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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:45 pm

The Decline of American Power, Iraq Edition, Part 356

This morning, The Washington Postdated confirms that yesterday’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was the work of a group known as the Soldiers’ Brigade of Yemen, an affiliate of al Qaeda, using techniques that they may have learned while fighting in Iraq:

[T]he first vehicle exploded near a guard post. Cameras then recorded attackers taking positions nearby, until a second vehicle packed with explosives detonated near a sidewalk. . . . The use of two vehicle bombs — one to breach the perimeter of a compound, a second to drive inside and explode — is a tactic used by the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Matt Duss over at Think Progress demonstrates how this blows away yet another justification for the Iraq war — the “we’re fighting them over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here” idea, also known as the flypaper theory:

Those who have been following the Iraq debate might remember “flypaper theory,” which was one of the earliest exponents of the “incoherent post hoc justifications for the Iraq war” genre. The idea was that there was some limited number of terrorists in the Middle East, and the presence of an occupying U.S. army would lure them to Iraq, whereupon they could all be conveniently killed, presumably as soon as they stepped off the bus.

This plan was prevented from working only by the fact that it was staggeringly dumb. The U.S. occupation radicalized scores of young Muslims, many of whom traveled to Iraq, where they learned terror warfare and were galvanized in the global jihad. And now they’ve begun returning home, to share the tactics and technology developed in a laboratory we provided for them by invading Iraq.

Of course, that doesn’t even take into account the role of torture, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other such obscenities in helping to radicalize Muslims as well.

To put it another way, the Bush Administration have spent  billions upon billions of dollars on the Iraq War, largely based on the bankrupt theory that we are building an island of democracy that will de-radicalize the Middle East.  In reality, we have made things far worse than they would have been had we never invaded, so much so that we have unthinkingly created another generation of terrorists, in the process weakening ourselves to such a degree that we may not be able to fight back the next time the come “over here.”

Imagine how bad things would be if Bush had taken a similar approach to the economy.

Oh.  Wait.

Never mind.

Hat tip:  Obsidian Wings

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

John McCain Must Be at the Beach. . .

. . .because I sure do hear the sound of flip flops.  More from the View:

The man is either delusional, high, suffering from memory loss, or a flat-out liar.  Think Progress has a list of forty-two issues where he has changed course.  Here are three off the list, all concerning the Bush Administration’s pursuit of the War on Terror at home and abroad:

Detention of Detainees

McCain Flips:

In 2003, McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote a letter to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld urging him to resolve the issue of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The letter6/19/05] said that “a serious process must be established in the very near term either to formally treat and process the detainees as war criminals or to return them to their countries for appropriate judicial action.” In 2005, he told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that “I know that some of these guys are terrible, terrible killers and the worst kind of scum of humanity. But, one, they deserve to have some adjudication of their cases.” [Meet the Press,

McCain Flops:

In 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo are required to receive habeas corpus rights. McCain called the Court’s ruling “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” “Senator Graham, and Senator Lieberman, and I…made it very clear that these are enemy combatants, these are people who are not citizens. They do not and never have been given the rights that citizens of this country have,” he said. [Newark Star-Ledger, 6/14/08]


McCain Flips:

In 2005, McCain pushed President Bush to sign a bill that would, among other provisions, prohibit “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone in U.S. government custody. McCain authored the torture ban himself. “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists,” McCain said. McCain was also against waterboarding, saying during presidential primary campaigning “all I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today…It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture.” [MSNBC, 12/15/05 & New York Times, 10/26/07]

McCain Flops:

In 2008, McCain voted against the Intelligence Authorization Bill, which requires the intelligence community to abide by the same standards as articulated in the Army Field Manual and bans waterboarding. [New York Times, 2/17/08]

Illegal Wiretapping

McCain Flips:

In an interview with the Boston Globe in December 2007, McCain was asked if, as President, he would ever authorize illegal wiretapping. “I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is,” he said. “I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law.” [Boston Globe, 12/20/07]

McCain Flops

The New York Times reported that a letter from top McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said that McCain believes that the Constitution gave President Bush the authority to wiretap Americans “without warrants.” The letter says that “neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.” [New York Times, 6/6/08]

Kudos to Think Progress for their work on this.

