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Forty-Seven Years

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Like so many others who were around 47 years ago, I am aware each November 22 that it is the anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination. I was in 7th grade, the first year of junior high school, of moving through multiple classrooms with multiple teachers each day. At the end of the school day, we would return to homeroom for 5 minutes to check in with our homeroom teachers for any final announcements before heading home. I was sitting at my desk when the teacher across the hall rushed in and whispered something to my teacher. He then followed her into the hall. I don’t have a clear memory of what happened after that. He returned. He must have told us the news. I got on my bus and went home. I remember my sister crying at home, but I don’t remember how she got there. Why wasn’t she on the bus with me? Or maybe she was.

Last January, Gail and I were in Dallas for the first time, visiting my old friend Won. I wrote then about our visit, with one post containing a description of our tour of the The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. In honor of today’s anniversary, here’s a paragraph from that post:

Before taking us to the museum, Won drove us around it to the front — Dealey Plaza — and westwards on Elm Street, under the three-part railway bridge. I didn’t understand at first the point of the detour, but once upstairs, on the sixth floor, as I read about and studied the map of the motorcade route, I appreciated how driving that stretch was an excellent prelude to the exhibit. The permanent exhibit is so well done. It is an intense, powerful, painful experience. First you read about the Kennedy’s early career, marriage to Jacqueline, run for the presidency in 1960, the early days of the administration, political troubles, the decision to travel to Texas to shore up support. And time begins to slow down as the Texas trip begins. San Antonio and Houston on the 21st, with the flight up to Fort Worth that night. Fort Worth on the morning of the 22nd, then the short (really short!) flight to Love Field in Dallas and the motorcade. Years, months, days, hours, minutes, and soon we are studying photos of the motorcade second by second as it heads west on Main, turns north on Houston at the eastern edge of Dealey Plaza, and then makes the left turn west on Elm, with the Texas School Book Depository building on the northwest corner of the intersection. As you work your way through the exhibit, you are also working your way to the southeast corner of the building. You can’t believe he’s going to be shot. But he is. You read. You tear up. And there you are, staring at a mock-up of the corner as it was when Oswald fired, with book boxes piled up to provide a blind from which he can shoot, and with the very window he fired through — the easternmost one on the south side — pushed up no more than a foot. The space is enclosed by glass, so you can’t actually walk into it, but you can view it from different angles, coming ultimately to the south side, at which point you look down on Elm yourself and see Oswald’s view. It’s shattering, 46 years later.

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Categories: History

Change We Can Believe In, X

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Change we can believe in: Perpetual war

The death Saturday of political scientist Chalmers Johnson led to reflections by, among others, James Fallows, Steve Clemons, and Daniel Larison. Larison quotes the following passage from Johnson’s 2004 book The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic:

If present trends continue, four sorrows, it seems to me, are certain to be visited on the United States. Their cumulative impact guarantees that the United States will cease to bear any resemblance to the country once outlined in our Constitution. First there will be a state of perpetual war leading to more terrorism against Americans wherever they may be and a growing reliance on weapons of mass destruction as they try to ward off the imperial juggernaut. Second, there will be a loss of democracy
and constitutional rights as the presidency fully eclipses Congress and is itself transformed from an
‘executive branch’ of government into something more like a Pentagonized presidency. Third, an already
well-shredded principle of truthfulness will increasingly be replaced by a system of propaganda, disinformation, and glorification of war, power, and the military legions. Lastly, there will be bankruptcy, as we pour our economic resources into ever more grandiose military projects and shortchange the education, health, and safety of our fellow citizens.

Reading this yesterday, I was reminded of Saturday’s news from the NATO meeting in Lisbon that we will be in Afghanistan until at least 2014:

NATO and Afghanistan agreed Saturday to the goal of a phased transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government by the end of 2014, but NATO officials acknowledged that allied forces would remain in Afghanistan, at least in a support role, well beyond that date.

NATO and American officials also warned that if Afghanistan had not made sufficient progress in managing its own security, 2014 was not a hard and fast deadline for the end of combat operations.

“We will stay after transition in a supporting role,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary general of NATO, said at a news conference on Saturday after signing a long-term security agreement with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

NATO officials had previously said it was likely that tens of thousands of support troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2014 to provide training and other security guarantees to Kabul.

. . .

Mr. Obama also confirmed the American military, which now has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, would remain in some form. “Certainly, our footprint will have been significantly reduced,” he said. “But beyond that, you know, it’s hard to anticipate exactly what is going to be necessary.”

