Archive for the ‘War On Terror’ Category

So Counterintuitive As To Be An Absurdity

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

I was shocked, I tell you, shocked when I read Richard Cohen’s opinion piece in today’s Washington PostTorture? Prosecute Us, Too. I have taken Richard Cohen to task here before. See Cohen Head. But, to give credit where credit is due, I found Cohen’s piece today to be one of the most thoughtful pieces I have read in a long time. What makes this piece so thoughtful? The realization that there is context to the actions taken by the United States over the past 8 years. Notice that I said “actions” and “United States”. Not “torture” and “Bush”.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” So goes an aphorism that needs to be applied to the current debate over whether those who authorized and used torture should be prosecuted. In the very different country called Sept. 11, 2001, the answer would be a resounding no.

So begins the piece. And then

Back then, a Post poll gave George W. Bush an approval rating of 92 percent, which meant that almost no one thought he was on the wrong course. At the same time, questions about the viability of torture were very much in the air. Alan Dershowitz was suggesting the creation of torture warrants — permission from a court to, in effect, break some bones.

Dershowitz, mind you, was not in favor of torture but argued that if torture was going to be done, it was best that it be done legally. In a similar vein, the thoughtful Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter mulled the legality, the morality and the efficacy of torture. In the end, Alter ruled it out — although not sodium pentothal (truth serum) or offshoring terrorism suspects “to our less squeamish allies.” In fact, the government was already sending suspects abroad to be interrogated.

Alter’s essay created quite a stir — and to his considerable surprise, a lot of whispered support from liberals. Around the same time, historian Jay Winik wrote about the usefulness of torture, how Philippine agents in 1995 got a certain Abdul Hakim Murad to reveal a plot to blow up 11 American airliners over the Pacific and send yet another plane, this one loaded with nerve gas, into CIA headquarters in Langley. After being beaten nearly to death, Murad was finally broken by the hollow threat to turn him over to Israel’s Mossad.

The Philippine example was widely mentioned at the time, even by those who opposed the use of torture. The conventional wisdom that torture never works — so counterintuitive as to be an absurdity — was not yet doctrine. Neither for that matter was the belief that the coming war in Iraq was a moral and practical absurdity. Congress overwhelmingly voted for war and the American people overwhelmingly supported it.

Please read the remainder of the article. It is worthwhile. Jonathan Alter, no neocon, is quoted by Cohen. I think that Cohen overstates the extent to which Alter “ruled it out”. Here is the beginning of the cited Newsweek article from November 5, 2001.

In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to… torture. OK, not cattle prods or rubber hoses, at least not here in the United States, but something to jump-start the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history. Right now, four key hijacking suspects aren’t talking at all.

Couldn’t we at least subject them to psychological torture, like tapes of dying rabbits or high-decibel rap? (The military has done that in Panama and elsewhere.) How about truth serum, administered with a mandatory IV? Or deportation to Saudi Arabia, land of beheadings? (As the frustrated FBI has been threatening.) Some people still argue that we needn’t rethink any of our old assumptions about law enforcement, but they’re hopelessly “Sept. 10”–living in a country that no longer exists.

One sign of how much things have changed is the reaction to the antiterrorism bill, which cleared the Senate last week by a vote of 98-1. While the ACLU felt obliged to quibble with a provision or two, the opposition was tepid, even from staunch civil libertarians. That great quote from the late Chief Justice Robert Jackson–“The Constitution is not a suicide pact”–is getting a good workout lately.

Alter seems very hesitant to conduct what he calls physical torture, though it is unclear whether he would classify something like waterboarding as physical torture. Later, Alter writes

Short of physical torture, there’s always sodium pentothal (“truth serum”). The FBI is eager to try it, and deserves the chance. Unfortunately, truth serum, first used on spies in World War II, makes suspects gabby but not necessarily truthful. The same goes for even the harshest torture. When the subject breaks, he often lies. Prisoners “have only one objective–to end the pain,” says retired Col. Kenneth Allard, who was trained in interrogation. “It’s a huge limitation.”

