Posts Tagged ‘Bush Doctrine’

Does It Count If It’s Not Screaming Pundits? Actual Interrogators On The Torture Ban

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

By Tommy Brown


Music to Your Humble Author’s ears. From an article on HuffPo:

Interrogators are lauding President Obama for signing an executive order that will shut down secret CIA prisons and place the use of coercive interrogation techniques completely off limits.

“[The order] closes an unconscionable period in our history, in which those who knew least, professed to know most about interrogations,” said Joe Navarro, a former special agent and supervisor with the FBI.

“Some die-hards on the right — who have never interrogated anyone — are already arguing that forcing interrogations to be conducted within army field manual guidelines is a step backward and will result in ‘coddling’ dangerous terrorists,” retired Colonel Stuart Herrington, who served for more than 30 years as a military intelligence officer, said soon after the order was signed. “This is a common, but uninformed view. Experienced, well-trained, professional interrogators know that interrogation is an art. It is a battle of wits, not muscle. It is a challenge that can be accomplished within the military guidelines without resorting to brutality.”

The way interrogation works is largely misunderstood by the general public and some senior policy makers, according to Navarro, Herrington and other intelligence professionals.

“Interrogation is not like a faucet that you can turn on – and the harder you turn, the more information will pour out,” explains Herrington, who conducted a classified review of detention and interrogation practices in Iraq for the U.S. Army.

I wrote an article about the origin of our “enhanced interrogation techniques” last year, but long story short: The techniques were “reverse-engineered” from SERE, a military program that teaches select soldiers how to resist torture. The problem is, the torture used in the program is based on Communist Russia and Chinese methods designed to elicit false confessions. So, bad news all around.

As everyone within radio range of Earth in the last month has heard, President Obama signed an order prohibiting any torture by American personnel or on prisoners in American custody (keep in mind, though, this does not make extraordinary renditions to third-party countries like Egypt for torture illegal). Now that torture in America is once again illegal-a phrase I never thought I’d type-and whistleblowers are safe from retribution, actual military and intelligence interrogators are emerging to side with the President as the Right screams bloody murder about it.

Like this fellow here:

Getting a suspected terrorist to talk is much more subtle than what one typically sees in the movies or on TV. A new book, How to Break A Terrorist by Matthew Alexander (a pseudonym), provides an inside look at how interrogation can yield more information if it is done humanely.

Alexander developed the intelligence that led U.S. forces to al-Zarqawi, the former chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq. While some were using abusive techniques to try to crack detainees, Alexander used a smarter, more sophisticated approach. He learned what the detainees cared about and then used that information to get what he wanted.

And this guy:

Another recently published book, Mission: Black List #1 by Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox, shows how the author, an interrogator stationed in Tikrit, developed the intelligence that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein. Maddox was hunting one of the most wanted men in Iraq. Like Alexander he did not try to “break” detainees by beating them up; he talked to them.

Maddox was an information junkie who patiently interrogated hundreds of detainees and slowly pieced together a picture that led him to Saddam. He also intuitively understood that, if possible, you want the detainees to not only answer your questions, but also tell you which questions to ask. He induced a detainee who was a close friend (and former driver) of one of Saddam’s closest confidants to join his “team.” The former driver joined Maddox in interrogations. Detainees “broke” the moment that Maddox and the former driver started interrogating them.

Indeed, this is exactly what the FBI has been saying since literally 9/11 plus one, that interrogation is an art and information obtained under torture is not reliable. FBI agents walked out of interrogation permanently at the brand-new Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo shortly after they started, knowing that any association with torture would destroy the Bureau’s credibility in the courtroom for years to come.

And they were right. Ironically, this is the dilemma that now faces the American government with the GTMO detainees, because of the Bush Administration’s unwillingness to give them the minimal level of Geneva protections.

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The Five-State Solution: Idealism Trumps Reality Yet Again Concerning Israel

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

by Tommy Brown

The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman,  he of the fabled Friedman Unit (“The next six months in Iraq. . . .”), has written yet another slightly creepy op-ed where he pretends to be a foreign leader writing to the American president. This time he’s pretending to be Saudi Arabia’s King ‘Abdullah:

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your inauguration and for quickly dispatching your new envoy, George Mitchell, a good man, to the Middle East. I wish Mitchell could resume where he left off eight years ago, but the death of Arafat, the decline of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war in Lebanon, the 2009 Hamas-Israel war in Gaza, the continued expansion of colonial Israeli settlements and the deepening involvement of Iran with Hamas and Hezbollah have all created a new reality.