It would appear that President Obama anticipates being at war — should he be re-elected — for the full eight years of his presidency. That’s as perpetual as it gets. And he’s well down the road to visits of Johnson’s other three sorrows.

Categories: Politics, War

Change We Can Believe In, IX

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Change we can believe in: Still looking forward

It’s not news that President Obama admonished us two years ago to look forward, not backward, with respect to the crimes actions of the previous administration. And it’s not surprising, as a result, that President Bush feels free to brag, in his new memoir, about approving torture. (“Damn right.”) What is news is the decision by the British government last Tuesday to pay millions of pounds in compensation to former Guantánamo Bay detainees. As reported in the Guardian,

Today’s payments will clear the way for an independent inquiry into British involvement in torture and the degree to which MI6 knowingly took information extracted by torture by the Americans.

[Conservative British Prime Minister David] Cameron announced in July he believed there was no alternative but to roll up the many existing civil claims against the government taken by the alleged victims of torture.

He said the settlement of the claims would allow an inquiry to be undertaken, chaired by Sir Peter Gibson, a former senior court of appeal judge and currently the statutory commissioner for the intelligence services. The inquiry, ranging over alleged British complicity in torture, is due to report by the end of next year.

Earlier this month former US president George Bush claimed that controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, had protected the UK from further terrorist attacks. Cameron rejected the comments.

Also in the news last week, London mayor and fellow Conservative Boris Johnson had a column in The Telegraph warning Bush not to cross the Atlantic on a book tour unless he wants to risk arrest for torture.

One moment he might be holding forth to a great perspiring tent at Hay-on-Wye. The next moment, click, some embarrassed member of the Welsh constabulary could walk on stage, place some handcuffs on the former leader of the Free World, and take him away to be charged. Of course, we are told this scenario is unlikely. Dubya is the former leader of a friendly power, with whom this country is determined to have good relations. But that is what torture-authorising Augusto Pinochet thought. And unlike Pinochet, Mr Bush is making no bones about what he has done.

Unless the 43rd president of the United States has been grievously misrepresented, he has admitted to authorising and sponsoring the use of torture. Asked whether he approved of “waterboarding” in three specific cases, he told his interviewer that “damn right” he did, and that this practice had saved lives in America and Britain. It is hard to overstate the enormity of this admission.

“Waterboarding” is a disgusting practice by which the victim is deliberately made to think that he is drowning. It is not some cunning new psych-ops technique conceived by the CIA. It has been used in the dungeons of dictators for centuries. It is not compatible either with the US constitution or the UN convention against torture. It is deemed to be torture in this country, and above all there is no evidence whatever that it has ever succeeded in doing what Mr Bush claimed. It does not work.

And then we have the jury’s decision this past Wednesday in the case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, concluding the first civilian criminal trial of a former Guantánamo detainee. Ghailani was found guilty on one count of conspiracy in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, but not guilty of the other 284 charges. He will be sentenced to somewhere between 20 years and life.

Why was he not found guilty of the other charges? Almost certainly because Judge Lewis Kaplan barred the chief witness, whom the government learned about only through statements obtained from Ghailani while being tortured at a CIA black site. As David Cole explained two days ago in a New York Review blog post, “Ghailani reportedly also confessed to his role in the bombings during interrogations at the black site and at Guantánamo, but that confession also could not be used because of the CIA’s illegal tactics. The same result would have been obtained in a military trial, as involuntary confessions are inadmissible in both forums. The problem with the Ghailani case, in other words, was not the civilian versus military character of the courtroom, but the fact that the Bush administration tortured him.”

Cole concludes with an eloquent description of the price we pay for Obama’s policy of looking forward:

The Ghailani verdict is a kind of accountability. We are paying for the torture we chose to inflict. But it’s deeply unsatisfactory. The torturers—President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, and Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, to name just a few—are not held responsible. They remain free to travel the lecture circuit and publish books bragging about their crimes. It is the families of victims of the embassy bombings who must pay the price—in foregone justice—for the crimes the Bush administration perpetrated in its “war on terror.”

It turns out that looking forward, not back, will never resolve the torture legacy. Until we own up to and provide a reckoning for the moral and criminal wrongs committed by officials at the very highest levels of the former administration, the fact that we tortured will continue to fester—and cause problems for its successor. The prevailing view in Washington seems to be that we should move on, but such wrongs cannot be forgotten. Try as we might to ignore it, the fact that we tortured and did nothing about it will periodically raise its head—in a failed prosecution, a foreign court judgment, or a terrorist incident inspired by images from Abu Ghraib. And even when it does not manifest itself so dramatically, the fact that the president of the United States was able to order torture, boast about it in a best-selling book, and walk way scot-free will fuel a deep vein of worldwide resentment. Torture and its after-effects will be with us until we are willing to confront them head-on.

