Today, as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom concluded that a former Russian spy and his daughter were attacked with a deadly nerve agent that originated in Russia and that it was likely the handiwork of the Russian state, and warned of reprisals by the U.K., but... for its part... as with all things Russia, the White House refused to acknowledge Russian involvement in the Sergei Skirpal poisoning.Perhaps still having not recovered from an illness acquired on his trip to Africa, Secretary of State Rex Tilllerson did seem to acknowledge a Russian link. Rex will be spoken to, I'm sure.
Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee (our House of Representatives and Intelligence being an oxymoron, or at least mutually exclusive), at least the GOP majority thereof, just decided to say there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, because, well, what the fuck, right?
Meanwhile, the pornographic film star who alleges that the President paid her $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election for her to remain silent on the details of their alleged year-long affair at the time his third wife was giving birth to his fifth child (including, apparently, that he liked being spanked with a rolled up Forbes magazine, liked to watch shows about sharks, and his sexual prowess was "generic") has decided she wants out of the non-disclosure and is demanding to return said $130,000. Will her interview with 60-Minutes air next Sunday? Stay tuned!
"Alt-right" (some might prefer "Neo-Nazi") activist Richard Spencer says that, with all the counter-violence and all, his rallies just aren't any fun anymore.
The Secretary of Education, a rich dilettante who has never attended public schools, nor sent her children to them, and who knows next to nothing about them can't be bothered to learn anything, as shown in a rather unpleasant performance on 60-Minutes that makes the White House unhappy.
Two people in Austin , Texas are dead as a result of parcel bombs, and others are injured.
Hillary Clinton suggests that White women- a majority of whom voted for her opponent- did so because their husbands told them to, notwithstanding that her own vaunted "political experience" consisted primarily of being married to Bill Clinton, nor did she see the irony of the first female major party presidential candidate who wanted to have "break the glass ceiling" as the theme of her victory party is nonetheless perpetuating a stereotype about women.
It's only Monday, of course, and we are only 13 months and 20 days or so into... you know.
But the denouement of our constitutional republic continues apace, even as the illusion of normalcy is so desperately impressed on us by our "media," so desperate not to recognize their own complicity in setting up a system whereby "we must give equal time" to propositions and people no matter how absurd, simply because they are positioned in a box demanding equal attention, and, well, here we are.
Nothing to see here folks. Move along.
To TD Mom.
TD law school classmate Harvey Rishikoff has just been summarily sacked as the Guantanamo "convening authority" (i.e. civilian official in charge of the military commissions).
Mr. Rishikoff had intervened to stop the absurd "contempt" jailing of the chief defense attorney for the (absurd) Guantanamo military commissions, and tried to have a new facility built because of accusations that defense attorney-client conversations were monitored at existing facilities ... anyway, now that the President has reversed the last President's executive order to close Guantanamo, it seems open season on reason, and so, Harvey is out, as is another Pentagon official associated with the military commissions named Gary Brown.
The commissions, of course, are an absurdity, whose sole purpose is to whitewash American torture of prisoners in the years following September 11th, while still trying to use "evidence" obtained as a result of that torture. Most prisoners at Guantanamo will never face charges of any kind, of course, even as this President insists that they will never be released if he has anything to do with it.
Damned if I can figure out any of this.
*** Candace has more.***
And so, at long last, the infamous "Nunes Memo" is publicly disseminated, which will, if you are a partisan Trump loyalist, lead you to the conclusion that based upon a Rube Goldberg-like series of events, a series of Republican officials (some of them appointed by Trump himself) have conspired to undermine the rule of law by engaging in a witch-hunt against "poor Carter Page"... how was he to know that innocent contacts with Russian operatives while serving in the Trump campaign could possibly make him a subject of interest... demonstrating that the Mueller investigation is hopelessly biased and Rod Rosenstein (Deputy Attorney General and in charge of the Mueller investigation because Atttorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself
Or, of course, if you don't have your head up your ass, you realize that a good deal about highly sensitive procedure about how our law enforcement agencies gather intelligence has just been exposed to the public solely in order for a Congressman who is supposed to be entirely recused from the investigation into Trump campaign contacts with Russia because he may well be implicated in such investigation has, entirely on party line votes, taken it upon itself to throw something out there just to distract from that investigation.
And this just a day or two after an abortion called "The state of the union" speech, in which a "call for unity" promised to deport more people, build a wall, and just for the hell of it, rescind the Obama era (and not quite fully implemented) order to close Guantanamo, and not only keep it open, but send his political enemies there. All while the cowed media pretends that the whole shit-show is all perfectly normal.
And this after a month that had dozens of insane news stories, where a revelation of a payoff of $130,000 in hush money to a porn star to keep her affair with the President secret was no better than the fourth biggest story of that day.
And mind you, we are now only up to day 379 or so of the Trump era. Because every day seems the same now: as the at-one-time-funny Woody Allen observed, life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. And in the Trump era, we get both. Every day. In fact, several times a day. Every day. Over and over. And wake up again, and it's the same shit. Like... that movie.
Don't know. I'm trying to "do good," with an emphasis on trying to help new immigrants (particularly detained immigrants). Plus I spend way too much time with my friend Donald J. Putin. Maybe I should lay off trying to keep up with anything. It would make me happier, anyway. As for the rest of you, I implore you to try to do good on whatever micro-scale you can. Because we are in a shitload of evil right now. SO MUCH fucking evil. And so many of our countrymen not only pretend it's normal, but around 35%-40% of the country has never been happier now that racism and gratuitous cruelty is out in the open and official. So try to do good. Just try.
Sigh. And while the sun will come out tomorrow, so will the darkness. A lumine, people. A lumine. It's all I got.
Yesterday marked sixteen years since the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo Bay's current iteration as a permanent holding cell for politically inconvenient Muslim men captured in the inconvenient "pre-drone" stages of our eternal war against everyone else on Earth. Andy has more on a commemoration protest at the White House, which I attended, along with a crowd of people still interested in the subject; one wishes it were larger. Andy himself was there as part of his annual visit to our shores, as was Todd Pierce, with whom I drove down. Andy was one of the speakers, as was Mark Fallon, and a number of others from the worlds of law, social activism, the arts, and religion. It was an emotionally moving rally venued in Lafayette Park across from Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
As a matter of personal observation, there is definitely a darker feeling in D.C. For the first time in all the years I have been attending rallies like this, park officials were strictly enforcing sound and other rules. There was also a massive police presence in the street in front of the White House (culminating in the arrest of several protesters for audaciously setting foot on Pennsylvania Avenue... not attempting to enter the White House grounds-- merely the street, which the police had cordoned off for no ascertainable reason).
