Tag Archives: Marc Thiessen

Now That’s What I Call A Document Dump

Wikileaks

Nick Davies and David Leigh at The Guardian:

A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers’ website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, give a blow-by-blow account of the fighting over the last six years, which has so far cost the lives of more than 320 British and more than 1,000 US troops.

Their publication comes amid mounting concern that Barack Obama’s “surge” strategy is failing and as coalition troops hunt for two US naval personnel captured by the Taliban south of Kabul on Friday.

The war logs also detail:

• How a secret “black” unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial.

• How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.

• How the coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.

• How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.

Spiegel

New York Times

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Turns out “Collateral Murder” was just a warm-up. WikiLeaks just published a trove of over 90,000 mostly-classified U.S. military documents that details a strengthening Afghan insurgency with deep ties to Pakistani intelligence.

WikiLeaks’ release of a 2007 Apache gunship video sparked worldwide outrage, but little change in U.S. policy. This massive storehouse has the potential to be strategically significant, raising questions about how and why America and her allies are conducting the war. Not only does it recount 144 incidents in which coalition forces killed civilians over six years. But it shows just how deeply elements within the U.S.’ supposed ally, Pakistan, have nurtured the Afghan insurgency. In other words, this has the potential to be 2010’s answer to the Pentagon Papers — a database you can open in Excel, brought to you by the now-reopened-for-business WikiLeaks.

Now, obviously, it’s not news that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligences has ties to the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami That’s something that pretty much every observer of the Afghanistan war and the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has known for the better part of a decade.

But as the early-viewing New York Times reports, WikiLeaks presents a new depth of detail about how the U.S. military has seen, for six years, the depths of ISI facilitation of the Afghan insurgency. For instance: a three-star Pakistani general active during the 80s-era U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi sponsorship of the anti-Soviet insurgency, Hamid Gul, allegedly met with insurgent leaders in South Waziristan in January 2009 to plot vengeance for the drone-inflicted death of an al-Qaeda operative. (Gul called it “absolute nonsense” to the Times reporters.)

Other reports, stretching back to 2004, offer chilling, granular detail about the Taliban’s return to potency after the U.S. and Afghan militias routed the religious-based movement in 2001. Some of them, as the Times notes, cast serious doubt on official U.S. and NATO accounts of how insurgents prosecute the war. Apparently, the insurgents have used “heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft,” eerily reminiscent of the famous Stinger missiles that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan provided to the mujahideen to down Soviet helicopters. One such missile downed a Chinook over Helmand in May 2007.

Typically, NATO accounts of copter downings are vague — and I’ve never seen one that cited the Taliban’s use of a guided missile. This clearly isn’t just Koran, Kalashnikov and laptop anymore. And someone is selling the insurgents these missiles, after all. That someone just might be slated to receive $7.5 billion of U.S. aid over the next five years.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that the documents released so far are U.S. military documents, not ISI documents, so they don’t quite rise to smoking-gun level.

Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy:

I’ve now gone through the reporting and most of the selected documents (though not the larger data dump), and I think there’s less here than meets the eye. The story that seems to be getting the most attention, repeating the longstanding allegation that Pakistani intelligence might be aiding the Afghan insurgents, offers a few new details but not much greater clarity. Both the Times and the Guardian are careful to point out that the raw reports in the Wikileaks archive often seem poorly sourced and present implausible information.

“[F]or all their eye-popping details,” writes the Guardian‘s Delcan Welsh, “the intelligence files, which are mostly collated by junior officers relying on informants and Afghan officials, fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity.”

The Times‘ reporters seem somewhat more persuaded, noting that “many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable” and that their sources told them that “the portrait of the spy agency’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.”

Der Spiegel‘s reporting adds little, though the magazine’s stories will probably have great political impact in Germany, as the Wikileaks folks no doubt intended. One story hones in on how an elite U.S. task force charged with hunting down Taliban and Al Qaeda targets operates from within a German base; another alleges that “The German army was clueless and naïve when it stumbled into the conflict,” and that northern Afghanistan, where the bulk of German troops are based, is more violent than has been previously portrayed.

Otherwise, I’d say that so far the documents confirm what we already know about the war: It’s going badly; Pakistan is not the world’s greatest ally and is probably playing a double game; coalition forces have been responsible for far too many civilian casualties; and the United States doesn’t have very reliable intelligence in Afghanistan.

I do think that the stories will provoke a fresh round of Pakistan-bashing in Congress, and possibly hearings. But the administration seems inclined to continue with its strategy of nudging Pakistan in the right direction, and is sending the message: Move along, nothing to see here.

Stephen F. Hayes at The Weekly Standard:

Expect this story from the New York Times to restart the discussion on U.S. policies and strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Under the headline “Pakistani Spy Service Aids Insurgents, Reports Assert,” a team of Times reporters summarize and analyze a huge batch of secret U.S. intelligence reports on the war in Afghanistan. Those reports show, in compelling detail, that Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) has been actively – and regularly – aiding insurgents fighting Americans in Afghanistan.

[…]

The central claim in the piece is not new. Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio have written about ISI’s duplicity for years. See here, here and here for examples.

The Times report – along with the public examination of the trove of WikiLeaks documents – will almost certainly reignite the public debate over the war in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration’s strategy there. The president’s already soft support in his own party will probably soften further. The key question is whether nervous Republicans will join them.

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time:

The White House has reacted in full damage control mode to the release of classified documents detailing the U.S. military’s struggles in Afghanistan, which the New York Times calls “in many respects more grim than the official portrayal.”

To see the New York Times summary of the documents, click here. To see the Guardian’s coverage, click here. (Advance copies of the documents were provided to both the Times and Guardian, on the condition that they not be released until Sunday.) For more on Wikileaks and its founder, read this excellent New Yorker profile here.

In response, the White House press office is emphasizing two facts. First, the documents concern a time period (2004 to 2009) that precedes the Presidents latest new strategy for Afghanistan. Second, government officials have not exactly been secretive in the past about the connection between the Pakistani ISI and radical elements in the region that are working against U.S. interests. “In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who’ve argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence,” President Obama said, when he announced his latest strategy in December of 2009. (Indeed, in recent months, as TIME has noted, there has been some good news on this front, with the Pakistan government, including the ISI, taking more aggressive actions.)

Laura Rozen at Politico:
“It is important to note that the time period reflected in the documents is January 2004 to December 2009,” National Security Advisor ret. Gen. Jim Jones said in a statement Sunday.”On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years,” he continued. “This shift in strategy addressed challenges in Afghanistan that were the subject of an exhaustive policy review last fall.”

Some 180 of the war logs and raw intelligence reports concern previously reported allegations that the Pakistani intelligence services have been providing covert support to Afghan insurgents.

“Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators,” the New York Times reports.

But, the paper cautions, many of the raw intelligence reports and field threat assessments “cannot be verified,” while “many … rely on sources that the military rated as reliable.”

“The records also contain firsthand accounts of American anger at Pakistan’s unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks near Pakistani border posts, moved openly by the truckload across the frontier, and retreated to Pakistani territory for safety,” the paper said.

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

This is going to be huge. And Wikileaks’ strategy to collaborate with mainstream media this time around should heighten the impact of this data. The Guardian is using the log to argue that it presents “a very different landscape” than the one put forward by coalition leaders. Meanwhile, the Times picks out military concerns that Pakistani intelligence is directly aiding insurgents. That “real” journalists are in charge of these reports should move focus off the biases of Wikileaks and Julian Assange—as happened with their “Collateral Murder” video—and onto the leak itself. (Wikileaks agreed to not have any input into the stories built around their leak.)

It’s unclear at this time if this leak is related to the case of army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the Apache video. But this leak should cause a similar-sized uproar and deliver a more pointed impact than even that graphic video did. The elaborate packages put together by the Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian are only the beginning of this story.

Andrew Bacevich at TNR:

The leaks are unlikely to affect the course of events on the ground. However, they may well affect the debate over the war here at home. In that regard, the effect is likely to be pernicious, intensifying the already existing inclination to focus on peripheral matters while ignoring vastly more important ones. For months on end, Washington has fixated on this question: what, oh what, are we to do about Afghanistan? Implicit in the question are at least two assumptions: first, that something must be done; and, second, that if the United States and its allies can just devise the right approach (or assign the right general), then surely something can be done.