Categories: Politics, Torture

Scan This

November 20, 2010 Leave a comment

My last post, written last Sunday night from the O’Hare Hilton, was a bit unfocused. Let me see if I can do better with this one.

Before writing the last post, I had planned for days to discuss the full-body backscatter scanners used at airport security by the TSA, the unattractive alternative of being groped, and the puzzle of what I would choose to do when I went through security at SeaTac on the way to Chicago. I never did write the intended post. And I had no idea the issue would explode into what might have been the most covered news story of the past week. (No, not the issue of what decision I would make. The issue of the idiotic TSA requirements.) “Don’t touch my junk” has become the phrase of the day, and even right-wing nut cases (I mean you, Charles Krauthammer) who traditionally adore all possible security measures — privacy, what’s that? — seem to have re-discovered their libertarian roots.

In my post last Sunday, I touched on the scanner issue only in passing, observing that I didn’t have to scanning and groping that morning because I ended up on a security line that used the traditional metal detectors rather than the scanners. But now I have a TSA story to tell, a different kind of story. I’ll get to it in a moment. Let me first review the circumstances of my trip.

I flew into O’Hare Sunday for the eighth consecutive November in order to attend the annual board meeting Monday for Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico. The meeting is always held in the Athens-Berlin meeting rooms on the mezzanine level of the O’Hare Hilton, with breakfast from 8:30 to 9:00 and the meeting itself from 9:00 to around 3:00. For years, I would fly home on a United flight that would depart around 5:30 PM, but United has dropped that flight. Last year, Gail and I took an American flight with a departure around 4:00 PM. (We were both there because we scheduled our France-Italy trip so that we could stop in O’Hare on our return to Seattle.) But this year the only options were a cluster of flights on assorted airlines around 3:00 or 3:15 PM or another cluster around 8:00 or 8:15 PM. One option would force me to leave the meeting at least an hour before its end; the other would give me 5 hours or more to kill at O’Hare.

I agonized about what to do for a couple of weeks, then went with United’s 3:20 departure. Hanging out at O’Hare didn’t seem too attractive, and I’m not so essential a participant at the meeting that I would be missed if I left a little early. But I knew another issue would await me — just how much time should I allow to get from the Hilton through the underground passageways to the United terminal and then through security? I knew in particular that I would be fretting about this in the closing minutes of my time at the meeting. To minimize fret, I decided ahead of time that I would leave at 2:00. No point fretting when my departure time was pre-ordained. I would enjoy the meeting until that moment, then rush over to United and allow the fretting to begin. Anyway, how bad could it be?

Well, I’m about to tell you. But one more piece of background first.

When I checked in online from home Saturday night for the flight to Chicago, the United website gave me a choice. I could print a boarding pass, or I could have an electronic, scannable boarding pass sent to my mobile device. I thought — at last! I could use put the boarding pass on my iPhone screen and board that way. This isn’t new technology, but it’s not widely in use, and I was eager to try it for the first time. The webpage also had a link to click in order to find out what airports you could use an e-boarding pass at. I clicked, discovered that Seattle was in the list of airports where this feature was not yet available but would be coming. O’Hare was listed as having it already. Oh well. I dutifully printed out my boarding pass, but I looked forward to using the e-pass on my way back.

Sunday afternoon, in my room at the O’Hare Hilton, I checked in for Monday’s return flight, and this time I clicked on the option to have the e-pass sent to me by email. I checked the iPhone email, opened the message from United, and clicked on a link that opened on my iPhone browser. There was the scannable block pictured at the top of this post, below which were the flight details. I was in business.

Let’s move to Monday afternoon. At 1:55, with my 2:00 departure from the meeting approaching, I started to the process of checking the time on my iPhone regularly. I must have checked roughly every 45 seconds. When 2:00 came around, I got up, grabbed my bags and jacket, and left the room. Down the stairs to the lobby level, over to the escalator, down to the basement level, out to the main underground passageway, up to the United terminal baggage claim level, left turn, 50 yard walk to the up escalator (a routine that has become familiar to me over the years), up to the departure level. It’s 2:06. I think, what if the e-pass doesn’t work? Why not put my credit card in one of the United kiosks and print out a paper pass. Alas, the kiosk won’t read my card. On try four, it does. Then I push the buttons to the point where I ask it to print my boarding documents, and it says it can’t. Hmm. Maybe once one has an e-pass, one can’t get a paper pass. Anyway, time is passing. Let’s get through security.

