Taking Leave of Our Senses

“But the argument isn’t going away. It will be with us as long as the threat of terrorism endures. And where the Bush administration’s interrogation programs are concerned, we’ve heard too much to just “look forward,” as the president would have us do. We need to hear more: What was done and who approved it, and what intelligence we really gleaned from it. Not so that we can prosecute – unless the Democratic Party has taken leave of its senses – but so that we can learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus.” ~ Ross Douthat in his debut column for The New York Times

I enjoyed Ross’s column.  It was good – much better than anything Kristol ever churned out for the Times, and better than most of what I’ve read from Brooks.  I wonder about this paragraph however.  The column was moving right along for me until I read, in regards to the torture debate: “Not so that we can prosecute – unless the Democratic Party has taken leave of its sense….”

So Ross wants prosecution off the table so that we can instead “learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus” … ?  Isn’t that exactly what he warns against in the preceding sentence, when he claims that we’ve “heard too much to just ‘look forward'”?  What is the difference between struggling toward consensus and just looking forward?  In the end, what’s the difference between Douthat’s analysis and Peggy Noonan’s call to just keep walking, aside from rather more readable prose of the former?

Indeed we can learn, pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus all we like for all the good it will do this nation.  We can pat each other on the back and dance and hold hands and make nice and it’s all essentially just looking forward.  Without a truth commission, as Sullivan suggests, we can’t expect anything but consensus, and consensus – however appealing – is not the same thing as the truth.  Learning is not knowing.  Judgment is not justice.

There is a lot I agree with in this column.  Cheney would have been a perfect candidate to torpedo the conservative movement – far better than the “feckless” John McCain.  But where Ross swings and misses is his dismissal of torture critics as having left their senses simply by keeping the option of prosecution on the table.

Andre Trocme wrote, “All who affirm the use of violence admit it is only a means to achieve justice and peace. But peace and justice are nonviolence…the final end of history. Those who abandon nonviolence have no sense of history. Rather they are bypassing history, freezing history, betraying history.”

In the end, that’s all that Ross is doing with this piece – denying history, denying the need for justice, and replacing it with the inevitably hollow call for consensus.  The rational, amicable nature of his piece is a welcome relief from much of the shrill denialism emenating from the right these days, but it is still a dodge, still a denial, still not enough.

Update:

Read Jim Manzi’s Noah Millman’s critique (damn these group blogs!!!) of other elements of Ross’s piece:

It seems to me that the way to defeat a faction is not to let it win so it can lose a general election but to defeat it in an intra-party contest. I supported McCain in the primaries (knowing I’d probably vote Obama in the general) in significant part because he was not the candidate of supply-side economics and stress positions. I saw the GOP seriously considering making support for torture a litmus test, and I thought: that’s got to be stopped. If McCain had represented some specific vision of the GOP future – if he hadn’t become a faction of one by that point – then a McCain primary victory would itself have proved that the Cheney faction was no longer dominant – would itself have represented a repudiation by the party of that tendency. Right? And that would have been good. Right?

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67 thoughts on “Taking Leave of Our Senses

  1. Let’s say that the next President happens to be !Democrat.

    Let’s say that he says that sending unmanned drones into Pakistan and killing innocent people is a war crime.

    Do you think that it would be wise of him to prosecute Obama? Would it be better to just have a commission say “this is what happened, this is why it shouldn’t have happened, here is what we have learned”?

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  2. Really? You find it unthinkable that someone would seriously argue that killing innocent people (note: not “combatants”) via unmanned drones would be a war crime? That such a claim would be bullshit?

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  3. Here’s the thing – and I wrote my reply too quickly. Your example is not bullshit. The difference must be in intent. If the prez orders civilians to be killed that is a war crime. If they are collateral damage from the heat of battle and fog of war – well, that should make us consider possibly not entering these wars to begin with, but we can hardly call it war crimes, unless we can prove that civilians were being targeted on purpose. That is what makes these torture memos unique – they are a top-down system of targeting captured enemy combatants without trial…

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  4. Jaybird is talking about retroactively declaring an action criminal, as opposed to the knowing violation of existing law (torture) and treaty obligations (investigation and prosecution thereof). So his example is, in fact, bullshit.

