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Donald Trump and the politics of torture

I guess, like Arlo Guthrie, doing the chorus again in concert, it’s come ’round again on the guitar.

I ain’t proud.

Donald Trump is a moron. Not in the sense that he’s stupid. He’s not. He’s a canny bastard, and a pretty good politician (in an age where “politics” has long moved from The Art of the Possible” to the realm of the panderer; appealing to prejudice has always been a useful tool to the candidate,  but it’s rarely been required to keep the office, once gained. That’s a whole ‘nother topic).

This however is either ignorant; beyond belief, or evil.

Blitzer brought up Salah Abdeslam — a chief suspect in the Paris attack who was detained last week and who it has been speculated might have connections to the Brussels attackers — and asked Trump whether he would begin “torturing him right away,” since Belgian authorities have said Abdeslam was already talking to investigators.

“He may be talking, but he’ll talk faster with the torture,” Trump said, suggesting torture could have prevented Tuesday attacks which have left at least 30 people dead.

The amount of wrong in that sentence is massive. The errors are layered, from top to bottom, like sheets of pastry, and it only gets worse as he goes on. Extracting information is something I’m good at.  I did it for a few years as a journalist.  I did it for more years as an Army interrogator. On top of those skills I spent years teaching others how to do it.  I understand the theory, and practice, of interrogation a lot better than he does.

If Abdselam was talking, there wasn’t anything to do to “make him talk faster, and, contra Trump (and the Right Wing Wurlitzer) this is wrong too:

“I would be willing to bet that he knew about this bombing that took place today,” Trump said. “We have to be smart. It’s hard to believe we can’t waterboard which is — look, nothing’s nice about it but, it’s your minimal form of torture. We can’t waterboard and they can chop off heads. “

That is 100 percent what’s wrong with torture as a tool. Trump is sure Abdselam knew about Brussels. How is he sure?  Well Abdselam is Muslim, and he is supposed to have taken part in a different attack; hundreds of miles away, with people who had no connection to the attack on Brussels, but he’s a Muslim so…

Even if Abdselam were aware of the Brussels attack how would Trump get it out of him?  How would Trump know to ask? That’s the main problem, one can’t just say, “what do you know” and get the subject to vomit up the info you want. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Abdselam *did* know about the Brussels attacks. The interrogator doesn’t.

We can also assume, that if he knows, he doesn’t really want to give up the info. Hitting him will only remind him that the info is important. If he knew about them, he also knows there is a time limit. If he holds out long enough either his confederates can get away, or the plan will have been carried out. So where does The Donald start his line of investigation?

Seriously. Where does one start? “Tell us about the other plans!!!!”.

Weak. It tells the subject you don’t know.  He can spin yarns until the plans he does know about are immaterial to the investigation.

“Tell us about the people you know in…”  Where?  How does one choose where to start?  He was arrested for attacks on Paris. Logic implies that any information he is guaranteed to have is about things in Paris. Ok, he’s Belgian. Maybe he is involved in something happening in Belgium.  Maybe the five months he’s not been caught after Paris have convinced him it’s safe to go back to plotting.  But against whom?  His MO is to work some distance from home (which is not a bad MO, if one can bland into the local environment; there is less chance of being IDed by someone at the scene, which means other leads have to be followed. If one is careful one’s odds of avoiding capture go up, a lot).

So how does one choose what line of investigation to start?  Which is the answer the victim is refusing to yield? Which, “I don’t now about that” is the lie which justifies torture?  When the victim *is* ignorant, and honesty leads to pain, what will keep them to telling the truth when just giving in and confessing to the required crime will stop the pain?

Because that is what will happen. One of the principle part of SERE school, where pilots and aircrew are trained in what it’s like to be tortured, is that everyone breaks.  Everyone. Even when it’s known that the tortures are part of the drill, and one won’t be maimed, much less killed, they all break. So why do our politicians, and pundits, pretend that “bad guys” are different?

