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June 10, 2005

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Carlos

Same here: houseguests, meetings, down time that is not down time.

Hilzoy left out a point that I would make: given a crisis, why are people trying to do worse instead of being better? I was in NYC for September 11th; I know the best of what Americans are capable of.

I can't stand willed ignorance, but there is something worse: willed immorality. The weak pretending to be strong by doing evil.

(And then the really weak, who use all their talent to make excuses.)

Syd Webb

I can't stand willed ignorance, but there is something worse: willed immorality. The weak pretending to be strong by doing evil.

Making excuses for the weak here, I've been reading a little Wilfred Bion recently.

[Great man, Bion. Painter, philosopher, footballer, classicist and tank commander at Cambrai. Given his DSO by King George V and also won a Legion of Honor. After the Great War he studied medicine and psychoanalysis. Did quite a bit of work on what makes groups functional and what makes them disfunctional. Highlighted the 'flight or fight' instinct that distracts groups from their appointed tasks - and what they are good at - to over-respond to perceived threats.

[It is put more simply by another philosopher: "Madness is rare in individuals; in groups, parties and nations it is the norm." So said Friedrich Nietzche, an exceptional individual.]

I must say, since I read a speech by US Vice President Dick Cheney in late September 2001 announcing a rescinding of the 1995 presidential order prohibiting the CIA from paying and retaining foreign operatives involved in torture and death squads, none of the occurrences that so upset Hilzoy - and me - have come as a surprise. Successful action wasn't taken to stop Mr Cheney and his colleagues then and everything since then has just been an outworking of that and similar policies. We are getting what we were told we would get. What we're getting is outrageous, it's evil and it's wrong. And some of us need photographs to make it real.

That metallic rainfall we hear is the sound of pennies dropping for millions of people.

In fairness, some of it may just be yes-ministerism. "We must do something." "This is something." "Therefore we must do this." If you query the particular something you'll be asked, "Don't you want to do anything"?

Of course sometimes it's hard to offer alternatives, because the problem is so complex, and the least flaw in your alternative will see it skewered. Doesn't make it a silly or as evil as the something that's presently being implemented.

Carlos

Ah, Syd, if it were only "yes-ministerism". Instead, in the US, questions were largely shouted down with loud cries of, "why do you hate America?"

I mean, I can understand why an Objectivist might hate the American ideal, or a theocrat, or a depressive national greatness type. It wounds them to their core, this idea of a city on a hill, a nation of laws not men, founded by skeptics and rationalists.

But everyday people got caught up in this wave of willed unquestioning. Questions might embolden... who, exactly? Some guy still living in a cave, apparently. And we should care what he thinks? I've never understood that. I can only chalk it up to fear.

Then there's the oddest cult of personality in modern memory. I knew that some Americans have longed for a man on horseback, but never did I dream that they would fall for a man who fell off his horse.

Syd Webb

Ah, Syd, if it were only "yes-ministerism". Instead, in the US, questions were largely shouted down with loud cries of, "why do you hate America?"

I know that. (It's the reason I have a chapter in Thaxted entitled "Don't You Love Your Country?">http://www.anthonymayer.net/ah/thaxted/thaxted35.html ) [Sorry, couldn't get the 'a href' html thing happening.]

It's just that the opposition to the administration was so sporadic. Cheney and co came out in mid-September 2001 with both restoring links to death squads and torturers and allowing the CIA to conduct assassinations after a 25 year prohibition.

Looking back, I'm put in mind of Sala Baker playing Ugluk in The Two Towers delivering the deathless lines, "Looks like meat's back on the menu, boys." Although in fairness to the bespectacled and besuited Mr Cheney the resemblance is not physical, merely psychic.

My point, and I do have one, is that when the Republican party declared themselves to be the pro-torture, pro-assassination party I did not note a proximate and corresponding point where the other party in the American duopoly came out as the anti-torture and anti-assassination party. Perhaps they thought it went without saying. In any event the GOP went into the 2002 and 2004 elections with what seemed to me to be an explicit torture-and-assassinate platform and won mandates.

