"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."Thomas Sowell

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Babble On

The Spectator has graciously run a musing of mine on how some of the subtler decisions required in Iraq may be getting drowned out by the Democrats' shrillness and hyperbole.

Here is the merest morsel to clean your palate:

Even if the military obstacles are eventually breached, we are caught in a subtle conflict that simultaneously challenges our political, governmental, legal, and moral sensibility. Say we determine, as hitherto we have, that the peculiar morphology of modern terrorism requires the suspension of certain precious mores. It allows, even demands, that we imprison people for years with less-than-due process, or torture people who have urgent knowledge of pending or impending horrors. What, then, do we tell the new government of Iraq? Can we allow it to behave in this manner?


James Elliott said...

This is the most flawed logic I have ever read:

"For a nation such as our own, grounded in centuries of altruism and fair play, the emergency torture option can be employed in special instances without introducing a culture of sadism. But if the fledgling democracy of Iraq opens for business from Day One with torture chambers "reserved for terrorists," it is almost a cinch to segue into Saddam redux."

No, Jay. Torture is still ineffective and still wrong. Anyone who makes such an argument is on the side of torture, Jay. They will never be able to wash those stains from their hands, no matter their moralizing. Torture isn't about information gathering. Torture is about vengeance, and vengeance is among the pettiest of human emotions. This brand of cheap dime-store jingoism hurts the country, not calling Iraq a quagmire.

An over 60% disapproval of the way the war is being waged is not a "vague sense of disapproval," Jay. It's pretty damning.

"We are here because Saddams may no longer rule by crushing the human spirit."

This is only true in Iraq. We actively prop up others who do the same, something I have pointed out repeatedly.

"We are here because even if Saddam was not saber-toothed, he was a saber rattler, and in the desert when you hear a rattle you shoot first and ask questions later."

Ah, I see. Let's conduct foreign policy with all the nuance of a tantruming three-year old in a candy store. That seems bully to me. [/sarcasm] Of course Saddam was rattling his empty saber scabbard! He had little else to hold the Iranians at bay! Such a view as the above is about as nuanced as the above three year old.

I would like to see an actual enumeration of how anyone who thinks the situation in Iraq as it is currently being prosecuted is untenable is wrong. I've never heard an actual rebuttal from any hawks.

KeithM, Indy said...

Yeah, Saddam had nothing in that saber, but an Army, terrorists, SCUD missiles, other missiles, and at least the capacity to produce chemical weapons.

How dare we take his threats seriously...

And how do you define torture, because I doubt we define it the same way.

Is waterboarding torture?

If a technique is effective in obtaining accurate information, then ergo, it must not be torture since torture is ineffective.

Is psychological pressure and coercion torture?

And who are we to decide what the Iraqi government should, or should not do? We are there to setup a democratically elected government.

What they decide to do as a sovereign state, may not always live up to our morality. Neither will it necessarily make them the moral equivelant of Saddam either.

Tlaloc said...

"Yeah, Saddam had nothing in that saber, but an Army, terrorists, SCUD missiles, other missiles, and at least the capacity to produce chemical weapons."

Please. Saddam was surrounded by nations that either hated or feared him for decades. He was living under a no fly zone. His military was bady damaged and by some reports nearly mutinous. The "capacity" to build chemical weapons means nothing. Every country and mid sized corporation on earth has that capactiy because it's pathetically easy.

"And how do you define torture, because I doubt we define it the same way."

well we could use the UN human Rights Commission's 1984 convention
"For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."
article 1 section 1

"Is waterboarding torture?"

well it was when the inquisition used to do it so... yeah.

"Is psychological pressure and coercion torture?"

Depends on how far it goes. You wanna play good cop bad cop? Sure go ahead. You want to rub pork on a muslim right before a mock execution? Absolutely not.

"What they decide to do as a sovereign state, may not always live up to our morality. Neither will it necessarily make them the moral equivelant of Saddam either."

Death squads, torture chambers, sectarian based targetted assassinations... sounds like they are off to a real good start in matching Saddam's proclivities.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Is waterboarding torture?