Because it sells. Because there aren’t enough people holding them to account. Because part of the narrative is comforting. The fable that we can be protected, if only we have the resolve to “do what must be done.” It’s a convenient lie, that safety can actually be created by force of will. It can’t. Bad actors will figure out how to do bad things.

If you don’t believe me just look at prisons. In environments where the state has total control, weapons are made, assaults; even to the point of murder, are committed. Conspiracies for revolt are made, and carried out. If we can’t stop it in places where the populace is constrained, contained, and enslaved, what makes us think torturing a small subset of those who are freely able to move will?

Fear sells. Torture advocates (you can’t call them apologists when they use the word, and say we need to do the deeds) are selling fear, and fear is like yeast, once you put it in the dough, it won’t stop so long as it is fed.

 

 

*though like him I’m tired, even if I’ve not been singing the song quite as long.

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The ACLU has let us down on The Rule of Law

I’m angry.

This isn’t new. I’ve been angry for about 11 years now. It ebbs and flows, depending on the news, but it’s always there. I wish I had some handy object to be angry about, instead of an ever present sense that the thing which pissed me off wasn’t miasmic.

The proximate cause of this round of more present anger isn’t, actually, the report which the senate released about the torture the US engages in. Nah. There isn’t anything new in that; not to me, nor to anyone who has been paying attention for the past 10 years. No, what angers (and saddens) me is larger than that. It’s about the rot at the soul of the country.

I am not a naif. I know (and knew long before Khandahar and Abu Ghraib) that the US allowed people to get away with torture, and that some branches of the gov’t were sanctioning it; even if they weren’t doing it themselves.

Pinochet, and Pahlavi, and Samoza, and Marcos, weren’t just people we put up with being bastards. They weren’t just bastards we supported and encouraged: they were all bastards we put into power (which wasn’t true of Hussein and Noriega; not that I think that would have helped either of them when the Bush family decided it was no longer useful to pretend they were of service as bogeymen, after they stopped being sufficiently subservient to “our” ends).

Nope. Governments are large and scandal is worse than failure. Who cares that someone broke the law (and some skulls), so long as it can be covered up, and plausibly denied?

It’s not that I am surprised to learn that torture became an essential part of the proccess, nor that it corrupted the stream of information. I’m not surprised to learn that thigns which didn’t have torture to, “verify” them weren’t believed, nor that people were tortured to confirm things which then had to be reconfirmed by the expedient of simple follow up up in the field (which could have been done first, and so would have obviated the rationale for torture. It’s what I said would happen, because it’s what always happens when torture becomes a run of the mill tool.

So that’s par for the course. What shouldn’t be is that when such a thing breaks out of it’s box of plausible deniablity that we decide to sanction it.

I’m not much of one for the, “broken windows” school of policiing (esp. because the policies which walk abroad under that rubric are 1: fundamentally racist, and 2: anti-thetical to a nation ruled by laws*). I do, however, think that when a flagrant violation of the law takes place, then something needs to be done.
Sadly, not everyone agrees. Some of this is base hypocrisy. When someone tells you they have no problem with “stop and frisk” (or some other “broken windows” based idea) ask them if Bush, Cheney, et. alia, ought to be charged.

Not convicted, but haled into court and made to stand trial for crimes they admit to having committed (sometimes you can put their hypocrisy into plainer light if you get them to say, “yes, it’s illegal, but sometimes you have to; then you admit it and face the music, at which point they tap dance to explain why it’s different this time. If you have a yen for making people look like complete fools ask those same people how they feel about Clinton’s impeachment; then ask why that situation (a non-criminal fib, is so much more important than breaking laws against torture).

It’s better if this person is one of the “St. Ronnie” crowd. Becuse it’s not just the Geneva Conventions which were violated, but a law against torture which Reagan sponsored; which he touted as being a bedrock of our moral values. It’s not that we’ve always ignored them (nor that we’ve never had fools and idiots who didn’t care whom we tortured, so long as it was never someone who looked like them; and they are usually white). We even sent cops to jail for waterboarding people (in Texas of all places).