Both assumptions are highly dubious. To indulge them is to avoid the question that should rightly claim Washington’s attention: What exactly is the point of the Afghanistan war? The point cannot be to “prevent another 9/11,” since violent anti-Western jihadists are by no means confined to or even concentrated in Afghanistan. Even if we were to “win” in Afghanistan tomorrow, the jihadist threat would persist. If anything, staying in Afghanistan probably exacerbates that threat. So tell me again: why exactly are we there?

The real significance of the Wikileaks action is of a different character altogether: it shows how rapidly and drastically the notion of “information warfare” is changing. Rather than being defined as actions undertaken by a government to influence the perception of reality, information warfare now includes actions taken by disaffected functionaries within government to discredit the officially approved view of reality. This action is the handiwork of subversives, perhaps soldiers, perhaps civilians. Within our own national security apparatus, a second insurgent campaign may well have begun. Its purpose: bring America’s longest war to an end. Given the realities of the digital age, this second insurgency may well prove at least as difficult to suppress as the one that preoccupies General Petraeus in Kabul.

UPDATE: Richard Tofel at ProPublica

Allah Pundit

Jay Rosen

James Joyner

Andrew Sullivan has a round-up

Andrew Exum at NYT

UPDATE #2: Marc Ambinder

Fred Kaplan at Slate

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy

UPDATE #3: Richard Fernandez at Pajamas Media

Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive

UPDATE #4: Anne Applebaum at Slate

Ed Morrissey

UPDATE #5: Marc Thiessen at WaPo.

Eva Rodriguez responds at WaPo

Thiessen responds to Rodriguez

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time

Mark Thompson at The League

UPDATE #6: Joshua Cohen and Jim Pinkerton at Bloggingheads

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Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT, New Media

BeFri 4 Never?

Hilary Stout at NYT:

Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date. While in the past a social slight in backyard games rarely came to teachers’ attention the next day, today an upsetting text message from one middle school student to another is often forwarded to school administrators, who frequently feel compelled to intervene in the relationship. (Ms. Laycob was speaking in an interview after spending much of the previous day dealing with a “really awful” text message one girl had sent another.) Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.

Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress:

Unreal. Read the article. The schools and “experts” are intrusive and unnatural. And sad.

This isn’t about what’s good for the children; it is about being better able to control adults by stripping from them any training in intimacy and interpersonal trust. Don’t let two people get together and separate themselves from the pack, or they might do something subversive, like…think differently.

This move against “best friends” is ultimately about preventing individuals from nurturing and expanding their individuality. It is about training our future adults to be unable to exist outside of the pack, the collective. The schools want you to think this is about potential bullying and the sadness of some children feeling “excluded.” But that is not what this is about.

As a kid I was the target of “the pack;” I know more than I care to about schoolyard bullies, and I can tell you that the best antidote to them was having a good friend. One good friend who shares your interests and ideas and sense of humor can erase the negative effects of the conform-or-die “pack” with which one cannot identify, “the pack” that cannot comprehend why one would not wish to join them and will not tolerate resistance.

Marc Thiessen at The American Enterprise Institute:

The absurdity of this approach is beyond measure. For one thing, it is completely at odds with real life. When kids grow up, they’re not going to be “friends with everyone.” In the real world there are people who will like you, and people who will dislike you; people who are kind, and people who are cruel; people you can trust, and people you can’t trust; people who will be there for you in good times and bad, and people who will abandon you when the going gets tough.

Childhood is when kids learn to recognize those different types of people, experience joys and disappointments of different kinds of friendships, and learn the social skills they will need to develop mature relationships later in life. As one psychologist quoted in the article puts it, “No one can teach you what a great friend is, what a fair-weather friend is, what a treacherous and betraying friend is except to have a great friend, a fair-weather friend or a treacherous and betraying friend.”

Denying kids the opportunity to have such experiences stunts their development. It also teaches kids to develop superficial relationships with lots of people, without learning how to develop deep bonds of meaning and consequence with anyone. Think about it: Who among us would tell their deepest, darkest secrets to “everyone”? Denying kids a “best friend” makes it harder to get through childhood—and makes it harder to be a successful adult one day as well.

Obviously, schools want to discourage cliques, ensure that no children are ostracized or bullied, and help those along who have trouble bonding with their peers. But the solution to such problems is not to discourage kids who do bond with their peers from doing so—or consciously separate them when they do.

This is but the latest misguided effort to protect children from the realities of life that only harms them in the long run. First came the trend to stop keeping score in childhood sports and give everyone a “participation trophy”—discouraging excellence and achievement, and shielding kids from the reality of winning and losing. Now comes a new fad of separating best friends—denying kids the magic of those first special friendships.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

The stories are so familiar it makes no need to go into specifics. The experts of the helping professions want to tell you what to eat, what to drink, how to drive, how to talk, how to think. Sometimes they have a point, and as the father of a young child, I’m perfectly willing to concede that cliques and whatnot can be unhealthy or mean. But this really goes to 11.

Lisa Solod Warren at Huffington Post:

I was bulled in middle school and I have written a seminal article on school bullying for Brain, Child magazine a few years ago (well before the topic became so hot) and I say: Balderdash. Bullying is a problem; it can even be a tragedy. But the fact that a couple of kids bond as best friends is not the cause of bullying: stopping best friendships is not going to be the “cure.”

I have always counted myself fortunate to have a best friend as well as a couple of other women in my life with whom I am extremely close. I met my oldest best friend, Patti, when I was eight years old. Now, 46 years later, separated by hundreds of miles, we can still pick up the phone and start a conversation right in the middle. She knows my past and I know hers: all the dirty bits, the secrets, the moments we might not want to remember. She came to my father’s funeral a few months ago and I know that whatever I asked, whenever I asked it, she would be there. She knows the same of me.

She’s been there for me through a whole host of life changes. And those life changes began soon after we met in third grade. Had anyone discouraged me from clinging to her, or her to me, there would indeed have been hell to pay. And to what end? Is there any kind of scientific evidence that proves that being friends with an entire group of people without having one special person on whom one can absolutely rely is preferable? I wonder, actually, why on earth anyone would study this sort of thing in the first place. Bullying is about power. Power and insecurity. It’s something I found is often “taught” or handed down from generation to generation. Stopping kids from having one great friend whom they can trust to have their back is not going to prevent bullying. If anything, when a child doesn’t have someone he or she can trust -someone outside the family–bullying can seem even more onerous and scary than it already is. I never told my parents I was bullied. But Patti knew. And she defended me.

Razib Khan at Secular Right:

The article is in The New York Times. It’s a paper which usually tries really hard to pretend toward objective distance, but I get the sense that even the author of the piece was a bit confused by the weirdness which had infected the educational establishment.

Rod Dreher:

What crackpots. The idea that the way to decrease bullying is to deny children the opportunity to make a special friend or friends is cruel and crazy. It’s like saying that the way to stop school gun violence is to prevent anything that even looks like a gun from being brought to school — like, say, little toy soldiers pinned to a hat. No teacher or school would object to that. Oh, wait…

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Filed under Education, Families

So Did He Go Big? Or Did He Go Home?

Campbell Robertson at New York Times:

For much of the last two months, the focus of the response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion has been a mile underwater, 50 miles from shore, where successive efforts involving containment domes, “top kills” and “junk shots” have failed, and a “spillcam” shows tens of thousands of barrels of oil hemorrhaging into the gulf each day.

Closer to shore, the efforts to keep the oil away from land have not fared much better, despite a response effort involving thousands of boats, tens of thousands of workers and millions of feet of containment boom.

From the beginning, the effort has been bedeviled by a lack of preparation, organization, urgency and clear lines of authority among federal, state and local officials, as well as BP. As a result, officials and experts say, the damage to the coastline and wildlife has been worse than it might have been if the response had been faster and orchestrated more effectively.

“The present system is not working,” Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said Thursday at a hearing in Washington devoted to assessing the spill and the response. Oil had just entered Florida waters, Senator Nelson said, adding that no one was notified at either the state or local level, a failure of communication that echoed Mr. Bonano’s story and countless others along the Gulf Coast.