Some torture clearly works. Jordan broke the most notorious terrorist of the 1980s, Abu Nidal, by threatening his family. Philippine police reportedly helped crack the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (plus a plot to crash 11 U.S. airliners and kill the pope) by convincing a suspect that they were about to turn him over to the Israelis. Then there’s painful Islamic justice, which has the added benefit of greater acceptance among Muslims.

We can’t legalize physical torture; it’s contrary to American values. But even as we continue to speak out against human-rights abuses around the world, we need to keep an open mind about certain measures to fight terrorism, like court-sanctioned psychological interrogation. And we’ll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that’s hypocritical. Nobody said this was going to be pretty.

I had to reread some of that.

  • Some torture clearly works.
  • …we need to keep an open mind about certain measures to fight terrorism, like court-sanctioned psychological interrogation.
  • …we’ll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that’s hypocritical. [emphasis added]

Alter (and Cohen today) cited the work by Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz is another person that probably won’t be hunting with Dick Cheney any time soon. Dershowitz is not exactly in favor of torture, but he is pragmatic enough to argue in favor of torture warrants

[The] ticking bomb scenario had long been a staple of legal and political philosophers who love to debate hypothetical cases that test the limit of absolute principles, such as the universal prohibition against the use of torture which has long been codified by international treaties. The ticking bomb case has also been debated, though not as a hypothetical case, in Israel, whose security services long claimed the authority to employ “moderate physical pressure” in order to secure real time intelligence from captured terrorists believed to know about impending terrorist acts. The moderate physical pressure employed by Israel was tougher than it sounds, but not nearly as tough as the brutal methods used by the French in interrogating suspected terrorists during the Algerian uprisings. The Israeli security service would take a suspected terrorist, tie him to a chair in an uncomfortable position for long periods of time with loud music blaring in the background, and then place a smelly sack over his head and shake him violently. Many tongues were loosened by this process and several terrorist acts prevented, without any suspects being seriously injured.

Torture, it turns out, can sometimes produce truthful information. The Israeli experience suggested that information obtained as a result of torture should never be believed, unless it can be independently confirmed, but such information can sometimes be self-proving, as when the subject leads law enforcement to the actual location of the bomb.

Nonetheless, the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed all use of even moderate, non-lethal physical pressure. It responded to the ticking bomb scenario by saying that if a security agent thought it was necessary to use physical pressure in order to prevent many deaths, he could take his chances, be prosecuted, and try to raise a defense of “necessity”. In my book Shouting Fire, I wrote critically of this decision on the ground that it places security officials in an impossible dilemma. It would be better if any such official could seek an advanced ruling from a judge, as to whether physical pressure is warranted under the specific circumstances, in order to avoid being subject to an after the fact risk of imprisonment. Thus was born the proposal for a torture warrant.

The remainder of Dershowitz’s paper is recommended reading.

As we begin 2009, and as new administration comes to power, it seems easy to take a high rhetorical road against anything that might hint of torture and for anything that might sound like prosecution of those responsible. This seems a very poor response to the realities of times immediately after 9/11 and the choices we made.

Mo Gitmo

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I found the article When Gitmo Was Relatively Good in this past Sunday’s Washington Post to be about as fair and balanced as one could expect at the end of Obama’s first week in office. It recounts the efforts of Joint Task Force 160 and Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert to stand up Gitmo in a matter of days shortly after September 11, 2001.

It speaks of the decision, against administration wishes, to bring in representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It quotes the head of the detention unit as saying “The Geneva Conventions don’t officially apply, but they do apply.”  Huh? The article cites that kind of ambiguity in several places.

The article speaks of Navy Lt. Abuhena M. Saifulisalam, a Bangladeshi American imam and Muslim chaplain. It speaks of hunger strikes and suggests that perhaps Lehnert may have promised detainees speedy trials in exchange for food intake. It may be that Lehnert had no real business offering that quid pro quo, but we don’t know what he was told and the article does not state.

The article indicates Lehnert was relieved of his Guantanamo duty by Donald Rumsfeld in order to create a Guantanamo that focused on interrogations. This is the Guantanamo that “appalled the world”.

