a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew


Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th September 2007

Our troops are stuck between a President without a plan to succeed, and a Congress without the courage to bring them home.

–John Edwards, rebutting George Bush on MSNBC tonight (video, transcript).

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Explosive Labor Day sale!

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd September 2007

PSoTD asks “What should the federal holiday, “Labor Day”, mean to America? And how should we appropriately honor the day?” Those are two good questions — and I don’t have the answers to either one.

I do think we shouldn’t let it be used as the starting gun for a war-with-Iran campaign. Barnett Rubin, of the Council on Foreign Relations, writing for “Informed Comment Global Affairs”:

Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:

They [the source’s institution] have “instructions” (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this–they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is “plenty.”

Of course I cannot verify this report. But besides all the other pieces of information about this circulating, I heard last week from a former U.S. government contractor. According to this friend, someone in the Department of Defense called, asking for cost estimates for a model for reconstruction in Asia. The former contractor finally concluded that the model was intended for Iran. This anecdote is also inconclusive, but it is consistent with the depth of planning that went into the reconstruction effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I hesitated before posting this. I don’t want to spread alarmist rumors. I don’t want to lessen the pressure on the Ahmadinejad government in Tehran. But there are too many signs of another irresponsible military adventure from the Cheney-Bush administration for me just to dismiss these reports. I am putting them into the public sphere in the hope of helping to mobilize opposition to a policy that would further doom the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and burden our country and the people of the Middle East with yet another unstoppable fountain of bloodshed.

Via Jim Henley, with links to other warnings about a looming Iran war. Bush’s American Legion speech last Tuesday also triggered concern, with sentences artfully or baldly linking “Iran,” “nuclear holocaust,” and “sophisticated IEDs.”

Regarding WMD, even assuming Iran is running its own Manhattan Project and that that’s a terrible thing, the question is whether threats of bombing are likely to make a rational country want to halt its nuclear weapons development — or carry it forward at all costs. At any rate, even Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged Iran was likely to see them “in the first instance as a deterrent,” i.e., not as a weapon with which to bully neighbors or terrorize all Satans great and small.* Meanwhile, with EFPs (“explosively formed projectiles,” kind of super roadside bombs) charges, it’s the claims themselves that haven’t withstood close scrutiny.

And, as with Iraq, it’s the administration’s shifting claims about Iran themselves that best indicate that none of those claims are that important to Bush and Cheney per se. As Henley puts it,

Remember, they don’t want a solution to supposed problems, they want a war. For these people in Iran in 2007-2008, as in Iraq from 2002-2003, a peaceful resolution of outstanding differences is a danger to be avoided.

Even if you don’t care about the strength of Bush’s claims and innuendoes, though, maybe you’d at least care that a war with Iran will be an excellent way of bringing all kinds of additional hell down on American troops in Iraq. And if you don’t even care about that, you might bear in mind that a recently bombed Iran might very well want to take its fight to us here in the U.S. — and could probably do as much damage in the long run as any rag-tag outfit out of Kandahar and Waziristan ever could.

War with Iran would be the worst idea this administration has had yet, and that’s obviously saying something. It beggars belief this even needs to be discussed, let alone fatalistically anticipated. This Labor Day, each of us should think about what we can and will do about an administration that won’t stop breaking laws, resisting scrutiny — or escalating wars.

* I can’t judge whether Iran indeed is seeking nuclear weapons; what I glean from sources like ArmsControlWonk is that it’s likely they want to at least put up a credible effort in that direction: lots of centrifuges — even if they don’t work all that well — tough negotiations with the IAEA, etc. If Iran wants nukes and isn’t prevented or dissuaded from acquiring them, the recent NIE seems to suggest they’ll have them by 2010-2015 — an ETA that’s remained curiously unchanged despite all the work they’ve been doing, suggesting, I guess, that they haven’t been doing the work all that well.

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Van Hollen disappoints on Iran

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd May 2007

Last Wednesday evening, my representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) joined a minority of his own party but a nearly unanimous GOP bloc in sending the DeFazio amendment to the House Defense Appropriations bill (HR 1585) to defeat, 286-134, with 12 abstentions. From the brief debate as published in the Congressional Record, here’s the full text in full of that amendment:


(a) Rule of Construction.–No provision of law enacted before the date of the enactment of this Act shall be construed to authorize the use of military force by the United States against Iran.