“The information is not flowing,” Senator Nelson said. “The decisions are not timely. The resources are not produced. And as a result, you have a big mess, with no command and control.”

David Kenner at Foreign Policy:

Two House Democrats released a letter accusing BP of making a series of decisions that sacrificed safety in order to save time and money, and ultimately resulted in the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The 14-page letter was sent by Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep. Bart Stupak, who serves as the chairman of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations. BP CEO Tony Hayward is scheduled to testify before the committee on Thursday. President Obama will discuss the oil spill during his first Oval Office address on Tuesday, at 8 p.m.

The drilling rig cost between $1 million and $2 million to operate daily, and BP engineers seem to have taken a number of steps meant to finish the project quickly. The letter alleges that they cut corners by using only six devices to center the drill pipe in the well hole, instead of the recommended 21 devices. An uncentered pipe increased the risk of cracks developing in the cement surrounding the pipe. Engineers also neglected to perform a 9- to 12-hour procedure that would have tested the strength of the cement, despite having a team aboard the rig that could have performed the test.

Scarecrow at Firedoglake:

In case the White House hasn’t noticed, no one is fooled or satisfied with the arrangement that has BP nominally in charge of protection and cleanup of the massive damage they’ve caused while claiming the Coast Guard is “overseeing” their efforts. We’re talking about fundamental government functions, and BP is not our government.

It’s understandable the White House is working hard to make sure BP pays the costs; that’s both morally and legally sound. But the White House has been working even harder to make sure BP is left in charge and takes the risks and the hits for anything that doesn’t go well. That White House strategy is inexcusable.

Whatever the limitations on government’s ability to deal with the gusher a mile down, once the oil gets in US waters and approaches America’s shores, it’s government’s absolute responsibility to protect public health/safety and environment. Government can demand responsible parties like BP do X, Y, Z and pay for all of it, but it’s up to government to get it done, even if government employees/agents/contractors working with locals/states have to do it themselves. It’s astonishing anyone would think this is not government’s job.

Saying, “we told BP to do X, but they didn’t” or even “BP didn’t tell us we needed to protect this beach or that island” is not acceptable and won’t get it done. BP is not our government.

Marc Thiessen at The Enterprise Blog:

Tonight, President Obama will address the nation on the Gulf oil spill, the first Oval Office address of his presidency. The decision to address the American people is late in coming—eight weeks after the Deepwater Horizon explosion—but it is better late than never.

The president needs to be realistic about what his address can achieve. As long as people see pictures of the gusher on the ocean floor spewing oil into the Gulf, no rhetoric—however brilliant—will solve his problems. In 2004 and 2005, President Bush delivered countless speeches rallying the country on Iraq, but as long as Americans saw bombs going off in Baghdad they didn’t buy it. Only after the surge stabilized the situation on the ground did his speeches have an impact—because his words finally echoed what people saw on TV screens.

The same is true of this crisis. Until the “spillcam” shows that the flow has been contained, and the images of oil-soaked birds stop appearing on the front page, Obama will not be able to turn public opinion around in a lasting way.

What he can do is show the American people that he is leading. He needs to project a sense of confidence and optimism amid the crisis. He needs to tell Americans that while this is the worst environmental crisis in our history, we have overcome worse in our history—and we will get through this as well. And he needs to lay out a clear plan to do so.

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:

Aside from regulation, a strong confrontational tone against BP, and an acknowledgment of reality, the White House is remaining mum on whether the President will use the 20 minutes the networks have given him to call for — and push for — a comprehensive energy policy. One clue: Is the DNC’s Organizing for America readying an energy push?

Yesterday’s email from the President to his list may have been a trial balloon, for “we’re certainly going to direct people’s energy to it who are interested in the issue as appropriate,” says a party official, which is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the “Go Big” position.

Whatever the President calls for Tuesday, the Senate hopes he has the votes for it. And House Democrats hope he makes clear distinctions between Democrats and Republicans AND puts pressure on the Senate to “Go Big.” On Thursday, Senate Democrats meet to discuss the future of energy legislation, and the White House hopes that the speech tonight will fortify them, to some degree.

If the Center for American Progress really is pulling the strings on the President’s energy policy, then POTUS will Go Medium Big: check out this memo from Dan Weiss, CAP’s director of climate strategy:

President Obama must use this moment to rally Americans to support a sweeping oil reform agenda that permanently changes the way big oil does business. This means building public demand for standards and investments that deeply cut the $1 billion per day spent on foreign oil, ending tax loopholes for big oil companies, and beginning to crack down on global warming pollution.

If “Go Big” means a strong push for carbon pricing, then this would be the middle ground — a speech that focuses on the oil industry, pollution reduction (including renewable standards and CAFE standard enhancement), lots of money for relief and reconstruction, and an assumption of responsibility for the clean-up.

Daniel Weiss at CAP:

President Barack Obama has made four trips to visit gulf state communities affected by the BP disaster and now plans to give his first-ever Oval Office speech to the nation this Tuesday evening to address the issue. This manmade calamity threatens the nation’s economy, health, and environment. This is also a crucial moment in the BP catastrophe, which threatens to swamp his domestic agenda. But it also provides an opportunity for President Obama to demonstrate leadership by tackling all the aspects of this crisis, including taking charge of the clean up, getting more help from BP, providing long-term public health and economic recovery, and adopting an oil-use and pollution-reduction reform agenda to minimize the likelihood of another catastrophe.

Americans are legitimately frustrated and furious about the oil disaster, which has gone on for 55 days and counting. The public has grave concerns about BP’s inability to stop or slow the gusher of oil contaminating the gulf. Opinion polls also show that respondents have an unfavorable view of the government’s handling of the disaster. This is undoubtedly due to the government’s inability to get BP to staunch the flood of oil, even though BP has far more advanced technology and oil blow-out experience than the federal government.

President Obama must use his speech to make a compelling and passionate case for comprehensive clean-up measures as well as an oil reform program. This is essential to galvanize public demand for immediate steps to reduce damage from the disaster, as well as more active support for longer-term oil use and pollution reductions.

Ezra Klein:

The elements of Barack Obama’s speech tonight that were specifically newsworthy were also broadly-expected: A liability fund that BP will pay into and that a third-party will distribute. A “long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan.” Both ideas sound good. But their worth will be determined by, well, their worth. And Obama did not name any dollar amounts.

He also did not utter the words “climate change” or “global warming.” The closest Obama got was to praise the House for “passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill – a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses.” The section of his speech devoted to the issue avoided the politically-controversial problem in order to focus on the broadly-popular solution: Clean energy. “As we recover from this recession,” Obama promised, “the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of good, middle-class jobs.”

Obama did not make any specific promises about the bill he would support, or even that he wanted. He did not say he would price carbon, or that we should get a certain percentage of our energy from renewables by a certain date.

Taegan Goddard with reactions,

Though Obama called for a “national mission” to transition to clean energy, he was vague on what he actually wants to see in a comprehensive energy bill. In doing so, Obama is just another president that has refused to ask Americans for the necessary sacrifice to finally achieve this greater national goal. He missed a golden opportunity.

Allah Pundit:

Things I learned tonight from watching Keith Olbermann’s and Chris Matthews’s post-speech wrap-up: (1) Obama’s rhetoric is gassy and notably short on specifics; (2) renewable energy is much harder to develop than certain prominent Democrats would have us believe; (3) government bureaucracy may be contributing to the slow federal response in the gulf.

Exit question: Am I awake? Click the image to watch.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum

James Joyner with reacts

Andrew Sullivan with reacts

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Filed under Energy, Environment, Political Figures

“Are You Ready For Some Futbol?!?”

TNR’s world cup blog

Jonathan Last:

It’s happening again.

The most puzzling part of anti-American soccer obsession is that it’s not like Americans don’t like the game of soccer. We all play it at the youth level and–for the most part–have a good time. It’s just that we graduate up to other sports and don’t have much of an appetite for soccer played at the elite level.

And what’s wrong with that? Our interest level in soccer is the mirror image of our interest level in football, which, comparatively few people play at the youth level, but which has great popularity at the professional level.