But none of this is new to me. I’ve been saying some form of this, in print, and at conferences, for ten years.
What saddens me is how deep the rot has gone. We’ve come to the point where no one thinks we really have a nation of laws, despite Obama saying, “First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law, and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” when Darren Wilson being legally exculpated for murder. As a result the cops in Berkeley are shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at people when they choose to “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

But a nation of laws is only a nation of laws if they are applied. If we truly are a nation of laws, we need to put the architects of this systematic violation of several of our laws on trial. We could, I suppose, just accept that we have a class of criminal which is above the law, polticians.

Which isn’t true. It could also be argued, from recent history that we’ve still got the category of institutional fraudster/thief whom we absent from prosecution: viz Wall Street and the serial collapse of the economy by means of playing fast and loose with the law. It’s actually a larger category than that, given the disproportionate treatment of Enron’s Lay and Skillig [and the utter non-punishment of their lackeys] compared to the death of Eric Garner, or Michael Brown, or Tamir Rice or Amadou Diallo lest we forget this isn’t some recent problem. None of the dead people on that list were ever charged with anything; so far none of their killers has been either

Of course all the killers were cops. The cop who killed Garner was exculpated by a grand jury, they seemed to feel the homicide was justified; even though the cop was using a chokehold which was outlawed 30 years ago because (wait for it), it’s often fatal.

But the rest of us… we face the risk of ungodly sentences if we go to trial, because prosecutors pad the charge sheet to extort a plea bargain. We run the risk of years in jail even if we aren’t guilty.

All of which destroys the Rule of Law. It’s from such petty injustices that revolution spreads. It’s from the over-reaction to peaceable assembly that more serious injustice becomes festering grievance.

All of which has been on my mind in the past couple of months.

Brought to a head when I saw that the Anthony Romero,head of the ACLU, said the idea of the Rule of Law demands that we pardon Bush, Cheney, and all the people who committed the tortures they not only sanctioned, not only admitted to sanctioning, but boast of having overseen.

I am croggled at the double-think.

with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.

Got that… to show that torture is illegal… we need to pardon the people who did it. Those laws… they don’t mean anything, but saying, “hey, you committed a crime, and we forgive you, and all the guys who helped you…”
Yeah, I can see how helpful that is. I’ll bet that if we did the same for all the mobsters everyone would admit the Mafia was full of hoodlums. (/sarcasm) I get that Romero is frustrated that no one seems to have the stomach to punish the people who shredded the laws. I’m pretty chapped about it to. But there is no way in hell I am going to say that if we aren’t going to charge them we need to pardon them.

We tried that once before, with Nixon. What we got for our pains was the Cheney/Bush Administration, peopled with all the hacks who were still around from that mess. What they learned was two-fold, 1: hide everything, 2: if you commit big enough crimes no one will dare to hold you to account. To offer them a pardon (not that I think they’d take it, as that would mean admitting legal culpability and morally deficiency) would be to cement that idea. Married to the other ills we have from a lack of prosecutions the idea terrifies me, because he’s deluding himself if he thinks, Prosecutions would be preferable, but pardons may be the only viable and lasting way to close the Pandora’s box of torture once and for all.

They acted in the full knowledge that what they were doing was against the law. They didn’t care. Bush, more than once, casually admitted he was (and had been) breaking laws, and had no intent of stopping.

Which is is what makes me angry. We have become so jaded that we accept the idea that there is something reasonable about saying, “oh yeah, you broke US laws, violated treaties, killed innocent people; by torturing them to death (when they weren’t “merely” driven mad. Read the released summary, if you have the stomach, and remember that it’s only a summary. The entire thing is worse). But hey, because torture is SO FUCKING HORRIBLE, we aren’t going to put your ass in jail for the rest of your life, we’re going to forgive you, without going through the effort of having a trial and saying you are guilty, and ought to be punished, so we are going to pre-emptively pardon you; so everyone will know how serious we are about hating torture.

