Sunday, October 11, 2009

Nobel Ironies

Well, someone has finally come out with a suggestion for an alternate 2009 Peace Prize recipient -- the Washington Post editorialized that the prize should have gone to Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman killed during the Iranian uprising.

They seemed to forget that Nobels are not awarded posthumously.

Not to mention the fact that she died after the nominations closed.

Thing is, this suggestion would bring up the same objections as the Obama award -- it would not be a prize for accomplishment. Rather bizarre, especially because the editorial starts out by complaining that Obama's award was supposedly all prospective, not for any actual accomplishments.

I think that's clearly wrong -- there are concrete accomplishments to point to. Mark Kleiman gave a good summary of them.

Others make a more reasonable argument -- that the accomplishments aren't numerous enough yet, and that the award would be more fitting later. But it seems to me that these awards often go to works in progress. Human rights in Burma, ending apartheid, peace in the Middle East, fighting famine, ending global warming -- all of these causes were recognized by Peace Prizes long before the goals had been accomplished (indeed, most of them still haven't been accomplished). Still others complain that the changes haven't come as quickly or as sweepingly as they should have. I have a lot of sympathy for that viewpoint, but we have to remember that we aren't a dictatorship -- and sometimes leaders have to recognize limits on their powers.

These objections are quite different from the unhinged craziness coming from the right, which is nothing less than we should expect from them.

But still they are a bit surprising coming from the center and the left. I don't recall such complaints when Gore shared the Peace Prize, and that award was just as "aspirational", if not more so, than Obama's.

I think Obama's award is being held to a higher standard than previous Peace Prize awards. And that's sad.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Peace Prize Premature?

I think criticisms that the Peace Prize for Obama is coming too soon don't take into account the committee's own standards. See especially the highlighted bit. They're both rewarding him for turning the aircraft carrier and trying to make it easier for him to complete the turn.

And I think they're also rewarding the risks he took. A few international rebuffs could have seriously damaged his presidency, but he took the risk that they might happen anyway. I can't believe that the committee didn't take that into account.

Taken from (emphasis added):
The Nobel Peace Prize: From Peace Negotiations to Human Rights
Francis Sejersted
Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Commitee, 1991-1999
26 April 2001

I have cited the general clause in Nobel's will saying that the prizes should be given to those who "in the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit on makind." With regard to the Peace Prize, Nobel defined this as having "done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." The most difficult stipulation to live up to has undoubtedly been "in the preceding year." This is now understood to indicate the most recent contributions in the various cultural fields to which the will refers. Where the Peace Prize is concerned, the wording has been seen as opening up opportunities to engage in processes which have not yet reached a conclusion, but where there has been clear evidence of progress, as in the democratisation process in South Africa or the peace process in the Middle East, for which the Peace Prizes were awarded in 1993 and 1994. The Prize awarded in 1998 to John Hume and David Trimble of Northern Ireland can be seen in the same light. The Prize, in other words, is not only for past achievement, although that is the most important criterion. The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account. Among the reasons for adding this as a criterion is the obvious point that Nobel wanted the Prize to have political effects. Awarding a Peace Prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act – which is also the reason why the choices so often stir up controversy.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

One interesting bit about the CIA IG report

There's a section starting on page 78 titled "Abuse [redacted] at Other Locations Outside of the CTC Program".

The section reveals two incidents, one of which resulted in the death of a detainee. That takes about a page, with lots of gaps. Then there are three pages totally blacked out -- the rest of the section.

The blacked out part of the heading could easily contain the words "and Torture".

Did the IG say flat out that the CIA committed torture?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Blair's comments to the CIA about torture

For several days various right-wingers have been claiming that Admiral Blair's memo to CIA staff justifies the Bush Administration's use of torture. I think Blair's comments are being overblown. He said this: "High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country"

I don't read that as a claim that attacks were thwarted or that lives were saved. I read that as a claim that the "high value information" was all or mostly background. A "deeper understanding" could justly be described as "high value", but it is decidedly not what those pushing for torture claimed that torture was needed to provide.

Let's not forget, this was a memo to CIA staff, and so we can expect that he would not directly attack the people who work for him. Given that, I read the statement as the most positive spin possible to put on the facts -- and presumably he is in a position to know if somebody gave up information that thwarted an attack as a result of being tortured.

I find another of his statements revealing, too -- the one that "... I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given." Since we know that interrogators frequently exceeded even the wide latitude that the torture memos allowed them, this looks to me like a statement that he would not oppose prosecutions of those who didn't keep to the letter of the memos.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Torture CYA?