But the thing is, you never hear football–or baseball, or ultimate frisbee, or tennis, or cycling, or hockey, or curling–or any other kind of fans railing against people who don’t share their passion as if there’s something morally and politically wrong with them. Why is it that soccer fans care so much about what American’s don’t care about?

We’ll never know.

Will at The League:

But despite the thoroughly artificial media blitz surrounding the World Cup and the obnoxious social signaling that goes into American soccer fandom, I’m really looking forward to the tournament. So I thought I’d take a stab at explaining how soccer differs from American sports and why I find its distinctiveness so enjoyable.

Lumping team sports together is a chancy business, but I think there is one important commonality between football, baseball and, to a lesser extent, basketball that distinguishes them from soccer. All three American sports are characterized by short, action-packed intervals followed or preceded by pauses – an inbounds pass that leads to an easy dunk; a pitch that results in a strike that ends an inning; an end-zone reception immediately following a thirty second pause. This is not to say there aren’t fluid sequences in American sports – witness fast-break basketball or baseball’s hallowed triple play. But American teams usually see action in short, frenetic bursts instead of the slower build-up of a good soccer match.

To an outsider, the notion that a two hour football game only consists of 11 minutes of televised action must seem absurd. At its best, however, the pauses accentuate tension and allow for more elaborate plays, more back-and-forth adjustments between the teams’ respective coaches, and a level of athletic execution that would be impossible in a less controlled, faster-paced environment. For the most part, this is a trade-off I can accept. To take another example from American sports, good pitching duels include plenty of pregnant pauses. I don’t think this detracts from the action so much as it heightens the tension of athletic competition.

Soccer has fewer pauses, fewer substitutions, and no timeouts. As a consequence, the manager (coach) has very little opportunity to pause or direct in-game play. Soccer also tends to be more spontaneous, more dynamic, and less scripted. While physical contact or bad execution will sometimes slow the game down to an unbearable pace, the rules of soccer allow for a level of fluidity that would be impossible in an American context (transition-oriented basketball is the only exception I can think of, but that’s  still broken up by frequent timeouts, inbound passes, and the tempo of the opposing team). The build-up to the first Dutch goal in the 1974 World Cup final is a classic example of soccer’s distinctive style – despite a slow start, the Dutch control the ball for over a minute before Johan Cruyf streaks through the defense to draw a penalty kick.

Maybe the contrast between the short, frenetic play of American athletes and the fluid build-up of a European soccer match offers some insight into our respective cultural psyches. But I suspect a more fluid style of play already appeals to American sports audiences. Fast-paced, transition-oriented basketball was the calling card of Magic Johnson and the Showtime-era Lakers. A quarterback-directed hurry-up offense is often the most exciting part of a football match. So if you like fast-paced team competition, give soccer a try. But if the World Cup isn’t your thing, I won’t hold it against you.

Daniel Gross at Slate:

Being a soccer fan at World Cup time in America is a little like being Jewish in December in a small town in the Midwest. You sense that something big is going on around you, but you’re not really a part of it. And the thing you’re celebrating and enjoying is either ignored or misunderstood by your friends, peers, and neighbors. It can be a lonely time. But the World Cup is much bigger than Christmas. After all, only a couple of billion people in the world celebrate Christmas; the World Cup is likely to garner the attention of a much larger audience. Yet in the world’s largest and most important sports competition, the American team, and the American audience, is a marginal, bit player. And for those of us who love the game of soccer and the World Cup, and for the few of us who followed the ups and downs of Landon Donovan’s career, these next couple weeks are likely to be bittersweet.

[…]

Oh, sure, you can find other enthusiasts. A few Slate colleagues pass around YouTube links to the latest sick goal. Urban hipsters are obliged to show some interest in the game, the same way they do in CSAs, and facial hair (for men) and yoga (for women). On the Internet, there’s the high-brow crew over at the New Republic, (which features an ad for a book from Cornell University press on Spartak Moscow), the fine blogs No Short Corners and Yanks Abroad, and a rising volume of press coverage. But there’s nothing like the volume and sophistication of stuff our frères at Slate.fr are doing. If you want to follow the game, wince with every missed shot, and question coach Bob Bradley’s personnel choices, you’ll have to venture into the fever swamps of BigSoccer.com. There you will find some people who live and die with status updates of defender Oguchi Onyewu’s knee. But they’re only avatars.

Following the U.S. national team in the World Cup is a somewhat solitary endeavor in part because the scheduling doesn’t lend itself to social or family watching. Unlike the Olympics, the World Cup is not scheduled or televised according to U.S. preferences—the last time the quadrennial tournament was staged in the Western hemisphere was 1994. To watch the United States’ opening game in the 2002 World Cup, I had to go to the Irish pub across from my New York apartment at 4 a.m. This year the schedule is only slightly better: this Saturday against England at 2:30 p.m. ET, Friday, June 18, against Slovenia at 10 a.m. ET, then Wednesday, June 23, at 10 a.m. ET, against Algeria. Yes, pubs and sports bars will be showing the games. But how many people will leave work, or take the day off, or skip the Little League game or pool party, to sit indoors and watch a soccer match? My guess is that when the U.S. plays England, the bars in New York and Los Angeles will be like Condé Nast in the 1990s—overrun with Brits.

I won’t be there. On Saturday afternoon, I’ll be at a family gathering, one at which I’m confident nobody will be checking scores or talking about the potentially epic matchup with England. I’ll have to tape it and watch it later, most likely alone. At least I’m confident none of my close friends or family members will call, e-mail, or text me with scores or updates, and that I can safely listen to the radio without the result intruding. On the other hand, I might have to shut off my Twitter feed. I follow a few foreigners.

Matthew Philbin at Newsbusters:

Time magazine is leading the “Ole’s” for soccer this year, putting the World Cup on its cover and dedicating 10 articles to the sport in its June 14 issue.

One of those articles proclaimed in the headline, “Yes, Soccer Is America’s Game.” Author Bill Saporito argued that “soccer has become a big and growing sport.”

“What’s changed is that this sport and this World Cup matter to Americans,” Saporito asserted. “These fans have already made the transition from soccer pioneers to soccer-literate and are gradually heading down the road to soccer-passionate.”

Soccer is even in the White House, Saporito pointed out. President George W. Bush was a former co-owner of a baseball team. And although President Obama played basketball, his daughters play little league soccer, and current White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs played soccer in high school and college.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on June 3, host Joe Scarborough noted the importance of the World Cup to other countries, but explained that Americans just don’t understand “what a huge sport this is.” Still, he said hopefully, “It is a growing sport in America as well, isn’t it?”

Growing, but not “huge” by any standard. The final game of the 2006 World Cup drew 16.9 million viewers in the United States. While that number may seem respectable, it pales in comparison with the 106 million viewers that tuned in to watch the 2010 Super Bowl. The final 2009 World Series game drew 22.3 million viewers, and 48.1 million tuned in to watch Duke beat Butler in the 2010 NCAA men’s college basketball championship.

A look at game attendance figures is instructive, as well. According to Major League Soccer’s MLS Daily, as of June 7, 2010, the highest drawing pro soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, averaged 36,146 attendees over seven home games. Conversely, the Seattle Mariners baseball team has averaged 25,314 over 32 home games.

The Mariners are dead last in the American League West division, and 24th in the league in batting average, 30th in home runs, 27th in RBIs and 25th in number of hits. In short, they’re horrible. With a record of 4-5-3, the Sounders aren’t very good either, but they play in a very liberal city, are currently benefiting from World Cup year interest in their sport, and they play a schedule that allows far fewer opportunities for fans to attend.

Another number is Hollywood box office. John Horn of The Los Angeles Times contemplated on June 6 about Hollywood’s lack of a mainstream movie about soccer. In “Why is There No Great Hollywood Soccer Movie?” Horn pointed out that each sport has its own hit movie except soccer.

Robert Costa at The Corner:

When it comes to soccer, I’ll quote Churchill: America, it seems, still has “sublime disinterestedness.”

