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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

Some Polite Questions for the Bush Administration


From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A long-delayed plan to send dozens of U.S. military advisors to Pakistan to train its army in counterinsurgency could begin in a matter of weeks under a new agreement on a training base, according to the top U.S. military officer.

Excuse me, Bush Administration, sorry for intruding.  I don’t mean to be a pest.  Would you mind if I just asked one little question here?  Great!  How about two?  Three?  No more than that, I promise.  Thanks!

Okay, here it goes.  Again, sorry for the bother.

ARE YOU FREAKING INSANE?

ARE YOU SMOKING CRACK?

DON’T YOU MORONS REMEMBER HOW VIETNAM STARTED?

Okay, thanks.  Yeah, I did mean the caps.  Sorry about that.  You can go back to finding more dangerously nuke-ridden failed states to “advise.”

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 2 Comments

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. 

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics, pop culture, world at home | 0 Comments

4 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:16 pm

Live Blogging John McCain


10:04  They got lucky — the game ended.  Video tribute just started.

10:05  “Momma’s boy” joke fell flat.

10:06  An extended version of his bio, featuring a few additional tidbits.

10:07  Video says he was tortured.  Glad they had the guts to do that.

10:09  Video goes out of its way to highlight his pro-life credentials

10:10  I’d like to see a timer on the Cindy and John videos — I have a hunch that the Cindy video may have run longer.

10:10  Iraq tied to security at home.  Again the nationalism that has so predominated this convention.

10:10  Mother Theresa is being mentioned more often tonight than George W. Bush.  But wasn’t she a community organizer?

10:12  Quotes from mother frame video

10:12  Voiceover from Fred Thompson while arena is dark.

10:12  Gotta hand it to the Republicans — they do know how to stage a show.

10:13  When McCain came out, they backlighted him like Charlton Heston in Ten Commandments.

10:13  Ovation lasts two minutes.

10:14  Why isn’t Cindy chanting “USA”?  Is she un-American?

10:15  He’s using a teleprompter, I think.  Looks like he has a speech too.

10:16  Also using a green screen in back.  Thought the Republicans learned.

10:16  Why are they throwing out a protester with a sign saying “McCain votes against vets.”

10:17  They didn’t throw him out.

10:17  Amazing.  He starts with a shout-out to Dubya, but never mentions him by name.  Didn’t see that coming.

10:18  Creepy smile alert.  Definitely using a teleprompter.  According to Ambinder on twitter he’s been practicing for six weeks.

10:19  Shout out to Cindy, his kids, and his mom.  But he needs to stop trying to smile now.  Nervous twitch?

10:20  Just noticed:  Sarah Palin’s kids are behind her, but I don’t see Trig.  Good.

10:20  I think he’s stuck — he keeps saying “I won’t let you down” over and over again.

10:21  Obama “has his respect and his Admiration.  We are fellow Americans.  That is an association that means more to me than any other.”

10:22  Then says “let there be no doubt my friends, we’re going to win this election.”

10:23  Code Pink protester being attacked and shouted down.  McCain trying to stop it.

10:24  McCain:  Please don’t be diverted by the ground noise and the static.  Didn’t know expressing your first amendment rights was ground noise.  Can’t stand code pink but this is ridiculous.

10:25  Shout out to Palin.  Her ovation almost as long as his.

10:26  Now doing Sarah Palin bio.  Palin nodding.  One of her kids yayed.

10:27  Who told Palin to sit down?

10:28  “Change is coming.”  Holy meme-theft Batman!

10:28  Blue background is making him look like the edges of his head are throbbing.  Don’t think that was the intent.

10:29  Have to say the practice paid off.  Much better with the teleprompter.

10:30  Promises to veto pork barrel bills.  “I will make them famous and you will know their names.”

10:30  Attacking Abramoff, tobacco, trial lawyers, union bosses (that one gets cheer from crowd).