If a technique is effective in obtaining accurate information, then ergo, it must not be torture since torture is ineffective.

Sweet, Keith.

James Elliott said...

Yeah, Saddam had nothing in that saber, but an Army,

Not of any quality, and not that could stand up to the 3 million strong standing Army in Iran. That was kind of what we did in the first Gulf War, and then kept blowing up every few weeks, remember?


Again, nope.

SCUD missiles,

Let me tell you a little something about the SCUD. It's the crappiest missile ever constructed. It's so crappily constructed that it explodes passing through the turbulence left by a Patriot (which, by the way, was the only way we could shoot them down).

other missiles,

Please elaborate, for your intelligence must be better than, you know, the military's.

and at least the capacity to produce chemical weapons.

So do we. "Capacity" is not stockpile. "Capacity" is not "imminent threat." We actually have NCB weapons. Should Canada invade us? Let's not forget who gave him that capacity: Ronald Reagan, delivered by Donald Rumsfeld with a bow and a hand... shake -- all in exchange for a promise to use them on Iranians. Maybe we should invade Donald Rumsfeld's office, as he had a hand in giving Saddam that capability? No? Hypocrite.

Is waterboarding torture?

Let's see: It was in WWI when an American officer was sentenced to ten years in prison for using it. It was in Vietnam when the military declared it so. Are you wiser in the ways of war than they? Didn't think so.

If a technique is effective in obtaining accurate information, then ergo, it must not be torture since torture is ineffective.

Tell you what, Keith. I'm going to kidnap you, put you somewhere, do all the same stuff to you, and if you can walk away without urinating on yourself when a stiff chilly breeze, an elevator, or a swimming pool comes your way, I'll say it's not torture. Cool?

Death squads, torture chambers, sectarian based targetted assassinations... sounds like they are off to a real good start in matching Saddam's proclivities.

In one, T-man.

James Elliott said...

Never forget, Keith, Tom. You are on the side of torture. All arguments excusing such behavior boil down to the worst kind of relativity: "It is good when we do it, because we are good. It is bad when they do it because they are bad."

tbmbuzz said...

I would like to see an actual enumeration of how anyone who thinks the situation in Iraq as it is currently being prosecuted is untenable is wrong. I've never heard an actual rebuttal from any hawks.

Here it is, James. What, by the way, is YOUR and other leftist Democrats' plan and solution? Other than "Bush lied" and "let's cut and run", which is all we hear 24/7 from the whiner-pessimist crowd that can't understand why it loses national elections.

'Do Some Soul Searching'
Why aren't the media telling the whole story about Iraq?

Wednesday, December 7, 2005 12:01 a.m.

(Editor's note: Mr. Rumsfeld delivered this speech Monday at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.)

I'm not one to put much faith in opinion polls. But the other day, I came across an interesting set of statistics that I want to mention. It seems that the Pew Research Center asked opinion leaders in the United States their views of the prospects for a stable democracy in Iraq.
Here were some of the results: 63% of people in the news media thought the enterprise would fail. So did 71% of people in the foreign affairs establishment and 71% in academic settings or think tanks. Interestingly, opinion leaders from the U.S. military are optimistic about Iraq by a margin of 64% to 32%. And so is the American public, by a margin of 56% to 37%.
And the Iraqi people are also optimistic. I've seen this demonstrated repeatedly--in public opinion polls, in the turnout for the elections, and that tips to authorities from ordinary Iraqis have grown from 483 to 4,700 tips in a month.
This prompts the question: Which view of Iraq is more accurate? The pessimistic view of so-called elites in our country--or the optimism expressed by millions of Iraqis and by the roughly 158,000 troops on the ground? But, most important is the question: why should Iraq's success or failure matter to the American people? I'd like to address these questions today.