For all the talk about the Geneva Conventions requirements, the article lists two that could not obviously be implemented (although I am not sure why this is so obvious):

  • The right to musical instruments.
  • The right to work for payment.

And there is this Top Myths About the Closing of Guantanamo from Think Progress that attempts to dispel a number of “myths” about Guantanamo. Never mind that some of these myths are stated in the form of suggestion, such as

MYTH #5 — WE SHOULD JUST HOUSE THE DETAINEES AT ALCATRAZ

What kind of muckraking moron writes this as a myth? Oh, I notice that Think Progress is part of the Center for American Progress. That explains it. Here is another myth

MYTH #1 — GUANTANAMO IS A GREAT PLACE TO BE

And here is the case that dispels the myth

Conservatives often try to argue that life at Guantanamo is just fine. Reacting to Obama’s executive order, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said that detainees there receive “more comforts than a lot of Americans get.” In December, Vice President Cheney argued that Guantanamo “has been very well run.” Neither of these claims are true. The Washington Post recently revealed that the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to prosecute detainees concluded that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured by the U.S. military at Guantanamo. The detention center was so poorly run that Obama administration officials are now finding out that Bush officials never kept comprehensive case files on many detainees.

Well, I suspect that Guantanamo is not a happy place to be. Nor should it be. One complaint is that Bush officials did not keep comprehensive files on many detainees. What is meant by “Bush officials”? Political appointees are responsible for Gitmo? Or is this just a muckraker’s way of saying “the armed forces”? Are at least some files kept on all detainees? What does “comprehensive” mean? What does “many” mean?

And another complaint is that “the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to prosecute detainees concluded that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured by the U.S. military”. Well, as I have written before, the official found that the techniques “were all authorized”, “persistent”, and were “clearly coercive”. The problem was that the authorized techniques were applied over and over again and so were coercive. But isn’t that the point of interrogation?

Security Check Point

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

If you have young children, like I do, and if you are planning air travel any time soon, you might want to consider a Playmobil Security Check Point. As I write this, Amazon shows “Only 1 left in stock–order soon”.

Security Check Point

Security Check Point

The product reviews on Amazon are hilarious.

A reviewer with the screen name loosenut had this to say

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said “that’s the worst security ever!”. But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.

The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillence society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighborhood Surveillence System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu-Gharib Interogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).

And this from another reviewer

My family was planning a vacation to Europe, so I purchased this item to teach my twins about what to expect at the airport and hopefully, alleviate some of their anxiety. We also downloaded the actual TSA security checklist from the American Airlines website and then proceeded with our demonstration. Well, first we had to round up a Barbie and a few Bratz dolls to play the other family members, so that cost us a few extra bucks at the Dollar General and it is aggravating that the manufacturer did not make this product “family-friendly.” Of course, since the playmobil Dad could not remove his shoes or other clothing items, unlike the Barbie, the playmobil security agent became suspicious and after waving her wand wildy a few dozen times, called her supervisor to wisk the Dad into a special body-cavity search room, (which incidentally led to quite an embarasing and interesting discussion with my twin daughters about personal hygiene and a slight adjustment to the rules we had them memorize about touching by strangers). . . .

This from a TSA agent (?)

I will never need to buy toothpaste again thanks to Playmobil. Not realizing this was a toy I purchased it to prepare for my interview as a TSA agent. Needless to say I aced it and have been happily viewing xrays of carry-on luggage and shoes ever since. As noted above, the free toothpaste is just icing on the cake – never expected a free lifetime supply, but who’s complaining. This is a “must-have” for any aspiring TSA agent out there.

And

When I bought this toy, I was looking forward to placing my minority-action figure through the metal detector, and then running the little script I prepared: “Excuse me sir, but you have been ‘randomnly’ selected for additional scans. Please let us take a sample from your shoe while the computer analyzes findings for any radioactive or biohazardous material”.

It’s too bad that they never came out with the “Pat-Down” edition, where fat guards are groping women for weapons, and turning customers away who refuse the degrading method of search.

