrating the crime and who the victim is. Obviously, there are few principles, if there are any, more discarded than that one in Washington, but it would be nice to see its being applied in this instance by having this Congressman, obviously inebriated with an extreme sense of entitlement, arrested and charged.
UPDATE: In response to the emergence of this video, Etheridge's office has released this statement:
I have seen the video posted on several blogs. I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction and I apologize to all involved. Throughout my many years of service to the people of North Carolina, I have always tried to treat people from all viewpoints with respect. No matter how intrusive and partisan our politics can become, this does not justify a poor response. I have and I will always work to promote a civil public discourse.
That's nice. Of course, most people who commit crimes express regret once they get caught (especially on video) and it becomes a scandal, so it doesn't affect the point that he ought to be treated exactly the same way as these individuals would have been had they physically assault him.
UPDATE II: Given that this was a Democratic Congressman assaulting citizens who are perceived to be right-wing, I obviously knew that some people would rush to justify what he did; that's part of the reason I posted this. But even I'm surprised by the extent of the eagerness to defend a clearly illegal and indefensible assault based on the political ideologies of those involved (just check the comment section for how extreme that mentality is, and I've seen it elsewhere). Some are honest enough to admit that because the victims here were right-wing advocates, they should be presumed to have provoked this and got what they deserved (who knew that the law of assault depends upon the political affiliation of aggressor and victim?), while others -- amazingly -- continue to fantasize about all sorts of events that they claim probably happened off camera to mitigate or justify the Congressman's actions, even though: (a) I linked to the unedited video above which shows that no such thing happened and (b) Rep. Etheridge has now issued a statement and not even he claims there were any such mitigating or justifying events that were concealed as a result of dishonest video editing. But still, the claim persists.
Some people obviously cannot accept that a Good Democrat could possibly do something bad to a conservative, and they'll continue to deny reality -- or just invent realities that don't exist -- to justify that. This is not a hard case. As Pam Spaulding said: "Sad that personal responsibility for being a violent hothead now comes with mitigation talking points. Dems need to quit it." Tribalism is a natural part of the human perspective, but it's amazing when even incidents as relatively trivial and clear-cut as this one are processed through its distorting lens. Do you think any Democrats defending Etheridge -- or most conservatives criticizing him -- would be doing so if he were a right-wing GOP Congressman from North Carolina who assaulted nice liberal students questioning him on a public sidewalk about his conservative views?
UPDATE III: Digby ties together this incident with several similar ones, and explains what should need no explanation:
This idea that politicians, regardless of party affiliation, are allowed to assault citizens who ask them questions is beyond the pale, no matter who the questioner is. It's a tough gig, I know, but they chose it and they have to be answerable to the people. Even if one of them is an Andrew Breitbart stooge (which this kid probably wasn't, btw.)
I wonder how many people responded consistently to all of the other incidents she recalls, rather than formulating one's position so as to defend the side with which one sympathizes politically.
John McCain has a new article in The New Republic -- which is exactly where it should be -- calling for regime change in Iran. The whole article contains one paragraph after the next of the favorite pastime of America's political and media class: self-righteously condemning other nations for what we ourselves do (at least) as much. Of all McCain's paragraphs, this is probably my favorite (h/t sandbun):
Is it any wonder that this is the same regime that spends its people’s precious resources not on roads, or schools, or hospitals, or jobs that benefit all Iranians -- but on funding violent groups of foreign extremists who murder the innocent?
As the American war in Afghanistan enters its ninth full year and our occupation of Iraq its seventh, and as we continue to find all new ways to kill innocent civilians in various countries around the world, and as we continue to transfer billions of dollars every year to Israel and the Egyptian dictatorship -- all while thinking about how to slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and thus erode the weak safety net even further, while confronting collapsing domestic infrastructure, rampant unemployment, and massive teacher lay-offs and even grade elimination for American children -- is there any other country you can think of, besides Iran, which "spends its people's precious resources not on roads, or schools, or hospitals, or jobs that benefit all [citizens]" but rather on wars and support for foreign groups which kill "the innocent"? And over the last decade, what was the position of John McCain and his party on whether the "people's precious resources" should be spent (a) on "roads, or schools, or hospitals, or jobs that benefit all" (see here) or (b) wars that kill the innocent?
And then there's this:
We -- the government and the people of the United States -- need to stand up for the Iranian people. We need to make their goals our goals, their interests our interests, their work our work.
Oh, yes -- John McCain is so deeply concerned about the welfare of The Iranian People. He just adores them. That's why his Siamese twin, Joe Lieberman, advocates that we bomb their country, while McCain merrilly sings songs about doing so. The best way to show how noble and profoundly caring you are about other people is to bomb their country; they love that and it's really, really good for them. One other thing about the Iranians that McCain wants to note:
And is it any wonder that this Iranian regime has been, and will always be, uncompromising in its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability . . . .
Those murderous monsters! What kind of evil fanatics would want a nuclear weapons capability? In the interview I just did with The Atlantic, I was asked: "If you could correct one mis-impression among Americans that is exacerbated by media, what would it be?" I replied: "our media's refusal to report that we ourselves frequently do exactly that which we like to believe only the Bad, Tyrannical countries do." Thank you to John McCain -- and his like-minded friends at The New Republic -- for providing such a classic illustration.
(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V - Update VI - Update VII)
Late last night, Israel attacked a flotilla of ships in international waters carrying food, medicine and other aid to Gaza, killing at least 10 civilians on board and injuring at least 30 more (many reports now put the numbers at 19 dead and 60 injured). The Israeli Defense Forces is claiming that its soldiers were attacked with clubs, knives and "handguns" when they boarded the ship without permission, but none of the Israeli soldiers were killed while two are reported injured. Those on the ships emphatically state that the IDF came on board shooting (though see this video and discussion here, as well as this). An IDF spokesman said: "Our initial findings show that at least 10 convoy participants were killed."
The six-ship flotilla was carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid along with 600 people, all civilians, which included 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland and European legislators; an elderly Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, 85, was scheduled to be among those on the ship but remained in Cyprus. In December, 2008, Israel, citing rocket attacks from Hamas, launched a 22-day, barbaric attack on Gaza, bombarding a trapped population, killing hundreds of innocent civilians (1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed), and devastating Gazan society. A U.N. report released earlier this month documented that, as a result of the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt (the two largest recipients of U.S. aid), "[m]ost of the property and infrastructure damaged . . . was still unrepaired 12 months later."
The flotilla attacked by Israel last night was carrying materials such as cement, water purifiers, and other building materials, much of which Israel refuses to let pass into Gaza. At the end of 2009, a U.N. report found that "insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory," and also "blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings."
It hardly seemed possible for Israel -- after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade -- to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes. But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that. If Israel's goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it's hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.
It is appropriate that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Obama on Tuesday in Washington, because -- as always -- it is only American protection of Israel that permits the Israelis to engage in conduct like this. Initial reports speculate that Netanyahu would cancel that meeting in order to return to Israel in light of this attack. But there would be something quite symbolically appropriate about having the U.S. stand at the side of Israel in the aftermath of this latest massacre, because it is only the massive amounts of U.S. financial and military aid, and endless diplomatic protection, that enables Israel to act with impunity as a rogue and inhumane state. So complete is the devotion of the U.S. Congress to the mission of serving and protecting Israel that it even overwhelmingly condemned the Goldstone report, which found that Israel and Hamas had both commited war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during the Israeli attack on Gaza (the U.S. Congress, of course, never condemned the Israeli war crimes themselves -- only the Report which documented those crimes). Israeli actions are a direction reflection on, and by-product of, the U.S. Government, because it is the U.S. which enables and protects the behavior.
The one silver lining from these incidents is that the real face of Israel becomes increasingly revealed and undeniable. Not even the most intense propaganda systems can prettify a lethal military attack on ships carrying civilians and humanitarian aid to people living in some of the most wretched and tragic conditions anywhere in the world. It is crystal clear to anyone who looks what Israel has become, and the only question left is how will the rest of the world -- beginning with their American patrons -- will react.
As Americans suffer extreme cuts in education for their own children and a further deterioration in basic economic security (including Social Security), will they continue to acquiesce to the transfer of billions of dollars every year to the Israelis, who -- unlike Americans -- enjoy full, universal health care coverage? How is the revulsion justifiably provoked by this latest Israeli crime going to impact American efforts in the Muslim world (as but one of many examples to come, Al Jazeera reports that "Moqtada al-Sadr has called for a large anti-Israel rally across from the Green Zone in Baghdad")? How much longer will Americans be willing to pay the extreme prices for its endlessly entangled "alliance" with its prime Middle Eastern client state, whose capacity for criminal and inhumane acts appears limitless?
* * * * *
On a day when the meaning of "heroism" is often discussed, the people on these ships who tried to deliver aid to Gazans, knowing that they could easily find themselves in a confrontation with the Israeli Navy but doing it anyway in order to bring attention to the extraordinary injustice and cruelty of the blockade, are pure, unadulterated heroes.
UPDATE: Regarding the blockade of Gaza itself -- about which "Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister [said when it was first imposed]: 'The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger'" -- this post documents just some of the effects, with ample links to U.N. reports, including:
* since the intensification of the siege in June 2007, "the formal economy in Gaza has collapsed" (More than 80 UN and aid agencies [.pdf])
* "61% of people in the Gaza Strip are … food insecure," of which "65% are children under 18 years" (UN FAO)
* since June 2007, "the number of Palestine refugees unable to access food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water, has tripled" (UNRWA)
* "in February 2009, the level of anemia in babies (9-12 months) was as high as 65.5%" (UN FAO)
The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl, whose entire political world view is shaped by his devotion to Israel, today criticizes President Obama for rejecting "Bush's conclusion that the promotion of democracy and human rights is inseparable from the tasks of defeating al-Qaeda and establishing a workable international order." That's ironic, because if "human rights" played any role whatsoever in American foreign policy, the massive American aid and other protection for Israel which Diehl cherishes above all else would instantaneously disappear.
UPDATE II: Just ponder what we'd be hearing if Iran had raided a humanitarian ship in international waters and killed 15 or so civilians aboard.
UPDATE III: One of the ships attacked by Israel belonged to a Turkish aid organization, and it's been reported that among the dead are at least two Turks. Turkey today "warned that further supply vessels will be sent to Gaza, escorted by the Turkish Navy." Among other things, Turkey is a NATO member with increasing tensions with Israel. Its Prime Minister today condemned the Israeli action as "state terrorism." Amidst worldwide protests aimed at Israel, along with possible internal unrest if (as has been reported) an Israeli Arab leader was among the wounded or dead, it's possible that this incident could produce some serious unforeseen consequences for the Israelis.
UPDATE IV: So, to recap what seems thus far to be the central claim of Israel apologists: Israel is the official Owner of international waters (which is where the flotilla was when it was attacked). As such, they have the right to issue orders to ships in international waters, and everyone on board those ships is required to obey and submit. Anyone who fails to do so, or anyone in the vicinity of those who fail to do so, can be shot and killed and get what they deserve.
What's so odd about that is that the U.S. has been spending a fair amount of time recently condemning exactly such acts as "piracy" and demanding "that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes." When exactly did Israel acquire the right not only to rule over Gaza and the West Bank, but international waters as well? Their rights as sovereign are expanding faster than the BP oil spill.
UPDATE V: Israel's foreign minister is now actually claiming that attempts to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza are "an attack on Israel's sovereignty." Is that supposed to be some kind of a joke? The only claim that I can recall that's remotely comparable is when the U.S. General serving as Commander of Guantanamo condemned suicides by three detainees there as an "act of asymmetric warfare waged against us." The U.S. and Israel are very adept at claiming victimhood: even when they're killing large numbers of civilians and locking people up in cages with no charges, they're the ones who are the suffering, wronged parties.
Thus, there are at least 10-20 dead passengers and 50-60 wounded on those ships -- compared to no Israeli fatalities and virtually no wounded -- but it's the passengers, delivering humanitarian aid in international waters when Israel seized their ships, who are the aggressors and were "attacking Israeli sovereignty." The only thing worse than this claim is how many apologists for Israel will start parroting it (see Andrew Sullivan for more refutation of the claim that it was the passengers who were somehow the "aggressors").
UPDATE VI: Among the countries condemning Israel for its attack are Russia, Turkey, India, China, Brazil, France, Spain and many more. By stark contrast, the White House issued a statement which conspicuously refused to condemn the Israelis (Obama "expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded"), while the U.S. State Department actually hinted at condemning the civilians delivering the aid ("we support expanding the flow of goods to the people of Gaza. But this must be done in a spirit of cooperation, not confrontation").
Obama's call for "learning all the facts and circumstances" is reasonable enough, but all these other countries made clear that this attack could never be justified based on what is already indisputably known: namely, that the ship attacked by Israel was in international waters and it resulted in the deaths and injuries to dozens of civilians, but no Israeli soldiers were killed and a tiny handful injured. In any event, Obama's neutrality will have to give way to a definitive statement one way or the other, and soon.
