Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, September 16th, 2006.

Boob on Boobs


Of all the mean, petty non-issues to waste bandwidth on, this ought to get a prize.

See commentary on Ann Althouse’s many character flaws at Lawyers, Guns and Money; Echidne; and Salon.

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Bush Administration, torture, War on Terror

If you missed seeing Countdown last night, there’s a video of the first two segments here. If you’ve already seen the presser, featuring David Gregory’s beautiful moment, you can fast forward the tape to about 5:57 for remarks by Howard Fineman. I transcribed just a snip:

Fineman: It’s not just John McCain, a known maverick; it’s not just Lindsey Graham, Senator Graham, a known maverick; it’s not even Colin Powell, who is very popular in the country but sort of outside the system right now. The key guy here is Senator John Warner, the Republican of Virginia, as well as Colin Powell. The thing about Warner is he is the establishment man; he is the very symbol of the Pentagon establishment, the defense establishment, in a way the intelligence establishment over there in northern Virginia, and if HE is taking the side of the rebels on this, the Republican rebels, it’s a very serious division in the party, and one the Democrats ought to sit back and watch.

But the best part begins at 9:43, when Olbermann gets into the legal and ethical implications of President Bush’s proposed “let’s torture!” law. Olbermann interviewed Jonathan Turley, Constitutional Law professor at George Washington University. Boldface is added:

Olbermann: … is he [Bush] covering his own backside with this?

Turley: Quite frankly, I think that there is evidence to say he is. You know, the thing that is ticking here in terms of a clock, is the fact that these fourteen guys that were recently transferred, just arrived not that long ago in Gitmo, in Cuba. They are going to be or have been interviewed by the Red Cross. Most people believe that they will reveal that they were subject to waterboarding, where you are held under water until you think that you are going to drown. That is undeniably torture under the international standards. If that occurs in the coming days, the United States and specifically the President will be accused of committing a very serious violation of international law. Torture is one of the top three or four things that the international law is designed to prevent. And so the reason there is this move to try to get legislation as fast as possible is because I think I think this administration senses that there is a lot of trouble coming down this mountain.

Then Olbermann asked how the proposed law would protect Bush legally.

Turley: Well, he would retroactively define what he did not to be a violation. That’s pretty good if you are going to commit a violation of law, to go and get the legislature to retroactively say what you did was not a violation. But remember, the President stands accused of thirty felonies in the NSA controversy; many of us believe he committed felony crimes there. If now he’s going to be accused of intentionally and knowingly ordering serious violations of international law, it’s not going to go well for the United States. We’re already viewed as a rogue nation around the world. But here’s something the President most likely knew about and condoned.

Olbermann read a bit from this Washington Post editorial that explains what the Bush Administration wants:

[WaPo:] It wants authorization for the CIA to hide detainees in overseas prisons where even the International Committee of the Red Cross won’t have access. It wants permission to interrogate those detainees with abusive practices that in the past have included induced hypothermia and “waterboarding,” or simulated drowning. And it wants the right to try such detainees, and perhaps sentence them to death, on the basis of evidence that the defendants cannot see and that may have been extracted during those abusive interrogation sessions.

We might note that WaPo says “it” wants rather than “the President” wants.

The editorial is titled “A Defining Moment for America.” Olbermann asked Turley if this is indeed a defining moment, adding, “If the President gets his way, have we just become what the terrorists want us to become?”

Turley: Well, I’m afraid it would be, but this is really a redefining moment. You know, I always tell people — the president used that term as well — that our defining moment came in 1787, when we defined ourselves in a constitutional document that committed us to the rule of law. And what would happen here, if we embraced torture at the President’s invitation, would be to redefine ourselves, and we would become something that we have long fought against.

[Update: See also Billmon.]

If there is one point I would like to see written in the sky in 100-foot-high letters, it’s this: President Bush and his enablers went down this road not because they are strong, but because they are weak.

On last night’s Hardball — I believe it was last night — Jack Murtha told Chris Matthews that the fight over the proposed “permission to torture” legislation is going on between Administration civilians — the overwhelming majority of whom never served in uniform and have no personal experience with war — and the military. It’s Weenies versus Warriors, in other words, and Bush is the chief Weenie.

