Saturday, July 30, 2005

"Learned Helplessness"

In this op-ed piece in today's Guardian, Barbara Ehrenreich discusses the impact of living in a world where punishments and rewards appear to be distributed randomly rather than rationally. After commenting on the rewards lavished on CEOs who run their companies into the ground, Ehrenreich turns to politics, including the torture scandal:

Of the top perpetrators in the various prisoner abuse scandals, Donald Rumsfeld still holds his post as defence secretary; Condoleezza Rice has been promoted to secretary of state; and torture-memo lawyer Alberto Gonzales has moved up to become the US attorney general. Only one general with a hand in the abuse--Janis Karpinski, the former head officer at Abu Ghraib--has suffered a demotion. Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of US forces in Iraq, is being considered for promotion to four-star general, and Maj Gen Barbara Fast, his head of intelligence-gathering in Iraq, has been given command of an Arizona army base where soldiers are taught interrogation techniques.

Ehrenreich goes on to note that in an experiment with dogs, the random distribution of electric shocks led to what psychologist Martin Seligman called "learned helplessness," a condition in which the dogs eventually stopped trying to avoid shocks altogether. Ehrenreich is wrong, though, if she thinks that's where critics of the Bush administration are heading. The administration, rather than being randomly irrational, is predictably irrational, as the promotion for Condoleezza Rice and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for former CIA Director George Tenet demonstrate.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Ambassador Bolton?

It now appears that a recess appointment--avoiding the Senate confirmation process until January 2007--is imminent for John Bolton. If it happens, add it to the list of instances of unilateral soft power disarmament.

Soft Power Disarmament

I was reminded while reading this post by Duke professor Bruce Jentleson that the neoconservatives in control of U.S. foreign policy, who generally believe that "soft power" is a figment of Joseph Nye's imagination, are doing their best to unilaterally disarm the United States where soft power is concerned. Not permitting Congress to correct the abuse of detainees in American custody is the latest act of soft power disarmament. (Nye himself raised concerns about the decline of American soft power soon after the revelation of the Abu Ghraib photos last year.)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Take Back the Country

Ann-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, wonders why we are not outraged by the torture that is occurring in the name of the United States at Guantanamo and elsewhere. She says that "it is time for a Take Back the Country march on Washington; a march that says to the world that we are sickened, horrified, outraged--words fail--by what is being done in our name and that if we cannot get our government to disavow it we will do so ourselves."

I'm there.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Torture: The Military's Dissent

Neil Lewis reports in tomorrow's New York Times that four of the military's highest-ranking lawyers argued in February and March of 2003 against the position on torture that developed in the Bush Administration beginning with the August 2002 Justice Department memorandum, a document that both defined torture very narrowly and argued for a very expansive definition of the powers of the president to authorize otherwise illegal interrogation methods. The military lawyers worried that the Justice Department's position on interrogations would not protect soldiers against criminal prosecutions either at home or abroad.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a former military lawyer himself, deserves great credit for making the relevant memorandums public and for continuing to push for laws to ensure that the United States will not continue to violate international law in its treatment of enemy combatants.

[Update: Marty Lederman at Balkinization has posted the memos here.]

Not Just a "Few Bad Apples"

President Bush said in an interview on Arab television soon after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke that "what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know." In a statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 7, 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was "un-American" and "inconsistent with the values of our nation." The persistent claims that prisoner abuse was an aberration--the work of a "few bad apples"--have become unsustainable under the mounting evidence that interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib were imported from Guantanamo.

The Washington Post reports another bit of evidence today from a preliminary hearing in the case against two soldiers accused of abusing detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison. The story begins:

Military interrogators at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq learned about the use of military working dogs to intimidate detainees from a team of interrogators dispatched from the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to court testimony yesterday.

One interrogation analyst also testified that sleep deprivation and forced nudity -- which were used in Cuba on high-value detainees -- later were approved tactics at Abu Ghraib. Another soldier said that interrogators would regularly pass instructions to have dog handlers and military police "scare up" detainees as part of interrogation plans, part of an approved approach that relied on exploiting the fear of dogs.

