Tortured Reasoning

DigbyTristero explains why you can’t reason with a rightie:

Folks, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a zillion times. Never argue on the right’s playing field. Ever. It’s a setup and you will lose. That’s ’cause the questions as they pose them are defined so narrowly and foolishly, they preclude anything resembling what a liberal means by rational discourse. In the post linked above, Jonah Goldberg emits:

    If Democrats want terrorists to fall under the Geneva Convention let them say so. My guess is most won’t, if they’re smart.

And Kevin falls for it:

    Well, I’m a Democrat, and I’ll say it: anyone we capture on a battlefield should be subject to the minimum standards of decency outlined in the Geneva Conventions. That includes terrorists.

Wrong, wrong wrong!

Like, “So, would you rather Saddam stay in power?” this is a framing of the issue that provides for not even the hint of an intellectually coherent response, let alone a “dialogue.” It is designed to elicit the narrowest range of acceptable responses, responses that reduce disagreement with Bushism to a quibble.

This goes back to something Goldberg wrote this past Sunday, which in turn was a comment on something Charles Pierce wrote at TAPPED the same day. Pierce was commenting on an article in Saturday’s Washington Post titled “GOP Seeks Advantage In Ruling On Trials” by Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman. Abramowitz and Weisman wrote that Republicans were planning to turn the recent Hamdan decision into a political tool with which to bash Democrats:

Republicans yesterday looked to wrest a political victory from a legal defeat in the Supreme Court, serving notice to Democrats that they must back President Bush on how to try suspects at Guantanamo Bay or risk being branded as weak on terrorism. …

… “It would be good politics to have a debate about this if Democrats are going to argue for additional rights for terrorists,” said Terry Nelson, a prominent GOP political strategist who was political director for Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004. …

…A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the issue is still being debated internally, seemed to hint at the potential political implications in Congress. “Members of both parties will have to decide whether terrorists who cherish the killing of innocents deserve the same protections as our men and women who wear the uniform,” this official said.

Working backward — Charles Pierce’s point was that the last paragraph in the block quote above made Abramowitz and Weisman “part of a political dirty-tricks operation robed in constitutional privileges.” Does anyone seriously think the White House is engaged in a serious internal debate on how to treat the prisoners/detainees? Instead of how to tweak the issue to political advantage? Please.

And then Jonah Goldberg responded to Charles Pierce —

And I say this as someone who basically sees nothing wrong with making a political issue out of the Hamdan decision. If Democrats want terrorists to fall under the Geneva Convention let them say so. My guess is most won’t, if they’re smart.

To which Kevin Drum said,

Well, I’m a Democrat, and I’ll say it: anyone we capture on a battlefield should be subject to the minimum standards of decency outlined in the Geneva Conventions. That includes terrorists. It’s our way of telling the world that we aren’t barbarians; that we believe in minimal standards of human decency even if our enemies don’t. It’s also a necessary — though not sufficient — requirement for winning this war.

To which Digby Tristero responded (adding to the quote above),

And if, without thinking, you take the bait and respond as Kevin has, you’re instantly battling uphill:

– – – – – – –

    What is all this preposterous liberal hand-wringing about rights for terrorists? They’re beheading our soldiers! They are evil! And there you are, worried sick about their rights. And look, the world thinks we’re barbarians anyway, anti-Americanism predates anti-Bushism, duh. And let’s not forget the big picture here: The important issue is not to demonstrate we’re not barbarians but to defeat the terrorists before they kill us. The rest is detail.

Anyway, the point here is that it’s the Right, not the Left, that time and time again proves it is not serious about combating terrorism or strengthening our national security. All the Right cares about is setting semantic traps to win political advantage.

In today’s Washington Post, Harold Meyerson writes that Republicans seem conflicted on the rule of law regarding the Hamdan decision.

Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens also said that whatever procedures were adopted had to comport with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which mandates humane treatment for prisoners of war and entitles them to some rights at trial — such as their, and their attorneys’, right to actually attend.

In February 2002, President Bush signed an order saying that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to our war on terrorism, since it was not a war against a nation as such. A memo from the White House counsel one month before had called the Conventions “quaint” and “obsolete.” (Good thing nobody asked the office for its assessment of the Bill of Rights.) But the court ruled flatly that Bush’s order was wrong. Article 3, Stevens noted, explicitly says that its terms apply even in a “conflict not of an international character.” Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his concurring opinion, even had the bad manners to point out that violations of Article 3 were war crimes subject to severe punishment under statutes passed by Congress.

Now, if one were to think about this issue rationally, one might understand there is no reason lawful procedures for determining if prisoners/detainees actually require being imprisoned or detained would compromise American national security. But of course, when attempting to reason with righties, rational thinking will just get you into trouble.