In related news Candace has more on a new filing by lawyers for eleven prisoners (including her own client). The filing, spearheaded by the Center for Constitutional Rights, and timed for the sixteenth anniversary is here, and argues, among other things, that the current Administration's commitment to never releasing another prisoner from GTMO during its tenure is a blatant violation of law. We can hope that both the composition of the courts and the state of things has evolved enough so that there is a shot at some semblance of rule of law.
In other grim milestone news, we are rapidly approaching the one year mark of national madness, to wit, the inauguration of you-know-who, and frankly, substantial damage to the fabric of the republic has already been done (even if many people who live in relatively affluent bubbles might not have observed any particularly glaring change in their own lives). I shudder to think about the next three years (or, if national madness prevails again, seven).
And we come to the end of the longest year, ever. The President, such as he is, has managed to literally slow down the passage of time, a feat literally at odds with the laws of physics and reality (which he doesn't believe in anyway).
Somehow, the republic is still here, though duly damaged, with forward prospects not the greatest, particularly if the usually feckless Democrats remain so and defy the same odds that their Presidential candidate did in 2016 and fail to take back either house of Congress in the coming midterm elections. Hopefully, the nation will avoid another major with either North Korea, Iran, someone else, or all of the above.
In my own life, I have completed over 16 years of blogging (as we fast come upon the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay), and my 16th consecutive New York City Marathon (my 51st overall), and Mrs. TD and I have come to our 26th wedding anniversary and the Loquacious Pup's 18th birthday (and her first semester of college)! For me, a White man of the bourgeosie, although my overall blue state tax bill will be worse, most of life seems the same. Were I dependent on government benefits, or had a dubious immigration status (such as "green card holder"), or more vulnerable to the actions of the federal government, life would be far more tenuous, as it is for more and more people. For "milestones", I should say "my good friend" Donald J. Putin is perilously close to hitting 1,000 followers, in a tweeting enterprise that started a few days before... the inauguration last January.
In my own life, I have tried to step up volunteering activities, particularly in activities associated with immigrants to this country. And of course, I try to stay physically healthy, because this is not a country you want to get sick in. My hope, in the philosophy of "if everyone does it" is that a flood of niceness might overcome the flood of evil that our nation writ large has elected (albeit by winning plurality rather than actual majority of voters). No matter.
My own new years' resolutions will consist of resolving to stay loose, and recognize that we are in a fluid situation, and try to proceed accordingly. And try to do good... small measures count, and shame to anyone who says otherwise. All we can do is try to be our best, i.e., the best people we can be. And try to keep that up for another year.
Happy new year.
Happy Festivus, everyone. I hope your own Festivus pole has been taken out of the garage, and you are adequately warmed up for your feats of strength and have duly annotated your list of grievances for airing.
Given the state of the world right now, with the two largest English speaking nations having chosen to commit suicide as a result of well-executed Russian needling of our most racist and atavistic elements, Russia still unable to deliver clean water through its own plumbing but perhaps more than capable of having its submarines take out undersea data transmission cables, nonetheless looks poised to hold serve (even as it's not likely to take over the world outright anytime soon), I'll just keep it here, and wish you all...
Well, I've been remiss in blogging all month, but on the occasion on the darkest night of the year in this, the darkest year in the history of our republic, what the hell, right?
A Democratic Congresswoman from California suggests that the President will fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller tomorrow or over the weekend, taking advantage of the Christmas media lull (and Congress leaving town) to do so. Of course, another analyst says that the President might avoid the potential firestorm of firing Mueller and instead fire Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, the man who appointed Mueller. Meanwhile, the President himself expressly denied the rumor about firing Mueller.
In other extra-constitutional news, a jury
convicted acquitted six people who were on trial for protesting the inauguration who were charged with "guilt by association" because others (almost certainly right-wing agents provacateurs) broke some windows and inflicted other property damage; they were facing decades of potential prison time, in a deliberate DELIBERATE effort to flush the First Amendment down the toilet and criminalize protests against this Government and this President, Vladimir Putin style. The authoritarians now running Washington, however, plan to try again with the next batch of protesters.
We won't even talk about a tax bill that will be used as an excuse to gut what's left of the welfare state where 83% of the benefits goes to the top 1% passed on purely partisan lines where Republican members of Congress and the President himself stand to personally benefit to the tune of millions and millions of dollars.) Or that a court just threw out a suit challenging the President's blatant abuse of the Emoluments clause, insisting that Congress had to do this, as if the feckless Ryan and McConnell were remotely interested in attacking a President of their own party.
And if these assaults on the rule of law weren't enough (and this is just a tiny fraction of what's going on), the President has been furious in the pace at which he has nominated right-wing maniacs go the bench and to U.S. Attorney posts.
When democracy has been allowed to play out in state-wide (as opposed to GOP gerrymandered) elections, the Democratic candidates have recently prevailed in really blue NJ, newly blue VA, and deep red AL; this is some cause for optimism, even as the Democrats do what Democrats do and take great relish and delight in shivving one of their own and force Al Franken to resign for nothing. Even as he noted, the President, with numerous allegations of sexual harassment and worse against him (including a famous video confession) remains in office, unscathed. Which, given everything else, really is a wonderful load of crap and fabulous diversion from a dismantling of many of the values of our republic (or what we thought of as the values of our republic).
Don't know. Maybe I'm just in a dark mood, it being the darkest day (and longest night) of the year. I don't know. I should feel a little better. Loquacious Pup is home from college for a time. I've tried to step up my own personal volunteer work this year (particularly with respect to new immigrants), and I've been spending a lot of time with my good friend Donald J. Putin on twitter. And hey, Festivus, followed by Christmas, are coming up fast. So... yeah.
Happy Solstice. I guess. Try to make this a better world. The world itself seems to need the help right now.
In his more than thirty years as an NCIS special agent and counterintelligence officer, Mark Fallon has investigated some of the most significant terrorist operations in US history, including the first bombing of the World Trade Center and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Soon after the September 11th attacks, Fallon was named Deputy Commander of the newly formed Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF), created to probe the al-Qaeda terrorist network and bring suspected terrorists to trial. Mr. Fallon is the author of Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture, where he describes his experience in his role with CITF, and makes a number of other observations from his unique perspective, including the evolution of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (torture) into the American interrogation program and his and others' heroic efforts of many to thwart it that were ultimately not successful. On November 10, 2017, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Fallon by e-mail exchange.