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Obama, Messaging, and Dean Wormer

Take a moment to watch this clip.  It’s from an Obama town hall appearance yesterday in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

At first glance, it seems pretty good.  He says that “there should be no contradiction between keeping America safe and secure and respecting our Constitution.”  He gets in a good shot in about the need to catch the terrorists before you worry about what to do with them.  And he has a great line at the end:  “Don’t mock the constitution.  Don’t make fun of it!  Don’t suggest that it’s un-American to abide by what the founding fathers set up.”

Those are all good points.  The problem is that along the way, he violates two fundamental rules of messaging:

1.  Don’t use your opponent’s talking points to frame your arguments.  Obama did that on three occasions:

“Senator Obama is less interested in protecting people from terrorism than he is in reading them their rights.”

“You may think it’s Barack the bomb thrower, when in fact it might be Barack, the guy running for president.”

“The reason you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism.”

When you do this, you reinforce people’s preconceptions about you.  If folks are already inclined to worry about whether you’re the right guy, then what they’re going to hear is that Obama is soft on terrorism, has a Muslim name, and is interested in protecting the bad guys.

2.  Don’t try to convince people with facts.  Obama spends over a minute explaining the concept of habeas corpus.  He sounded like a professor.  Most people don’t have any idea what the words “habeus corpus” mean.  But they do understand the underlying principle:  that sometimes, our government makes mistakes, and we need rules to protect innocent people from being thrown in jail indefinitely.  They’ll understand that much more readily than talking about how this right goes back to before we were a country.

So what should have Obama said?  How about something like this:

You know, all of us want to be treated fairly.  You could say that’s the basic idea behind the Constitution and the Bill of Rights:  do unto others as you would have them do onto you.  In this country, we give people the chance to be heard. We promise them that they won’t be tortured.  We say to them that they have the right to prove that they are innocent of the charges against them, and that they don’t have to incriminate themselves.

These are our core values.  These are incredible gifts that the founding fathers gave to us.  And these are the very things that our opponents are now mocking.  How dare John McCain and Sarah Palin suggest that what was good enough for Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Benjamin Franklin isn’t good enough for us.

Other than our familes, our freedoms are the most precious thing we have .  They are what made this country great.  They are the promise that all men and women are created equal, that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and, as you said so beautifully, ma’am, that we are the sweet land of liberty.

John McCain and Sarah Palin, just like George Bush and Dick Cheney, want you to believe that our security is more important than our freedoms.  What you know and what I know — and what McCain and Palin and Bush and Cheney certainly should know is that we cannot have security without freedom.  We cannot have justice without freedom.  We cannot be America without our freedoms.

Those who suggest otherwise should be ashamed of themselves.

They should be ashamed for resorting to torture, for doing the very same things that John McCain himself suffered in Vietnam.  They should be ashamed for letting places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, instead of places like Farmington Hills and Peoria define who we are.  They should be ashamed for allowing waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, and other techniques that we used to think only happened in places like Zimbabwe and Burma and Cuba.  They should be ashamed of themselves for believing that it’s all okay because the President can do anything he wants anytime he wants.

That’s not my America.  That’s not your America.  That’s not George Washington’s or Abraham Lincoln’s or Teddy Roosevelt’s or FDR’s or JFK’s or Ronald Reagan’s America.  Nowhere in our Constitution does it say the President can do anything he or she wants.  Nowhere.  That’s not Martin Luther King’s or Susan B. Anthony’s or Bobby Kennedy’s America.  That’s George Bush’s America.

It’s time we reclaim our heritage of freedom, our role as that shining city on the hill.  It’s time we say “not on our watch,” not here, not in Guantanamo, not anywhere.

It’s time that we say to Bush and Cheney and McCain and Palin and anyone else who supports them, we’re taking America back.  We’re taking America back to what it stands for.  We’re going to make America great again.  We’re going to be the America that respects people’s rights, that honors our core values, that draws so many people around the world to our shores.

Let’s start showing the world why we’re better than our enemies.  Let’s honor our founding fathers by returning to the values that make America America.

That would knock McCain and Palin on their butts.  It would force them to explain why they support the very torture techniques that  John McCain himself endured.  It would make them explain why they aren’t un-American.  It would require them to argue that they don’t want to destroy the Constitution or shred the Bill of Rights.  Tar them with every sin of the Bush Administration, and do it in a way that will leave them no space to reply except by repeating your arguments.

That, after all, is exactly what they’re doing to the Democrats.

