Thursday, February 22, 2007

Recently spotted BS about detainees

I don't use the phrase "bullshit artist" lightly, and when talking about a state department legal adviser, I try to be even more careful. Nevertheless, here, there is no other proper description of the role John Bellinger is taking.

Now, that's a harsh judgment to make, but we're talking about an accomplished attorney here. You can't get into law school, much less pass the bar exam, if you can fail basic tests of critical thought. As such, if a competent attorney says something that illustrates a basic logical flaw, you know that it's intentional. You know it's not their true belief or their true thoughts on the matter; they know better than to support their positions with flawed thinking. You know that they are saying what they feel needs to be said to establish a predetermined position, regardless of the truth of that position.

They are, in a word, bullshitting.

Let's take some of John Bellinger's words apart here, and demonstrate how we can tell he's bullshitting.

First, there's this little admirable gem:
So we found ourselves in an armed conflict in Afghanistan starting in October 2001. In the course of that conflict, we detained members of al Qaida and the Taliban, some of whom are now in Guantanamo. U.S. or allied forces captured the majority of these detainees in late 2001 or early 2002 in or near Afghanistan.


Isn't that a wonderful bit of distraction? See, not all of the detainees at Guantanemo were captured in or near Afghanistan.

Ah, but I bet most people thought he was saying "the majority of these detainees were captured in late 2001 or early 2002; they were captured in or near Afghanistan". No, there are no separators. He is describing the majority as "captured...in late 2001 or early 2002 in or near Afghanistan". The Bush administration's talking points are that these were "battlefield captures" and "the majority" could be described that way. That means 50%, plus at least one additional captive. It leaves 50% minus one captive undetermined.

This is a clear attempt at a distraction from the main issue. It's not exactly a logical flaw; it's an attempt to cause other people to make a mistake in understanding.

Two paragraphs down we see the first big fallacy... another distraction attempt, but one that goes beyond trying to be tricky:

Equally important, however, we believe that the United States was and continues to be in an armed conflict with al Qaida, one that is conceptually and legally distinct from the conflict with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It cannot reasonably be argued that the conflict with al Qaida ended with the closure of al Qaida training camps and the assumption of power by a new government in Afghanistan. Al Qaida’s operations against the United States and its allies continue not only in and around Afghanistan but also in other parts of the world. And because we remain in a continued state of armed conflict with al Qaida, we are legally justified in continuing to detain al Qaida members captured in this conflict.


This is a fallacy known as "begging the question". It asks, or answers, a question that can only be properly asked/answered if another question has already been asked and a particular answer given. The common joke form of this fallacy is asking a married man "have you stopped beating your wife?" It assumes that the question "have you ever beaten your wife?" has already been asked and answered affirmatively.

He is asserting that we have the right to hold wife beaters (al Qaida members), based upon a yes or no answer to "have you stopped beating your wife?" ("Yes? So you used to beat her, and we get to hold you. No? Then you're still beating her and we get to hold you.")

The question about holding detainees in the war on terror (or the war against al Qaida and the Taliban) is not "can we hold a dangerous terrorist?" The question is "how do we determine who is a dangerous terrorist?"

The Bush administration, and their bullshit artist-of-the-day, John Bellinger, are trying to assert that we have already answered "how do we determine...?" when we haven't. They are doing this because no one wants to defend "the rights of terrorists". They want to shift the debate away from "the rights of innocent people caught at the wrong place at the wrong time" because they don't have a good answer for that... and they've already been caught holding innocent people.

Later on the page, Bellinger demonstrates that this is not an accident.

Ultimately, we think we are not legally obligated to try al Qaida combatants under the laws of war, but have set up military commissions to prosecute those who have committed the most serious violations of the laws of war.


This is an awe-inspiring bit of mental legerdemain; first, he begs the question of who is an "al Qaida combatant" again. Then, he speaks as if the Military Commissions Act has given the detainees something. What it has actually done is taken away their rights to demand that the United States show cause to hold them, or release them. It does give people convicted by the commissions a right to appeal, but it does not mandate a hearing or trial. The President can hold someone indefinitely, and has claimed that no court has jurisdiction to say otherwise.

We finally have this large, steaming pile further down; at this point, I don't have any appetite for going any further:


Second, she suggests that detainees in this war get inadequate review before being detained. Admittedly, identifying members of the Taliban and al Qaida is difficult, because—among other things—unlike in a traditional war, the Taliban and al Qaida do not wear uniforms and insignia. Nevertheless, our forces worked hard to detain only those individuals who were part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaida forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. To ensure that we are holding the right people, every detainee in Guantanamo has his case reviewed by a formal Combatant Status Review Tribunal, which determines whether a detainee is properly classified as an enemy combatant. The detainee has the assistance of a military officer, may present evidence, and may appeal the determination of the CSRT to our federal courts. Nearly 40 detainees have been released as a result of this process. It is simply not correct to say that detainees do not have meaningful review of their detention.


"It is simply not correct to say that detainees do not have meaningful review of their detention."

However, in the status hearings, there is no presumption of innocence, the government can not be compelled to release any person because the burden of proof has not been met, the detainee can not compel testimony, and evidence can be hidden from the detainee.

One could say that this is a shell game, an attempt to a word's meaning in one context, in hopes of having it accepted in another context.

"Look at all the stuff we do! Isn't that meaningful?"

Well, it certainly has some meaning... it's not "meaningless" if 40 people have been released.

But if you were kidnapped, and told you could be released if you could prove that you were innocent of the crimes you were accused of, without being told what those crimes were, you'd be pretty upset if you were told that you had a meaningful chance to be released!

Bellinger knows this; he's an attorney. But he also has a job to do, and that job is to represent his client's interests, and that can include spewing bullshit in hope of promoting his client's interests. So, he spews his bullshit, believing himself to be faithful to his duties. But he knows.

He's lying to us, just like the Bush administration is. He, and the Bush administration, both know that the question is not "is it fair to hold terrorists?" but "is it fair to hold people without proof that they've done something wrong?", they know that they are essentially engaged in kidnapping people, and holding them until they can prove their innocence, and they know that what they're doing is not right, that they should not be allowed to hold people, who may not have done anything wrong, indefinitely.

But they'll keep pushing the lie. What do they have to lose?

After all, they don't think that the American people are about a gross injustice against a bunch of foreigners.

I think it's long past time that we started doing our damnedest to show them they're wrong. Let them keep holding the people against whom they have solid evidence; let them release the rest.

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