UPDATE VII: The formal statement submitted to the U.N. by the U.S. Ambassador today rather clearly seeks to blame everyone -- from Hamas to those attempting to deliver the aid -- for what happened: everyone, that is, except for the party which actually did the illegal seizing of the ship and the killing (Israel):
As I stated in the Chamber in December 2008, when we were confronted by a similar situation, mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by member states and groups that want to do so. These non-provocative and non-confrontational mechanisms should be the ones used for the benefit of all those in Gaza. Direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective, under the circumstances. . . . We will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into Gaza to address the full range of the population’s humanitarian and recovery needs. Hamas’ interference with international assistance shipments and the work of nongovernmental organizations complicates efforts in Gaza. Its continued arms smuggling and commitment to terrorism undermines security and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Given that the Israelis refuse to allow anything other than the most minimal "necessities" to enter Gaza, I'd love to know what "non-provocative and non-confrontational mechanisms" exist to deliver humanitarian assistance? And it's extraordinary that we refuse to condemn a blockade that, as classic "collective punishment," is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, and even refuse to condemn today's violent seizure of ships in international water. But, of course, the central rule of American politics is that Israel cannot be criticized, even as the rest of the world condemns it. How do you think the rest of the world will perceive the U.S.'s extreme, out-of-step protection of the Israelis, while subtly (or not-so-subtly) heaping the blame on the victims of its aggression?
Less than a year into a weak recovery from the worst slump since World War II, there is a dangerous urge to stop helping the jobless and start inflicting pain.
The first paragraph of today's New York Times article by Charlie Savage:
The 48 Guantánamo Bay detainees whom the Obama administration has decided to keep holding without trial include several for whom there is no evidence of involvement in any specific terrorist plot, according to a report disclosed Friday.
The Report itself, in a matter-of-fact-tone, describes the individuals to be kept in a cage indefinitely without charges this way:
They can't even be prosecuted in the due-process-abridging military commissions we invented out of whole cloth for those who can't be convicted in a real court. In other words: of course we'll provide a fair tribunal for proving your guilt -- as long as we're certain we can convict you -- otherwise, we'll just imprison you indefinitely without charges. All this even though 72% of Guantanamo detainees have been found to be wrongfully held since the Supreme Court compelled habeas hearings in 2008. And then there are the numerous Yemeni prisoners who have been cleared for release but who will be kept in a cage anyway because we arbitrarily decreed that we're not going to release even innocent prisoners back to Yemen.
Here's one other passage from Savage's article worth noting:
Of that group, the 48 whom the administration has designated for continued indefinite detention without trial have attracted the greatest controversy, in part because many Democrats sharply criticized that policy when the Bush administration created it after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Yes, I also vaguely recall the days when Democrats criticized the policy of imprisoning people indefinitely without charges. Harper's Scott Horton has more on all of this:
The Obama Administration came to Washington promising to clean up the Bush-era detentions policy and make it conform to the clear requirements of law. Then it seems to have decided that the law wasn’t so convenient and that simply providing for unbridled executive authority à la Bush-Cheney wasn’t such a bad idea after all. In terms of Washington power politics, that decision seems to have taken the form of letting Robert Gates make the call on all these issues. The two figures in the Administration who took the most credible stance for implementing the Obama campaign-era promises on detentions policy -- Greg Craig and Phil Carter -- resigned within a few weeks of one another, offering no believable reasons for departing. Then press reports began to appear about secret prisons, operated by JSOC and DIA and applying rules different from those applied in the "normal" DOD prisons, including plenty of torture-lite techniques under Appendix M of the Army Field Manual (PDF).
This passage in the National Security Strategy makes clear that Barack Obama and his team have abandoned the promises they made to reform detentions policy in the 2008 campaign. Even the commitment to stop torture does not appear to have been fully implemented, given the unaccountable practices of JSOC and the DIA in Afghanistan. Barack Obama’s belief in the rule of law apparently takes the back seat to Barack Obama’s belief in his own ability to make the right call as executive. History will judge whether his confidence in his own abilities is warranted, but the distortion of the constitutional system presents a continuing challenge for those who believe in the older and more fundamental principle of accountability under the law.
Yes -- being as sentimental as I am -- I, too, harbor nostalgia for that "older principle of accountability under the law": you know, that idealized time when everyone was entitled to be charged with crimes before being imprisoned forever (rather than only those for whom prosecution was "feasible") and when Presidents weren't actually allowed to target American citizens for murder without at least some due process being granted. Anyway, did Sarah Palin post something to her Facebook page today? And isn't that Glenn Beck crazy?
(updated below - Update II)
One of the favorite self-affirming pastimes of establishment Democratic and Republican pundits is to mock anyone and everyone outside of the two-party mainstream as crazy, sick lunatics. That serves to bolster the two political parties as the sole arbiters of what is acceptable: anyone who meaningfully deviates from their orthodoxies are, by definition, fringe, crazy losers. Ron Paul is one of those most frequently smeared in that fashion, and even someone like Howard Dean, during those times when he stepped outside of mainstream orthodoxy, was similarly smeared as literally insane, and still is.
Last night, the crazy, hateful, fringe lunatic Ron Paul voted to repeal the Clinton-era Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy (or, more accurately, he voted to allow the Pentagon to repeal it if and when it chooses to) -- while 26 normal, sane, upstanding, mainstream House Democrats voted to retain that bigoted policy. Paul explained today that he changed his mind on DADT because gay constituents of his who were forced out of the military convinced him of the policy's wrongness -- how insane and evil he is!
In 2003, the crank lunatic-monster Ron Paul vehemently opposed the invasion of Iraq, while countless sane, normal, upstanding, good-hearted Democrats -- including the current Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Senate Majority Leader, House Majority Leader, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, and many of the progressive pundits who love to scorn Ron Paul as insane -- supported the monstrous attack on that country.
In 2008, the sicko Ron Paul opposed the legalization of Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program and the granting of retroactive immunity to lawbreaking telecoms, while the Democratic Congress -- led by the current U.S. President, his Chief of Staff, the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and the House Majority Leader -- overwhelmingly voted it into law. Paul, who apparently belongs in a mental hospital, vehemently condemned America's use of torture from the start, while many leading Democrats were silent (or even supportive), and mainstream, sane Progressive Newsweek and MSNBC pundit Jonathan Alter was explicitly calling for its use. Compare Paul's February, 2010 emphatic condemnation of America's denial of habeas corpus, lawless detentions and presidential assassinations of U.S. citizens to what the current U.S. Government is doing.
The crazed monster Ron Paul also opposes the war in Afghanistan, while the Democratic Congress continues to fund it and even to reject timetables for withdrawal. Paul is an outspoken opponent of the nation's insane, devastating and oppressive "drug war" -- that imprisons hundreds of thousands of Americans with a vastly disparate racial impact and continuously incinerates both billions of dollars and an array of basic liberties -- while virtually no Democrat dares speak against it. Paul crusades against limitless corporate control of government and extreme Federal Reserve secrecy, while the current administration works to preserve it. He was warning of the collapsing dollar and housing bubble at a time when our Nation's Bipartisan Cast of Geniuses were oblivious. In sum, behold the embodiment of clinical, certifiable insanity: anti-DADT, anti-Iraq-war, anti-illegal-domestic-surveillance, anti-drug-war, anti-secrecy, anti-corporatism, anti-telecom-immunity, anti-war-in-Afghanistan.
There's no question that Ron Paul holds some views that are wrong, irrational and even odious. But that's true for just about every single politician in both major political parties (just look at the condition of the U.S. if you doubt that; and note how Ron Paul's anti-abortion views render him an Untouchable for progressives while Harry Reid's anti-abortion views permit him to be a Progressive hero and even Senate Majority Leader). My point isn't that Ron Paul is not crazy; it's that those who self-righteously apply that label to him and to others invariably embrace positions and support politicians at least as "crazy." Indeed, those who support countless insane policies and/or who support politicians in their own party who do -- from the Iraq War to the Drug War, from warrantless eavesdropping and denial of habeas corpus to presidential assassinations and endless war in the Muslim world -- love to spit the "crazy" label at anyone who falls outside of the two-party establishment.
* * * * *
This behavior is partially driven by the adolescent/high-school version of authoritarianism (anyone who deviates from the popular cliques -- standard Democrats and Republicans -- is a fringe loser who must be castigated by all those who wish to be perceived as normal), and is partially driven by the desire to preserve the power of the two political parties to monopolize all political debates and define the exclusive venues for Sanity and Mainstream Acceptability. But regardless of what drives this behavior, it's irrational and nonsensical in the extreme.
I've been writing for several years about this destructive dynamic: whereby people who embrace clearly crazy ideas and crazy politicians anoint themselves the Arbiters of Sanity simply because they're good mainstream Democrats and Republicans and because the objects of their scorn are not. For me, the issue has nothing to do with Ron Paul and everything to do with how the "crazy" smear is defined and applied as a weapon in our political culture. Perhaps the clearest and most harmful example was the way in which the anti-war view was marginalized, even suppressed, in the run-up to the attack on Iraq because the leadership of both parties supported the war, and the anti-war position was thus inherently the province of the Crazies. That's what happens to any views not endorsed by either of the two parties.
Last week in Newsweek, in the wake of the national fixation on Rand Paul, Conor Friedersdorf wrote a superb article on this phenomenon. While acknowledging that Rand Paul's questioning of the Civil Rights Act (and other positions Paul holds) are "wacky" and deeply wrong, Friedersdorf writes:
Forced to name the "craziest" policy favored by American politicians, I'd say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable. Asked about the most "extreme," I'd cite the invasion of Iraq, a war of choice that has cost many billions of dollars and countless innocent lives. The "kookiest" policy is arguably farm subsidies for corn, sugar, and tobacco -- products that people ought to consume less, not more. . . .
If returning to the gold standard is unthinkable, is it not just as extreme that President Obama claims an unchecked power to assassinate, without due process, any American living abroad whom he designates as an enemy combatant? Or that Joe Lieberman wants to strip Americans of their citizenship not when they are convicted of terrorist activities, but upon their being accused and designated as enemy combatants?
He goes on to note that "these disparaging descriptors are never applied to America's policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don't fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all." Indeed, this is true of anyone who deviates at all -- even in tone -- from the two-party orthodoxy, as figures as disparate as Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky, Howard Dean or even Alan Grayson will be happy to tell you.
* * * * *
The reason this is so significant -- the reason I'm writing about it again -- is because forced adherence to the two parties' orthodoxies, forced allegiance to the two parties' establishments, is the most potent weapon in status quo preservation. That's how our political debates remain suffocatingly narrow, the permanent power factions in Washington remain firmly in control, the central political orthodoxies remain largely unchallenged. Neither party nor its loyalists are really willing to undermine the prevailing political system because that's the source of their power. And neither parties' loyalists are really willing to oppose serious expansions or abuses of government power when their side is in control, and no serious challenge is therefore ever mounted; the only ones who are willing to do so are the Crazies.
Thus, for the two parties to ensure that they, and only they, are recognized as Sane, Mainstream voices is to ensure, above all else, the perpetuation of status quo power. As Noah Millman insightfully pointed out this week, those on the Right and Left devoted to civil liberties and limitations on executive power find more common cause with each other than with either of the two parties' establishments. The same is true on a wide array of issues, including limitations on corporate influence in Washington and opposition to the National Security State.
That's why the greatest sin, the surest path to marginalized Unseriousness, is to stray from the safe confines of loyalty to the Democratic or Republican establishments. To our political class, Treason is defined as anyone who forms an alliance, even on a single issue, with someone in the Crazy Zone. That's because breaking down those divisive barriers can be uniquely effective in enabling ideologically diverse citizens to join together to weaken power factions, as Alan Grayson proved when he teamed up with Ron Paul to force the uber-secret Fed to submit to at least some version of an audit (backed by several leading progressives joining with Grover Norquist and other Crazies to support it), or as Al Gore proved when he brought substantial attention to Bush's war on the Constitution by forming an alliance with Bob Barr and other right-wing libertarians. Preventing (or at least minimizing) those types of ad hoc alliances through use of the Crazy smear ensures a divided and thus weakened citizenry against entrenched political power in the form of the two parties. Obviously, the more stigmatized it is to stray from two-party loyalty, the stronger the two parties (and those who most benefit from their dominance) will be.
If one wants to argue that Ron Paul and others like him hold specific views that are crazy, that's certainly reasonable. But those who make that claim virtually always hold views at least as crazy, and devote themselves to one of the two political parties that has, over and over, embraced insane, destructive and warped policies of their own. The reason the U.S. is in the shape it's in isn't because Ron Paul and the rest of the so-called "crazies" have been in charge; they haven't been, at all. The policies that have prevailed are the ones which the two parties have endorsed. So where does the real craziness lie?
