Friday, June 24, 2005

It's time for the real apology

On Tuesday, I posted a lengthy piece (which I cross-posted on both my Reader Blog and the 2006 Elections Table at TPM Cafe -- see here) defending Dick Durbin and arguing that he needn't have apologized for stating the obvious: that the abuse of some prisoners in American detention facilities like Gitmo resembles similar (but, on the whole, much worse) abuse inflicted by the most grotesque tyrannies of the last century. The purpose of this post is different, however:


I won't get into the details of my defence of Senator Durbin. Suffice it to say here that he was right to suggest that when you hear about a man chained to the floor in the fetal position with no food or water, wallowing in his own urine and feces, in extreme heat, you don't think of America. You think of far worse perpetrators of torture. And that list includes Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and Pol Pot's Cambodia. But, no, it is America, at least the America of Gitmo. Note that Durbin didn't say that Gitmo is a gulag or a concentration camp, nor did he say that there is any moral equivalency between America and the genocidal totalitarian regimes of the last century. That's what the right would like everyone to believe -- but, of course, the right is lying and misreading and spinning in order to avoid a serious discussion about the real issue.

And that real issue is the torture itself. As one of the commenters to my post at TPM Cafe put it, "talking about the torture isn't the problem, the torture is the problem". Exactly. It's time for America's leaders, those at the top who enabled torture under America's watch, to apologize. Their rhetoric may speak to America's highest ideals, but at a time when wars are being fought and lives are being lost, they have brought America down into the gutter.

No one is saying that America is on par with Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia -- at least no one sensible -- but that doesn't mean that America is beyond reproach, not least when its leaders (and I'm talking to you Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Gonzales) have so sullied its lofty ideals and hampered the very noble goal of spreading liberty and democracy around the world.

It's time for some accountability. It's time for those in power to take some responsibility. And it's time for an apology.

(Not that I'm expecting one. Not from this crowd.)

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Is Karl Rove an evil genius? Or just a partisan idiot?

It's been a late night at The Reaction after some rather prolific days of writing, but I won't be able to rest until I post this. You're all familiar with the Durbin story -- a senator thoroughly misrepresented by the right and essentially forced to apologize (I wrote about it all here). To me, the outrage should be directed at the enablers and perpetrators of torture -- more on that in my next post -- not at those with a dissenting opinion who dare to raise the important questions (and to demand answers) about what's really going on in places like Gitmo. The torture is the outrage, not Durbin's subtle remarks.

But now we have a truly obnoxious example of partisan rhetoric that deserves our outrage. And it comes from Karl Rove, the Dr. Evil of the Republican Party. The Carpetbagger reports here (and includes the full transcript of Rove's comments). Please give it a read. Those of us who oppose the Republicans need to know as clearly as possible just what it is we're up against.

Key passages from Rove's speech to the Conservative Party of New York (along with my brief comments):