(b) Requirements.–Absent a national emergency created by attack by Iran upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces, no funds appropriated pursuant to an authorization of appropriations in this Act or any other Act may be obligated or expended to initiate the use of military force against Iran unless the President receives authorization from Congress prior to initiating the use of military force against Iran.

As Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4) pointed out in his remarks,

This simply restates the Constitution of the United States and the War Powers Act. It is law, 93–148, and article I, section 8, of the Constitution. This is not about whether or not military action against Iran is wise or necessary. Regardless of how you come down on that question, I urge you to support the amendment. It is not about binding the President’s hands so he couldn’t retaliate if they are involved >in attacking our troops or capturing our troops in the area. It allows, as does the War Powers Act, in the event of any attack by Iran on the United States, its territories or possessions or Armed Forces, it is fully within the President’s purview to respond.

(Links added.) Rising in opposition was presidential candidate Duncan Hunter (R-CA-52), who said too late! we already are at war:

Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong opposition to this amendment. We have been at war with the radical Islamic jihadists ever since they supported and fomented that storming of our embassy in 1979. They held Americans hostage and they held them for 444 days, and every President since President Carter has renewed the national emergency with respect to Iran, most recently on March 8 of this year.

If you look at the War Powers Act, Mr. Chairman, it states that a national emergency does justify the President utilizing his constitutional powers as Commander in Chief. My reading of this amendment is that this proposal, this amendment, changes the War Powers Act and extracts that power from the President of the United States. We have had Democrat and Republican Presidents renewing that finding and that national emergency status with respect to Iran.

Hunter — one of the worst of the yahoos (“even if it involves very high-pressure techniques, one sentence: Get the information”) in last week’s Republican presidential debate — went on to recite the meaningless claim that some of the expertise and materials for IEDs in Iraq “are being transferred from Iran.” So is some of the airborne dust in Iraq, that doesn’t prove Tehran is behind it.

Yet Hunter’s arguments seem to have prevailed with Van Hollen — chair of the DCCC — and all too many of his Democratic colleagues. Nell Lancaster notes netroots faves Patrick Murphy, Joe Sestak and Carol Shea-Porter among their number as well. Curiously, Nancy Pelosi is nowhere to be found on the roll call, not even under abstentions. Almost more curiously, frequent local bete noire Democrat Al Wynn is among the abstentions; along with his cosponsorship of Kucinich’s Cheney impeachment bill, Wynn is arguably more “progressive” of late than Van Hollen. Few things concentrate the political mind more than a healthy electoral scare, I guess.

This was a pitiful abdication of legitimate Congressional powers to a President who really doesn’t need any more encouragement to go off half-cocked. Between this and similar moves during the runup to the late lamented Iraq supplemental, Congress has all but signalled “go ahead if you want” when a war with Iran would be — what’s the phrase I’m looking for — a fricking catastrophe that would make Iraq look like a picnic in the park.

The DeFazio amendment may not have had much of a chance for all I know, but that shouldn’t have mattered. While I’ve generally sung his praises here in this little blog of mine, this time I think Van Hollen really screwed up badly, and he should hear about it.

NOTES: Links within DeFazio’s statement lead to FindLaw’s discussion of Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution, the Yale University Avalon Project discussion of the War Powers Act, the Wikipedia discussion of the same, and the text of 50 USC 1541, where the War Powers Act is found in the United States Code. “Worst of the yahoos”: New York Times transcript of the disgusting Republican debate in South Carolina last week, via Roy Edroso, whose precis of that debate is hilarious and indispensable.

UPDATE, 8/20: A belated note, here for starters, that Rep. Van Hollen responded by e-mail a couple of weeks ago to a protest e-mail of my own about this. Key quote: “I am, however, somewhat wary of passing legislation that says the President may not violate the Constitution with respect to one country (such as Iran), because singling out one country only could lead to the false impression that the Congress would countenance unauthorized and unconstitutional military actions against another country (such as Syria).” That seems pretty weak to me; by that token, passing a law specifically penalizing the murder of, say, DEA agents could lead to the impression Congress countenances the murder of mailmen.

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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th May 2007

  • Paperwight (“Paperwight’s Fair Shot”), Who Will Rid Me of This Meddlesome Priest?