But everyday people got caught up in this wave of willed unquestioning. Questions might embolden... who, exactly? Some guy still living in a cave, apparently. And we should care what he thinks?

Fair point. "If we question the government the terrorists will have already won." Pardon?

I put it down to America being so distant from the wars she normally fights. One feels one must behave differently in a war - even an undeclared war like this one. So one doesn't question the government's expertise - loose lips sink ships - and one doesn't want to give aid and comfort to a guy in a cave who might be reading a blog, or who might know someone who reads blogs.

If anything it's even worse being in cynical and superior Australia. Looking at a government who knew ahead of time how unreliable the 'intelligence' on Iraq was. But who went in anyway, to pay a premium on a notional national intelligence policy. We once had an opposition leader who called such toadies "a conga line of suck-holes" but that mistake has now been rectified and once again there is bipartisan support for the Alliance of Error.

Carlos

Syd, in mid-September 2001, everyone in DC -- and in the US in general -- was still shell-shocked, and willing to give what's-his-name the benefit of the doubt. Things like unpleasant policy initiatives promoted by a squamous former senator from Wyoming were ignored. I certainly was not paying close attention at the time, being worried about concrete dust in the air and hopeful about survivors trapped in the rubble. Hey, I was half-right.

Even a month later, it looked like the administration was actually staying the course, and the more extreme positions could be chalked down to fear and panic, much like Alexander Haig's temporary and highly illegal assumption of the role of commander-in-chief after Reagan was shot. Normality, I thought -- and I am a cynical, skeptical guy -- would soon resume, if only out of inertia. The US military response in Afghanistan, I thought, would be smooth, planned, professional, and self-limiting.

Instead, what I got -- what seems to have been lurking in the hindbrains of most of the senior officials of the administration all along -- was a power wank made flesh.

Even in 2002, due to a complaisant American media, this was still not apparent to most of the American public. Many people of good will would prefer not to believe the worst about their own if there's a plausible, safer alternative.

This is where the people who make excuses for evil stepped in. Syd, you would not believe how craven these people were towards power. I never thought Americans (other than a lunatic fringe) could be so lick-spittle.

Anyway. The solution, of course, is to send these people back to the lunatic fringe. But, to paraphrase the poet, I had not known that madness had undone so many.

Mike Ralls

Eh, well I may be branded as a lick-spittle excuse creator, but it's not madness so much as a fundamentally incompatible view between sides of what is evil and what is not. I personally don't have the slightest _moral_ problem with revoking the ban on assassination. The view that using assassination against Al Queda or other groups like them is evil in and of itself (instead of say, unwise or counterproductive) is bizarre to me on the emotional level although I can understand it intellectually. A lot of the prisoner abuse scandals strike me as way overblown as they involve people who don't respect the rules of war and hence aren't deserving of the full rights of sanctuary (full explanation of what I mean by sanctuary here http://www.ejectejecteject.com/ good esay but it gets preachier and you go down). That's not to say we should just "kill them all!" or anything, but in my heart I don't feel that they deserve to be treated as honorable prisoners of war, because they are not honorable prisoners of war. To me how we treat unlawful combatants (key phrase there) is mainly (but not solely) a matter of expediency rather than morality. To me the harsher treatment of enemies (especially illregular enemies who don't follow any laws of war) during war-time and the doing of things once taboo is pretty much a given. It seems to me a fairly consistent pattern that during times of peace various laws to make war less harsh are passed and that when a war does start these are either overtly or covertly thrown out the window. My favorite example is of how the US entered WWI to a large degree due to the perceived immorality of unrestricted submarine warfare but that when the US was at war with Japan the very first order given was to carry out unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan. On the whole immorality of the US conduct against irregular soldiers my big question is, compared to what? If we look at other states carrying out various wars and actions against terrorists and irregulars, I'm hard pressed to find one that is operating at the level of respect for enemy rights as many wish the US to. If I'm supposed to be upset with the level of morality displayed in the WoT, then give me something real to compare what our standard should be. Russia in Chechnya? Israel in Palestine? I'm serious here, I need some real world counterpart to compare to, not some platonic ideal.