  • "Four decades ago conservatism was relegated to the political wilderness -- and today conservatism is the guiding philosophy in the White House, the Senate, the House, and in governorships and state legislatures throughout America. More importantly, we have seen the great rise of a great cause. Conservatives have achieved a tremendous amount in the past decades -- but there is more, much more, that remains to be done." [My comments: A scary thought, given the havoc they've already wreaked. But is conservatism really the "guiding philosophy" all over America? Uh, no. And it's certainly not Bush's big-government, fiscally-irresponsible, unilateralist, moralistic brand of conservatism, which isn't really conservatism at all.]
  • In the 2004 election, President Bush placed all his chips on the table. There was no trimming on issues, no 'campaign conversion,' no backing away from Social Security and tax code reform. The President persistently made the case for an 'ownership society'; championed a culture of life; defended the institution of marriage; stood with the people of Iraq in their passage to liberty; remained committed to spreading democracy in the Middle East; and continued to aggressively wage and win the war on global terrorism. President Bush showed himself as he is. He wanted a referendum on what he has accomplished -- and most importantly, on what he hopes to achieve." [My comments: A referendum on all that? Really? To me, Bush ran on fear and managed to play to his radical base even as he persuaded enough moderates to buy into his rhetoric in a time of war. Americans didn't re-elect him to institute some radical right-wing agenda (which he conveniently shrouded behind all that "war president" rhetoric). Oh, and have the Iraqis already undergone the "passage to liberty"? Did I miss something?]
  • "We are seizing the Mantle of Idealism. As all of you know, President Bush is making a powerful case for spreading human liberty and defending human dignity. This was once largely the preserve of liberalism -- but Ronald Reagan changed all that. It was President Reagan, you'll recall, who said the policy of the United States was not simply to contain Soviet Communism, but to transcend it. And we would, he argued, was because of the power of liberty. President Bush has built on those beliefs -- and he is committed to something no past President has ever attempted: spreading liberty to the broader Middle East. President Bush's eventual goal is the triumph of freedom and the end of tyranny in our world. This vision, which will require the concentrated work of generations, is consistent with the deep idealism of the American people -- and it is an idealism whose importance is being confirmed by history and events." [My comments: Idealism isn't conservatism. Somewhere, Burke and his noble followers are furious. Bush may have a vision of global democracy that smacks of end-of-history Hegelianism, but that's all it is: a vision backed up by rhetoric. Rice said some nice things in Egypt and Saudi Arabia the other day, but isn't it interesting that all this talk of democracy -- none of which was there in 2000 -- has taken over from WMDs as the justification for the Iraq war? How convenient.]
  • "[O]ur movement's growth has made us Agents of Reform. Edmund Burke, one of the most important figures in the history of conservatism, was known as an advocate of reform. He understood the essence of conservatism is applying timeless principles to changing circumstances, which is one of the keys to political success." [My comments: Oh, please. Do stop. You just look stupid(er).]
  • "Conservatives have long known that political liberty depends on a healthy social and moral order. And so the President is committed to strengthening society's key institutions -- families, schools, communities, and protecting those mediating structures so important to our freedom, like our churches, neighborhood and private groups - the institutions that inculcate virtues, shape character, and provide the young with moral education." [My comments: By vilifying gays and lesbians. Or at least by allowing them to be vilified by his bigoted base. And by working to tear down the separation of church and state. How un-American.]

And here's where it gets truly disgusting:

  • "Conservatives believe in lower taxes; liberals believe in higher taxes. We want few regulations; they want more. Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs. We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government. Conservatives believe in making America a less litigious society; liberals believe in making America a more litigious society. We believe in accountability and parental choice in education; they don't. Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a 'culture of life'; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion. But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to submit a petition." [My comments: It's not that simple, Karl. Conservatives (of the Bush mold) have run up a massive deficit that will bind future generations (hardly a Burkean thing to do), waged class warfare through tax cuts that favour the rich and a bankruptcy bill that will punish those who most need help, done everything possible to free up businesses to act abusively without fear of recrimination, taken extreme views on a wide range of moral issues (including stem-cell research, which the vast majority of Americans support, and abortion, which most Americans want to remain legal), and led America into a war in Iraq without anything in the way of a plan for post-war reconstruction -- how many Americans have died? how many Iraqi civilians? Needless to say, I could go on and on. (I would also add that liberalism, America's founding political philosophy, is more than just -- that's like saying that conservatism is nothing more than Pat Buchanan.]
  • "Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia. Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantanamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot -- three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the 20th century?" [My comments: Yet further misrepresentation of Durbin, who didn't say anything like that. Remember that playing the patriotism card is always a sign of desperation (the flag-burning amendment, anyone?)]

Okay, that's enough. Read the whole thing. Read it again. And get angry. Angry at the lies, the spin, the misrepresentation, the stereotyping. And speak your outrage.

And if you're a liberal, be proud. Liberalism is America's political philosophy -- in fact, much of today's conservatism is just co-opted liberalism -- not Rove's radical idealism.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Reaction at The Guardian

I was pleasantly surprised to learn today that I was mentioned (and quoted) at The Guardian's website. See here. Needless to say, it's quite an honour, especially for a newer blogger like me. As many of you know, The Guardian is one of the world's best and most respected newspapers, and I'm in the Newsblog section, where a short article on a specific topic is followed up with a round-up of various blogs that have addressed that topic. In this case, it's my recent post on likely successors to Chief Justice Rehnquist -- one of my shorter posts, and one that I wrote rather quickly, but, hey, it's great they liked what I had to say.