Fuck that noise. At this point I wish there was some sort of tribunal with the moral rectitude, and money/power to enforce the Noriega Doctrine, and haul them to the ICC by force.

Because we are fast forfieting any right to deny the international community the right to extradite them. Rumsfeld will probably never go to France again, and it wouldn’t disturb my sleep to know that Bush and Cheney, Rice and Wolfowitz, Woo and Bybee, were looking nervously over their shoulders, wondering when the tipstaff is going to show up behind them

But, for the sake of the nation as a whole, we dare not pardon them, even if that means they die without being prosecuted: because it’s possible a later age will take it up (as some of them are still young enough that there are decades in which this consummation [devoutly to be wished] may come to pass).

Moreover, the why won’t matter. What will be seen is that torture is an offense for which one can be given carte blanche ex post facto.

Bullshit. And we can’t extend the idea that of, “for the good of the state the bearer has been pardoned for what has been done”. It’s not so. It’s specious. There are dogs which ought not be let lie.

*“There are individuals whose propensity to crime is so high that no set of incentives that it is feasible to offer to the whole population would influence their behavior,” Banfield wrote. The most effective way to prevent violent crime in cities, Banfield theorized, would therefore be to pre-emptively abridge the freedom of the “mostly young, lower-class males” who were likely to commit crimes in the future. What’s that? You say that “abridging the freedom of persons who have not committed crimes is incompatible with the principles of free society”? Well, said Banfield, “so, also, is the presence in free society of persons who, if their freedom is not abridged, would use it to inflict serious injuries on others.”

If you read the original think piece about Broken Windows you see the authors praising cops who use, step outside the law to enforce, “order”: Sometimes what “Kelly” did could be described as “enforcing the law,” but just as often it involved taking informal or extralegal steps to help protect what the neighborhood had decided was the appropriate level of public order. Some of the things he did probably would not withstand a legal challenge…the police in this earlier period assisted in that reassertion of authority by acting, sometimes violently, on behalf of the community. Young toughs were roughed up, people were arrested “on suspicion” or for vagrancy, and prostitutes and petty thieves were routed. “Rights” were something enjoyed by decent folk, and perhaps also by the serious professional criminal, who avoided violence and could afford a lawyer… That’s the message of “broken windows”: Rich people have rights, the rest of us, not so much.


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Priorities

Barack Obama’s are screwed.

Bradley Manning was sentenced today; she got 35 years for the release of classified documents.  In way that’s cheering.  The Prosecution charged her with offenses which could have ended up with her in prison* for the rest of his life.  That charge was not sustained by the judge (though I think it ought never have been entertained by her; that it was is disturbing), and they asked for 60 years on the charges for which convictions were handed down.

In one regard, she’s lucky. If she moves to someplace like Michigan when the sentence expires she will get most of his civil rights restored, Florida, not so much  The Penal Barracks have pretty good policies regarding parole/time off for good behavior.  With the (inadequate**) amount of credit for time served, she is eligible for parole in about 10 years.  The gov’t is likely to oppose her release.  Hard call what the board will decide.  I don’t think she will be there for the entire 31 years, and change, remaining in her sentence.

On the one hand this is a minor loss to the gov’t/Obama adminstration.  they wanted to put her away for life, “pour encourager les autres“.  Certainly the people baying for other people involved with leaks in the public interest to be killed outright are working to make it more dangerous to try and reveal secret gov’t policies.  And the harassment of people who are near to them is right up there with other totalitarian ideas of guilt by association, and collective punishment.§

So that’s one priority.  Someone who released information to inform the public of what the gov’t was doing in their name, is being locked up.  Charged with “aiding the enemy” because (after the press refused to look at the documents) she went to Wikileaks, which put it on the Web where “bad guys” could see it.  That’s a pretty fucked up interpretation of the law.  Speak out in a public forum = aiding the enemy.