First, should we be optimistic or pessimistic about Iraq's future? The answer may depend on one's perspective. Indeed, one of the reasons that views of Iraq are so divergent is that we may be looking at Iraq through different prisms of experience and expectation.
For starters, it must be jarring for reporters who have never covered the Middle East to leave the United States and arrive in a country that is so different, where they consistently have to worry about their personal safety, then are rushed to the scene of car bombs and shootings, and have little opportunity to see the rest of the country.
By contrast, the Iraqi people see things somewhat differently: They can compare as it is Iraq today, to what it was three years ago--a brutal dictatorship where the secret police would murder or mutilate a family member sometimes in front of their children, and where hundreds of thousands disappeared into Saddam's mass graves. From that perspective, Iraq today is on a vastly different, and a greatly improved path.
If one is viewing events through a soda straw, one should know that one is by definition selectively focusing on facts that may highlight one's perceived view and not seeing other perspectives. A full picture of Iraq comes best from an understanding of both the good and the bad, and the context for each.
Among the continuing difficulties are:
• Bursts of violence, including continued assassinations and attempts to intimidate Iraqi leaders and those supporting the legitimate Iraqi government.
• Continuing U.S. and Iraqi casualties.
• Iran and Syria continue to be notably unhelpful.
However, there are also a number of positive developments to be seen, if one looks for them:
• The political process is on schedule. Iraqis have a Constitution they wrote and voted for, and hundreds of candidates are politicking for the elections.
• There seem to be growing divisions among the enemies of the Iraqi people, particularly after the bombing of a wedding reception in Amman, Jordan.
• More of Iraq's neighbors now seem to believe this new democracy might succeed and are moving to get right with the Iraqi people by being more active in their support.
• A vital and engaged media is emerging, with some 100 newspapers, 72 radio stations, and 44 television stations.
• Sunnis are increasingly taking part in the political process, further isolating those who still oppose the legitimate Iraqi government.
To be responsible, one needs to stop defining success in Iraq as the absence of terrorist attacks. As Sen. Joe Lieberman recently suggested, a better measure of success might be that a vast majority of Iraqis--tens of millions--are on the side of the democratic government, while a comparatively small number are opposed. This gives the Iraqi people an enormous advantage over time.

The other question I posed is of critical importance: why does Iraq's success or failure matter to the American people?
Consider this quote: "What you have seen, Americans, in New York and Washington, D.C., and the losses you are having in Afghanistan and Iraq, in spite of all the media blackout, are only the losses of the initial clashes."
The speaker is Ayman al-Zawahiri, a senior member of the terrorist group al Qaeda and a top leader in the effort to defeat U.S. and coalition forces around the world. The terrorists' method of attack, simply put, is slaughter. They behead. They bomb children. They attack funerals and wedding receptions.
This is the kind of brutality and mayhem the terrorists are working to bring to our shores. And if we do not succeed in our efforts to arm and train Iraqis to help defeat these terrorists in Iraq, this is the kind of mayhem that a terrorist, emboldened by a victory, will bring to our cities again--let there be no doubt.
Indeed, the most important reason for our involvement in Iraq--despite the cost--is often overlooked. It is not only about building democracy, though democracies tend to be peaceful and prosperous and are in and of themselves good things. It is not about reopening Iraqi schools and hospitals or rebuilding infrastructure, though they are proceeding apace and are desirable and essential to ensure stability.
But, simply put, defeating extremist aspirations in Iraq is essential to protect the lives of Americans here at home.
Imagine the world our children would face if we allowed Zawahiri, Zarqawi, bin Laden and others of their ilk to seize power or operate with impunity out of Iraq. They would turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was before 9/11--a haven for terrorist recruitment and training and a launching pad for attacks against U.S. interests and our fellow citizens. Iraq would serve as the base of a new Islamic caliphate to extend throughout the Middle East and to threaten legitimate governments throughout the world . This is their plan. They have said so. We should listen and learn.
Quitting is not a strategy. Quitting is an invitation to more attacks and more terrorist violence here at home. This is not just an hypothesis. The U.S. withdrawal from Somalia emboldened Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. We know this. He has said so.
The message retreat in Iraq would send to the free people of Iraq and to moderate Muslim reformers throughout the region would be that they can't count on America. The message it would send to our enemies would be: that if America will not defend itself against terrorists in Iraq, it will not defend itself against terrorists anywhere.
What is needed is resolve, not retreat; courage, not concession. Rather than thinking in terms of an exit strategy, we should be focused on a strategy for success. The president's strategy focuses on progress on the political, economic, and security tracks. You can read that strategy paper on the White House's Web site.
On the security side, some 214,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained and equipped. Working with coalition forces, they are steadily improving in experience and capability:
• Coalition forces have handed over military bases to Iraqi control and a complex of palaces in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
• Iraqi forces are improving their control of the Western borders of Iraq, with coalition support.
• The Shiite areas of Najaf, Karbala and Sadr City, the scenes of battles last year, are considerably more peaceful.
• In Tal Afar, 5,000 Iraqi troops took a key role in liberating and securing what had been a base of operations for extremists' networks and foreign networks.

