Friday, April 24, 2009

Andrew Sullivan Takes on Peggy Noonan

I've taken this from Facebook....folks tend to post things they find interesting there, and one has the opportunity to respond. One of the very best men I know posted the Sullivan article as a way of demonstrating (presumably) inconsistency in argument and thought (Peggy Noonan's in this case). But it is just sloppy logic, as my answer below hopefully illuminates:

"So beginneth the lesson: enhanced interrogation techniques were not used until field operatives obtained legal sanction to do so. Legal sanction to do so was gained in the appropriate manner within the Justice Department. Great, weighty debates and legal memos were filed attempting to discern between that which is torture and that which isn't--a useful distinction in a nation attempting to prosecute a nihilistic enemy while maintaining its own identity. These techniques were approved by the President and briefed to the senior members of Congress with oversight responsibility. "I" were dotted, "T"'s were crossed. This notion that a bunch of cowboys just up and decided to pull toenails might be fun for Andrew Sullivan and his ilk, but it just isn't true. There was a process, a legal process followed. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

Now, onto President Clinton. While Sullivan dismisses his actions as having occurred in a "civil" matter, he is wrong. It was a Constitutional matter. No one likes thinking about the matter at the heart of the matter--it was tawdry and low. But when the single embodiment of one of the three co-equal branches of government (El Presidente Los Estados Unidos) undertakes on his own to undermine the duly constituted proceedings of one of the other three branches (the Judicial, as embodied in Paula whathername's civil suit) through perjury and the suborning of perjury, it is no longer a mere "civil" matter. So what we have here is Sullivan greatly de-weighting the issues at hand in the Clinton matter and just as greatly de-weighting the legitimacy and propriety of the process followed in the Bush Administration in an effort to create a parallel. And you bit like a great big Sullivan fish."

9 comments:

Mudge said...

i'm confused. just what was it that peggy noonan was saying? that because we impeached clinton, we should also pursue prosecution of those associated with torture policy? or that we should not? or that the papers shouldn't have been released? and what was your position about all this? finally, i believe there were plenty in congress who were briefed on all this, including mme speaker...who acquiesced. tacit or not, the were as government officials with responsibility and authority to keep one another in check, if there is to be prosecution, i believe it will need to be a very large net. i still don't know who gets to decide that something is "torture". A lot of people who were sworn to "support and defend" and in some cases "uphold" the Constitution, gave this policy a significant amount of review. That it is extremely distasteful to some, including our new President, is one thing. To declare it criminal is just very hard for me to digest.

Mudge said...

ps - i got home well after midnight last night so i haven't quite regained my already diminished faculties.

Tim said...

AS juxtaposed the two quotes for comparison purposes. My reading of her second statement was that it was an out-of-hand dismissal of anyone's questioning of the advisability, etc., of using these techniques. CW's point is well taken about the principled, constitutional ramifications of the president perjuring himself. On the other hand, the ramifications of the decision to move forward with these techniques, in my estimation, are far greater and longer reaching than the transgressions in the latter case. How much of what we are able to accomplish on the global stage is because of our reputation, good will, etc. How does one quantify the value of that component of our instruments of national power? Given that, I don't have a problem with there being some post facto attempt to find out more about these deliberations. Did we really do the right thing? Did we really need to go there.
There supposedly are guys who were at the pointy end of the spear (FBI Agent Ali Soufan) who conducted interrogations and got valuable information (about KSM from Zubaydah) without resorting to these techniques. How did that information inform the process?
Would I call the techniques "war crimes?" No. Nonetheless, from my readings - and I still need to do more - there were enough smart, senior people in the review process that strongly recommended against going this route that it gives me even more pause. I cannot help but wonder if the final answer had not been determined ahead of time and the analysis was constructed to support that answer.
Screw the terrorists. I don't question this because I care about their feelings and worry about the long term effects of such treatment on their psyches. I care about how our country conducts itself on the world stage. I’m prepared to be called na├»ve.
I have more to read and contemplate.

Tim said...

Addendum: Illogically or not, it's only the waterboarding part of the "menu" that I really have the problem with.

Smoothfur said...

Would any of you have a problem with "Water boarding" if it was done to help find out the location of your spouse, son or daughter in order to prevent their execution by terrorists? I think not.

Was the dropping of nuclear warheads on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the fire bombing of Tokyo or the bombing of Dresden during WWII less reprehensible than water boarding? Of course not, we were at war just as we are at war with terrorists. Does the person who water boards a terrorist with the full knowledge that he does not intend to kill the person being water boarded have less moral standing than the pilots of the planes who knew that their actions would result in the sure death of thousands? The answer to both is to paraphrase General Sherman "War is hell"

Tim said...

Smoothfur, you ought to change your nickname to Strawman.

Anonymous said...

I am pretty sure waterboarding is torture. For two reasons: one, having been waterboarded myself -- yup i can say it was torture. Second, if history (precedent) is an indication we have a long history of prosecuting our soldiers who engage in it and convicting enemy soldiers of torture when they waterboarded US servicemen. Thus we defined waterboarding as torture for most of the past century. JPH

Here are some anecdotes:

After the Spanish American War of 1898 in the Philippines, the US Army used waterboarding which was called the "water cure" at the time. Reports of "cruelties" from soldiers stationed in the Philippines led to Senate Hearings on US activity in the Philippines.
Testimony described the waterboarding of Tobeniano Ealdama "while supervised by …Captain/Major Edwin F. Glenn.
Elihu Root, United States Secretary of War, ordered a court martial for Glenn in April 1902. During the trial, Glenn "maintained that the torture of Ealdama was 'a legitimate exercise of force under the laws of war. Though some reports seem to confuse Ealdama with Glenn,he was found guilty and "sentenced to a one-month suspension and a fifty-dollar fine," the leniency of the sentence due to the "circumstances" presented at the trial.President Theodore Roosevelt privately rationalized the instances of "mild torture, the water cure" but publicly called for efforts to "prevent the occurrence of all such acts in the future." In that effort, he ordered the court-martial of General Jacob H. Smith on the island of Samar, "where some of the worst abuses had occurred." When the court-martial found only that he had acted with excessive zeal, Roosevelt disregarded the verdict and had the General dismissed from the Army.

Chase J. Nielsen, one of the U.S. airmen who flew in the Doolittle raid following the attack on Pearl Harbor, was subjected to waterboarding by his Japanese captors. The Japanese soldiers were tried and imprisoned.

Waterboarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in the Vietnam War. On January 21, 1968, The Washington Post published a controversial photograph of two U.S soldiers and one South Vietnamese soldier participating in the waterboarding of a North Vietnamese POW near Da Nang. The article described the practice as "fairly common". The photograph led to the soldier being court-martialled by a U.S. military court within one month of its publication, and he was discharged from the army.

Smoothfur said...

Mr. Tim,
Presenting and refuting a weakened form of an opponent's argument can be a part of a valid argument. For example, one can argue that the opposing position implies that at least one of two other statements - both being presumably easier to refute than the original position - must be true. If one refutes both of these weaker propositions, the refutation is valid and does not fit the above definition of a "straw man" argument.

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity. ~Christopher Morley

tim said...

Strawfur,
1) you've been watching too much 24.
2) to know a priori what the detainee knows with absolute certainty is impossible.
3) have there ever been any such cases to provide credence to this notion that torture has provided timely, actionable information that beat the clock and saved lives?

no more threadjacking for me. all future discussion offline. apologies to CW.

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