    The Bush Administration handpicked know-nothing Party apparatchiks to fill every possible political appointment they could find, and turned them loose on the executive branch with ‘guidance’ from Karl Rove. I expect that guidance generally took the form of “expressions of concern” regarding certain “districts” or “issues”. Policy and personnel decisions were made in the fuzzy apparatchik cloud and then the shaft bolt lashed out of the cloud and struck someone in the civil service. No chain of command, no accountability, no procedure. Everyone just sort of knew what had to be done — they were all picked because they knew in advance what “had to be done” to serve the Party.

  • Marc Lynch, interviewed by Ken Silverstein of Harper’s Magazine —

    At the same time, neither Al Qaeda as an organization nor bin Laden as an individual is commanding a great deal of respect or support. When you get these attacks in Algeria and Morocco, it repels people rather than attracting them. But the paradox is that even as Al Qaeda repels people with its actions, its core ideas are becoming more widely accepted, and that’s really troubling, and a real indictment of American public diplomacy. That’s also why the situation in Iraq is so devastating at the wider regional and global level. Killing people in Morocco and Algeria triggers a negative reaction, but fighting Americans in Iraq resonates with a much wider part of the Arab population.

  • Jonathan Schwarz (“Tiny Revolution”) in Mother Jones: “No Congress, No Peace” —

    What, then, would a serious congressional strategy to block a war with Iran look like? Constitutional scholars and congressional staff agree there’s no one magic answer. The alarming truth is that 220 years after the adoption of the Constitution, there are few settled answers about what legal powers the executive branch possesses to start a war. But there are several steps Congress could take to make a war with Iran politically very difficult for the White House.

  • Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic Monthly, Torture, Moral Vanity, and Freedom

    Even a prisoner in a small cell can stand and walk a little, can breathe on his own, has the capacity to tend to his own bodily functions, and to think or pray. Torture is designed to rob him of all these last shreds of liberty. It takes control of his body and soul and by the use of physical or psychological coercion, rids him of any real freedom at all. It puts him into the abyss of tyranny on a personal scale. And any man or woman who is given the license to torture and any man or woman who grants the right to torture is definitionally a tyrant over another person. There is no state more abject than the man broken on the waterboarding rack, or frozen to near death, or forced to stand for days on end, or hooded and strapped to shackles in a ceiling, or having his legs pulpified by repeated beating, or forced to eat pork and drink alcohol against religious strictures. Everything I have just described has been done by US forces under the command and direction of George W. Bush. They are all acts of absolute tyanny, conducted by people who at that moment are absolute tyrants.

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Words from around the internets

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th March 2005

I’m using this post to bookmark some very interesting posts I’ve run across over the last several weeks, and briefly respond to them. “Very interesting” will not always mean “attaboy” or “gee, I wish I were more like her”; I may not agree with the writer 100%, or even 75%, or even think he or she has fully grokked what he/she is saying.

Rather, some of these posts stand out as surprising re-evaluations of long-held positions. Others are valuable analyses that synthesize a new or more coherent view of the world. Others still are simply those lovely, snarky jabs it is the blogosphere’s constitutional role to provide. And one was highly revealing and disappointing. In no particular order, and skipping the usual “vias”:

  • I miss Republicans (Kung Fu Monkey)

    They were the grown-ups. They were the realists. Sure they were a bummer, maaaaan, but on the way to La Revolution you need somebody to remember where you parked the car.

    Let’s not get too misty-eyed about the old days, but I’d sure rather have a beer with George Schultz than George W. Bush, let alone Rotgut DeLay. The Star Wars missile defense stuff is also particularly good.

  • Dumb Media (Avedon Carol)

    Dear Dana Milbank,

    You say:

    Imagine that! An independent press looking for the truth rather than serving as stenographers for the powerful. It’s a quaint tradition Americans would be wise not to abandon.”

    Oddly enough, that’s just what I, a liberal partisan, want from you as well.

    Going from there, Carol exposes Milbank’s false equivalences of “on the right and the left” for the lazy writing and thinking they are. I particularly liked this part:

    We don’t just read left-wing resources. We find that we have to read damn-near everything to find out what’s going on. That makes it impossible to rely on our local newspapers, because we know that the facts come out in dribs and drabs in newspapers and magazines all over the nation – indeed, all over the world. Why should we have to rely on the Guardian to find out what the United States is doing? Why aren’t these things on the front page of The Washington Post and The New York Times? Why are some stories – legitimate, important stories – left to Salon and The New Yorker, rather than covered by the major papers? Why is it that I can find the right-wing spin in The Washington Post but don’t even find out what the liberal response is until I read The Nation?

