September 23, 2006

Torture: What Not to Say

The question of torture, an absurd discussion through most of the 20th century, has become a mainstream debate. The reason for this, like so many other reprehensible things, is that the morally hollow White House is framing the issue.

Everyone seems to accept this frame. When Bush says Common Article 3 of the Geneva Accords contains vague wording, no one points out that those words are a legal standard, and that they have never been challenged by anyone else in the world. Or maybe you've heard the "ticking time bomb argument," a hypothetical that's so full of fantasy and presumption that it wouldn't make the grade of a high school debate team.

The preferred argument against defining ourselves as torturers is one based on American self-centeredness: If we do it to others, others will do it to us. When the pundits talk of this angle, they often get even more parochial by pointing out that anti-torture White House-hopeful, John McCain was tortured himself as a POW in Vietnam. This bit of trivia diminishes McCain's opposition, as if it's just his personal peeve, something for which he must be indulged because of his status as a victim.

Completely absent in the discussion are two important elements. First one is that torture does not yield quality intelligence, according to military interrogators. Even the info beaten out of Al Qaeda figure, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was untrue, and that coerced testimony became the centerpiece of Colin Powell's lies to the UN that ginned up the invasion of Iraq.

A second vital, but missing element is the presumption of innocence. To be innocent until proven guilty has been the bedrock of our justice system for centuries. But in this debate it's often said, 'these guys are terrorists, they aren't really human beings.' To say this is to ignore the fact that the vast majority of those held at Gitmo, rendered to and tortured at secret CIA prisons (and Abu Ghraib before that) are guilty of nothing.

September 16, 2006

Making (Up) History

There are many ways to make up truth. The most effective technique requires multiple sources that reference and reinforce each other. For this to work, disparate authorities make seemingly small contortions of fact, and then others refer to these aggregated authorities to make the case that a falsehood is true.

This is what a Committee of the US House of Rep's was doing when the UN's Atomic Energy Agency (IAEC) busted their work. The House committee wrote a report exaggerating the nuclear threat posed by Iran, but the IAEC called that report, "incorrect and misleading," as well as "outrageous and dishonest."

The intended purpose of the report was to give the White House and other war mongers an illusion of evidence to support an attack on Iran. Once the lies had the imprimatur of a "government study," they could then be used as a tool of persuasion. The task of anyone disagreeing with the report would then be to disprove the multiple inaccuracies. In this way the debate becomes a level removed from the question at hand. This technique puts layers of questions into the discussion, making it more difficult for facts to separate themselves from the fiction.

The full effect can be seen by reviewing the work of the White House Iraq Group, and Judith Miller, former "journalist" for the New York Times. In this scam, White House officials led Miller to sources for stories that made their case for the invasion of Iraq, and then those same officials would refer to the New York Times to support their arguments. Much of that reporting was later discredited by the NYT editors, but long after the war had started, and with little public notice.

This technique is tried and true. We've seen it used effectively to cast doubt on the existence of global climate change, the probability of evolution, and the hazards of smoking.

It can also be employed locally as well. To dismiss an employee, for example, supervisors might place small and questionable concerns into an employee's file. When these one-sided anecdotes are taken together, they seem to add up to a larger issue. The employee, to defend herself, must then pick apart and dispute all the smaller complaints. These layers of fallacy are usually too much to overcome.

September 11, 2006

Remem Boring

Five years on, it's time to remember the 9/11 victims. These memories have filled columns, airwaves, and moments of silence all this past week, but starting tomorrow, for the next 364 days we can return to forgetting.

Remembering the victims of 9/11 is often a way to make a point, like when we disagree about art, history, or real estate. The victims also come in handy for sentencing convicted terrorists.

In time, perhaps September 11 will become a day like Memorial Day, which means more about barbecues than dead veterans.

September 5, 2006

Fear Campaign, Once Again

When two news items showed up next to each other on my Google News, I thought, 'hey, maybe these stories are related …' -duh.

But, talk about a desperately slow news day, or the lame state of our passive journalism. I guess we're all tired of that same old Death-in-Iraq-Rising-Poverty-Corrupt-Government-Katrina-Anniversary story. These were Google's top stories:

September 3, 2006

The Few, The Proud… Homeless and Handicapped

Maybe it's not so new, but if the US didn't invade Iraq, a new category of American would not be appearing on our streets. Vets of the Iraq war are more wounded than ever due to the advanced state of weapons (RPG's, IED's, etc.) and business-as-usual DoD. In a previous conflict, like Vietnam, Central America, or Somalia, there might have been some shrapnel in a leg, but in this war, that leg is blown clear off. Less obvious are the brain injuries.

While the brain is still a part of the body, soldiers with mental and emotional damage are also returning to a home incapable of dealing with them.

It is our inability to deal with these messed up heroes that will put many of them on the street. And the free market is stepping in to capitalize on America's bravest.

How does the White House support the troops? By cutting $910 million from the Veterans Administration budget.

ps - Speaking of the VA, that's an organization that works well, and proves single-payer healthcare can work in America.