Scroll down for Amygdala archives! You know you want to. [Temporarily rather borked, along with rest of template.]
Amygdala's endorsements are below my favorite quotations! Keep scrolling!
Amygdala will move to an entirely new and far better blog template ASAP, aka RSN, aka incrementally/badly punctuated evolution.
Tagging posts, posts by category, next/previous post indicators, and other post-2003 design innovations are incrementally being tweaked/kludged/melting.
Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
Commenting Rules: Only comments that are courteous and respectful of other commenters will be allowed. Period.
You must either open a Google/Blogger.com/Gmail Account, or sign into comments at the bottom of any post with OpenID, LiveJournal, Typepad, Wordpress, AIM account, or whatever ID/handle available to use. Hey, I don't design Blogger's software: sorry!
Posting a spam-type URL will be grounds for deletion.
Comments on posts over 21 days old are now moderated, and it may take me a long while to notice and allow them.
I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
you are welcome to do so via the PayPal buttons.
"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
DEALING WITH THE TORTURERS. David Cole examines what we should do.
Some crucial chunks:
[...] The smoking gun is the Army's log of the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani. Al-Qahtani was thought to be the twentieth hijacker; he was denied entry to the United States in August 2001 at Orlando Airport, where Mohamed Atta, the leader of the September 11 attacks, was waiting to meet him. It was his interrogation that prompted the military to authorize new coercive techniques. The log of al-Qahtani's interrogation, leaked to the press and initially published by Time magazine, provides a detailed, minute-by-minute account of the tactics employed against al-Qahtani, all of which had been approved by Rumsfeld in his one-page memo.
Over fifty-four days, beginning in late 2002, al-Qahtani was interrogated for eighteen to twenty hours each day, denied anything more than four hours' sleep per night, threatened with dogs, stripped naked, hooded, forced to wear women's underwear on his head, humiliated sexually by female interrogators, subjected to extreme heat and cold and loud noises, doused with cold water, and injected with intravenous fluid and not allowed to go to the bathroom so that he urinated on himself. The account has been public for some time, but Sands brings it to life, using it as a kind of drumbeat of reality throughout the book by closing nearly every chapter with a short excerpt from the log.
The Army investigated the interrogation of al-Qahtani and concluded that no laws were broken and that nothing inhumane was done.
When Sands asked Dr. Seltzer whether she thought the treatment had produced severe physical or mental pain, the legal threshold for torture, she pointed to the Army's own recording of al-Qahtani's expressions of distress. Sands puts them together in a single quotation, editing out the tactics that produced the reactions. It is the closest thing we have to seeing the experience through the eyes of its victim, and it is truly harrowing. Here is a portion:
Detainee began to cry. Visibly shaken. Very emotional. Detainee cried. Disturbed. Detainee began to cry. Detainee butted SGT R in the eye. Detainee bit the IV tube completely in two. Started moaning. Uncomfortable. Moaning. Turned his head from left to right. Began crying hard spontaneously. Crying and praying. Began to cry. Claimed to have been pressured into making a confession. Falling asleep. Very uncomfortable. On the verge of breaking. Angry. Detainee struggled. Detainee asked for prayer. Very agitated. Yelled. Agitated and violent. Detainee spat. Detainee proclaimed his innocence. Whining. Pushed guard. Dizzy. Headache. Near tears. Forgetting things. Angry. Upset. Complained of dizziness. Tired. Agitated. Yelled for Allah. Started making faces. Near crying. Irritated. Annoyed. Detainee attempted to injure two guards. Became very violent and irate. Attempted to liberate himself. Struggled. Made several attempts to stand up. Screamed....
Dr. Seltzer concluded that al-Qahtani had undoubtedly suffered severe emotional and possibly physical distress.
You think? What would most Americans think if this treatment had been described as the work of the German Gestapo, or the Soviet KGB, or the Japanese during WWII, against captured U.S. troops or spies?
What if U.S. soldiers or spies had been interrogated for eighteen to twenty hours each day, denied anything more than four hours' sleep per night, threatened with dogs, stripped naked, hooded, forced to wear women's underwear on their heads, humiliated sexually by female interrogators, subjected to extreme heat and cold and loud noises, doused with cold water, and injected with intravenous fluid and not allowed to go to the bathroom so that they urinated on themselves?
What if this happens to one of our soldiers today, say, in Afghanistan, or Iraq?
Would Americans dismiss it harmless? Acceptable? Or condemn it as brutal torture?
Who was responsible?