So for crying out loud, Senator Obama, stop defending yourself and start attacking them.  It’s the only way you win.

P.S.  To my colleagues in the blogosphere and the mainstream media, this goes double for you.  Stop caring about how many times Sarah Palin lied about the bridge to nowhere and start talking about why Obama and Biden are the right choice. Stop parsing every lie that McCain and Palin tell and start talking about what their Administration would do to the country.  And if you can’t, then shut the hell up.

It’s the Dean Wormer Theory of Politics.  In Animal House, Dean Vernon Wormer tells Flounder, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

In politics, defensive, bitter, and angry is no way to win an election. 

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

McCain, Palin, Boumediene, and Miranda

There’s a line from Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech that has rankled quite a few progressives and libertarians:

Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America … [Obama]’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights?

The partisan crowd responded, as you would expect, with an extended standing ovation — in fact, it was one of her most popular zingers in a speech filled with them.

Some have argued that Palin’s comment is merely an extension of McCain’s criticism of Boumediene v. Bush.  In that case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that those being held at Guantanamo have a right to habeas corpus under the Constitution and that the section of the Military Commissions Act that took away that right was unconstitutional.  When Boumediene was announced, McCain called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”

Here, for example, is what Daniel Larison has to say:

[Palin's speech] is a fundamentally misleading framing of the issue of providing detainees with the ability to challenge the charges against them through a judicial process. . . .The question is whether the government has the right to seize someone, whether a foreigner or a U.S. citizen, accuse him of conspiring with terrorists, strip him of all legal protections and keep him detained indefinitely without access to due process.  The McCain/Palin position is apparently that the government can and should do this.

Andrew Sullivan describess Palin’s one-liner as her position on Boumediene, quoting Larison’s comments in even greater detail.  Daphne Eviatar calls Palin “Dick Cheney in a skirt,” arguing that

Palin’s speech last night suggests that in a McCain-Palin administration, the indefinite detention and abuse of foreigners without charges will remain an issue for at least another four years. And it could well be that if McCain has his way with the Supreme Court, we could easily end up with another decision as infamous as Korematsu.

Larison, Sullivan, and Eviatar have a point — it’s clear that the McCain campaign not only dislikes the Boumediene case but also sees it as an opportunity to hit Democrats for being soft on terrorism.

But the real target of Conservative attacks is not Boumediene.  It’s Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 Supreme Court ruling that a suspect in police custody has the right to consult with an attorney, as well as the right not to incriminate themselves.  The Court also ruled that suspects must be made to understand their rights, and that police cannot interrogate a suspect without an attorney present unless the suspect has waived these rights.

Conservatives despise Miranda v. Arizona.  They hate it more than any other Supreme Court ruling, with the possible exception of Roe v. Wade.  They regard it as a leading example of judicial activism — which they define as the effort of certain judges (including Supreme Court justices) to create (”legislate”) law, rather than merely interpret it.

Since Nixon, conservatives have argued that judicial activists should be replaced by “strict constructionists,”  who, as Wikipedia wryly notes, believe in “a particular legal philosophy of judicial interpretation that limits or restricts judicial interpretation.”

Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito all are strict constructionists. Were a case challenging Miranda ever to come before the Court, they would favor overturning the original ruling. For example, in Dickerson v. United States (2000), Scalia, joined by Thomas, said

Miranda was objectionable for innumerable reasons, not least the fact that cases spanning more than 70 years had rejected its core premise that, absent the warnings and an effective waiver of the right to remain silent and of the (thitherto unknown) right to have an attorney present, a statement obtained pursuant to custodial interrogation was necessarily the product of compulsion. . . .Moreover, history and precedent aside, the decision in Miranda, if read as an explication of what the Constitution requires, is preposterous.

Here’s what John McCain had to say about strict constructionism in his acceptance speech at the convention:

We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and judges who dispense justice impartially and don’t legislate from the bench.

Much as was the case with Palin’s anti-habeas corpus line, McCain’s statement was greeted with thunderous applause.

I read McCain’s statement as an endorsement of the long-standing conservative practice of appointing strict constructionists to the Court (and to lower courts as well).  Larison therefore is right in suggesting that, under a McCain Administration, we could end up with a strict constructionist-dominated Supreme Court capable of overturning Boumediene.

But that’s not really the point.

The real danger is that such a Court would gut Miranda and other key ruling on defendants’ rights, thus opening the door to arbitrary detentions in the United States.

