The Torturers’ Non-Defense

Jul 29 2014 @ 2:40pm

As we await the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Bush-Cheney torture program, some of those likely to go down in history as war criminals are gearing up for a self-defense. George Tenet, we are told, is among them. Here is how he once defended himself:

Mr. Tenet flashed his anger at these accusations in 2007, when he was asked about the interrogation program during an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes.” Wagging a finger at the correspondent, Scott Pelley, Mr. Tenet said over and over, “We don’t torture people.”

“No, listen to me. No, listen to me. I want you to listen to me,” he went on. “Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of that fact that there was so much we did not know. I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots.”

There are two defenses here: it wasn’t torture (even though it looks like it); and it was justified given the terrible intelligence failures of Tenet’s CIA operatives, who had no idea where the next attack might be coming from. It’s worth recalling in that context the actual words of the UN Convention Against Torture, which was signed by Ronald Reagan and torn to shreds by Dick Cheney. It guts both lines of Tenet’s purported defense. First up, there can be no attempt to craft techniques that are close to torture but designed to slip through a legal loophole. The Treaty’s full title is, for example, “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment“. The definition of torture is this:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Intimidation and coercion are also expressly forbidden, when implemented and authorized by an officer of state. President Reagan included the broad definition in his signing statement:

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

In other words, the entire point of the Convention is to prevent any wriggle room around what torture is and to include inhumanity. And if you don’t believe that stretching people till their limbs break, near-drowning them hundreds of times, hounding them day and night with sleep deprivation, or subjecting them to freezing temperatures, mock executions and amount to inhumanity, you are no longer human. In a court of law, Tenet would be out of luck.

Just as important, the context is irrelevant. Tenet’s plea to understand the context he was working in has no place here:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Get that? Read it again.

Ebola Deaths

We’re in the midst of it:

The outbreak is unprecedented both in infection numbers and in geographic scope. And so far, it’s been a long battle that doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

The Ebola virus has now hit four countries: Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and recently Nigeria, according to the country’s ministry of health. The virus — which starts off with flu-like symptoms and often ends with horrific hemorrhaging — has infected 1,201 people and killed an estimated 672 since this winter, according to the numbers on July 23 from the World Health Organization.

Dish alum Gwynn Guilford is alarmed by the spread of Ebola to Lagos:

So far, Ebola has been confined to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—war-torn and largely rural west African countries. But Lagos is different; not only is it Africa’s biggest city, with 21 million people. It’s also one of the world’s most densely populated. And perhaps scariest of all, it’s a center for international travel—meaning that if it’s not contained, the virus could easily go global. [Patrick] Sawyer’s was the first-ever recorded case of Ebola in Nigeria, according to the Nigerian Tribune.

So far, the Nigerian government’s efforts to contain it inspire little confidence.

The Bloomberg editors call for a Pan-African response to the outbreak:

Read On

Josh Rogin and Eli Lake autopsy John Kerry’s failed Gaza ceasefire proposal:

Two Israeli government officials told The Daily Beast that Israel could not agree to the Kerry draft proposal because it felt it would constrain the Israeli Defense Forces from finishing their mission to destroy the tunnels in Gaza. Yet Kerry’s proposal explicitly did not include a call for the IDF to withdraw from Gaza during the ceasefire. What’s more, U.S. officials told the Israeli government that tunnel work would be able to continue during the ceasefire, as it had during the previous short-term pauses in the fighting.

The Israeli government was not confident the IDF would be able to continue tunnel destruction inside Gaza during the ceasefire. The officials in Jerusalem were not willing to commit to any timeline for completing the tunnel mission because they were still discovering the extent of the tunnel network and thought the mission could take as long as three weeks to complete.

Saletan considers that demand a reasonable one, given the extent of Hamas’ tunnel complex:

One possible compromise might be a cease-fire that forbids further IDF movement in Upper Gaza but allows the IDF to continue demolishing Lower Gaza. No more tunnel hunting on the surface, but you can finish imploding the bunkers and passages you’ve already found. Both armies would object, but civilians on each side would be protected. If Hamas refused the deal, the IDF would keep moving through Upper Gaza to hit Lower Gaza. Israel would have to be held accountable, to make sure it respects the distinction and pulls out expeditiously.

In the longer term, each side needs more. Gazans need reconstruction aid, open borders, and autonomy. Israelis need an end to rocket attacks. All of these goals could be served by destroying the tunnels and weakening Hamas.

So what then could possibly explain the foul insults that senior Israeli officials leaked to the press? The proposal was a “strategic terror attack?” Jon Stewart noticed the contempt last night (see above), and he’s not the only one. You’d think the Israelis might have some appreciation for, say, the Iron Dome, which was made possible in part by Obama’s initiative and millions of US aid. But nah. The more US money the Israelis get, the more contempt they exhibit toward the US. Adam Taylor rounds up some of the commentary:

Read On

Chart Of The Day

Jul 29 2014 @ 1:38pm

Yesterday, Virginia’s marriage equality ban bit the dust. Burroway charts the progress of the gay rights movement:

Equality Chart

Emma Green explains what makes the VA ruling stand out:

The question of “rights” is exactly what makes this decision significant, said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. Unlike some other cases on same-sex-union laws, Bostic examines whether couples have a fundamental right to marriage. The judges applied strict scrutiny, the highest standard of legal review, under which the government has to show a compelling interest for limiting the plaintiffs’ ability to marry. “This court says very clearly: This is a fundamental right, and the government just didn’t meet their burden of explaining why there should be a [ban on] same-sex marriage,” Gastañaga said.