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  5. Douthat: “But the argument isn’t going away. It will be with us as long as the threat of terrorism endures.”

    Unfortunately that may be true, but IMO it is an argument that should have been dismissed out of hand. Obama has publicly ruled torture out of bounds, I hope we never learn that he lied to us as Bush lied when he repeatedly said “We do not torture.”

    Torture as United States policy should go away.

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  6. Larison on the torture question:

    “I have started doubting whether people who are openly pro-torture or engaged in the sophistry of Manzi’s post are part of the same moral universe as I am, and I have wondered whether there is even a point in contesting such torture apologia as if they were reasonable arguments deserving of real consideration. Such fundamental assumptions at the core of our civilization should not have to be re-stated or justified anew, and the fact that they have to be is evidence of how deeply corrupted our political life has become, but if such basic norms are not reinforced it seems clear that they will be leeched away over time.”

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  7. I can’t stand reading Sullivan (because he’s an outrage) whore) so could you explain why a truth commission is so necessary? If laws were broken, why isn’t it enough for you for that federal prosecutors just do their jobs?

    Douthat may have been referring to the fact that Democrats would end up prosecuting themselves if they go ahead with prosecutions—let alone this bullshit truth commission. Why would prosecutions, or the bullshit truth commission, be limited to the Bush administration? According to Scheurer, the Clinton administration was worse. Don’t you imagine that he and Hillary are pulling a lot of strings backstage right about now?

    Your quote from Andre Tocme (who he?) is an example of what I can’t stand. He defines “peace and justice” so as to fit his own philosophy (which is respectable, of course) and leaves anyone else hanging out there to defend injustice and war.

    That’s not the way things work. People can oppose his pacifism and still be civilized and support peace and justice.

    I think Jaybird has a good point, which you dismiss out of hand. His hypothetical may be bullshit to you today, but in the future things change. That’s why it’s called “the future.” How do you know that “Geneva Conventtion” fanatics will not make “collateral damage” their next jihad and then try and put Obama’s head on the block?

    No one has even accused the Bush administration of wholesale violations of enemy combatants’ rights (whatever they may be), of genocide, of running concentration camps, or using slave labor. He is accused on the basis of decisions he made as CIC and as president to fulfill his duty. People can judge him as they want to but to mount a political show trial, like Sullivan wants, would set a very dangerous precedent. That’s what Jaybird is talking about and it’s an important consideration for anyone who wants the nation to survive.

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  8. I remember a good friend, in a heated exchange on the Palestinian/Israeli debate, breaking this out. I will break it out now.

    Let’s say that there are 7 ways to deal with the targetting of civilians/military

    1) Only target military. If there is a reasonable chance of civilians being harmed, do not target at all. Abort mission.

    2) Target military but have reasonable precautions against the killing of civilians (e.g., targetting his (or her) car while he (or she) is driving in the countryside, rather than while he (or she) is driving through town).

    3) Target military but take no precautions against “collateral damage”.

    4. Target military and civilian indiscriminately.

    5. Target civilians but not avoiding whether military targets will also be affected.

    6. Target civilians but making reasonable precautions to avoid military targets (e.g., suicide bombings on buses that are not on a route that has them stop near bases where soldiers are known to get on/off).

    7. Only target civilians and if there is a reasonable chance that military will be around, abort mission.

    In the debate over the whole Palestinian/Israeli thing, we found the range from 1-7 useful. In this particular case (Obama being prosecuted for “war crimes”), I think the distinctions between 3 and 2 and between 2 and 1 the most useful.

    Do you think that it is unthinkable that people might argue that 3 is a war crime? How about whether 2 is a war crime (or whether there was sufficient care (and there is never sufficient care) taken which would make the category useless… you are either doing 1 or you are doing 3).

    If #3 can be classified as a “war crime” right now, then Obama is guilty of war crimes.