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Just to preempt non sequiturs, this isn't a discussion of Ron Paul, but of the irrational use of the "crazy" accusation in our political discourse and the effects of its application.
UPDATE: I'll try this one more time: for those wanting to write about all the bad things Ron Paul believes, before going into the comment section, please read and then re-read these three sentences:
There's no question that Ron Paul holds some views that are wrong, irrational and even odious. But that's true for just about every single politician in both major political parties . . . My point isn't that Ron Paul is not crazy; it's that those who self-righteously apply that label to him and to others invariably embrace positions and support politicians at least as "crazy."
This is a comparative assessment between (a) those routinely dismissed as Crazy and (b) the two party establishments and their Mainstream Loyalists who do the dismissing. Assessing (a) is completely nonresponsive and irrelevant without comparing it to (b).
UPDATE II: One other point: intense, fixated mockery of marginalized, powerless people has the benefit of distracting attention from the actions of those who are actually in power.
The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg reports that, this week, yet another federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release yet another Guantanamo detainee on the ground that there is no persuasive evidence to justify his detention. The latest detainee to win his habeas hearing, Mohammed Hassen, is a 27-year old Yemeni imprisoned by the U.S. without charges for 8 years, since he was 19 years old. He has "long claimed he was captured in Pakistan studying the Quran and had no ties to al Qaida," and that "he had been unjustly rounded up in a March 2002 dragnet by Pakistani security forces in the city of Faisalabad that targeted Arabs." Hassen is now the third consecutive detainee ordered freed who was rounded up in that same raid. The Obama DOJ opposed his petition even though the Bush administration had cleared him for release in 2007. He has now spent roughly 30% of his life in a cage at Guantanamo.
What's most significant about this is that Hassen is now the 36th detainee who has won his habeas hearing since the Supreme Court in 2008 ruled they have the right to such hearings -- out of 50 whose petitions have been heard. In other words, 72% of Guantanamo detainees who finally were able to obtain just minimal due process (which is what a habeas hearing is) -- after years of being in a cage without charges -- have been found by federal judges to be wrongfully detained. These are people who are part of what the U.S. Government continues to insist are "the worst of the worst" who remain, and whose release is being vehemently contested by the Obama DOJ.
The real disgrace here is that the U.S. Congress, in 2006, enacted the Military Commissions Act, which explicitly denied all Guantanamo detainees any rights to habeas review. The widely loved Lindsey Graham -- along with the profoundly noble Joe Lieberman and John McCain -- were the prime sponsors of that provision. Think about what that means, what the people who voted for that (including 12 Democratic Senators) tried to do: had the Supreme Court not struck down that provision by a 5-4 vote in Boumediene, all of these innocent people would continue to be denied any rights of judicial review, and would unjustly languish in prison indefinitely. The people who voted for the Military Commissions Act, and the 4 Supreme Court Justices who sought to uphold it, knowingly acted to deny scores of innocent prisoners any opportunity for judicial review. That's as warped and as evil as it gets.
And despite knowing how many people we are innocently imprisoning, the Obama administration continues to demand the power to imprison people with no judicial review: by indefinitely detaining them without charges, by insisting that Bagram detainees captured outside Afghanistan have no habeas rights, by refusing to release any Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo, including those whom the administration itself knows are being wrongfully detained. And in light of all this, who in their right mind would trust the President to assassinate fellow citizens based purely on his unchecked, unreviewed conclusion that the person is a Terrorist? It's commonplace to label something a travesty of justice, but who can deny that knowingly imprisoning innocent people for years and years while scheming to deny them all judicial review is a disgrace of historic proportions?
UPDATE: One other point: the Carol Rosenberg who reported on the Hassen victory and is one of the very few reporters who pays substantial attention to all of the Guantanamo detainees who are winning their habeas cases, is the same Carol Rosenberg whom the Obama DOD just banned from covering military commissions at Guantanamo. Maybe The New York Times can do a big story tomorrow on how press freedoms are being curtailed in Pakistan -- or how due process is being denied in Iran.
The article notes that a new classified Department of Homeland Security report documents that "the number and pace of attempted attacks against the United States over the past nine months have surpassed the number of attempts during any other previous one-year period."
Maybe, one day, we might want to ask: "why"? Is it because they Hate Us For Our Freedoms more than ever before? Are we Extra Free now, thus increasing their Hatred to brand new levels? Or are they still angry about George Bush's cowboy swagger even though he's been gone for a-year-and-a-half? Or is it that those Crazy Primitive Hateful Muslim Fanatics are being pumped full of more unfair anti-American conspiracy theories than before? Or does something else explain this? Is there perhaps anything we're doing to cause it? Asking all that may not be as fun or as profitable as picking out all the new rights we're going to restrict and renounce and the shiny new powers we're going to vest in our leaders each time there is another attempted Terrorist attack, but it's probably still a good idea to do it anyway.
UPDATE: One other question: does what we know about the last several accused Terrorists provide any clues -- attempted New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi (one of the first Afghan citizens ever involved in a Terrorist plot aimed at the U.S.); accused attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad (an American citizen of Pakistani descent with a history of increasingly angry emails aimed at Guantanamo, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, American violence in the Muslim world and "the plight of the Palestinians," leading him to search for -- as he put it in 2006 -- "a way to fight back when rockets are fired at us and Muslim blood flows"); and accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan (the son of Palestinian parents on the verge of being sent to the war in Afghanistan)?
Do we find any clues in any of these most recent incidents as to why Terrorism aimed at the U.S. is, at least if DHS is to be believed, at "an all-time high"?
(updated below - Update II - Update III)
Over at Balkinization, Law Professor Steve Vladeck has done a superb job highlighting a truly vile provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011, which directs the Pentagon's Inspector General to "conduct an investigation of the conduct and practices of lawyers" who have represented Guantanamo detainees and then report back to Congress. That provision is the brainchild of GOP Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, who has labeled efforts to represent detainees (specifically as part of the John Adams Project) a "treacherous enterprise" and smeared those lawyers as "disloyal." Vladeck thoroughly documents how the lawyer conduct that is targeted by the mandated investigation is so broad that it could easily encompass every act of defending Guantanamo detainees, and thus, standing alone, could serve to intimidate and deter lawyers from vigorously representing those detainees in the future.
This is all an outgrowth of the incomparably repellent McCarthyite, "Al Qaeda 7" campaign by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney to smear detainee lawyers as disloyal Terrorist lovers, and more broadly, of the endless fear-mongering over Terrorism that continues to grip the U.S. Government. The Weekly Standard has long been targeting the John Adams lawyers for doing their job (i.e., seeking the identity of CIA interrogators who tortured their clients), and that magazine now claims that it's the CIA that is demanding an investigation into these lawyers (Look Forward, Not Backward is, as we've seen repeatedly, only available for torturers and criminal eavesdroppers). Reflecting this intensifying mood is the latest hysterical right-wing book, this one by anti-Islam obsessive (and media favorite) Andy McCarthy, who warns -- in the title -- that "Islam and the Left" are jointly engaged in a "Grand Jihad" to "Sabotage America" (the blurbs and summaries of his book are so inane and extreme that, despite how repulsive is this screed, it's difficult to suppress one's laughter when reading them; based on small book excerpts alone, Conor Friedersdorf documents how McCarthy's book is suffused with lies). This is the McCarthyite fever swamp that is the genesis of this lawyer-targeted provision.
Writing at Matt Yglesias' Center for American Progress blog, CAP's Satyam Khanna says this:
The DOD budget bill is a pretty huge document; so I would hope this was furtively slipped in by some GOP staffer, to be removed shortly.
Yes, it sure would be nice to believe that the Democrats who control Congress -- and who control the House Armed Services Committee which passed the bill containing this provision -- somehow had nothing to do with its inclusion. Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), that's simply not the case, as The New York Times' Charlie Savage explains:
Democrats on the committee agreed to Mr. Miller’s proposal after several modifications. One change added the requirement of "reasonable suspicion" of wrongdoing before a lawyer would be investigated by the inspector general. Another enabled Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to halt such an inquiry if it would interfere with a related criminal investigation. Detainee lawyers argue that even with such modifications, Mr. Miller’s amendment is broad enough to give pause to all lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees -- including the far larger numbers who have sought judicial hearings for prisoners who contend that they are not terrorists and are being held by mistake.
Those "modifications" are cosmetic at best, as Vladeck explains:
[T]he "reasonable suspicion" standard could itself force counsel to think twice before challenging extant DoD policies governing their interactions with their clients, thereby interfering with counsel’s ability zealously to represent their clients. The mere threat of investigation could easily force compliance with troubling policies limiting lawyer-client interaction that counsel might otherwise seek to challenge. Say what you will about the merits of these cases, but I had thought we'd long-since settled the appropriateness of allowing lawyers in these cases vigorously to represent their clients in court, consistent with the highest traditions of the profession.
This is yet another example of repellent, fear-based policies that could not be (or at least were not) enacted during the Bush years yet are finding new life under Democratic Party rule. Recall that Bush Pentagon official Cully Stimson was actually forced to apologize for suggesting that lawyers who represented Guantanamo detainees were engaged in disloyal and improper acts. Yet with the Democrats in control of Washington, a provision grounded in exactly that rotted premise has now been unanimously reported out of a major House Committee. There are still barriers it has to overcome in order to become law -- including a House floor vote, a mark-up in the Senate, and then, if it makes it that far, the President's signature -- so it's still possible it can be stopped. But for that to happen, Democrats are going to have to insist on its removal. It remains to be seen if they are willing to do that.
* * * * *
I have a contribution in The New York Times this morning on Obama and the BP oil spill which relates to a variety of issues, including the excessive role the President is expected to play in our political culture.
UPDATE: This solid Newsweek article details how BP and government officials have been working jointly to prevent media coverage (especially photographers) of the oil spill's impact.
UPDATE II: In comments, the blogger Brendan objects to my argument that Obama bears no meaningful blame for the BP oil spill, and elaborates on that argument at his own blog. In essence, he argues -- with a fair amount of documentation -- that the Interior Department has long been staffed with oil industry hacks, that Obama both failed to clean any of it out and even appointed his own regulators who are far too close to industry (beginning with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar), and that this coziness is what led to the spill. His best piece of evidence is this Washington Post article, which details how BP won an exemption from the Obama administration from the requirement of preparing an environmental impact study for this very drilling operation.
I'm still unconvinced that Obama has failed to do anything post-spill that he should have done (i.e., things he has the legal authority to do and that would have made a difference), but Brendan makes a strong case that the administration's general closeness to industry played a part (at least) in what happened here. Read it and decide for yourself.
UPDATE III: The White House has now released its official position on the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011, identifying the provisions to which it objects and even threatening to veto some. The provision requiring an investigation of Guantanamo lawyers is not included in the White House's objections; about that, they have said nothing.
The Washington Post, today (h/t Arkinsaw):
A judge granted parole Tuesday to Lori Berenson, the 40-year-old New York activist who has spent 15 years in Peruvian prisons on a conviction of aiding leftist rebels. . . . Berenson had for many years denied any wrongdoing, maintaining she was a political prisoner and not a terrorist. But her defense team said in papers submitted to the judge that she "recognized she committed errors in involving herself in activities of the MRTA" . . . .
Berenson was arrested in 1995 and initially accused of being a leader of the MRTA, which bombed banks and kidnapped and killed civilians but was nowhere near as violent as the better-known Shining Path insurgency. It is blamed for, at most, 200 killings. . . .
She was convicted of treason by a military court in 1996. But after an intense campaign by her parents. . ., she was retried in a civilian court in 2000. It convicted Berenson of the lesser crime and reduced her sentence to 20 years. . . . The U.S. State Department had pushed hard for the civilian trial, saying Berenson was denied due process by the military tribunal.
Washington Post, May 9, 2009 -- CNN, November 9, 2009 -- Washington Independent, April 27, 2010:
The Obama administration is preparing to revive the system of military commissions established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba . . . [Attorney General] Holder also announced that five other detainees held at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be sent to military commissions for trial. . . . Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has finally signed and issued a Manual for the Military Commissions Act of 2009. It’s 7:30 p.m. as I write this. Approximately 13 and a half hours from now, Col. Pat Parrish, the military judge presiding over Omar Khadr’s pre-trial hearing, will gavel the first full-fledged military commission proceeding of the Obama administration into order.
It's true that the Berenson military tribunal in Peru was filled with due process deficiencies. That's what happens when governments deny accused Terrorists a trial in a real court, and instead concoct ad hoc military tribunals: it's inevitable that grave injustices will occur, such as refusing even to provide the rules governing the proceedings until 13 hours before the tribunal begins, as just happened with the child soldier, Omar Khadr, at Guantanamo. As the Berenson conviction highlights, the U.S. previously protested military tribunals and demanded civilian trials even when it involved a foreign national credibly accused of involvement in a designated Terrorist group (as was true of Berenson in Peru). Now, we're the ones who deny civilian trials. We've gone from protesting the "justice system" of the Peruvian authoritarian Alberto Fujimori to (at best) following it.