The Talking Dog: My usual first question is "where were you on 9-11." I, of course, was one block from the WTC. We know that you were a bit farther away, in London, working on counter-terrorism for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, NCIS (now a famous t.v. franchise). So my question is more philosophical; in a forward thinking gesture, you devote your book to your granddaughter. My own daughter was not yet two at the time. Neither of them, of course, has any memory of a pre-9/11 world. What "lessons of 9/11" do you think constitute the most important things we can convey to our young ones, from our perspective as (hopefully rational) elders who lived in the pre-9/11 world, particularly based on your unique experiences and perspectives as not merely a law enforcement professional, but in the thick of the hunt for the 9/11 perps as you watched professionals perform interrogations professionally, but a larger cadre of amateurs (and worse) running the show took the enterprise into the realm of torture?
Mark Fallon: One of the lessons learned is how easy it is to forget the fabric of our country should be our values. Unjustifiable Means shows that if a few more people would have stood against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the course of history could have been changed. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they were evil, or had bad intentions, but all it took was for a few people in key positions to do nothing, or to help facilitate or enable prisoner abuse. Leaders set a climate or create the conditions that contribute to success or failure. Within other commands or units, cruelty became an acceptable, or even expected practice. Our country is stronger when our actions match our values, even when we think nobody will ever find out.
The Talking Dog: I'll take a bit of a maudlin diversion here to note that we both began our professional careers with the U.S. Department of Justice- you with the U.S. Marshall's service in Newark, N.J. and me with the U.S. Dept. of Justice Tax Division in Washington, D.C. The various paper work associated with being new federal employees on the first day of work was interrupted in order to give the oath of office- we both swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. This was presumably the same oath taken by every member of "the War Council" and whatever officials introduced torture as the joker in the deck of the war on terror. You, former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora for example, and countless other heroes identified in your book objected to these practices, but in the end, could not thwart a torture program
that came from "the top" (whether that meant SecDef Rumsefeld, V.P. Cheney, Pres. Bush or the rest of the civilian leadership of the United States). Do you believe this was largely a matter of character-- for example, Daniel Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners" or perhaps Stanley Milgram's famous cruelty experiments, comes to mind, that when leadership says something makes us safe,
few will question that, or did the powerful take advantage of the "no questions asked" culture of the military, or do you have some other explanation for how these practices became so widespread, even in the face of opposition? Or was the torture "stovepiped" like "WMD intel" leading into Iraq (just a guess on my part)?
Mark Fallon: I wish I had a good answer for the actions I saw unfolding, other than to reflect back that many of those decisions that led to torture were based on fear, ignorance and arrogance. The “oath” we take is to the Constitution, not to our chain of command. It always amazed me that people in the armed services and working in the national security or public safety space know they might have to risk their lives for their country; however, so few seemed willing to risk their careers to challenge their bosses or commanders. The most common response I heard while opposing the SERE EIT torture within DOD was that it was authorized at the highest levels. As an NCIS special agent, I was accustomed to telling truth to power and telling a general or admiral things they didn’t necessarily want to hear. Challenging authority seemed more difficult for those in uniform, which is why the Navy and Marine Corps relies on NCIS, reporting to a civilian director and to the civilian leadership of the Department of the Navy. I believe it is an institutional strength of the Department of the Navy, over the other services. It was that civilian chain of command, up to Alberto Mora, who coordinated his actions with the Secretary of the Navy, that opposed the torture policies within DOD.
I also don’t think you can discount financial or career motivations and aspirations. The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) was actively marketing SERE abuse as an interrogation method, even though it was against their own doctrine to do so and they had no legitimate interrogation experience, nor such mission. Some psychologists strayed beyond their competency level to create opportunities for themselves. As I write in Unjustifiable Means, some wanted to get involved in the worst way, and that’s exactly what they did.
The Talking Dog: I found two revelations in your book to be remarkable, and in the hope of avoiding "spoilers" (and encouraging readers to buy the book!) I'll just throw the names out there: (1) the late Roger Ailes (of Fox News fame) and (2) Dr. Martin Seligman (of Authentic Happiness fame), each of whom had some role (whether intentional or not) in our nation's dalliance with torture. First, if you're at liberty to answer, how did you come to learn about each of their roles? Next, while we learned of DOD (if not CIA) in propagandizing the virtues of torture in, say, Zero Dark Thirty (when in real life, torture had no role in locating bin Laden, but painstakingly following intel leads and perhaps a huge cash bounty to a Pakistani general are too boring for Hollywood), is it too cynical at this point to suggest that a huge motivator for "going to the dark side, if you will" was monetary, i.e. NewsCorp's hit show at the time was "24" featuring torture, and later "Drs." Jessen and Mitchell were paid tens of millions of dollars to map out torture, etc. What's your view on this?
Mark Fallon: I believe the glorification of torture by TV shows like 24, as well as others, were a contributing factor leading to the acceptance of torture as necessary. I participated in a project with the Center for the Rule of Law at West Point on the tactical consequence of torture and they related that after 9/11, a general from West Point went to Hollywood to ask them to stop glorifying torture in their portrayals of heroic actions. There was an incredible sense of patriotism after 9/11 and people seemed to want revenge, rather than justice. To be true to our democracy, we must practice the rule of law. That’s what sets us apart from dictators and brutal regimes. As one released prisoner said, “you cannot clean blood with blood”. Our Constitution sets the framework for our justice system and it is justice we should seek.
The Talking Dog: Some years ago I interviewed Erik Saar, an Army Arabic linguist with the rank of sergeant who served at Guantanamo He gave the following fairly long answer, but it's an important point:
The Talking Dog: Let me ask you about your training in the Army Field Manual 34-52 on interrogations, which I understand contains limitations consistent with the Geneva Conventions... Erik Saar: Let me stop you there, because this is a critical point that isn't discussed much. I was NEVER trained in the Army Field Manual on interrogations. Indeed, no Army linguists as far as I know were trained in interrogations. Linguists were ordered NOT to question what they saw. Military interrogators and linguists were supposed to "balance" each other. Of course, linguists had a conflict. This was especially so among civilian contractors, who would frequently tell interrogators that what they were doing was outside the custom and norm of the culture of the detainee, and hence, likely to be counter-productive. Training is a critical factor-- training is everything in the service; we do nothing unless we are trained to do it first. We were, of course, lectured as I described in the book that we had "detainees" who were not POWs because they didn't wear uniforms and other legal explanations given and as such interrogators didn't have to comply with Geneva Conventions. BUT-- interrogators had been trained one way-- don't EVER violate the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, I recall one incident where an interrogation trainee made a joke during interrogation school about "now we go to the electric shock"-- he was almost thrown out of interrogation school just for joking like that.