    And then we can discuss whether the whole prosecute your predecessor thing is a good habit to get into.

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  9. Good break-down jaybird. I suppose it depends to a degree on why #3 was utilized. Was there simply no way to avoid civilian casualties and would attempting to do so put the operation/troops at risk? If so, probably hard to say it’s a war crime. (That said, I see little difference between 3 and 4 actually. They read the same to me.)

    Interesting, though, especially in regards to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

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  10. Here’s the distinction: You’ve got military target “T”.

    If you just drop a missile on T because you have an open shot and you don’t care if he’s in a crowded marketplace or not, you’re engaging in 3.

    Compare to 5. If you’re blowing up because you’re standing next to a soldier and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a crowded marketplace, you’re doing 5. If you’re just blowing up and you don’t care whether there are soldiers around, you’re doing 4.

    But, back to Obama, if you see no difference between 3 and 4, then you can easily see how an unmanned drone that also kills a civilian can be categorized as a 4…

    Which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a war crime.

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  11. I wasn’t suggesting that Clinton should be immune somehow. I was just explaining why there will be no truth commission or federal prosecutions: Democrats don’t want to end up being prosecuted, even as they pontificate about “losing our soul”, etc etc.

    Where did you get the idea that a bullshit truth commission should precede federal prosecutions? What happened to grand juries? Why in the world would we ever need an ad hoc bullshit truth commission when we already have adequate laws and mechanisms in place to both investigate and prosecute federal crimes? Ad hoc tribunals could only end with some Robespierre/Sullivan presiding over revolutionary tribunals/truth commission and the rest of us in the shitcan. What’s wrong with you?

    So now it looks like you agree with Jaybird. Can’t you then see that this truth commission atmosphere would be unstoppable? And that’s assuming good faith. But good faith is the last thing I’d ever assume in politics or national security. We do have enemies, right? And we’d just be handing them our heads on a platter if we go ahead with this.

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  12. The term “truth commission,” like “homeland,” is outrageous.

    On a positive note, I thank E.D. for breaking the “bullshit” dam. And Roque is no slacker – adding “shitcan.” I’m feeling more at home here.

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  13. Bob, I have a propensity for cussing in speech that I rarely transfer to my writing. In fact, I’m working on that now that I have a two-year-old who was heard the other day saying “fucksakes” in her room….

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  14. My problem is that, in real life, I hang out in places where my vocabulary is, quite regularly, mocked. “Wow! ‘nihilism’! That’s a big word!”

    And since I have the problem of not knowing a better word than “nihilism” to discuss the concept of nihilism, I have to sprinkle curse words into my regular conversation quite regularly in order to communicate that I am just a regular guy like all the folks out with whom I hang (they make fun of my preposition usage as well).

    It’ll be nice to be able to talk about fuckin’ nihilism here (like I do out there) rather than mere nihilism.

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  15. So you’re saying that you’d like to dumb down your virtual world as much as you’re forced to dumb down your real world?

    Hmmmmm……

    I understand where you’re coming from, though. I just find I have an utterly different reaction…

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  16. To quote E.D.’s progeny, for “fucksakes”, Bob. I’ve been known to drop in a cuss word here and there, but only when I think it is both necessary and enhances the post. As for the comments… fuck, anything goes down here!

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  17. Roque:

    1. The concept of a Truth Commission, in modern times at least, has been far more likely to wind up being overly deferential to the perpetrators of abuse. The Robespierre-type tribunals that you fear are not at all what is being proposed. The idea is simply to have an independent (since this is America, that really is just code for “bipartisan”) commission to investigate what happened and, so far as I’m aware, simply recommend whether prosecutions should take place. We’re talking about something far closer to the Church Committee than to some sort of partisan witch hunt to put political enemies in jail.

    Personally, I’m not sure whether a Truth Commission makes a lot of sense here. In fact, the only way that a Truth Commission would be likely to have much value would be if it granted such a huge amount of immunity as to make any subsequent prosecutions impossible.

