In an oped in yesterday's NYT, Al Hunt says:
Alberto Mora says it’s "politically unthinkable" to criminally prosecute the top Bush administration officials who sanctioned torture. He also says it’s "legally unthinkable" not to hold them accountable.
It is a fine synopsis of the supposed conundrum that has gripped all of the people in America who purport to be experts on such things. But consider it plainly, for just a moment. Which of the two is worse?
If you have something that is "politically unthinkable", and something that is "legally unthinkable", are those truly two equal evils? Are we truly going to submit, as hypothesis, that in a choice between taking an action which is politically convenient but criminal, or politically devastating but legal, that it should be a tough decision for a government to make?
This is why the entire debate makes me ill. I think we are all used to the notion that there are monsters among us: Charles Krauthammer is as divorced from both morality and reality as one could possibly be, which is precisely why he continues to retain supposedly respectable venues for his scribblings long after every one of his prognostications has proven to be as wrong as his arguments are corrupt. It is another thing, though, to find the stomach to accept that indeed, an even share of our supposed greatest minds truly find any of this to be a quandry. Can we follow this law, if important people violated it? Or would asking that our laws be followed even by the powerful be -- shudder -- vengeful?
Mora says, as cited by Hunt, that prosecutions of political elites would "tear the country apart." It is astonishing how well-travelled that particular canard is. It made it from the age of Nixon to our present day with surprisingly little wear and tear, so carefully has it been tended to by our political betters (mostly the same tenders now as then, uncannily enough.)
But again, what is the greater danger to a nation: that the law be applied to the politically powerful, or that the politically powerful be declared immune from inconvenient laws? Is this truly something worth pondering? Is there any bulb so dim, in our political string of lights, to honestly, genuinely believe that this country cannot stomach abiding by the laws it sets out for itself?
It seems an argument that could only spring from insipid cowardice. The author of the "tear our country apart" argument is saying, by proxy, that they themselves cannot bear to see the law applied in a particular case, and fear chaos because they naturally assume the rest of the nation is as corrupt as they are, or as enamored with the privileged as the privileged themselves are. I think neither is likely to be the case, but I am fairly certain that a continued history of immunity from the consequences from their actions would be a corrupting influence.
I am honestly not sure what else could possibly be said. Last week saw President Obama state, directly: "I believe waterboarding is torture." He need not have put the qualifier, "I believe," because waterboarding has been considered torture since long, long before we currently pretended at a debate about such a thing. Torture is a violation of both American and international law.
That should be the last words on the subject from the president's mouth: from here we should expect to see not a "truth commission", or a "blue-ribbon panel", or any of the other vacuous approximations of justice that are hastily constructed when something abominable is done by somebody too significant to be merely judged by the standards and laws held out for every last one of the rest of us, but a criminal investigation that uncovers what was done, how it was done, and who did it.
It is impossible to maintain the fiction that waterboarding even a heinous criminal one hundred and eighty-some-odd times, keeping a medical staff and preparations for immediate tracheotomy on standby in case something "goes wrong," does not rise to the level of torture. For that matter, you cannot claim that anyone who is knowledgeable enough about what waterboarding is, with enough expertise to know how to do it "safely", would never have been exposed to the rather central fact that the process was historically considered to be torture, regardless of whatever legal documents were horked up just before or just after the act.
Imagine how monstrous it would be -- how indescribably vile, how shudderingly evil -- if an investigation uncovered evidence that waterboarding was indeed done as futile attempt to find links between al Qaeda and Iraq that never existed. That the hundredth or hundred-fiftieth torture event was undertaken to get "evidence" that the prisoner could never have had to begin with, not after the first session of torture, the second, or the first few dozen.
No, we cannot even think such a thing. The first assertions from the torturers were that we did not torture; then the argument was that we did, but only for scant moments. No we know that we did it often, that we made a policy by Executive Order of treating prisoners inhumanely, in violation of our laws. The bargain we are asked to accept now, in this current round of justification for carving away at our own humanity, is that yes, we may have done it, we may have committed that which we would consider a war crime if done by any other nation, but it was effective. We gained from it -- and more than we lost, I would presume. According to Krauthammer and dozens of others, the current distinction between a war crime to be prosecuted and one to be ignored is now simply one of effectiveness.
So now we will have that debate as well, and a year or two from now we will, I hope, appropriately feel like monsters for even entertaining such a thing, but not before a great many people furrow their brows and consider it a while. Likewise, we will consider Mr. Mora's words, and whether or not we can stomach risking our fine nation on such a trivial and petty thing as enforcing our own laws and moral fiber.