The drill was all Geneva all the time, BECAUSE INTERROGATION IS AND CAN BE MOST EFFECTIVE WITHIN THOSE LIMITS. At Guantanamo, of course, the constraints were "relaxed" by various orders, but the interrogators had never been trained in the new methods.
When I had the Power Point presentation telling us Geneva didn't have to apply, I left, not particularly outraged, but kind of confused. My thinking was a process-- when I left that meeting, my thought was-- this is contrary to Army practice-- we are not TRAINED for this... how can we use techniques that we are NOT TRAINED IN and how do we know this is effective?... Its not just the interrogation methods themselves that are contrary to every aspect of Army practice-- but using improvised, untested techniques that interrogators were not trained in, regardless of what they were-- is contrary to procedure as we were drilled.
Do Sgt. Saar's observations resonate with what you observed at Guantanamo (and in other "war on terror" theaters)?
Mark Fallon: Sgt Saar’s comments are reflective of a failure of leadership. The President’s military order of November 13, 2001 authorizing DOD to detain and try detainees before military commissions also ordered that detainees be treated humanely. Even though President Bush stated that the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply, we were directed to treat detainees consistently with those provisions. As the Special-Agent-in-Charge of the task force operating under that military order to bring terrorists to justice, I observed the first generals at Guantanamo observing the Geneva Conventions. Both General's Lehnert and Baccus, as well as my task force, the CITF operated under that theory. It wasn’t until other generals were assigned to Guantanamo that I was a command climate shift toward cruelty. I view Unjustifiable Means as a leadership book, about what it’s like leading during crisis, when more than careers are at stake. I hope the challenges I faced might help some future or current leader face ethical challenges between loyalty to their boss and their duty.
The Talking Dog: Can you describe what you observed in the course of interrogations at Guantanamo (or elsewhere) in the war on terror, that you found appropriate and professional and to the extent you can talk about, the particular abuses you actually observed? What was the chain of command or "pipeline" for reporting these? How obvious was it at the time that the overwhelming bulk of detainee were nobodies- "dirt farmers" as one of your chapter titles referred to it-- and certainly not terrorists or even Taliban fighters?
Mark Fallon: Your readers will have to read Unjustifiable Means to find out the answer to that question.
The Talking Dog: On another occasion, I interviewed Matthew Alexander, an Air Force Major who served as an interrogator in Iraq (and was credited with helping to track down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al Qaeda in Iraq and a major thorn in side of the American military in Iraq.) I found it odd that while the Air Force relied on experienced officers, and in your case, NCIS relied on experienced law enforcement professional civilians, the Army relies heavily on NCOs- non-commissioned officers, often young and inexperienced. Major Alexander's observations:
What was interesting about my relationship with the unit in Iraq is that I was the highest ranking interrogator, meaning not that I was a Major and my direct supervisor a Captain, but that no one above me was an interrogator, which leads to the second portion of your question. Much of the opposition to rapport based interrogations came from those who had very limited experience and no law enforcement experience. There appeared to be a direct correlation between those who used racial epithets to refer to detainees and those who consistently wanted to use harsh methods. Prejudice against Muslims and Arabs was negatively affecting our ability to elicit information through interrogations because it promoted incorrect stereotypes which led to incorrect detainee analysis and, hence, misapplied interrogation approaches.
The problem with the Army model of recruiting interrogators is that it selects recruits based on an academic aptitude exam (which I think is based on the notion that a minimum level of academic aptitude is required for language training, which most interrogators attend). The problem is that interrogation is a social skill, not an academic one. So the Army is most likely recruiting the exact opposite personalities as those required for the art of interrogations. That said, they often get lucky and I found that the young Army interrogators that worked on my team in Iraq were extremely bright, intellectual, and quick to learn. The problem is supervision. If they are taught negative stereotypes and operate in a culture that tolerates violations of the regulations and law, then things can quickly digress.
My team of a dozen or so interrogators was about half US Army interrogators and most were on their first tour. A few had never been outside the U.S. or talked to an Arab or Muslim before arriving.
Chris Mackey in his book "The Interrogators" talks about their inability to distinguish good from bad and high level from low level detainees during the early months in the war in Afghanistan. He suggests that we sent a lot of nobodies to Gitmo.
I prefer a trained, native interpreter over a soldier with language skills because the interpreter is also a cultural encyclopedia. Several times my interpreters made crucial inputs to my interrogation strategies based on their cultural knowledge. Some of our Army interrogators were trained in Arabic but still had to use an interpreter as there were 14 dialects of Arabic in Iraq and also because interrogation is a very nuanced conversation.
The Army techniques are mostly effective if tailored for the culture (there’s a couple that I would argue are ineffective and counterproductive – Fear Up and Pride and Ego Down). The main difference I noted is that as a criminal investigator there was heavy emphasis on the rapport building and analysis phases, but the Army program emphasized the interrogation techniques. What was disappointing about the Army training is that there were no Arab or Muslim instructors, so the cultural learning was basically limited to slide presentations. The best thing we can do to increase the effectiveness of our interrogation methods is to improve our culture training.
Because it’s the Army, I do think the organizational culture reinforces an "us versus them" mentality that results in a misplaced attitude towards the detainee/interrogator relationship. This is easily corrected with proper training and supervision.
As I stated earlier, stereotyping our enemies led down a disastrous path in Iraq and significantly harmed our interrogations. It goes back to that old Sun Tzu saying, “Know they self, know they enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” Even some of the Iraqis who joined Al Qaida for social or economic reasons and then adopted the ideology were fairly easy to win back as Iraqis are very secular and tolerant. I actually believe that the most fanatical Al Qaida members are the easiest to interrogate simply because they are driven by emotions (probably how they were recruited) and those emotions can then be used by the interrogator.
Similar question- do Major Alexander's observations (from the Iraqi theater) resonate with your observations and experience in the war on terror? As a follow up, Major Alexander was a skilled and experienced interrogator whose rapport building methods worked; what was driving what amounted to an untested and quite frankly amateurish method of gratuitous brutality, when the evidence in front of everyone was that it was, aside from immoral and illegal, not generating anything useful?