My only suggestion is that if this is based on the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, please don’t forget to include the bums who torment you for spare change. Thanks!

I had to laugh at the creative comments. But if you look at the customer reviews and comments here, there is frequently a theme of an authoritarian overreaction to the terrorist threat. Terms like “police state” and “high-surveillence society” and “infringing on the civil liberties of its citizens in the name of safety and security”. Some of these comments date from 2005 (for example, the comment that invokes Abu-Gharib). Many are much newer. It is as if the commenters never heard of Madrid, London, or these

  • December 2001, Richard Reid: British citizen attempted to ignite shoe bomb on flight from Paris to Miami.
  • May 2002, Jose Padilla: American citizen accused of seeking radioactive-laced “dirty bomb” to use in an attack against Amrica. Padilla was convicted of conspiracy in August, 2007.
  • September 2002, Lackawanna Six: American citizens of Yemeni origin convicted of supporting Al Qaeda after attending jihadist camp in Pakistan. Five of six were from Lackawanna, N.Y.
  • May 2003, Iyman Faris: American citizen charged with plotting to use blowtorches to collapse the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • June 2003, Virginia Jihad Network: Eleven men from Alexandria, Va., trained for jihad against American soldiers, convicted of violating the Neutrality Act, conspiracy.
  • August 2004, Dhiren Barot: Indian-born leader of terror cell plotted bombings on financial centers (see additional images).
  • August 2004, James Elshafay and Shahawar Matin Siraj: Sought to plant bomb at New York’s Penn Station during the Republican National Convention.
  • August 2004, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain: Plotted to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat on American soil.
  • June 2005, Father and son Umer Hayat and Hamid Hayat: Son convicted of attending terrorist training camp in Pakistan; father convicted of customs violation.
  • August 2005, Kevin James, Levar Haley Washington, Gregory Vernon Patterson and Hammad Riaz Samana: Los Angeles homegrown terrorists who plotted to attack National Guard, LAX, two synagogues and Israeli consulate.
  • December 2005, Michael Reynolds: Plotted to blow up natural gas refinery in Wyoming, the Transcontinental Pipeline, and a refinery in New Jersey. Reynolds was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
  • February 2006, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi and Zand Wassim Mazloum: Accused of providing material support to terrorists, making bombs for use in Iraq.
  • April 2006, Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee: Cased and videotaped the Capitol and World Bank for a terrorist organization.
  • June 2006, Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Rotschild Augstine: Accused of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower.
  • July 2006, Assem Hammoud: Accused of plotting to bomb New York City train tunnels.
  • August 2006, Liquid Explosives Plot: Thwarted plot to explode ten airliners over the United States.
  • March 2007, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Mastermind of Sept. 11 and author of numerous plots confessed in court in March 2007 to planning to destroy skyscrapers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Mohammedalso plotted to assassinate Pope John Paul II and former President Bill Clinton.
  • May 2007, Fort Dix Plot: Six men accused of plotting to attack Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey. The plan included attacking and killing soldiers using assault rifles and grenades.
  • June 2007, JFK Plot: Four men are accused of plotting to blow up fuel arteries that run through residential neighborhoods at JFK Airport in New York.
  • September 2007, German authorities disrupt a terrorist cell that was planning attacks on military installations and facilities used by Americans in Germany. The Germans arrested three suspected members of the Islamic Jihad Union, a group that has links to Al Qaeda and supports Al Qaeda’s global jihadist agenda.

I am concerned about the collective memory of some in this country.

Looking at Amazon now, I see “Currently Unavailable” and “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” I guess some liberal has stepped up to protect our children.

Balinese Massage and George Winston

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

In today’s Washington Post, so bored was I with Dan Kirk-Davidoff letter to the editor that I slipped into pleasant lassitude reading it.

I cannot fully express the revulsion I felt when I saw the Jan. 10 front-page headline “Obama Under Pressure on Interrogation Policy; Some See Harsh Methods as Essential.”