Specifically, the Palestinian Authority is in no position today to assume control of the West Bank, Hamas is incapable of managing Gaza and the introduction of rockets provided by Iran to Hamas has created a situation whereby Israel won’t turn over the West Bank to any Palestinians now because it fears Hamas would use it to launch rockets on Israel’s international airport. But if we do nothing, Zionist settlers would devour the rest of the West Bank and holy Jerusalem. What can be done?

I am proposing what I would call a five-state solution:

I’d like to tackle each part of the solution he proposes separately. They are idealistic, noble and totally unconnected from reality.

1. Israel agrees in principle to withdraw from every inch of the West Bank and Arab districts of East Jerusalem, as it has from Gaza. Any territories Israel might retain in the West Bank for its settlers would have to be swapped — inch for inch — with land from Israel proper.

Total withdrawal for the West Bank, for one, is a total nonstarter. Israel relies on the headwaters of the Jordan River (inconveniently located within the Occupied Territories) for the majority of its water. This is naturally a major security interest for the Israelis; they fought a war with the Arab League over the attempted damming of the Jordan, water being a big deal in the desert, go figure.

The other two are just as fantastic. While there is the chance that Israel would recognize mostly-Arab East Jerusalem as the ceremonial capital of a Palestinian state, there is no way in hell they are going to give up control of probably the most holy city in the world, or let it be divided Berlin-style that way it was between Israel and Jordan before the Six Day War of 1967.

Regarding a land-swap, settler territory for actual Israeli land to become part of the Palestinian Authority: The fundamentalist right wing in Israel, the characters who are the force behind the attempt to settle the entire area that was once ancient Judea and Samarra, will never ever let an inch of Israeli territory be given to the Palestinians. They’re not even that hot on giving them land in the Occupied Territories. And they have never shied away from violence to prevent this; Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords and was assassinated shortly afterward by a “lone gunman” right-wing Zionist; Ariel Sharon withdrew the settlements from the Gaza Strip and shortly afterwards fell victim to a mysterious stroke (I’m no conspiracy theorist, but still).

2. The Palestinians — Hamas and Fatah — agree to form a national unity government. This government then agrees to accept a limited number of Egyptian troops and police to help Palestinians secure Gaza and monitor its borders, as well as Jordanian troops and police to do the same in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority would agree to five-year “security assistance programs” with Egypt in Gaza and with Jordan in the West Bank.

With Egypt and Jordan helping to maintain order, Palestinians could focus on building their own credible security and political institutions to support their full independence at the end of five years.

The ground truth is that Hamas and Fatah are locked in a civil war for control of the Occupied Territories (leaving America in the bizarre position of financially backing Fatah when we pushed for the elections that knocked them out of power and started the war in the first place). Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamist group, while Fatah, the former Palestinian Liberation Organization, is a secular nationalist organization composed of Muslims. Huge difference. There is pretty much zero chance of the two reaching any sort of power-sharing agreement, as Hamas considers Fatah to be apostate rulers.

The idea that the Israelis letting Jordanian security forces into the West Bank is similarly insane; the Israelis took the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the first place. It’s never ever ever going to happen. And despite the Camp David Accords with Egypt, letting them put guys with guns into the Territories is another fantasy. Despite their mutual diplomatic recognition and the return of the Sinai to Egypt, the received wisdom in Israel is that President Hosni Mubarak pays but lip service to the agreement, while turning a blind eye to the smugglers supplying Gaza despite the blockade.

3. Israel would engage in a phased withdrawal over these five years from all of its settlements in the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem — except those agreed to be granted to Israel as part of land swaps — at the same pace that the Palestinians meet the security and governance metrics agreed to in advance by all the parties. The U.S. would be the sole arbiter of whether the metrics have been met by both sides.

Removing the settlements is not a bad idea at all, but, as noted above, attempting to give the Palestinians their own land or withdraw the settlements seems to lead to the death or incapacitation of Israeli prime ministers. And if Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud Party becomes PM, this will become another fantasy.