I go to the main security entrance, show somebody there my phone with the scannable square, and he says that’s fine, just go through and make sure to go left. But there must be hundreds in line, and I had used United mileage to upgrade to first class, so I ask where the first class line is. Actually, I knew. It’s way down at the end of the building, which is where he points me. I race over there and discover a line that, while much shorter than the standard line, is not short at all. Priority boarding it’s called. It snakes back and forth about four times before leading to the lone TSA agent, who is doing that stare-at-your-pass-and-license thing. I’m starting to get anxious.

I suppose it took 10 minutes to snake through, during which time I got to study the options once one passes the ID inspection. There are two conveyor belt lines, to the left and to the right. Most people go right. Left is shorter. But right has a body scanner. The odd thing is, not everyone is going through it. Most go through the traditional metal detectors. A handful are directed to the scanner. I figure I’ll just choose the conveyor belt to the left when the time comes.

It’s maybe 2:22 now. I reach the ID guy. I show him my phone and he says he can’t read it. One needs to read it with a scanning tool, and he doesn’t have one. I should go way back to the left, toward the main security line ID checkers, whom I can reach by walking along a wall, squeezing past the main flow of people heading to the conveyor belts. And then, once my phone is scanned, I can return to the priority line’s conveyor belts.

Anxiety increasing. I do as I’m told, squeeze pass a hundred people, reach the regular ID checkers from behind, get the attention of one of them, approach (in effect cutting ahead of the line, except I’m coming to it from the other direction), and show him my phone. He looks at me like I’m out of my mind, shrugs, and says he can’t scan it. I explain that I was told to come this way from the priority line. He shrugs again, not too concerned, and says there’s only one scanner, and it’s at the other end. He suggests I go out and get a paper pass. I ask if I’ll have to get in the line again. I don’t know that he gave a clear answer to that, but I point out that I didn’t want to miss my flight. Again, not his problem. Finally he says he’ll have to get his supervisor. He speaks into some walkie-talkie, no response, takes the next person in line, then stands up, looks around, spots Connie over by one of the conveyor belts, and shouts to her. She’s busy taking people’s bags and orienting them correctly on the belt. She nods at him, spends another minute and a half handling bags, then heads in some big circle away from the conveyor belt and possibly toward us, though I can’t be sure. She has to pass through some area accessible only to TSA staff, then emerges near us, fusses with something on the other TSA ID checker’s counter, looks at my guy, finds that he needs a scanner, and then she disappears back to that private TSA area again. I have no idea what she’s doing, but she clearly is in no hurry to help me. I ask my guy again what my options are. He says look, he asked his lead for help, she’ll ask her lead, and her lead may have to ask his lead, and so on. I can’t tell if he’s serious or just being an ass. But he obviously isn’t too concerned about my plight. I ask if I could just be interviewed, answer some standard questions. No, my pass needs scanning. I explain that United said this would work. He suggests, in effect, that I should complain to United, it’s not his or TSA’s problem. I say okay, if I get a printed pass, can I come right back? He says sure.

It’s getting later and later. I race out some non-standard security exit, head to a machine, and this time it will let me print my boarding documents. I run back to the exit, the two TSA people there move to stop me. I point to the ID guy, say he knows me, he sent me out to get a printed pass. They look at him, he nods, they let me through, I run up to him. Connie is back. She starts to shout at me to stop, but I point to my guy, he nods to her, and she lets me be. I hand him my boarding pass. But now a new panic. Where’s my license? I can’t find it. It’s not in my wallet. Turns out, I had been carrying it up against my iPhone the whole time, the two held tightly together, and he sees it. He pulls it out of my hand, gives it a quick look, hands it back. I’m through.

Now back to priority security to get on one of the two conveyor belt lines. This time they are both far longer than when I left them behind. I choose one, which doesn’t move for about two minutes. Some problem with someone’s bag I guess. But I see myself missing my flight. Should I cut 15 people, say I’m about to miss the flight, and ask to be let in? It’s 2:30. My flight is 3:20, boarding at 2:50. I’m probably okay. The line begins to move. Slowly. I get through, get my laptop and iPad back in my bag, my iPhone back in my pocket, my shoes back on.