What on earth is torture if not the infliction of pain to extract information or confessions? When you use gentler language that does not call torture by its name, you participate in the crime. A headline reading “Some See Torture as Essential” would have been far clearer, and far more truthful.

I practically fell into my MacBook Pro just formatting that passage. Yawn. Dan has obviously bought the left’s torture narrative hook, line, and sinker.

Ummm, Dan, we do have some guidance for torture from our courts, and it is along the lines of “intense, lasting, and heinous agony”. As I just mentioned in my last post, the US opted not to accept the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Other Punishment (UNCAT) provisions against CID. So, inflicting pain to extract information from terrorists such as Al-Qaeda , which are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, is NOT TORTURE. Perhaps if Dan feels so bad about the treatment of terrorists, he can offer to give them a Balinese massage or perhaps a sponge bath; maybe put on a little George Winston and light some candles.

In 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized three categories of interrogation techniques. Refer to this list of techniques available to GTMO interrogators per Secretary of Defense orders. Based on my research, there were more proposed techniques in Category 3 – perhaps including waterboarding – but only the one was approved by Rumsfeld. So, it looks like it is difficult to make a torture case against the Dept. of Defense. Where transgressions have occurred, for example at Abu Ghraib, soldiers have been subjected to courts-martial and have been convicted. Admittedly, two Abu Ghraib detainees died while in custody of the transgressors, but no convictions for these deaths were issued.

The waterboarding that we know of was used by the CIA on three high-value targets such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida. No complaints from here. As I have asked before, do Dan and the rest of the left believe that these recent few instances of waterboarding are the first actions ever taken by the CIA that make us uncomfortable, or wince? Ever?

Certainly, if Congress would like to outlaw waterboarding on any suspect, including those not covered by the Geneva Conventions, they may. The election is over. Obama is about to take office. Put away the rhetoric and the theatrical revulsion. It is time for Congress to act, if they are so inclined. But it seems clear that as the Democrats sober up to the reality that they have real responsibilities now, and not just to terrorists or European bed wetters, but to US citizens, at least some are beginning to realize that harsh methods may actually be essential. How adult of them.

A Mental Breakdown Is A Sign Of Hope

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Obama is expected to sign executive orders during his first week in office to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. This is an important symbolic gesture for many of those who voted for Obama, and is viewed by these folks as an important first step in restoring the reputation of the United States

In recent days, Obama has adopted a pragmatic tone. For example, on the subject of GTMO, the executive order is not expected to set an actual deadline. National security will still be factored in, thankfully. As the new administration moves ahead with its plans, I am sure it will consider some of the disturbing content of this CNN article Ex-Gitmo detainees resume terror acts.

Since 2002, 61 former detainees have committed or are suspected to have committed attacks after being released from the detention camp, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said at a briefing Tuesday.

The number is up since the Pentagon’s last report in March 2008 when officials said 37 former detainees had been suspected of returning to the battlefield since 2002.

Since 2007, more than 100 detainees were released, significantly more than in previous years, according to Pentagon officials.

According to the statistics, of the 61 former detainees that are believed to have returned to fighting, 18 have been officially confirmed while 43 are suspected, Morrell said.

It is common to see GTMO and “torture” mentioned as if they were one and the same. For example, consider Profile: Guantanamo Bay from BBC News

Allegations of mistreatment emerged from the start.

The International Red Cross is the only organisation that has been granted full access to detainees.

However, the UN says it has evidence that torture has taken place at the prison.

Its allegations include the force-feeding of hunger strikers through nasal tubes and the simultaneous use of interrogation techniques such as prolonged solitary confinement and exposure to extreme temperatures, noise and light.

Hmmm. Forced feeding hunger strikers? Prolonged solitary confinement? Temperatures, noise, and light? THIS IS NOT TORTURE! At its worst, it might be considered cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is barred by the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT). The UNCAT was ratified in 1994, but the United States accepted only the prohibition against torture. The US found the CID provisions as entirely too vague.

And this

The UN also says many of the inmates have had mental breakdowns.