The real issue with this one is that it somehow assumes that either the Palestinians or the Israelis will somehow view America as some kind of impartial judge after eight years of abandoning the role of mediator and siding with the Israelis entirely. Not to mention the aforementioned elections that made Hamas the legitimate government of the Territories. Less than a few weeks ago, during the Gaza War, Prime Minister Olmert actually demanded to speak with President Bush and convinced him not to sign onto to a UN-brokered ceasefire that Condi Rice, his Secretary of State, had drafted the majority of. Something tells me Israel is going to attempt to continue this kind of relationship, though with the new administration it’s totally up in the air. And both Fatah and Hamas view America as betrayers of their interests more than ever.

4. Saudi Arabia would pay all the costs of the Egyptian and Jordanian trustees, plus a $1 billion a year service fee to each country — as well as all the budgetary needs of the Palestinian Authority. The entire plan would be based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 and blessed by the U.N. Security Council.

This one is my favorite suggestion of Friedman’s, for a couple reasons. One, Saudi Arabia is already the major funder of both Fatah and Hamas. They have financed the PLO and other resistance groups since the creation of Israel in 1948, financed the Arab League in both the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and their resident religious nuts (which is most of the country) strongly supported and backed Hamas during the still-smoldering Gaza War.

Despite King ‘Abdullah’s profession that he wants peace, and it is little known that in 2003 he offered diplomatic recognition of Israel in return for the US dropping its planned invasion of Iraq, his proposals always contain enough caveats that make them basically impossible to implement. This is remarkably similar to former President Bush’s “road map for peace,” in which Israel quietly logged seventeen “reservations” about the plan that effectively scuttled it.

And “basing the entire plan” on UN Resolutions 242 and 338 is the problem to begin with, because they call for Israel’s total withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders, which would include returning the Golan Heights to Syria (not a huge deal) and returning the West Bank and East Jerusalem to the Jordanians. As discussed in detail above, the West Bank is too important to Israel’s strategic interests and they will never accept a divided Jerusalem again. It also means that the Jordanian security forces Friedman proposes would not just be there to help the Palestinians, but would be a precursor to Jordan’s eventual reintegration of the territory into their country.

And this is from supposedly one of the finest foreign policy minds in the country?

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The Grim Market For Historical Revisionism: “Bush Won Iraq” Begins In Earnest

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

by Tommy Brown

Your Humble Author’s jaw damn near hit the ground when I saw this article by the Wall Street Journal‘s William McGurn, titled, of all things, “Bush’s Real Sin Was Winning In Iraq.” From the article:

In a few hours, George W. Bush will walk out of the Oval Office for the last time as president. As he leaves, he carries with him the near-universal opprobrium of the permanent class that inhabits our nation’s capital. Yet perhaps the most important reason for this unpopularity is the one least commented on.

Here’s a hint: It’s not because of his failures. To the contrary, Mr. Bush’s disfavor in Washington owes more to his greatest success. Simply put, there are those who will never forgive Mr. Bush for not losing a war they had all declared unwinnable.

Here in the afterglow of the turnaround led by Gen. David Petraeus, it’s easy to forget what the smart set was saying two years ago — and how categorical they all were in their certainty. The president was a simpleton, it was agreed. Didn’t he know that Iraq was a civil war, and the only answer was to get out as fast as we could?

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the man who will be sworn in as vice president today — didn’t limit himself to his own opinion. Days before the president announced the surge, Joe Biden suggested to the Washington Post he knew the president’s people had also concluded the war was lost. They were, he said, just trying to “keep it from totally collapsing” until they could “hand it off to the next guy.”

This is the kind of crazy political revisionism one would expect from Bushie partisans desperate to salvge some kind of legacy for the former President, who-with the exception of tax cuts that look monumentally stupid in retrospect-doesn’t have much have much to hang his hat on. Most of the items snidely referred to as untruths by Mr. McGurn are in fact true. To wit:

George Bush is indeed despised by the Beltway chattering class, but also by the great majority of the American populace; the former because of Bush’s utter disdain for them, and the latter because his administration can be only charitably described as a resounding disappointment. Americans love the underdog, but in the end, they love winners more. And for all the talk of “how history will view him” aside, so far Bush equals massive fail, especially on Iraq.