In other related news, "the White House has been working with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to craft legislation that would restructure the amount of time interrogators can hold suspected terrorists domestically without reading them their Miranda rights." And the President's top Terrorism advisor, John Brennan, said today that it was both necessary and just that the U.S. hold detainees indefinitely without any charges of any kind -- not even before military commissions, a re-iteration of the Obama administration's previously expressed commitment to indefinite detention. But that's because, Brennan explained, we're now facing a "new phase" of Terrorism. Whatever that means, it evidently requires brand new rules of "justice" (Brennan said all that after he beat his chest and bellowed: "We will destroy Al Qaeda"). Somehow, it was a grave violation of due process for Peru to try accused foreign Terrorists before military tribunals, but not for us to hold them for as long as we want with no charges of any kind.
UPDATE: For more on what a complete mockery of justice these military commissions have become in general, and the Khadr tribunal specifically is, see Harper's Scott Horton:
The Gates Pentagon prepared the manual for the military commissions completely behind closed doors. It disregarded established procedures under which proposed procedural rules are disclosed for public comment and the views of the military bar itself are explicitly solicited. We now see that it turned to secrecy because it had something to hide: the rules were recognized as flawed and weak even within the Obama Administration, where they were subjected to appropriately sharp criticism. Had they been publicly aired, the Pentagon would have been forced to work out the contradictions in them. But it opted to keep the country and the bar in the dark.
Horton's whole analysis is worth reading. And remember: Peru denied due process to Lori Berenson by putting her before a military tribunal rather than a civilian court, just as the U.S. State Department -- in a prior incarnation -- long complained.
(updated below - Update II)
The New York Times this morning has a particularly lush installment of one of the American media's most favored, reliable, and self-affirming rituals -- it's time to mock and pity Those Crazy, Primitive, Irrational, Propagandized Muslims and their Wild Conspiracy Theories, which their reckless media and extremists maliciously disseminate in order to generate unfair and unfounded hostility toward the U.S.:
Conspiracy theory is a national sport in Pakistan, where the main players -- the United States, India and Israel -- change positions depending on the ebb and flow of history. Since 2001, the United States has taken center stage, looming so large in Pakistan's collective imagination that it sometimes seems to be responsible for everything that goes wrong here. . . . The problem is more than a peculiar domestic phenomenon for Pakistan. It has grown into a narrative of national victimhood that is a nearly impenetrable barrier to any candid discussion of the problems here. In turn, it is one of the principal obstacles for the United States in its effort to build a stronger alliance with a country to which it gives more than a billion dollars a year in aid.
Initially, it's worth asking how these "conspiracy theories" compare to this: from the front page of The New York Times, September 8, 2002:
More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today. . . . In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. . . . An Iraqi defector said Mr. Hussein had also heightened his efforts to develop new types of chemical weapons. An Iraqi opposition leader also gave American officials a paper from Iranian intelligence indicating that Mr. Hussein has authorized regional commanders to use chemical and biological weapons to put down any Shiite Muslim resistance that might occur if the United States attacks.
From the front page of The Washington Post, April 3, 2003:
Pfc. Jessica Lynch, rescued Tuesday from an Iraqi hospital, fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers after Iraqi forces ambushed the Army's 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company, firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition, U.S. officials said yesterday. Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting 11 days ago, one official said. . . . Lynch's rescue at midnight local time Tuesday was a classic Special Operations raid, with U.S. commandos in Blackhawk helicopters engaging Iraqi forces on their way in and out of the medical compound, defense officials said.
Brian Ross, ABC News, the week of October 25, 2001:
[S]ources tell ABCNEWS the anthrax in the tainted letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was laced with bentonite. The potent additive is known to have been used by only one country in producing biochemical weapons -- Iraq. . . . Former UN weapons inspectors say the anthrax found in a letter to Senator Daschle is nearly identical to samples they recovered in Iraq in 1994. . . . At the same time those [anthrax] results were coming in, officials in the Czech Republic confirmed that hijack ringleader, Mohammed Atta, had met at least once with a senior Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague, raising what authorities consider some extremely provocative questions.
NBC News, April 26, 2004:
Pat Tillman, who gave up the glamorous life of a professional football star to join the Army Rangers, was remembered as a role model of courage and patriotism Friday after military officials said he had been killed in action in Afghanistan. . . . [U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Matthew] Beevers said Tillman was killed by enemy fire, but he had no information about what type of weapons were involved in the assault, or whether he died instantly.
Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, February 10, 2003:
According to several intelligence officials I spoke to, the relationship between bin Laden and Saddam's regime was brokered in the early nineteen-nineties by the then de-facto leader of Sudan, the pan-Islamist radical Hassan al-Tourabi. . . . In interviews with senior officials, the following picture emerged: American intelligence believes that Al Qaeda and Saddam reached a non-aggression agreement in 1993, and that the relationship deepened further in the mid-nineteen-nineties . . . I learned of another possible connection early last year, while I was interviewing Al Qaeda operatives in a Kurdish prison in Sulaimaniya. There, a man whom Kurdish intelligence officials identified as a captured Iraqi agent told me that in 1992 he served as a bodyguard to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, when Zawahiri secretly visited Baghdad. . . . [James] Woolsey, who served as President Clinton's first C.I.A. director, said that it is now illogical to doubt the notion that Saddam collaborates with Islamist terrorism.
Bernard Lewis, Wall St. Journal, August 8, 2006:
Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. . . . This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers, January 11, 2002, explaining the treatment of detainees:
I mean, these are people that would gnaw hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17 to bring it down. I mean, so this is -- these are very, very dangerous people, and that's how they're being treated.
And that's to say nothing about the orgies of "conspiracy theories" churned out on a daily basis from right-wing talk radio, blog outlets, Fox News and even establishment Republicans over the years -- from Iranian computer viruses, Vince Foster's murder, the nefarious Muslim-Leftist alliance, ACORN's omnipotence, and Obama death panels to The Vicious War on Christmas, the DOJ's "Al Qaeda 7," Maoist followers in the administration, Obama's Kenyan birthplace and Islamic beliefs, and the subversive Congressional interns serving at the behest of CAIR.
* * * * *
There's little doubt that many Pakistanis believe all sorts of things that are false and that some extremist sectors peddle paranoid conspiracies. Propaganda is a standard tactic used by political and religious leaders of all types to manipulate their followers, as is casting blame on external enemies for those leaders' failures. Indeed, it's virtually impossible to find a society free of extremist paranoia, and Pakistan undoubtedly has its share. But look at the specific beliefs identified by the NYT as proof of how conspiratorial the Pakistanis are, and decide where the real propaganda is.
First we learn that "no part of the Pakistani state -- either the weak civilian government or the powerful military -- is willing to risk publicly owning [its] relationship" with the U.S., and that "[o]ne result is that nearly all of American policy toward Pakistan is conducted in secret, a fact that serves only to further feed conspiracies." The NYT specifically cites the fact that "the Central Intelligence Agency uses networks of private spies; and the main tool of American policy here, the drone program, is not even publicly acknowledged to exist."
But isn't exactly the same true in the U.S., where our most consequential acts in Pakistan -- from drone attacks to Special Forces operations -- are ones the U.S. Government will not even publicly acknowledge, let alone debate and describe? Here's what Hillary Clinton said when asked last December about the deaths of Pakistani civilians caused by U.S. actions in that country: "I'm not going to comment on any particular tactic or technology." And the NYT should perhaps check its own front page from yesterday, which detailed a secret order from last fall directing a massive escalation in the use of U.S. Special Forces in a whole slew of Muslim countries -- all without any public discussion, debate, or authorization from Congress. We're essentially fighting covert, unauthorized wars in multiple Muslim nations -- including Pakistan -- all while the NYT mocks those silly Pakistanis for failing to publicly discuss their own military policies and for believing that the U.S. is engaged in unknown and unseen conduct in their country.
Then the NYT derides some Pakistanis for their crazy "theory that India, Israel and the United States -- through their intelligence agencies and the company formerly known as Blackwater -- are conspiring to destroy Pakistan." But what the NYT fails to mention is that the U.S. is actually using Blackwater for a wide variety of covert, lethal missions inside Pakistan, as The Nation's Jeremy Scahill has documented at length. They may not be "conspiring to destroy Pakistan," but they are engaged in "targeted assassinations," "'snatch and grabs' of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan," and "assist[ing] in gathering intelligence and help[ing] direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes."
Given Blackwater's history and the secrecy in which its conduct is shrouded, isn't it more rational to worry about their conduct inside one's country than to ignore it or assume it's benign? After all, if a foreign country were sending its military and intelligence services inside the U.S. to assassinate our citizens, drop bombs on us from robots in the air, and infiltrate our society with shadowy private contractors -- as we're doing to Pakistan -- do you think we might be projecting intense hostility toward that country and expressing serious suspicions about what else they were doing inside our country? Is it conspiratorial paranoia or rational self-interest that leads one to think that way?
As further proof of this pervasive myth-making in Pakistan, the NYT article cites the fact that one Pakistani lawyer with a talk show "argues that Al Qaeda is an American invention." While that's not precisely true, it is a matter of undisputed fact that the mujahedeen who were the precursors to Al Qaeda -- as well as Osama bin Laden himself -- were supported and funded by the U.S. throughout the 1980s, all the way up to the formal founding of "Al Qaeda" itself:
Thousands of Muslim radicals joined the CIA and mujahedeen, including bin Laden, the wealthy son of a Saudi road builder. Though he didn't actually take up arms, he helped build roads and arms depots, using his own funds and CIA money.
"We funded him, we and the Saudis," said Glynn Wood, professor of international policy at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. . . . Pakistani investigative journalist Ahmed Rashid reported recently that the CIA funded an underground arms depot, training facility and medical center that bin Laden helped build in 1986 near the Pakistan border. There bin Laden set up his first training camp.
As the BBC said in 2004: "Bin Laden and his fighters received American and Saudi funding" in the 1980s and "[s]ome analysts believe Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA." In 2007, Der Spiegel called bin Laden "one of the best customers for the CIA" during that decade.
In light of all that, what's more irrational and propagandized: believing that the U.S. was responsible for the birth of Al Qaeda (as some benighted Pakistanis do) or treating that belief as though it's some wild, unhinged, crazed conspiracy theory with no basis in reality (as the NYT today does)? The same is true for what the NYT castigates as Pakistani conspiracies "infused with anti-Semitism," such as the belief that Jewish and Indian lobbies exert influence on U.S. Government foreign policy. What rational person denies that such groups -- along with a slew of others -- exert political power in Washington, or that Israel maintains close military and other relations with Pakistan's arch-enemy, India?
It's not until the third-to-last paragraph that the NYT article cursorily acknowledges the clear basis which rational Pakistanis would have for being highly suspicious of American involvement in their country:
There are very real reasons for Pakistanis to be skeptical of the United States. It encouraged -- and financed -- jihadis waging a religious war against the Soviets in the 1980s, while supporting the military autocrat Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who seeded Pakistan’s education system with Islamists.
And, of course, the U.S. propped up that country's oppressive Musharraf regime with massive amounts of aid -- not to mention the small fact that the U.S. invaded and has been militarily occupying two of Pakistan's neighboring countries (one of which shares a large border with Pakistan) for almost the entire last decade. In sum, the U.S. has covertly played a central role in the internal affairs of the region generally and Pakistan specifically for decades. In light of that, what's more irrational: to question what the U.S. is up to or to treat such questions as the by-product of crazed and deranged fanaticism?
Finally, note how the NYT article is framed at the top by a photograph of a Pakistani holding a sign that reads "We Hate America" -- as though the only reason someone might harbor such anti-American hostility is because they've been misled with false claims and conspiracy theories about Our Noble and Magnanimous Land. That -- about a country where we've propped up numerous oppressive regimes and continue to slaughter civilians via sky robots. Of all the myths identified by the NYT article, the implicit one conveyed by that photograph -- Pakistanis harbor anger toward the U.S. only because of false conspiracy theories they're being fed -- is easily the most extreme.
This game of Let's Mock Those Crazy, Conspiratorial Arabs and Muslims is as useful as it is common: recall how only the Paranoid "Arab Street" believed that the invasion of Iraq would lead to permanent American military bases in that country, only for this to be revealed, followed by this. There is a lot of propaganda, paranoia and myth in Pakistan, along with most places in the world. But the American media's fixation on pointing to it and deriding it has the principal effect (if not intent) of obscuring the role we play in enabling (and even justifying) those sentiments, along with at least our own equal share of such propaganda and our own media's central role in bolstering it.
UPDATE: As one commenter suggested, no discussion of how populations are subjected to conspiratorial propaganda is complete without this, from USA Today in September, 2003:
UPDATE II: For similar reactions to this NYT article, see here and here.