[...] Sands pressed this point with Feith, prompting a striking admission. As Sands relays the dialogue:
I was...curious about the connection between the decision on Geneva and the new interrogation rules approved by Rumsfeld at the end of 2002.... I observed to Feith that his memo to the President and the Geneva decision meant that its constraints on interrogation didn't apply to anyone at Guantánamo. "Oh yes, sure," he shot back. So that was the intention, I asked. "Absolutely," he replied, without any hesitation. Under the Geneva Conventions no one there was entitled to any protection. "That's the point."
[...] Others are also portrayed in a surprising light. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the Rumsfeld memo was adopted, had, by his own account, astoundingly little understanding of what was at stake. At one point, he told Sands that all the coercive measures approved by Rumsfeld were already authorized by the Army Field Manual; in fact, none of the tactics were permitted under the manual. Sands concludes that Myers was "hoodwinked" by Rumsfeld and Haynes. General James Hill, who headed the Southern Command and passed Diane Beaver's memo up the chain to Washington, admits to Sands that he would never have approved some of the tactics Rumsfeld okayed. And military intelligence experts closely involved with the Guantánamo interrogations tell Sands that no valuable information was obtained from al-Qahtani.
But documents disclosed in the course of the hearings now show that when the coercive measures were under consideration, top lawyers for every branch of the military—the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps—objected that the tactics might be illegal. The comments encouraged Jane Dalton, legal counsel to General Myers, to undertake a more detailed review of the legal questions posed—until General Myers, at Haynes's request, ordered that the legal inquiry be quashed. It appears that General Myers may not have been hoodwinked after all.
The critical question, now that the administration is changing hands, is how to address the fact that the United States after September 11 adopted an official practice of cruel, inhuman, and degrading interrogation tactics, some of which, including at a minimum the interrogation of al-Qahtani and the waterboarding of CIA suspects, rose to the level of torture.
And while good faith is certainly a factor to be considered in making the discretionary decision whether to prosecute, it is not in itself a legal defense to the crimes of torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.
Others, such as Michael Ratner and the Center for Constitutional Rights, call for criminal prosecution. Their book, The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld, convincingly makes the case that Rumsfeld committed war crimes, and is a useful companion to Torture Team because it includes excerpts from all the critical evidence and a lucid explanation of the legal issues. The center has formally petitioned the German and French governments to bring criminal charges, but both have thus far declined.
Criminal prosecution within or outside the United States is highly unlikely. At home, the Justice Department's "torture memo" would be a legal defense for any but the lawyers who wrote it, and Congress, in the Military Commissions Act, granted retrospective immunity to officials involved in the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects in the wake of September 11. The latter immunity, Sands points out, actually makes US officials more susceptible to prosecution overseas, because it removes a major impediment to international prosecution—namely, the principle that universal jurisdiction should not be exercised as long as domestic remedies are available. Still, as a matter of realpolitik, it is difficult to imagine any nation greeting the Obama administration with an international prosecution of former high-level US officials.
But even if criminal prosecution seems unlikely, the acts of the past administration demand accountability. Here's what Eric Holder, whom Obama will nominate as attorney general, said several months ago:
Our government authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance against American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants and authorized the procedures that violate both international law and the United States Constitution.... We owe the American people a reckoning.
That "reckoning," owed not just to the American people but to the world, will be made especially difficult by the fact that complicity in the torture policy reaches the very top of the Bush administration. The tactics used by the CIA in its interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other "high-level" detainees, including waterboarding, were specifically approved in the White House situation room by Vice President Dick Cheney, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Attorney General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Ashcroft is reported to have remarked that "history will not judge us kindly," but none of the participants is reported to have objected to the tactics. On December 15, Vice President Cheney acknowledged for the first time that he had authorized and continues to support techniques including waterboarding. "I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared," Cheney told ABC News. Apparently CIA officials insisted on such high-level approval as a form of insurance against future prosecution.
This poses a real political dilemma: How is President Obama, committed to bipartisan leadership, to hold such officials accountable? A prosecution of any of these men would be as divisive a criminal case as the United States has ever seen—even if it could surmount the legal hurdles identified above. Just launching an investigation will be bruisingly controversial.
Must we then settle for the judgment of history that Ashcroft worried about? In some sense, that judgment has already begun to take shape, thanks to the efforts of Sands, Ratner, enterprising journalists like Mark Danner and Jane Mayer, and especially the ACLU, which forced the disclosure of over 100,000 documents on the interrogation policy by filing a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. Administration of Torture, a guide to those documents with excerpts from the most interesting, will prove an immensely useful resource for future historians.