    If only the roles were reversed… i.e., Carol reporting for the Post and Milbank relegated to blogworld. This may be the most important post of this bunch. You know the rest: Read the Whole Thing.

  • How You Became Crazy (Avedon Carol)

    See, it doesn’t really matter whether more journalists are liberal or conservative if most of the self-identified partisan conservatives are acting as stooges in a Solomon Asch experiment.

    The Solomon Asch experiment is a very useful paradigm indeed for information management today. Ms. Carol describes American journalists functioning as collaborators in what looks, from the outside at least, like an only marginally democratic country (given the questions remaining about the 2004 election). Prove her wrong, please, or work to make it wrong again; it’s tougher than you think.

  • Required blogging topic #5,271,009 (Jim Henley)
    Writing about the tug-of-war over Ms. Schiavo between her husband and parents, Henley wondered,

    Legalities aside, why not make the switch of responsibility and send everyone on their way?

    Henley deserves great credit for plainly stating his very humane reservations about the case — the more so since they seem to cut against the usual libertarian grain. As I pointed out in the comments — with self-indulgent wording, I’m afraid — I think he had a similar difficulty with guardianship as a right and contract of its own in that other notorious Florida case, Elian Gonzales. It might have the start of a good discussion, had I begun it better.

  • Grump (Henley)

    Like as not, the collective characterizing of a media phenomenon as a “circus” is a social defense mechanism – we set the lid back on the jar and walk away with a nervous whistle. That civil war was probably sour anyway.

    Yes. The Schiavo affair is “theater” in the several meanings of that word, not “circus.” I’m no happier about it for that, but it was (and still is) undeniably important.

  • I Should Have Kept The Receipt (Michele Catalano)
    This was getting a lot of attention before the Schiavo affair heated up. Catalano (“A Small Victory”) was a vociferous pro-Bush voice before and immediately after the election. But now she’s not just having second thoughts, she’s getting off the train:

    So what is it that’s causing my “buyer’s remorse” as it’s been called? It’s a combination of things, and most of it stems from the fact that I was a one issue voter in 2004. And now, the issues I ignored in order to give my support to the war on terror are coming back to haunt me. […]

    What we all have in common is this: we feel used. We feel taken advantage of. We feel manipulated.

    Self-manipulated as well, to be sure. Catalano came in for a lot of deserved criticism from folks like Roy Edroso, who could cite her own election campaign vitriol chapter and verse. (Like I say: reads the right when I don’t want to.) Still: I sense a disturbance in the Force. It’s not just social issues that have driven Catalano off the reservation; Iraq bothers her, too.

    It behooves me to mention that the boat I’m in is not utterly different than Catalano’s; after some vacillation, I swung to supporting the Iraq war in the months before it began. (See “Selected posts” if you enjoy following my political back and forths). The intelligence failure of WMD and the moral failures of Abu Ghraib etc. — and the Bush administration’s limp/defiant/insouciant responses to both — changed that for me well before the November election. It’s not clear to me that either failure really registered with Ms. Catalano.

    I’m afraid I muddied the waters in the comment sections to some of these posts, but I respect writers who are willing to invite the “I can’t believe you, of all people…” comments some of these writers got. It’s a good example. On the other hand, unvarnished self-revelation isn’t always edifying, even if delivered in the measured cadences of a university law professor. I’m referring, of course, to…

  • Something the Iranian Government and I agree on (Eugene Volokh)
    Writing about the Iranian execution of a serial killer, Volokh revealed:

    I particularly like the involvement of the victims’ relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he’d killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging.

    Since then Volokh was quickly, almost conveniently persuaded by Mark Kleimann’s arguments to concede “error.” But the original sin remains unforgotten. I’m reminded of Markos’ Zuniga’s unfortunate comment about the contract personnel killed and desecrated in Fallujah last year. Zuniga came in for what I thought was justifiable criticism, and the incident continues to be recalled wherever Kos-bashers congregate.

    But Kos didn’t dress up his verbal impulse with pseudo-ethical reasoning. Volokh is frequently mentioned as a candidate for higher judicial office. I frankly hope that’s at an end now, but I rather suspect it isn’t. The whole thing had the feeling of an “underneath, I’m like you” strip tease. Hardened death penalty supporters have Volokh’s original position; the rest of us will be directed to the recantation.