It hasn't taken me long to learn that it's tough to get noticed out here in the blogosphere, but in the almost three months I've been doing this I've met some wonderful people, and some excellent blogs now link to me in their blogrolls (see my own blogroll, right sidebar). And quite a few -- like Liberal Oasis, War and Piece, and AmbivaBlog -- have even linked to and/or commented on specific posts at The Reaction. Plus, I post regularly over at Centerfield (where I'm one of the group-bloggers), maintain a Reader Blog at TPM Cafe, and comment regularly at The Decembrist, Political Animal, The Carpetbagger Report, The Moderate Voice, and a few other of my favourite blogs. And that's really what the blogosphere is all about: blogs linking to other blogs, bloggers communicating with other bloggers, all within a virtual community. What I, for one, long for most is a link from the likes of Andrew Sullivan or Kevin Drum or Daily Kos or Instapundit or one of the other major players. But seeing my name (and my blog) at The Guardian's website is quite something, too.

I do apologize for the self-congratulatory nature of this post, but, well, I do need to pat myself on the back every now and then. Given how much work I put into this blog -- hours and hours a day, truly a second job -- it's nice to be rewarded with that kind of recognition.

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Is it time to give Condi her due?

Well, maybe. Hear me out.

I was one of those who were not impressed with Rice's performance as national security advisor. She may have had the ear of the president, but she was clearly outgunned by Cheney and Rumsfeld, and one wonders just how much influence she had in terms of both the war on terror and the Iraq war. And I worried that her appointment to Foggy Bottom would only solidify the unanimity that seemed to plague Bush's foreign policy team. At least Powell had independent stature, after all, and at least he could provide some sort of counterweight to the rest of that team. Or so I thought. In the end, was Powell all that effective? Did he balance out his opponents in the administration? Or was he not himself outgunned? As it turns out, Rice seems thus far to be an admirable successor to Powell. But where Powell was the outsider, Rice can balance out the rest of Bush's foreign policy team as an insider. She continues to have Bush's ear, but she now has the relative independence that comes with her position as secretary of state. No longer is she just the president's chief foreign policy advisor. Now she's one of his top Cabinet members. And the results are clear.

To be sure, the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree. Rice is still on Bush's side, as expected, and she's still representing Bush's interests in the international community. On Wednesday, for example, at a conference on Iraq reconstruction in Brussels, she announced optimistically that ''[t]errorism can be defeated in Iraq, it will be defeated in Iraq... When it is defeated in Iraq, at the heart of the Middle East, it will be a death knell for terrorism as we know it." Okay, but how? Unclear, unabashed optimism is, of course, the way of the Bush Administration generally -- consider Cheney's "last throes" comment -- but it would be nice to hear something other than unsubstantiated claims of hopeful resolution from the secretary of state.

Nonetheless, Rice is proving herself to be a forceful ambassador for democracy and justice, and this, I think, is where ever her harshest critics need to give her her due. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, according to the Times, she "called on Egypt and Saudi Arabia on Monday to embrace democracy by holding fair elections, releasing political prisoners and allowing free expression and rights for women". "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither," she said in Cairo. "Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." And she criticized Iran: "The appearance of elections does not mask the organized cruelty of Iran's theocratic state." But she added, "The United States has no cause for false pride, and we have every reason for humility".

Think about this. A woman. A black woman (neither of which could have gone over too well). In the very heart of the Arab world. Challenging Egypt and Saudi Arabia on their own turf. Addressing Iran and making a firm stand for democracy. Promoting democracy. One wonders what was going through the minds of her audiences. But she got her message across, and, in so doing, proved a capable proponent of liberal principles in an illiberal world, not to mention a fine representative of America's interests.

But that was not all. In recent days, she has met with Sharon and Abbas to help hammer out an agreement for a peaceful Israeli withdrawal from Gaza (see here); told Syria to "knock it off" in Lebanon, where it continues to foment instability (see here); and pressured Pakistan to return Mukhtaran Bibi's passport so that she can travel freely (see here and, for my take, here). That's an impressive record, especially when added to her comments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

This is not to say that all is well with Condi. Iraq continues to be a problem, and no one in the Bush Administration, Condi included, seems at all willing to admit that mistakes have been made and that perhaps the U.S. needs to reconsider its options. Blind optimism -- or, really, blatant denial -- doesn't help.

Regardless, let's give credit where credit is due, and, these past few days at least, Condi has done very, very well.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

How Mukhtaran Bibi got her passport back

Mukhtaran Bibi's story -- the story of an extraordinary woman who had the courage to stand up against a society that condemned her to be gang-raped and left her to die (see here and here for my previous posts) -- just got a little better. It is now being reported (see here) that the Pakistani government will return her passport. Although this means that she'll be free to leave Pakistan and travel to the U.S., she has said that he has no immediate plans to do so.