Michael Agovino at The Atlantic:

During this World Cup, I know there will be kids like me from the Bronx—a soccer wasteland in 1980s; a wasteland period, to some—watching this strange new game and devouring it. Where is Valladolid? Vigo? Bilbao? Cameroon? El Salvador? Algeria? Why does Algeria wear green, Italy blue? Why is it Glasgow Celtic and not the Celtics? Where’s this team Flamengo? Or Corinthians? Why is that skinny man with the beard named Socrates?

They’ll be some curious 14-year-old or 12-year-old or 10-year-old (kids seem so much smarter these days) and maybe they’ll start by bugging their parents for a Kaizer Chiefs jersey. Then, better still, they’ll get the atlas off the shelf, or more likely online, and trace their finger on the computer screen and look for Polokwane and Bloemfontein and Tshwane. Maybe it will take them to the photography of David Goldblatt or to the music of Abdullah Ibrahim (no room for him at the concert last night I suppose), or of the late Lion of Soweto himself, Mahlathini. (Don’t laugh, my first encounter with Joan Miro and Antoni Tapies were from 1982 World Cup posters.) Maybe they’ll learn that the “word,” long ago, was “Johannesburg!”

And they’ll ask questions—why is this stadium named for Peter Mokaba, that one for Moses Mabhida, and who is Nelson Mandela? And they’ll learn and they’ll be obsessed for life.

And that makes me do one thing: smile. Now, may the games begin.

UPDATE: Dave Zirin at NPR

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

James Fallows

UPDATE #2: Daniel Drezner

UPDATE #3: Stefan Fatsis at Slate

Jonathan Chait at TNR

UPDATE #4: Marc Thiessen at Enterprise Blog

Matt Yglesias on Thiessen

UPDATE $5: Bryan Curtis and Eve Fairbanks at Bloggingheads

2 Comments

Filed under Sports

And These Visions Of Miranda That Conquer My Mind

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

Naturalized American citizen Faisal Shahzad, arrested late last night for the failed car bomb in Times Square, is in U.S. custody. Should he be read his Miranda rights? The question has a complicated recent history in U.S. policy.

In December, the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was Mirandized after his failed attempt to blow up a U.S. flight, which provoked outrage among some Republican legislators. Critics insisted that the Miranda reading made Abdulmutallab less likely to share intelligence, although administration officials say he continued speaking openly. The current rift among some conservatives over Shahzad’s Miranda rights reveals a tension within the party between two core issues: Civil liberties, which is emphasized by those saying Shahzad’s rights as a citizen must be respected, and national security, which some Republicans say is better served by not Mirandizing.

Conservatives For Mirandizing

Glenn Beck: Read Him His Rights On Fox & Friends, Glenn Beck said, “He’s a citizen of the United States, so I say we uphold the laws and the Constitution on citizens.” Fox New’s Brian Kilmeade pushed back, calling Shahzad “a threat to the country.” Beck sighed, “So are a lot of citizens. If you’re a citizen, you obey the law and follow the Constitution. He has all the rights, under the Constitution.” He added, “We don’t shred the Constitution when it’s popular. We do the right thing.” Kilmeade suggested that Beck’s approach could risk the lives of his family.

[…]

  • Sen. John McCain: ‘Serious Mistake’ Appearing on the radio show Imus In The Morning, McCain warned, “Obviously that would be a serious mistake…at least until we find out as much information we have. … Don’t give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about.”
  • Rep. Peter King: Should Have Talked to Intelligence Community First The New York Republican worries, “Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still. … I hope that if they did read him his rights and if they are going for an indictment as opposed to a tribunal that he did discuss it with the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, all the component parts of the intelligence community.”
  • Sen. Joe Lieberman: Remove His Citizenship Appearing on Fox News, the Connecticut Independent suggested a process to strip “American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorists” of their U.S. citizenship, which would presumable include their Miranda rights. He asked “whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship, and therefore be deprived of rights that come with that citizenship when they are apprehended and charged with a terrorist act.”

Mark Kleiman:

John McCain, who might have been elected President last year, thinks that according American citizens their constitutional rights is a “terrible mistake.” Presumably he still thinks so despite the fact that Faisal Sharad, after being given the Miranda warnings, promptly spilled his guts. Not merely did he confess, he apparently gave up the names of at least eight associates who have now been arrested by Pakistani police.

The fervent desire on the extreme right wing – which is to say, at the center of the Republican Party – to allow terrorists to bluff us out of our way of life ought to seem puzzling. The world is full of third-world dictatorships where the secret police get to hold enemies of the state incommunicado and torture them. I have no desire to live in such a place. If John McCain’s tastes are different, no doubt Saudi Arabia would be delighted to have him as a subject.

Steve Benen:

Look, I know McCain’s in a tough primary and has to prove himself to the far-right, but this Miranda-related demagoguery is growing stale.

Najibullah Zazi was Mirandized, and the entire case went beautifully. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was Mirandized, and the results have been excellent. When shoe bomber Richard Reid was taken into custody, the Bush/Cheney administration read him his rights five minutes after he was taken off the plane he tried to blow up, and McCain never said a word. It’s been standard practice, especially with American citizens upon their arrest, for years — spanning administrations of both parties.

Can’t McCain just let the grown-ups do what they do without offering suggestions from the peanut gallery? The Joint Terrorism Task Force caught the suspect 48 hours after the attempted bombing; the frequently-confused Arizonan should probably trust them to know how best to proceed.

John Cole:

“I hope that [Attorney General Eric] Holder did discuss this with the intelligence community. If they believe they got enough from him, how much more should they get? Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still,” King told POLITICO.

“I know he’s and American citizen, but still” really says it all, doesn’t it?

Half our political leadership wants a banana Republic, and our media is just treating it like it is another opinion. At what point do we start calling these people what they are?

And I just don’ know what to say about the obviously insane John McCain. You would think that someone who spent half a decade in a cage with no rights whatsoever in the defense of this nation and our laws and legal tradition and way of life, would have the slightest bit of respect for the rule of law. You would, of course, be wrong.

Moe Lane at Redstate:

Anyway, this isn’t a case of a non-citizen captured overseas as an illegal combatant, or even one of a non-citizen captured here: there are existing Constitutional mechanisms in place. Including this one:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Of course, that assumes that this administration will seek to have this man charged and tried with what is unambiguously a capital crime. I leave it to the reader to contemplate the implications of a refusal to do so.

Ed Morrissey:

Shahzad is an American citizen, arrested by law enforcement in America. As a US citizen, Shahzad has the right to remain silent. In that sense, he differs from the EunuchBomber, who attempted to enter the country (our airspace) to conduct a sabotage mission for an enemy of the US. Ambdulmuttalab should have immediately been taken into custody by military and intelligence agencies, not the FBI, in order to make his status as an enemy combatant clear.

Rick Moran:

First of all, it is never a “mistake” to follow the law. Mr Shahzad is an American citizen, and even if he had murdered thousands, he would still be entitled to the protections guaranteed under our Constitution.

And yet, this is one instance where the “ticking bomb” scenario might very well be a reality. Newsweek reports there may be a connection between Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud:

A prominent expert on Jihadist media says there is an apparent link between the new video message in which Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, once thought to have been killed, proclaims he is still alive, and a message posted overnight Saturday in which the Pakistani Taliban appears to claim credit for the failed Times Square car bomb attack.

Rita Katz, founder of the Site Intelligence Group, a private organization that monitors and translates extremist Web postings, late on Monday outlined a timeline her organization put together that suggests that the Hakimullah video and the U.S. attack claim were both posted, at least on some sites, by the same person or persons.

Terrorists are notoriously full of bombast but just for the record, Meshud made some bloodthirsty threats toward America in his latest video:

In the videos, Hakimullah Mehsud vows attacks on U.S. cities, which he says his suicide bombers have penetrated. The videos provide the first solid evidence that he survived the missile strike, and they come after the Pakistani Taliban’s widely dismissed claim of responsibility for the failed attack in New York’s Times Square. In that case, authorities were zeroing in on a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan. A suspect was arrested late Monday, though reports of his ties to extremist groups in Pakistan could not be substantiated.

Might there be other terrorists in other major American cities waiting to strike as I write this? And would that be a good enough excuse for the government to arbitrarily waive Mr. Shahzad’s Constitutional rights, designate him an “enemy combatant,” and interrogate him using all legal means at our disposal (I take it as a given that President Obama has rejected “enhanced interrogation” as an option)?