I began these remarks by mentioning the jarring contrast between what the American people are reading and hearing about Iraq and the views of the Iraqi people. I don't think we can close a discussion on Iraq without mentioning the media coverage and the current political debate.
Recently, a member of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association recounted intense discussions within the AP over whether or not their coverage of Iraq has been slanted. For my part, almost every time I meet with troops, I am asked the same question. They ask, why are the American people being given a pessimistic, inaccurate picture of what is happening in Iraq?
But let me say something in defense of the media. They have a tough job. Many reporters in Afghanistan and Iraq have done excellent reporting, and some have lost their lives.
And consider what would result if the federal government had to put out a daily newspaper or a daily television program. You can probably imagine what the bureaucrats would come up with: conflicting rules and regulations, an army of lawyers to sort through all the conflicts, a multitude of auditors to check up on everyone, a mammoth bill to the taxpayers, followed by congressional investigations of why they missed their daily deadline.
The media serves a valuable--indeed an indispensable--role in informing our society and holding government to account. But I would submit it is also important for the media to hold itself to account.
We have arrived at a strange time in this country when the worst about America and our military seems to be so quickly taken as truth by the press and reported and spread around the world--with little or no context or scrutiny--let alone correction or accountability--even after the fact. Speed, it appears, is often the first goal--not accuracy, not context.
Recently there were claims by two Iraqis on a speaking tour that U.S. soldiers threw them in a cage with lions. Their charges were widely reported--still without substantiation. Not too long ago, there was a false and damaging story about a Koran supposedly flushed down a toilet, and in the riots that followed people were killed. And a recent New York Times editorial implied America's armed forces--your armed forces--use tactics reminiscent of Saddam Hussein.
I understand that there may be great pressure on them to tell a dramatic story. And while it is easy to use a bombing or a terrorist attack to support a belief that Iraq is a failure, that is not the accurate picture. And further, it is not good journalism.
Consider this: You couldn't tell the full story of Iwo Jima simply by listing the nearly 26,000 American casualties over about 40 days; or explain the importance of Grant's push to Virginia just by noting the savagery of the battles. So too, in Iraq, it is appropriate to note not only how many Americans have been killed--and may God bless them and their families--but what they died for--or more accurately, what they lived for.
So I suggest to editors and reporters--whose good intentions I take for granted--to do some soul searching. To ask: how will history judge--if it does--the reporting decades from now when Iraq's path is settled?
I would urge us all to make every effort to ensure we are telling the whole story. To take a moment for self-reflection and reassessment.
Further it is worth noting that there are 158,000 Americans in uniform who are sending e-mails back to friends and families, telling them the truth as they see it. And much of it is different than what those in the United States are seeing and reading about every day.

Our country is waging a battle unlike any other in history. We are waging it in a media age unlike any that war fighters have ever known. In this new century, we all need to make adjustments--in government and in the media. And change is hard.
But to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, we are all Republicans. We are all Democrats. We are all Americans. We are all in this together. And what we do today will not only impact us, but our children and our grandchildren, and the kind of world they will live in.

Mr. Rumsfeld is secretary of defense.

James Elliott said...

That's not bad, Buzz. Thanks.

