Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Believing lies...

I feel a bit bad for Joe Klein, here.

Not really bad; as Glenn points out, he printed lies about the Democrat's bill to change FISA, claiming it "would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court". These lies were published by Time, and people will read them, and believe them. He's done something really, really bad.

But I'm sure he didn't intend to print lies. I bet he heard a lie, from a person or several people he's come to trust. So he assumed it was true, or, at worst, a different interpretation. And without checking his facts - who would say such a thing if it wasn't true? - he wrote the story.

And now he has to face a challenge to his world view. He either has to assume that the grapevine that he's come to know and trust will make up, or repeat, some vicious, unfounded lies, or he has to assume that there's a great deal of confusion around this issue. And, alas, there isn't much confusion about the issue. When two folks in foreign countries are talking, the government has full authority to spy as needed, and the Democrats' bill even loosens some of the technical restrictions that some judges pointed out. It's only when US persons are involved that the FISA court gets involved, and, IIRC, they're loosening the restrictions on that, as well.

It's not a difficult issue; it's not hard to find out the truth. But it would require Mr. Klein to recognize that he's being lied to, in a situation where most folks wouldn't expect it.

I mean, it's one thing to tell a nasty lie about someone... it's another to tell a nasty, and completely unfounded lie about someone. But it takes a particularly nasty person to spread a nasty, completely unfounded lie, when the truth can be easily discovered. Your instinct is not to check something like that... who would risk the humiliation of being caught lying under those circumstances?

If you had to be skeptical that people would, in fact, tell lies like that to score political points, you'd have to pretty much question your entire world view, and likely end up feeling like you were played as a fool and a sucker.

And that's never a pleasant feeling, especially when it's true.

That's why I feel a bit bad for him.

That bad feeling will evaporate if he decides that the problem is the big meanies like Glenn Greenwald pointing out his errors, rather than his willingness to be trusting of the wrong kinds of people.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Boxes and "maybe baby"

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while... Maha is writing about an antiabortion video that compares women to boxes.


Swiping the transcript from Trailer Park Feminist,

SCENE: a box factory

NARRATOR: If you thought there was a small chance that a baby was hidden in a box, wouldn't you treat the box as if it held a baby, just in case?

SCENE: an ultrasound image

NARRATOR: So even if you think there's just a small chance that an unborn child is a baby, shouldn't you treat it as if it were, just in case? Something to think about.

"If you think there's a question, you have to force women to remain pregnant" is what they want to say. This is why Maha and Trailer Park say that it renders women into boxes, as if their only purpose (while pregnant) is to protect the babies around them.

There's a huge problem with this argument. See, pregnancy is a major health issue. While pregnant, a woman's body goes through many changes, and many of them are uncomfortable, and many can be dangerous. If there was any other medical condition with the same troubles and risks, we'd let a woman and her doctor decide what to do about it. We would require the state to have a compelling reason to forbid a medical procedure that alleviates those problems, and that is almost always less risky than letting it run its course.

So it's not enough to say "Oh! But what if! What if it really is a baby!"

No, before you can say that a woman should go to jail for having a medical procedure done[1] you need proof. You need a lot more than "well, maybe it makes baby Jesus cry!"

That's why Roe vs Wade was written so as to present viability as the breakpoint. Once you have a viable fetus, at that point we can surely say that the state has an interest in the life of the fetus. Until then, it's harder to make the argument.

But there needs to be a breakpoint. Claiming that a woman should go through a pregnancy to protect the rights of a single cell is ludicrous. No matter how fine and wonderful a fertilized egg cell is, it's not a baby. It's a human cell, sure... but it's not a person who the government has an interest in protecting at the expense of the woman surrounding it. And at the earliest stages of pregnancy, there is no heart, no lungs, no brain... it's clear that the government has no compelling interest in saying a woman can't get this heartless, lungless, brainless collection of cells out of her... not even if a loud minority keeps whining and moaning and making emotional appeals.

Somewhere along the line, the state can assert an interest, and viability is a good safe harbor. If you can take the fetus out and it will live, it's definitely a person.

Ah, but what if it will live only very briefly and die... couldn't it still be a person? Doesn't the "it might be a baby" argument mean something?

Well, we don't put people in jail because "well, gee, someone thinks they might have done something awful." We shouldn't put people in jail unless we're sure. If the government has the right to put folks in jail because a loud minority hates what they do, where does it end?

So we need certainty. Viability is at least mostly-objective, so it provides us with a good measure of that. Trying to tug on the heartstrings with a "maybe baby" is not a good reason for the government to consider jailing people.

[1] Some anti-abortion folks create laws that say that only doctors should go to jail for performing abortions. Well, if a crime is severe enough to merit jail time, then an active accessory to that crime "should" - not will, but should - go to jail as well. To claim that abortion should be made illegal, but only punish the doctors, is hypocritical.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Patterico has a question

Note that I didn't say it was a good one...