As I commented on in my article A Tale of Three Cities, conservative partisans have decided that because after five-plus years we managed to get a handle on the very  basics of the security situation (as in, a significant reduction in jihadists driving suicide truck bombs into crowded markets), we have “won” Iraq. Now this is just a rhetorical trick based off of the “What does victory in Iraq mean?” talking point bandied about by the Left, but it seems to me that there was a pretty simple scenario for victory: We would overthrow Saddam Hussein, and Iraq would become a secular Western-style democracy, multiethnic and nonsectarian, that would serve as a beacon of hope for the rest of the autocratic Middle East.

We have not come close to accomplishing any of these objectives. And yet, because basic security has been partially restored (even though basic services like water and electricity haven’t) we’ve won in Iraq? What am I missing?

Also, one might wonder that if there was no civil war, what was up with all the Sunnis abducted by cops and soldiers and murdered? The people who had power drills stuck through their foreheads and then were dumped in the street with their ID card plainly visible to show their religious affiliation? The fact that in less than three years, Baghdad went from being fifty percent Sunni to seventy-five percent, or that mixed-sect neighborhoods no longer exist there?

And the fact is, Joe Biden was right. The point of the surge was to wrap Iraq in duct tape, with troop levels they knew couldn’t be maintained for more than a couple of years, until it could be passed onto the next administration. The political benchmarks laid out by the author of the surge plan, Frederick Kagan, never even came close to fruition. The Iraqi central government remains paralyzed even on important issues like oil-revenue sharing and the status of the city of Kirkuk (the Kurdish Jerusalem); the Iranian-allied theocratic Shi’ites that run the central government are fighting the nationalist theocratic Shi’ites that want to run the country; the Sunnis have formed their own militias, funded and supplied by us, and have no intention of playing nice with the Shi’a; and the Kurds are one vote they don’t like away from declaring independence.

If this is victory, I would hate to see what defeat would have looked like.

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A Word About Torture

Monday, September 1st, 2008

The United States tortures people. Time to just accept it. The endless wrangling over what the word “torture” means for the last seven years has become a largely pointless semantic debate. The administration legally redefined what “torture” means (has to cause lasting damage, like organ failure or death) so the principals can keep a straight face when telling the media that we don’t torture anyone, but it’s time to face facts. Call it “enhanced interrogation techniques” or whatever you want, the intent is clear.

Here’s how I know: There is a program that soldiers and Marines go through called SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) training where they are waterboarded, put in stress positions, berated, put in sensory deprivation, etc., in order to build their resistance to enemy interrogation. And after 9/11, when looking around for what new harsh interrogation techniques they could use against enemy combatants (having thrown the classic interrogation approach out the window), the administration decided to “reverse-engineer” the SERE techniques.

The crazy part? SERE was developed after the Korean War, because of the captured pilots who were used in Communist propaganda films, confessing to crimes and so forth. They were mentally broken but not physically abused in any way, and it looked bad, and the idea was of SERE was to specifically counteract these Manchurian Candidate-type techniques. So the fact is, America is basically using Communist Chinese torture methods on their prisoners to break them mentally and physically.

A perfect example of how insane this has really gotten is Jose Padilla. Padilla, an American citizen arrested on American soil, was declared an “enemy combatant” and locked in a naval brig for more than three years. According to a court brief filed on behalf of Padilla in 2006, he was kept totally isolated in a windowless cell in an otherwise empty brig, spent most of his incarceration sleeping on a steel bunk with no mattress, was placed in “stress positions” for hours at a time, was hooded and shackled, the temperature of his cell was kept below freezing for hours, threatened with execution, and given “truth serum” drugs among other things.

Who can claim that is not torture? Have we really become so existentially terrified of the Evil Terrorist Threat that we are literally willing to use techniques that the Soviets and ChiComs pioneered? What does this say about “American values” in the new millenium?

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by Tommy Brown

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli

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Iran and the “Or Else” Doctrine

Monday, September 1st, 2008

By this point, it has become blatantly obvious to me that the Bush Doctrine is specifically designed to eliminate all options with unfriendly nations short of total capitulation or war. I have taken to referring to it as the “Or Else” Doctrine, because the gist is, “Do what we say or else.” It’s usually tough to break foreign policy doctrines down this simply, but there you have it.