The Obama administration's war on whistleblowers -- whose disclosures are one of the very few remaining avenues for learning what our government actually does -- continues to intensify. Last month, the DOJ announced it had obtained an indictment against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who exposed serious waste, abuse and possible illegality. Then, the DOJ re-issued a Bush era subpoena to Jim Risen of The New York Times, demanding the identity of his source who revealed an extremely inept and damaging CIA effort to infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program. And now, as Politico's Josh Gerstein reports, an FBI linguist who leaked what he believed to be evidence of lawbreaking is to receive a prison term that is "likely to become the longest ever served by a government employee accused of passing national security secrets to a member of the media." As Gerstein explains:
[I]t reflects a surprising development: President Barack Obama’s Justice Department has taken a hard line against leakers, and Obama himself has expressed anger about disclosures of national security deliberations in the press. . . .
"They’re going after this at every opportunity and with unmatched vigor," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, a critic of government classification policy. . . .
Some experts said the administration and the Justice Department may be trying to appease the intelligence community after angering many by releasing the so-called torture memos and by reopening inquiries into alleged torture by CIA personnel. Others said intelligence personnel are terrified by outlets like Wikileaks, on which classified information can be posted without any meaningful chance for officials to argue for the withholding of details that could damage U.S. intelligence efforts.
Notably (and unsurprisingly), the article quotes the neocon Gabriel Schoenfeld -- who spent years demanding that the Bush DOJ criminally prosecute whistleblowers and even journalists responsible for stories such as the NYT's NSA eavesdropping revelation, and who then wrote a whole book arguing for greater government secrecy -- heaping praise on the Obama DOJ:
"I think it's remarkable," said Gabriel Schoenfeld, a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who urged prosecution of The New York Times for publishing details of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program in 2005. "This is the administration that came in pledging maximum transparency. Plugging leaks is ... traditionally not associated with openness". . . .
"If Thomas Drake is convicted and sentenced to jail, this will be the first president to send two leakers to prison in his term in office. That’s never happened before,' said Schoenfeld, author of the book "Necessary Secrets." "You wouldn't have expected the Holder Justice Department to be particularly hawkish in these matters."
Schoenfeld was frequently critical of what he considered to be the Bush DOJ's lackadaisical attitude toward punishing whistleblowers, but he is obviously pleased with the Obama administration's aggression in that regard.
It isn't hard to see why Obama despises leaks. Just look at the front page of The New York Times today, which details a secret order from Gen. David Petraeus last fall ordering vastly increased Special Forces operations in a variety of Middle Eastern countries, including "allies" such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and "enemies" such as Iran and Syria. As Iran experts Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett contend, this constitutes, at the very least, "the intensification of America's covert war against Iran." That is how we also learned of what is, in essence, a covert war in Yemen as well (not to mention the covert war in Pakistan). Most of what our Government does of any real significance happens in the dark. Whistleblowers are one of the very few avenues we have left for learning about any of that. And politicians eager to preserve their own power and ability to operate in secret -- such as Barack Obama -- see whistleblowers as their Top Enemy.
Hence, we have a series of aggressive prosecutions from the Obama administration of Bush era exposures of abuse and illegality -- acts that flagrantly violate Obama's Look Forward, Not Backward decree used to protect high-level Bush administration criminals. As John Cole has suggested, perhaps if these whistleblowers had tortured some people and illegally eavesdropped on others, they would receive the immunity that Obama has so magnanimously and selectively granted. Instead, they merely exposed secret government corruption and illegality to the world, and thus must be punished.
While it's true that leaks can be both damaging and illegal, these prosecutions are occurring without any showing whatsoever of harm to national security, and with ample evidence that they were undertaken to expose high-level wrongdoing. Some secrets are legitimate, but the balance has swung so far in the direction of excess secrecy that it's extraordinary to watch the Obama administration move the anti-whistleblower persecution far beyond what the Bush administration did. And as Hilary Bok argued back in 2008 when the Right was demanding that NSA whistleblower Thomas Tamm be prosecuted: while it is generally preferable for whistleblowers to invoke the internal systems that exist rather than leak to the media, such an expectation is misguided under the circumstances that have prevailed for the last decade:
But there's one big exception to this rule: when the system has itself been corrupted. When you're operating within a system in which whistle-blowers' concerns are not addressed -- where the likelihood that any complaint you make within the system will be addressed is near zero, while the likelihood that you will be targeted for reprisals is high -- then no sane person who is motivated by a desire to have his or her concern addressed will work within that system.
What makes this trend of escalated anti-whistleblower activity particularly notable is that Obama, during his career in the Senate and when running for President, feigned serious support for whistleblowers. Today, Bush DOJ whistleblower Jesselyn Raddack -- while pointing out that "Bush harassed whistleblowers mercilessly, but Obama is prosecuting them and sending them to jail" -- notes that Obama previously made commitments like this one (click on image to enlarge):
All of that led to the widespread perception that the vital act of whistleblowing would, under an Obama administration, be protected rather than persecuted. This Washington Post article from December, 2008, was typical and reflects what Obama led people to believe:
As the Post article summarized: "there is plenty of evidence to make whistleblower advocates think the future for their issue will be better than its past." I think they have now been decisively disabused of such expectations. The Most Transparent Administration Ever seems to despise nobody quite as much as those who exposed Bush era corruption and lawbreaking, all with an eye towards deterring anyone who might do the same during this administration.
UPDATE: It is growing increasingly difficult to dispute this, is it not?
The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt ponders how little attention our various wars received during the primary campaigns that were just conducted: "You would hardly know, from following this year's election campaign or the extensive coverage of last week's primaries, that America is at war. . . . those wars, and the wisdom of committing to or withdrawing from them, have hardly been mentioned in the hard-fought campaigns of the spring." Hiatt is right in that observation, and it's worth examining the reasons for this.
One significant cause of America's indifference to the wars we are waging is that those wars have virtually no effect on the overwhelming majority of Americans (at least no recognized effect), while they impose a huge cost on a tiny sliver of the population: those who fight the wars and their families. Hiatt acknowledges that fact: "it's yet another reminder of American society's separation from its professional military." If anyone would know about that, it's the endless-war-loving, nowhere-near-a-battlefield Fred Hiatt.
Everyone from the Founders to George Orwell thought (and hoped) that the massive societal costs which wars impose would be a deterrent to their being fought, but, given the types of wars the U.S. chooses to wage, most Americans who express their "support" for them bear absolutely no perceived cost whatsoever. Worse, many who cheer for our wars enjoy that most intoxicating and distorting reward: cost-free benefits, in the form of vicarious feelings of strength, purpose, nobility and the like, all from a safe distance. It's very difficult to generate attention for political issues that Americans fail to perceive so directly and tangibly affect them -- that's why the failing economy receives so much attention and our various wars (and civil liberties erosions) do not.
Then there's the lack of partisan division over these wars. During the Bush presidency, war debates raged because those wars -- especially the Iraq war -- were a GOP liability and a Democratic Party asset. Anger over the Iraq War drove the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and Obama's election in 2008 (though it did not drive the end of the war). But now, America's wars are no longer Republican wars; they're Democratic wars as well. Both parties are thus vested in their defense, which guts any real debate or opposition. Very few Republicans are going to speak ill of wars which their party started and continued for years, and very few Democrats are going to malign wars which their President is now prosecuting.
Here we find, once again, one of the most consequential aspects of the Obama presidency thus far: the conversion of numerous Bush/Cheney policies from what they once were (controversial, divisive, right-wing extremism) into what they have become (uncontroversial bipartisan consensus). One sees this dynamic most clearly in the Terrorism/civil-liberties realm, but it is quite glaring in the realm of war as well. Hiatt describes it this way:
[M]aybe, in a time of toxic partisanship, we should be grateful for this inattention to the wars, taking the absence of debate as a sign of rare bipartisan consensus. Certainly few would miss the vitriol of the Iraq debate of a few years back.
It's not surprising that Hiatt is grateful for the disappearance of what he calls "the vitriol of the Iraq debate a few years back." As one of the media's leading cheerleaders for the invasion and ongoing occupation, it's understandable that he wants no longer to be reminded of the enormous amounts of innocent blood which he and his war-cheering comrades have on their permanently drenched hands. But he is nonetheless right to take "the absence of debate" as a "sign of rare bipartisan consensus" (though such consensus is hardly "rare"). It's true that the (dubious) perception that the Iraq War will soon end has probably dampened the urgency of that issue in the eyes of many people, as have the pretty words that Obama utters when he speaks of war, but the real reason the "debates" have disappeared is because it serves neither party to engage them.
But the most significant factor in understanding this lack of debate is the fact that "war" is not some aberrational, temporary state of affairs for the country. It's the opposite. Thanks to Fred Hiatt and his friends, war is basically the permanent American condition: war is who we are and what we do as a nation. We're essentially a war fighting state. We have been at "war" the entire last decade (as well as largley non-stop for the decades which preceded it), and continue now to be at "war" with no end in sight. That's clearly true of our specific wars (in Afghanistan). And, worse, the way in which The War, more broadly, has been defined (i.e., against Islamic extremism/those who wish to harm Americans) makes it highly likely that it will never end in our lifetime. The decree that we are "at war" has been repeated over and over for a full decade, drumbed into our heads from all directions without pause, sanctified as one of those Bipartisan Orthodoxies that nobody can dispute upon pain of having one's Seriousness credentials immediately and irrevocably revoked. With war this normalized, is it really surprising that nobody debates it any longer? It'd be like debating the color of the sky.
That's why I always find the War Excuse for anything the Government does so baffling and nonsensical. Any objections one voices to what the Executive Branch does -- indefinite detentions, presidential assassinations of citizens, extreme secrecy, etc. -- will be met with the justification that such actions are permissible "during wartime," as though "wartime" is some special, temporary, fleeting state of affairs which necessitates vesting powers in the government which, during "normal" times, would be impermissible.
But the contrast between "war and "normal times" is totally illusory. For the United States, war is normalcy. The "war" we're fighting has been defined and designed to be virtually endless. Political leaders from both parties have been explicit about that. Here's how Obama put it last May in his "civil liberties" speech:
Now this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. And unlike the Civil War or World War II, we can't count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case a year from now, five years from now, and -- in all probability -- 10 years from now.
All the way back in September, 2001, with the World Trade Center still smoldering, George Bush said basically the same thing: "Now, this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. . . . Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen." Thus: to justify new and unaccountable powers based on the fact that we are "at war" is, in essence, to change the American political system permanently, because the "war," and the accompanying powers that it justifies, are not going anywhere for many, many years to come.
With both political parties affirming over and over that we are going to be at "war" for years, indeed decades, it's unsurprising that so few people are interested in debating "war." That's true even for the limited question of Afghanistan, where most Republicans won't question a war their President began and most Democrats won't question a war their President has vigorously embraced as his own. From the perspective of the permanent factions that rule Washington -- from Wall Street and AIPAC to the intelligence and military "communities" -- therein lies the beauty of the two-party system: as long as both party establishments support a particular policy, any meaningful debate over it comes to a grinding halt.
UPDATE: Just to underscore the point: suppose that Obama announced that he did not intend to withdraw troops from Iraq and/or Afghanistan on schedule, or suppose that he decided that the U.S. should militarily confront/attack Iran ostensibly over its nuclear weapons program. If any of that were to happen, how would most Democrats -- and the Party itself -- react now that there's a Democratic President? Most Republicans would certainly support those policies, so where would the "debate" come from? Isn't it fairly clear that to the extent "debate" existed at all, it would be confined to some small and relatively marginalized enclaves, while the mainstream of both parties supported those decisions? I'm not predicting any of that will happen, only that if it did, there'd be the same lack of debate as Hiatt ponders today.
The Obama administration is facing grass-roots anger, but that anger is being channeled and exploited by corporate interests.
(updated below - Update II)
Few issues highlight Barack Obama's extreme hypocrisy the way that Bagram does. As everyone knows, one of George Bush’s most extreme policies was abducting people from all over the world -- far away from any battlefield -- and then detaining them at Guantanamo with no legal rights of any kind, not even the most minimal right to a habeas review in a federal court. Back in the day, this was called "Bush's legal black hole." In 2006, Congress codified that policy by enacting the Military Commissions Act, but in 2008, the Supreme Court, in Boumediene v. Bush, ruled that provision unconstitutional, holding that the Constitution grants habeas corpus rights even to foreign nationals held at Guantanamo. Since then, detainees have won 35 out of 48 habeas hearings brought pursuant to Boumediene, on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to justify their detention.
Immediately following Boumediene, the Bush administration argued that the decision was inapplicable to detainees at Bagram -- including even those detained outside of Afghanistan but then flown to Afghanistan to be imprisoned. Amazingly, the Bush DOJ -- in a lawsuit brought by Bagram detainees seeking habeas review of their detention -- contended that if they abduct someone and ship them to Guantanamo, then that person (under Boumediene) has the right to a habeas hearing, but if they instead ship them to Bagram, then the detainee has no rights of any kind. In other words, the detainee's Constitutional rights depends on where the Government decides to drop them off to be encaged. One of the first acts undertaken by the Obama DOJ that actually shocked civil libertarians was when, last February, as The New York Times put it, Obama lawyers "told a federal judge that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team."