    In a different vein, at least one part-time blogger commits actual reporting, and deserves your attention:

  • The Pentagon’s Secret Stash (Matt Welch)
    Subtitle: “Why we’ll never see the second round of Abu Ghraib photos”.

    Welch fingers the usual suspects like Rumsfeld, plus some somewhat more surprising ones like John Warner, and a very surprising one named Carl Levin. There’s no good time to reveal stuff like this, and I don’t envy Levin his job. But if Welch is right, the Senator from Michigan needs to at least change his tune now.

    Finally, in the “unwelcome news” category…:

  • Thanks and farewell (at least for now) (publius, “Legal Fiction”)You’ll be missed.

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A dialogue with Jeff Jarvis: torture by Iran, torture by us

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd January 2005

Looking back on 2004, several stories stood out for me, among them the election and certainly the terrible tsunami at the end of the year. But the story that was uniquely depressing and disappointing for me was the news that Americans were torturing and humiliating their prisoners in Iraq, under the auspices of American government policy.

At the time I wrote that I’ve rarely been so ashamed of this country, and I still feel that way. As an American — the more so as an American who had supported the Iraq war — I felt personally kicked in the stomach by those abuses, and responsible for demanding their punishment at every level of government. This conviction has grown as more background information and more accounts of abuse have emerged from Iraq and elsewhere; I want my country back.

Recently Jeff Jarvis drew attention to the sadly credible news — forwarded by an Iranian government figure named Abtahi — that the Iranian regime is torturing bloggers who speak out against it. Jarvis wrote that “If what we read here is true, then it is incumbent of us to bring attention to this abuse who are doing nothing more than we are doing.” I agree.* But I commented:

What about the torturing we’re doing? Or its outsourcing? It doesn’t excuse what’s happening in Iran, but let’s get the beam out of our own eye before going after the mote (or the beam) in someone else’s. (Matthew 7:3)

Jarvis replied as if I was trying to suppress the news:

Oh, come now, Thomas: I cannot stand up and warn about torture of fellow citizens because you say I’m not holy enough… because I am American?…. Well, then, certainly our friends in Germany should not be criticizing us or anyone, should they? And the French and their colonialism and stingy contributions to work aid make them unqualified. And…. Don’t be ridculous! What an inane equivalency to make! People are being tortured and you turn it into your own spin! For shame, sir. I will stand up for my Iranian brothers and sisters no matter whether you think I should or not.

My reply:

Jeff, I’m not saying you can’t speak out about Iranian torture because you’re American, not at all. I’m saying it would behoove you and us to look at our own misdeeds as well — it makes our protests about misdeeds by others more effective and less hypocritical.

Maybe I used the wrong words to express that — but I honestly don’t see anywhere near the same kind of outrage in your writings about American torture that I do about torture by others. Yet American torture is something we as Americans can do something about far sooner than we can do anything about Iranian torture, and with far greater authority. That isn’t “my own spin,” that’s the simple truth. We are *responsible* for one, we are not for the other. Which ought to come first? How do we have standing to criticize in others what we do ourselves?

I said “it doesn’t excuse what’s happening in Iran”. I’m willing to sign petitions, write e-mails, etc. about Iranian torture victims. But it’s with a hollow feeling, given the ongoing stream of revelations about our own misdeeds in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.

Equivalency? Well, yes, I guess torture by us is pretty much equivalent to torture by them. Lets stand up for our detained and tormented Iraqi, Afghan, and Arab brothers and sisters too, while we’re at it: 1) they may well be mostly innocent of terrorism, and 2) even if some of them aren’t, no one deserves to be tortured.