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  18. Mark: Maybe you’ll then answer the question, since ED Kain declines: “Why in the world would we ever need an ad hoc bullshit truth commission when we already have adequate laws and mechanisms in place to both investigate and prosecute federal crimes?”

    I’m aware that Robespierre-style revolutionary tribunals are not being proposed. Who would ever be so stupid as to do that anyway? I said that they will end up that way, not that anyone had been so stupid as to propose them. Keep in mind that even Robespierre himself never proposed them before they “just happened.”

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  19. Scott, I know the vulgar term is not unknown here. I just found all the “bullshit” and “shitcan” lingo somewhat out of place — but in no way fucking upsetting.

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  20. Roque – As I said, I’m not sure I support the idea of a Truth Commission, but the point of it would be the idea that learning what happened, how, when, and how and whether to prevent it from happening again is more important than punishing those responsible. If you just leave things up to a prosecutor, then you’re going to have a harder time achieving that goal because people who have knowledge of what happened will be far less willing to testify or otherwise provide information.

    Basically, it’s an issue of figuring out which goal is more important – finding out the full truth and how and whether to prevent it all from happening again or simply seeking retribution against those responsible. The two goals are definitely not coextensive, and may well wind up in conflict with each other.

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  21. “If you just leave things up to a prosecutor, then you’re going to have a harder time achieving that goal because people who have knowledge of what happened will be far less willing to testify or otherwise provide information.”

    Okay Mark, I’m calling bullshit on the above. Prosecutors have 1) subpoena power, 2)the ability to grant immunity and 3) make deals.

    Please, think about it.

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  22. the point of it would be the idea that learning what happened, how, when, and how and whether to prevent it from happening again is more important than punishing those responsible.

    So, what’s the point nowthat waterboarding, slapping, sleep deprivation and so forth have already been discontinued and in fact were discontinued years ago under the evil Bush/Cheney empire?

    Am I the only one who sees a contradiction here? Am I alone here in thinking that the contradiction can be resolved by the fact the the bullshit truth commission advocates are really after the scalps of Bush/Cheney? Is my Aspberger’s syndrome so far advanced then that I’m crazy to see an extremely dangerous precedent being set with the bullshit truth commission?

    Blair, however, maintains that the information was not worth the damage to America’s image. I guess it is a sign of the modern age that U.S. forces can deploy unmanned drones to attack the enemy in Afghanistan — risking the lives of innocent people, among whom the guilty are hiding — but the left gets its hackles up if KSM loses his beauty sleep.

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  23. An op-ed by Tom Friedman today makes some points that I wasn’t expecting out of him. I don’t read him all that much, but I thought he was some kind of anti-Bush Democrat and a war opponent. His conclusion:

    So, yes, people among us who went over the line may go unpunished, because we still have enemies who respect no lines at all. In such an ugly war, you do your best. That’s what President Obama did.

    He’s talking about releasing the torture memos and then backing down from prosecution of those responsible. But, of course, it applies to Bush much better than to Obama.

    I suppose he’s still an anti-Bush Democrat, though, because he wastes a lot of space saying that “our people killed detainees.” Anyone paying attention would know that this is a red herring (I am not defending anyone who kills detainees). These are abuses and not government programs or policies. They should be (and have been) dealt with through the ordinary legal process—although probably not as much as one would think necessary upon reading Friedman.

    But then, curiously in my mind, he says,

    Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda aspired to deliver a devastating blow to America. They “were involved in an extraordinarily sophisticated and professional effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In this case, nuclear material,” Michael Scheuer, the former C.I.A. bin Laden expert, told “60 Minutes” in 2004. “By the end of 1996, it was clear that this was an organization unlike any other one we had ever seen.”

    And thus supports Bush’s WMD justification for the invasion of Iraq. He goes on:

    We have the luxury of having this torture debate now because there was no second 9/11, and it was not for want of trying. Had there been, a vast majority of Americans would have told the government (and still will): “Do whatever it takes.”

