Cheery Topics For The First Sunday Of The New Decade

Marc Thiessen at The Corner:

Several readers have asked: How is what Obama is doing with Abdulmutallab different from what Bush did with Richard Reid?

Simple answer: The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, here, here and here. Marshall:

Wow, this is getting pretty bad for the National Review and Marc Thiessen. Thiessen of course said that we tried Richard Reid in a regular American court since that was “long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over” to law enforcement. But as TPM Reader RM points out, President Bush okayed military tribunals a month before Reid tried to blow up the plane.

As I said, there’s no spinning this one. There’s no reason beside GOP electoral strategy for not trying AbdulMutallab in a regular American Court. But seriously, with National Review’s august history, can’t we at least get better fake answers?

Thiessen responds:

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall is hard at work exposing his ignorance. He’s got three posts up that attempt to rebut mine here on the Corner regarding the Obama administration’s decision to read Abdulmutallab his rights and give him a lawyer — thus ending his cooperation with investigators.

Where to begin? My post responded to critics who claim Obama is just doing to Abdulmutallab what Bush did to shoe bomber Richard Reid. I pointed out that Reid was captured a few months after 9/11, when we did not know all our options, and explained that the better comparison is Jose Padilla — who was captured in Chicago on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings, designated an enemy combatant, sent to the Charleston brig, and interrogated.

Gotcha, says Josh, pointing out that “President Bush okayed military tribunals a month before Reid tried to blow up the plane.” This is true — and irrelevant. The existence of this order does not prove his point. A decision had been made to create military commissions, but the complex policy questions about who would go to military commissions vs. civilian courts, how to handle detainees captured in the United States vs. those captured abroad, etc., had not been settled, and were not settled for some time. Josh clearly has no idea how this policy developed, or he would not make such ludicrous claims.

Marshall responds:

Thiessen makes the common mistake of believing that if you just pile enough facts on top of each other they will eventually amount to an argument. But it just doesn’t. You can find Thiessen’s post here. But the gist is that, contrary to my argument, the fact that President Bush had already okayed military tribunals in principle a month before Reid’s arrest is irrelevant because the administration had not yet had sufficient time to promulgate policies and procedures for tribunals and military detention. In other words, says Thiessen, the Reid decision was the right decision because it was the only option available at the time.

But this claim hardly stands scrutiny. It was a cardinal rule of the administration’s prosecution of the War on Terror that the commander-in-chief does not have to wait on administrative rulings or findings of fact to act in the nation’s defense. His war power is plenary. More concretely, though, Padilla, who was sent to military detention, was arrested only 6 months after Reid. Was it really all worked out by then? And if so, remember that Reid pleaded guilty only in January 2003, a full six months later. If everything had been worked out in May 2002 (for Padilla), President Bush could have plucked Reid out of the criminal court system and given him the Padilla treatment before his case ever came to trial. But he didn’t.

Thiessen’s point about Padilla doesn’t make much sense either. I said he was sent to military detention because we didn’t have enough evidence for a criminal trial. He says, no, we didn’t want to put him in a criminal court because the evidence would have allowed him to depose KSM and others then in CIA custody. In other words, I say six. And he says, Not so: it’s half a dozen! This is just another way of saying we didn’t have the evidence for a criminal trial.

And on waterboarding, Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

Those poll results must be incredibly disheartening for opponents of waterboarding. Not only do 58 percent support it, another 12 percent aren’t sure. That means 70 percent of Americans either support waterboarding the Christmas bomber or think it’s an open question whether it’s necessary. For the record, I’m in the against or not-sure camp. I’d want to know for sure whether other techniques couldn’t get relevant information and I’d want a better sense that this guy knows about an imminent threat. Marc’s right to note that only three captives were waterboarded for a reason: It should be a last resort. My hunch is that at least some of those 30 percent opposed to waterboarding Abdulmutallab oppose it for the same reason. And I’d bet that if this was a more dramatic ticking-bomb-type case the numbers supporting waterboarding would go up.

This is after two years of glowing speeches from Obama and a relentless media campaign to treat waterboarding as cruel and unusual torture. I think opposition to waterboarding is an honorable point of view, just like opposing the death penalty. But I think opponents to both are going to have to live with the fact that the American people disagree with them now and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Marc Thiessen at The Corner:

Jonah is absolutely right that opposition to waterboarding is an honorable position — but it’s a little more like pacifism than opposition to the death penalty.  As I explain in Courting Disaster, the evidence is overwhelming that waterboarding helped stop a number of terrorist attacks.  Which means if you oppose waterboarding in all circumstances, it means you are willing to accept as the price another terrorist attack.

That does not mean we have to waterboard Abdulmutallab, or even use enhanced techniques on him.  Use of those tactics should be rare, and reserved only for those who we are confident are withholding actionable intelligence on active threats.

Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.

More Thiessen:

As my old boss, Secretary Rumsfeld used to say, Americans have a pretty good “inner gyroscope.” It likely would not be necessary to use the waterboard to get Abdulmutallab to talk — only three terrorists underwent it and only 30 had any enhanced techniques used at all. But the vast majority of Americans have it right: You don’t put an enemy combatant who just committed an act of war into the criminal-justice system — and you certainly don’t give him a lawyer and tell him, “You have the right to remain silent.” You make him tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks.

Isaac Chotiner at TNR:

The only bright spot in the cases of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up that Christmas Day flight, and the five men who went to Pakistan to receive terrorist training, was that members of the wannabe-terrorists’ families approached authorities because of their children’s behavior. As an ever-larger percentage of right-wing commentators demand that Abdulmutallab be water-boarded or worse, it does seem worth asking whether parents will offer their children up to law enforcement if they–the parents–believe their kids will be tortured.

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

It wasn’t so long ago that torture advocates insisted that it must be preserved as an option to prevent imminent attacks with weapons of mass destruction. Their ticking time bomb scenario was always unrealistic, and a flawed foundation for a legal regime, but somehow we’ve reached a far worse point in the debate where torture is deemed acceptable absent any imminent threat, or else opposing torture is deemed tantamount to pacifism, despite the obvious and incontrovertible fact that plenty of people who demonstrably aren’t pacifists oppose it.

Andrew Sullivan:

But here’s the critical line:

You make him tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks.

That’s the line that defines torture. If you can impose enough mental or physical pain or suffering to make someone tell you something you want to hear you have forced them to say something, true or false, to get the torture to stop. The fact of the matter is: this is illegal under any rational understanding of domestic and international law. In fact, domestic and international law mandates that governments do not even contemplate such measures, especially in extreme circumstances.

So National Review is urging law-breaking at the very highest levels of government. They are urging an extra-legal, extra-constitutional apparatus to seize and torture terror suspects outside of ticking time bomb scenarios as a matter of first resort. And yes, if they are advocating it against the pantie-bomber now, days after his capture, it is a first resort.

This is how far Cheney and the pro-torture camp have moved the debate, and why Obama’s calm attempt to overlook it is dangerous in the message it sends. What the Cheneyites themselves once refused to do, with Reid, they are now demanding Obama do to the pantie-bomber.

The few remaining voices on the right with any qualms about routine torture of terror suspects make their case with almost pathetic resignation. Glenn Reynolds seems to believe that openly exposing and opposing torture in a democracy is tantamount to endorsing and promoting it.


YEAH, BUT WITHOUT ANDREW SULLIVAN’S ANTI-TORTURE BLOGGING IT WOULD HAVE BEEN 56%: 58% Favor Waterboarding of Plane Terrorist To Get Information.

UPDATE: “My conclusion: the debate is over, and Dick Cheney won it.”

Reader Michael Gebert blames Andrew: “If fighting terrorists creates terrorists, surely being an endless hypocritical scold about waterboarding creates Dick Cheneys.” Yeah, I actually agree with Andrew on torture, but the more I read his stuff, the weaker my sentiments on the subject get . . . .

Sullivan on Instapundit:

What is his position now? We don’t know because his finger is still, as always, in the partisan wind. But he does passive-aggressively endorse torture-supporter Andy McCarthy’s belief that we should seize any suspect and subject them to “lengthy interrogation” (but, of course, he’s against torture), and links to every anti-Obama screed he can find. The entire gist of the linkage post is to oppose the position he explicitly took in 2003.

But we will get no accounting for the change. Because we never do.

Instapundit responds:

NO, ANDREW, it’s that you’re a preening, hectoring, self-centered, unpersuasive bad writer. That was my point, which you presumably got since you declined to include a link to my post. The more you argue that way — and the more you make it all about your self-satisfied sense of moral superiority — the less persuasive you are. Which, by now, has made you pretty damned unpersuasive indeed.

Sullivan responds:

So Glenn’s point is that bad writing is responsible for the US becoming a torturing nation under Cheney. If I had been able to be a good writer, I might have made a difference in the fight against torture. Reynolds, in stark contrast, waged a far more effective campaign against torture by writing and saying almost nothing, except for occasional credentializing statements that he is against it, while remaining in favor of everyone who is for it.

Yes, that sounds about right. Of course we are all imperfect writers. But that’s a subjective judgment and so I refer readers to my single attempt this past year to make the case as best I could in a single essay directed to the man ultimately responsible for the torture of countless prisoners, George W. Bush.

UPDATE: Joe Carter at First Things

UPDATE #2: Julian Sanchez

UPDATE  #3: Thiessen responds to Carter



Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security, Torture

2 responses to “Cheery Topics For The First Sunday Of The New Decade

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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