Earlier this month, a Pentagon investigation (not publicly released) urged a reprimand of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander at Guantanamo who went to Iraq to spread the interrogation techniques that had been employed in Cuba. (Miller's superior, Gen. Bantz Craddock, declined to issue the reprimand.) As the Post story on the report notes, "The report's findings are the strongest indication yet that the abusive practices seen in photographs at Abu Ghraib were not the invention of a small group of thrill-seeking military police officers. The report shows that they were used on [Mohamed] Qahtani several months before the United States invaded Iraq."

Sadly, there are a lot of things surrounding the torture scandal that do not represent the America that I know. A lot of them have more to do with the actions of those in authority than with the actions of low-ranking reservists and private contractors.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Covering Darfur

Nicholas Kristof addresses the media today. Specifically, he notes the media's failure to cover the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Consider the data he cites:

According to monitoring by the Tyndall Report, ABC News had a total of 18 minutes of the Darfur genocide in its nightly newscasts all last year--and that turns out to be a credit to Peter Jennings. NBC had only 5 minutes of coverage all last year, and CBS only 3 minutes--about a minute of coverage for every 100,000 deaths. In contrast, Martha Stewart received 130 minutes of coverage by the three networks.

After noting that Diane Sawyer traveled to Africa to interview Brad Pitt, Kristof writes, "If only Michael Jackson's trial had been held in Darfur. Last month, CNN, Fox News, NBC, MSNBC, ABC and CBS collectively ran 55 times as many stories about Michael Jackson as they ran about genocide in Darfur."

The television networks deserve the criticism that Kristof directs at them. But Americans who would rather see stories about Michael Jackson than about Darfur are equally to blame.

Monday, July 25, 2005

More Photographs

From Saturday's New York Times:

Lawyers for the Defense Department are refusing to cooperate with a federal judge's order to release secret photographs and videotapes related to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

By way of background, a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan, Alvin K. Hellerstein, ruled in June that the government must turn over photographs and videotapes requested by the ACLU in a Freedom of Information Act suit. Attorneys for the Pentagon are saying it's not going to happen for reasons they won't state publicly. (A sealed brief explaining the reasons for failing to comply with the court order was promised by government attorneys.)

Members of Congress who last year saw photographs and videos that were not released to the public indicated that there were many images that were far more disturbing than those the American public has seen thus far. That suggests the current stonewalling is part of an effort by the administration to suppress more damaging evidence of prisoner abuse at a time when there is a movement, however weak, to establish an independent commission to investigate that abuse.

[Via Legal Fiction.]

Friday, July 22, 2005

A White House Threat

The Bush Administration has threatened to veto the defense appropriation if Congress amends it to require that detainees be treated humanely or includes language calling for an independent commission to investigate detainee abuse. Such proposals are being pushed by, among others, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, both Republicans.

According to the White House, legislation requiring humane treatment of prisoners in American custody would "interfere with the protection of Americans from terrorism by diverting resources from the war."

First, the Bush Administration backed away from any form of international accountability for human rights violations by "unsigning" the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It then reinterpreted U.S. law (as well as longstanding international law) in such a way as to restrict the meaning of torture. Then it engaged in torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment--over and over--and suggested, when such practices were unveiled through photographs taken at Abu Ghraib, that the problems were caused by a few "bad apples" (and low-ranking ones, at that). Now the Administration is telling Congress not to interfere. If Congress does not "interfere," it will be abdicating both its lawmaking and its oversight responsibilities. It will also be saying to President Bush, yet again, "Do whatever you want." Checks and balances in our government will be dead.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this sad story is that it is not at all clear how it will come out. Congress may well continue to encourage torture by failing to act.

[Via Balkinization.]

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Back to the 13th Century

In Torture, a historical survey of torture and its legal underpinnings, Edward Peters devotes considerable attention to the revival of torture in the thirteenth century as a procedure available to the authorities in many circumstances. He writes (p. 49):

As police powers broadened, informal torture was used from the early thirteenth century on, but originally as a méthode policiere, and only much later assimilated into legal procedure. Citizens protested its use, at least against fellow citizens of good repute, but they approved it in the case of those generally of ill fame. Magistrates needed confessions and, as they found in the course of the thirteenth century, torture was often able to extract them.