For Nicholas Kristof's most recent column on Ms. Mukhtaran, see here. Her story is, of course, an incredible one, and it seems that it may just end happily. But as Kristof notes, there are too many more just like her in Pakistan:
[M]ost victims in Pakistan are on their own. Earlier this year, for example, police reported that a village council had punished a man for having an affair by ordering his 2-year-old niece to be given in marriage to a 40-year-old man.

In another case this year, an 11-year-girl named Nazan was rescued from her husband's family, which beat her, broke her arm and strung her from the ceiling because she didn't work hard enough.

Then there are Pakistan's hudood laws, which have been used to imprison thousands of women who report rapes. If rape victims cannot provide four male witnesses to the crime, they risk being whipped for adultery, since they acknowledge illicit sex and cannot prove rape.

When a group of middle-class Pakistani women demonstrated last month for equal rights in Lahore, police clubbed them and dragged them to police stations...

And Kristof concludes with a valid comparison:
I've heard from Pakistanis who, while horrified by honor killings and rapes, are embarrassed that it is the barbarism in Pakistan that gets headlines abroad. A word to those people: I understand your defensiveness, for we Americans feel the same about Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. But rooting out brutality is a better strategy than covering it up, and any nation should be proud to produce someone like Ms. Mukhtaran.

This is where Ms. Mukhtaran's story needs to be more than just a gripping individual drama with a feel-good ending. She is an example of courage andperseverancee, to be sure, but her story has also brought international attention to the plight of so many other Pakistani women. Although much of our attention has been on this one woman, and rightly so, we also need to remember those other horrors, lest we allow one success to elicit complacency. Awareness, after all, may lead to further action, and other women like Mukhtaran Bibi may yet be saved.

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Desperate times, desperate measures: Bush, Bolton, and the new "nuclear option"

Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice has the latest on the possibility of a recess appointment for John Bolton. It will be interesting to see just how Bush handles this. Clearly, the Bolton nomination is stuck in the Senate, at least for now, as the Republicans just don't have enough votes to beat a Democratic filibuster. But what message would a recess appointment send? That a president who claimed to have so much political capital to spend after what he claimed was a decisive victory last November (at least enough of one to give him a significant mandate) needs to circumvent the Senate's "advice and consent" role to appoint his nominee? Well, Bush doesn't have much as much political capital as he thought and certainly nothing like a clear mandate to bully Congress, but doesn't the problem have more to do with Bolton himself? The Senate, after all, has approved Bush's other nominees within the executive branch, such as Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, without much in the way of opposition. I suspect that it would similarly have approved a less controversial nominee for U.N. ambassador.

I have no idea if Bush would resort to the "nuclear option" in the Bolton case -- that is, a recess appointment. All I know is that it wouldn't look good. Or, as Steve Clemons puts it in his latest update on the ongoing saga, a recess appointment "would be yet another sad commentary on the White House's refusal to take advice from the Senate that this person is wrong for the job and a flawed representative of American interests to the United Nations". Clemons has done an incredible job at The Washington Note following every twist and turn of the Bolton nomination, and, once again, he's right on the mark.

A recess appointment would signal nothing but desperation from a White House that seems to have very little left in the tank and a presidency that is rapidly losing the support of the American people.

Yes, I think it's time for John Bolton to withdraw. He surely needs to spend more time with his family.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Defending Durbin: Courage in a time of cowardice

As many of you know by now, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois recently set off a storm by implicitly comparing allegations of torture at Gitmo with similar practices commonly used by the Nazis and Soviets (as well as other grotesque regimes around the world). The right, which refuses to discuss or debate these torture allegations on the merits -- and, increasingly, the truth about the atrocious treatment of detainees at Gitmo and elsewhere is coming out despite the right's efforts to keep the lies alive -- has predictably spun Durbin's remarks into a vehicle for political gain by playing the patriotism card. How dare Durbin say such a thing? What kind of traitor is he? Comparing the American military to the Nazis like that! He needs to be censured! He needs to be kicked out of the Senate! Am I exaggerating? Hardly. Here's what Hugh Hewitt, hardly a voice of disinterested reason, has said in The Weekly Standard:

Not only did Durbin's remarks injure America's position in the world, provide an enormous propaganda victory to the enemy, and slander the United States military, they also represent an escalation in the political rhetoric of the left, which is designed to undermine the public's confidence in the military, the administration, and the war. The censure resolution will oblige every senator to go on the record about how they view the American military as we enter the long phase of the war.