For some on both sides of the argument, this is an easy question to answer in the affirmative or negative. However, knee jerk ideological reactions from civil liberties absolutists or bloodthirsty right wingers are just not good enough in this situation.

The threat is real and immediate. Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of American lives may be at stake. Wouldn’t it be easier just to forget the Constitution in this one instance and treat this terrorist as the enemy he himself claims to be?

It would be easier. But would it be the right thing to do? I daresay if there is another terrorist attack – this one successful – and we followed the law to the letter by allowing the suspect to remain silent despite the fact that it is later revealed he could have given us information that would have stopped the attack, the political ramifications would be severe. And the fact that our police obeyed the Constitution would give cold comfort to the families of those who lost a loved on in a preventable attack.

It’s an easy choice – unless you lose someone because of that choice. Then it becomes a little more complicated, yes? Or, on the other side of the coin, if Mr. Shahzad knows nothing of any other attacks and precious little about his overseas connections, violating his constitutional rights would be seen as dramatic overkill. The law would have been violated for, what in retrospect, would be seen as no good reason.

You might argue that postulating outcomes is a fool’s game and that holding fast to Constitutional principles or making the exception in Shahzad’s case is a decision for the moment and no thought should be given to relative consequences. I disagree. This decision would be all about “relevant consequences.” If we violate the suspect’s Constitutional rights and the information we are able to wean out of him prevents an attack, is that justification for tossing the Constitution aside? Or if he has no information relevant to accomplices or other plots, must we automatically assume that what was done was a travesty?

Herein lies the conundrum over Mirandizing Shahzad. Whether we do or don’t, our actions will have profound consequences.  Even if no other terrorist attacks are being planned, finding that out is almost as important as discovering another plot to kill Americans. And as with any other decisions made by policymakers, the potential harm must be weighed against any positive outcome to their actions.

James Joyner:

First off, we can’t designate American citizens as “enemy combatants.”  The Supreme Court has made that quite clear, in case it wasn’t absolutely obvious upon reading the Bill of Rights.  Second, while the Constitution isn’t a suicide pact, it is supposed to limit government’s powers over its citizens.  Rule of law and all that.   Third, lest we forget, Shahzad is merely accused of a crime.   The government not infrequently accuses the wrong people.  Even, it turns out, for terrorism.

Now, I suppose, if the president or the attorney general felt strongly enough about the matter, they could order their subordinates to flout the law.  But that would mean that Shahzad would be much harder to jail.  And it would mean possible criminal charges against those ordering the unconstitutional acts and those carrying out those unlawful orders.

But let’s be clear:  Just as I didn’t trust President Bush, for whom I voted twice, to decide when to deprive citizens of their rights, I don’t trust his successor.  And neither should you.   That is, after all, the very definition of absolute power.  And we all know what that does.

UPDATE: John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

Marc Thiessen at The American Enterprise Institute

Conor Friedersdorf on Thiessen

UPDATE #2: Orin Kerr

UPDATE #3: Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner

Andy McCarthy at The Corner

More Ponnuru at The Corner

Matthew Yglesias

2 Comments

Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security

Mayer v. Thiessen: The Left Sphere Sings “Sweet Jane”

Jane Mayer at New Yorker:

On September 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attacks on America, another devastating terrorist plot was meant to unfold. Radical Islamists had set in motion a conspiracy to hijack seven passenger planes departing from Heathrow Airport, in London, and blow them up in midair. “Courting Disaster” (Regnery; $29.95), by Marc A. Thiessen, a former speechwriter in the Bush Administration, begins by imagining the horror that would have resulted had the plot succeeded. He conjures fifteen hundred dead airline passengers, televised “images of debris floating in the ocean,” and gleeful jihadis issuing fresh threats: “We will rain upon you such terror and destruction that you will never know peace.”

The plot, of course, was thwarted—an outcome that has been credited to smart detective work. But Thiessen writes that there is a more important reason that his dreadful scenario never came to pass: the Central Intelligence Agency provided the United Kingdom with pivotal intelligence, using “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by the Bush Administration. According to Thiessen, British authorities were given crucial assistance by a detainee at Guantánamo Bay who spoke of “plans for the use of liquid explosive,” which can easily be made with products bought at beauty shops. Thiessen also claims that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the primary architect of the 9/11 attacks, divulged key intelligence after being waterboarded by the C.I.A. a hundred and eighty-three times. Mohammed spoke about a 1995 plot, based in the Philippines, to blow up planes with liquid explosives. Thiessen writes that, in early 2006, “an observant C.I.A. officer” informed “skeptical” British authorities that radicals under surveillance in England appeared to be pursuing a similar scheme.

Thiessen’s book, whose subtitle is “How the C.I.A. Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack,” offers a relentless defense of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies, which, according to many critics, sanctioned torture and yielded no appreciable intelligence benefit. In addition, Thiessen attacks the Obama Administration for having banned techniques such as waterboarding. “Americans could die as a result,” he writes.

Yet Thiessen is better at conveying fear than at relaying the facts. His account of the foiled Heathrow plot, for example, is “completely and utterly wrong,” according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch in 2006. “The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K.,” Clarke said, adding that Thiessen’s “version of events is simply not recognized by those who were intimately involved in the airlines investigation in 2006.” Nor did Scotland Yard need to be told about the perils of terrorists using liquid explosives. The bombers who attacked London’s public-transportation system in 2005, Clarke pointed out, “used exactly the same materials.”

Thiessen’s claim about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed looks equally shaky. The Bush interrogation program hardly discovered the Philippine airlines plot: in 1995, police in Manila stopped it from proceeding and, later, confiscated a computer filled with incriminating details. By 2003, when Mohammed was detained, hundreds of news reports about the plot had been published. If Mohammed provided the C.I.A. with critical new clues—details unknown to the Philippine police, or anyone else—Thiessen doesn’t supply the evidence.

Scott Horton at Harper’s:

Thiessen makes no bones about the fact that his aim is to show the central role played by the CIA and its use of torture techniques in keeping the country safe during the Bush stewardship. He says he was introduced to the subject when he got the task of drafting a speech that Bush ultimately delivered in September 2006, closing down the black site system and acknowledging use of what the Bush team called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but offering a robust swan-song defense of what had been done. Thiessen says he relied heavily on information furnished by Michael McConnell—Bush’s national intelligence tsar. But Mayer quickly zeroes in on the information gap that this sets up:

Courting Disaster has a scholarly feel, and hundreds of footnotes, but it is based on a series of slipshod premises. Thiessen, citing McConnell, claims that before the C.I.A. began interrogating detainees the U.S. knew “virtually nothing” about Al Qaeda. But McConnell was not in the government in the years immediately before 9/11. He retired as the director of the National Security Agency in 1996, and did not rejoin the government until 2007. Evidently, he missed a few developments during his time in the private sector, such as the C.I.A.’s founding, in 1996, of its bin Laden unit—the only unit devoted to a single figure. There was also bin Laden’s declaration of war on America, in 1996, and his 1998 indictment in New York, after Al Qaeda’s bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The subsequent federal trial of the bombing suspects, in New York, produced thousands of pages of documents exposing the internal workings of Al Qaeda. A state’s witness at the trial, a former Al Qaeda member named Jamal al-Fadl, supplied the F.B.I. with invaluable information about the group, including its attempts to obtain nuclear weapons.

Thiessen insists that techniques that have been viewed as torture since the time of the Inquisition—such as waterboarding, the strapado, and hypothermia—are miraculously transformed into something milder and less offensive in the hands of the CIA. And he struggles to present the CIA’s use of torture techniques as an unqualified success. For instance, he insists that the CIA’s practices had nothing to do with the disaster at Abu Ghraib, but Mayer catches him up in another falsehood:

Courting Disaster downplays the C.I.A.’s brutality under the Bush Administration to the point of falsification. Thiessen argues that “the C.I.A. interrogation program did not inflict torture by any reasonable standard,” and that there was “only one single case” in which “inhumane” techniques were used. That case, he writes, involved the detainee Abd al-Rahim Nashiri, whom a C.I.A. interrogator threatened with a handgun to the head, and with an electric drill. He claims that no detainee “deaths in custody took place in the C.I.A. interrogation program,” failing to mention the case of a detainee who was left to freeze to death at a C.I.A.-run prison in Afghanistan. Referring to the Abu Ghraib scandal, Thiessen writes that “what happened in those photos had nothing to do with C.I.A. interrogations, military interrogations, or interrogations of any sort.” The statement is hard to square with the infamous photograph of Manadel al-Jamadi; his body was placed on ice after he died of asphyxiation during a C.I.A. interrogation at the prison. The homicide became so notorious that the C.I.A.’s inspector general, John Helgerson, forwarded the case to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution. Thiessen simply ignores the incident.