I am struck by how contemporary the account sounds. Consider it with just a bit of updating:

As the "war on terror" broadened, informal torture was used from the early twenty-first century on, but originally as a méthode militaire, and only much later assimilated into legal procedure. Citizens protested its use, at least against fellow citizens of good repute, but they approved it in the case of those generally of ill fame (including Muslims). Intelligence officials needed information and, as they found in the course of the twenty-first century, torture was often able to extract it.

(Of course, information--and confessions--extracted by torture are not terribly reliable.)

The repudiation of official torture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was one of the great achievements of the Enlightenment. Its embrace by France in the Algerian War and the United States in the "war on terror"--by the two states that were the first to embrace the Enlightenment’s view of the rights of man--has been an enormous blow to those of us who believe in Progress.

Why aren’t Americans outraged? Perhaps we need our own Henri Alleg.


James Carroll writes in the Boston Globe about a British Muslim scholar traveling to the United States last week to give a speech at the Chatauqua Institution on Islam's compatibility with Western culture. He was denied entry.

Carroll writes:

The incident is a telling one. If a Muslim of Zaki Badawi's stature can be treated so contemptuously, imagine what the legion of anonymous Muslims face at the burgeoning network of checkpoints, security barriers, and borders that now define daily life. Not so long ago, when American astronauts beamed back to Earth images of a borderless blue planet hanging in the dark void of space, it seemed that a new, transnational ideal of life on this planet was within reach. Borders had been so bloody, with countless wars fought to move them, or protect them. The horrors of the 20th century cried out for an end to all that, and here it was.

Suddenly, the nation-state itself seemed ready to undergo a kind of relativizing, human beings having learned the hard way that more unites our species than divides it. Power, therefore, need not define our encounters. The borderless blue planet was a moral vision, but it had economic and political aspects, as information technologies increasingly reduced the old frontiers of tribe and state and closed economy to irrelevance. In Europe, especially, this dream began to be realized, as borders were first mitigated, then removed. The Iron Curtain itself melted away. Power, at last, to the people.

No more. Borders are back, and so is the demeaning exercise of power. From airports to office buildings, entry-point intimidation is everywhere.

Read Carroll's column.

Monday, July 18, 2005


"The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction--and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively."

--The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002

And what an immense mass of evil must result . . . from allowing men to assume the right of anticipating what may happen. Ninety-nine percent of the evil of the world is founded on this reasoning--from the Inquisition to dynamite bombs."

--Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You, 1893

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Saturn Devouring One of His Children

In 1964, the military in Brazil (with the support of the U.S. government) overthrew democratically elected president Joao Goulart and created a "national security state" under the rule of a succession of generals. The military dictatorship there would last until 1985. Kate Millett's The Politics of Cruelty, which I first mentioned in this post yesterday, prompted me to think about Brazil--along with Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and other states that fell under the sway of the national security doctrine's perverted belief that the armed forces were required to defeat vast conspiracies inside the state. As I read Millett's comments about Argentine political prisoner Alicia Partnoy's memoir entitled The Little School and the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo's report entitled Torture in Brazil, the image of Francisco Goya's Saturn Devouring One of His Children came to mind. The painting, which I first saw in Madrid's Museo del Prado in 1979, depicts Saturn--Cronus in Greek mythology--grotesquely biting the arm off the headless torso of one of his sons. Saturn, who had seized power from his own father, Uranus, was obsessed by the prophecy that he would in turn be overthrown by his own offspring. He sought to avoid this fate by consuming each of his children at birth. Jupiter (Zeus), however, was hidden by his mother from Saturn and, in time, fulfilled the prophecy. [continued below]

Saturno devorando a un hijo
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Across much of Latin America from the 1960s to the 1980s the generals' exaggerated fears led them to devour thousands of their nations' children. In Argentina under the military regime, an estimated 30,000 people were "disappeared." (Consider Millett's linguistic reflection on Argentina's desaparecidos: "The ability to 'disappear' a human being is such an awesome power that the verb itself, grammatically intransitive, becomes transitive and now takes an object. A new passive is also created: one does not disappear, one is disappeared.") Eventually, the mothers of the disappeared--including the courageous Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina--acted, like Saturn's wife Ops, not only to save their children but to ensure that those devouring them would be overthrown.