Mark Fallon: I wholeheartedly agree with Matt Alexander. It’s hard to answer this question without writing a thesis, but let me offer a few thoughts. There have been a chronic and historic challenges with the manner in which the Army trains and fields interrogators. Most of the Army interrogation training is not grounded in science and relies on an anecdotal notion of what is effective. Evidence-based research has shown that even those trained by the Army, under the Army Field Manual in interrogations, should use those techniques that revolve around "rapport-building." Yet, the Army continues to train in the Manual (which contains deviations from rapport-building), and interrogators go into the field, and through trial and error, end up finding those practices that they view as the most effective (even if, in reality, they are not). We’re wasting valuable time and resources training in techniques that are not used (and that are viewed as ineffective, or even counterproductive by those in the field.) NCIS, instead, relies on a cadre of highly trained and experienced professional investigators, who work criminal investigations, counterintelligence and counter-terrorism. It’s not an assignment, but a career path, so it’s a much different model than the Army, or the other services. While I understand the Army force structure model, those interrogators just aren’t suited for the interrogation of high value targets. Under the McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) a review of the Army Field Manual is required by law, but there is incredible cultural resistance to making changes. I have been informed of discussions within the Army that are concerned with the costs associated with revising the interrogation training within the Army. I would offer that the costs of not doing so would be much greater.
The Talking Dog: I'd like to talk about the issue of "narrative." I have a saying that I often use , "narrative trumps fact." Certainly this dynamic is at work when otherwise intelligent hard-nosed people like the late Justice Antonin Scalia recites the efficacy of torture literally citing Jack Bauer as his source, and Alan Dershowitz, the famous Harvard Law professor and criminal defense attorney, seriously made a suggestion that "torture warrants" should become an element of our law, so strong his belief in the "ticking time bomb scenario." "Twenty-Four" and Jack Bauer are, of course, fictional. I should add that the "Law and Order" and "NCIS" franchises, also fictional, nonetheless feature careful and constitutionally compliant police work, if dramatic and time-condensed. Do you have an explanation for why the "torture works and will keep us safe" narrative has proven so powerful, even among people who presumably should know a whole lot better? How has media contributed to this, or, if it has, combated this?
Mark Fallon: Of course the media has contributed to the narrative of the torture lobby. Just look at who wrote books with former CIA director George Tenant, former CIA RDI program head Jose Rodriguez and the creator of the SERE EIT torture program, James Mitchell. The torture architects and advocates continue to manipulate the public with claims that torture was safe, necessary and effective. If anyone wants to really learn what an absolute disaster it was, they just need to read the SSCI Torture Report executive summary. The level of brutality, ineptitude and gross professional incompetence is startling. History revisionists continue to try to have the entire 6,000 page full report destroyed. Unjustifiable Means shows the operational and strategic consequence of those practices when they gravitated to Guantanamo and onto Abu Ghraib.
The Talking Dog: Following up on a point in the last question, there was an evolution between the detention facility operations (run by Joint Task Force, or JTF, JTF-160) and interrogation operations (first run by JTF-170) and then ultimately, the two functions were merged (in "JTF-GTMO") so that detainees could be "softened up" by confinement conditions (such as the "frequent flyer plan" to impose sleep deprivation, or interference with meals, deprivation of "comfort items" such as Korans, toilet papers and mats to sleep and/or pray on, etc.) I sometimes suggest "personnel = destiny," though I'm not sure about how much of the GTMO operation was local personnel driven (as opposed to Dick Cheney/Don Rumsfeld driven). That said, can you briefly walk through the evolution of how this played out during the (I'm guessing) three command structures you observed at GTMO (Lehnert/Bacchus, Dunlavey and Geoffrey Miller)?
Mark Fallon: The unification of the command structures between JTF-160 and JTF-170 to create JTF-GTMO was to eliminate opposition to the practices DOD planned to adopt. The “intelligence components” wanted to demonstrate omnipotence over the prisoners and create the conditions where prisoners would experience debility, dependency and dread. These theories are taken right from the manner in which our service members were psychologically tortured under Communist regimes. Having a separate general responsible for prison operations interfered with the direction DOD was heading. The CITF and NCIS became a thorn in their side, constantly challenging practices viewed as unlawful and inhumane.
The Talking Dog: On the subject of Geoffrey Miller, your book very ably debunks the "few bad apples" theory, noting the role of Miller, psychologist Larry James, legal officer Diane Beaver and others in the "migration" or "Gitmoization" of abusive interrogation practices (i.e. torture) from Guantanamo to other theaters including Bagram and the rest of Afghanistan and of course, Iraq and Abu Ghraib. At the end of the day, other than a few NCOs who were foolish enough to allow themselves to be photographed (and/or took the pictures!) documenting detainee abuse (a detainee in a hood on a box with electric wires evidently connected, piles of naked detainees- perhaps dead, perhaps not -with Lynndie England giving the troubling thumbs up, etc.), and one female general (Janis Karpinski) demoted, there was pretty much no accountability for any of this. Much the same could be said of the whole war on terror-- occasionally soldiers were court-martialed for particular atrocities, but the abuses in interrogation (including at times death) did not result in accountability of any kind, whether by the Bush Administration itself, or the unfortunate decision of my college classmate Barack Obama to "look forward not backward." Let me ask you twin philosophical questions: (a) among the victims of torture we don't think about is the society at large that permits it, writ large, and (b) how much has this "forward not backward" approach ("elite immunity" if you like) to overall disillusionment with a government that just won't punish the powerful, be they Wall Streeters who cause the financial crisis or top government officials who write torture memos and advance that awful practice, has led to the current state of our society (a humongous opioid addiction problem, a spike in mass shootings to now exceed one a day, an electorate willing to take a chance on Donald Trump, a complete outsider devoid of any public service or military service or experience, to name a few consequences)?
Mark Fallon: The SASC Detainee Abuse Report and hearings totally debunks the narrative that Abu Ghraib was the result of a few bad apples. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were adopted that were based on cruelty. President Obama’s policy of impunity, looking forward not backwards, has allowed for the reemergence of torture as a matter of national policy. The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a report to the judges to see if the ICC will move forward with official investigating, among other things, the United States for things considered war crimes. That’s a strategic consequence of flawed policies and ignoring our responsibilities under the Conventions Against Torture to hold those involved accountable.
The Talking Dog: Late in your book is a chapter called "the Worst of the Worst," in which you provide a nice rogues' gallery of those responsible for injecting torture into the war on terror. Of these people, which among them (as many as you care to describe) strike you as particularly cautionary tales, and why? And, on a more optimistic note, you and others heroically tried to stop the torture regime; who among the heroes would you like to highlight and why?
Mark Fallon: I highlighted the people I did, because each was at a crossroad and their actions, whether intentional, or unintentional, contributed to the proliferation of violent extremism. My main goal was to just set the record straight on how the actions of a few have impacted so many.