Without prosecutions or an independent investigation, significant progress toward repudiating the administration's approval of cruelty and torture has already been made. In 2006 the Supreme Court rejected President Bush's position that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the conflict with al-Qaeda. The military rescinded its authorization of coercion, and has limited itself, in the Army Field Manual, to noncoercive interrogation tactics. The CIA has reportedly abandoned waterboarding, and there have been no reports of renditions to torture in foreign countries for several years. The Justice Department rescinded the August 2002 "torture memo"—although, as noted above, the replacement memo did not alter the department's approval of illegal CIA tactics. Congress, under the leadership of Senator John McCain, resoundingly rejected a White House interpretation that the Torture Convention's prohibition on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment exempted foreign nationals held outside the United States; the McCain Amendment provides that the prohibition applies to all persons held by US officials, no matter where they are located.
Critically, however, while the administration has been forced to retreat, there has been no official acknowledgment of high-level criminal wrongdoing. The treatment of prisoners authorized by the administration clearly violated the prohibitions on cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment contained in Common Article 3 and the Torture Convention; and waterboarding unquestionably qualifies as torture. All these violations were war crimes. Yet no high-level official has been held accountable for the torture policy.
But surely Congress can change this?
[...] And apart from this, Congress has largely acted symbolically, avoiding any real measures to enforce accountability. The McCain Amendment, for example, provides no sanctions for its violation. The Military Commissions Act not only retrospectively gave immunity to interrogators, but prospectively watered down the War Crimes Act so that inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees is no longer a war crime.
But at least the CIA has stopped abuses and torture, right?
While the CIA claims to have abandoned waterboarding, the administration has refused to say what tactics CIA interrogators are still permitted to use. Its secret prisons, into which suspects are disappeared for incommunicado interrogation, remain open. The administration has never repudiated the practice of rendering suspects to third countries for interrogation by torture, and has never held anyone accountable for that practice. And several still-secret and still-governing Justice Department memoranda from 2005 reportedly authorize the CIA to continue using coercive tactics even after the McCain Amendment was passed. In March 2008, President Bush vetoed a bill that would have required the CIA to limit itself to interrogation techniques approved in the Army Field Manual.
So, where does that leave us?
[...] In short, the United States has never taken full responsibility for the crimes its high-level officials committed and authorized. That is unacceptable. In the long run, the best insurance against cruelty and torture becoming US policy again is a formal recognition that what we did after September 11 was wrong—as a normative, moral, and legal matter, not just as a tactical issue. Such an acknowledgment need not take the form of a criminal prosecution; but it must take some official form. We have been willing to admit wrongdoing in the past. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, officially apologizing for the Japanese internment and paying reparations to the internees and their survivors. That legislation, a formal repudiation of our past acts, provides an important cultural bulwark against something similar happening again. There has been nothing of its kind with respect to torture.
You know, I really, really hope we don't have to wait some forty odd years to make good on our wrongdoing of the past seven years. I really hope that there will be investigations, and prosecutions, of Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, and their responsible underlings, including Feith, Yoo, Bybee, and others.
But at least we can get some fucking declarations from Congress and the new President. At least we can get that.
Not that I'll hold my breath. I'll damn well call for it, though.
Great overview, Gary, on an issue that needs to be discussed more. This is my most comprehensive post on the subject, but sadly, I think the national discourse has grown worse with apologists running around and NPR not even using the word torture in some reports (not even "what critics call torture"). We need to fix that.
I too hope we can do something about it. I have blogged repeatedly about this very thing. We need to do something to help restore out standing in the world I think. Great writing. Please keep on with it as will I.
For the record, after some pondering, I've deleted "Todd's" comment, which is a monologue from the last season of The Wire, which has been left as a spam on a couple of dozen blogs over the past couple of days. Anyone interested can find it by looking around.
Thanks to everyone else for all the nice comments.
Torture is a terrible stain on our country, and I can't help being made ill when considering it puts us on the same level as defending the NKVD, Gestapo, KGB, the Japanese Kempeitai and military during WWII, and so on.
...the Constitution prohibits writs of attainders and the Geneva Conventions prohibits absolving people who commit war crimes. (Convention IV, Part IV, Section 1, Subsection III, Art. 148.) “No High Contracting Party shall be allowed to absolve itself or any other High Contracting Party of any liability incurred by itself or by another High Contracting Party in respect of breaches referred to in the preceding Article”...
http://fletcher.tufts.edu/multi/texts/BH241.txt (do a search for "Art. 148")
the preceding article (147) stipulates the things you can not do