But last April, John Bates, the Bush-43-appointed, right-wing judge overseeing the case, rejected the Bush/Obama position and held that Boumediene applies to detainees picked up outside of Afghanistan and then shipped to Bagram. I reviewed that ruling here, in which Judge Bates explained that the Bagram detainees are "virtually identical to the detainees in Boumediene," and that the Constitutional issue was exactly the same: namely, "the concern that the President could move detainees physically beyond the reach of the Constitution and detain them indefinitely."
But the Obama administration was undeterred by this loss. They quickly appealed Judge Bates' ruling. As the NYT put it about that appeal: "The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight." Today, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals adopted the Bush/Obama position, holding that even detainees abducted outside of Afghanistan and then shipped to Bagram have no right to contest the legitimacy of their detention in a U.S. federal court, because Boumediene does not apply to prisons located within war zones (such as Afghanistan).
So congratulations to the United States and Barack Obama for winning the power to abduct people anywhere in the world and then imprison them for as long as they want with no judicial review of any kind. When the Boumediene decision was issued in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain called it "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country." But Obama hailed it as "a rejection of the Bush Administration's attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo," and he praised the Court for "rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus." Even worse, when Obama went to the Senate floor in September, 2006, to speak against the habeas-denying provisions of the Military Commissions Act, this is what he melodramatically intoned:
As a parent, I can also imagine the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence. . . .
By giving suspects a chance -- even one chance -- to challenge the terms of their detention in court, to have a judge confirm that the Government has detained the right person for the right suspicions, we could solve this problem without harming our efforts in the war on terror one bit. . . .
Most of us have been willing to make some sacrifices because we know that, in the end, it helps to make us safer. But restricting somebody's right to challenge their imprisonment indefinitely is not going to make us safer. In fact, recent evidence shows it is probably making us less safe.
Can you smell the hypocrisy? How could anyone miss its pungent, suffocating odor? Apparently, what Obama called "a legal black hole at Guantanamo" is a heinous injustice, but "a legal black hole at Bagram" is the Embodiment of Hope. And evidently, Obama would only feel "terror" if his child were abducted and taken to Guantanamo and imprisoned "without even getting one chance to ask why and prove their innocence." But if the very same child were instead taken to Bagram and treated exactly the same way, that would be called Justice -- or, to use his jargon, Pragmatism. And what kind of person hails a Supreme Court decision as "protecting our core values" -- as Obama said of Boumediene -- only to then turn around and make a complete mockery of that ruling by insisting that the Cherished, Sacred Rights it recognized are purely a function of where the President orders a detainee-carrying military plane to land?
Independently, what happened to Obama's eloquent insistence that "restricting somebody's right to challenge their imprisonment indefinitely is not going to make us safer; in fact, recent evidence shows it is probably making us less safe"? How does our policy of invading Afghanistan and then putting people at Bagram with no charges of any kind dispose people in that country, and the broader Muslim world, to the United States? If a country invaded the U.S. and set up prisons where Americans from around the world where detained indefinitely and denied all rights to have their detention reviewed, how would it dispose you to the country which was doing that?
One other point: this decision is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which serves to further highlight how important the Kagan-for-Stevens replacement could be. If the Court were to accept the appeal, Kagan would be required to recuse herself (since it was her Solicitor General's office that argued the administration's position here), which means that a 4-4 ruling would be likely, thus leaving this appellate decision undisturbed. More broadly, though, if Kagan were as sympathetic to Obama's executive power claims as her colleagues in the Obama administration are, then her confirmation could easily convert decisions on these types of questions from a 5-4 victory (which is what Boumediene was, with Stevens in the majority) into a 5-4 defeat. Maybe we should try to find out what her views are before putting her on that Court for the next 40 years?
This is what Barack Obama has done to the habeas clause of the Constitution: if you are in Thailand (as one of the petitioners in this case was) and the U.S. abducts you and flies you to Guantanamo, then you have the right to have a federal court determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold you. If, however, President Obama orders that you be taken to from Thailand to Bagram rather than to Guantanamo, then you will have no rights of any kind, and he can order you detained there indefinitely without any right to a habeas review. That type of change is so very inspiring -- almost an exact replica of his vow to close Guantanamo . . . all in order to move its core attributes (including indefinite detention) a few thousand miles North to Thompson, Illinois.
Real estate agents have long emphasized "location, location, location" as the all-determining market factor. Before we elected this Constitutional Scholar as Commander-in-Chief, who knew that this platitude also shaped our entire Constitution?
UPDATE: Law Professor Steve Vladeck has more on the ruling, including "the perverse incentive that today's decision supports," as predicted by Justice Scalia in his Boumediene dissent: namely, that a President attempting to deny Constitutional rights to detainees can simply transfer them to a "war zone" instead of to Guantanamo and then claim that courts cannot interfere in the detention. Barack Obama quickly adopted that tactic for rendering the rights in Boumediene moot -- the same rights which, less than two years ago, he was praising the Supreme Court for safeguarding and lambasting the Bush administration for denying. Vladeck also explains why the appellate court's caveat -- that overt government manipulation to evade habeas rights (i.e., shipping them to a war zone with the specific intent of avoiding Boumediene) might alter the calculus -- is rather meaningless.
UPDATE II: Guest-hosting for Rachel Maddow last night, Chris Hayes talked with Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights about the Bagram ruling and Obama's hypocrisy on these issues, and it was quite good, including a video clip of the 2006 Obama speech I excerpted above:
And in The New York Times, Charlie Savage has a typically thorough examination of the impact of the ruling. As he writes: "The decision was a broad victory for the Obama administration in its efforts to hold terrorism suspects overseas for indefinite periods without judicial oversight." But GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (author of the habeas-denying provision in the Military Commissions Act) "called the ruling a 'big win' and praised the administration for appealing the lower court’s ruling," and that's what really matters.
(updated below - Update II)
Over the past couple years, I've written numerous times about the serious left-right coalition that had emerged in Britain -- between the Tories and Liberal Democrats -- in opposition to the Labour Government's civil liberties abuses, many (thought not all) of which were justified by Terrorism. In June of 2008, David Davis, a leading Tory MP, resigned from Parliament in protest of the Government's efforts to expand its power of preventive detention to 42 days (and was then overwhelmingly re-elected on a general platform of opposing growing surveillance and detention authorities). Numerous leading figures from both the Right and Left defied their party's establishment to speak out in support of Davis and against the Government's growing powers. Back then, the Liberal Democrats' Leader, Nick Clegg, notably praised the right-wing Davis' resignation, and to show his support for Davis' positions, Clegg even refused to run a Lib Dem candidate for that seat because, as he put it, "some issues 'go beyond party politics'."
Now that this left-right, Tory/Lib-Dem alliance has removed the Labour Party from power and is governing Britain, these commitments to restoring core liberties -- Actual Change -- show no sign of retreating. Rather than cynically tossing these promises of restrained government power onto the trash pile of insincere campaign rhetoric, they are implementing them into actual policy. Clegg, now the Deputy Prime Minister, gave an extraordinary speech last week in which he vowed "the biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832." He railed against a litany of government policies and proposals that form the backbone of Britain's Surveillance State, from ID Card schemes, national identity registers, biometric passports, the storing of Internet and email records, to DNA databases, proliferating security cameras, and repressive restrictions on free speech and assembly rights. But more striking than these specific positions were the general, anti-authoritarian principles he espoused -- ones that sound increasingly foreign to most Americans. Clegg said:
It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide. It has to stop. . . . And we will end practices that risk making Britain a place where our children grow up so used to their liberty being infringed that they accept it without question. . . . This will be a government that is proud when British citizens stand up against illegitimate advances of the state. . . .
And we will, of course, introduce safeguards to prevent the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation. There have been too many cases of individuals being denied their rights . . . And whole communities being placed under suspicion. . . . This government will do better by British justice. Respecting great, British freedoms . . . Which is why we'll also defend trial by jury.
Clegg also inveighed against the oppressive criminal justice system that imprisons far too many citizens and criminalizes far too many acts with no improvement in safety, and also pledged radical reform to the political system in order to empower citizens over wealthy interests. To underscore that this was not mere rhetoric, the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition published their official platform containing all of these proposals, and the Civil Liberties section begins with language inconceivable for mainstream American discourse: "The Government believes the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused fundamental human rights and historic civil liberties."
Most striking of all, the new Government (specifically William Hague, its conservative Foreign Secretary) just announced that "a judge will investigate claims that British intelligence agencies were complicit in the torture of terror suspects." More amazing still:
The judicial inquiry announced by the foreign secretary into Britain's role in torture and rendition since September 2001 is poised to shed extraordinary light on one of the darkest episodes in the country's recent history.
It is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11, but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities. . . . Those who have been most bitterly resisting an inquiry -- including a number of senior figures in the last government -- may have been dismayed to see the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition formed, as this maximised the chances of a judicial inquiry being established.
What an astounding feat of human innovation: they are apparently able to Look Backward and Forward at the same time! And this concept that an actual court will review allegations of grave Government crimes rather than ignoring them in the name of Political Harmony: my, the British, even after all these centuries, do continue to invent all sorts of brand new and exotic precepts of modern liberty.
Most readers have likely been doing so already when reading these prior paragraphs, but just contrast all of this to what is taking place in the United States under Democratic Party rule. We get -- from the current Government -- presidential assassination programs, detention with no charges, senseless demands for further reductions of core rights when arrested, ongoing secret prisons filled with abuse, military commissions, warrantless surveillance of emails, and presidential secrecy claims to block courts from reviewing claims of government crimes. The Democratic-led Congress takes still new steps to block the closing of Guantanamo. Democratic leaders push for biometric, national ID cards. The most minimal surveillance safeguards are ignored. Even the miniscule limits on eavesdropping powers are transgressed. And from just this week: "Millions of Americans arrested for but not convicted of crimes will likely have their DNA forcibly extracted and added to a national database, according to a bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday" (h/t Dan Gillmor).
Can anyone even imagine for one second Barack Obama standing up and saying: "My administration believes that the American state has become too authoritarian"? Even if he were willing to utter those words -- and he wouldn't be -- his doing so would trigger a massive laughing fit in light of his actions. While Nick Clegg says this week that his civil liberties commitments are "so important that he was taking personal responsibility for implementing them, and promised that the new government would not be 'insecure about relinquishing control'," our Government moves inexorably in the other direction.
I don't want to idealize what's taking place in Britain: it still remains to be seen how serious these commitments are and how genuine of an investigation into the torture regime will be conducted. But clearly, what was once a fringe position there has now become the mainstream platform of their new Government: that it's imperative to ensure that their country is not "a place where our children grow up so used to their liberty being infringed that they accept it without question."
That's exactly what the U.S. has become, as each new Terrorist attack (or even failed attack) prompts one question and one question only, no matter which party is in power: "which rights do we give up now"? And each serious government crime engenders new excuses for vesting political leaders with immunity. And no new government power of detention, surveillance, or privacy-invasion is too extreme or unwarranted. Unlike in Britain, the term "civil liberties" or the phrase "the state has become too authoritarian" is, in the U.S., one which only Fringe Purist Absolutists utter. Unlike in Britain, efforts to impose serious constraints on unchecked government power are, in the U.S., the exclusive and lonely province of The Unserious Losers among us. And unlike in Britain, the notion that political leaders should actually do what they vowed during the campaign they would do is, in the U.S., a belief held only by terribly un-Pragmatic purist ideologues. Whatever else is true, it is encouraging that a major Western country -- one that has been the victim of a horrific terrorist attack and that has a substantial Muslim population -- has a government that is explicitly advocating (and, at least to some extent, implementing) these ideals.
UPDATE: It is worth noting that this can happen in Britain -- but is not close to happening here -- because their conservatives' advocacy of "limited government" actually extends beyond the mere desire not to pay taxes into actual, substantial concepts of liberty, whereas only a tiny portion of the American Right is even capable of thinking in those terms (that the British Conservative leadership is receptive to supporting same-sex marriage -- whereas the American Democratic Party is not -- underscores the vast differences). Similarly, that country's multi-party system enabled the British Left under Labour, unlike most American liberals under Democratic Party rule, to remain independent of the party in power, and thus retain a serious commitment to objecting to and limiting the unchecked power of political officials.
But whatever else is true, this trans-ideological alliance in Britain can provide a template for how citizens of vastly divergent political philosophies can align to constrain the endless expansion of surveillance, detention and privacy-invading powers by government authorities. Just as is true of efforts to seriously reform the American political system, only a broad-based citizen campaign of that type -- one that transcends rigid partisan divisions -- can retard and possibly even reverse the endless growth of America's Surveillance State.