It’s 2:38. B-9. B-9. Where’s gate B-9. Ah, right in front of me. I have somehow come out of security directly in front of my gate. I’m going to make my plane! I search unsuccessfully for a nearby men’s room, then remember that in the B concourse, I need to walk a ways from the center to find one. To heck with it. I get on line at the priority boarding area, and 5 minutes later we’re boarding.

All that anxiety for nothing.

But really, how was I to know? When I got to the TSA ID guy and he got Connie and she came over, then walked off without a word, I was not convinced that I was ever going to get through security. They so obviously didn’t care about my problem, which was between me and United.

So, by the way, what’s the deal United? Why roll out e-boarding passes, offer the option of downloading one when you check in, but not tell you that your options for getting the pass read by TSA are extremely limited? There’s no apparent coordination with TSA to lead you to the right place. There are no signs directing you to a line that can handle it. You’re pretty much on your own.

I won’t have to think hard next time. I’ll just print my boarding pass. And maybe leave the meeting earlier.

Categories: Security, Technology, Travel

At Home at O’Hare

November 14, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m at one of my homes away from home tonight, the O’Hare Hilton, in for my annual November visit. This is my eighth consecutive November here, with some other visits at other times of year along the way. It’s less fun being here without Gail. Two years ago, we came together, two days ahead of time, and stayed the first two nights in the Loop, attending a Lang Lang concert and visiting the Art Institute, among other activities. Then we came back out to the airport for my meeting. I blogged about it at the time in multiple posts, such as this one. Last year, we timed our trip to France and Italy so we would stop in Chicago for my meeting on our way back to Seattle. This year, I’m on my own.

If I weren’t already getting tired, I would write about my day, not that flying from Seattle to Chicago is all that interesting. But I almost wrote about TSA and security yesterday, wondering if I would be put through one of those full body scanners this morning and linking to various articles about the idiocy of TSA, and so I was thinking I might write about that. It seems to be the issue of the day. The Seattle Times reprinted a Washington Post article about the scanners on its front page today. The NYT had something about them. Maybe I have nothing to say that hasn’t already been said.

Well, let me just suggest that you read Patrick Smith’s latest Ask the Pilot piece in Slate (hat tip: James Fallows), about the general issue of airport security, and two recent posts by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic about the scanners.

After reading them, you’ll appreciate that I was ready to do battle this morning. Sure enough, the new security area leading to the D and N gates at SeaTac has been re-organized, a sign explaining as we waited for the TSA agents to stare at our driver’s licenses with those little flashlights that the remodel was done to install body scanners and should be ready by November 1. The word was that once we got through the identity check, the line to the left was moving faster than the others, so I headed that way. No body scanner there. I think that was the difference. But just parallel to my line was a new sight. There were about eight TSA agents sitting hunched over computer screens. It occurred to me that they might have been studying the scans. I couldn’t see any scanners from where I was standing, but maybe that’s the point — the agents aren’t supposed to see the scanners either, so they don’t know whose naked bodies they’re examining. Even with no scanner, our line moved slowly.

I wasn’t going to write about my boring day, was I? Okay. Nevermind. I didn’t do battle. I’ll leave it at that. Maybe I will tomorrow when I go through O’Hare security, though I’m going to be in a rush, so I probably won’t have time to make a fuss.

The wonder of staying at the O’Hare Hilton is that you never need to go outdoors. You can fly in, get to the hotel under ground, stay in it, eat in it, meet in it, then go back to the terminal. To avoid this fate, I always make it a point, whatever the weather, to go outdoors. Not that there’s anywhere to go. After dinner tonight at Andiamo, the Hilton’s restaurant and one I’ve gotten to know well, I went out a door and walked along the sidewalk, parallel to the lobby, just to get a sense of place before re-entering the lobby. I got my usual ground level view of the parking garage, which I can see better from my room on the 10th floor (the highest). I can look down at the top level of the garage, which is always fun to do in the morning, when you can see people parking and rushing to get to their flights. So much to look forward to tomorrow. What isn’t so much fun is being stuck in a windowless meeting room all day, with no sense not just of place but of time or weather or anything else. Still, even that’s home — the conjoined Athens-Berlin meeting rooms on the mezzanine. That’s where I’ll be in just 9 hours. I better call it quits here.

Categories: Travel

Rightward Ho

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a Ted Rall cartoon. I used to worry that I over-did it. I don’t have to worry about that anymore. His latest, from yesterday, is above. I suppose it’s self-explanatory, but I’ll add a few words.