    He gives the invasion of Iraq as the most important explanation for our relative safety during the Bush years:

    I believe that the most important reason there has not been another 9/11, besides the improved security and intelligence, is that Al Qaeda is primarily focused on defeating America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world — particularly in Iraq. Al Qaeda knows that if it can destroy the U.S. effort (still a long shot) to build a decent, modernizing society in Iraq, it will undermine every U.S. ally in the region.

    This is exactly what Bush was saying years ago: We have to fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here.

    And there goes the canard that there was no link between al Qaeda and Iraq—practically the only Bush lied! meme left out there.

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  24. I’d go for a special prosecutor before a “truth commission”. When the other branches of government are folding before the executive, the people must hold the line.

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  25. “I’d go for a special prosecutor before a ‘truth commission’.
    When the other branches of government are folding before the executive, the people must hold the line.”

    I certainly agree with your first statement. Confused by the second. By other branches I’m guessing you mean the legislative. “Folding before the executive” Obama will not appoint a SP. So who appoints the SP? Certainly not some undefined “people.”

    Could some court appoint a SP?

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  26. It would be the DOJ wouldn’t it? Obama will not appoint a SP unless he believes it to be politically necessary…. where the people come in.

    “Could some court appoint a SP?”
    Foreign courts?

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  27. Which brings in the question: What kind of precedent do we want to set?

    Personally, I’d be thrilled with each administration burning the previous one. Build each pyre higher than the last!

    I suspect that all y’all wouldn’t be.

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  28. Bob: What a prosecutor learns and what a prosecutor publicly discloses are two very different things. Additionally, while a prosecutor has the ability to offer immunity, that ability doesn’t achieve much if you have to offer immunity to the very people that most deserve prosecution. Immunity, as a practical matter, doesn’t get offered to only the least culpable people, but to the people most willing to talk.

    Finally, and most importantly, prosecutors don’t offer reports and recommendations, and even if they did, those reports and recommendations would be subservient to the goal of obtaining convictions. Any report that did get released would thus be heavily biased towards: 1. Placing all the blame on the people being prosecuted; 2. Minimizing the blame on the people given immunity; and 3. Making the prosecutor look really, really good. Such a report would be about as trustworthy – and for the same reasons – as the reports that the pro-torture side of the debate claims vindicate the use of torture in the first place.

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  29. To me, the perfect solution would be for Obama to pardon Bush, Cheney, and the lawyers who wrote up the memos. Full pardons.

    Then have Congress pass a law saying something to the effect of “never again” and have Obama sign it in some huge ceremony and put the pen on display in the Smithsonian, next to the pen that signed the pardons of Bush, Cheney, et al.

    This is a subtle move but I think that, in the long run, it’ll do more to prevent wrongdoing than, say, a Ken Starr.

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  30. Cascadian:

    In Mexico, politics itself is a political crime. Political crimes are prosecuted by lynching—unless it’s a really high-profile politician. In that case, he’s prosecuted by lynching.

    Be careful with that wad of pesos down here! Police will be happy to accompany you to the nearest ATM for the “police tax.” By the way, everyday police extortion is becoming less common here than it was years ago. In Mexico City, though, police are like sharks—but there there’s an ATM on every corner, so don’t worry about it! It’s funny, but the colloquial name for “police agent” is mordelón. Morder means “bite” but it’s used to refer to the petty bribes you referred to—the cops just take a little bite out of your patrimony. Therefore, cops are called “biters.”

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  31. Jaybird: if Obama pardoned these “crimes” would the long result be to deliver them into the hands of international justice? Don’t we have to prosecute or have others do it for us?

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  32. “Deliver them into the hands of international justice?”

    Nah. I’d be content with them being disgraced. “International Justice” is one of those precedents I absolutely, positively, do *NOT* want set.

    Once the US gets its grasp on the new tools provided by such a mechanism, I reckon you wouldn’t either.

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  33. I’m not in favor of Spain taking on our responsibilities. I thought it was part of our treaty that if the home country didn’t prosecute, others got a kick at the can.

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  34. Casadian, when you wrote “executive” I figured you meant branch. Since DOJ falls there no SP would be appointed. But sure Eric Holder might appoint one. Thanks for clearing that up.