I’m frankly surprised and disappointed you consider any of this “inane,” and that you employ “for shame” against someone who doesn’t.
(link added)

Mr. Jarvis replied again, but continued to claim I was trying to “diminish” his news and make “rhetorical” points:

Thomas: You created the equivalency by bringing it up in this context. You can’t find me being outraged enough — by your standards — about torture of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody (sorry, but I figured there was plenty of outrage already and I didn’t see that I added much to the discussion; like any blogger, I don’t cover all issues with the same attention because I’m an individual, not a news organizatin and, to quote Jon Stewart, I’m not your monkey). By making that comparison, you are trying to diminish what I am saying about the torture of bloggers. Well, by that standard, have you been outraged enough about the torture of victims in Saddam’s custody? What does that say about your outrage vs. my outrage? I’d call that inane. It’s a rhetorical non sequitor. As Hubris says, above, it’s tu quoque. It’s also slightly exploitive: dangling one class of victims to try to win points against someone advocating for another class of victims. One has no impact on the other — other than an attempt at distraction. The point of this post is very simple: I am trying to draw attention to what appears to be new disclosures of torture of our fellow bloggers. As far as I can tell, this is news. Pay attention or don’t — your choice. But don’t diminish what is being said about these people just to make your rhetorical point.
(link added)

Continuing this dialogue here: At no point do I say anything resembling “don’t pay attention to the plight of these Iranian bloggers.” Thus I think the charge of a so-called “tu quoque” fallacy is itself fallacious, strictly speaking.

I’m not “trying to diminish what [Jeff is] saying about the torture of [Iranian] bloggers” or distract from that. I’m challenging him to expand his outrage and activism to victims of American and American-sponsored torture as well, and I’m suggesting that may be the first step towards being taken seriously around the world and especially in Iran with regard to the plight of the Iranian bloggers.

Say we get a little traction about the Iranian situation among Americans, without frankly acknowledging and fighting torture by and on behalf of our own government. An Iranian spokesman could simply say, these are people who can’t be bothered to care about their own government’s transgressions — why should any of us care what they think? They’re just hypocrites who would do it themselves to us if they got the chance. I count the aptness of this answer — however “tu quoque” it may be — as one of the huge costs of our own crimes and our own failures to address them.

As for Jarvis, I’ve actually understated at least his initial lack of outrage when it came to American wrongs. At the time of the Abu Ghraib revelations, Jarvis wrote:

And let me say something quite unpopular and throw just a little perspective into the Iraqi prison scandal. I’ll repeat: What happened there was wrong and strategically idiotic and does not reflect either American ideals or American aims for the region. However, let’s remember that this is a war; the people being interrogated were likely suspected in movements to bring more violence upon not only American soldiers but also the Iraqi people. The means were wrong but the end was right: Bringing peace to Iraq and protecting its people. And was the “torture” all that shocking? Hell, watch an episode of Oz and compare.
(emphasis added)

This wasn’t even “the ends justify the means” — it was the ends excusing the means, even if the means were reprehensible, stupid, and patently at odds with those ends. The torturers of Iran can just throw such attitudes right back in our face — and sadly, they’ll have a point: we all have ends, we all have means, and we all have people who think means don’t matter when it comes to their particular ends. As long as we put up with that, or agree with that, we have little standing to object to it elsewhere.

What matters is whether we keep torturers under control and torture beyond the pale — and it looks like both Iran and the U.S. are generally busy failing that test, both inside government and outside it. This isn’t just a matter of fixing government policies any more. It’s about us as individuals deciding what we want our democracy and society to stand for. As Matt Welch wrote in his Reason piece, “Who’s Tortured?“:

But we now know that many of the shocking images from Abu Ghraib that we’ve been allowed to see —the hoods, the dogs, the sexual humiliation, the photography, the beating —have occurred elsewhere in Iraq, Guantanamo, and Afghanistan; and in many instances they reflect nothing more than official United States policy. How we respond, whether conservative, libertarian, liberal or other, will tell us a lot about what we’ve become.

* You can comment about the charges of Iranian torture by e-mail to members and institutions of the Iranian government, e.g., Iranian President Khatami, Ambassador to the United Nations M. Javad Zarif, the Iranian mission to the UN at, and the Iranian Interests Section at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C. at You can help investigate and oppose torture by the US by supporting organizations such as the ACLU , Human Rights Watch, or Amnesty International.

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Newsrack update parade

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th May 2003

# Idiocy displayed — The British Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has spoken: Dave Brown’s scurrilous cartoon in the Independent wasn’t anti-Semitic. As I wrote back in January (“Goyish“) I think it was, and still do. Here’s why the PCC doesn’t:

There was no reason for the Commission to disbelieve the cartoonist’s position – published in the newspaper and submitted as part of its evidence – that he had taken the view that the attack on Gaza city was a form of ‘macabre electioneering’ whose equivalent in a less fraught situation might be the more traditional stunt of kissing babies. He explained that this brought to mind the Goya painting and its depiction of Saturn, who is driven by paranoia into consuming his own children.