Carlos

Mike, I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to analyze you as an interesting case study.

Somewhere along the line, you have internalized the idea that "bad people do not deserve due process". This is a fundamentally un-American thing to believe, despite the fact that many, perhaps most, Americans do believe it.

Instead of due process, you propose to replace it with two normative systems of behavior, one for peacetime, and one for wartime. In peacetime, you suggest, due process is a luxury that can be indulged.

But in wartime, presumably even in minor conflicts like the current one, you suggest we have no reason to follow such "taboos", and instead can follow whatever is expedient to the needs of the conflict. When pressed, you hold up Russia's conduct in Chechnya as a possible norm the US could live by, rather than some "Platonic" ideal.

Is this correct? Because if so, it's pretty damn nutty.

Now, usually at this point in the conversation, your average wingnut will misattribute Oliver Wendell Holmes, and sanctimoniously intone, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."

Well, no, it's not. And it's also not a piece of toilet paper that power can use to wipe its rear end with, whenever it gets the jibblies.

Truth be told, the Constitution is much closer to the suicide pact end of things. People *have* died because it's been followed. We call them "heroes".

Bernard Guerrero

Jibblies, Carlos? I was in the vicinity at the time, I know you were, too. That ain't an average case of the jibblies, and I'm not a jibblies kind of guy. Fear is a perfectly valid, sane reason for activity.

But my momma used to tell me to shut up if I wasn't going to say anything nice. I know I've observed that more in the breach than in any other fashion, but I think more of you and Claudia than to pick a fight with you in your own "home". Back to equities. Later.

Stefan

http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/050214fa_fact6

Apparently the information obtained through these methods is junk, in most cases. So, is it worth it?

Stefan

http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/050214fa_fact6

Apparently the information obtained through these methods is junk, in most cases. So, is it worth it?

Carlos

Bernard, very few people who currently want to use the Constitution as TP were in NYC or DC at the time. (I believe Mike was in Japan, for instance.) It would be more understandable if that were the case, actually.

And I can understand fear and rage lasting for a month. Maybe even a year, though with never a break in the morning any of those 365 days? Hm.

But it's been nearly four years. Four years of fear, Bernard? Thought you were made of sterner stuff than that. Meanwhile, the apologists are now defending torture and assassination and, I dunno, maybe even state-sponsored cannibalism. Who knows? And yet, I don't feel safer as an American. I just feel dirtier.

Mike Ralls

Arg. A big long reply I wrote got eaten up so this one will be shorter and use more quotes.

>Somewhere along the line, you have internalized the idea that "bad people do not deserve due process". This is a fundamentally un-American thing to believe, you propose to replace it with two normative systems of behavior, When pressed, you hold up Russia's conduct in Chechnya as a possible norm the US could live by, rather than some "Platonic" ideal.

Russia in Chechnya and Israel in Palestine are the two most advanced countries bearing the majority of the fight in something comparable to the WoT that I could think of. I was pointing out that I think our morality level is higher than both of them, in the case of Russia to a huge degree (thank god).

"Compared to what?" is a very valid question.

If you can't find a real world example of a country fighting a "shadow war" at the level of morality you would like, what does that tell you?

>Truth be told, the Constitution is much closer to the suicide pact end of things. People *have* died because it's been followed. We call them "heroes".

Mike Ralls

Ok, something is wrong with this because the above was not the full measure of what I wrote:

"Somewhere along the line, you have internalized the idea that "bad people do not deserve due process""

Not bad people, unlawful combatants. There is a huge difference. See next post for a quote that explains it better than I could.

Mike Ralls

Why unlawful combatants are different from "bad people"

"It is not because these men shot at US soldiers. Regular Iraqi units, NVA units, North Korean Units, Germans, Japanese, Confederates and Redcoats have shot at American soldiers and upon their surrender their treatment has been, on the whole, exemplary. Why are these different?