As I understand it, the Hamdan decision says that Congress — not the White House — must stipulate how the prisoners/detainees will be tried. Just as judges are not supposed to legislate from the bench, neither are presidents supposed to legislate from the Oval Office. So the matter is to go back to Congress, and Congress might well just rubber stamp whatever the White House wants to do. In any event, some congressional Republicans call for working with Democrats on this issue. For example:

South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who was a military attorney before he entered politics, has said, “My nation needs both parties working in collaboration with the executive branch to solve the military commission problem.”

Again, this is rational, and this is what the law and the Constitution and even the global war on terror require. However,

According to Karl Rove — the guy who actually decrees the strategy — Republicans will maintain their hold on Congress come November by stressing at every turn that the Democrats are a pre-Sept. 11 party while the Republicans are a post-Sept. 11 party.

The Democrats are concerned with such quaint and obsolete concepts as the rule of law. None of that for the Republicans; they’re too tough and realistic.

And so, when Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi had the temerity to welcome the court’s decision, Republican House leader John Boehner responded with a press release that attacked her for advocating “special privileges for terrorists.”

Echoing Boehner, the talk-radio thugocracy could speak of little else.

Here’s Meyerson’s punch line:

So Republicans have a choice. Working with the Democrats, they could craft a legislative response that incorporates both halves of the court’s decision, guaranteeing the legality of the new procedures — but forfeiting a major opportunity to demagogue against Democrats between now and November. Or, as they do roughly 100 times out of 100, they could simply choose to go for the politics. A bill that gives the force of law to the administration’s kangaroo courts could surely pass the House with close to unanimous Republican support. In the Senate, so many Republicans might demur that such a bill could fail. No matter: Some Democrats in both houses would surely vote against such a bill, which Rove and Co. would use to brand the party as one big Osama Enabling Society.

Jonah Goldberg is siding with the games-players, of course. Digby explains how to respond to him:

Jonah Goldberg is indulging in political games when he knows full well that the lives of millions of Americans working abroad, including soldiers who are fighting a war he supports but refuses to fight, are being endangered by the arrogant refusal of the Bush administration to set an example of principled action in the world. By embracing an official policy that embraces torture and murder, Bush (and enablers like Goldberg) are ensuring that what happened to Daniel Pearl will happen to more and more Americans. But the effect of this egregious flouting of bedrock principles going back thousands of years will transcend even the numerous terrible personal tragedies that are sure to come. As it becomes more dangerous for Americans to travel, trade will suffer and the security of our country will suffer precipitous declines.

Instead helping to create an atmosphere for genuine inquiry and dialogue, with recourse to facts and intelligent give and take, all Goldberg offers is one more opportunity to toss around the same old vacuous smears the right has been peddling for 30 plus years against the rest of America’s politicians, including those who are quite willing to fight wars Goldberg and company don’t have the guts to fight themselves. If Goldberg were prepared to discuss these very serious issues with any seriousness, he never would have proposed doing with such constricted, partisan language. And until he is prepared to be serious, I see no reason to enter his farcical rhetorical world.

Two points, which to Goldberg are irrelevant: One, we have no way to know if all the prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere are terrorists A number of prisoners have been determined to be innocent and released, but only after being detained in for months, even years. The BBC reported that one of the men who committed suicide at Guantanamo last month was scheduled to be released but did not know it.

Second, the issue of prisoners of war, or detainees, or whatever you want to call them, and torture, is not about what a prisoner/detainee “deserves” or giving him special rights. It’s about our values.

Over the long 4th of July weekend the Right Blogosphere was a warehouse of every flag-waving, pro-American sentiment you ever heard, along with the usual drivel about how “The Left” hates America. For example, “The left is apparently afraid to be in awe of this wonderful country, what it has done for mankind. They are afraid to recognize its good aspects.”

No, child, we are not afraid to recognize its good aspects. We are trying desperately to preserve its good aspects from being destroyed by the likes of you.

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, the Judge Advocate General‘s Corps JAG who defended Hamdan in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, was questioned last week by Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: I only have a minute here, sir, and I appreciate your position, and I‘m being tough with you because there is another side to this argument. Let me ask you, do you believe that people who fight us as terrorists deserve Geneva Convention treatment?

SWIFT: It‘s not whether they deserve it or not. It‘s how we conduct ourselves. It has to do where if we say that our opponent can cause us not to follow the rules anymore, then we‘ve lost who we are. We‘re the good guys. We‘re the guys who follow the rule and the people we fight are the bad guys and we show that every day when we follow the rules, regardless of what they do. It‘s what sets us apart. It‘s what makes us great and in my mind, it‘s what makes us undefeatable, ultimately.

Got that, rightie?