I've never bought the "Iraq as a front in the War on Terror" thing. First off, it wasn't a front until we conveniently made it one by destabilizing the country. Second, the connections between al Qaeda and Iraq under Hussein are dubious. (Remember Rummy's oft-purported and nonexistent Berlin connection?) Third, how does one have fronts in a war on an abstract emotional concept?

Now, that's a good rebuttle, and a good starting point for getting down the brass tacks of actual hashing out solutions. You have to take the rebuttle with a grain of salt, of course. For example, soldiers of my own acquaintance - a communication specialist on convoys and a captain in charge of an infantry company - have told me what goes on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it isn't as rosey as Rummy would have us believe. The most common email could be summed up thusly: "This is f-----d. They don't want us here. We're not doing any good. We should just leave." I'd say the truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle.

But to answer your question: Did you actually read Murtha's statement? He didn't call for a pullout, he called for a restructuring, repositioning American forces. The man's a decorated Marine CO. I'll listen to what he has to say.

I like how Rumsfeld shifts the blame to the reporters, especially since really good reporters put the lie to some of his assertions, such as the number of troops actually trained and the Iraqi performance in places such as Fallujah (cut and run) and Tal Afar (remained under the command of frustrated US Special Forces who couldn't get them to do squat).

My only proposal is that there should be solid benchmarks, conditions that must be met for troop reductions. We don't have those. I'm not one of the "we should pull out" Dems, but this was the first substantive point for the other side that I'd heard.

James Elliott said...

But I digress. Back to the topic at hand: Faux-patriot jingoists' support of torture.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Never forget, Keith, Tom. You are on the side of torture."

And you are on the side of calling everything less than tea and cookies "torture."

And you are also on the side of letting your children die because you're too squeamish to rough somebody up a little. Happy moral self-congratulations.

My actual position is more, um, nuanced. I was mostly admiring Keith's logic in demolishing a current talking point.

James Elliott said...

Actually, what you were admiring was sophistry and what you are engaging in is creating a straw man. But enjoy your tiny little moral triumphalism devoid of intellectual honesty.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

James: Torture is still ineffective and still wrong.

Could you please provide some facts (evidence) to substantiate the ineffective claim.

Define ineffective.


James Elliott said...

CLA, I know you've been here for the multiple threads in which I have pointed commenters to counterterrorism and interrogation experts who have explained that torture is an ineffective means of information gathering. I have included the two best Pacific theater interrogators of WWII, the FBI's interrogation instructor who practically wrote the manual on interrogating Muslim extremists, and instructors from the Army whose job it is to teach interrogation techniques. I'm not going to trawl through months of comments just to find them for you if you weren't paying attention in conversations you were participating in. You can search back issues of The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Foreign Affairs, etc. on your own.

Define ineffective: An unreliable means of garnering intelligence or confessions. You know why they say "Anyone will admit anything under torture?" Because they will literally say anything. They will make stuff up just for you to stop. Go at someone long enough, they'll tell you Osama bin Laden is their mother wearing a false beard to get you to stop. Information given under torture must be more rigorously fact-checked than any other form of information gathering. Don't be swayed by what you see on "24" and "Alias." It's BS.

Know what works best with a Muslim fundamentalist? A copy of the Koran, a prayer rug, and some figs, and an interrogator who speaks his dialect, know his culture, and sits down to talk to him. I kid you not.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Thanks James ...

Your argument has some merit ... if the application of torture is designed to extract information from those being tortured. However, the culture of fear caused by the enemy thinking that he may be tortured has been shown to be useful in obtaining information.

If torture were shown to be effective, what would your position be on the "ticking time bomb" problem?

James Elliott said...

1) The ticking time bomb is a myth perpetuated by television. It is a wholly theoretical construct.