The outrage over Dick Durbin's comparison of interrogation practices at Gitmo to the Nazi, Soviet, and Pol Pot regimes has deeply injured Durbin's reputation and the reputation of the Democratic party that keeps him in the number two leadership position in the United States Senate.

See what's going on? See the spin? Durbin has injured America. Durbin has aided the enemy. Durbin has slandered the military. Durbin is representative of "the left," which seeks to undermine public confidence (is there any left?). How you stand on Durbin and his treasonous remarks is how you stand on the military (as if Durbin blamed the entire military). Durbin compared American "interrogation practices" to what the Nazis and Soviets did. Durbin has brought low both himself and the Democratic Party.

Really? No. And Andrew Sullivan is right to call this "rank hysteria". Here's what really happened: In his remarks, which the right has conveniently removed from any semblance of context, Durbin was referring to a report by an FBI interrogator who witnessed some of those innocuous "interrogation practices" at Gitmo. For example:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold... On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

All Durbin said was this:

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime--Pol Pot or others--that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.

Andrew Sullivan responds in brilliant fashion:

Is Hewitt arguing that the interrogator was lying? Does he believe that the kind of tactics used against this prisoner are worthy of the United States? Does he believe that this happened without authorization? If he were told this story and informed that it occurred in, say, Serbia under Milosevic, would he be surprised? Hewitt should then answer the same question about the 5 detainees which the U.S. government itself has acknowledged were tortured to death by U.S. interrogators, and the scores of others who died in detention during or after "interrogation". Does he deny that this happened? Does he honestly believe that removing the legal restrictions on cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees by our current president had nothing to do with this? Maybe he needs a little refresher on the extraordinary range and scale of the record of abuse that is still accumulating. I'm just amazed that some can view what has happened and their first instinct is to attack those who have criticized it, rather than those who have perpetrated it. It is this administration that has brought indelible shame on America, and it's people like Dick Durbin who prove that some can actually stand up against this stain on American honor and call it what it is. Good for him. Thank God for him.

Absolutely. And this goes for Hewitt and all of Durbin's other critics on the right. Consider how the right is trying to turn Durbin himself into the issue. As Richard Cohen puts it in today's Post:

He has instead come under vitriolic attack by Republicans who would have you think that the Democrat from Illinois likened America to the Soviet Union or the American military to Nazi Germany or disparaged the military in its entirety. In the name of our armed forces, Virginia Sen. John W. Warner asked for an apology. Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House, called for Durbin to be censured by the Senate. That would be a more severe penalty than that accorded Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) for praising the late Strom Thurmond's racist 1948 presidential campaign.

Bill Frist, the Republican leader of the Senate, also called on Durbin to apologize -- although he himself did nothing of the sort when his videotaped patient, Terri Schiavo, turned out to be horribly brain damaged and not, as he suggested to the Senate, potentially treatable. Frist has lost the ability to blush, but not to mischaracterize. He said Durbin "called Guantanamo a death camp" -- words that do not appear in the text...

And so:

The contempt the Bush administration has shown for world opinion and international law -- not to mention American traditions of jurisprudence -- is costing us plenty. We are not the Soviet Union and we are not Nazi Germany, and Dick Durbin did not intend to say we are. His detractors have to know that. Their intention, however, is not to answer criticism but to silence a critic.

This is the reasoned response to the right's trumped-up charges against Durbin. It's possible to be for the war and to support the troops without resorted to the indefensible position of defending torture. No, they're not just "interrogation practices" -- let's call them what they are. But the right, which in the wake of the war's gross misconduct and increasing unpopularity has grown defensive and hypocritical, seems now to equate dissent on any issue, or even the questioning of the war's conduct, as treason. That is nothing if not deeply and profoundly un-American.

If the right wants to defend what's been going at Gitmo and other detention facilities, then, well, it's representatives should come out and be straight with the American people (and the rest of the world). Yes, let's have that debate. I'd welcome it. But what I suspect is that the right knows it would lose. Andrew Sullivan again:

If Durbin had said, as Amnesty unfortunately did, that Gitmo was another Gulag, I'd be dismayed and critical, as I was with Amnesty. There's no comparison in any way between the scale, intent and context of the Soviet gulags and Gitmo. If Durbin had said that what was being done there in the aggregate was comparable to Auschwitz or Siberian death camps, the same would be true. But Durbin said something subtler. Now I know subtlety is not something that plays well on talk radio. But in this case, it matters. Durbin focused on one very credible account of inhumane treatment and abuse of detainees and asked an important question...