For years righties have been telling us we lefties lack a moral compass. We engage in situational ethics. Well, folks, I say that whenever righties peg their ethical judgments on what they think other people have done first, I’d say their “moral compass” got lost in a swamp. This is doubly true when those “other peo;ple” are not given adequate means to challenge their incarceration.

Having ditched their moral compasses, righties justify their substandard ethics with legalisms about uniforms. But seems to me that when our enemies do not wear uniforms, we must be even more careful than with uniformed “regulars” to be sure those detainees are not harmless civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s the point of Hamdan; we need to have lawful procedures to ensure that innocent people are not locked up for years with the enemy. This is not about giving “rights” to terrorists, but following our own moral compass.

Here’s a little bit of history for you:

… 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.]

I happen to have a copy of this master’s thesis because David Faries is my cousin and William Harold Thomas was our uncle. I’ve mentioned him before; he’s the guy who was a U.S. Marine embassy guard in Peking in 1941, and who was a prisoner of war in Japan from the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to after the surrender of Japan in August 1945. My uncle was beaten and starved, but he survived the camp. Several other Marines were killed, cruelly. But he came home emaciated and in fragile health. He was, I believe, only in his 50s when he died of health problems that began in Japan.

The Japanese decided that my uncle didn’t “deserve” humane treatment.

I was born after World War II, but I grew up hearing the legend of Uncle Harry in Japan. And was a point of pride with me that American policy was to treat POWs humanely, no matter what the enemy did to our soldiers. That’s why we were the good guys. We often fell short of our own ideals, but at least we had ideals.

Update: See Glenn Greenwald, “Legalizing torture – distorting Hamdan

8 thoughts on “Tortured Reasoning

  1. It looks like the chickens are coming home to roost. 🙂 I can’t say that I’m overly confident that the members of Congress will do the right thing, and stand up for those things that have advanced civilization and form the foundations of our national character and values.
    One small thing that I see that troubles me is John McCain. I commend his actions for taking a lead in bringing Bush to bay in his renegade Commander -in-Chief status where he can feel free to torture human being with impunity. But after all his efforts, McCain essentially lays down for Bush when Bush blatanly issues a signing statement contrary to Congessional will. How outraged can McCain really be, or how dedicated to the presevation of basic human rights can he be.
    Torture and the denial of of basic human rights is something that robs us of value as a nation. I just wish the members of Congress could see that truth and find the courage to act on it. They should put partisanship aside and stand up like their forefathers and honor something greater the themselves.

  2. You can’t see me,, but right now I am standing on my chair CHEERING …….YES YES YES!!!!Damn right!!!The personal aspect of this piece made my heart swell with pride…THATS MY COUNTRY!!!!!!!!(remember being PROUD of your country?)

    I can’t add anything to what you said, except YOU RULE! Frame this post…Somewhere our forefathers are smiling…..the funny thing of it is, until bush I thought that these were the basic ideals that held us together as a nation, even when we disagreed on other things…my pride is short lived for I see over the last 6 years those ideals have been erased.America doesn’t care about being the good guys anymore instead justice has been replaced by a lynch mob …
    First they will torture prisoners, many of whom are later released without a charge after many years, once society decides thats ok it is only a matter of time until they decide it is ok to do to Americans as well…hell why stop there? Why not roving firing squads ? Just tell the people the firing squad “makes us all safer”- nough said-or do you want to help the terrorists?
    All the while it is all lip service.. they disbanded the group hunting for Bin forgotten a year ago…people are throwing away our ideals for nothing.WTF??

  3. Getting mutually profitable debate from a Bush cultist is almost as difficult as getting a straight answer to a pointed question from a Libertarian. Maybe all those talking points with cut n’ pasted urban legends, and that theoretical jibberish with lotsa “really brilliant thinkers” name dropped are all just crutches for overcoming a fear of “those who can think for themselves”. But I’ll come up with something.

    Would you have read more Batman comics if he always had Robin torturing the Penguin? …

  4. Very good post. I say you have done a great job and will use your meme whenever I need it.

    One thing we in the ‘lefty’ blogosphere need to stress is that Bush is a liar when he says, as he said just recently, that Americans don’t torture.

    If Americans don’t torture why is the Supreme Court ruling that it’s against the law.


    Stick that up a righties’ kiester and break it off.

  5. Dealing with righties sure does give the opportunity to sharpen and refine and ultimately empower true American leadership. Thanks, Maha.

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  7. As the historian for the North China Marines, those Marines taken prisoner on Pearl Harbor day, I would like to read the master’s thesis which mentions William Harold Thomas. I have extensive info about his time as a POW on the web site.
    Any possibility I can get a copy?
    My contact info is on the site.
    John N. Powers

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