Given how hard Obama has worked during the last two years to placate centrist Democrats (formerly known as conservative Democrats) and conservative Republicans (formerly known as nutjobs), it’s difficult to imagine how much farther right he can bend in reaching out to them. DADT repeal? Forget it. Another stimulus? Long off the table. Revised energy policy to reduce anthropomorphic climate change? Maybe in another lifetime. (But isn’t that the point — to ensure that there are other lifetimes?) And of course he will soon be discussing steps to reduce the deficit while lowering taxes and fighting two wars (or three, if you count Yemen, or four, if he succumbs to right-wing pressure and adds Iran to the list). I think Rall captures the dynamic of this quite effectively.

Full disclosure: I wasn’t on the chess team in high school, but I was on the math team, captaining it senior year. I know the feeling.

Categories: Politics

Lincoln on Hypocrisy (and Bush)

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

I mentioned a week ago, under the heading Books I Won’t Be Reading, that you could be sure I wouldn’t be reading Bush’s memoir. (No link to it. I don’t want to encourage sales.) Monday, on the eve of its publication, Bush was interviewed on NBC by Matt Lauer. If I imagined for even a moment that Lauer might actually ask serious, tough questions, I might have watched, but Lauer and NBC aren’t interested in making waves, so I kept my distance.

I did break down Tuesday morning however. I read Alessandra Stanley’s NYT account of the interview, learning how pleased Bush was about waterboarding and how insulted that Kanye West didn’t like his handling of Katrina. I then turned to the WSJ, finding that the subject of its daily book review was the memoir. WSJ editor and columnist Daniel Henninger observes early on that “50 years from now only specialists will be sifting the archives on Katrina, earmarks and the rest” and concludes, “History will judge him almost solely by what he did after a single historic day, Sept. 11, 2001—in short, by the war on terror and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If in time they succeed, he was a good president. If they fail, his presidency falls. For everyone’s sake, one should hope that he was a good president.”

I might have thought the evidence is already in — they didn’t succeed, at least not on his terms, in his reign. If they do succeed, in whatever sense Henninger imagines, perhaps Obama should be the one judged a good president. Or Clinton. Or Palin. Or Jenna Bush. Or whoever the heck is president when both wars are finally over.

But let me not get distracted. I’m actually heading somewhere here. Next up, I turned on NPR just as some correspondent was wrapping up a brief report on the news that the Justice Department won’t bring charges against CIA officials who destroyed the torture tapes. Oops. Not torture tapes. She referred to “harsh interrogation.” (And in a similar vein, in the NYT report yesterday on the same story, reporters Mark Mazzetti and Charlie Savage, following the NYT’s dishonest and inane language policy, wrote that “Central Intelligence Agency officials will not face criminal charges for the destruction of dozens of videotapes depicting the brutal interrogation of terrorism suspects, the Justice Department said Tuesday.”) Mind you, the acts that NPR calls “harsh” and the NYT “brutal” are called torture by both institutions when done by other countries, as has been well documented.

The next NPR news item was a review of Bush’s proud approval of waterboarding, with his defense that it was legal, not torture; his lawyers told him so. This is rich. If not for the destruction of those CIA tapes, there would be evidence that waterboarding was being done prior to the administration’s hastily-obtained legal approval of it. This was all a charade. Yet Jay Bybee’s reward for directing the charade was appointment to a lifetime judgeship on the US court of Appeals, and John Yoo gets to be a law professor at Berkeley.

This was more than enough news for one morning. And I had to get to my office. But before leaving the house, I opened the latest New York Review of Books, only to stumble on James McPherson’s review of Eric Foner’s new book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. I didn’t read far. Just the first three paragraphs. But the third paragraph said it all. Writing about Lincoln’s opposition to slavery, McPherson explains that

In 1854 Lincoln made an even stronger protest, this time in the form of eloquent speeches against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s longtime political rival, had rammed this law through a divided Congress. It repealed the earlier ban on the expansion of slavery into territories carved out of the Louisiana Purchase north of latitude 36º 30′. Douglas’s actions opened these territories to slavery and sparked the formation of the new “anti-Nebraska” Republican Party, which would nominate Lincoln for president six years later. Douglas had said that if the white people who moved to Kansas wanted slavery there, they should be allowed to have it. “This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate,” said Lincoln in 1854, “because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself” and also “because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites.”

I know Bush is not a reflective human being, but if he were capable of reflection, he might begin by reflecting on his declared indifference to torture, and indeed his covert zeal for it. Lincoln’s observation on slavery applies equally well here. Torture “deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites.”

Hypocrites indeed.

Categories: Books, History, Torture