“Fraught situation” is a nice touch. In a less fraught situation I’d cartoon this outcome as the PCC engaged in a passionate, tonguewrapping kiss with David Brown and the Independent, but maybe harder imagery is called for. What would David Brown do?

# Bloggers afraid — In April, Iranian blogger Sina Motallebi was arrested by Iranian authorities on charges involving the content of his weblog and the interviews he’d given to foreign journalists. I’m probably the last person to report that he is now out of jail (since May 12). The bail was pretty hefty: $38,000. The case attracted widespread attention, including this Newsweek story.Almost simultaneously, the Iranian government adopted different means to control their citizens’ online activities, by blocking access to a mixed bag of political, private, and non-profit domains and blog web sites. A partial list can be viewed at the blog and website. Remarkably and fortunately, and were not among them, and so far they seem to still be accessible to Iranian bloggers.

# Justice DeLayed? — We may get to add the Justice Department to the growing list of departments (Homeland Security, Transportation) leaned on by the DeLay cabal in the course of their efforts to redistrict Texas. The background: Texas state representative Richard Raymond complained that bilingual announcements of the redistricting initiative were not provided as required by law, and initiated a complaint to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Then rumors arose that DeLay put the kibosh on DOJ pursuit of the matter. Josh Marshall has a copy of letter from Mr. Raymond to the Justice Department asserting that Raymond had

received reliable information that the normal processes of the Department of Justice for such complaints have been circumvented under pressure from Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas.

Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd, Jr. denies any such pressure occurred. In another tidbit, DeLay claimed last week that the FAA information he got was a matter of public record. CBS News quotes DeLay:

I asked a staffer to contact the FAA for publicly available flight information that any member of Congress gets from FAA — or you can get it off the Internet — as to the whereabouts of a certain plane, of a certain tail number.

That sounded like fun, so I thought I’d try it. The closest thing I’ve found is the FAA Aircraft Registry Inquiry page. Using Google, I searched for pictures of airplane tail numbers, and found one with the N-code N412BA. I then pulled up the available information about it. (You drop the “N” when searching.) There’s a lot — but none of it is about what the plane’s current location is. As I mentioned in the earlier post, the FAA says such plane flight information is “routinely available.” So I guess the right search engine is somewhere else on the FAA web site.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there’s speculation that Texas Governor Perry will call a special session to ram through the redistricting plan that the Democrats’ quorum-breaking gambit headed off at the last moment. Texas Senate Democrats could kill the effort — but only if at least 11 out 12 Democratic state senators vote against it.

UPDATE, 12PM: Josh Marshall e-mails: “In a subsequent report the FAA conceded that the information is *not* publicly available through the FAA. Some of it is sold to commercial info providers and they make it available to their subscribers.” Still, even though he may have got the “you can get it off Internet” angle wrong, DeLay may not have done anything wrong here. I suppose it depends on whether DeLay either became a commercial subscriber, or was specifically entitled to such nonpublic, usually commercial information on short notice, and (in either case) what the terms of use are for such information. This may explain the “information any member of Congress gets” part of his statement. (Or, of course, DeLay may have got that wrong.)

# New York Times flayed — Jack Shafer dissects the Rick Bragg story, and Mickey Kaus and Glenn Reynolds readers confirm that leaving stringers off bylines was just the way the New York Times does things, as my wife has known for years. That means Bragg is being scapegoated for a practice that’s widespread at the Times. That may mean other reporters are wondering whether they’ll be the next headline. And that might make the Bragg suspension more of a “warning shot” than “housecleaning,” since worried reporters might be less eager to leak details of any Jayson-Blair-like stories still lurking at the Times.

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Newsrack weekend update

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th May 2003

  • In a comment about the Aziziyah school courtyard story I mentioned, Doug provides a link to a London Times article that the discovery petered out: two missiles were dug up, neither had WMD warheads.
  • A knowledgeable reader writes about my April 20 Boeing post to explain that one point in favor of the leasing arrangement — from the taxpayer point of view — is that Boeing would do all the maintenance on the planes. The argument is that’s cheaper than paying Air Force mechanics to do the same job, since the Air Force also has to arrange housing, medical benefits, and so forth for its personnel.
  • I receive favorable mention by Iris of “Interfaith Nunnery,” just for sending her an e-mail. (I liked the phrase “aggressive apathy” in her comment about the museum looting business.) Well, heck, I should do that more often.
  • Sven Gessner provides a fourth German translation of the Gettysburg Address to my collection (in a comment to an old post of mine about translations of that speech). He also defends the translation by Erich Heller, published by the Library of Congress at their Gettysburg Address translations web site, as a product of its time. If you’re fluent in a foreign language, I’d appreciate your evaluation of the translation to that language of Lincoln’s speech published by the Library of Congress. See the post for details and to leave your comments.
  • Gary Farber appears to be getting better.
  • Sina Motallebi remains in jail.