10:31  I would rather lose an election than see my country lose a war.  Took 20 minutes to get there.  But he did not suggest Obama did the opposite.  He implied it, but did not suggest it.

10:32  Shout out to Petraeus.

10:32  Crowd responds tepidly to need to keep fighting war.  That was odd.

10:33  Is this falling flat with the crowd?  Certainly not going over like Sarah Palin.  Lots of chanting of USA, USA, USA, but other than that no huge, sustained ovations.  More perfunctory, as if there was an applause sign.

10:34  Looking at the bracelet of the hero who did not return from Iraq didn’t really come across on TV.  Made it look like he was looking at his watch.

10:35  “We were elected to change Washington and we let Washington change us.”  Good line, but tepid applause.

10:35  Audience really isn’t responding to criticism of Republicans and Democrats.

10:36  They liked the “back to basics” line, though.

10:37  “We’re all God’s children and we’re all Americans.”  Again it feels like the applause is tepid.  “Letting peoplle keep the fruits of their labor” gets as much applause and “pro-life” and judges who legislate from bench get huge ovation.  Much more than the lines on fixing what’s broken.

10:38  Standard tax, spending, and other conservative shibboleths are being contrasted with Obama and crowd is booing Obama’s alleged positions.

10:39  I don’t think the crowd booing is a good idea — makes them sound really angry and resentful.

10:40  My opponent promises to bring back old jobs… Huh?  This is coming from the drill baby drill party?

10:42  I think the community college line was intentional — anti-elitist.

10:42  This is a pretty wonky speech, even if a lot of it is the same as what he says on the stump.

10:43  Spending a lot of time on education.  Picks on “bad teachers.”  Wasn’t all of this solved by No Child Left Behind?  Just gave a shout out to school choice.

10:43  Republicans love “choice” in education, not so much in other areas.

10:44  Unlike Palin, McCain is naming Obama by name.

10:44  “We’re going to stop sending $700 billion to countries that don’t like us very much.”  You mean like Iraq?

10:45  He’s stumbled a couple of times in the past few minutes.  Not significantly, though.

10:46  Energy section of speech, with emphasis - quel shock! — on drilling.

10:47  “It’s time to show the world again how Amercans lead.”  How about starting by abolishing torture?

10:48  This speech is going on too long.  He’s not going to sustain audience interest the way Obama and Palin did.

10:49  Audience largely silent as McCain goes through a list of those America is unhappy with — with an emphasis on Russia and Iran.  Mention of Georgia gets only perfunctory applause.

10:49  He just said back-to-back that he’d work for better relations with Russia and called them lawless and an empire

10:50  Not afraid of threats, prepared for them.  Again tepid response.  Not a chant of “USA” in sight.  I think he’s losing the audience — not completely, but I bet many of them are thinking of Palin right now.  And they’re not on their feet.

10:51  Build the foundations for a stable and enduring speech.  Audience stands, but it’s not overly enthusiastic.  More like a state of the union speech than a rip-roaring partisan barnburner.

10:52  Shot of some guy looking at his blackberry.  Not a good sign.

10:53  You can feel the audience coming down from their Palin 24-hour Palin buzz.

10:53  I have the record and the scars to prove it.  Senator Obama does not.  Creepy grin again.  Crowd chants “zero, zero.”  But still not that enthusiastic.

10:55  I am starting to feel sorry for him.  This is falling really flat.

10:56  Now talking about his POW experience.

10:56  How is an angry crowd greeting him funny?  Nervous laughter?

10:57  His POW story is, as always, moving.  But he should have led with it rather than finished with it.  He buried his lede.

10:58  Reminding people he turned down the opportunity to go home gets some of the most sustained applause of the night.

10:59  Acknowledges that the Vietnamese broke him.  I give him a lot of credit for that.

10:59  You know what’s missing here?  Any reference to his faith.  No cross in the dirt story.

11:00  I have a very bad feeling that the Nielsen minute-by-minute tracker of the speech audience will see a steady decline.