The myth of Saturn and the twentieth-century history of the Latin American national security state both offer a cautionary tale about the dangers of succumbing to paranoia in the face of an intramural threat. It is a cautionary tale well worth heeding as we read that the London bombers were apparently British citizens. (Tomorrow's New York Times describes two of the suspects as, "in many ways, . . . British to the core.") If, as I believe, Al Qaeda's ideas (both its ideology and its strategy) are now more threatening than its institutional structure and if, as Robert A. Pape believes, the American military presence in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East is driving a new Al Qaeda campaign, then we can expect to see suicide bombers on this side of the Atlantic soon. How we respond, particularly under circumstances in which repeated attacks are carried out on American soil by American citizens, will determine whether we fall victim to some version of the national security doctrine that crippled many South American republics for a generation or more.

I fear that a state that is willing both to wage preemptive war and to torture foreigners when faced with a serious external threat may be tempted to begin devouring its own if it believes there is also a serious internal threat. As much as I would like to say that it can't happen here, I hesitate to do so because I recall that at one time both preemptive war and torture seemed to me to be beyond the pale for the United States of America.

Chertoff's Plan

Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, hit exactly the right note today in announcing a re-prioritization of the work of the department he took over five months ago. In a speech before employees of the Department of Homeland Security, he said, "Our goal is to maximize our security, but not security at any price. Our security regime must promote Americans' freedom, prosperity, mobility, and individual privacy."

Few announcements from the Bush administration regarding security in the past have mentioned the need to balance security and freedom. For Secretary Chertoff to do so--and within a week of the London bombings--is an encouraging sign.

One of the specific changes announced by Secretary Chertoff was the elimination of the DCA 30-minute standing rule, which prohibited airline passengers from standing up within thirty minutes of a takeoff from or landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA).

The Politics of Cruelty

On the recommendation some months ago of Michael Nutkiewicz, executive director of the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles, I have been reading Kate Millett's 1994 book, The Politics of Cruelty: An Essay on the Literature of Political Imprisonment. It is an excellent book, one that seems particularly relevant now when Americans are--or at least ought to be--dealing with torture and lesser forms of cruelty perpetrated by Americans in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other prisons established to hold those swept up in the "war on terror."

I will be quoting from and discussing Millett's book from time to time over the next several days as I try to examine the matter of torture systematically in a series of posts. For now, however, I want to point out that The Politics of Cruelty deals with many different abuses related to political imprisonment and not torture alone. Torture may be the worst of the crimes a state can commit against those it incarcerates, but it is not the only one. This is worth remembering as we think about Alberto Gonzales and the "torture memos," abuse of the Koran at Guantanamo, or extraordinary rendition. Even if no one acting under the authority of the United States had ever committed an act of torture in the context of the "war on terror," there would still be much to remind outsiders of the French colonial administration in Algeria, the South African government's policies during the apartheid era, or other textbook cases of the abuse of state power.

Consider, as Millett does, the matter of arbitrary detention: holding prisoners without charge and without access to attorneys and legal recourse for long periods of time. The "Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus" in Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution establishes a barrier to the arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens (or others held in the sovereign territory of the United States) as does the Sixth Amendment, which states,

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Sadly, until the Supreme Court ruled in Rasul v. Bush that detainees in the "war on terror" were required to have their designation as "unlawful enemy combatants" confirmed by a military tribunal, the United States was routinely holding "suspected terrorists" at Guantanamo without charges, without trials, and without access to attorneys. Prisoners transported from Afghanistan to Guantanamo were effectively "disappeared."

