Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Torture

This is one of the more important posts I'll write in a while, and so I'm going to try to be as clear as I know how to be...

Recently, a significant number of previously classified CIA documents detailing our treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere were released.

They described systematic torture - I say torture, because water-boarding is defined as torture by U.N. documents, documents which we signed and agreed with.

Past that, since when is beating someone, nearly killing them by drowning, denying them food for days, keeping them awake to the point the enter an hysterical state NOT torture, NOT objectionable, not ugly, not beneath the standards we demand of ourselves?

These are not 'enhanced interrogation techniques', they were and they are, nothing less than what we've objected to when conducted by friend and adversary alike over the past 50 years. In short, they are precisely the kinds of 'techniques' we define as in use by thugs, by police-states, by criminals.

The response from Dick Cheney and other members of the rabid-right has been, "But look, it worked, we got good data."

As if that matters one iota. As if killing 100 people is okay as long as we can say there was 'some benefit'.

But that's not the main point - the main point is this, they didn't 'enhance' one-damned thing. Torture works, that was never in doubt, it works to get data, but it mostly (according to numerous experts including our own CIA interrogators) it mostly gets you BAD information. It mostly gets you MUCH LESS than you'd get otherwise - and much less reliable information than that which is given voluntarily, or gleaned from misstatements, over time. We were in no rush, but even if we were, the odds were and are, that any such information gained would be essentially valueless as it was more likely (as not) to be a lie, to be flawed, to be in a word - ironically 'unenhanced.'

The bottom line is, we actually got less, not more.

And then there's this, we, as a result of compromising our ethics also:

  • Gave our enemies more ammunition to recruit with
  • Embittered the families and friends of those we mistreated
  • Shattered our reputation throughout the world

For what? For nearly valueless information that almost certainly could have been gotten without torture.

No, this is about our own arrogance, our own sense of needing to 'show them who's tough' by beating prisoners, by drowning them leading to the deaths of probably 10-15 captives due to heart failure (as reported) - we decided that despite the advice of our best experts, we (meaning the likes of Cheney within the Pentagon and the CIA - with Cheney's approval and Gonzalez's legal hijinx) WE were going to show them that the wimpy Democrats weren't in charge.

What they (and we ) didn't get is that no one was a wimp, it's just smart people don't due stupid, ineffective things, and ethical people don't achieve their goals by unethical means. Civilized nations abandoned torture not only for ethical reasons but for smart ones too, and it's time, high time, to take those who are too stupid to govern within the law, and hold them accountable to it, in the same way they said they were going to do with the prisoners they held. In short, it's time the courts meeted out justice long overdue, but not for the prisoners, but the captors.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ask me no questions

So, Norm Coleman stopped by the StarTribune to 'set the story straight' as it were.

Of course, this is the same paper that Coleman has repeatedly accused of bias, so it seems rather curious he'd even make the effort, but.. who knows, maybe he actually understands that the StarTribune operates as a reasonable media entity. Maybe he knows the claims of bias come mostly from nut-jobs who simply don't like any media outlet that doesn't mouth and subscribe to their extreme view, but I digress.

At the meeting, Coleman accosted one member of the editorial board when that board member disagreed with Coleman's statement during that meeting that two reporters from the Strib had 'inserted themselves into the campaign' by asking a question at a campaign stop. The question was asked four days prior to the election when the story broke about Coleman's benefactor Nasser Kamenini. Kamemini allegedly funnelled $75,000 to Coleman through a subsidiary company Kamenini owns and which 'employs' Coleman's wife Laurie. Now Laurie is a model, and has no absolutely NO background in the industry she supposedly supplied 'consulting' services for, nor would the company (or Norm) identify what work Laurie does for the company - and that was one of the questions asked during the campaign stop, namely, "What does Laurie do for them?" Now the current investigation around that payment is about one ranking officer of the parent company suing another for payments made without services rendered (by Laurie). Norm is right that no direct allegation of wrong-doing by Coleman (or his wife) is on record, but that's more to do with no current person willing to discuss the work by Laurie Colaman (it seems) than Coleman actually being investigated and/or cleared by anyone at all.

Regardless, the point is, Coleman claimed these reporters, by having the audacity to ask him a question at a campaign stop about a pretty hot topic, had inserted themselves into the campaign because 'they had to know trackers were there, or they were dumber than.. (a saying left unfinished by Coleman.' He then said, there are ALWAYS trackers following both candidates (that would be trackers from the opponents campaign- in this case from Franken's campaign), as such, they had to know their question would be captured by the trackers, and thus, they'd 'inserted themselves' into the campaign.

Here's the thing, if we use that standard, then, as cameras are always rolling, it means ANY questioner is 'inserting themselves into the campaign', and if we are to be sensitive to poor Norm's sensibilities, it means this too, no question can ever be asked in person, face to face, ever again, by any reporter on any subject of a politician.

That's one helluva nice deal, don't have to worry ever again about live questions you don't like, because asking them constitutes irresponsible journalism.

What a load of bullcrap. First, journalists ask questions, they often ask tough ones, and sometimes they ask them JUST for the on-camera response, if you don't like the heat, don't be a politician Norm. Second, by Coleman's standards, no more questions should ever be asked face to face, but apparently instead only questions in writing are permissible, or I suppose recorded questions of some form, to which an answer would only ever be supplied if the politician wanted to. No more answering tough questions, no more looking foolish when you don't have a ready reply, no more embarrassment, no worries.

I suppose that's how Norm would like to conduct his business, but it's surely not right, it's surely nothing less than a sleazy little attempt to rebuke the Strib in an wholly improper way and suggested approach, and one more thing, it surely would represent an attempt to intimidate the press into inaction - i.e. abridge freedom of the press, Norm.

But, I suppose, for Norm, better to not have to be asked an uncomfortable question, than potentially have to lie about $75,000 his wife almost certainly did nothing to earn.