The Talking Dog: Q12. You have offered gratuitous advice to our current President that he not go down the rabbit hole of torture, because "we tried it and it was ineffective." Of course, while torture doesn't work to get "actionable intelligence" of value, it certainly does work to terrorize populations (including the torturing nation) and to coarsen overall discourse, two things that I believe our current President is strongly in favor of. At this point, around half the American public "favors" the use of torture although this polling fluctuates, sometimes wildly. Notwithstanding that after centuries of brutality, the entire civilized world concluded that torture was just so wrong as a matter of morality that it could not be used EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES (and this is enshrined in American law as well as ratified treaties), here we are again. Can you give my readers the "elevator pitch" as to why this is a dark place we should just not go?
Mark Fallon: Patriots don’t torture…cowards do. As George Washington wrote from his camp at Cambridge, those that would engage in prisoner abuse bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country. It’s un-American.
The Talking Dog: Other than recommending that they read your excellent book (available on Amazon!) is there anything I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else you would like to add on these critically important topics?
Mark Fallon: I actually recommend they buy three copies of Unjustifiable Means and give two to friends! On a more serious note, America is strongest when our actions match our values. Citizens in a democracy also have responsibilities and every citizen should resoundingly denounce torture and prisoner abuse done in their name. Torture is illegal, immoral, counterproductive and inconsistent with American values. Our country was founded upon human and inalienable rights and that’s what Americans should be espousing.
The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking Mark Fallon for that informative interview, and I commend interested readers to check out Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with former Guantanamo military commissions prosecutors Morris Davis and Darrel Vandeveld, with Guantanamo military commissions defense attorney Todd Pierce, with former Guantanamo combatant status review tribunal/"OARDEC" officer Stephen Abraham, with attorneys Pardiss Kebriaei, Nancy Hollander, Jon Eisenberg, David Marshall, Jan Kitchel, Eric Lewis, Cori Crider, Michael Mone, Matt O'Hara, Carlos Warner, Matthew Melewski, Stewart "Buz" Eisenberg, Patricia Bronte, Kristine Huskey, Ellen Lubell, Ramzi Kassem, George Clarke, Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with former Guantanamo sergeant-of-the-guard Joseph Hickman, with former Guantanamo military guard Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., with former military interrogator Matthew Alexander, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, with law professor Peter Honigsberg on various aspects of detention policy in the war on terror, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, with Karen Greenberg, author of The LeastWorst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days, with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, Laurel Fletcher, author of "The Guantanamo Effect" documenting the experience of Guantanamo detainees after their release, with John Hickman, author of "Selling Guantanamo," critiquing the official narrative surrounding Guantanamo, with Rebecca Gordon, author of "The New Nuremberg" identifying potential war crimes prosecutions arising from the conduct of the War on Terror, with Naomi Paik, author of Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in US Prison Camps since World War II, and with psychologist Jeffrey Kaye, author of "Cover Up at Guantanamo" concerning issues associated with detainee deaths attributed to suicide at Guantanamo, to be of interest.
No, not the mental age of the President (which is closer to about four), even as said President is in the middle of a lengthy trip to Asia where he will hopefully not manage to start World War III.
No, I'm talking about my sixteenth finish at the TCS New York City Marathon where I had my maiden voyage as a full-fledged member of the Streakers and Fifteen-plus club, on to my sixteenth finish. It was an unpleasantly rainy day (at least the rain, while persistent, was light and the temperatures were comfortably in the sixties), and I did not run one of my better times (understatement alert), but I'm 55 now, and not exactly well-trained; sadly, I'm also a few pounds heavier than I've been at previous forays at the distance.
Today's race was a nice valedictory for the great Meb Keflezighi, who finished 11th and promptly collapsed at the finish line. Meb is the only man, American or otherwise, to win an Olympic medal and the New York City and Boston Marathons. The great Shalane Flanagan won the ladies side of the ledger.
At 16 consecutive, I believe I am tied for the 188th longest active streak, but am still twenty-five behind the great Dave Obelkevich; I suspect Dave will press his consecutive streak so far that I'd have to live well past 100 and keep finishing NYC marathons to keep up!
And so we come to the talking dog's (the reticent homo sapien behind the talkative canine) 55th birthday. Which means, for those who can't do arithmetic, that I was born during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Somehow, we survived that. I'd like to think that the republic (and its occupants) will survive the current crisis we are in.
OK; that's pretty much all I have.
While the republic continues its ongoing journey to hell in a hand-basket in front of us because one of our "major" parties is willing to be in league with the Devil (or at least a hostile foreign power) in order to hold power, even if it means, well, the republic going to hell in a hand-basket, your talking dog managed to eke out a finish in his 50th marathon (the goal of 50-states is stuck now at 21 states plus 2 Canadian provinces and D.C., but we're still working on it!) It was a lovely day, albeit still too hot, on the boardwalk at Rock Rock Rock Rockaway Beach (btw, please note the album title.).
I would be remiss if I failed to wish Vladimir Putin a happy 65th birthday, the same wishes apparently being sent to him by people all over Russia.
By now, you are doubtless well-versed in "the worst mass shooting in American history," which took place in
Orlando Las Vegas. Before I go all "meta-" on yo' asses, I'm going to give you two well laid out thought pieces.
The first is from Vox, and gives seventeen things you need to know about America's uniquely high level of gun violence. For example, with four per cent of the world's population, we have about half of the privately owned guns, states with the tightest gun control laws have the lowest levels of gun violence, most gun deaths are suicides, we average-- average-- around one mass shooting a day... that sort of thing.
And this alleged parody from The Onion's blog, purportedly by Paul Ryan, bizarrely makes a point I have been trying to make for a long time: the mass shootings are more closely related to political inattention to mental health issues than they are to poor gun control policy. Seriously: the United States has always had an insane number of (and reverence for) firearms-- probably more guns than people during the course of my own life anyway. What is different these days, uniquely so, is that now insanely powerful weapons that should never, EVER be in private hands are in the hands of people with mental health issues, in a society that can't be bothered to go through the irritating, time-consuming process of trying to sort them out when there is a far more profitable opportunity simply to prescribe extraordinarily powerful pharmaceuticals, which might or might not have some side effects (such as delusions, or suicidal or even homicidal ideations.)
Or as I like to put it, when you have a failing culture, a failing economy, a failing educational system, a failing foreign policy, the millions of miserably unhappy people that go along with all of that "winning," together with the most powerful (and mind altering) pharmaceuticals that have ever been created along with the ability to privately own arsenals of military grade weapons, what could possibly go wrong? I should throw in how unhealthy our people are, with such details as the United States having the world's highest obesity rate, for example. That's a feel-good thing all by itself (and immensely profitable for both Big Pharma and Agri-business.)