So go ahead: answer his implied question. If you had been told that prisoners had been found in this state in one of Saddam's or Stalin's jails, would you have believed it? Of course, you would. In fact, I spent much time and effort before the war documenting the cruel and inhumane conduct of the regime we were trying to destroy - a regime whose cruelty encompassed low-level inhumanity like Gitmos - and, of course, unimaginably worse.

Yes, America once had the moral high-ground (no matter your position on the war), at least with respect to Saddam, al Qaeda, and the fascist jihadists in Iraq and elsewhere. In some ways, it still does, and I continue to reject the notion that there is any kind of moral equivalency here. But these allegations of torture -- no, let's call them what they are: these instances of torture -- perhaps isolated, but more likely part of a larger problem -- have destroyed much of that reputation. The right may spin these stories however they like, and they'll no doubt continue to do so, but the truth is that this prisoner abuse, not Durbin or the various comments of critics and dissenters, has "injure[d] America's position in the world" and "provide[d] an enormous propaganda victory to the enemy". To blame Durbin is to live in denial, but that's precisely where much of the intransigent right -- whether in Congress, the commentariat, talk radio, or the blogosphere -- finds itself today.

Along with Andrew Sullivan and Richard Cohen, Kevin Drum is right: "The 'outrage' over this incident is obviously manufactured and deserves to be treated with scorn." The real outrage should be directed at the perpetrators of torture and their military and political enablers -- and that, ultimately, means President Bush. The buck needs to stop somewhere. The right wants to deflect our attention away from the real issue, but we all know that the buck ultimately stops in the Oval Office. (Not that the occupant of that office is taking any responsibility for anything happening under his watch.)

On Monday, Senator Durbin stood on the floor of the Senate and apologized for "a very poor choice of words," for being unclear, and for possibly "cast[ing] a negative light on our fine men and women in the military". That he did so, and that he needed to declare that he loves America and respects the men and women in the military (as if that really needed declaring), speaks to the volume of the attacks hurled at him from the right. But he needn't have apologized. He said what he said because hearing of a man chained to the floor in the fetal position without food or water and wallowing in his own urine and feces does remind us, those of us who aren't deafened by the noise of partisan rancor, of the worst abuses of the twentieth century. No, Gitmo isn't a Soviet gulag or a Nazi concentration camp, but that doesn't mean that there aren't appalling similarities.

When so many of America's leaders see no evil and hear no evil and continue to live in denial, fiddling while prisoners in America's care are brutally tortured and denied their basic rights as human beings, Durbin's candid remarks reflect courage in a time of cowardice, a moral core in a time of political opportunism. Yes, good for him. We need more like him to step forward and face up to the real outrage that threatens America's standing in the world, indeed, that pollutes America's own moral core.

If America truly stands for liberty and democracy, is it too much to ask that it live up to its own principles?

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Bolton vs. the filibuster (the filibuster won)

The Bolton nomination continues to go nowhere, as Democrats stood firm once again on Monday to prevent it from going to the floor for a final vote. The Times reports here:

For the second time in a month, Senate Democrats blocked a vote on Monday evening on the nomination of John R. Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, raising the possibility that President Bush will circumvent the confirmation process and appoint Mr. Bolton when Congress recesses.

The final tally was 54 to 38, six votes short of the 60 required to break a filibuster, the parliamentary tactic that Democrats have used to forestall a final vote on the confirmation.

The vote, a setback for both President Bush and Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, came after the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., made a fruitless attempt to negotiate an end to the impasse with one of Mr. Bolton's chief Democratic opponents, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. With Mr. Biden and other Democrats holding firm in their demand for the White House to release information relating to Mr. Bolton, his future is unclear.

"At this juncture, I think it's a pretty tough climb," said Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, who has tried to broker a deal with Democrats, when asked if he thought Mr. Bolton would eventually be confirmed. He added, "We tried our best and we failed."

The next move, then, is up to the president, who must decide whether to use his constitutional authority to put Mr. Bolton in the ambassador's job when Congress takes a vacation, perhaps as early as the July 4 break...

