Just Above Sunset
December 11, 2005 - The Hits Keep Coming

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In these pages, on November 13 here and November 20 here, there was some discussion of the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. This is the fellow who was the source of all the lies about Iraq training al-Qaeda operatives, even though the Defense Intelligence Agency and other high-level intelligence operatives had already dismissed this information as unreliable. Well, as Newsweek reported in June, this was a test case to see what we could get from torture - the fellow spent some time with our friends in Cairo.

There was some follow-up by Douglas Jehl, in the New York Times on Sunday, November 6 here - this al-Libi provided us with false information suggesting that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda to use al kinds of very nasty weapons of mass destruction of all sorts, but a whole lot of our intelligence agencies pretty much knew the information was bogus as early as 2002 - and Colin Powell presented this crap to the UN in February 2003 anyway, as "credible evidence of Iraqi WMD programs" - just before we told the rest of the world to buzz off and invaded Iraq. We knew the threat. Yep.

In these pages there were links to all sorts of folks being a bit amazed by this news - from Middle East scholars to the people at Editor and Publisher to the usual anti-war crowd. But the buzz about this passed, until Friday, December 9, when Douglas Jehl, in the New York Times, hammered home the obvious with this - "The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment..."

Yes, he already said that. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was finishing up her diplomatic mission to Europe to lay down the law to them, and defend whatever the heck it is we're doing with "disappearing" people to secret prisons and practicing what some call torture, and we call "enhanced interrogation." It seems the Times just wanted to point out this particular instance of when we used we call "enhanced interrogation" didn't work out so well –


Mr. Libi was indeed initially held by the United States military in Afghanistan, and was debriefed there by C.I.A. officers, according to the new account provided by the current and former government officials. But... it was not until after he was handed over to Egypt that he made the most specific assertions, which were later used by the Bush administration as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons.

... American officials including [Condoleezza] Rice have defended the practice, saying it draws on language and cultural expertise of American allies, particularly in the Middle East, and provides an important tool for interrogation. They have said that the United States carries out the renditions only after obtaining explicit assurances from the receiving countries that the prisoners will not be tortured.


Well, as many have pointed out, this is a bit disingenuous. We obtain these "explicit assurances" which, of course, leaves us with clean hands, but we leave it at that, and we use whatever information we get. Think of it like buying a hot Rolex watch from a seedy man in lower Manhattan - you were told it wasn't stolen so you're not guilty of any illegal transaction, the seedy fellow who sold you the watch is.

Putting all the moral and ethical issues aside, and all the diplomatic issues too, the "new account" of these details that Jehl has uncovered and reported, shows what we call "enhanced interrogation" produces not only useless information, but this particular array of useless information took us to war, or at least was used to sell the war to the American public, and to intimidate reluctant American senators and congressmen in granting the president unlimited authority to do "whatever was necessary" to keep us safe. How could these folks vote otherwise?

But as a test case for what Cheney characterized as "taking the gloves off" - doing the previously unthinkable because everything changed on September 11, 2001, and that's just how it is now - this test case showed, well, "taking the gloves off" got us burned.

Of course, traditionally one actually uses torture to obtain "false confessions" you can use to justify this or that. The whole idea, from the Catholic Church's rather effective Inquisition to the Soviet gulags, was to get folks, in the first case, to admit they were witches or agents of the devil or whatever, and in the second case, to get them to admit this plot or that against Stalin or his subordinates. You were trying to get quite useful bogus information. It was a power thing. Think of the Salem witch trials - submerge the woman and if she drowns she was telling the truth and she's no witch, but if she oddly doesn't, well she must be one. That is hardly seeking information. It's just a statement of power, and a way to keep it. Torquemada wasn't really looking for information.

But we thought we'd get the "real story." What were we thinking?

Here's one thought. It was just laziness


Torture is the tool of the slothful. The main attraction to those who defend the use of torture is how easily and quickly a suspect can be broken. Unlike other forms of interrogation, torture requires only a small amount of training, no particular understanding of the suspect, and scant concern for the veracity of what is revealed. It requires only the willingness to do to another human being what one would not do to an animal. Understanding torture as the lazy person's tool makes it a bit more comprehensible why the Bush Administration would be the first in American history to defend the practice.