Let me translate it into human speak for you. "Let's create a hypothetical situation in which, if you follow your moral code, an awful thing will happen. Tell me that you want to violate your moral code, so I can insist that you have no further right to complain, or tell me that you want the awful thing to happen, so I can insist that you're a horrible person."

Don't believe me?

Let’s assume the following hypothetical facts are true. U.S. officials have KSM in custody. They know he planned 9/11 and therefore have a solid basis to believe he has other deadly plots in the works. They try various noncoercive techniques to learn the details of those plots. Nothing works.

They then waterboard him for two and one half minutes.

During this session KSM feels panicky and unable to breathe. Even though he can breathe, he has the sensation that he is drowning. So he gives up information — reliable information — that stops a plot involving people flying planes into buildings.

My simple question is this: based on these hypothetical facts, was the waterboarding session worth it?

Note that Patterico is incorrect about waterboarding. I've recently come to understand how it works.

The make sure you can't breathe through your mouth. Then, they start dumping water down your nostrils. Water gets into your airway. What do you do when there's water in your sinuses? You breathe out, to clear them. Soon, your lungs are empty (as empty as you can get them). You will breathe in, sooner or later, and the water is going to run into your lungs.

Now, if they don't use too much water, you'll probably live. Hell, with a doc standing by, you'll almost certainly live, unless you're already suffering from lung problems. But that's not the point. You'll also live if they beat you with a rubber hose, it won't leave any marks, or make any lasting injury... that's why rubber hoses were used to beat confessions out of suspects.

But everyone knows that beating people is torture. You can't try to use lawyerly tricks to excuse it.

I decided to answer Patterico's question, though it's so self-servingly phrased that it doesn't deserve an answer.

I pointed out that it's the equivalent of saying "If God came down and said to you that you had a choice: either someone gets waterboarded for a couple minutes, or a terrorist attack occurs... nothing else will change, those are the only two results of your choice. You have to make a choice. Which do you prefer?"

Obviously, one would pick the waterboarding (because in these hypothetical situations, God is always honest and all-knowing, and all that).

And isn't that the point?

We are not God.

We don't know what the outcomes will be. That's why we can't torture.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's day, 2007

I think it's appropriate that Veteran's day started out as Armistice day. It was not a celebration of the war, but of the end of the war.

Why should we honor our veterans? Because they were called upon to do an ugly, nasty job that no one should ever have to do, and they answered the call, and did it.

No one should be forced to take the lives of other soldiers, or worse, innocent people. No one should be forced to be in a situation in which they must constantly be aware that they might have to kill or be killed. No one should have to put the business of their life on hold, so that they can take part in the business of death.

We shouldn't expose our worst enemies to such horrors, but we expose some of our best, bravest citizens to them.

We should honor our veterans; we owe them no less. But we should also apologize to them, and promise solemnly that we shall send no one else to fight, unless there truly is no other choice.

Friday, November 09, 2007

More tortured logic (and morality) by Bushies

I reckon National Review is probably known for loony commentators. Still this article from Deroy Murdock is probably a bit overboard, even for them.

However, I'd like to swipe a quote from deep inside it, because it establishes a very good point.

Meanwhile, President Bush is deeply deluded if he thinks opposing waterboarding will buy him any goodwill among the domestic and international Left, who hate him immeasurably. More quickly than the average Capitol Hill flip flop, Democrats who scream against waterboarding today will skin Bush alive if, God forbid, there is another major terror attack here on his watch.

“He didn’t keep us safe,” they will moan. “Why didn’t he stop this?” they will bellow. Instantly forgotten will be Bush’s very dangerous concessions to his domestic critics. His approval of the CIA’s 2006 request to ban waterboarding will give Bush absolutely zero protection if today’s soft-on-terror Democrats become tomorrow’s post-terror hawks. They will pick him apart like a hummingbird.

Now, let's establish something up front. Support for torture is based upon cowardice. See, a coward is someone who doesn't do the right thing because of fear, and it's clear that Mr. Murdock thinks that America should engage in morally repugnant behavior because of fear. But what fear?

His fear is not so much a successful attack; his thoughts immediately go to the political reprecussions of an attack! The Democrats will attack Bush if another attack occurs on his watch!

That's a really telling couple of paragraphs. First, it shows off the projection common to many on the right. They hate liberal folks, and so they claim that they are the persecuted people, being battered by the big bullies on the "Left". (I kinda like the capitalization; not just "left-leaning folks" but the Left. Where's my secret decoder ring?)