I'm not getting my hopes up, and I certainly wouldn't put it past Bush to circumvent the Senate with a recess appointment. But at least the Democrats have done everything possible to prevent an atrocious confirmation. The U.S. needs an ambassador to the U.N. who can engage with the international community and present America's interests without alienating those who need to be persuaded that those interests are worth supporting. As I've argued a number of times at The Reaction -- most recently here and here (with links to previous posts) -- Bolton's just not the right man for the job, and the Democrats have every right not to consent.

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Weekend update (June 20, 2005)

It's been a busy weekend at The Reaction. From Friday evening through these early hours of Monday morning, there have been nine new posts, not including this one -- all in all, if I do say so myself, a fairly diverse output. The topics (in reverse order):

  • Gaza settlements;
  • the Supreme Court;
  • the Iraqi insurgency;
  • Mukhtaran Bibi;
  • Tucker Carlson;
  • Dick 'n' Jeb;
  • religious moderation;
  • Katie Holmes-Cruise; and
  • the Iraq Culture Smart Card.

As always, I invite you to scroll down and read them all -- the front page of The Reaction contains all posts from the last two weeks (for more, see the archives) -- but I also invite comments on any of these topics (and, indeed, on any of my posts).

One thing I want to stress, now that I've had a couple of months to settle in, is that I'm not here to pontificate. It is not my intention to write under the presumption that I know everything that there is to know about a given topic, and I've learned a great deal from the many comments -- both positive and negative -- that I've already received, so much so that I continually reevaluate what I've written (though I won't go back and edit what I've written -- I'm no revisionist) and reconsider my views accordingly. One good example is a comment by a Pakistani, Babar Hashmi, to my original post on Mukhtaran Bibi. Although I may not agree with a number of his points, he brought a valuable perspective to The Reaction, and his thoughtful comments prompted me to think more deeply about my own views of Ms. Mukhtaran's situation (and of Pakistan more generally). In addition, I am grateful to have a number of excellent contributors who comment regularly on my posts, and I encourage you to read what they have to say.

So feel free to have your say here. I try to respond to each and every comment, and, above all, you'll be taken seriously and respectfully. Just log in (if you have a Blogger account) or sign in with your name/pseudonym (or just as "anonymous," if you prefer), and go to it. In the meantime, that's the weekend, and I'll be back with more posts later today.

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(Positive) destruction in Gaza

Well, it's a start. According to the Times (see here), "Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to cooperate on the demolition of the 1,600 Gaza houses to be vacated by Israeli settlers in less than two months... The agreement represented the first concrete Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in Gaza after many months of disputes."

I've wrestled with my own positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for many years -- I think it's important to support Israel, for a number of reasons, but I also think that the only viable solution with respect to long-term peace is the withdrawal of Israel from disputed lands and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state. Call me a moderate, but the whole region could use some moderation if there is ever to be anything approaching peace. (And let's not forget that the violence continues.)

Anyway, this will be an interesting story to follow through the summer (and beyond, of course). For now, there is hope that Sharon and Abbas are moving in the right direction. And, yes, it's time to give Condoleezza Rice some credit. After years of avoidance and irresponsible neglect, the Bush Administration is finally dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a serious and productive manner, and Rice is clearly the way. Better late than never, I suppose, but there's still much to be done, and American involvement will continue to be crucial going forward.

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

And the next chief justice is...

According to the Post (see here), the three likeliest nominees are appellate judges John Roberts and Michael Luttig, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Other possibilities are appellate judges Michael McConnell, Harvie Wilkinson, and Emilio Garza, and former solicitor general Ted Olson. With Rehnquist's retirement coming soon, likely as soon as the Supreme Court's current term ends next week, we could be in for a significant summer battle over his successor.

Or perhaps not. After all, the Democrats likely won't challenge Rehnquist's replacement as strenuously they will the replacement of one of the more liberal justices. They may back off here, where the Court's balance isn't at stake, and instead save their ammunition for more important battles yet to come. In the meantime, Bush has a big decision to make, one that could cause a rift within the Republican Party if he doesn't go with a hardcore conservative to appease the right. Looking at the list of possible nominees, however, you know you're already in trouble when Gonzales (whom I opposed when his nomination came up for attorney general) seems like the best of the bunch.