11:01  Crack about Obama as “blessed” and “annoited.”

11:02  Call to service.

11:02  Defend the rights of the oppressed.  But no mention of how this administration has trashed rights.

11:02  Mentioned God, thanking Him that he’s an American.  But again, it was just an aside.

11:03  “Fight with me.”  Crowd finally goes nuts but he’s talking over them?  It really hurt his close — it seemed like he wouldn’t pause to build up audience response.

11:06  Audience cheered louder for Sarah Palin coming out than they did for McCain.  This is her party now.

In one way this speech was not unlike Obama’s — a solid, workmanlike speech.  But for Obama, that still means pretty amazing rhetoric that keeps his audience rapt.  For McCain, it means he lost his audience for much of the speech.  And he really has to stop smiling, or learn to smile differently.  His rebukes of Republicans really fell flat, while his stump stuff went over better.  All in all, pretty flat, except for the part on his POW experience, which was moving.  But he buried that, and by the time he got to it, I’m guessing that some of his audience drifted away.

In the end I go back to what I said before.  The crowd cheered more loudly for Sarah Palin tonight than they did for John McCain.  It’s her party now.

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics, pop culture | 0 Comments

25 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:45 pm

McCain: Stop Fighting the Vietnam War


Breaking News — John “POW POW POW POW POW Did I mention I was a POW” McCain wants America to stop fighting the Vietnam War:

Sen. John McCain argued Wednesday that Americans need to get past Vietnam. . . .  “I’m sick and tired of re-fighting the Vietnam War. And most importantly, I’m sick and tired of opening the wounds of the Vietnam War, which I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to heal,” the Arizona Republican said at a lunch with USA TODAY and Gannett News Service. “It’s offensive to me, and it’s angering to me that we’re doing this. It’s time to move on.”

He said that on August 25.  I kid you not.  This is big news.

Oh wait.

It was August 25, 2004.  Exactly four years ago today.

Funny how much things change in four years.

So which is it, Senator?  Are you tired of talking about Vietnam or are you interested in bringing it up in every conversation?  You can’t have it both ways.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Sorry.  Forgot who I was talking to for a second.

| posted in none of the above | 0 Comments

20 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:30 pm

McCain’s Story v. Bush’s Actions: I. Confinement


I took some time today to read John McCain’s 1973 account of his confinement in Vietnam, as published by U.S. News and World Report.  It is, as you can imagine, difficult to read:  McCain is unblinking in his portrayal of how he and others were treated (and unfiltered in his opinion of his captors).

I did this neither to question whether or not his account of the cross in the dirt is accurate, nor to question his courage or honor. I find no utility in pursuing the former (I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt) and very much believe that he and others deserve our respect and admiration for what they went through.

Rather, my purpose is to explore further the contrast between what happened to him in Vietnam and what the Bush Administration has done in the war on terror.  If you’re new to the blog, you can find more on this here and here.

I’d like to acknowledge up front that these passages are not a complete account of McCain’s captivity.  My intent is to highlight two elements of the North Vietnamese treatment of McCain:  confinement and torture, and then look at what the Bush Administration has said and done.

Let’s start with confinement.

McCain, describing conditions from March 1968 (the link in the story is to photos of the cell in which he was held):

I remained in solitary confinement from that time on for more than two years. I was not allowed to see or talk to or communicate with any of my fellow prisoners. My room was fairly decent-sized—I’d say it was about 10 by 10. The door was solid. There were no windows. The only ventilation came from two small holes at the top in the ceiling, about 6 inches by 4 inches. The roof was tin and it got hot as hell in there. The room was kind of dim—night and day—but they always kept on a small light bulb, so they could observe me. I was in that place for two years.

As far as this business of solitary confinement goes—the most important thing for survival is communication with someone, even if it’s only a wave or a wink, a tap on the wall, or to have a guy put his thumb up. It makes all the difference.