Second, let's be honest here. Bush was on vacation, and told by a desperate CIA agent that there was a real threat; we all know the response to that: "You've covered your ass." And Bush was ripped apart how badly, given that information? Well, he won re-election, didn't he? The only reason Bush has to fear another terrorist attack's political reprecussions is if it once again displays his incompetence.

Hm. Given that, maybe he has more to fear that I'm suggesting....

But zingers about Bush's incompetence aside, let's look at this mindset. Bush should engage in torture, despite its general lack of efficacy, because of the danger of political fallout. He might be "pick(ed) apart like a hummingbird" and that's a reason to engage in unlawful and immoral behavior. This is the same thing that Jack Goldsmith mentioned... that Bush was living in fear of another terrorist attack and being blamed for it.

This is extremely important to think about. You see, winning an election in this country doesn't mean you've been given a prize. It doesn't mean (as Bush claims) that you've got "political capital" to "spend". It means you have a chance to serve. It means you have been given an opportunity to work your ass off for the good of the people. And it means taking responsibility for the things that you've done, including the failures.

Do you remember how Richard Clarke started his testimony regarding the 9/11 attacks? He started with an apology, saying that he, and the rest of the government, had failed us. What was the Bush administration reaction? To vilify him because he opposed the Iraq war, seeing it as a distraction from the war against those who would attack us. Did the Bush administration apologize? No. Did they admit failure? No.

And now we see that there are multiple people on the right who view the political fallout as crucial to the Bush administration's moral calculus. It's okay to violate the Constitution with warrantless searches; it's okay to torture; it's okay to hold people and give them no chance to prove their innocence... because without those tools, those poor incompetent fools might be exposed... they might get blamed for the next attack to land.

Except that's not all, is it?

They also blew Valerie Plame's cover because her husband made them look bad. Valerie Plame was working on WMDs in Iran; she worked as a NOC, and had many contacts outside of this country. All of those contacts, and all of the work she did, are at jeopardy because of this. And they defended their actions as necessary to counter a critic... a critic who told nothing but the truth, and that, carefully qualified.

This is how morality is seen by the Bush administration and its supporters. It's good to defend the administration, even if it leads to reprehensible acts.

Apparently the only evil action is "losing an election". We can hope that the American people hand them this ultimate insult in 2008.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Tortured definitions and support

Anonymous Liberal makes me despair for humanity. He discusses what John Podhoretz wrote here.

As universally understood, torture is the infliction of physical injury through the application of physical force. It is the negation, the reverse image, of medical care. The monstrous intent of torture is, literally, to cause physical injury. That injury need not be permanently scarring or even temporarily bruising to be torture, as in the disgusting use of electric current, but it must be an actual injury in any case.

No one who has ever tried to come up with a definition of torture has ever limited themselves to "actual injury" (NB: electrical current needn't cause injuries in order to be painful). Torture has long been considered to be the intentional infliction of pain, distress, or suffering, and no one would have argued with that... not until recently.

Recently, there's been a huge outcry. No, torture is cutting off fingers and toes, or other body parts, and causing burns and breaking bones! Making a person stand for 40 hours (try it sometime...), keeping them in a 50 degree cell, chaining them in stress positions, administering beatings planned to avoid serious injury, those aren't torture!

What sickens me is this: I'm sure you remember the "torture memos" from the Justice Department... it's not torture until the pain is akin to impending organ failure or death. These debates are not an accident. Someone planted these ideas. Someone pushed this idea that torture requires real, measurable physical injuries.

Why? Well, there's really only one sensible reason for this to be pushed so hard. It's not that torture works; every competent interrogator knows that there are other, better methods that gain more solid information.

But of course, we don't have a competent man at the helm, do we? We have George W. Bush. He's just the kind of fool who'd decide that he would use torture to avoid getting blamed for another attack happening on his watch. He's just the kind of man who thinks that "doing everything you can" means doing things that the law says you can't. And he's just the kind of idiot who thinks that "getting tough" always yields better results.

So why is this debate ongoing? Because George W. Bush is guilty of crimes, and he doesn't want anyone to know. He can't help but have people find out, so his only hope is to try to redefine the actions he performed, and say that they aren't crimes. And a whole bunch of his cheerleaders join the chorus because they don't want to see their hero go down.

Here's a hint to you, Bushies. If you have to support torture to protect your hero, he ain't a hero. He's a villian. It's time to let him fall.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Painful truths about torture

You know what really hurts when thinking about how President Bush ordered agents of the United States to engage in torture?

Obviously, the first answer is "the victims of torture". Worse than that are the innocent victims... the Bush administration is not torturing people who we know are terrorists; they are torturing people who they think are terrorists... key words are "they" and "think", however painful it is to use "think" to describe mental activity by the Bushies. We don't know that the victims are terrorists, and they don't know either. They think so... but do we even need to talk about Bushie incompetence these days? They might think someone is a terrorist, but they've made so many mistakes by now that we can be sure of this: they've tortured innocent people, and probably quite a large number of them.