You see where this is going? The actual powerful are well aware that the rubes feel much more powerful if you throw them a few bones. One of those bones, of course, is historical racism, the brilliant and long-standing means by which the powerful have prevented (almost uniquely on Earth) the development of class consciousness here, because poor/working class White people have been conditioned to believe that their enemies are poor/working class people of color, and that their "friends" are their (invariably) White overlords of the upper classes. It's a hell of a trick, and you need look no further than the election of Donald Trump by white people (Ta-Nehisi Coates handles the subject brilliantly); people can delude themselves into thinking it had to do with economic insecurity of the White working class all they want, but it's the divide and conquer trick, stupid. (BTW, Bill Clinton, good one with Ricky Ray Rector; it's the economy stupid and America's first Black President MY ASS.)
Where was I? Oh yes. Bones thrown to the rubes to make them feel so powerful that they wouldn't even dare DREAM of taking on the actual powerful who are actually making their lives miserable. Yes. The other of those bones thrown to the rubes here in the USA (the only industrialized country and one of only two in the world that does not have any kind of mandatory paid leave for child-bearing, btw)... is ready access to guns. And I mean GUNS. Not just hand guns, but long guns, and military grade semi-automatic weaponry that can (and usually is) easily convertible to fully automatic. Man does we love our guns! And the worse the reports of mass shootings like the one in Vegas get, the more gun sales go up (talk about win-win!)
(Yes, I know Barack mentioned that the poor rubes in... was it rural Pennsylvania?... cling to their "guns and religion." Barack, man, their guns are their religion.) So, my point is, like racism, which is enshrined in the First Amendment (again, the United States, pretty uniquely, finds racist, hateful, even threatening speech in that regard to be constitutionally protected), the incidence of gun ownership, also pretty uniquely in the United States, is now constitutionally enshrined. Obviously, the Constitution could use some amending, but given where things presently stand, maybe we should just leave it alone for the time being, but my point is simply, more or important than the "legal" enshrining is the cultural enshrining of these things.
So again, what is "different"? Ah, that's where I was going, wasn't it? The question I should be asking is
What makes these young Scotsmen so keen to kill themselves? what is it that makes so many Americans so unhappy that they turn to our healthcare system for relief, only to be prescribed bad-ass pharmaceuticals that might make them "feel better," but also might help make them obese, or even more unhappy, or even suicidal or homicidal? And the answer is shockingly simple. It's... wait for it... reality.
Most people don't do anything real anymore. And what's worse, the most exalted "value" we have (that would be "money") is itself a complete fiction, entirely absent in nature, and virtually unknown throughout human history until remarkably recently! These days, of course, the zombie apocalypse is now evident on virtually every street, as people mindlessly stare at their screens or shout into the void as they walk down the streets, utterly oblivious of their surroundings (often as they sometimes amble in front of moving vehicles, or perhaps the driver is ensconced talking, texting, or otherwise oblivious or where they actually are). And otherwise, you are likely to go to work and watch bouncing electronic impulses on a cathode ray tube (whether words or moving images), and then come home and do much the same. And then you realize that dicks like Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook owners have become some of the richest people in the world by providing nothing... not merely nothing "of value," but NOTHING. That's right: Gates and Jobs provided at least arguably superior operating systems to make computers run "better," if you accept the premise that they did. And Bezos is delivering more and more crap to you via UPS from Amazon (even as he decimates America's once-employed-a-lot-or-people brick and mortar retail apparatus). But Zuckerberg and people like that? NOTHING. AT. ALL.
Actually, much worse than nothing. What they gave us with their mediocre quality high school level computer programming was a means of intermediating relationships that used to be real. That's right: you used to send your friends birthday cards, or call them on the phone (or better yet, throw them parties and give them hugs.) Now, you "like" them, "friend" them, "follow" them, "poke" them... all with quotes around, because NONE OF IT IS FUCKING REAL.
But this is how people lead their lives now, whether with Facebook, or other anti-social "media." Throw in shockingly low workforce participation, and miserable, poorly paid, ever-more automated workplaces (if you're lucky enough to be working at all), the unbelievable number of single-person households, the insane isolation of suburbia (and for that matter, everywhere else), and you get... really unhappy people. In other countries, there are broad connections of family, or church, or community, or even "the people." Here, capitalism has been merrily breaking down all of those human connections for a really long time.
Which takes us to where we are now: really unconnected, confused, unhealthy, unhappy, financially vulnerable (less than half the country even has a few hundred dollars to their name for an emergency car repair, for example)... is it any wonder that, when you throw in the usual cultural tendency to quick, easy sounding answers, people will turn to badass drugs and, all too often, to badass weaponry?
Alrightie then. Your mission is to quite literally get real: do real things. Garden, exercise- outside, talk to people (face to face), hug your loved ones... the whole bit. And maybe the love we can start to generate will crowd out the existential emptiness that is slowly killing us, and all-too often, leading others to quickly kill us.
The first post on this here blog popped up sixteen years ago, today. The original format of this blog was as a two-column "point-counterpoint" between moi, then "the left-leaning dog," and the former blogger known then as "the rabid dog" and later known as "the raving atheist," that lasted a couple of months or so, before the current one-column forum whereby "the talking dog" became the sole voice here. And so here we are.
"Blogs" were then a new phenomenon, as the much younger internet (although then, as now, a little too dependent on gambling, porn and fraud) had not yet supplanted "legacy" newspapers, magazines and much of journalism, and further, blogs were the province of genuine independent voices, and there were very few "professional" bloggers.
Oh, did I mention that it was also one week after September 11th, an event for which I had a front row seat so close that it put me out of a job as the office building was shut down for months? (And of course, Mrs. TD and I live (as does the loquacious pup when she's home), and still do, about a mile downwind of WTC here in Brooklyn).