    Foreign courts? I see in today’s NYT that Spain is still interested in Bush are crimes. Okay by me.

    The “people” comment sounds very populist, never figured you for being in that camp. But of no matter.

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  35. Cascadian:

    A truth commission would almost certainly result in a very liberal use of the immunity power, possibly going so far as to leave almost no one worth prosecuting.

    A regular grand jury would be unlikely to achieve much because all it can do is decide whether the prosecutor – who gets to present his case largely unchallenged – has enough evidence to indict. It’s not going to issue very worthwhile findings.

    My inclination is very much that ultimately we can do a truth commission or a prosecution, but probably not both if we want either to have any long-standing value.

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  36. Roque, your instinct to avoid Friedman is sound survival coping. Tom rarely disappoints. Drivel like this (“So, yes, the people among us who went over the line may go unpunished, because we still have enemies who respect no lines at all. In such an ugly war, you do your best.”) is common.

    Friedman speaks for power not to it.

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  37. Bob – not at all. The point of my comment in #30 was simply that prosecutors aren’t a very effective tool for investigations. I think it’s fairly obvious that, even with both a prosecutor and truth commission having broad immunity granting powers, you’re less likely to get someone to cooperate with a prosecutor who actually is prosecuting that person’s cronies and who is already convinced of their guilt than you are to get someone to cooperate with a truth commission that is at least nominally willing to exonerate those cronies (and, for that matter, the witness himself). Basically, if you really believe that you and your cronies are innocent, you’re a lot less likely to take a plea or immunity deal from a prosecutor than you are from a “truth commission.”

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  38. Mark, we’re destined to remain at odds here. I think you underestimate the power of prosecutes and the heavy power the state can bring to investigations. Thanks for humoring me.

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  39. Bob – You may be right. That said, I don’t think I’m underestimating the power of the state – it’s more that I’m naturally skeptical of prosecutors’ ability to act objectively in the exercise of that power, and I expect those caught up in a prosecutor’s investigation, including those offered immunity, to be even more skeptical about the prosecutor’s objectivity.

    I should add that I also think that many of the targets of any such investigation strongly (if perhaps self-delusionally) believe that they have done nothing wrong, and will thus be unusually willing to risk conviction, especially knowing that unlike you’re average small-time drug dealer, they’re going to have the best lawyers money can buy.

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  40. “The “people” comment sounds very populist, never figured you for being in that camp. But of no matter.”

    I’m not sure that I’m populist…. could be. I’m socially very liberal but paleocon for the rest. I generally come from a constitutional understanding that balances power out between the Feds, the States, and the individual or people. We still have political powers and responsibilities quite apart from the elected government. If that makes me populist so be it, just don’t confuse me with the Palin version.

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  41. Mark: since I believe that the actors are intransigent and lots of documents, emails destroyed, I’ll go for the prosecution and count the whole truth beyond the realm of the possible.

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  42. Cascadian: That may well be the best choice. My biggest fear with that option is the fallout if there were a bunch of acquittals, which would be more likely than you think, especially if the defense were permitted to present evidence of the threats presented by KSM and Zubaydah, and to present evidence of the information gleaned from their torture. But I’m not really happy with the idea of a Truth Commission either.

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  43. I know it’s unlikely, but if we do a truth commission, but don’t prosecute, can the internationals use the findings and evidence of the commission but take the prosecution up0n themselves?

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  44. Cascadian – I suppose they could, but I doubt they would, and even if they did, I’d be shocked if we agreed to extradite. In fact, it’s pretty likely that any Truth Commission would explicitly offer immunity from extradition as part of any deal to encourage testimony. It’s also not out of the question that a Truth Commission would be able to negotiate deals with the handful of foreign governments that claim to have the ability to prosecute.