John McCain has stated repeatedly that he would end the practice of torture and close Guantanamo.  But such promises are meaningless if he also were to appoint Supreme Court justices who don’t believe that the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to silence, the right to legal representation, and the right not to incriminate oneself.

Were a strict constructionist-dominated Court to gut Miranda and other key rulings, Americans would live in a country were executive fiat had replaced the rule of law.  Even if McCain were not to use such powers himself, it would only be a matter of time that a future President — say a President Palin, for example — would suspend fundamental rights in the name of national security.

And that, my friends, is the kind of change that we should never believe in.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:39 pm

Kerry Does It

So a speaker finally and passionately raised the issue of torture, the question of Guantanamo, the need for us to honor our values.  That’s great.  I’m glad.

But why oh why oh why did it have to be John Kerry?

Using the flip flop line was brilliant though.

Too bad Kerry was never this good four years ago.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:20 am

What’s Missing at DNC: Torture, Guantanamo. . .and Cheney

So far we’ve seen dozens of speakers at the Democratic National Convention.  They’ve attacked Bush and McCain.  They’ve touted solutions to energy and climate change.  They’ve talked about Supreme Court justices and choice.  They’ve talked getting out of Iraq, and winning the war against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.  A few have even mentioned, in passing, that the United States needs to rebuild its relationship with allies, once agan leading rather than dictating to the rest of the world.

But there is one set of issues that we haven’t heard about yet — not once in two days of banal blathering.

Call it the destruction of American values.  It includes a number of things.

Like torture.


Abu Ghraib.

Indefinite detention of American citizens.

Denial of habeas corpus.



Black sites.

It’s as if the books by Jane Meyer, Jack Goldsmith, Philippe Sands, and so many others have gone right down the memory hole.

Where’s the anger at this desecration of everything America supposedly stands for?  Where’s the condemnation of the Bush Administration’s trashing of the Constitution?  Where are the demands that these things stop, and stop immediately?

And where are the attacks on the man who most needs to answer for his role in not just allowing, but promoting these abominations?  Where is the condemnation and vilification of Dick Cheney?

There isn’t a politician more unpopular in America today.  More importantly, there isn’t anyone more responsible for the trashing of America’s reputation in the world.

Yet after two days, we’ve heard nothing about him or his comprehensive attack on human rights and civil liberties.  Nothing about his single-minded shredding of the Bill of Rights, Geneva Conventions, and Convention against Torture.  Nothing about waterboarding, sleep deprivation, the use of dogs, or forced confinement.  Nothing about the fact that our allies now believe that this Administration has committed war crimes.

We’ve heard plenty about windmills and wages, but nothing about Cheney’s conscious destruction of American values.

In less than a week, Dick Cheney will take the Darth Vader world tour to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.  In his primetime speech, he will call Democrats weak, inept, and unwilling to face down “evil.”

If the Democrats fail to call him out on his own evil this week, he’ll be right.

Are Democrats afraid?  Are they unwilling to confront Bush, Cheney, and McCain on foreign policy?   Are they afraid of John McCain because he keeps reminding people on every possible occasion that he was a POW?

There’s a simple way to handle this.  All the Democrats have to say is that the Bush Administration believes that it doesn’t torture.  Then talk about all the things that they now do that the North Vietnamese did to John McCain.  And then point out that according to George Bush and Dick Cheney, John McCain wasn’t tortured. And then say how dare they implement polices once used against our brave servicemen and women.  And also make sure that people know that John McCain actually sanctions torture, as long as it’s committed by the CIA.

It’s the truth.  It reminds Americans of what we stand for without dragging them through the muck and horror of the past seven years.  It also has the advantage of putting both McCain and the Bushies on the defensive.

We’ve heard that Obama-Biden will be different, that they will no longer concede the high ground on foreign policy issues to the Republicans.  But if they never mention torture, Guantanamo, or any of the other terrors that Cheney, Addington, Yoo and company have inflicted on America and the world, then they are just as fearful and timorous as past candidates.

And next week, the Republicans will have free reign to make them look like apologists and traitors.