Andrew Sullivan:

Thiessen makes the usual – totally untrue – statements: that the methods seen at Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with the actions authorized by Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld (the Senate Committee begs to differ; that only one victim was subject to “inhumane” treatment – a fact denied by both the Red Cross, by countless witnesses, by photographs that were somehow not destroyed by the government, and by Bush’s own prosecutor at Gitmo. The 2004 CIA report on the torture program described it as a failure, not a success; that’s why it was largely ended in the last years of Bush. So was Bush endangering the nation as well?

Read the whole thing. Thiessen’s book sounds like rationalization of the irrational, like the work of a criminal unable to confess or even recognize his crime, of a political hack who cannot endure a self-image as someone who really did betray the core values of his own country and the entire West – out of fear, panic, and ignorance. Well, he may need his own alternate reality to sleep at night.

But this subject is too serious not to see in the light of reality.

Pareene at Gawker:

The C.I.A. killed Manadel al-Jamadi at Abu Ghraib. There was torture at Guantanamo. The Heathrow plot was foiled by the Brits and the Pakistanis, and not through C.I.A. torture. Al-Qaeda has carried out numerous attacks against “American interests abroad” since the C.I.A. began torturing people. Those are all very well-documented things that Marc Thiessen gets wrong (or lies about) in his book about how much he loves torturing people.

Marc Theissen, who put all those lies in that book and who probably drinks from a coffee mug that says “World’s Best Defender of Doing Things That We Prosecuted Nazis For Doing,” was recently hired to be an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post. He has a column today, in fact! It’s about how earmarks are bad and how Republicans who hate earmarks are good and fiscally responsible but they used to not be fiscally responsible and independent voters who are concerned about government spending will reward Republicans for banning earmarks.

It is inane and boring. It reads like a robot was told to split the difference between David Brooks and Bill Kristol.

So not only does he hold a morally reprehensible position on torture (one that has been completely normalized because of people like the editors of the Washington Post), and not only is he either ignorant of the facts or simply lying to support his morally reprehensible position, but he is also a boring and predictable writer with boring and predictable thoughts on boring and predictable subjects.

Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy:

Nothing beats an on-the record response from those involved. The line I am getting from Theissen’s defenders is that, Well, he criticized her, too, in his book. Let’s see: One person is a reporter who worked alongside me the Wall Street Journal. The other was a flack for Jesse Helms and Rumsfeld. Who am I more likely to trust? It puzzles me that my old newspaper, The Washington Post, would hire Theissen to write for its op-ed page. How many former Bush speechwriters does one newspaper need?

UPDATE: Theissen responds to Mayer, at National Review

Conor Friedersdorf

UPDATE #2: More Theissen

More Friedersdorf

1 Comment

Filed under Books, GWOT, Torture

“The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Lawyers”

Mike Levine:

A day after a conservative group released a video condemning the Justice Department for refusing to identify seven lawyers who previously represented or advocated for terror suspects, Fox News has uncovered the identities of the seven lawyers.

The names were confirmed by a Justice Department spokesman, who said “politics has overtaken facts and reality” in a tug-of-war over the lawyers’ identities.

“Department of Justice attorneys work around the clock to keep this country safe, and it is offensive that their patriotism is being questioned,” said Justice Department Spokesman Matt Miller.

The video by the group Keep America Safe, which dubbed the seven lawyers “The Al Qaeda 7,” is the latest salvo in a lengthty political battle.

For several months, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has led an effort to uncover politically-appointed lawyers within the Justice Department who have advocated for Guantanamo Bay detainees or other terror suspects.

“The administration has made many highly questionable decisions when it comes to national security, ” Grassley said in a recent statement. “[Americans] have a right to know who advises the Attorney General and the President on these critical matters.”

An extensive review of court documents and media reports by Fox News suggests many of the seven lawyers in question played only minor or short-lived roles in advocating for detainees. However, it’s unclear what roles, if any, they have played in detainee-related matters since joining the Justice Department.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

The names of the seven DOJ lawyers who represented or advocated for Guantanamo Bay detainees have been uncovered by Fox News and confirmed by the Justice Department. Looks like great investigative work from Fox. And they play it pretty even, saying that most of the lawyers in question “played only minor and short-lived roles in advocating for detainees,” and pointing out that the Bush Justice Department employed lawyers who had been similarly engaged.

The one exception might be Assistant Attorney General Tony West, who works in DOJ’s Civil Division. West represented “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh for several years.

Justin Elliott at TPM:

In Liz Cheney’s worldview, Rudy Giuliani is a disloyal al Qaeda sympathizer.

Let us explain.

Yesterday, Cheney’s outfit, a group called Keep America Safe, went up with a blistering ad that attacked Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees and are now working on detainee issues. The ad dubbed the lawyers “the Al Qaeda Seven” and asked “whose values do they share?” while flashing an image of Osama bin Laden.

It turns out that among the many high-profile lawyers who have represented so-called “terrorist detainees” is a top attorney with Rudy Giuliani’s firm, Bracewell Giuliani, according to court documents examined by TPMmuckraker.

Bracewell Giuliani Attorney Carol Elder Bruce, a distinguished white collar litigator, is listed as counsel in two detainee habeas cases, EL-MASHAD et al v. BUSH et al and ALLADEEN et al v. BUSH et al. Both are in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.

El-Mashad, an Egyptian national who was captured near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in late 2001, was released to Albania late last month.

To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with attorneys representing detainees. In fact, the work — usually done on a pro bono basis — is seen by many as admirable.

As the DOJ pointed out in a letter to Republican senators who argue that lawyers who represented detainees have a conflict of interest, at least 34 of the 50 largest U.S. law firms have either represented detainees or filed amicus briefs in support of detainees.

Meghan Clyne at Daily Caller:

Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, has been relentless in trying to determine which lawyers at the Department of Justice previously defended, advocated for or worked on issues pertaining to Guantanamo Bay detainees and other alleged terrorists. While he’s at it, he may want to expand his inquiry — to the halls of the White House itself.

At least two attorneys hired to serve in the White House counsel’s office — part of President Obama’s in-house team of legal advisers — represented Guantanamo detainees in their previous legal careers.

While an associate at the Washington office of the prestigious law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, Michael Gottlieb — tapped for a White House associate counsel position — was part of the team that successfully argued on behalf of alleged terrorist Lakhdar Boumediene (of Boumediene v. Bush fame).

And while a student at Yale Law School, one of Gottlieb’s fellow associate counsels, Jonathan Kravis, volunteered his time as part of the team that ultimately secured legal victory for alleged Yemeni terrorist Salim Hamdan in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

The “Gitmo Nine” aren’t terrorists. They weren’t captured fighting for the Taliban. They’ve made no attempts to kill Americans. They haven’t declared war on the United States, nor have they joined any group that has. The “Gitmo Nine” are lawyers working in the Department of Justice who fought the Bush administration’s treatment of suspected terrorists as unconstitutional. Now, conservatives are portraying them as agents of the enemy.

In the aftermath of September 11, the Bush administration tried to set up a military-commissions system to try suspected terrorists. The commissions offered few due process rights, denied the accused access to the evidence against them, and allowed the admission of hearsay — and even evidence gained through coercion or abuse. The Bush administration also sought to prevent detainees from challenging their detention in court. Conservatives argued that the nature of the war on terrorism justified the assertion of greater executive power. In case after case, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the administration’s critics.