It is not because they are opposing us. It is – to put it as bluntly as possible – because they are cheating – cheating in a way that none of the above ever did.

They have willfully and repeatedly broken the covenant of Sanctuary.

What is the obvious difference between an enemy Prisoner of War, and an Unlawful Combatant? Suppose two of them were standing in a line-up. What one glaringly obvious thing sets them apart?

That’s right! One is wearing a uniform, and the other isn’t.

And why do soldiers wear uniforms?

It certainly is not to protect the soldier. As a matter of fact, a soldier’s uniform is actually a big flashing neon arrow pointing to some kid that says to the enemy, SHOOT ME!

And that’s exactly what a uniform is for. It makes the soldier into a target to be killed.

Now if that’s all there was to it, you might say that the whole uniform thing is not such a groovy idea. BUT! What a uniform also does -- the corollary to the whole idea of a uniformed person – is to say that if the individual wearing a uniform is a legitimate target, then the person standing next to him in civilian clothes is not.

By wearing uniforms, soldiers differentiate themselves to the enemy. They assume additional risk in order to protect the civilian population. In other words, by identifying themselves as targets with their uniforms, the fighters provide a Sanctuary to the unarmed civilian population.

And this Sanctuary is as old as human history. The first civilized people on Earth, these very same Iraqis, who had cities and agriculture and arts and letters when my ancestors were living in caves, wore uniforms as soldiers of Babylon. This is an ancient covenant, and willfully breaking it is unspeakably dishonorable.

Now, imagine you are involved in street-to-street fighting…

We should actually stop right here. No one can imagine street-to-street fighting. It is a refined horror that you have lived through or you have not, and all I can do with the full power of my imagination does not get to the shadow of it. Nevertheless, there are men who have peered around corners in Fallujah, and Hue, and Carentan and a hundred unknown places; places where the enemy’s rifle may be leveled inches away from your nose, awaiting the last split-second of your young life.

Most of the time, you do not have time to think. A person jumps up from below a window three feet away. If he is wearing a grey tunic and a coal-scuttle helmet, it’s a Kraut and you let him have it before he kills you and your buddies. But what if he is wearing street clothes? What if he is smiling at you?

For brutal soldiers – like the Nazi’s those of the far left accuse us of being precisely equal to – this is a moot point. The SS killed everything that moved. They executed prisoners in uniforms, partisans, hostages and children. They were animals.

Our soldiers are civilized, compassionate and decent citizens doing a tough, horrible job. That means when they see someone who might be a civilian, they hesitate. That hesitation can and has killed them. And some people wonder why enemy soldiers without the honor and courage to wear a uniform are treated less than honorably after being captured by men full of courage and restraint."
http://www.ejectejecteject.com/

They break the rules of war, they don't deserve it's protection. And it's never been the policy in the history of war to give it to such people.

Mike Ralls

"This is a fundamentally un-American thing to believe,"

In what American war have unlawful combatants been treated with a higher degree of respect than they are being treated right now?

"you propose to replace it with two normative systems of behavior"

I was saying that is the reality of the situation. "The laws and morality level in which a war is planned to be waged during peace time almost never are the same as the laws and morality level in which the war is actually waged." Do you think that is an untrue statement?

"When pressed, you hold up Russia's conduct in Chechnya as a possible norm the US could live by, rather than some "Platonic" ideal."

Russia in Chechnya and Israel in Palestine are the two most advanced countries bearing the majority of a fight in something comparable to the WoT that I could think of. I was pointing out that I think our morality level is higher than both of them, in the case of Russia to a huge degree (thank god).

"Compared to what?" is a very valid question. One you didn't answer.

If you can't find a real world example of a country fighting a "shadow war" at the level of morality you would like, what does that tell you?

"Truth be told, the Constitution is much closer to the suicide pact end of things. People *have* died because it's been followed. We call them "heroes".