It’s vital to keep your mind occupied, and we all worked on that. Some guys were interested in mathematics, so they worked out complex formulas in their heads—we were never allowed to have writing materials. Others would build a whole house, from basement on up. I have more of a philosophical bent. I had read a lot of history. I spent days on end going back over those history books in my mind, figuring out where this country or that country went wrong, what the U. S. should do in the area of foreign affairs. I thought a lot about the meaning of life.

It was easy to lapse into fantasies. I used to write books and plays in my mind, but I doubt that any of them would have been above the level of the cheapest dime novel.

People have asked me how we could remember detailed things like the tap code, numbers, names, all sorts of things. The fact is, when you don’t have anything else to think about, no outside distractions, it’s easy. Since I’ve been back, it’s very hard for me to remember simple things, like the name of someone I’ve just met.

During one period while I was in solitary, I memorized the names of all 335 of the men who were then prisoners of war in North Vietnam. I can still remember them.

McCain, about events in June 1970:

The pressure continued on us to see antiwar delegations. By early in June I was moved away from Colonel Finley to a room that they called “Calcutta,” about 50 yards away from the nearest prisoners. It was 6 feet by 2 feet with no ventilation in it, and it was very, very hot. During the summer I suffered from heat prostration a couple or three times, and dysentery. I was very ill. Washing facilities were nonexistent. My food was cut down to about half rations. Sometimes I’d go for a day or so without eating.

McCain, about what happened in March 1971 after prisoners attempted to hold a church service:

Later in March they came in and took three or four of us out of every one of the seven rooms until they got 36 of us out. We were put in a camp we called “Skid Row,” a punishment camp. We stayed there from March until August, when we came back for about four weeks because of flooding conditions around Hanoi, and then we went back out again until November.

They didn’t treat us badly there. The guards had permission to knock us around if we were unruly. However, they did not have permission to start torturing us for propaganda statements. The rooms were very small, about 6 feet by 4 feet, and we were in solitary again.

Now let’s turn once more to Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side.  The following account is what Abu Zubayda, a self-professed member of Al Qaeda, told the International Committee of the Red Cross.  As Mayer herself notes, he “clearly had political and self-serving reasons to exaggerate his mistreatment.”  But also keep in mind that much of Zubayda’s story  — particularly the timetable he provided and the terminology he said his captors used — fits into the larger narrative Mayer contructs of events elsewhere, particularly decisions made back in Washington.

While the ICRC would neither confirm nor deny the details [of their report], other sources familiar with the report say that Abu Zubayda described being kept for prolonged spans of time in a cage that he called “a tiny coffin.” . . .[His] “hard time” began when he was locked into the “tiny coffy” for hours on end, which he described as excruciatingly painful.  It was too small for him to stand or stretch out, so small he said he had to double up his limbs in a fetal positoin. . .[which] caused his wounds to reopen.  he described the box as black, both inside and out, and said that it was covered in towels, which he thought was an effort to constrict the flow of air inside. . . .A source familiar with Zubayda’s account described the tiny coffin box as “unbearable, most terrible.”

. . .Zubayda told the ICRC that the cell in which he was isolated during this period looked out directly at the “tiny coffin” and another slightly larger cage.  These two boxes loomed large in his imagination, even when he was not confined in them, blocking his line of sight as an omnipresent threat.  One unconfirmed account desribed teh CIA interrogation team as building a coffin in which they reportedly threatened to bury Zubayda alive. . . .They reportedly took his clothing as punishment, and reduced his human interaction to a single daily visit in which they would say simply, “You know what I want,” and then leave.

This is only one of a number of such accounts.  And as Mayer and others have noted, this particular “treatment” was meted out to someone who was subsequently discovered not to be a major player in al Qaeda, and mentally ill.