Ah well, we got our war.

And what else are we now admitting. Well, there's this


The state department's top legal adviser, John Bellinger... stated that the group International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had access to "absolutely everybody" at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which holds suspects detained during the US war on terror.

When asked by journalists if the organization had access to everybody held in similar circumstances elsewhere, he said: "No".

He declined to explain further.


There are no "black sites" where we have "disappeared" people?


No comment.


We're just not saying.


Draw your own conclusions.

But surely our allies the Brits are okay with what we do.

No, as you see here - Britain's highest court has ruled that intelligence extracted by torture is not admissible in any British court. It never has been, but the Blair government argued when someone else does it, not the British, there should be an exception. There may be really useful stuff in what was "extracted." Tony got slapped down, and he's not happy.

Andrew Sullivan, the expatriate British conservative commentator out at the end of Cape Cod, as been on fire about this, as you can explore here


The ruling by the House of Lords this week, barring any legal testimony extracted by torture, makes for inspiring reading. It provides a long history of how English common law banned torture for any reason from as far back as Magna Carta. Torture was indeed introduced in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century by the Crown, but was revoked in 1640, which was the year the last torture warrant was issued in Britain. After that, the use of torture was unthinkable in English jurisprudence. Nineteenth century legal historians deemed the practice "totally repugnant to the fundamental principles of English law" and "repugnant to reason, justice and humanity."

In the words of one scholar, writing in 1837, "Once torture has become acclimatized in a legal system it spreads like an infectious disease. It saves the labor of investigation. It hardens and brutalizes those who have become accustomed to use it."


Basically, there can be no weighing of any evidence procured by torture. Case closed.

And Sullivan quotes Lord Hoffmann in his concurring judgment, invoking Blackstone –


That word honour, the deep note which Blackstone strikes twice in one sentence, is what underlies the legal technicalities of this appeal. The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it. When judicial torture was routine all over Europe, its rejection by the common law was a source of national pride ... Just as the writ of habeas corpus is not only a special remedy for challenging unlawful detention but also carries significance as a touchstone of English liberty which influences the rest of our law, so the rejection of torture by the common law has a special iconic importance as the touchstone of a humane and civilised legal system. Not only that: the abolition of torture ... was achieved as part of the great constitutional struggle and civil war which made the government subject to the law. Its rejection has a constitutional resonance for the English people which cannot be over-estimated.


So the Brits have this honor thing, and don't want to go back to the days before 1640. We do?


It seems so, and we're working hard on tossing out this writ of habeas corpus thing, as well documented here.

What is so appealing about the sixteenth and early seventeenth century? Conservatives venerate the past, but seriously, those were dark days. There was that plague and all.

But we're arguing about torture. See Charles Krauthammer, one of the most respected conservative intellectuals in Washington, offering this, his cover story for The Weekly Standard endorsing the legalization of full-fledged torture by the United States under strictly curtailed conditions. The supporters of the administration are all swooning over this. The man is a psychiatrist who gave that up for the world of conservative political theory. He knows things. Yeah well, the counterargument is here in The New Republic. Both are quite detailed. And CNN's everyman, Lou Dobbs, just out and said on his show on the 8th that he just cannot believe we're even discussing this in America.

Ah well, we are.

At least Charles Krauthammer is right on one big hit the United States is taking right now. In the Washington Post he writes this - "Of all the mistakes that the Bush administration has committed in Iraq, none is as gratuitous and self-inflicted as the bungling of the trial of Saddam Hussein. Although Hussein deserves to be shot like a dog - or, same thing, like the Ceausescus - we nonetheless decided to give him a trial."

Leaving aside what the man deserves, it's pretty obvious Saddam Hussein is in control of the "theater" of this thing - berating the judge as not a real Iraqi when the judge says he'll have to ask the Americans about this or that, and just walking out. He's playing it for all it's worth, and dividing the new and improved Iraq, playing on their resentment at being occupied. In an odd way he's winning the thing. And an open trial seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Hits? Well, there's Sweden at the moment.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has been following the Nobel Prize acceptance speeches. Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for literature, and Ric notes this from Pinter's acceptance speech –


The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.