Here, writing about Kenyan political prisoner Ngugi wa Thiong'o, is what Millett has to say about arbitrary detention:

Detention is efficient and expeditious; in fact, it is probably the only way to maintain the pretense of legalism. For above all else, detention is how to "deal with" the innocent. There is neither crime nor evidence, there cannot be a trial; a trial would be embarrassing. So one is simply jailed without accusation. And since there is no trial, there can be no appeal. The state has expressed itself in its power. (The Politics of Cruelty, 205)

As the terse Pentagon announcements regarding actions of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals indicate (go here to see them), reviews (even though highly flawed according to many attorneys) have resulted in the release of scores of detainees. As an April 19, 2005, announcement notes, eighteen detainees were released because they were "found to no longer be an enemy combatant." Three years of confinement (and, in all probability, degrading treatment or punishment) at Guantanamo followed by a hearing that establishes that one is "no longer" an enemy combatatant. It is hardly calculated to promote respect for the United States' commitment to justice.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

More on Suicide Bombers

As a follow-up to this post, here's an interview with Robert Pape in The American Conservative that provides greater detail regarding his study of suicide bombers and their motivations. This becomes even more significant as evidence mounts that the bombings in London last week may have been the first-ever suicide bombings in Western Europe.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Srebrenica, 1995

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica, one of the greatest atrocities of the Bosnian conflict, a war full of atrocities. In 1993, the United Nations declared Srebrenica to be a "safe area" to be set apart and protected from the civil war raging in other parts of Bosnia. On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces pushed aside the lightly armed UN peacekeepers protecting the city and proceeded to kill at least 7,000 Bosnian men and boys in an act that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has labeled genocide.

At present, the two Bosnian Serbs who have been indicted by the ICTY for planning and executing the massacre at Srebrenica--Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic--remain at large. The best way to honor the memory of those who were murdered at Srebrenica is to urge those in a position to do so to find, capture, and hand over to the ICTY Karadzic and Mladic. You can write to the following to urge them to use their influence to see that justice is done.

The Honorable George W. Bush
The President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20500

Dr. Ivan Vujacic
Embassy of Serbia and Montenegro
2134 Kalorama Road, NW
Washington, DC 20008

Some Wonder

In today's New York Times, Bob Herbert writes, "Last week's terror bombings in London should be seen as a reminder not just that Mr. Bush's war was a hideous diversion of focus and resources from the essential battle against terror, but that it has actually increased the danger of terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies." This is not second-guessing. It is, as Herbert puts it, a "reminder." The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies made the point last October that the Iraq war was a boon for Al Qaeda recruiting efforts. And an article in the Los Angeles Times last September made the point that Al Qaeda was evolving into a more decentralized and ideologically-driven network that American counter-terrorism efforts were failing to address.

"Some wonder," President Bush said in his speech at Fort Bragg last month, "whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror." Yes, Mr. President. Some wonder.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Suicide Bombers

This analysis by University of Chicago political scientist Robert A. Pape is interesting.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Most people will eventually conclude that the “war on terrorism” is ineffective. They will realize that waging war in Iraq is not the same as solving the problem of terrorism. Most will come to understand that terrorism is a form of asymmetric warfare, which means that terrorists will always strike targets we've chosen not to--or perhaps cannot--defend. A few may finally see that free societies will always be vulnerable.

Most people will someday realize that terrorists are criminals and that the rule of law, rather than being "obsolete" and “quaint” (as Alberto Gonzales described the Geneva Conventions), is in fact our greatest resource against terrorism. They will understand that torturing suspected terrorists in Guantánamo not only failed to prevent attacks in Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, Casablanca, and now London, it probably helped in recruiting those willing to commit those atrocities or atrocities yet to come.

But perhaps declaring a “war on terrorism” was not about making us feel more secure as much as it was about making us feel more powerful in the face of our vulnerability. If so, the good feelings engendered by displays of our power will fade with each reminder, whether on the streets of London, Baghdad, or elsewhere, of our vulnerability. Eventually, most will decide that it is better for our government to do something that makes us more secure than to do something that merely tries to make us feel better about ourselves.

Someday, but not today—at least not among our leaders. In response to the bombings in London, President Bush said, “The war on terror goes on.”

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Pinochet--Otra Vez

Augusto Pinochet has once again been stripped of immunity raising the possibility that he might finally be prosecuted for human rights abuses committed while he ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. The ruling by the Court of Appeals in Santiago involves "Operation Colombo" in which 119 dissidents were killed by the regime.