Hilzoy makes another valuable contribution to the discussion of the torture memos, and observes that "not a single one of the cases in which the United States has prosecuted people for waterboarding turns up in these memos".

There's also some interesting CYA going on in the footnote on page 44 of the PDF that cites Hilao v. Estate of Marcos, a civil suit. First, there's the weaselly, "The court reached no conclusion that the technique by itself constituted torture." But the footnote continues, "However, the fact that a Federal appellate court would even colloquially describe a technique that may share some [of the] characteristics of the waterboard as 'water torture' counsels continued care and careful monitoring in the use of this technique."

Clearly, this is a "don't come crying to me if you get dinged" warning.

But the case cited is interesting. A description of the case begins: "The district court instructed the jury that it could find the Estate liable if it found either that (1) Marcos directed, ordered, conspired with, or aided the military in torture, summary execution, and 'disappearance' or (2) if Marcos knew of such conduct by the military and failed to use his power to prevent it. The Estate challenges the latter basis for liability ... ". Certainly the memo constitutes at least aiding the CIA in the practice of waterboarding. And it does not take very much to conclude that it constitutes conspiring with them to evade the law. Could Bradbury have felt a bit nervous about his possible personal civil liability if any of the victims managed to gain access to the courts? Could he have been attempting to establish a pre-emptive "they didn't heed my warnings" defense?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Making lemonade

Let's hope that the granting of immunity from prosecution for war crimes to CIA operatives leads to some serious investigation of exactly what happened in those black sites and in Gitmo. Because if you can't be prosecuted, you can't refuse to cooperate with an investigation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bill Ayers and John McCain

The right-wing hyperventilating about Bill Ayers is clearly counterproductive -- we don't need today's NYT poll results to tell us that. Most people know instinctively that the attacks on Obama for knowing and working with Ayers are simply bullshit.

But the attacks keep on coming, in part because of the strong right-wing need to divide sheep from goats. Over and over we see the need, from the right side of the spectrum, to create pariah classes. Various Red Scares are prime examples, especially the blacklisting fad of the 1940s and 1950s. Then drugs became the new Communism, especially with the adoption of expensive and useless (for their ostensible purpose) drug testing regimes among employers. Then it wasn't your political associations that made one an outcast, it was the contents of one's urine.

Now we're back to associations again, with Sarah Palin's "palling around with terrorists" line.

But Ayers' journey really illustrates some of the best features of American society.

After a decade underground, Ayers surfaced, turned himself in, and faced the legal consequences of his acts. It certainly isn't his fault that the FBI and the Nixon Administration screwed up any chance the government had of prosecuting him under the law. Nor is that a fault in the system -- indeed, it's one of the system's strengths, as we know all the more clearly today, when we look on the actions of a government willing to ignore those laws.

And Ayers has led a law-abiding life ever since, by all accounts. He has become nationally known as an education reformer and done significant work in his community. People around the country have no problem with him personally or with the work he has done in recent decades. It is possible in America to reenter the society and to do constructive work within it (on the less hopeful side, it certainly helps things to have a family with money, and it hurts when you don't).

But a few people are unable to see the entire man and his entire life -- they prefer to focus exclusively on a few years and a few acts (which didn't cause any serious injuries or deaths -- the most the right wing can try to pin on Ayers is the accidental deaths of his own comrades when he wasn't even present). A lot of these people claim to be guided by religion, yet they have a significant problem with recognizing amends and offering forgiveness. The need to declare someone an outcast takes precedence, even when the object of their scorn has clearly done more good than harm over a lifetime.

If McCain is stupid enough to invoke Ayers at tonight's debate, the pettiness of his position will become much clearer.

Ironically, the right makes Ayers the anti-McCain. Ayers is supposed to be fully defined by a short period of his life when he broke the law. McCain is supposed to be fully defined by the short period of his life when he was a prisoner of war (had you heard he was a POW?). Neither is to be judged by the totality of his life so far -- only by a tiny segment of it.

And while Ayers has grown, McCain has shrunk. The reality never even came close to the myth, but over the course of the last few months McCain has thrown away most of what he has claimed to believe in. He has made common cause with the people who maligned him in 2000. He has abandoned a lot of long-held positions. I guess McCain has to hope that people do only remember one or two facts about a man's life -- because there's a lot he needs us to forget. Too bad that his worst time, like Ayers' best, is recent.

Update: Thomas Frank weighs in.