But we are at least beyond the point where we can pretend the actions of the proponents of "enhanced interrogations," to use their own euphemism, were legal. That would seem to make the next required steps very clear indeed.
President Barack Obama's spokesman confirmed in January that the president is committed to ending the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which prohibits gay and lesbian soldiers from being open about their sexual orientation. The official White[...]
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Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele appealed to the political middle Friday to join his party but added that the party itself wouldn't moderate.Steele's line reminds me of the usual refrain you hear from gay Republicans who tell you that their Republican coworkers are really nice to them, but their gay friends, less so. Of course, that's because they've betrayed their gay friends for their Republican coworkers. Similar issue here. Steele loves moderate Republicans, provided they betray their principles and work for people, for politics, for ideas they don't endorse or even like. Hell of a bargain.
"All you moderates out there, y'all come. I mean, that's the message," Steele said at a news conference. "The message of this party is this is a big table for everyone to have a seat. I have a place setting with your name on the front.
"Understand that when you come into someone's house, you're not looking to change it. You come in because that's the place you want to be."
Thirty years ago, I bought a t-shirt that read My Race is Human that I wore threadbare. It drew a variety of reactions. An elderly black woman walked up to me and hugged me as I was walking down the street, and a colors-flying biker once spit at me and called me a "nigger lover." I smiled sweetly and said "I would rather embrace every person of color on the face of the earth than be aligned for one second with a low-life thug like you. Enjoy this side of the prison bars while it lasts." He followed me for a few steps as I made my way back to my car, swearing at me some more and calling me a few more names, and I had the mace on my keychain at the ready should he make some sort of threatening move, but spraying him wasn't necessary and I got the hell out of that spot-in-the-road on Highway 2 that cuts across the southern-most counties in Iowa and didn't stop for gas in towns that sported Harley dealerships after learning that life-lesson in one take.
Thirty years later, we have a black man in the White House and idiots like that biker dude are, mercifully, a dying breed - and there are more like me than there are like that racist idiot.
The hostile reactions that old t-shirt drew my way all those years ago came back to me when I stumbled across Bob Marley's One Love - remade for the Playing for Change series of videos.
With the switch of Sen. Arlen Specter (PA) to the Democratic party, the top GOP slot on the Judiciary Committee opened up. The Hill reports that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has secured the spot:
Under terms of the deal, Sessions will serve as ranking member until the 112th Congress, when he will take over the ranking member post on the Senate Budget Committee. Current Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is retiring at the end of the 111th Congress.
Grassley, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, will then become ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.
The Hill reports that the move is “likely to please conservative organizations around Washington,” who view Sessions as “the better spokesman, and more likely to lead the Republican charge in questioning the nominee.” In 2005, Sessions spoke out against the use of the filibuster to block President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees — will he do the same for President Obama?
Not to fill the blog with Arlen Specter related content this morning, but this bit from Meet the Press deserves to be quoted. MR. GREGORY: Do you support taxing the value of, the value of employer-provided health care for workers?SEN. SPECTER: No, I'd[...]
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It's Monday so usually the first thing the Dog writes is the weekly torture letter,that is going to be a little later but there is something going on that he thinks the DD crew is uniquely suited to address. We are seeing a massive increase in the number[...]
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Generally speaking, I'm a big Robert Reich fan. But his explanation for why the president is going after a variety of tax breaks that help corporations hide international income makes very little sense.The president needs the cooperation of many big[...]
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ONCE UPON A TIME... ONCE Upon a Time:In the days when Chicken Little was still a yolk, Henny Penny was bustling about her yard thinking of all the frantic important things Henny Penny always thought like "It's only a matter of time before Farmer John[...]
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Today, Sunday Loon Watch focuses on former Republican (edit: and now Democratic) Senator Arlen Specter's interview on Meet the Press.
In the interview, Specter came out clearly and unambiguously against a key part of President Obama's health care reform plan, the establishment of an optional public health plan. (Democratic Senator Ben Nelson also doesn't support the president's plan.)
In another interesting comment, Specter affirmed his opposition to using reconciliation to pass health care reform, putting the possibility of a filibuster on the table.
Watch (transcript below the fold):
Apparently, Specter doesn't realize that if he stands in the way of progress on key priorities like health care reform, he could find himself just as unpopular within the Democratic Party as he was in the Republican Party.