And that's painful, and it's awful, but there's something that is, in some ways, a little more painful.

Every single person who obeyed his orders has violated the law, and is criminally liable. These people can go to jail. Many of them were well meaning people, and I bet many of them intended to refuse any unlawful orders, but were swept up in the zeitgeist.

Worse, if word got out about what the United States has done, it could stir up more anger against us.

So I can easily imagine people trying to keep it hidden. "Yes, it was terrible that it happened, but look at the horrible things that will happen if we let people know the truth!"

There's a huge flaw in this reasoning. If those terrible things do not happen, the next cruel and foolish President we have will be willing to use torture again, and say "It's not like we didn't do this before!" Having the world pissed off at us, and having people put in jail for their well-meaning following of orders is terrible... knowing that the US could accept torture as the new "normal" is worse.

What's really ugly about this is how slyly the Republicans have manipulated the message on this. They keep talking about how criminal prosecutions of those who committed torture would be oh, so terrible to those noble men and women who just wanted to keep us safe. And they completely ignore that it was President George W. Bush who put them in that position... who gave them the orders, and claimed to give them the authority, to break the law.

They didn't have to follow those unlawful orders, but they shouldn't have been given those orders in the first place. They should have had a President who had common sense and enough courage and moral strength to reject torture. It was horribly unfair that they were put in that position... but it's now clear that many of them chose to violate the law.

If any of them are prosecuted, it won't be because of those horrible meanies who insist that the law be followed. It will be because of their own choices, and because of the choices of George W. Bush.

I feel bad for people who, in good faith, violated the law, and must now be punished. I hate that it could turn out this way. But then I think about a country that would torture people in secret, and then refuse to punish the torturers, and I hate that even more.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Mukasey and torture

Mukasey is pointing out that, if he declares that waterboarding is torture, good gosh, the poor people who performed waterboarding would be in serious trouble! So it wouldn't be very good to declare it was torture until he was briefed on it.

Well, waterboarding is mock execution. The United States has acknowledged that mock executions - putting a person in imminent, realistic fear of death - is torture. There are no questions to be settled. Waterboarding is torture. It's worse than your average mock execution, because it not only works on the fear of, say, standing in front of a firing squad whose guns are loaded with blanks... it also works on physical sensations, since the person being waterboarded feels exactly like someone who is drowning. (I have heard it said - I don't know the technique well enough to have an informed opinion - that a person being waterboarded *is* drowning. The difference is that the drowning is sufficiently controlled that it can be stopped well short of lethality.)

So Mukasey is saying that it wouldn't be very good to tell the truth if it could be painful to the United States government, even when his opinion does not yet have any official bearing.

Mukasey should not be Attorney General. The Attorney General is often the last person who can point out wrongdoing, and demand an accounting for it. Mukasey is not even willing to tell the obvious truth during a confirmation hearing.

Alberto Gonzales should have been impeached and removed from his office; he had covered up wrongdoing. We shouldn't make the mistake of putting another Attorney General in place who will do the exact same thing.

You should be sick...

Americans everywhere should be sick by now of this kind of talk:

When Mr. Bush was asked whether he considered waterboarding illegal, he said he would not discuss specific methods used in the interrogation of suspected terrorists. "It doesn’t make any sense to tell the enemy whether we use those techniques or not," he said.

"And the techniques we use by highly trained professionals are within the law," the president said. "That’s what’s important for America to know."

Mr. Bush, let me spell this out for you.


Your word is worthless. If you say something is true, and we can only know by taking your word for it, no one, anywhere, has any reason to believe you.

You had your people claim that the aluminum tubes Iraq requested were used for centrifuges at a time when everyone knew that they were being used to reverse engineer rockets.

You claimed that British intelligence had found something that the US had thoroughly debunked.

You claimed that eavesdropping on folks required a warrant, while you knew you were violating the law and the Constitution.

It doesn't matter if you lied in each of these instances; maybe in the first two, you were too stupid, too incompetent, to know better. Does it matter? It shows that your words aren't worth a plugged nickel; you will say things that aren't true, because you can't be bothered to learn the truth. And, you've flat out lied. You, the man responsible for upholding the law, lied to us about violating it.

And every time there's some information that could completely exonerate you from the accusations that rise up, well, gosh, you'd love to show us, but it's secret. Every single time; every single accusation.

So, you see, if it's really important for Americans to know that you can be trusted, it's time to put up, or shut up. Give proof, proof positive, or you simply can't be trusted at all. Whether you don't want to tell the truth, or refuse to learn it, we have no reason to suspect anything you say is true.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com