UPDATE II: Daily Kos recently named several new front-page posters, one of whom is Laurence Lewis, with whom I'm not familiar, but if this new post of his -- regarding the bill sponsored by Dennis Kucinich to ban Obama's presidential assassination program -- is any indication of what he will be placing on the Daily Kos front page, then it was an excellent selection.
America definitely isn’t Greece, but it is looking more and more like Japan. Inadequate recovery, not deficits, is the big problem.
Perhaps it's naïveté, but I've been amazed by the outraged objections of many Good Liberals to the mere discussion of Elena Kagan's sexual orientation. Without realizing it, they've completely internalized one of the most pernicious myths long used to demand that gay people remain in the closet: namely, that to reveal one's sexual orientation is to divulge one's "sex life." From the first moment that Ben Domenech wrote his now infamous CBS post mistakenly stating that Kagan is "openly gay" -- something which a slew of Good Liberals at Harvard also long believed -- the furious reactions have been extremely eye-opening about how many people continue to equate sexual orientation with one of those dark, sexualized topics that all polite and decent people should be willing to avoid.
In objecting to Andrew Sullivan's argument that asking about sexual orientation is completely innocuous and legitimate, Kevin Drum offers one of the most extreme examples yet of this well-intentioned though harmful confusion, which I had really thought (but no longer do) had been left behind in the 1980s (which is why classic 1980s closet defender Ed Koch is now also advocating it). Kevin wrote:
I get why Andrew feels this way. And if that really were the only thing off the table, he'd have a point. But here's a short sample of other questions that are generally off limits when you're interviewing public figures:
* So, have you ever had an affair?
* Do you masturbate when your wife isn't around?
* Have you ever had a three-way?
* Do you download a lot of porn from the internet? Or do you prefer buying it old school on the newsstand?
* I think Asian guys are really hot. How about you?
Notice a trend? They're all related to your sex life. And they're all generally off limits unless (a) you've put it on the table yourself, (b) there's a specific reason to ask about it, or (c) you're part of the gossip circuit where nothing is off limits in the first place. I mean, this is common sense. If you're interviewing Ricky Martin or Silvio Berlusconi, that's one thing. If you're interviewing someone who's obviously eager to talk about their sex life, go to town. But if you're interviewing a Supreme Court justice or the CEO of Goldman Sachs, you just don't bring this stuff up. Come on.
I find it truly unfathomable that people still think this way. As Sullivan says: this "could only be written by a straight person" -- and not just any straight person, but one who does not really believe their rhetoric about gayness being a value-neutral attribute.
Kevin has written before about the fact that he is married and that his spouse is female ("My wife, Marian, is a systems analyst in the MIS department at Lantronix. We've been married since 1991"). When he wrote that, or when he introduces his wife, does he actually think that he's revealing things about his "sex life" -- let alone things on par with: "Do you masturbate when your wife isn't around?" or "Have you ever had a three-way"? To ask the question is to illustrate how inane is the suggestion. At most, one knows from Kevin's revelation that he is heterosexual, but not anything about his "sex life" -- i.e., how many times a week does he have sex, how many partners does he have, what positions does he most enjoy, what type of women does he find attractive, etc. etc.?
Identically, if an individual introduces their same-sex spouse, or self-identifies or is identified as being "gay" or "lesbian," are you actually learning anything about their "sex life"? No. I've written before about the way the Defense of Marriage Act denies my right to have my same-sex partner, a Brazilian national, obtain the same immigration benefits as opposite-sex spouses of American citizens. When doing so, did I reveal anything about my "sex life"? Of course not -- at least no more so than when someone like Kevin reveals that he's "been married to Marian for 18 years."
The fact that someone would equate "are you gay?" to "do you download a lot of porn from the internet?" is astonishing to me. The latter question really is about someone's "sex life," while the former is about who they are. The premise that being gay is about one's "sex life" has long been the foundation of the dictate that gay people remain closeted (we don't need to have your "sex lives" rubbed in our faces; keep that to yourself). I don't mean to single out Kevin here; the point he's making -- being gay is about your "sex life" and thus should be deemed off-limits unless the person voluntarily raises it -- has been repeated over and over during the last month by countless people who fancy themselves quite progressive on gay issues.
Indeed, the very notion that it is "outrageous" or "despicable" to inquire into a public figure's sexual orientation -- adjectives I heard repeatedly applied to those raising questions about Kagan -- is completely inconsistent with the belief that sexual orientation is value-neutral. If being straight and gay are precise moral equivalents, then what possible harm can come from asking someone, especially one who seeks high political office: "are you gay?" If one really believes that they are equivalent, then that question would be no different than asking someone where they grew up, whether they are married, or how many children they have. That's what made the White House's response to the initial claims that Kagan was gay so revealing and infuriating: by angrily rejecting those claims as "false charges," they were -- as Alex Pareene put it -- "treating lesbian rumors like allegations of vampiric necrophilia."
Sexual orientation is not about one's "sex life," at least not primarily, but instead is a key part of one's identity. Along with a whole variety of other factors (race, socioeconomic background, religion, gender, geographic origin, ethnic background), it shapes one's experiences, perceptions, and relationship to the world. As is true for all of those other attributes, there is vast heterogeniety within one's sexual orientation; there's as much diversity among gay people as there is among, say, Christians or Latinos or women or heterosexuals. But there's no doubt that it is a very substantial factor in one's life experiences and understanding of the world.
It's ironic indeed that so many progressives -- who spent months during Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation process insisting that one's life experiences (growing up as a poor Puerto Rican in the South Bronx) play a crucial role in how one understands the claims of litigants -- are now demanding that sexual orientation be permitted to be kept hidden as though it's completely irrelevant to one's perspective. If there's nothing whatsoever wrong with being gay, why the double standard? Just as Sotomayor's background would undoubtedly affect her ability to understand (or "empathize" with) claims of discrimination or other forms of oppression, wouldn't the same be true of a judge's growing up gay -- or choosing to remain closeted?
Those who object to the assumption that any unmarried woman must be a lesbian if she's middle-aged and with a successful career have a valid point, as do those who argue that women are subjected to greater scrutiny over their personal lives than men are. But those are separate questions. If being gay or straight are complete moral equivalents, then there can't possibly be anything wrong with asking if someone is gay -- no more so than asking if one is married or asking about someone's religion. And those who want to hold themselves out as enlightened progressives on this topic should really stop acting as though "I am gay" is the equivalent of "let me tell you the sexual positions I most enjoy" -- or that asking "is she gay?" is the same as asking "has she ever had a three-way"? To see the two as comparable reveals the presence of some extremely misguided beliefs that such people would likely be eager to deny that they hold.
UPDATE: Regarding the claim of several commenters that sexual orientation is a "private matter," that it's "nobody's business," etc., two points to make about that, even though it's not really responsive to the argument I'm making here:
(1) When someone seeks political power, they give up certain aspects of their privacy. The more political power one seeks, the more privacy they give up. Even though a person's finances are generally private and "none of anyone's business," Kagan was just compelled to file detailed disclosure statements describing all aspects of her personal finances. That's how it should be: the public has the right to know about people who seek substantial political power, so the mere fact that X is typically considered "private" for a private figure does not mean it's off-limits for a political official.
(2) If Kagan were married to a male, but refused to disclose any information about her husband (including even his identity, what he did for a living, etc.), would that be OK on the ground that it's her "private life" and "nobody's business"? Would anyone ever argue that was the case? What's the difference?
This is a reminder that one can't run around exposing the secrets of the most powerful governments, militaries and corporations in the world without consequences (h/t):
The Australian founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks had his passport confiscated by police when he arrived in Melbourne last week.
Julian Assange, who does not have an official home base and travels every six weeks, told the Australian current affairs program Dateline that immigration officials had said his passport was going to be cancelled because it was looking worn.
However he then received a letter from the Australian Communication Minister Steven Conroy’s office stating that the recent disclosure on Wikileaks of a blacklist of websites the Australian government is preparing to ban had been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Last year Wikileaks published a confidential list of websites that the Australian government is preparing to ban under a proposed internet filter -- which in turn caused the whistleblower site to be placed on that list.
The Australian document was so damaging because the Australian government claimed that the to-be-banned websites were all associated with child pornography, but the list of the targeted sites including many which had nothing to do with pornography. That WikiLeaks was then added to the list underscores the intended abuse.
Forcing Assange to remain in Australia would likely be crippling to WikiLeaks. One of the ways which WikiLeaks protects the confidentiality of its leakers and evades detection is by having Assange constantly move around, managing WikiLeaks from his laptop, backpack, and numerous countries around the world. Preventing him from leaving Australia would ensure that authorities around the world know where he is and would impede his ability to maintain the secrecy on which WikiLeaks relies.
Secrecy is the crux of institutional power -- the principal weapon for maintaining it -- and there are very few entities left which can truly threaten that secrecy. As the worldwide controversy over the Iraqi Apache helicopter attack compellingly demonstrated, WikiLeaks is one of the very few entitles capable of doing so and fearlessly devoted to that mission. It's hardly surprising that those responsible would be harassed and intimidated by governmental agencies -- it'd be far more surprising if they weren't -- but it's a testament to how truly threatening they perceive outlets like WikiLeaks to be. I hope to speak with Assange later today and will provide more details as I know them.
After last night's election results, there's no doubt that the electorate has contempt for Washington incumbents and the political establishment. Virtually every media account dutifully recites the same storyline -- that these results reflect an "anti-incumbent" mood -- but virtually none of these stories examines the reasons for that "mood." Why do Americans, seemingly regardless of party affiliation or geographic location, despise the political establishment?
One reason why media mavens seem reluctant, even unable, to grapple with this question is because it so plainly falls outside their familiar, comfortable narratives. Contrary to efforts earlier this year to depict the problem as one aimed at Democratic incumbents due to the unpopular health care plan and the growing "tea party" movement, Republican voters -- as demonstrated in Florida, Utah, and last night in Kentucky -- clearly hate their own party's leadership at least as much as the animosity directed toward Democratic incumbents. The trend is plainly trans-partisan and trans-ideological, and the establishment political media has a very difficult time understanding or explaining dynamics about which that is true.
So extreme is the anger toward the political establishment that not even popular politicians have any impact on it. Despite the fact that he remains quite popular with his state's GOP voters, Mitch McConnell's handpicked candidate was slaughtered in Kentucky by a highly unconventional and establishment-scorned Rand Paul. And just as Massachusetts voters did in December when President Obama traveled there to plead with them to elect Martha Coakley, only for them to reject those pleas and send Scott Brown to the Senate, Democratic voters completely ignored Obama's vigorous support for incumbent Senators Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln, sending the former to ignominious defeat after 30 years, and forcing the latter into an extremely difficult run-off with Bill Halter (who was recruited by Accountability Now, an organization I helped found and continue to run).
It makes perfect sense that the country loathes the political establishment. Just look at its rancid fruits over the past decade: a devastating war justified by weapons that did not exist; a financial crisis that our Nation's Genuises failed to detect and which its elites caused with lawless and piggish greed; elections that seem increasingly irrelevant in terms of how the Government functions; grotesquely lavish rewards for the worst culprits juxtaposed with miserable unemployment and serious risks of having basic entitlements (Social Security) cut for ordinary Americans; and a Congress that continues to be owned, right out in the open, by the very interests that have caused so much damage. The political establishment is rotten to its core, and the only thing that's surprising is that the citizenry's contempt isn't even more intense than it is. But precisely because that dynamic so clearly transcends Left/Right or Democratic/GOP dichotomies, little effort is expended to understand or explain it.
One of the most interesting and important questions is whether this trans-partisan, anti-establishment anger can bring about some cracks in the rigid partisan polarization that serves, more than anything else, to preserve the status quo. Consider, for instance, that Rand Paul's campaign included some serious questioning of the war in Afghanistan and that Sen. Tom Coburn recently threatened to filibuster the $33.5 billion war supplemental spending bill if it isn't independently paid for, combined with the Democrats' realization that they will be forced on their own to fund the endless -- and increasingly ugly -- war in Afghanistan. Or consider the odd spectacle that numerous Republicans are beginning to take the lead in questioning and even objecting to the Obama administration's efforts to further whittle away civil liberties and vest itself with greater unchecked power.
It's possible that the pervasive, trans-partisan anger can muddle, even re-arrange, the rigid partisan divisions that prevent citizens of similar interests from working together against the factions that control Washington. One saw that in the alliance between progressives (such as Alan Grayson and Bernie Sanders) and conservatives (such as Ron Paul) that led to the enactment of the Audit the Fed bill, as well as in similar alliances during the Bush years in opposition to the assaults on the Constitution (such as the one forged by Al Gore and Bob Barr). This isn't Broderian bipartisanship where the two parties' mix their policies into a muddled, watered-down mish-mash of nothing for its own sake. It's far more substantive than that: a refusal to allow ordinary citizens to be divided (and thus weakened) along artificial tribal lines, thereby enabling the establishment factions that feed at the Washington trough to maintain their same power in unchallenged form.
I'm not particularly optimistic about this possibility. The reality is that the American Right is still the movement of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and Sarah Palin, really no different -- despite its "tea party" re-branding -- than what spawned the Bush/Cheney extremism of the last decade. And even Rand Paul, who some are trying to depict as a crusading civil libertarian and anti-war advocate, ran on a platform (as Scott Brown did) of opposing the closing of Guantanamo, the use of civilian trials for accused Terrorists, and the granting of visas to people from numerous Muslim countries. Many of the key ignorant and primitive orthodoxies of modern conservatism are as strong as ever. Other than some (extremely hypocritical and opportunistic) war questioning and some anger over the growing corporate-Government overlap, I have a very hard time looking at the American Right and finding much cause for optimism about any of what's taking place over there.
Still, it's hard not to be encouraged by the disgust which the citizenry clearly has for the political establishment regardless of party, as well as the resulting (and increasing) fear and confusion on the part of the political class. This sort of citizenry anger can re-arrange political alignments and explode political orthodoxies in fundamental and unpredictable ways. There is, to be sure, a risk in that, but there is a far greater risk in simply allowing the destructive political status quo to linger in unchanged form for much longer.
Has the Republican Party become more extreme, or is the country just beginning to notice?
I was on ABC's This Week roundtable this morning -- along with George Will, Greg Craig, Ed Gillespie, and The New York Times' Helene Cooper -- discussing the Kagan nomination, Obama's civil liberties record, and the various primary challenges taking place around the country. I have several observations to make about the whole experience, though I''m traveling today and likely won't be able to post until tomorrow or even Tuesday. Below are three clips -- first, the exchange I had with Kagan defender (and former Obama White House counsel) Greg Craig regarding Kagan's lack of known views on most issues, followed by the two full, unedited segments of the roundtable. Craig's inability to identify any specific views which Kagan has on the critical issues I asked about has been replicated by numerous other Kagan defenders:
Long-time commenter DCLaw1 provided some amusing live-tweeting and post-segment reflections on his blog, as did Jane Hamsher.
For those hordes of people who haven't yet gotten enough of me and Larry Lessig this week, our traveling road show continued as we recorded a Bloggingheads session yesterday (video below). We discussed our contentious exchange from earlier this week and the lessons to be drawn from it; Elena Kagan's views on executive power; whether Kagan (and judicial nominees generally) should be forced to answer specific questions about their views of the law and the Constitution; proposals for restraining corporate control (i.e., ownership) of Congress in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision; Obama's role in perpetuating those problems; the reasons why corporate control of Washington is the "overarching" political problem; and whether a backlash against Beltway subservience to corporate interests is one of those issues that can unite citizens across ideological lines. I'm traveling today, so it's unlikely I'll be able to post more today, and I think this discussion was quite good and worth listening to (specific segments can be selected here).
As a reminder, on Sunday morning, I'll be on ABC News' This Week roundtable, along with George Will, former Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig, former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie, and The New York Times' Helene Cooper. The topics will be Kagan, the Karzai visit/Afghanistan, and other topics, and will be preceded by an interview with Sens. Pat Leahy and Jeff Sessions, the Chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, so it should be interesting. Finally, see this post from John Cole about a new, moderately good New York Times article from Scott Shane on Obama's due-process-free assassination program aimed at U.S. citizens:
UPDATE: When I noted John Cole's post regarding Obama's assassination program above, I had intended (but then neglected) to recommend that everyone read the comment section to that post, because the blind-Obama-loyalist faction of Cole's commentariat were engaging in the most extreme and darkly entertaining efforts to justify Obama's due-process-free killing of American citizens (because it's Obama's conduct). So repugnant were their contortions that Cole himself wrote a new, scathing post condemning this all-too-common mentality; it is well worth reading.
The United States may currently be running deficits of comparable size to Greece’s, but its economic position and fiscal outlook is vastly better.
A primary reason Bush and Cheney succeeded in their radical erosion of core liberties is because they focused their assault on non-citizens with foreign-sounding names, casting the appearance that none of what they were doing would ever affect the average American. There were several exceptions to that tactic -- the due-process-free imprisonment of Americans Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, the abuse of the "material witness" statute to detain American Muslims, the eavesdropping on Americans' communications without warrants -- but the vast bulk of the abuses were aimed at non-citizens. That is now clearly changing.
The most recent liberty-abridging, Terrorism-justified controversies have focused on diluting the legal rights of American citizens (in part because the rights of non-citizens are largely gone already and there are none left to attack). A bipartisan group from Congress sponsors legislation to strip Americans of their citizenship based on Terrorism accusations. Barack Obama claims the right to assassinate Americans far from any battlefield and with no due process of any kind. The Obama administration begins covertly abandoning long-standing Miranda protections for American suspects by vastly expanding what had long been a very narrow "public safety" exception, and now Eric Holder explicitly advocates legislation to codify that erosion. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduce legislation to bar all Terrorism suspects, including Americans arrested on U.S. soil, from being tried in civilian courts, and former Bush officials Bill Burck and Dana Perino -- while noting (correctly) that Holder's Miranda proposal constitutes a concession to the right-wing claim that Miranda is too restrictive -- today demand that U.S. citizens accused of Terrorism and arrested on U.S. soil be treated as enemy combatants and thus denied even the most basic legal protections (including the right to be charged and have access to a lawyer).
This shift in focus from non-citizens to citizens is as glaring as it is dangerous. As Digby put it last week:
The frighting reality is that not even Dick Cheney thought of stripping Americans of their citizenship so that you could torture and imprison them forever --- even right after 9/11 when the whole country was petrified and he could have gotten away with anything. You'll recall even John Walker Lindh, who was literally captured on the battlefield fighting with the Taliban, was tried in civilian court. They even read him his rights.
I think this says something fairly alarming about the current state of our politics.
There is, of course, no moral difference between subjecting citizens and non-citizens to abusive or tyrannical treatment. But as a practical matter, the dangers intensify when the denial of rights is aimed at a government's own population. The ultimate check on any government is its own citizenry; vesting political leaders with oppressive domestic authority uniquely empowers them to avoid accountability and deter dissent. It's one thing for a government to spy on other countries (as virtually every nation does); it's another thing entirely for them to direct its surveillance apparatus inward and spy on its own citizens. Alarming assaults on basic rights become all the more alarming when the focus shifts to the domestic arena.
It is not hyperbole to observe that all of the above-cited recent examples are designed to formally exempt a certain class of American citizens -- those accused of being Terrorists and arrested on U.S. soil -- from the most basic legal protections. They're all intended, in the name of Scary Terrorists, to rewrite the core rules of our justice system in order to increase the already-vast detention powers of the U.S. Government and further minimize the remaining safeguards against abuse. The most disgraceful episodes in American history have been about exempting classes of Americans from core rights, and that is exactly what these recent, Terrorism-justified proposals do as well. Anyone who believes that these sorts of abusive powers will be exercised only in narrow and magnanimous ways should just read a little bit of history, or just look at what has happened with the always-expanding police powers vested in the name of the never-ending War on Drugs, the precursor to the never-ending War on Terrorism in so many ways.
What's most amazing about all of this is that even 9 years after the 9/11 attacks and even after the radical reduction of basic rights during the Bush/Cheney years, the reaction is still exactly the same to every Terrorist attack, whether a success or failure, large- or small-scale. Apparently, 8 years of the Bush assault on basic liberties was insufficient; there are still many remaining rights in need of severe abridgment. Even now, every new attempted attack causes the Government to devise a new proposal for increasing its own powers still further and reducing rights even more, while the media cheer it on. It never goes in the other direction. Apparently, as "extremist" as the Bush administration was, there are still new rights to erode each time the word Terrorism is uttered. Each new incident, no matter how minor, prompts new, exotic proposals which the "Constitution-shredding" Bush/Cheney team neglected to pursue: an assassination program aimed at U.S. citizens, formal codification of Miranda dilutions, citizenship-stripping laws, a statute to deny all legal rights to Americans arrested on U.S. soil.
The U.S. already has one of the most pro-government criminal justice systems in the world. That (along with our indescribably insane drug laws) is why we have the world's largest prison population and the highest percentage of our citizenry incarcerated of any country in the Western world. It is hard to imagine a worse fate than being a defendant in the American justice system accused of Terrorism-related crimes. Conviction and a very long prison sentence are virtual certainties. Particularly in the wake of 9/11 and the Patriot Act era, the rules have been repeatedly rewritten to provide the Government with every conceivable advantage. The very idea that the Government is hamstrung in its ability to prosecute and imprison Terrorists is absurd on its face. Decades of pro-government laws in general, and post-9/11 changes in particular, have created a justice system that strangles the rights of those accused of Terrorism. Despite that, every new incident becomes a pretext for a fresh wave of fear-mongering and still new ways to erode core Constitutional protections even further.
It really is the case that every new Terrorist incident reflexively produces a single-minded focus on one question: which rights should we take away now/which new powers should we give the Government? We never reach the point where we decide that we have already retracted enough rights. Further restrictions on rights seems to be the only reaction of which our political and media class is capable in the face of a new attack. The premise seems to be that if we keep limiting rights further and further, we'll eventually reach the magical point of Absolute Safety where there will be no more Terrorism. For so many reasons, that is an obvious myth, one that ensures that we'll reduce rights infinitely and with no discernible benefit. We're not the target of Terrorist attacks because we have too many rights; we're the target because of our own actions, ones that we never reconsider in light of new attacks because we're too busy figuring out which rights to erode next.
As Robert Wright explained (again) in an excellent New York Times Op-Ed this week, as long as we continue to invade, bomb and occupy Muslim countries, there are going to be people (including within our country) who want to return the violence to us. That will happen no matter how repeatedly we re-write our rules of justice and acquiesce to more core liberties being taken away. But not only do we show no signs of slowing down in the behavior that causes us to be Terrorist targets, each new attack causes us to intensify that behavior through the use of the most circular logic imaginable. President Obama said this week that we must continue to fight in Afghanistan because of the recent Terrorist attacks aimed at the U.S.; of course, a primary reason there are Terrorist attacks aimed at the U.S. is because we continue to kill Muslim civilians around the world, including in Afghanistan. It's a never-ending, self-perpetuating cycle: we attack people in the Muslim world, causing Terrorist attacks aimed at the U.S., and then cite those episodes as a reason to further attack people in the Muslim world, etc.
That endless cycle would be bad enough standing alone. But it's accompanied by a relentless and still ongoing transformation of our political system. We never ask what we're doing to cause Terrorism and how we can change our actions to weaken it. We instead ask only one question each time the word Terrorism is uttered: which new rights can we get rid of now? Even after 8 years of Bush/Cheney, Americans are still finding new and creative ways to answer that question, this time by aiming it at themselves.
I didn't necessarily intend to be so engulfed by the Elena Kagan debate -- speaking and writing about it every day, here and in other venues, to the exclusion of most other matters -- but I suppose that's inevitable once you become centrally identified with a position. I hope and expect to turn to several other stories very shortly, but for the moment, there is still much to say and learn about the Kagan nomination. The reality is that the Supreme Court (by design) has as much of an impact (and, in some instances, more) on vital political and legal questions as the White House and Congress do; many of its most consequential decisions have been by 5-4 rulings; and putting someone like Elena Kagan on the Court for the next 30-40 years could have extraordinary consequences. It's worth paying substantial attention to this nomination.
Illustrating how little is known about her and how dubious is some of the praise that's issuing, review this new article examining several memos Kagan wrote while in the Clinton White House which express what the article calls "centrist" positions but which are, in reality, quite anathema to mainstream progressive and even Democratic Party opinion. I was on Democracy Now this morning debating Kagan with Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig; the debate was quite constructive and illuminating and, I think, demonstrates (as both Lessig and I agreed afterward) how sharply divergent and passionately held views can be aggressively debated in an illuminating and substantive way without obfuscating cable-news-type rancor:
Also worth watching is this shorter debate from last night between Law Professor Marjorie Cohn (a Kagan critic) and Kagan supporter Lawrence O'Donnell on Countdown, which focused to some extent on Kagan and executive power:
UPDATE: This Sunday -- as Jake Tapper just noted -- I'll be on ABC's This Week roundtable along with George Will, Ed Gillespie, former Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig, and Helene Cooper of The New York Times. There will be several topics discussed, but since the first guests are Senators Leahy and Sessions, the Chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Kagan nomination will obviously be one of those.
Along those lines, Greg Sargent had a very interesting find today: past comments from Barack Obama regarding the need for Supreme Court nominees with no real record of beliefs to provide meaningful answers to questions during the confirmation process. Dan Froomkin similarly argues that Kagan should be compelled to adhere to the demand she previously issued for other nominees: that they provide specific, clear answers about their views of the law and the Constitution.
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