Dale Carpenter observes that the ruling referred to the ban as a form of “segregation”:

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Montaigne And Conservatism

Jul 29 2014 @ 1:20pm


A reader writes:

Andrew, you said in your appreciation of Montaigne:

Skepticism is not nihilism. It doesn’t posit that there is no truth; it merely notes that if truth exists, it is inherently beyond our ultimate grasp. And accepting those limits is the first step toward sanity, toward getting on with life. This is what I mean by conservatism.

I am a lifelong liberal, perhaps for genetic reasons (as some recent studies have proposed), conservative-soulbut most certainly because conservatism in America has, as you say elsewhere in your piece, degenerated into reactionary, xenophobic, fundamentalist, hate-inspired lunacy. So, yes, I am a lifelong liberal (also because as a gay man, now in his seventies, the liberal left always seemed to me to be more favorably disposed to accepting me and our kind, though slowly and reluctantly.)

But I tell you, I heartily and wholeheartedly agree with your statement. So I guess I’m a conservative too, at least one of your kind. Can you confess that maybe you’re a liberal too? The progressive objection to the way of Montaigne?

I haven’t met a leftist ideologue who thought there were “true” solutions since the sixties. You, fighting leftist gays when you were arguing for gay marriage and they were for rejecting your “virtually normal” ideas, may have soured your views of the left, but believe me, there were millions throughout the country who just wanted their rights, to be as lawfully legitimate as our heterosexual brothers and sisters. And we have prevailed, spectacularly.

The key here, it seems to me, is understanding conservatism as a disposition rather than as a fixed ideology. That suggests, of course, that it might pragmatically express itself, at times, as a form of political liberalism as we understand it.

bookclub-beagle-trOne of the aha! moments I had in reading Oakeshott (who was deeply influenced by Montaigne) was when he actually described progressivism as an integral part of the Western conversation – one that a true conservative would not seek to extinguish, but rather respect and nurture. The genius of the modern European state was that it contained two core impulses – collective action and individual liberty – and the conservative mission was to find the right balance between them, at the right time, with a little preference for liberty.

That requires prudential judgment and a light, pragmatic touch. Oakeshott’s vision of the conservative politician was a “trimmer” – someone who trims the sails on a ship to exploit the current winds and weather. The point is merely to keep the ship afloat – not to reach the perfect desert island or to conquer distant lands, but for the sake of the coherence and steadiness of the whole. And when you look at Montaigne’s own political predilections, he fits smack dab in the middle of just such a disposition.

Bakewell, in How To Live, vividly brings to life the era of zeal and religious conflict that Montaigne lived in.

Read On


First up, a call to locate arms:

I’m addicted to your weekly window contest. It is challenging, fun, and a great distraction. But there might be more practical uses for the skills involved in solving the contest. Recently, several bloggers have been using a photo posted on Twitter to figure out where the BUK missile system that Ukraine’s Russian separatist rebels had misplaced has been traveling. has this post explaining how it and other bloggers found the location.

Another reader turns to the difficulty of this week’s missile-less contest:

Earth has two hemispheres, and this view is clearly on one of them. Seriously, the EU license plates (and I should know better than to get fixated on license plates) and French vehicles had me checking every remaining Western Hemisphere colonial enclave, before finally deciding that those white buildings = Portugal. So Lisbon, and it’s wrong. When it turns out to be Morocco I’mma throw something.

Another aims south of the border:

Hoping proximity counts on this one. I cannot pinpoint the city, but it is very reminiscent of Playa del Carmen in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Or farther south?

Quito, Ecuador. It looks like the old city, perhaps on or near Guayaquil.

Another must live in New York:

No idea, but it looks like you could eat off that street; it’s so clean!


Had to be in the south of France somewhere. I looked up the last few stages of the Tour de France and decided this must be Maubourguet, starting point for stage 19. But it could easily have been somewhere else in the south: Nice, or Cap d’Antibes, or something like that. Beautiful light.

Getting there. Another reader:

This is my very first entry for the VFYW contest. I saw English words, European traffic signs, and Mediterranean style roofing slate. I googled “English speaking Mediterranean countries” and came up with Gozo, Malta. Then I got lost in all the gorgeous photos of the land and art and couldn’t be bothered to track down where the photo was taken. I randomly chose Victoria because it’s in the center of the island and “Victoria Gozo Malta” sounds goofy when you say it out loud. I don’t know if I’m even close, but it was worth it for the photo tour alone.