The whole speech is here, and contains nuggets like these –


... Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

...Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speechwriters but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'


Well the man is not happy.


But he's a playwright, right? What does he know?

Does Pinter know anything about the quantum nature of light, and has he worked out ideas that resulted in more precise optical clocks and measuring systems, ideas now used in today's satellite positioning systems? Americans Roy J. Glauber and John L. Hall know such things. They won the prize for physics, along with one German fellow.

And the hits keep coming


Two American Nobel Prize winners said Thursday they are worried about President Bush's attitude toward science and accused his administration of ignoring important research findings.

"There is a measure of denial of scientific evidence going on within our administration, and there are many scientists who are not happy about that," said Roy J. Glauber, who shared this year's physics prize with fellow American John L. Hall and Germany's Theodor W. Haensch. Their research on the quantum nature of light has resulted in more precise optical clocks and measuring systems, and is used in today's satellite positioning systems.

Glauber also said some U.S. Congress members are more concerned about the political consequence of research projects than their scientific importance when they decide where to allocate money.

"(The projects) are not evaluated scientifically, they are only evaluated politically," Glauber said, but did not give details on specific projects. He spoke at a news conference after the three physics laureates gave a lecture to students and fellow researchers at Stockholm University.

Hall agreed that the attitude toward science in the Bush administration "does not go in the right direction."


Just more folks who don't have any respect for the sixteenth and early seventeenth century.

In the meantime, the Fox News response to the "War on Christmas" no one else quite sees rages on. That's what we need to consider. It's a worry.

And Bill O'Reilly is the hero in this real war, as he says here


I am not going to let oppressive, totalitarian, anti-Christian forces in this country diminish and denigrate the holiday and the celebration. I am not going to let it happen. I'm gonna use all the power that I have on radio and television to bring horror into the world of people who are trying to do that. And we have succeeded. You know we've succeeded. They are on the run in corporations, in the media, everywhere. They are on the run, because I will put their face and their name on television, and I will talk about them on the radio if they do it. There is no reason on this earth that all of us cannot celebrate a public holiday devoted to generosity, peace, and love together. There is no reason on the earth that we can't do that. So we are going to do it. And anyone who tries to stop us from doing it is gonna face me.


But will Bill bring horror (torture, perhaps?) to this fellow in Rhode Island? What has he done?

Man Creates Paris Hilton Christmas Shrine

Say what?


See Paris Hilton in all her seductive splendor, striking a provocative pose for passing motorists and spreading hot Christmas cheer in a chilly Rhode Island winter.

Blown-up images of Hilton and strings of pink Christmas lights adorn the front lawn of a home in a middle-class neighborhood of this city, part of a head-turning holiday display that pays homage to the famed hotel heiress.

The over-the-top pictorial is the work of Joe Moretti, a 38-year-old designer who was arrested last year for trespassing on Martha Stewart's property in Maine.

Passersby get an eyeful of Hilton sporting a tiny pink top hiding little of her chest, or wearing knee-high boots and a sultry pout or holding a finger to her lips. Even Hilton's faithful Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, is celebrated in a colorful portrait.

"If it's offending anyone, I apologize," Moretti said in a telephone interview Thursday.


O'Reilly has not yet commented on this, but Moretti says he was just trying to be different and "to be creative and let them see a little bit of Hollywood or New York - bring it to Cranston."

Hollywood to Moretti - why would you do THAT?  It says you have a life-sized shot of Hilton with high boots, legs spread and eyes partly closed.  This is just too odd.

But the AP story adds this detail –


This is the latest in a series of artistic lawn displays decorating Moretti's lawn. Last year, he paid tribute to Martha Stewart even as he and another man faced charges for sneaking on to the domestic maven's property. The charges were later dismissed, and the men donated money to public libraries near the property. Moretti calls the incident a "big misunderstanding."


Okay then, this man has an odd concept of Christmas, and of trespassing law.


What would O'Reilly do?  Moretti, it seems, has, in the past, built Christmas tributes to Madonna, Princess Diana and Liberace.

The question for America is crucial. What should be done about this man?

The other questions above? We'll see what Fox News covers.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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