“These lawyers were advocating on behalf of our Constitution and our laws. The detention policies of the Bush administration were unconstitutional and illegal, and no higher a legal authority than the Supreme Court of the United States agreed,” says Ken Gude, a human-rights expert with the Center for American Progress, of the recent assault on the Justice Department. “The disgusting logic of these attacks is that the Supreme Court is in league with al-Qaeda.”

The attorneys who challenged the Bush administration’s national-security policies saw themselves as fulfilling their legal obligations by fighting an unconstitutional power grab. At heart, this was a disagreement over process: Should people accused of terrorism be afforded the same human rights and due process protections as anyone else in American custody? But rather than portray the dispute as a conflict over what is and isn’t within constitutional bounds, conservatives argue that anyone who opposed the Bush administration’s policies is a traitor set to undermine America’s safety from within the Justice Department.

“Terrorist sympathizers,” wrote National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy in September, “have assumed positions throughout the Obama administration.”

[…]

By this point the rest of the conservative media had begun taking up the cause, referring to the lawyers Weisch had mentioned as “The Gitmo Nine.” At the Washington Examiner, Byron York accused Holder of “stonewalling” Congress. “Who are the Gitmo 9?” McCarthy demanded to know from his perch at National Review. Then, last Friday, Republicans responded to Weisch, accusing the Justice Department of being “at best nonresponsive and, at worst, intentionally evasive.” The Washington Times followed up, echoing McCarthy’s demand for the identities of the so-called Gitmo Nine. By that point, two Justice Department lawyers, Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal and Human Rights Watch former senior counsel Jennifer Daskal, had already been identified. Unlike the Republican senators, whose concerns were centered around “potential conflicts of interest,” the Times editorial argued that “the public has a right to know if past work for terrorist detainees has biased too many of Mr. Holder’s top advisers.” It was a delicate way of suggesting that lawyers who were holding the government to its constitutional obligations were in fact, if not agents of, sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

On Tuesday, all attempts at subtlety were abandoned. Keep America Safe, the conservative advocacy group which was founded by Liz Cheney to defend torture and oppose civilian trials for suspected terrorists and which has close ties to McCarthy, turned the “Gitmo Nine” into the “al-Qaeda Seven.” The group put out a Web video demanding that Holder name the other Justice Department lawyers who had previously represented terrorist detainees or worked on similar issues for groups that opposed the Bush administration’s near-limitless assumption of executive power. “Whose values do they share?” a voice asks ominously. “Americans have a right to know the identity of the al-Qaeda Seven.” The ad echoed McCarthy’s references to the “al-Qaeda bar” from months earlier.

“This is exactly what Joe McCarthy did,” said Gude. “Not kind of like McCarthyism; this is exactly McCarthyism.”

The attorneys who secured greater due process rights for detainees weren’t attempting to prevent terrorists from being punished — they were attempting to prevent the government from assuming limitless power to imprison people indefinitely based on mere suspicion. Not all of those fighting the Bush administration’s policies even believed that terrorists should be tried in civilian courts. Katyal, who litigated the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case in which the Supreme Court decided in the detainees’ favor, advocated for using military courts martial — and later, authored an op-ed for The New York Times alongside former Bush lawyer Jack Goldsmith arguing for a new “national security court” to try terrorists. Still, Katyal held that Bush’s general policy for trying terrorists “closely resemble those of King George III.”

Michelle Malkin:

You have a right to know. Now you do, thanks to the news organization that the White House communications team has spent the last year trying to delegitimize.

Spencer Ackerman at Washington Independent:

Via Ben Smith, Keep America Safe, the Cheneyite national-security revival tour, has a new video out insinuating that Justice Department attorneys who represented Guantanamo detainees are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, a brazen slander that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) put forward last week against such DOJ officials as Neal Katyal and Jennifer Daskal. Rushing to their defense is retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the chief prosecutor of the Cheneys’ beloved military commissions, who told me the attacks are “outrageous.”

“Neal in particular was and is one of the sharpest and hardest-working attorneys I’ve known in the 27 years I’ve been practicing law,” said Davis, who supervised prosecutions at Guantanamo from 2005 to 2007. “It is absolutely outrageous for the Cheney-Grassley crowd to try to tar and feather Neal and Jennifer and insinuate they are al-Qaeda supporters. You don’t hear anyone refer to John Adams as a turncoat for representing the Brits in the Boston Massacre trial.” Davis, of course, opposed Katyal on the famous case of Guantanamo Bay detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan’s habeas corpus rights — a case that Katyal won in the Supreme Court, striking down the first iteration of the military commissions. “He was the epitome of professionalism, and I can’t say that about a lot of the folks involved” in the commissions, Davis continued.

“If you zealously represent a client, there’s nothing shameful about that,” said the retired Air Force colonel. “That’s the American way.”

Thomas Joscelyn at The Weekly Standard:

Do “war on terror” detainees deserve full constitutional rights? My hunch is that most Americans would say no. And, ironically, so has Neal Katyal, when it comes to the detainees held at Bagram. Katyal has reportedly defended the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects as a member of the Obama administration.

This speaks well of Katyal as it shows he is capable of making a responsible national security argument. Katyal’s defenders say he has always seen a difference between Bagram and Guantanamo because, well, one is at an airbase in Cuba and the other is the middle of a warzone in Afghanistan.

But leave it to a lawyer to argue that the Constitution is under assault if detainees are tried by a military commission in Cuba, while everything is just fine if (all else equal) they are held indefinitely without habeas rights in Afghanistan.

One other note about Katyal: He has lamented the slow pace at which the military commissions moved during the Bush years. And they certainly did move at a snail’s pace. But as Time magazine has reported, Katyal helped build “a defense that delayed Hamdan’s military tribunal for years as it gradually made its way through the courts.” That is, those delays are owed, in large part, to Katyal’s handiwork.

[…]

Other lawyers now at the DOJ worked on the historic Boumediene case. That case established the Gitmo detainees’ right to challenge their detention in habeas corpus hearings. In effect, the habeas proceedings have taken sensitive national security and detention questions out of the hands of experienced military and intelligence personnel, and put them into the hands of federal judges with no counterterrorism training or expertise. That lack of experience shows. For example, in one recent decision a federal judge compared al Qaeda’s secure safe houses (where training, plotting and other nefarious activities occur) to “youth hostels.” The habeas decisions are filled with errors of omission, fact, and logic.Still other lawyers did work on behalf of these well known terrorists: Jose Padilla (an al Qaeda operative dispatched by senior al Qaeda terrorists to launch attacks inside America in 2002), John Walker Lindh (the American Taliban), and Saleh al Marri (who 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sent to America on September 10, 2001 in anticipation of committing future attacks).

Now, we don’t know what assignments these lawyers have taken on inside government. But we do know that they openly opposed the American government for years, on behalf of al Qaeda terrorists, and their objections frequently went beyond rational, principled criticisms of detainee policy.

We all have a tendency to look back on shameful events in our nation’s history — slavery, the internment of Japanese-Americans, the McCarthyite witch hunts — and like to believe that we would have been on the right side of those conflicts and would have vigorously opposed those responsible for the wrongs.  Here we have real, live, contemporary McCarthyites in our midst — Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol — launching a repulsive smear campaign, and we’ll see what the reaction is and how they’re treated by our political and media elites.
UPDATE: Marc Thiessen in WaPo

Greenwald on Thiessen

Ben Smith at Politico

Spencer Ackerman at Washington Independent

Michelle Malkin

UPDATE #2: Conor Friedersdorf on Thiessen

Michael Isikoff in Newsweek

William Kristol in The Weekly Standard

Julian Sanchez

John Tabin at The American Spectator

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline

Cesar Conda at The Corner

And Ken Starr on Countdown:

UPDATE #3: Mickey Edwards at The Atlantic

Jacob Sullum at Reason

Daniel Drezner

UPDATE #4: Freidersdorf

Orin Kerr

Andy McCarthy in USA Today

Conor Friedersdorf

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

More Conor

UPDATE #5: Debra Burlingame and Thomas Joscelyn in the WSJ

Andy McCarthy

More McCarthy

Jonah Goldberg

More McCarthy

UPDATE #6: Jonathan Chait in TNR

UPDATE #7: Justin Elliott at TPM

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