Complete agreement here. I was very explicitly talking about the treatment of unlawful combatants, rather than the interanal mistakes the Bush administration has made.

Carlos

Mike, the US has a Constitutional (not a Platonic) ideal that has worked just fine during far graver wars than this "shadow war" -- what a stupid, awful, mindless phrase, incidentally -- and I trust will work just fine again.

Unless you think that it was our weakness in following the Constitution that caused 9/11? If so, well, Putin's Russia is suffering from bad demographics; they probably could use a young strapping immigrant like yourself. Hey, he puts people in *cages*.

I really can't understand this "hey, we're still slightly better than the Tsar" thinking. Does the UK have a Gitmo? After all, they've borne the lion's share of non-US non-Iraqi casualties, Tony Blair has been the administration's closest foreign ally, and many British nationals were killed in the World Trade Center collapse.

No? What does that tell you, Mike.

Mike Ralls

We seem to be talking past each other. I do not regard any of the treatment of the unlawful combatants to be against the US Constitution.

Carlos

Silly Mike. Who defines 'unlawful'.

Mike Ralls

"Does the UK have a Gitmo?"

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3714864.stm

For a while it did. It's called Belmarsh, and foreigners were held their for years without charges.

The situation only changed in March after a vote went against the government.

Mike Ralls

"Silly Mike. Who defines 'unlawful'."

I've already explained why they are unlawful. Which part did you disagree with?

Mike Ralls

"Mike, the US has a Constitutional (not a Platonic) ideal that has worked just fine during far graver wars than"

OK, I asked for real world examples and you gave me this. Silly Carlos. In past wars (and times of peace like after WWI) the US Constitutional ideal (as shown in various Supreme Court decisions) has been used for far further abuses of American liberity than it is being abused now and you _know_ it. So how is that a real world example of what you want?

Carlos

It's a question of epistemology, Mike. You say these people have violated the laws of war, which makes them "unlawful combatants". How do you know that? As far as I can tell, you haven't even asked the question.

Mike, you're twenty-six now? Yet you still reason like the same slightly unfocused high school kid you were when I first encountered you online. Worse yet, you're applying this lack of thought to matters of life and death.

You know, I respect Bernard. He's working from what I believe are wildly incorrect assumptions about the nature of life, the universe, and everything; but he knows what they are, and how his conclusions follow (usually). He's willing to put his money -- his vote, his life -- where his mouth is.

You, on the other hand, are passing off someone else's ideas as your own. (Please don't tell me you came up with this line of thought independently. I know you too well, and I've seen the same boilerplate elsewhere.) You haven't examined these ideas closely, and you're far too willing to agree with ideas because they fit your own emotional prejudices. You've always been that way. Or perhaps a mentor figure expressed this opinion to you, and you've adopted it. I've seen you do that, entirely unconsciously, as well.

Look, Mike. You're going to have to learn to think, to examine your premises, to reason like an adult at some point. But this -- what you've shown me -- ain't it.

There's a case to be made for current US actions; an apparent relative of mine came up with it, and it's not on its surface evil. But you're not even aware of it.

So yeah. I am going to pull rank here, and call you silly. Your reasoning is silly; your historical analogies are silly; and your moral stance is silly. You, my friend, are behaving in a laughable manner in your defense of the indefensible.

God damn I am tired of playing bad cop. But I've never seen you take a hard look at why you're not intellectually first-rate. Maybe it's about time.

Mike Ralls

I'll think about what you said.

Jussi Jalonen

As a completely unrelated side note, I'll just briefly mention that the slur directed by the "Eject! Eject!"-site against the Waffen-SS as a collective establishment left me feeling vaguely irritated. I'm sort of weird that way.

As for the main topic, well, as a foreigner, I have no deep-rooted opinions on the subject. However, it would seem fairly clear that the political culture and mentality in the modern-day United States has never been adequately prepared to satisfactorily handle the negative downsides of wartime or national crisis. Especially when these also involve infringing some of those legal and constitutional practices that average Americans tend to hold so sacrosanct.