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Iranian journalist and weblogger arrested

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st April 2003

Via Jeff Jarvis via Hossein Derakshahn (“Editor: Myself”), I learn that Sina Motallebi, an Iranian journalist, has been jailed by Iranian authorities on charges arising from opinions he’s expressed on his blog. Jarvis’ blog entry has links to a Guardian article mentioning Motallebi and to information about the crackdown on freedom of speech in Iran.

From a petition to Reporters Without Borders asking for support, and drafted by the Iranian blogging community:

Sina Motallebi, Iranian journalist, writer and the blogger behind was summoned by the Iranian authorities and subsequently arrested on ambiguous charges on the eve of his 30th birthday. These charges include the content of his web log, as well as interviews with foreign press and his other writings.

Sina’s wife Farnaz posted the news of his arrest on his blog on April 19th, but the posting was later removed. He had already published the content of his summons the day before.

This is the latest on a series of attacks on freedom of speech by the government of Iran. Reporters without Borders recently called Iran, “the biggest jail for journalists in the Middle East”. The group also named Iranian leader Ali Khamenei on its list of “Predators of Press Freedom”. The list also included China’s Jiang Zemin, Syrian president Bashar el-Assad, Ariel Sharon of Israel and the recently deposed Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Khamenei was also chosen as an “Enemy of the Press” by Committee to Protect Journalists last year.

The undersigned call for all international human rights advocacy organizations, as well as groups active in support of journalists and media to protest the arrest of Sina Motallebi and demand an immediate halt to any future harassment of journalists by the Iranian government.

We consider Sina Motallebi a prisoner of conscience and demand his immediate release. Furthermore, we urge all other freedom loving citizens around the globe to join us by signing this petition and writing to the following authorities on this very urgent and critical matter. (emphases added)

Iranian officials to contact include Iranian President Khatami and Ambassador to the United Nations M. Javad Zarif. Glenn Reynolds suggests sending your comments to the more generic e-mail address as well.

UPDATE, 4/21: Now that I think about it, I’m CCing two additional addresses with each of the e-mails I send: (Human Rights Watch), and (UN High Commissioner on Human Rights). The addresses are provided in the petition web site. Also, the Iranian Interests Section at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C. has an e-mail address on its Arabic/Farsi page: Finally, a minor spelling error in the petition was corrected.

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Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th April 2003

For the opinion pieces I mentioned yesterday, “worth reading” only means that I think the pieces are challenging and well written, not that I completely agree with them. The thesis that some of the writers are developing is that human rights repression and threat to the United States tend to go hand in hand. I’m open to the idea that a sufficiently totalitarian regime or movement is in and of itself a security threat: a government (or movement) that brooks no opposition and sets no limits on its ambitions is one that will eventually need to seek its victims elsewhere.

Nevertheless, my view about Iraq was fairly specific to the circumstances: there were supporting UN resolutions, the dictator involved had a history of aggression and non-deterrability, international cooperation in containing him was breaking down, and ending the atrocious repression in Iraq was a good to be weighed against the costs of the war.

I don’t support extending that war to any and all totalitarian regimes. The problem is agreeing whether a given regime is 1) “totalitarian” enough, and 2) threatening enough to the United States or our allies to warrant military action, with 3) low enough expected costs. To keep this short, I’ll set aside the need for international approval and how to go about gaining it, other than to say the greater the threat, the less the need for that approval.

My personal answers to the above three questions for various “next?” countries are currently: North Korea: yes, yes, no (Seoul). Syria: yes, no, yes. Iran: no, unsure, no. So far, I feel like what’s next is that we should try to get Iraq right, and not look around for another fight. That’s not to say I’m against exacting some pledges from these countries to mend their ways while the iron’s hot, so to speak.

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