Here’s what Article 21 of the Third Geneva Convention (to which the United States is a party) has to say about the question of “close confinement”:

The Detaining Power may subject prisoners of war to internment. It may impose on them the obligation of not leaving, beyond certain limits, the camp where they are interned, or if the said camp is fenced in, of not going outside its perimeter. Subject to the provisions of the present Convention relative to penal and disciplinary sanctions, prisoners of war may not be held in close confinement except where necessary to safeguard their health and then only during the continuation of the circumstances which make such confinement necessary.

Draw your own conclusions.

Two more questions for John McCain:

Are those detained by the United States in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and elsewhere — those whom President Bush has declared “unlawful combatants” — protected by the Geneva Conventions?  If not, why?

Given that Vietnam refused to abide by the Conventions, leading to their mistreatment and abuse of you and others, why should individuals detained by the United States not receive the very protections you were denied?

Part Two — McCain v. Bush on torture — will follow tomorrow.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, war & rumors of war, world at home | 0 Comments

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!

Anyone?

Anyone?

Bueller?

Sigh.

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics, pop culture, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 pm

Was McCain Tortured? Ask Dick Cheney


Set aside Andrew Sullivan’s obsession with the cross in the dirt story.**  He hits on a much more important point today:

[What the Vietnamese] deployed against McCain emerges in all the various accounts. It involved sleep deprivation, the withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, and beating. Sound familiar?

According to the Bush administration’s definition of torture, McCain was therefore not tortured.  Cheney denies that McCain was tortured; as does Bush. So do John Yoo and David Addington and George Tenet. . . .McCain talks of the agony of long-time standing. A quarter century later, Don Rumsfeld was putting his signature to memos lengthening the agony of “long-time standing” that victims of Bush’s torture regime would have to endure.  These torture techniques are, according to the president of the United States, merely “enhanced interrogation.”

. . .[T]he techniques used are, according to the president, tools to extract accurate information. And so the false confessions that McCain was forced to make were, according to the logic of the Bush administration, as accurate as the “intelligence” we have procured from “interrogating” terror suspects. Feel safer?

Here’s what Jane Meyer says in The Dark Side about the decision to define torture downward:

Shortly after Zubayda’s capture, John Yoo was summoned to the White House. . . .[Addington, Yoo, and others] tossed around ideas about exactly what sorts of pain could be inflicted on Zubayda.  The CIA had sent a wish list of “stress techniques” it wanted to use. . . .

To blur [the] bright legal line [in the Convention against Torture's definition of torture as "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental"] the White House lawyers turned not to law but to language.  The soft spot in the CAT as they saw it, was the definition of torture. . . .[W]hat if the Bush Administration decribed the psychic stress and physical duress they hoped to exert on captives as something else? . . .The redefinition. . .enabled Cheney to describe waterboarding. . .as “a no-brainer for me,” while at the same time insisting “We don’t torture.”

[snip]

The Bush Administration’s corruption of language had a curiously corrupting impact on the public debate, as well.  It was all but impossible to have a national conversation about torture if top administration officials denied they were engaged in it. . . .

On August 1, 2002, in an infamous memo written largely by Yoo. . .the [Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel] defined the crime of torture [so as] to make it all but impossible to commit.  They argued that torture required the intent to inflict suffering “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodly function, or even death.”  Mental suffering, they wrote, had to “result in significant psychological harm” and “be of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or years.”  This. . .stretched a [U.S.} reservation to the CAT that the Senate added in 1988 at the urging of the first President Bush, requiring mental pain to be "prolonged" to qualify as torture. . . .[I]t was tailor-made to decriminalize waterboarding.

So I think we have the answer to Sullivan’s question.

Wouldn’t it be great, though if a White House correspondent were to ask Dana Perino the question?  Or even better, ask Dubya?

Helen Thomas, white courtesy phone please.

**Sorry, folks, but questioning a story that by its very nature cannot be either verified or disproved — and involves McCain’s time as a POW and his faith –  is a no-win for Obama, his surrogates, or the blogosphere.  If I were McCain, I’d be saying “bring it on.”

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics | 4 Comments

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