The Mediterranean it is. Another reader nails the right country with this exhaustive entry:

Read On


Orders are starting to pour in for our new t-shirts and polos, both detailed here. If you’re interested in a shirt but haven’t bought one yet, don’t delay – go here now! We’re about to print our first big order of shirts, so act now to get yours in the first shipment. One happy customer writes:

Finally, Andrew, finally. I can now claim my Dishness loud and proud wandering around Denver. Order placed! This little experiment of yours is the best chance to save journalism. Hope more swag is on the way.

It is. Another owner of a new shirt:

I bought one despite my frequent disagreements with you. Good luck with the retail endeavor.


Boom! Just ordered a blue women’s t-shirt. Just in time, too, before I move abroad!


Another doubled-down:

God help me I just bought two. Will I get hit on by bears if I wear these? If so I’ll order more …


WooHoo! Finally, I just purchased a baby blue t-shirt and I love the simple design. I can’t wait to see how it fits – I’m particular with the fit of t-shirts since most are too short after one washing. If all goes good I am getting the gray one also.

The high-quality tri-blend fabric is designed not to shrink. Another reader:

Read On

Best Cover Song Ever?

Jul 29 2014 @ 12:34pm

The submissions keep pouring in:

Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light.” Very few people actually realize this song was originally written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen. Manfred‘s version is dramatically different:


I would like to nominate The Beatles cover of “Twist and Shout”, which was originally recorded by the Top Notes in 1961 and the by The Isley Brothers in 1962. The Beatles version changed the form of the original and John Lennon gives us one of the greatest vocal performances. The Beatles version has become the standard:

Read On

The answer – finally – appears to be yes:

Although the European Union agreed last week to consider sanctions against Russia’s energy, defense, and financial industries, it was unclear how far they would go. It’s still uncertain how broad the sanctions will be, but the call on Monday indicated a change of tone from last week, when EU politicians were trading barbs over whether Britain or France was more reliant on Moscow’s money.

The EU will likely restrict each industry slightly, rather than imposing a full ban — such as an arms embargo. That approach would help address the fundamental problem of different EU countries relying more on Russian business in different industries.

Yglesias is excited:

After a five-way conference call between the leaders of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy the European Union seems ready to outline tough new sanctions on Russia. Not just the shooting down of MH 17, but Russia’s total lack of remorse or post-shootdown restrain appears to have been a game-changer in terms of German politics and that’s been enough to swing the situation around. The sanctions package is looking very similar to ideas outlined last week in a memo obtained by the Financial Times. The new package belies the notion of a “weak” Europe that is refusing to counter Russian aggression.

But Cassidy doesn’t expect the sanctions to amount to much:

Read On

The Shifting Israel Debate

Jul 29 2014 @ 11:58am

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

It’s hard to recall now but Tony Judt was once ostracized and vilified for writing this (among other things):

We can see, in retrospect, that the victory of Israel in June 1967 and its continuing occupation of the territories it conquered then have been the Jewish state’s very own nakba: a moral and political catastrophe. Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza have magnified and publicized the country’s shortcomings and displayed them to a watching world. Curfews, checkpoints, bulldozers, public humiliations, home destructions, land seizures, shootings, “targeted assassinations,” the separation fence: All of these routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to an informed minority of specialists and activists.

Today they can be watched, in real time, by anyone with a computer or a satellite dish – which means that Israel’s behavior is under daily scrutiny by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The result has been a complete transformation in the international view of Israel. Until very recently the carefully burnished image of an ultra-modern society – built by survivors and pioneers and peopled by peace-loving democrats – still held sway over international opinion. But today? What is the universal shorthand symbol for Israel, reproduced worldwide in thousands of newspaper editorials and political cartoons? The Star of David emblazoned upon a tank.

For these heterodox views, Judt was banished from the New Republic masthead, and targeted by the ADL and American Jewish Committee. He subsequently sighed: “I didn’t think I knew until then just how deep and how uniquely American this obsession with blocking any criticism of Israel is. It is uniquely American. Apparently, the line you take on Israel trumps everything else in life”.

No longer. I doubt Judt would recognize the kind of debate now raging – that so many tried to stop. I offer one example today – Matt Yglesias attributing the lockstep support in Congress for anything Israel does as a function in part of donors whose litmus test is support for Greater Israel. The leaked internal documents of Michelle Nunn’s campaign for the Senate – which show that she has to adopt a maximalist pro-Israel stance if she is to get anywhere with Jewish donors – is the latest proof. Money quote:

Jewish donors are very important to Democratic Party finances, some of these donors have strongly held hawkish views on Israel, and the financial clout of AIPAC is the stuff of legend. At the same time, talk of rich Jews throwing their financial muscle around to influence policy in favor of Israel touches far too many anti-semitic tropes to be regularly mentioned in political discourse. But the concrete world of political fundraising doesn’t leave a ton of time for beating around the bush, so we get a little window here into how it looks to the finance people: if Nunn wants to maximize her donations, she needs to take the right stance.

Note the core point: not so long ago, anyone saying that Jewish donor money made an even-handed approach to Israel-Palestine a pretty dead letter would be deemed ipso facto an anti-Semite.

Read On