And in November, Barack Obama will lose.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, world at home | 1 Comment

20 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:46 pm

More on McCain, Torture, and the Bush Administration

A provocative comment today from Undip reader jelperman in response to this post:

If McCain is heroic for being tortured, then so are the people who were tortured at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

No, no, no jelperman!  Don’t you know?  It wasn’t torture at Guantanamo or at Abu Ghraib or even Bagram, for that matter.  Just listen to what Dubya said:

Among the euphemisms that the President would employ in the years to follow were “enhanced” interrogations, “robust” interrogations, and “special” interrogations.

You know what we need?  A commission to investigate all this.  Seriously.  Like the 9/11 Commission. Except we need a better name.

I was thinking “grand jury” would do nicely.

But before that happens, we need to ask John McCain to move beyond his history to answer some serious questions about his position on torture.  I respect and honor his service and his courage while in captivity.  I applaud the fact he wants to close Guantanamo.  But his record on this issue is far from spotless: he voted for Military Commissions Act, against using the Army Field Manual standard for all USG interrogations, and even did a cameo on that torturegasm known as 24.

So given those inconsistencies, he needs to explain his position in much greater detail.  So here’s a question for him:

Given that the North Vietnamese tortured you during your time as a prisoner of war, and given your strong assertions, most recently during your August 15 talk at the Aspen Institute, that the United States has no moral imperative to torture, would you support a criminal investigation into allegations that the Bush Administration sanctioned and perhaps even mandated the torture of terror suspects?  And if not, why?

Here’s another one:

As President, would you support the closing not only of Guantanamo, but also of the CIA’s “black sites” in Afghanistan and at least seven other countries?  And would you allow the Red Cross to interview the prisoners currently held in these facilities?

So here you go, mainstream media, your chance to show you have a backbone.

Come on, mainstream media!  You can do it!





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10 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:02 pm

Controlympics: Pollyanna George

From Bob Costas’s interview with President Bush during NBC’s Olympics coverage tonight:

COSTAS: This past week, you restated America’s fundamental differences with China. But given China’s growing strength, and America’s own problems, realistically, how much leverage does the U.S. have here?

DUBYA: First of all, I don’t see America having problems. I see America as a nation that is a world leader that has got great values.

I’m speechless (wordless?  what is the blogging version of speechless?).  I thought he stopped drinking.  Maybe he’s high on vollyball babes.  I mean, Dude, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR THE LAST SEVEN FREAKING YEARS?????  Just off the top of my head:

  1. We’ve lost our lead in manufacturing to China.
  2. We’ve mortgaged our economy to the Chinese and others.
  3. We now torture, contrary to everything we supposedly stand for.
  4. We now detain people indefinitely.
  5. We haven’t captured Osama bin Laden or other al Qaeda leaders.
  6. We’re mired in two wars, one of which is going badly and while the other is going better, we are spending billions of dollars a month to try to find a way out.
  7. Our two largest mortgage lenders are in deep trouble, and the USG probably is going to have to bail them out.  And thousands upon thousands of Americans are losing their homes.
  8. As many as a dozen of our elected and appointed officials (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Addington, Yoo, Cambone, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rice, Tenet just off the top of my head) may be indicted for war crimes after the Administration ends.
  9. The Katrina crisis demonstrated just how incompetent our government can be in the face of a massive human disaster.
  10. Guantanamo; Abu Ghraib; Bagram; secret sites in Eastern Europe.

Nope. No problems there.  I apologize Mr. President, you’re absolutely, completely, and irrevocably right insane.

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8 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:05 pm

The Hamdan Jury (Almost) Listens to Me

This can’t be good news for the Bush Administration:

Osama bin Laden’s ex-driver, Salim hamdan, has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years imprisonment for supporting terrorism at the first US military trial in Guantanamo Bay.  Hamdan’s acquittal of conspiracy to murder means that on time served he could be eligible for release in just six months, despite prosecutors’ pleas to give him no less than 30 years imprisonment.

I have argued that the next President should commute Hamdan’s sentence to time served.  To their credit, that is for all intents and purposes what the jury did.  Given the fact that they also refused to convict him on the conspiracy charge, this decision represents a pretty serious blow against the Bush Administration’s subvert justice.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Bushies don’t have arrows left in their dark quivver.  Before the trial started, Administration officials intimated that even if he were found not guilty, Hamdan would not be released.  If that proves to be the case, then the entire tribunal process truly is a farce.

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7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:44 pm

Compare and Contrast

I was struck by similarities in the following two descriptions of individuals subjected to information overload.