Most of the Bushies and the neocons generally are hothouse flowers who were either born into privilege or have been firmly entrenched in the power establishment for many years. They don’t know what real strength is; if you have power and privilege up the wazoo, bullying others around to get your way takes no strength at all. People who are physically and emotionally abusive of others are weak people who can’t control their own fears and impulses.

Bush and his followers think cruelty is “smart” and that people who hesitate to be cruel are weaklings. But time and time again, people with experience at war and intelligence; people who see the bigger picture; say that torture of prisoners and abuse of civilian populations is hurting our cause — assuming our cause is security and peace — more than helping it. I say that the torturers are the weak ones, because their actions are determined more by fear than by reason.

Bush and his followers think they are being “strong” by their cruelties and deceptions, which they hide in the dark, but in fact that is weakness. Strength involves keeping your integrity and being true to your principles no matter what the circumstances.

Indeed, if you toss your principles out the window as soon as they are less than expedient, they were never your principles to begin with.

Too many (although not all) “conservative” bloggers are siding with the torturers here. There’s something I want to say to them and to Captain Ed, in particular. He writes,

We have yet to fight against a wartime enemy that followed the GC with any consistency at all. The Germans routinely violated it even before Hitler began issuing orders to shoot captured pilots, and the massacre at Malmedy only crystallized what had been fairly brutal treatment at the hands of the Nazis for American prisoners (the Luftwaffe was one notable exception). The Japanese treatment of POWs was nothing short of barbaric, both before and after Bataan. The same is true for the North Koreans and the Chinese in the Korean War, and McCain himself is a routine example of the kind of treatment our men suffered at the hands of the Vietnamese.

I have in the past written about an uncle who was a POW of the Japanese from December 8, 1941 to August 1945. It’s true that the treatment of the POWs was cruel and barbaric. My cousin, David Faries, wrote his master’s thesis in military history about my uncle and other U.S. Marines who had been U.S. embassy guards in Peking when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Here’s a quote:

… at the time of the Guadalcanal Invasion in 1942, much of the Japanese populace believed that Americans tortured prisoners. Rumors circulated that the barbarians churned tanks over those Japanese captured in the Solomon Islands. These of course were untrue, but they were widely believed. Japan, unlike the United States, was not bound to treat its prisoners under international law because she failed to ratify the Geneva Convention articles on prisoners of war. Japan claimed, however, she would observe its stipulations.

The Vatican, of all places, broadcast to the world Japan’s kindness to its captives. Prisoners of war in Japan and Japanese occupied territory, the Holy City reported, received ample supplies of soap, cigarettes, and money to purchase other items from their captors. Those who knew the truth but were unable to speak because of their plight meanwhile learned to avoid the wrath of an Ishihara or to “stand fast or move fast” when suddenly face to face with a “menacing bayonet or rifle butt.” Behind the cold wire walked death, hatred, and hunger. [David Oran Faries, “Home Is My Only Destination: William Harold Thomas, North China Marine, 1940-1945” (Master’s Thesis, Department of History, Western Illinois University, August 1985), pp. 69-70.]

In other words, the Japanese falsely believed Japanese prisoners were being treated barbarically by Americans, and they felt this gave them license to treat their American prisoners barbarically.

And now the American Right is following the same ghastly “logic”: They broke the rules first! Why do we have to be the ones who play by the rules? Only weaklings and children think that way.

We have to be the ones who play by the rules because that’s who we are. Or, at least, that’s who we used to be.

Update: Read Robert Kuttner in today’s Boston Globe:

My father was a machine gunner with the Army’s 28th Infantry Division, which was among the first units to march down the Champs-Elysées after the Allied liberation of Paris . In December 1944, having landed at Normandy and fought across France and Belgium, he was captured in the Battle of the Bulge, and sent hundreds of miles through northern Germany in an unheated boxcar in the dead of winter to a prison camp at Muhlberg in the east.

My father survived the war not because of the generosity of the Nazis to Jewish soldiers. The Germans must have been tempted to send captured Jewish American soldiers to Auschwitz along with Polish, German, and Dutch Jews and kindred human garbage. But they did not. My father survived because, amazingly, even the Nazis respected the reciprocal agreements on humane treatment of prisoners.

Not every enemy thinks this way, of course, but that doesn’t mean we have to become just like our worst enemies.

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