Perhaps a mental breakdown is a healthier mental condition than was enjoyed by the jihadists before their capture. At time of refoulement, let’s be sure to submit a medical bill for the mental health services to the jihadists’ country of origin.

A Mental Breakdown Would Be An Improvement

A Mental Breakdown Would Be An Improvement

We Need Not Give Protection To Terrorist Groups

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Everywhere I turned today, I saw torture. Not in my mind’s eye, mind you. But in print, and on line.

In print, we have an Judge Susan J. Crawford claiming torture in Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official in today’s Washington Post. The article begins

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

“The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture, she said.

For the record, let me state simply

Now let me see if I get this straight. The techniques “were all authorized”, “persistent”, and were “clearly coercive”? Isn’t that the point of interrogation? Yes judge, when I think of torture, I think of “some horrendous physical act done to an individual”. For reference, the Judge might consult this article by Entifadh Qanbar in the New York Sun

I am an Iraqi who has suffered under Saddam’s harsh dictatorship and who actively fought Saddam for many years before the liberation in 2003. In addition, I participated in the reconstruction efforts in the new Iraq after the liberation, and therefore have a unique perspective to offer in understanding the progression of events in modern day Iraq. I had my first taste of Saddam’s brutality when I was imprisoned by Saddam’s Military Security in 1987 along with my brother. In spite of my relatively short stay in a horrifying cell, I witnessed torture and humiliation first hand in what seemed to be an underworld in which pain and degradation have no end.

For Iraqis, these torture chambers and “atrocity sites” are a confirmation of the links between the terror of the Baath regime and that of Al Qaeda. In 1991, during the uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraqis and the outside world were able to see torture cells from the inside and bear witness to the gruesome acts performed within them for the first time.

After the liberation of Iraq in 2003, the world was finally able to obtain an unprecedented glimpse into the Baath torture chambers and the vast security apparatus which served to maintain order and cement Saddam’s power over Iraq.

If you enter a torture house, you would think it is almost identical to a mechanical workshop: it contains drills, blow torches, hammers, and electrical wiring. For Saddam’s agents, these houses of torture contain all the necessary hardware to extract information from the brains of detainees and very creative ways to punish and extract victims. Thus torture cells established by Saddam’s agents were a horrific instrument of spreading terror and maintaining the iron grip of the regime over the country.

This is real torture. Not the trumped up torture of waterboarding or thongs around the head. Pop Quiz: Help me identify a tool of torture.

This?

This?

or This?

or This?

Now, consider this from Ronald Reagan in 1987, in which he explains his opposition to Protocol 1, an addendum to the Geneva Convention. Specifically

I have … concluded that the United States cannot ratify a second agreement on the law of armed conflict negotiated during the same period. I am referring to Protocol I additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which would revise the rules applicable to international armed conflicts.

It is unfortunate that Protocol I must be rejected. We would have preferred to ratify such a convention, which as I said contains certain sound elements. But we cannot allow other nations of the world, however numerous, to impose upon us and our allies and friends an unacceptable and thoroughly distasteful price for joining a convention drawn to advance the laws of war. In fact, we must not, and need not, give recognition and protection to terrorist groups as a price for progress in humanitarian law. [emphasis added]

It turns out that, at that time, the Washington Post and the New York Times were supporters of Reagan’s opposition. I guess the Post and the Times were against terrorists having protection before they were for it.

The Geneva Conventions were established to permit states to opt into a set of rules that create civilized warfare. With terrorists, there are no states. Just a loose confederation of murderers. They are unlawful combatants. The GCIII do not apply.

I wonder if the anti-war left actually thinks that, prior to the Bush administration, no torture has been carried out by the USA? No black sites? No extraordinary rendition?

Blame America First, Last, and Always

Monday, December 1st, 2008

‘Tis the season to be folly. In just a two day period, we got a one-two punch.

First up, we have Matthew Alexander (not his real name) who led an interrogations team in Iraq and who is the author of “How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq”. Alexander, writing in the Washington Post on November 30th, makes a case against aggressive interrogation techniques and for

…building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information.