First, a description from Jane Meyer’s The Dark Side of the Bush Administration trying to cope with a deluge of raw intelligence after 9/11:

[Bush] and Cheney demanded to see all available raw intelligence reports concerning additional possible threats to America on a daily basis. . . . Others who saw the same intelligence reports found the experience mind-altering.  .  .  .Readers suffered “sensory overload” and became “paranoid.” . . .[T]he cumulative effect turned national security concerns into “an obsession.”

Now take a look at this report from Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald about the trial of Salim Hamdin, Osama bin Laden’s driver and, subsequent to this report, convicted war criminal:

In the al Qaeda world of driver Salim Hamdan, exhortations to martyrdom and railing at the infidels [became] mind-numbing.  Or so claimed several FBI agents who testified last week at the trial of Osama bin Laden’s driver, the Yemeni with a fourth-grade education. ”Mr. Hamdan pretty much got tired of hearing the same thing over and over again,” said FBI Agent George Crouch Jr. And so, he “tuned out.”

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting some sort of moral equivalence here.  But the fact that both Bush Administration staffers and al Qaeda camp followers had similar sensory overload experiences is quite striking.  There’s a reason that interrogators, torturers, and cults all use sensory overload — it softens up targets and makes them much more willing to cooperate.

The jury in Hamdan’s case apparently concluded that sensory overload was an inadequate defense (I say apparently because the court’s decision to keep the jurors’ identities secret means we’ll never really know what was behind their deliberations).

Yet the almost exact same conditions existed inside the Bush Administration in the days after 9/11.  And it was the fear and panic of those early days, as Meyer notes, that led Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and others to conclude that they needed to use any and all means necessary to protect the United States.

Perhaps the time has come to stop thinking of the Bush Administration as evil and start thinking of them as untreated survivors of post-traumatic stress disorder.  PTSD certainly can significantly alter an individual’s behavior, and historians have documented numerous instances where a national trauma has generated what some have called collective psychosis.

That said, I don’t think we can excuse what someone has done just because they were traumatized.  Permit that argument, and almost anything — say, for example, torturing suspects or flying planes into buildings — can be justified.  And that way lies true madness.

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7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:50 am

Beyond November: J. Brian Atwood

The Connect U.S. Fund has launched a new two-year initiative to help shape debate during the upcoming Presidential transition.  As part of this effort, they’ve asked leading thinkers and advocates to talk about what should be the top two or three foreign policy priorities for the next President.  They’ve also kindly allowed us to cross-post the responses here.

Yesterday we heard from Connect U.S. Fund executive director Eric Schwartz.  Today, it’s Brian Atwood’s turn.

Transitions are a time of great expectations in Washington. I had the great honor of leading the State Department transition team prior to the Clinton-Gore administration. I worked with an excellent team that included Connect U.S. Fund executive director Eric Schwartz.

The ‘92 transition was a move from a reasonably pragmatic administration of the center-right to a pragmatic administration of the center-left. This year’s transition will see the country moving away from an administration that broke a mold that had roughly accommodated the previous foreign policy spectrum, the “realists” and the “progressive internationalists.”  While there has been some effort in the second Bush term to move away from radical, neo-conservative policies, the residuum continues to influence the attitudes and behavior of much of the world towards the United States.

The first test of a new administration must be to demonstrate by action that our nation can listen and cooperate. Rhetoric to this effect will be well received, but active diplomacy on several fronts will be essential. These include: the Israeli-Palestinian issue; climate change; nuclear proliferation with an emphasis on Iran and North Korea, ratifying the NPT and negotiating with Russia to reduce and eliminate stockpiles; completing the DOHA round; engaging NATO and neighboring countries on our withdrawal from Iraq and our efforts to bolster the Afghan government; working with Pakistan on our common effort to contain Al Qaeda.; creating mature political and economic relations with India and China; and reestablishing American leadership in the effort to mitigate the poverty challenge in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

These objectives are on the top of most people’s list. I would add two more general goals that are often difficult for administrations pre-occupied with crises: (1) we need to spend some political capital on reforming the United Nations; and (2) we need to create a “culture of prevention” within the U.S. government.

The United Nations has been a whipping boy of the right because of its institutional weakness and because, periodically, the Security Council doesn’t support the U.S. position. Often even pro-UN Democratic administrations prefer to avoid the need to reform while regretting the lack of capacity to intervene for peace. The UN can be a useful tool as we pursue a new climate change treaty, the control of nuclear weapons, international cooperation against the terrorist threat and peaceful post-conflict transitions. It is past time that we invest the resources and influence in helping the Secretary General create a stronger organization.