The court's ruling was limited to the narrow question of whether Pinochet's immunity as a former president protected him from prosecution in this case. An appeal to the Chilean Supreme Court remains a possibility.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Maj. Steve Reich

Those who know me are aware that my passions include politics and baseball. There are other things I feel strongly about, but these are the two I consider worthy of a blog. Swords into Plowshares covers a part--the international part--of my passion for politics, while Sharks Baseball addresses a part of my passion for baseball--the most important part since it covers baseball as played by my sons and their teammates at Malibu High.

Rarely do I cross-post or link between the two blogs, but I'm making an exception today because Paul Gallo, the baseball coach at Malibu High, informed me this morning that a great left-handed pitcher, a great person, and a great American died in last week's helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

You can read about Maj. Steve Reich of the U.S. Army here, on Sharks Baseball. I'm linking to his story on Swords into Plowshares because it's a story that serves as a reminder that, while we are living very normal lives here in the United States--having cookouts on the Fourth of July, going to the beach, and, yes, watching baseball--there are Americans serving the United States--that means all of us--and in some cases giving their lives--what Lincoln at Gettysburg referred to as "the last full measure of devotion."

Steve Reich of Shepaug Valley High School had a dream of playing major league baseball. (In 1996, he was signed by the Baltimore Orioles.) But he had a sense of duty that he considered more important than that dream. It's good for us to remember that the United States produces people like Steve Reich.

It's also good for us, as citizens who depend for our defense on people like Maj. Reich, to be sure we never ask for "the last full measure of devotion"--or even for the sacrifice of dreams--unless it is absolutely necessary.

Monday, July 04, 2005

"We're about the Fourth of July"

I believe that history will make very clear that President Bush shamelessly exploited the emotions around 9/11 for political purposes. He used those 9/11 emotions to take a far-right Republican domestic agenda on taxes, the environment, and social issues from 9/10--an agenda for which he had no popular mandate--and drive it into a 9/12 world. In doing so, Mr. Bush not only drove a wedge between Americans, and between Americans and the world, he drove a wedge between America and its own history and identity. His administration transformed the United States into "the United States of Fighting Terrorism." This is the real reason, in my view, that so many people in the world dislike President Bush so intensely. They feel that he has taken away something very dear to them--an America that exports hope, not fear.

We need our president to restore September 11 to its rightful place on the calendar--as the day after September 10 and before September 12. We must never let it become a day that defines us. Because ultimately September 11 is about them--the bad guys--not about us.

We’re about the Fourth of July.

--Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, pp. 451-52.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Stain of Torture

This op-ed from Friday's Washington Post is well worth reading. The writer is Dr. Burton Lee, who served as the personal physician of President George H. W. Bush. Consider these words:

Our medical code of ethics requires us to oppose torture wherever it is inflicted, for any reason. Guided by this ethic, I served as a volunteer with the international group MEDICO in 1963, taking care of people who had been tortured by the French during Algeria's civil war. I remain deeply affected by that experience today--by the people I tried to help and could not, and by their families, which suffered the most terrible grief. I heard the victims' stories, examined their permanently broken bodies and looked into faces that could not see me because of the irreparable damage done not only to their senses but also to their brains. As I have studied reports of torture throughout our troubled world since then, I have always found comfort in knowing that at least it did not occur here, not among Americans.

Now that comfort is shattered. Reports of torture by U.S. forces have been accompanied by evidence that military medical personnel have played a role in this abuse and by new military ethical guidelines that in effect authorize complicity by health professionals in ill-treatment of detainees. These new guidelines distort traditional ethical rules beyond recognition to serve the interests of interrogators, not doctors and detainees.

Later in the column, Dr. Lee joins the call for an independent commission to investigate torture in American detention facilities, including Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Such a commission would be a good first step toward the reformation that must occur in our national commitment to human rights.

Addressing Poverty at Gleneagles

The G8 Summit at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland this week will be presented with a historic opportunity--and a responsibility--to take meaningful steps to end the most extreme forms of poverty in the world. For President Bush, it will be an interesting test measuring the compatibility of his conservative political ideology with his Christian beliefs.

What should happen at Gleneagles? At a minimum, the G8 leaders should be expected to commit their states to spending 0.7 percent of GDP for the relief of poverty, a target developed at the 2002 Monterey Financing for Development Conference. (Two G8 members, France and the U.K., have already committed to reaching the 0.7 percent level by 2012 and 2013, respectively.)