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What the Iraqi insurgency is all about

Whatever we may think of the Iraq war, and of the American occupation, and however much we may criticize, rightly, the atrocious treatment of some detainees at American detention facilities like Gitmo, it's important to keep in mind just what the other side is doing. We know how brutally Saddam treated Iraqis, but we're finally getting a glimpse of just what the insurgents are like -- see here (it's a tough read, but an important one).

Let us debate the conduct of the war/occupation, but let us also keep in mind that we're all on the same side -- or, at least, we should be. I know it's hard to see that, especially for those of us on the left or in the center who disagree with the Bush Administration and who find much of the zealously pro-war right so repellent, but some perspective is required if we are to deal with Iraq without resorting to blind partisanship.

There will always be those on the extremes who refuse to see things as they are and who approach every issue with a mind to scoring political points, but let us at least try to do the right thing irrespective of the usual left-right divisions that plague American politics. And, for now, in that regard, let no one think that America and Americans are in any way on the same level of inhumanity as those who wage war on their own people and who don't give a damn about human life, whether Saddam or, now, the fascist jihadists who lead the Iraqi insurgency.

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Update on Mukhtaran Bibi: free at last (sort of)

Those of you who have been paying attention to the story of Mukhtaran Bibi -- I previously wrote about it here -- and even those of you who haven't (but should) will be happy to hear that this incredibly courageous woman has finally been freed by Pakistani officials. Sort of. Nicholas Kristof follows up here:
President Pervez Musharraf's government is still lying about Ms. Mukhtaran, saying that she is now free to travel to the U.S. Well, it's true that government officials removed her name from the blacklist of those barred from leaving Pakistan, but at the same time they confiscated Ms. Mukhtaran's passport.

And, yes, President Musharraf -- one of our "allies" in the war on terror -- is himself to blame for this:

[W]hen Pakistani officials learned that Ms. Mukhtaran planned to visit the U.S. this month, they detained her and apparently tried to intimidate her by ordering the release of those convicted for her rape. This wasn't a mistake by low-level officials.

Mr. Musharraf admitted to reporters on Friday that he had ordered Ms. Mukhtaran placed on the blacklist. And although Pakistan had claimed that Ms. Mukhtaran had decided on her own not to go to the U.S. because her mother was sick (actually, she wasn't), the president in effect acknowledged that that was one more lie. "She was told not to go" to the U.S., Mr. Musharraf said, according to The Associated Press.

"I don't want to project a bad image of Pakistan." he explained.

A bad image? I wonder how anything could be worse than the image of Pakistan that Ms. Mukhtaran's story presents to a world that -- let's face it -- doesn't really know much at all about Pakistan. Kristof says that "Pakistan is one of the most hospitable countries [he's] ever visited" -- I hope to visit it myself one day -- but the image one gets from stories like this is that Pakistan is a place where innocent women are gang-raped and essentially left to die, and then persecuted and threatened when they dare refuse to remain silent and submissive.

Musharraf may or may not be nuts, but "he has now met his match -- a peasant woman with a heart of gold and a will of steel". An example for us all.

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MSNBC's new weenie (hint: he wears a bow-tie and his name's not George Will)

Of course, it's Tucker Carlson, formerly Crossfire's "dick" (according to Jon Stewart -- click here for that oldie-but-goodie clip), and now, after much ado, he's in prime-time on MSNBC (which, for the sake of my own mental health, I try not to watch too much) with The Situation* (stupid name for a show, eh?). That he's up against CNN's Larry King Live and FOX's Hannity & Colmes, and hence is doomed to relative failure, is neither here nor there, but, speaking of Slate's Dana Stevens (which I did a few posts ago), check out her excellent (and quite hilarious) review of the show's first week.

Funniest passage: "Tucker Carlson comes off as your ultimate nightmare of the college roommate you might be assigned on the first day of freshman year: a smug yuppie smartass with a drawerful of perfectly folded pastel polo shirts. But there's something sneakily subversive about him, too -- he might surprise you by smuggling a bottle of bourbon under those shirts and sharing it with you over a late night of raunchy talk. The Situation is shallow, but far from unwatchable; it zips along at a healthy clip, getting in a few good digs along the way, and next thing you know it's over, and you're no worse off than you were before."

* Actually, it's The Situation with Tucker Carlson (here's the website, if you must). And Tucker's got a blog coming. Great. (Is this a Sign of the Apocalypse? Tucker, the show, the blog -- the whole to-do? Tempting... but no, not yet. I'll give it some time. Besides, it's just MSNBC. In the end, who cares?)

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