I served on the Brahimi UN Peace Operations Panel. I was impressed by the potential of the UN and quite depressed that our own country, in lieu of supporting the needed reforms, expended its political capital by seeking to reduce our UN contributions. We helped pass many Security Council Resolutions that could not be implemented fully because of a lack of resources. U.S. leadership is capable of changing this vital organization for the better. Now is the time to exercise it.

Creating a culture of prevention within the U.S. government means an intelligence community that can anticipate future crises by better understanding the fault lines of impending disaster. It means having a diplomatic presence in more places. It means creating a new Department for International Development Cooperation capable of coordinating development assistance within the USG and possessing a strong voice on trade and finance decisions that effect development. It means working with the U.N. voluntary agencies, the international financial institutions and regional banks, and the bilateral donor community to help nations develop and avoid crises. It means using our understanding of development conditions, inter-ethnic or religious tensions, international criminal activity and the impact of all of the above on weak governance systems. If we mobilize U.S. government and international partners, we can prevent many of the crises that cause such pain and exhaust our resources today.

The next administration has much to overcome if it is to recover the reputation of a nation that once stood on a “shining hill.” Our foreign policy in the past seven years has been influenced more by fear than by the grandest aspirations of our past. We need to restore our image by stopping torture, closing Guantanamo and standing tall for the principles of human rights and democracy. Those who argue that we cannot be both tough in the battle with terrorists and be true to our most important principles have been proven wrong. It may not have been their intention, but they strengthened our avowed enemies and turned allies into skeptics and opponents. It is time to get back on the right track.

J. Brian Atwood is the dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Atwood served for six years as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) during the Administration of President William Clinton. Atwood also led the 1992 transition team at the State Department and was Under Secretary of State for Management prior to his appointment as head of USAID. In 2001, Atwood served on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Panel on Peace Operations. He joined the Foreign Service in 1966 and served in the American Embassies in Cote d’Ivoire and Spain. He served as legislative advisor for foreign and defense policy to Senator Thomas F. Eagleton (D-MO) from 1972 to 1977. During the Carter Administration, Atwood served as Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations. He was Dean of Professional Studies and Academic Affairs at the Foreign Service Institute in 1981-82. Atwood was the first President of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) from 1986 to 1993. Atwood received the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999.

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6 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:42 pm

Kangaroos in Guantanamo, Pope Benedict on Trial

If you haven’t heard, the kangaroo court military tribunal in Guantanamo has found Salim Ahmed Hamdan guilty of providing material support for terrorism.  Because he was Osama’s driver. From The New York Times:

A panel of six military officers convicted a former driver for Osama bin Laden of a war crime Tuesday, completing the first military commission trial here and the first conducted by the United States since the end of World War II. . . .  The conviction of Mr. Hamdan, a Yemeni who was part of a select group of drivers and bodyguards for Mr. bin Laden until 2001, was a long-sought, if somewhat qualified, victory for the Bush administration, which has been working to begin military commission trials at the isolated naval base here for nearly seven years.

This is just nuts.  According to the theory of justice used in this trial, anybody who ever served under anybody committing war crimes or crimes against humanity is subject to prosecution, even if they never had anything to do with the crimes itself.

To put it another way, if the Bush Administration had run things at the end of the Second World War, Pope Benedict and the first three postwar Chancellors of West Germany all would have been convicted as war criminals.  That is a perversion of the Nuremberg principle, not its extension.

I’ve already blogged about how absurd this is. But I’d like to revisit the question of why the Bushies chose Hamdan as its first case rather than, oh, I don’t know, Kalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind behind 9/11.

I think there are two possible explanations.

First, the Bush Administration had so little confidence in this process, that it felt it had to get a win — any win — under its belt.  This means that they were so afraid of what might happen during the first trial, they felt a practice round was necessary before they got around to the serious prosecutions.

Second, this may be revenge.  After all, it was in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the Supremes ruled that the Administration’s original military commissions plan was utterly unconstitutional.  So in response, they’re taking their anger out on this poor schlub.  What a despicably Nixonian approach to justice.