For a view of what's at stake and what can be done, see this interview with economist Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, or Sachs's article in the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "The Development Challenge" (.pdf file). To the objection that ending poverty is a fantasy that no one should take seriously as a policy goal, Sachs replies, "When John Maynard Keynes was writing at the height of the Great Depression in 1930, he said there would be no more extreme poverty in Europe and America by the end of the 20th century--no starvation or absolute desperation. It sounded like fantasy then too, but Keynes got it right."

But isn't the United States already incredibly generous with those around the world who are in need? In a word, no. In a recent op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times, Sachs wrote the following:

Total annual U.S. aid for all of Africa is about $3 billion, equivalent to about two days of Pentagon spending. About $1 billion pays for emergency food aid, of which half is for transport. About $1.5 billion is for "technical cooperation," essentially salaries of U.S. consultants. Only about $500 million a year--less than $1 per African--finances clinics, schools, food production, roads, power, Internet connectivity, safe drinking water, sanitation, family planning and lifesaving health interventions to fight malaria, AIDS and other diseases.

But is a commitment to spend 0.7 percent of GDP for global poverty relief politically feasible for the president of the United States? In other words, would the American people accept such a commitment on their behalf? According to a just-released poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), 65 percent of Americans would accept such a commitment if other rich nations did so as well. (Among Democrats, 77 percent expressed support; among Republicans, 57 percent--still a solid majority--did so.)

The facts are on the table. What will the G8 do this week? What will President Bush do on behalf of the United States? What, in the end, will his moral values guide him to do?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

"Hooked on Oil"

Candor is not President Bush's strong suit, but let's give him credit where credit is due. In an interview aired on Danish television Thursday night, Bush explained his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol by noting America's dependence on petroleum. "We're hooked on oil from the Middle East, which is a national security problem and an economic security problem," he said.

The oil-security nexus is something that Dan Caldwell and I deal with in our forthcoming book, Seeking Security in an Insecure World. Although the dependence of the United States on oil imports from the Middle East is no secret, it is highly unusual for President Bush--or any member of his administration--to draw attention to it. Even more unusual (and perhaps even unprecedented) was Bush's characterization of our petroleum dependence as "a national security problem." He's absolutely right about that.

Kissinger Apologizes

If you live long enough--and your name is Henry Kissinger--you may have a lot of apologizing to do.

Kissinger, now 82, has apologized for calling Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi a "bitch" in a conversation with President Nixon in 1971. The remark, along with Nixon's reference to her as "an old witch" and Kissinger's reference to the Indians as "bastards," were revealed recently when the State Department declassified foreign policy documents from that period.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Live 8, G8

With the Live 8 concerts just hours away and the G8 summit just days away, it's worth taking a look at the ONE Campaign sponsored by Bill and Melinda Gates. A television ad for the ONE Campaign featuring Nelson Mandela aired tonight in LA during the late local news.

Bush on Iraq

I want to back up a few days and offer some comments on President Bush's speech concerning Iraq at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on Monday night. First, though, it may be worth looking at this Flash animation that depicts Coalition casualties in Iraq day by day since the war began in March 2003. As Matthew Gross, whose blog pointed me in the direction of the casualty map, aptly noted about the colored flashes, "Those are people, you know."

The speech on Monday was squarely within the "stay the course" genre. Bush offered no adjustments to the course, no indication of where, exactly, we are on the course (and of course no indication of when we can expect to have completed the course), and no acknowledgments of ever having been off course. More disturbing, however, is the fact that the speech suggested that Bush believes we're on a course in Iraq that few others believe to exist. Five times Bush invoked 9/11 in the speech in spite of the fact that the final report of the 9/11 Commission disavowed any link between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. Repeatedly Bush spoke of Iraq, as he often has, as the central front in the "war on terror" in spite of the fact that experts worldwide believe the war in Iraq has served as a recruiting tool and a training ground for terrorists. Bush's message was, in effect, "trust me" in spite of the fact that little he has said about Iraq since 2002 has been trustworthy. In short, Bush said nothing in the speech to offer hope, shore up his credibility, or suggest that he has the situation under control.

Consider what others have said about the speech. Here are three columnists to start with: