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Gonzales and Torture Redux

I’ve been shellacked in the comments for trying to make Alberto Gonzales into a poster boy for torture. Since my critics pounced on me at the precise moment Gonzales came out strongly against torture in front of the Senate…allow me to back off for now. I’m not ready to exonerate the man without looking a bit deeper into this, but I will declare myself an agnostic.

However, I won’t climb down an inch in my opposition to torture. And I’m not talking about make-believe “torture,” I mean real actual torture, the kind Andrew Sullivan is talking about here:

Let’s retire at the start the notion that the only torture that has been used by the U.S. has been against known members of al Qaeda. This is not true. Many innocent men and boys were raped, brutally beaten, crucified for hours (a more accurate term than put in “stress positions”), left in their own excrement, sodomized, electrocuted, had chemicals from fluorescent lights poured on them, forced to lie down on burning metal till they were unrecognizable from burns – all this in Iraq alone, at several prisons as well as Abu Ghraib. I spent a week reading all the official reports over Christmas for a forthcoming review essay. Abu Ghraib is but one aspect of a pervasive pattern of torture and abuse that, in my view, is only beginning to sink in.

If someone were to ask me where I think we ought to draw the line while interrogating prisoners, I couldn’t answer. I don’t know. A question like that isn’t exactly a no-brainer. Reasonable people can argue about it and, most likely, come up with a reasonable compromise. But I will say this: raping, electrocuting, and crucifying boys (or girls or adults or anyone else) absolutely is over the line.

The fracas in my comments section only seemed to prove (at least to me) one of Glenn Reynolds’ points: Making this issue about a person (Bush or Gonzales) only turns the argument into a partisan bitch-fest. I’m sorry for “going there.” But I’m not sorry at all for saying that some things are over the line and that I don’t want them done in my name.

UPDATE: Please see The Belgravia Dispatch.

Sink Alberto Gonzales

Glenn Reynolds and I are both against torture. He’s worried that it’s too politicized and might actually be legalized as a result.

I’ve been against torture since Alan Dershowitz was pushing it back in the fall of 2001. (Okay, actually I was against torture even before Dershowitz was pushing it). But I think the effort to turn this into an anti-Bush political issue is a serious mistake, and the most likely outcome will be, in essence, the ratification of torture (with today’s hype becoming tomorrow’s reality) and a political defeat for the Democrats.

Perhaps. If George W. Bush becomes the poster boy for torture, and if the Bush=Hitler people frame the debate in their own hysterical terms, and if the moderate left and moderate right sit the debate out, Glenn could be right. But it doesn’t have to go down that way.

And what about Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s pick to replace John Ashcroft as attorney general?

Here is Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post.

Last month — really recently — lawsuits filed by American human rights groups forced the government to release thousands of pages of documents showing that the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Naval Base long preceded the Abu Ghraib photographs, and that abuse has continued since then too. U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have, according to the administration’s own records and my colleagues’ reporting, used beatings, suffocation, sleep deprivation, electric shocks and dogs during interrogations. They probably still do. [Emphasis added.]

Although many people bear some responsibility for these abuses, Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is among those who bear the most responsibility. It was Gonzales who led the administration’s internal discussion of what qualified as torture. It was Gonzales who advised the president that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to people captured in Afghanistan. It was Gonzales who helped craft some of the administration’s worst domestic decisions, including the indefinite detention, without access to lawyers, of U.S. citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.

If any American deserves to be the poster boy for torture, it’s Alberto Gonzales.

He’s expected to win confirmation for his nomination. But I’m not so sure. The Republican-controlled Congress has far less reason to be defensively partisan on Gonzales’ behalf than on behalf of the president. He has no constituency. He is not a GOP leader. There will be no popular backlash if he isn’t confirmed. Most people who aren’t politics junkies probably don’t even know who he is.

Some Republican Congressman might think he’s a good choice. Others will surely vote to confirm him because he’s “one of them.” Some Democrats would raise a ruckus about Gonzales no matter who he is or what his record looked like. But there are plenty of people who can’t be dismissed as namby pamby liberals or partisan sheep who think the ascendancy of Alberto Gonzales to the post of attorney general would be a disaster.

A dozen high-ranking retired military officers took the unusual step yesterday of signing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing “deep concern” over the nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general, marking a rare military foray into the debate over a civilian post.

The group includes retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The officers are one of several groups to separately urge the Senate to sharply question Gonzales during a confirmation hearing Thursday about his role in shaping legal policies on torture and interrogation methods.

Although the GOP-controlled Senate is expected to confirm Gonzales to succeed Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, some Democrats have vowed to question him aggressively amid continuing revelations of abuses of military detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The letter signed by the retired officers, compiled by the group Human Rights First and sent to the committee’s leadership last night, criticizes Gonzales for his role in reviewing and approving a series of memorandums arguing, among other things, that the United States could lawfully ignore portions of the Geneva Conventions and that some forms of torture “may be justified” in the war on terror.

What Christopher Hitchens once said of John Ashcroft is also true of Gonzales: he might make a fine secretary of agriculture. I don’t believe for a minute that he is the best person available for the job of top cop. There are plenty of others who can fill that post in his stead, who can honorably prosecute terrorist suspects, who won’t tarnish the reputation of the United States of America, and who won’t be a polarizing lightning rod for the next four years.

I don’t know if I agree with Glenn Reynolds or not that an anti-torture campaign shouldn’t focus on President Bush. But it damn well better focus on Alberto Gonzales. Anyone who is against torture and doesn’t speak up is shirking their duty as a citizen in a democracy. I don’t know how big the “pro-torture” contingent is, but since it includes some liberals (like Alan Dershowitz and Oliver Willis) for all I know it could be huge. And it could win if the rest of us keep our mouths shut.

Glenn continues:

[M]any Administration critics are adopting a broad-brush view of “torture” that I think is likely to backfire. In fact, my fear — as noted in the original post — is that a big brouhaha will be made about torture, with various mild issues swept in to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the problem.

I completely agree. And that’s precisely why moderates (including the moderate left and the moderate right) need to speak up.

Where The Communist Manifesto Meets The Koran

My Libyan travelogue isn’t ready for publication yet. But my new Tech Central Station column is up, and it’s about Libya – Where The Communist Manifesto Meets The Koran.

Terrorist Caught in the Act

Take a look at this picture.

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Here’s the Reuters caption:

A suspected insurgent asks residents for mercy after they caught him planting explosives under civilian vehicles, at a busy area in Baghdad, January 3, 2005. Insurgents killed 17 Iraqi police and National Guards on Monday in another bloody spree of ambushes, bombings and suicide attacks aimed at wrecking Iraq’s January 30 national election.

If this guy was caught planting explosives under civilian vehicles, he is not an insurgent. He is a terrorist. Good God, will Reuters never figure this out?

It says something, doesn’t it, that he’s begging for mercy in front of a crowd of random Iraqis. He is not one of Mao’s revolutionary “fish” who swims in “the sea” of the people. He’s the scum of the earth. And he knows the Iraqi people think he’s the scum of the earth. He was caught trying to kill them. That’s why he’s begging for mercy.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation of this Iraqi poll posted at Powerline. But I have no reason to believe it’s not accurate. 87.7 percent of Iraqis reportedly support military action against terrorists inside their country. Why shouldn’t they? They’re constantly being attacked. The man in that photo is toast .

(Hat tip: Dougf in the comments.)

Who’s Stingy?

Jonathan Last notes that tsunami relief donations from rich Muslim countries are – shall we say – stingy compared with Japanese, Taiwanese, and Western donations. I don’t expect fat aid packages from Afghanistan and Somalia. But surely the House of Saud can spare more than 10 million dollars. Amazon.com raised more than that. Oil-rich Iran won’t even pledge one million dollars.

Since so many people who desperately need help are Muslims, I was first tempted to say “so much for Muslim solidarity.” But I don’t think that’s the issue. Except for Turkey (which so far promises less than 2 million dollars) every rich stingy Muslim country cited is a dictatorship. And with the exception of China, the top 16 donors are Western and East Asian democracies.

Free people are generous. Tyrants are not.

UPDATE: I should not have suggested the Saudis are stingy. They spend Allah only knows how much money exporting their racist knuckle-dragging jihadist ideology to the rest of the planet.

SECOND UPDATE: It looks like the Arab states in the Gulf are contributing quite a lot for relief aid. Kuwait and Qatar have now matched Saudi Arabia’s10 million dollars, according to the New York Times. (Hat tip: Katherine in the comments.) The United Arab Emirates pledged 20 million dollars. The populations of these countries are only a miniscule fraction of the populations of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE aren’t democracies, but their governments are a lot more moderate and benign than the House of Saud and the mullahcracy. Whether or not a country is Muslim seems to have little or nothing to do with the generosity of its government. It’s the Middle East’s worst regimes that aren’t pitching in as much as the rest of us.

No Peace in Sight

Try to imagine an alternate America where well-armed right-wing death squads make regular incursions into Canada to massacre civilians on buses and in restaurants in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. Then imagine an upcoming election where the front-runner, a Republican, not only pledges to protect the death squads from Canadian counter-measures but also brings them along on his campaign.

That’s basically what’s happening in the West Bank and Gaza right now.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that he wants to shield Palestinian militants from Israel and indicated he has no plans to crack down on gunmen after upcoming presidential elections.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Abbas defended a series of recent campaign appearances with gunmen, saying the Palestinian leadership has a responsibility to protect its people.

“When we see them, when we meet them, and when they welcome us, we owe them,” Abbas said. “This debt always is to protect them from assassination, to protect them from killing, and all these things they are subject to by the Israelis.”

Abbas, the front-runner in Jan. 9 Palestinian presidential elections, has been courting militants, appearing with gunmen at campaign stops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent days.

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Comparing my alternate-universe North America and the real-world Middle East has its limits, I know. Canada isn’t occupying the United States, for one thing. (Of course, Canada has no reason to do so. If the US had launched a series of failed genocidal wars against Canada, and if Americans continued to threaten the annihilation of Canada, things would be different.)

But let’s say Canada was occupying the United States. Can you imagine how absurd it would be if the most prominent American politician said he’s against a proposed Canadian withdrawal of its forces from, say, New England?

That, too, is happening in Gaza right now.

Abbas also said that Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which is being planned without any Palestinian input, is “unacceptable” and demanded a resumption of peace talks.

I suppose a reasonable person might explain how a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is “unacceptable.” But a man who campaigns with terrorists isn’t the guy.

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Counter-terrorism will exist as long as terrorism exists. There is just no getting around it. The Palestinian people will be given a choice in their upcoming election. Do they want to continue bearing the brunt of Israeli counter-terrorism? Or would they rather do it themselves? They have to choose one. “None of the above” is not an option right now. A vote for Abbas looks like a vote for war and, whether they see it this way or not, a vote against their own sovereignty.

First Stingy, Now Unilateral

First we’re accused of being stingy in the wake of the tsunami. Now Clare Short is laughably accusing us of trying to help unilaterally.

United States President George Bush was tonight accused of trying to undermine the United Nations by setting up a rival coalition to coordinate relief following the Asian tsunami disaster.

The president has announced that the US, Japan, India and Australia would coordinate the world’s response.

Why single out Bush for this? Australia, India, and Japan are in on this neoconservative plot, too.

But former International Development Secretary Clare Short said that role should be left to the UN.

“I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up,” she said.

“Only really the UN can do that job,” she told BBC Radio Four’s PM programme.

What a bizarre assertion. If the UN didn’t exist, what on earth would we do? Would south Asia drown in wreckage and mud while we tried to create a UN from scratch before we could send in some aid?

“It is the only body that has the moral authority.”

The US, Japan, India, and Australia don’t have the moral authority for crisis relief? Who bestows this moral authority? Clare Short? Who gave her the authority to do that?

”But it can only do it well if it is backed up by the authority of the great powers.”

Well, it isn’t backed up by the authority of the great powers. There’s a reason for that, Clare. Can you say Bosnia? Rwanda? Oil for food? What about the totalitarian and genocidal regimes like Libya and Sudan on the U.N.’s farcical “Human Rights Commission?”

The UN has no moral authority. None. Zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch. But the UN still manages to pull off some decent crisis relief once in a while. If even the UN can do that, surely the US, Japan, India, and Australia can do something, too.

“I don’t know what that is about but it sounds very much, I am afraid, like the US trying to have a separate operation and not work with the rest of the world through the UN system,” she added.

Over a hundred thousand people are dead. This is not the time to seethe and whine about process. Process means absolutely nothing to people who need help and need it right now. Speed and results, Clare. Speed and results. Roll up your sleeves and stick a sock in it.

Adventures in News-Doctoring

I’m sure it’s fun taking a quote out of context and sticking it in a headline. You can make it seem like anybody said anything if you limit your excerpt to only three words.

Here’s an AFP wire story titled Insurgency in Iraq ‘will not end’: Powell.

And here’s a snippet:

[Colin] Powell reiterated that Iraq’s January 30 elections will take place as scheduled and that the US and Iraqi forces are working to have security in place for the polls.

But, he told CBS television, “the insurgency will not end.”

The very same article quoted Powell as saying “the insurgency will be defeated.” Instead of writing a headline that said Insurgency in Iraq ‘will not end’: Powell it could just as easily have been written this way – Insurgency in Iraq ‘will be defeated’: Powell. Both are technically accurate.

If you want to know what Colin Powell actually said about the insurgency, what I wrote above is as worthless as the AFP headline and the story’s first couple of paragraphs. But, hey, at least the reporter fills in some of the context around one of those contradictory quotes. Too bad he or she didn’t do the same for the primary quote. [That would have wrecked the headline - ed.]

Here’s the relevant context:

“These insurgents are determined to have no representative government. They want to go back to a tyranny,” Powell said.

“And so the insurgency will continue and the insurgency will have to be defeated by coalition forces, but increasingly the insurgency will be defeated and brought under control, if not completely defeated, by Iraqi forces that we are building up as rapidly as we can,” he added.

I can only guess at the context of the primary quote, the one that appears in the headline. The reporter never did bother to tell us.

UPDATE: Spartacus has fun with subordinate clauses.

Video of the Tsunami

Pundit Guy is hosting several “home videos” of the tsunami. There is no gore, but more than enough horror. Some videos even show tourists on the beach who have no idea what is about to happen to them. If someone you know is missing you might not want to watch these.

He’s getting hammered with bandwidth charges, so if you watch the movies please click the “Make a donation” link. He promises to send half the proceeds to disaster relief.

Worse Than (Our) Vietnam

The number of people killed by the South Asian tsunami will likely exceed the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. The AP reports the casualty count has now passed 52,000. And it is going to be a lot worse.

The ministry statement said this figure did not include data from districts on Sumatra’s hard-hit western coast, including the town of Meulaboh — meaning that the final death toll will almost certainly rise significantly.

Earlier, the country’s national disaster director, Purnomo Sidik, said 10,000 people were killed in Meulaboh alone.

New Blog — Liberal Iraqi

Welcome Ali, Liberal Iraqi, to the blogosphere.

I am honored to be one of the first six linked on his blogroll. I consciously write to an American audience, and it never ceases to amaze me where in the world some of my readers live. When I first started this blog I had no idea people in Iraq would ever stop in to read it.

What does Ali mean when he describes himself as a liberal Iraqi? I’ll let him answer that.

I want to say that it’s a common knowledge that compared to the west, Iraq is a very conservative society, so being a liberal in Iraq caries a very different meaning than being a liberal anywhere in the west or more advanced countries. This does not mean that I’m against liberals anywhere, as on the contrary I find myself more close to them than conservatives, and I do have many friends on both sides as well as other centrists and independent people. I’m only against their view of OIF and the WoT in general. This is one of the few points where I do agree with the conservatives. I know that some conservatives have their own selfish motives behind their support for democracy in Iraq, but I believe that the majority of them just want Iraq to succeed and also want to have a friendly democratic government in the ME instead of a brutal mad dictatorship that has ties with terrorist organizations allover the world.

Back to Iraq and the main topic of this post, I and many freedom-loving Iraqis see traditions whether Islamic or tribal in origin as the main obstacle towards our march for a free democratic Iraq. You can count Arab nationalism as another obstacle in this field. We, those who call ourselves liberal Iraqis, are totally against such traditions and rotten ideologies. We see ourselves as part of humanity and that’s all. Some people in Iraq accuse us of being too liberal to the degree where we lack a real identity. This is not true, as we have one and it’s called humanity.

So there’s no sophisticated ideology that I endorse, I just support freedom of press, freedom of expression, women’s freedom, separation of “Church from the state”, freedom of religion and limited control by the government over economy. I do, however support strongly international aggressive interference in countries’ internal policies to save others from oppression and humiliation.

In Iraq, we longed for a revolution to save us from what we suffered at Saddam’s days. We made feeble attempts, but some Iraqis in the south and the north sacrificed and risked much more for the sake of our freedom, and the end was horrific. After that we almost went into total despair, and then the Americans came and our joy was beyond description. Still we do need a revolution, a revolution on the level of minds which without it, all the help we are getting from others and all the sacrifices that were given for Iraq to be free from tyranny, all these would be in vain. I still enjoy my freedom tremendously despite all the problems and dangers, and I have full trust in my people but I’m not ashamed of saying that we still need your help.

The last time I checked his Technorati profile, no one in the blogosphere had linked to him yet. Get the word out. Help promote this guy.

Thousands of Miles of Hell

Sometimes a picture is not worth 1,000 words. Even though it’s impossible, try to imagine thousands of miles of coastline looking like this. It boggles the mind as much as the death toll.

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(Photos from Yahoo slideshow.)

Shifting Geography

Whoa.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off Indonesia on Sunday morning moved the entire island of Sumatra about 100 feet to the southwest, pushing up a gigantic mass of water that collapsed into a tsunami and devastated shorelines around the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

Tsunamis and Terror

John Hinderaker at Powerline wonders why the destruction wrought by tsunamis in Asia is somehow less shocking than acts of violence.

It’s always struck me that casualties resulting from natural disasters inspire less horror than those caused by violence. More people have been killed today by tidal waves in Asia than have been killed in the last year and a half of violence in Iraq. Yet it is unlikely that today’s earthquake will stay in the news for more than a day or two. I’m not sure why this is, but, frankly, I share the tendency to pay much greater attention to political violence than to natural disasters.

Political violence is more horrible. In part that’s because human violence of any kind is more horrible.

Think about it this way. Would you rather be killed by a tsunami or drowned by a hit man? Would you rather lose a loved one in a car accident or to an axe murderer? Which would be easier to accept?

Murder horrifies because it’s on purpose. It is tainted by evil. It causes more emotional damage because you know someone is happy your loved one is dead.

A tsunami is a very bad thing that just happens. A murder, a rape, an act of terrorism, a campaign of genocide, is shot through with malice. We recoil not only at the event, but at the mindset behind the event. Tsunamis aren’t malicious, and nobody plans them.

The entire world can share in the grief and horror of the thousands dead in Asia. Thousands dead in an act of violence is different. The grief and horror of 9/11, for example, was not shared by everybody. Some people wanted 9/11 to happen. Some people celebrated the toppling of the towers. We all remember seeing Palestinians dancing in the streets that day. And we remember those who said we deserved it.

Some people hope to repeat 9/11. They have our undivided attention. (At least they have the undivided attention of some of us.) If someone had managed to trigger tsunamis in Asia it would be much the same. Partly this is because the event would have been much more horrible. But also because it would mean something is terribly, dangerously, wrong with the world — something that can and must be fixed.

UPDATE: The death toll is now over 19,000 and climbing. God. I can’t even process this yet. That’s just way too many people to die by a wave all at the same time.

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has an Asian blog roundup. (Shudder.)

Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiving

Nancy Rommelmann linked to a Meyers-Briggs personality test online and said the test results precisely captured her personality. I was a little suspicious. But the test only takes a few minutes, so I thought I’d give it a shot and see what it said about me.

Turns out I’m the Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiving type. My “report” is pretty accurate, at least insofar as I see myself. The last sentence doesn’t really describe me, but the rest is either close or exact:

“Clever” is the word that perhaps describes ENTPs best. The professor who juggles half a dozen ideas for research papers and grant proposals in his mind while giving a highly entertaining lecture on an abstruse subject is a classic example of the type. So is the stand-up comedian whose lampoons are not only funny, but incisively accurate.

ENTPs are usually verbally as well as cerebrally quick, and generally love to argue–both for its own sake, and to show off their often-impressive skills. They tend to have a perverse sense of humor as well, and enjoy playing devil’s advocate. They sometimes confuse, even inadvertently hurt, those who don’t understand or accept the concept of argument as a sport.

ENTPs are as innovative and ingenious at problem-solving as they are at verbal gymnastics; on occasion, however, they manage to outsmart themselves. This can take the form of getting found out at “sharp practice”–ENTPs have been known to cut corners without regard to the rules if it’s expedient — or simply in the collapse of an over-ambitious juggling act. Both at work and at home, ENTPs are very fond of “toys”–physical or intellectual, the more sophisticated the better. They tend to tire of these quickly, however, and move on to new ones.

ENTPs are basically optimists, but in spite of this (perhaps because of it?), they tend to become extremely petulant about small setbacks and inconveniences. (Major setbacks they tend to regard as challenges, and tackle with determination.) ENTPs have little patience with those they consider wrongheaded or unintelligent, and show little restraint in demonstrating this. However, they do tend to be extremely genial, if not charming, when not being harassed by life in general.

In terms of their relationships with others, ENTPs are capable of bonding very closely and, initially, suddenly, with their loved ones. Some appear to be deceptively offhand with their nearest and dearest; others are so demonstrative that they succeed in shocking co-workers who’ve only seen their professional side. ENTPs are also good at acquiring friends who are as clever and entertaining as they are. Aside from those two areas, ENTPs tend to be oblivious of the rest of humanity, except as an audience — good, bad, or potential.

Try the test yourself. See if it’s accurate. I bet it will be.

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