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  45. I really can’t stand to read anymore of Roque’s diatribes without some sort of rebuttal. You call it..”And there goes the canard that there was no link between al Qaeda and Iraq” and support it through anecdotal evidence from a CIA agent whose task it was to find this link and from a journalist writing a story. Again, so far there has been no definitive evidence to suggest a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. No, in fact, quite to the contrary. Many in the CIA have said that there was no credible link, and told the Administration so, much to their shagrin. But I don’t have to prove a negative, that’s impossible. The burden was on them to prove the affirmative, that there was a link. And thus far they haven’t been able to despite their best efforts, torture and all. Why do you think that is so?

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  46. NDP405:
    You call it..”And there goes the canard that there was no link between al Qaeda and Iraq” and support it through anecdotal evidence from a CIA agent whose task it was to find this link and from a journalist writing a story.

    Yes, I call the idea that there was no link between al Qaeda and Saddam before the invasion a “canard.”

    No, I didn’t support this with anecdotal evidence from a CIA agent, etc etc. You must be confusing me with someone else. I simply quoted a Friedman column and my “canard” comment was a throwaway. But Friedman never used anecdotal evidence from a CIA agent, etc etc. He just observed that by making al Qaeda fight in Iraq, and by defeating them, we were protecting ourselves against further attacks by them. That seems like a reasonable conclusion to draw. Why not?

    So what are you talking about? I know you’re upset, and I’m sorry my diatribes have driven you to this point. For now, try and calm down a bit. Later, I’d suggest just scrolling past anything with my name on it. That way, you wouldn’t have to go through this anymore. You tried to refute something I never said and even then you failed to refute the al Qaeda/Saddam connection.

    Everybody knows that Zarqawi’s group (al Qaeda in Iraq, no less!) was in that country soon after the invasion of Afghanistan. Also, there was an al Qaeda affiliate in the north before the invasion: Ansar al Islam (or something). These would be connections enough for me, since they could get WMD potential from Saddam and then use it against us. Later it turned out that Saddam didn’t have the WMDs, but that has no bearing on the debate in 2002 because at the time everybody thought that he did. If you’ll recall, at the time the nation was panicked about al Qaeda using some kind of WMD as a follow-on attack.

    Better luck next time. Wait! I forgot: There won’t be a next time since you’re going to ignore my comments from now on. I hope.

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  47. On April 29, 2007, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said on 60 Minutes, “We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al-Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period.”

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  48. WASHINGTON March 13, 2008 (CNN) — The U.S. military’s first and only study looking into ties between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al Qaeda showed no connection between the two, according to a military report released by the Pentagon.

    The report released by the Joint Forces Command five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq said it found no “smoking gun” after reviewing about 600,000 Iraqi documents captured in the invasion and looking at interviews of key Iraqi leadership held by the United States, Pentagon officials said.

    The assessment of the al Qaeda connection and the insistence that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction were two primary elements in the Bush administration’s arguments in favor of going to war with Iraq.

    The Pentagon’s report also contradicts then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who said in September 2002 that the CIA provided “bulletproof” evidence demonstrating “that there are, in fact, al Qaeda in Iraq.”

    Although other groups, like the September 11 commission, have concluded that there was no link between Hussein and al Qaeda, the Pentagon was able to analyze much more information.
    The documents cited in the report do reveal that Hussein supported a number of terrorists and terrorist activities inside and outside Iraq. “The Iraqi regime was involved in regional and international terrorist operations prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The predominant targets of Iraqi state terror operations were Iraqi citizens, both inside and outside of Iraq,” according to the report. Most of the terrorism was aimed at keeping Hussein and his Baath party in power, according to Pentagon officials.

    “State sponsorship of terrorism became such a routine tool of state power that Iraq developed elaborate bureaucratic processes to monitor progress and accountability in the recruiting, training and resourcing of terrorists,” according to the report.

    The report cited such examples as training for car bombs and suicide bombings in 1999 and 2000, both of which U.S. and Iraqi forces have struggled to contain since the rise of the insurgency in summer 2003

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  49. Bob:

    Are we talking about an al Qaeda/Saddam/9/11 connection now? When did we start doing that? Are you referring to operational connectivism? I don’t know about that but I guess you’re right for now. Remember the legend of the Prague Atta/Saddam secret police meeting, etc etc. But who knows what information will be uncovered by future historians? I wouldn’t exactly blow my mind to find out that there was a direct operational connection there.