Alexander explains that this “renaissance in interrogation tactics” started “…a chain of successes that ultimately led to [the killing of Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi”. Alexander then repeats the oft-heard

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture  was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

I’ll leave aside the incendiary “policy of torture”; but I wonder how Alexander learned this. Did he ask terrorists during his rapport-building? Does he not know – through his “cultural understanding” – that pathological lying is a virtual way of life in the Middle East? Is it possible that foreign fighters would flock to Iraq simply because of our presence there? Is it possible that foreign fighters would know that an answer of “abuses” would make for the greatest hand wringing among the U.S. population and the greatest dissatisfaction with the war effort? Is it possible that some portion of young men in these countries are just spoiling for a fight against the great Satan? Occam’s Razor suggests that the simplest explanation is probably the best. How about this explanation: radical Islam is at war with the West. Is that simple enough?

Up second, we have the inestimable Deepak Chopra. The Indian medical doctor, writer, philosopher, and enema advocate is now an expert on terrorism and establishes his bona fides by laying the blame on the Mumbai Massacre on, why, on the United States of course. Dorothy Rabniowitz writes, in the Wall Street Journal today

In his CNN interview, he was no less clear. What happened in Mumbai, he told the interviewer, was a product of the U.S. war on terrorism, that “our policies, our foreign policies” had alienated the Muslim population, that we had “gone after the wrong people” and inflamed moderates. And “that inflammation then gets organized and appears as this disaster in Bombay.”

All this was a bit too much, evidently, for CNN interviewer Jonathan Mann, who interrupted to note that there were other things going on — matters like the ongoing bitter Pakistan-India struggle over Kashmir — which had caused so much terror and so much violence. “That’s not Washington’s fault,” he pointed out.

Given an argument, the guest, ever a conciliator, agreed: The Mumbai catastrophe was not Washington’s fault, it was everybody’s fault. Which didn’t prevent Dr. Chopra from returning soon to his central theme — the grave offense posed to Muslims by the United States’ war on terror, a point accompanied by consistent emphatic reminders that Muslims are the world’s fastest growing population — 25% of the globe’s inhabitants — and that the U.S. had better heed that fact. In Dr. Chopra’s moral universe, numbers are apparently central. It’s tempting to imagine his view of offenses against a much smaller sliver of the world’s inhabitants — not so offensive, perhaps?

What can I say? Here is one of Chopra’s great quotations:

This is the nature of genius, to be able to grasp the knowable even when no one else recognizes that it is present.

The problem is that, in addition to grasping the knowable, Chopra is probably also grasping at LSD, and I suspect that his Crown Chakra is permanently damaged.

Massacre in Mumbai

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Well, here we are, two days after the start of the terrorist attacks at a reported ten locations throughout Mumbai, India. The news has recently announced the deaths of five Americans. Reports indicate that two victims were from my home state of Virginia: a 58 year-old father and his 13 year-old daughter. From what I can piece together, it appears that Alan Scherr (and his daughter, Naomi) were in India for a spiritual retreat.

The news has also announced the deaths of at least five at Chabad House, a Jewish center for Chabad-Lubavitch, a large Hasidic movement based in Brooklyn, NY. The deaths include American-born Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his Israeli-born wife, Rivka. Their two year-old son escaped with another person. The video of the Chabad House that I have seen on TV is eerily reminiscent of scenes from the Munich Olympics.

The current wisdom is that the attackers were Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda-inspired. There is talk that “rogue elements” of Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may be behind, or may have supported, the attacks. Commentator Mansoor Ijaz believes the attacks are linked to the recent declaration of new Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari that Pakistan will not be the first country to use nuclear weapons in any conflict with India. According to Ijaz, a reduction in tensions between Pakistan and India would reduce the influence of the likes of the ISI, which seems to operate independently of civilian or military control.