This unpreparedness alone would, at least to me, appear as a valid reason to promote relative abstinence, trying to avoid situations where one will inevitably get exposed to these negative experiences. If you already know that it will leave a bad taste in your mouth, why do you do it?

When it comes to the comparison between Russia and the United States, well, personally I would regard the behaviour of our eastern neighbour at least as more _consistent_. It's not acceptable; nor is it positive; but somehow it still seems, I don't know, a bit more comprehensible and easier to follow. It's more ordinary, sort of, and far less hypocritical.

(This brings up the character differences. For example, Putin hasn't publicly stated that he's bringing order to Chechnya because the God has told him to do so. On balance, it also seems that the generally well-educated Russian public is capable of far more daring dissidence and criticism than their American brethren.)

As a general comment on the article that started this discussion, I'm sort of wondering why it's so absolutely necessary for an American person to always go through the ritual litany of patriotic assurances before daring to direct any criticism against his/her country or government. For some odd reason, I'm perfectly able to express my disgust against the political practices of the country that I live in without breaking into a solo performance of "Finlandia" as an obligatory overture.

Cheers,
Jalonen

Carlos

Jussi, in answer to your last question, it's because if you don't, you'll be called a traitor. (Sometimes you will be anyway.) Simple as that. Me, I don't mind the obligatory overture, because it gives me a chance to rub the wingnuts' faces in their own deep lack of love of country. I'm a little confrontational that way.

But it does bother many people. It's a structural problem with having a "civic religion". I tend to think the benefits of having a civic religion in this country have outweighed the drawbacks -- for instance, the relatively bloodless process of racial integration was vastly helped by it, when the situation on the ground looked more like a hundred Srebenicas waiting to happen -- but I can see how opinions might differ.

A tangent to your middle points: it's interesting how the current US domestic position has not centered around the practical, "it might be wrong but it is necessary" (a position which I think was once worthy of debate, and now conclusively disproved), but instead, "it's *right*, because they're *bad people*".

And "bad people" is now apparently an official term of art. WTF?

Syd Webb

Normality, I thought -- and I am a cynical, skeptical guy -- would soon resume, if only out of inertia.

Carlos, if you're ever in Australia I have T-shirt made up for you, reading I thought it was just a Presidential order, not a trend.

Mike, if anyone criticises your country's torture record you can simply point out that of the Iraqi casualties perhaps 0.1% were deaths by torture in US-run prisons. I don't have the precise figures for either prison or overall deaths but it's the right order of magnitude.

Iraqis are dying primarily from airstrikes and artillery, with infantry weapons a distant third. Unless I'm overlooking another cause of death then there's daylight and torture a distant last. So walk tall with your head held high.

Bernard Guerrero

Whatever works, Syd, whatever works. :^)

Andrew Gray

Carlos, re the UK and Gitmo: Um. As I understand it, there's some basis to believe that there are American facilities generally similar to Guantanamo on UK soil. Whether you count us culpable for that or not is another matter, though it's certainly not happy-making. (Diego Garcia seems to be an ethical blindspot for HM Gov't over the years, for one reason or another)

And some of the stuff we got up to in Ulster twenty years ago was definitely on the far side of the line (torture and special-forces assassination squads!), although to our credit I believe that generally finished after the story broke. (I'm vague here; for various reasons, I haven't read much about the history of the Troubles. My apologies for not being more help.)

We're probably complicit to some degree with Guantanamo and the rest of that system; I'd be surprised if we weren't, since we seem to have thrown our lot in. But the lessons of Ulster no doubt have had some effect; both in an army that is practiced at working in a semi-hostile population, and in an intelligence apparatus that has had its knuckles rapped. What was the 1980s backlash against the US being mixed up with all sorts of dubious types like? I'm wondering if this is one of the root differences, since I honestly don't know. I was more concerned with learning to tie my shoelaces, and all that.

(I recall some interesting stories about exactly how we went about winning hearts and minds in Basra, but those are a little past the context, and I suspect our Fine Young Men would have done the same winning hearts and minds in Belgrade or Belgravia...)