There is both irony and tragedy in this verdict.  The irony is that they didn’t entirely succeed.  Hamdan was found guilty of material support for terrorism, but also found innocent of the more serious charge of conspiracy.  So despite the fact that the Administration used every trick in the book to secure Hamdan’s conviction, they were not able to convince a jury of six officers — people whose future careers will in part be determined by their actions in this trial — that Hamdan was part of bin Laden’s inner circle. Of course, that’s not much consolation to Hamdan or his family.

The tragedy, of course is that Hamdan, who by all accounts has a fourth-grade education and was never anything more than one of several drivers and errand boys for bin Laden, will now spend the rest of his life in jail.

I have no sympathy for al Qaeda; I want our government to throw the book thrown at bin Laden, Zawahiri, Mohammed, and the rest of these thugs.  But to suggest that this guy is anything other than a tiny cog in that machine is ridiculous.  Whoever wins the next election should give serious thought to commuting Hamdan’s sentence to time served.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:30 pm

Criminal Mastermind with a Fourth-Grade Education

No, I’m not talking about The Joker.

I’m not a big fan of what Rebecca McKinnon calls “parachute journalists” — reporters who spend a very limited time in a country and then write stories describing “ancient ethnic hatreds” and “the profound despair of local villagers,” as if they had spent the last thirty years living there.  It’s the war correspondent ethos run amok.

The latest is from Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald, who spent two whole days in Guantanamo covering the war crimes trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver.

That said, I did find one item in Rosenberg’s story interesting:

In the al Qaeda world of driver Salim Hamdan, exhortations to martyrdom and railing at the infidels can become mind-numbing.  Or so claimed several FBI agents who testified last week at the trial of Osama bin Laden’s driver, the Yemeni with a fourth-grade education. ”Mr. Hamdan pretty much got tired of hearing the same thing over and over again,” said FBI Agent George Crouch Jr. And so, he “tuned out.”

I haven’t seen this reported anywhere else, and it certainly makes sense.  If you’ve ever been in a car with a bunch of metalheads listening to Motörhead at maximum volume, sooner or later you’re going to start tuning out Lemmy, no matter how awesome a rock god he may be.

What isn’t clear from Rosenberg’s account is whether the FBI agents were testifying for the prosecution or the defense.  You’d think that would be an important detail, one worthy of putting in the freaking story.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Rosenberg’s story is its sheer banality.  She makes it sound no different from a visit to District Court — if a District Court sold “Got Freedom?” t-shirts** and kept bottled water in a portable mortuary.

This is the best the Bush Administration could do?  Set aside, just for a moment, the due process violations and the allegations of torture.  Assume, just for a moment, that the Bush Administration is right — that these guys deserve to have the book thrown at them.  I know that it’s hard to do without causing your brain to explode, but just for argument’s sake, go along with me for a minute.

So the trials start.  And who’s the first defendant?  Osama’s driver.  A guy with a fourth-grade education.  Do they think he’s Alfred to Osama’s Batman or something?  Or that he’s the criminal mastermind?  Seriously?  Maybe it would help if The Wall Street Murdoch Journal ran an op-ed called “What Hamdin and The Joker Have in Common.”

If the Allies had used the Bush Administration’s approach after World War II, they would have started with, I don’t know, Ezra Pound before they got around to prosecuting Goebbels, Speer, et. al.  That is if Pound was a retarded 19-year-old from West Virginia.

It just doesn’t make any sense.  But then again, you’d think I would have learned by now not to expect sanity, logic, or even consistency from the gang of thugs we call the Bush Administration.

**Shouldn’t the t-shirts read “Don’t Got Freedom”??  It is Guantanamo, after all.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, used under a GNU Free Documentation License.

| posted in foreign policy, media, pop culture, war & rumors of war, world at home | 0 Comments

27 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 pm

Isn’t That Your Job, WaPo?

So Dahlia Lithwick of Slate had a piece in The Washington Postdated’s Outlook section today called “Light Reading for the Paranoid.” Contrary to expectations, it was not about conspiracy theories but rather the Bush Administration’s counter-terrorism policies, particularly Guantanamo.  I’m not  exactly sure why we should be paranoid about Guantanamo — angry, disgusted, outraged, sure — but paranoid?  Is Lithwick worried about being sent there?

In any case, her list of suggested books, blogs, and newspapers is a pretty comprehensive.  But I did find one paragraph rather odd:

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, media | 1 Comment

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