And so a winding journey of witnessing and observation the events of the 21st century unfolded, with you as a fellow witness. And an interesting 21st century it has been: September 11th led directly to a "global war on terror," including a war in Afghanistan that is already the longest war ever engaged in by the United States (with no end in sight, apparently ever), as a consequence of that war (one of many), a gulag to house alleged prisoners of war of that conflict established at an American military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba which has been the subject of independent journalism here (my most recent interview and the over seventy other related interviews can be found here), a follow-on war against Saddam Hussein's in Iraq that would ultimately destroy the underpinnings of American moral and financial authority as well as killing thousands and wounding tens of thousands (and countless Iraqis), the election of America's first Black President (my Columbia college classmate) Barack Obama, a financial crisis followed by a recession that has probably eviscerated much of America's middle class, the rise of Wall Street casino tactics (derivatives, derivatives on derivatives, zero or even negative interest rates, etc.) that will probably finish us off as well, and then the piece de resistance, the deliberate election of an unqualified buffoon (apparently with the help of the Russian state thanks to a shockingly unsecure internet) as President of the United States whose mandate is simply to undo whatever the Black President did. Some unfortunate trends- rising health care costs (along with declining "health outcomes"), income and wealth inequality, climate change, the zombification of the populace thanks to the "smart phone," and the increasing number of global refugees- are all increasing.
What began as the ravings of an angry 38-year old have become more of the musings of a less angry, but perhaps more troubled 54-year old: obviously, I have lived most of my life now in whatever "order" there has been so far. Indeed, TD Dad has passed on (though thankfully most of TD Familia is still around). My daughter was less than two sixteen years ago at the start of this blog; now she has started college. While I suspect we will have left a world for her generation, the shocking selfishness of the baby boom generation will have rendered it, most likely, a less pleasant world than what we inherited. Perhaps the next generations will, by necessity if for no other reason, act more responsibly in every sense- morally, environmentally, financially, and what have you. I can only hope so, even as I observe only glimmers of hope, amidst a large-ish holdover to (or if you like restoration of) "traditional" values like bigotry, ignorance and superstition.
Don't know. As with the original post on 18 September 2001, we are nearing Rosh Ha Shanah, the Jewish New Year, a traditional time for reflection (before we come to the Day of Atonement just ten days later). And this is as good a time as any for reflection. The format has allowed an independent schnook with a keyboard access to reach every other schnook with a keyboard on Earth. Thanks for following along. We'll see what the next sixteen years bring.
And so, it's September 11th again. For some people, life doesn't get any better.
For the rest of us, it seems, maybe we should use this moment to "take stock," for some level of genuine introspection.
We recently passed the twelve year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, whose ferociousness was at least thought to have been assisted by man-made climate change (hurricanes are strengthened by warmer water), and the response of the American people, aside from doing nothing, was ultimately to elect a man who not only denied the existence of climate change at all, but who promised (a promise he kept) to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, and who is hellbent on policies designed to increase global temperatures as fast as possible. Naturally, Ameircans are blissfully unconcerned about the fact that twelve years on, we have seen, for example, devastating "Superstorm Sandy" wreak havoc here in the New York area, and, of course, Hurricane Harvey devastate Houston last week and most powerful Atlantic storm ever Hurricane Irma devastate Florida even as I type this (after it rampaged across the Caribbean leveling a number of islands). But enough people prefer the illusion of normalcy so that, at least in the allegedly "advanced" United States, man-made climate change is still "an issue." So be it. A disproportionate number of people stupid enough to have such beliefs live in danger of the results, I suppose; perhaps God will sort it out after all.
Not so much with the other issue: American "hegemony." After the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the United States found itself as "the sole super-power." We could, of course, have quickly taken down the scope of our military reach (hundreds of garrisons around the world), decommissioned our massive stockpile of nuclear weapons aimed at the no longer extant Soviet Union, canceled contracts for weapons systems, etc. Instead, almost immediately we picked a rather large scale fight with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and formed a massive coalition, with a massive American presence, leaving a rather large footprint in the Arab world (especially Saudi Arabia) to contain the vanquished Saddam. This in turn led directly to a backlash, as "the Infidels" were in the Saudi kingdom, home of two of Islams holiest places, and al Qaeda was apparently formed to "address" this, rather violently, including attacks on the Khobar towers in Saudi itself, American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the U.S.S. Cole then in Yemen, culminating in the events of Sept. 11th. With some irony, al Qaeda arose from elements of the Afghan Mujahadeen, an American financed guerrilla group designed to pester the Soviets in Afghanistan, which the Soviets eventually did quit, shortly before the USSR imploded.
Unlike climate change, where, notwithstanding the preference of seemingly controlling elements of the American power structure (and a huge part of the population) to deny something they don't like, one can certainly talk about it. With issues of American hegemony that pretty much led right to 9-11, perhaps not so much. The late Susan Sontag was vilified for this short essay in the New Yorker (third from last) in which she dared question that linkage; I'll quote it:
The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.
Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.
Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.
We're sixteen years on, and none of those questions has been asked, as the United States doubled down again and again, with another massive war in Iraq, its longest war ever in Afghanistan (with no end in sight), potential engagements everywhere, "terrorism" having morphed into the "lone wolf" variety of night-club shoot-ups and vehicle crashes (although transportation systems are still targeted), only, of course, we can throw in the pressures of sixteen more years of unaddressed global warming coupled with Middle Eastern unrest to add a humongous refugee problem in Europe (the decision to take out Qaddaffi in Libya didn't help that either). Oh, and our relations with Russia are bad (that nation probably interfered in our recent election, and though no one wants to say it, may have manipulated enough electoral levers to install Donald Trump over the rightful winner), with China not so good, and North Korea may have the means to hit us with a nuclear ICBM. For her part, Hillary Clinton is touring the country complaining about all the things that cost her the election (including whining at Bernie Sanders, the man who tried to not talk about "her damned emails," and, in a spirit of non-introspection, minimizing her own disastrous decisions to rely on big data and not on the actual reports of her campaign field operations and freaking go to Wisconsin and Michigan). And while we're at it, we're still holding 41 men at Guantanamo (our current President promises to "fill it up with bad dudes," though no one else wants to), and we have a massive national security state that captures all your emails and phone calls (even as it lacks the manpower to read and listen to them). Oh, and since everything is digitized, hackers have stolen your social security numbers, account numbers and everything else you thought was "secure." But that's ok, because you have the latest I-phone.
And so here we are, sixteen years on. My daughter, who was then less than two, and who has no memories of a "pre-9-11 world," has started college, where, among other things, she is studying history and international relations, two things that Sontag noted most Americans, at least, would rather avoid. Maybe her generation will set about to build a more rational world (a world that will have less available resources for that generation, as we are hellbent on squandering them for our temporary comfort). We can hope. Because it seems to me that most Americans are ultimately unflappable, that is, whether it's 9-11, or Katrina, or Sandy, or Orlando/San Bernadino, or now Harvey and Irma, they don't seem to want to think about anything at a meaningful level.
I get it; as Sontag said: "Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy." Think about that--the abiding power of narrative over reality-- as we celebrate 9-11's not particularly "sweet" sixteenth.