Carlos

1980s backlash? Um. The Iran-Contra hearings turned Ollie North -- for whom a case can be made that the word "traitor", so overused in recent American political rhetoric, actually does apply -- into a national hero. Bush, who almost certainly was not "out of the loop", was handily elected in 1988.

Probing the national psyche in these matters is always difficult. (Let me just say that I admire Reagan's finessing of the end of the Cold War greatly, and I have few problems with Bush 41's conduct as President. In a saner world, I would likely be a liberal Republican.) But in my opinion, the popular disconnect between events and their perception went a little crazy starting in the late 1970s, and has grown since then.

You tell someone that Carter started the increase in military spending that Reagan gets the credit for, and they will look at you very strangely indeed. Or that Reagan ended the grain embargo on the USSR for the sake of some Midwestern farm votes, when you can find this reason in his speeches. But: Carter was weak, Reagan was strong. Strength is good.

Or Reagan as peacemaker. Reagan purely hated the idea of losing American lives. Hence the pullout from Lebanon. Hence the proposals for SDI. Hence his love of the "neat idea". Hence his sincere meetings with Gorbachev. But the popular image of Reagan is that of Jove the Thunderer, with nuclear lightning ready to strike in five minutes.

Carter, on the other hand, is what Andrew Jackson would have been had Andy taken the New Testament to heart. This is a person whose inner hickory has been steamed and molded into a shepherd's crook. You can tell it didn't come easy.

And so it goes. Bush 41, a very smart man, is still best known for his malaprops, and not even the worthwhile victory he accomplished in Iraq in 1991. His pronouncements are ignored by the current GOP -- instead of becoming an elder statesman, he's become a liability -- and he spends a lot of time shooting the breeze with Bill Clinton. They're good friends.

Bill Clinton, after having Vince Foster killed and eating his testicles to increase his rape power, moved on to greater things in the White House. After ordering the Brookings Institution firebombed, he met with Osama bin Laden in the Sudan to plot the overthrow of the Federal Government in order to replace it with a *more powerful* Federal Government, leading to the Oklahoma City tragedy and the false conviction of Timothy McVeigh. (There was one unidentified leg found in the rubble. It's Max Cleland's.) Hillary Rodham, during her lesbian affair with Attorney General Janet Reno, plotted to have the Bible made illegal and abortion of all male fetuses made mandatory. This is in conjunction with Biblical prophecy.

Eventually Clinton, tired of spreading his devil sperm among the cheap crack whores of U Street procured for him by his Secret Service detachment, turned to his own staff to satisfy his perverse desires, leading George Stephanopoulos to leave the White House and join ABC News as a political analyst. Clinton's sick sex games came to a head with the accidental death of Chandra Levy, whose body was disposed of in a public park, and a fall guy randomly chosen from Congress to take the blame.

Then, of course, we elected George W. Bush, who has been washed in the Blood of the Lamb. (Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb?) At the time of his birth, a white buffalo calf was also born, which was promptly barbecued by George 41 and Barbara. The spirit of Robin Bush occasionally communes with George W., which has caused the liberal media to comment poorly on his spaciness and lack intelligence. In fact, George W. is often in communication with the beyond, and can see things other men cannot, e.g. Vladimir Putin's good heart. This is how he knew that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Robin told him so.

I hope that makes things clear.

Andrew Gray

Okay, it seems my understanding of Iran-Contra was limited. I managed to remember that there was a major scandal, and that it didn't bring down the government, but I figured the reason I couldn't think of any high-profile floggings, &c &c, was that I'd forgotten them rather than "Ah, the CIA's breaking both the law and common sense again. Innit so cute?". Next time I come dangerously close to having faith in democratic oversight, I'll try and remember that one.