2) That said, I do not think torture, or any other mechanism, could be effective in that scenario. I do not believe a fanatic can be broken in enough time. He knows he has something you want. He knows that it is the only thing standing between you and preventing his victory. He keeps that little nugget, or keeps you running in circles by telling lies, for just long enough, and he wins. When the goal is in sight, people are highly resistant to coercive and persuasive techniques, more so than when it is not. Torture is an indication that you don't know crap. He knows that the harder you hit him, the more you shock his testiculars and push his head underwater, the farther you are from what you need to know. He knows that the more you torture him, the more desparate you become, the more damage you will do to his body, and the more likely he is to accidentally die, thus sending him to the bosom of Allah and leaving you with nothing to show for the darkening of your soul but dead citizens.

However, the culture of fear caused by the enemy thinking that he may be tortured has been shown to be useful in obtaining information.

What this sounds like to me is the idea that people have been sodomized with nightsticks so other people might be afraid it will happen to them. I find that even more repugnant than torturing someone for information or a confession.

I have never been a fan of the ends justifying the means, not only when the means are unethical but when they lower us to the level of that we wish to combat. Cause terror to fight terror, is your solution above. Who, then, is the terrorist?

Matt Huisman said...

My only proposal is that there should be solid benchmarks, conditions that must be met for troop reductions.

James, I would also support setting benchmarks for reductions - for the purpose of communicating that we won't be leaving until we are successful. The problem is that no one else is calling for such a commitment. In fact, they are calling for quite the opposite.

In my opinion, the destabilization created in Iraq by Saddam's overthrow demands our best effort to 'fix' the situation. Al Qaeda has calculated that Iraq is the opportunity of a lifetime, and used our attack as their opportunity to take over. Allowing them to scoop it up because we are unable to match their will power is ridiculous.

BTW, I don't have a problem with bashing Bush all day long for how things have gone, for his reasoning for going to war, etc. - as long as it does not undermine the commitment to getting things right in Iraq. From a practical standpoint, I think all of us have to acknowledge - regardless of how anyone felt at the time - that we (politicians from both sides voted here) got into this mess, and walking away just doesn't cut it.

I take you at your word when you say you're not a 'we should pull out' Dem - but I don't get that sense from the rest of the Dems.

James Elliott said...

More to the point. Here is a portion of the testimony of a woman in Saddam's trial the other day. She is testifying about what was done to her back when Abu Ghraib was his:

"They forced me to take off my clothes," said the woman, referred to only as Witness A by the court. "They kept my legs up. They handcuffed me and started beating me with cables. It wasn't just one guard, it was many guards." ...
"I agree that things in Abu Ghraib were, until recently, bad, but did they use dogs on you? Did they take photographs?" asked one defense attorney, attempting to raise the issue of U.S. prisoner abuse at the prison.
"No," she replied.

Now, under the legal guidelines for torture that the United States operates under currently, guess what: What happened to that woman is not torture. According to John Yoo, the drafter of the torture memo, former Deputy Attorney General under Alberto Gonzales, and legal scholar for AEI, the man whose definitions Bush, Condi, et al. use when they say torture isn't occurring, that's not torture.

So, Saddam's being prosecuted for, among other things, having people tortured, and yet that testimony would not fall under torture according to the Bush Administration.

She wasn't even water-boarded, she wasn't exposed to hypothermia, barking dogs, nor was she sexually abused. Indeed, if we were to take what has been said by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, she was only subjected to "coercive interrogation techniques."

It boggles the mind. Truly, the only thing left is the poorly relativistic (and stupid) "But... but... he's Evil ! So it's Bad when he does it! But we are Pure and Righteous, so it must be Good when we do it!" I wonder what a head exploding from internal pressures sounds like.

James Elliott said...

"I would not endeavor to show that their lives are valuable to us, because it would suppose a possibility that humanity was kicked out of doors in America and interest only attended to ... But is an enemy so execrable that, though in captivity, his wishes and comforts are to be disregarded and even crossed? I think not. It is for the benefit of mankind to mitigate the horrors of war as much as possible. The practice, therefore, of modern nations of treating captive enemies with politeness and generosity is not only delightful in contemplation but really interesting to all the world, friends, foes, and neutrals."

--Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Patrick Henry in 1779.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...


You have an awful habit of putting words into my mouth (perhaps others too).

Cause terror to fight terror, is your solution above.

This was not my solution ... never was. Read my posts.