Flip side: We have torturers among us. Some have been sanctioned.  Graner and Englund went to jail.  Gen. Karpinski was relieved of command.  Graner, was sentenced to 10 years.  He’s already out on parole.  On Christmas, 2014, his sentence ends. He was the last of those convicted to be released, which is fitting because his 10 year sentence was the harshest punishment handed down.   For all the abuses, and torture, which took place at Abu Ghraib, only 10 people were charged, and only nine convicted of anything.  No one was charged with torture, nor any form of homicide; though some of the prisoners in their custody died.

The people who wrote, and approved the Bybee Memos suffered not a single harm (one of them, John Yoo, is teaching law at Berkeley).  The president who asked for those memos… no one really cares.  The vice president who defends them still, no one really cares. The general who was brought in to “Gitmo-ize Abu Ghraib, no one really cares.  War Crimes, committed for years, and we “are looking forward”.  Which is bullshit.  One can’t look forward to find justice.  Justice means looking back and examining what was done in the past.

No, this is a case of priorities.  Obama, Pelosi, Reid, none of them give a shit about torture.  It’s a shame that it happened.  It will be a shame if we find out it’s still happening; but the bigger problem is the people who tell us what’s going on; the sort of person who would reveal to the world that our government is committing crimes; even when those crimes are likely to undermine the system which is committing them.  Torture is bad.  It’s arguable that spying on the citizenry is worse; not least because it makes it easier to cover up things like torture.  Edward Snowden fled the US to China, and then to Russia.  There may have been (probably was) a cynical attempt to exploit some realpolitik, and he was counting on one of them to want more to find out what he had than to give him up (and/or that what he had was going to make them upset enough with the US to think sticking a finger in our eye was a useful thing).

Think about that; he decided the safest course of action was to defect to China, because he knew (from watching Bradley Manning’s treatment; and perhaps the people saying Tsarnaev ought to be tried as, “an enemy combatant”, never mind that he’s a US citizen, and the crime he committed took place in the US), that being a whistleblower means becoming a high-value target for the government: moreso than it was under Bush fils.

It’s a scary thing that torturing people to death can get you a sentence of two monthsø Ψ but leaking documents will be pursued to the full extent the law may allow.

Obama’s priorities are fucked up.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

*I am not going into the question of Manning’s gender; so far he has not asked for the use of other pronouns, so I am using those which seem to be comfortable for him (not that I think he will ever see this).  If that changes, I will edit this post to reflect it. (Edit:  As of now Manning has said she is a woman, and so wishes to be referred to with female pronouns/referents.  I made some changes to reflect that).

Being at Ft. Leavenworth is almost certainly a large step up from being in a non-military prison.  There is, so I have heard, a certain sense of not-quite camaraderie which comes of having shared a common ethos; and the regimentation is, while tedious (the amount of outside access is quite limited; no internet, no email, and books/magazines have to be deemed acceptable; mail is read, etc.  But the level of interpersonal violence is a lot less. (Edit:  I don’t know what policies/procedures are in place at Ft. Leavenworth to cope with Manning’s status as a transgendered female; so some of these speculations are now less clear to me.

**In that the DoD tortured her, and kept her in cruel and unusual conditions.

§It’s not that I think the US Gov’t wouldn’t do some of that; just that they’d use the FBI, and an NSA, so that the press in question would be (in theory) unable to talk about it.  If they thought they could be that high-handed, they would.

ø Confession time:  I know many of the people involved in the DIlawar Case.  Including all the Intel People who were convicted.  I served with them in Iraq, before some of them went on to Abu Ghraib.

ΨThe punishment options were open-ended.  I don’t know what the prosecution asked for but this is the text of the most serious of the three charges she faced.

 928. Art. 128. Assault

(a) Any person subject to this chapter who attempts or offers with unlawful force or violence to do bodily harm to another person, whether or not the attempt or offer is consummated, is guilty of assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct. (b) Any person subject to this chapter who-

(1) commits an assault with a dangerous weapon or other means or force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm; or (2) commits an assault and intentionally inflicts grievous bodily harm with or without a weapon; is guilty of aggravated assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.