As conditions improved in Iraq, the major news outlets have significantly reduced their coverage. Clearly, to them, no news is better than good news. So, the Mumbai Massacre is a not-so-subtle reminder that the war against terror still exists, and it is not just isolated to Afghanistan. To those that bristle at the phrase “war on terror”, I ask what term would you rather I use? It is a multi-front war…just ask the people of New York, Spain, Great Britain, the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania (remember the Beslan school?), Thailand, the Philippines, Cyprus, Sudan, Kashmir, …. and now, Mumbai. Only now, the tactics have changed to urban warfare.

Recent reports were that gun dealers here in the U.S. were doing a brisk business before the Mumbai attacks. I imagine that business is very good indeed now. I’ll be visiting Clark’s Brothers in the morning.

Some of the gunmen have been described as of Pakistani descent and in possession of British passports. It will be interesting to see if any of these goons can be traced to the mosques in Britain. As the complete operation is pieced together, it will become clearer who is responsible.

News reports suggest that there have been survirors among the gunmen. George W. Bush is still the President. Here’s hoping that the CIA has been paying their water bills.

Sweet Dreams, Osama

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

During the run-up to the election, then-candidate Obama sometimes roiled conservatives with his talk about talking with the likes of Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But he spoke pretty tough about Osama Bin Laden. Me, I like the tough talk when referring to terrorists and tyrants. So I appreciated Obama’s pledge, stated during the October 7 debates:

We will kill Bin Laden.  We will crush Al Qaeda.  That has to be our biggest national security priority.

Just today, on cnn.com, there was an article about the next administration’s intention to “ratchet up [the] hunt” for Bin Laden. Read the article here.

The article states the obvious: It won’t be easy. But I found this passage quite interesting, and unexpected:

“If you think of this as sort of a combination of [the hunt for] Eric Rudolph, who was the Olympic bomber, and the movie ‘Deliverance,’ multiplied by a factor of 10, that’s really what you’re focusing on in trying to find bin Laden,” said Robert Grenier, the former CIA station chief in Pakistan.

Eric Rudolph (aka the Olympic Park Bomber) is the bomber of the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, during the 1996 Olympics.  As a fugitive, Rudolph lived in his makeshift mountain camps of the Snowbird and Tusquitee Mountains.  He ate acorns and salamanders and pilfered grain from nearby silos. And it is suspected that Rudolph had the assistance of sympathizers as he eluded law enforcement. So I understand the analogy with Bin Laden, presumed to be hiding out in caves of the mountainous tribal region of Pakistan.

But Deliverance?  I consider Deliverance to be one of the all-time great movies. However, it is in no way an enjoyable two hours. Deliverance tells the story of four Atlanta businessmen that decide to take a canoe trip down a river that is scheduled to be flooded by a soon-to-be-constructed dam.  The men run into some hillbillies and some distasteful scenes ensue. [If you have never seen Deliverance, do yourself a favor.  Stop reading now and go rent the movie. But don’ see it on a first date.]

Deliverance explores conflicts on numerous levels:

  • An internal struggle experienced by Ed (played by Jon Voight) over the taking of life.
  • A struggle between two friends as Lewis (Burt Reynolds) and Drew (Ronny Cox) share different views on whether to inform the authorities.
  • A struggle between classes as the city slickers show disdain toward the mountain folk and the mountain folk show indifference to their guests.
  • A struggle between the city slickers and mother nature.
  • A struggle by Bobby (played by Ned Beatty) to survive a rape by a sadistic mountain man.

I am still unsure, though, about how Deliverance might relate to finding Bin Laden.

  • Maybe it’s an internal struggle, internal to the US, over the use of force against military targets that intentionally expose civilians to danger.
  • Maybe it’s a struggle between two friends (sort of) that share a different views on the nature and extent of Pakistan’s central government’s role in rooting out Bin Laden and the Taliban and on the role of US forces in the region.
  • Maybe it’s a class struggle between classes – the US forces (the city slickers) and the Wazir tribes of Pakistan (the mountain folks).
  • Maybe it is a struggle with nature – the rugged and unfamiliar terrain of Waziristan.

Feel free to share your thoughts via comment.

In the mean time, I hope Osama has difficulty sleeping at night.  Maybe he stays up thinking about this:

Squeal Like a Pig

Squeal Like a Pig