One only has to peruse the pages of the Weekly Standard to see how truly out of control the neoconservatives have gotten. Columnists like Jonah Goldberg have been calling George Bush an appeaser, Neville Chamberlain, and various other unkind epithets for refusing to attack Iran posthaste for the better part of two years.

Now this may seem a bit extreme, but it’s because they are not only devoted adherents to the Bush Doctrine, the public face of America’s current foreign policy, but also to the Cheney Doctrine, the private face. The Cheney Doctrine, referred to as the One Percent Doctrine by the Ron Suskind book of the same name, basically boils down to this: If there is a one percent chance that a hostile nation or group is developing WMDs and planning to hand them off to terrorists, it must be treated like a hundred percent certainty. The response is the important thing, not the analysis or a preponderance of the evidence.

Iran obviously fits this description, but the problem, most everyone in the developing world fits this description. As a guiding foreign policy, fairly applying it across the world would be, to be kind, absolutely insane, which is why you don’t see Saudi Arabia or Egypt being hassled.

The drive to portray Iran as an evil, irrational, apocalyptic state actor and their (mostly ceremonial) president as a Hitleresque madman is that they have already decided war is the only option, it is just a matter of when.

Their claims to want negotiations when certain conditions are met are disingenuous at best. Because the neoconservative preconditions include ending uranium enrichnment, recognition of Israel, an end to support of Hizb’allah and other terrorist groups, an end to support of the Iraqi government and insurgents and other wish list items that are never ever going to come about without negotiation. So the choice remains: Either Iran totally capitulates to every demand without reservation and we’ll think about being nice to them, or we go to war. And the former option is never going to happen; the Persians consider themselves our cultural equals if not superiors, and will never give in to our demands in such a humiliating fashion.

Because when you think about it, if all these preconditions are met, what exactly are the pressing issues that America needs to negotiate with Iran about? They will have conceded to all our important demands before we sat down with them; they will be playing nice and no longer be a “rogue state.” At that point, there is certainly nothing overwhelmingly important to American national interests to discuss.

The main problem with the Bush/Cheney Doctrine is than an “or else” approach to unfriendly states only works as long as those states know that massive and punishing retaliation will answer any deviation from towing our line. As soon as that fear is lost, they will begin to act against us, first in secret and then openly, and would even encourage our erstwhile allies to go off the reservation, as there is obviously no punishment in between the silent treatment and war that is going to be used against them.

Iran, really, is the perfect example of the phenomenon mentioned above. When we spurned their diplomatic entrees after the fall of Baghdad, the mullahs knew they had America over a barrel re: Iraq because they were literally allied with both sides of the Shi’a-on-Shi’a conflict: both the government (dominated by the Islamist Iraqi exile movements Dawa and SCIRI) and the rebel Mahdi Army. This gave the recent conflict in Basra a surreal quality, knowing that no matter which Iraqi faction won Iran had won by proxy.

The Bush/Cheney Doctrine presupposes that America will always have the strategic upper hand on hostile regimes, and with Iran nothing could be further from the truth, they have us at a severe disadvantage in Iraq; it’s their best asset against us, and they know it. Which makes our refusal to even talk to them, outside some low-level Foreign Service contacts, even more bizarre and verging on the criminally stupid.

When you’re this deep in a hole, it’s usually a good idea to stop digging, but the Administration seems hellbent on getting us into another war; according to Seymour Hersh, they have been running operations into Iranian territory for more than three years, attempting to provoke the mullahs into a response. Thus far, Iran has been wise enough not to respond, knowing it would mean the end of their reign, even though an Iranian war would open a Mideastern Pandora’s Box that would damage the US almost irretrivably, which sort of disproves the “apocalyptic intentions” nonsense constantly heard from the neocon wing.

With a little less than six months left for the Bush Administration, it is still an open question whether or not a war with Iran is imminent. The fact that I don’t trust the president not to start another preemptive war in order to “hand it off” to his successor either really says a lot about how divorced our foreign policy has become from the legitimate national interests of the country.

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by Tommy Brown

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli

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