(Weren't there also a set of close-working-relationships with countries enthusiastically practicing torture, &c &c, at the time, or was that not a public issue then? - either through being not-public, or through being tactfully ignored)

Oh, and - Hillary Rodham, during her lesbian affair with Attorney General Janet Reno? There's an image I could have done without at this time of the morning.

claudia

Mike, if anyone criticises your country's torture record you can simply point out that of the Iraqi casualties perhaps 0.1% were deaths by torture in US-run prisons.

The day we regard human lives in proportion instead of the absolute is a sad one indeed.

Carlos

Andrew, *I* didn't come up with that image. It's an article of faith among some wingnuts. Not even the extreme ones.

The direct political effects of Iran-Contra were mixed. But public perception...

Working relationships with countries that practiced torture was not an issue during the Cold War, and during the Reagan administration this was bolstered by the "Kirkpatrick Doctrine", which expressed a belief in the eternal nature of Communist regimes and their influence. Fortunately, Reagan himself didn't believe in it.

Syd Webb

The day we regard human lives in proportion instead of the absolute is a sad one indeed.

I couldn't agree more, Claudia. Which is why while bemoaning the 0.1% of deaths through torture we should also regret the 99.9% of deaths through such agents as bombs, rockets, shells and bullets.

The comforting thought for me - although possibly not for you - is that compared with 35 years ago the US-led alliance seems to be making a deliberate effort to keep down civilian casualties. A rough back-of-envelope calculation suggests that the per annum figure is only a fifth of the toll for the 1965-73 Vietnam War.

claudia

Syd -- that's interesting but beside the point.

What I'm saying is that there is no excuse for torture, period. Others think otherwise. Others think that it's excusable in the light of 9/11, or because these are REALLY BAD PEOPLE. I say it isn't.

(And it seems to be useless, too. "If we only save one life" -- the point is, they didn't. Nothing ever came of those incidents but dead, hurt, humiliated people.)

Maybe what appalls me is that while (some) civilian casualties are inevitable in a war, the torture is deliberate and avoidable. You can't have a war without some "collateral damage". I hate the term but I recognize the reality. If you object to that then you object to the war. As it happens, I DO object to the war, but that's a separate issue.

The torture... it horrifies me that a majority of Americans seem to be OK with this, or at least are willing to wiggle and blur and deliberately confuse themselves. And they're touchy about it in a way that suggests to me that they know this is what they're doing.

I cannot voice horror over Gitmo in my American family without being named an Anti-American. I HATE this.

Syd Webb

Syd -- that's interesting but beside the point.

What I'm saying is that there is no excuse for torture, period. Others think otherwise. Others think that it's excusable in the light of 9/11, or because these are REALLY BAD PEOPLE. I say it isn't.

Oh, absolutely. It all depends on how we want to analyse the badness and evil in the current Iraq mess.

Maybe what appalls me is that while (some) civilian casualties are inevitable in a war, the torture is deliberate and avoidable.

If the invasion is deliberate and not an unfortunate accident, how can civilian casualties not be a consequence of that deliberate decision? Of course how one chooses to fight a war that one is already involved in also has a bearing on the casualty account. Do you bomb that hospital in violation of the Geneva conventions? But what if the hospital is being used by insurgents for propaganda purposes? Does that nulify the Geneva convention protections and make the inevitable civilian casualties OK?

I agree that the torture adds a horrible additional dimension to a conflict that is already evil. So instead of a 6-dimensional hyper-tesseract of badness it becomes 7-dimensional.

But you are absolutely right, Claudia. Torture is a separate issue from Iraq. The Presidential Orders to put torture back on the menu were issued long before Iraq was invaded. We've seen in the past signatories to the Geneva Convention discard their commitments because they saw their opponents as, yes, REALLY BAD PEOPLE or else as people not covered by the Geneva convention. Bad things then happened to those past violators - their country was devastated and many of their surviving leaders and generals faced war crimes tribunals.

I don't think the current violators of the Geneva Convention, those discarders of international law, will pay such a high physical price this time around. But there is a psychic cost, a moral penalty, that will increasingly hang heavy.

The last lot of violators worked very hard for national redemption. I wonder how the present crop will fare?

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