Friday, September 13, 2013

Elsewhere: Torture and Syria, more

Housekeeping: I'm going to try to get a Friday Baseball Post up before sunset...we'll see. I still should have one over at Greg's place this afternoon, and my Salon column will run over the weekend (again assuming I can get it done before sundown).  What Matters? won't run until Sunday morning, I guess. For those observing the holiday, G'mar Chatima Tovah, and Shana Tovah.

My column at TAP this week was an argument that Barack Obama's failure to deal with the fallout from ush-era torture was part of why the GOP was so dysfunctional during the Syria episode. It is admittedly speculative, but I think I'm right about it.

While I'm at it, I don't think I ever linked to last week's column, which was about the advantages for the president in getting Congress involved in policy -- and the advantages of politician-centered democracy over the rule of experts. Worth it despite the awful title they gave it!

And yesterday at PP, I noted the strange Democratic budget priorities.


A quick primer on deadlines.

A judicial nominations update.

And one on why presidential speeches are worthwhile, even if they won't change public opinion.


  1. Regarding the deadlines post, do you think Ted Cruz or another very conservative senator will hold up Senate business right as a shutdown or ceiling deadline approaches, in order to stop an extension or compromise and provoke what they are always calling for? They do in fact have that power. They can make it happen if they truly want to.

  2. Regarding torture under bush -- obama isn't going to do anything that will draw attention to his own policies, which include killing suspected terrorists outside of any judicial process or field of battle. Arguably, what he's doing is even worse.

    Before revisiting republican crimes, perhaps democrats should clean their own house first.

  3. I think Couves is correct, and with all due respect, I think Jonathan's "truth commission" reco is off-the-mark for the reasons Couves notes, plus these:

    Stop by the mall, interview a whole bunch of reasonably intelligent folks, from all races, creeds, ideologies, etc. Ask them what constitutes a frightening terror plot. They'll converge on criteria like a) Plot to kill thousands of Americans and b) Credible and advanced enough to have killed at least one person, and c) The peanut gallery knows about it. With a few arguments at the margin, there are only three plots that fit those criteria in the GWOT era.

    If KSM had checked "haberdasher" on his middle school career survey, instead of "superterrorist", those three plots might easily have been zero.

    From here...look, there was a lot of pretty bad EI in the Bush years, most of which was a by-product of a poorly-run war machine (for which Bush is ultimately responsible). The amount Bush "signed off on", in the John Yoo sense - was actually quite limited - most famously, the several hundred waterboardings of KSM.

    So here's how that Truth Commission will play out: "We are shocked - SHOCKED, I tell you! - at the gross abuse of a man who really really is one of the rare breed of catastrophic superterrorists...but its only good national security policy to blow up the family of some illiterate rhetoric-spouting moron oreacher in the badlands of Pakistan".

    Yeah, that conversation's gonna never.

    1. CSH, that was kind of incoherent. I think your essence is "we only tortured KSM, and he had it comin'." Am I right?

      Why do you think that? Had you read anything about extreme rendition? It was a policy of kidnapping people off the streets of other countries based on low-value intel, and shipping them to Syria to be tortured. Without checking who they were, often, first.

      Here's my problem with your false equivalence. If persons A, in this case Pres. Bush II and his people, committed war crimes, investigating it and airing it out likely prevents further war crimes. Replying to this with whatever Pres. Obama has done is a non sequitor.

    2. I wasn't making a normative argument, rather pointing out why the proposed Truth Commission is a non-starter for a self-interested Obama Administration. Perhaps this will clarify:

      It seems fairly likely that several of the unmanned drones in the wilds of Waziristan have imposed terrible collateral damage in addition to hitting their targets. Surely at least one has badly wounded a family member of a target (whether the target is dead or not), I'll use such a family member to make the case - noting first that the Administration, obviously, has no intention to do the family member that way. As a result, here's how that Truth Commission will play out:

      "We're here to root out the terrible treatment of superterrorists like KSM. True, KSM was the mastermind of superterror plots 1, 2 and 3, and at the time of his capture he might credibly have been working on, and had details about, 4, 5 or 6. Nevertheless, we are horrified about the hideous way he was done in order to get information about those plots.

      "Now to the question from that mouth breather from Fox News: yes, that child who was the son of the illiterate cleric in Waziristan was badly burned in the attack, and given the lack of infrastructure there, yes, his remaining life will feel like a daily waterboarding, but we didn't mean to do that....wait, what? From the Fox News guy? The illiterate cleric father was not only never going to plot an actual attack, but like the average American 6th grader, had no idea even how to find America on a map? Really? f*** yourself."

      Obama's not gonna expose himself to that. Even the Kos Kidz would have a field day.

    3. In wars, one side kills the soldiers of the other side, often destroying the infrastructure of the area in the process. This often leads, directly and indirectly, to the deaths of a lot of other people.

      Even if you Fox watchers don't realize it, the drone war is targeting enemy combatants. It is a legal continuation of the war Bush began.

      Thus, invoking the drone war is a non sequitur. (That means that it is not relevant to the discussion, and wouldn't be allowed into testimony in a Truth Commission.)

      Do you have any relevant reasons why Obama shouldn't, or wouldn't pursue a Truth Commission.

    4. For me, this issue comes down to an argument that our host makes often wrt Nixon's impeachment: its one thing to bend the rules significantly, its another altogether to run out of friends.

      Obama currently has many friends, both partisans and persuadables, on the important curtailments of civil liberties in the GWOT. Those friends, probably overwhelmingly, perceive something like the following:

      1) Bush-ordered (and John Yoo-sanctioned, waterboarding-type) torture was horribly widespread.

      2) Obama's drone war, while inarguably distasteful, is operationally necessary to keep the country safe.

      It seems to me that Obama's supporters mostly believe the two premises above without much reflection. It says here that Obama doesn't particularly want them to reflect on the underlying "truthiness" of either idea...that would be a great way for Obama to Lose Friends and Antagonize People.

      The ghost of Nixon can clarify how that will ultimately work out for him.

    5. I agree with Jonathan about the truth commission. But as CSH points out, it's an idea that will be immediately dismissed as the product of partisan rancor, because Jonathan doesn't address laws that are _currently_ being broken by a Democratic administration

      The Bombing in Pakistan is sanctioned by neither the US Congress nor the Pakistan government. The President has even targeted and killed US citizens in Yemen. It's an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but extraordinary rendition and torture have been replaced by outright killing. What's worse, when the self-professed defenders of human rights accept this, that goes a long way towards making it a precedent (politically, if not legally) that is sure to be followed.

      If we're serious about human rights and following the law, the only way to move the ball in the right direction is to speak with moral clarity. That doesn't happen when we pretend that the problem is only with one political party.


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