    I was obviously talking about a nonoperational connectivism. I find that this is unexceptional and further just one more of many justifications for the invasion, since we thought Saddam had WMDs and further knew that al Qaeda wanted some to kill you with.

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  50. Bob:

    Sorry. I wrote the above without seeing the article you posted.

    This is from Wikipedia:

    In the summer of 2002, Zarqawi settled in northern Iraq, where he joined the Islamist Ansar al-Islam group that fought against the Kurdish-nationalist forces in the region. He became a leader in the group, although the extent of his authority has not been established. According to Perspectives on World History and Current Events (PWHCE), a not-for-profit project based in Melbourne, Australia, “Zarqawi was well positioned to lead the Islamic wing of the insurgency when the March 2003 invasion took place. Whether he remained in Ansar al-Islam camps until April 2003 or laid the preparations for the war during extensive visits to Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle is uncertain, but clearly he emerged as an important figure in the insurgency soon after the Coalition invasion.”

    This is the conclusion of an WaPo article about the inspector general’s report on this stuff, cited by Wikipedia:

    Zarqawi, whom Cheney depicted yesterday as an agent of al-Qaeda in Iraq before the war, was not then an al-Qaeda member but was the leader of an unaffiliated terrorist group who occasionally associated with al-Qaeda adherents, according to several intelligence analysts. He publicly allied himself with al-Qaeda in early 2004, after the U.S. invasion.

    Well, that makes me feel a lot better! Zarqawi was only “occasionally associated with al Qaeda adherents.” What’s to worry?

    The article is also about the operationality of the connectivism al Qaeda/Saddam, not about nonoperational connectivity. In fact, the article confirms such connectivity:

    It quoted an August 2002 CIA report describing the relationship as more closely resembling “two organizations trying to feel out or exploit each other” rather than cooperating operationally.

    So, at the time, Saddam and al Qaeda were only trying to negotiate a more operational form of connectivism. Cheney said they were operational but they weren’t. They were only pre-operational.

    Should this make me change my opinion in support of the invasion? Did Cheney lie? Maybe so.

    I can’t help thinking that this point is really too minor to justify my changing my position. If relations between al Qaeda and Saddam were only pre operational, then it’s probably a good thing we invaded when we did. Later, when they finally became operational, it might have been immeasurably harder to invade and even more necessary to do it. Remember we invaded Afghanistan (aka the good war) because it was harboring al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is on record as wanting WMD potential. Once the connectivity Saddam/al Qaeda had achieved full operationality, we would then be justifying an invasion on that basis. Then we would find out what WMD capability really means. Remember the panic that Saddam would use the WMDs on us during the invasion? If you were the “decider” here, what would you do?

    Instead of being a reason to change my position, I would think that it would be a reason for an opponent of the war to change his or hers. What would have happened if we hadn’t invaded and allowed this pre operational connecitvity to flourish into full connectitud? Does that sound scary to you?

    But Saddam also had operational connectivity with other terrorist organizations that are well-known. The article you posted above says this as well. I don’t see why it should have mattered that Saddam only had operational connectivity with “other terrorist groups” that shared al Qaeda’s enmity with us. If Saddam had the WMDs and was cooperating only with “other terrorist groups,” why is it so unreasonable for Bush and other national security authorities to take this seriously as a threat?

    What’s missing here? I don’t get it. Just from the stuff presented here it seems that Bush/Cheney exaggerated the Saddam/al Qaeda operational connectivity. The truth seems to be that this connectivity was only pre operational. Maybe it was a lie; maybe it was an honest mistake; maybe it was conscious exaggeration. Maybe future historians will find that Bush/Cheney were right all along. But I don’t see how this would ever determine anyone’s support for the war back in 2002-03, even without considering the multiple other reasons to support it. If I had known this back then, I would have still supported the war. That’s because I knew that al Qaeda/Saddam/other terrorist groups; etc etc wanted to kill you and your family.

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