Secret prisons: Red Blogistan de-compensates

Leaking the news about the CIA’s secret prisons was grossly unpatriotic because it revealed important national security information and inflamed anti-Americanism. But don’t worry: the whole story was fiction, so there were no actual secrets to reveal. Indeed, the whole thing was a sting (and what’s a little anti-Americanism if it’s the price of catching a Democrat in the CIA?). No, I’m not making this up; it’s common wisdom on the Red side of the ‘Sphere.

When Dana Priest of the Washington Post broke the story about secret prisons in Eastern Europe to which suspected terrorists were “disappeared” so they could be interrogated without the nosies from the Red Cross knowing about it and without any risk of having questions asked about torture in American courts, BushCo and its collaborators and useful idiots in the right-wing media and Red Blogistan were up in arms.

Didn’t we know, they said, there’s a war on? Wasn’t it obvious, they argued, that revealing this information, on top of what had already come out about Abu Ghraib, would help inflame anti-American sentiments and cost soldiers’ lives? And could anyone but a liberal doubt that secret interrogation sites were “vital to national security“? (Of course the leak was said to prove how wrong it was to be concerned about whether the White House had decided to burn a CIA NOC, but then more or less everything is said to prove that.)

Now that the leaker of the information has been unmasked and fired, the same folks are gleeful about the fact that she turns out to have been a Democrat. And they’re out for blood: Why, they demand, was she fired rather than being prosecuted? (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds. If Glenn disagrees, he doesn’t say so.)

Duhhhhh… wait, don’t tell me … ummmm …. because she’d assert a “public interest” defense, which would mean putting the story back on the front pages for weeks, and risk having the facts about what’s been going on in those dungeons revealed in open court? Just a guess.

Anyway, she’d probably get off. I’d be surprised if even this Supreme Court would hold as a matter of law that revealing criminal activity is a crime if the activity in question is labeled “classified.”

But demanding that a political opponent go to jail for embarrassing the Beloved Leader is just par for the course. This is a special situation, so it calls for a special brand of lunacy.

Right Wing Nuthouse (their label, not mine) jumps on a report that the European Union investigator has said that there is no “proof beyond reasonable doubt” that the “renditions” happened or that the secret prisons exist (which, quoting from Little Green Footballs, RWN overinterprets as “no evidence”) and proceeds to “connect the dots”: the whole thing was made up out of whole cloth as a sting to catch CIA leakers. (No, really: I lack the invention to make this stuff up.)

Captain’s Quarters endorses the idea, and embellishes this fantasy by calling a leak search a “mole hunt”: a “mole,” of course, is a traitor working for a foreign intelligence service, but of course in Rightwingistan anything contrary to the will of the Decider is effectively treason anyway, so who’s counting?

And Glenn Reynolds links to Captain’s Quarters without in any way suggesting that the whole thing is idiotic babbling. A Technorati search shows that much of Red Blogistan is repeating as fact that the secret prisons are now known not to have exist, and that Priest just won a “Pulitzer for a lie.”

Of course, Dear Reader, you’ve spotted the crashing fallacy here. (Put aside for the moment the fact that the Administration has steadfastly refused to confirm or deny the report, rather than denouncing it, which would have been the obvious thing to do if it were false and damaging to the national interest. Put aside the fact that Priest had multiple sources, including documents, and that the Administration asked her to withhold the names of the countries where the secret prisons are located. Those are mere facts.)

Think about it: If revealing the information was a crime because it was sure to inflame anti-American sentiment and encourage jihadis, wouldn’t putting that information out as a sting to catch a Democratic leaker at the CIA have been just a tad … extreme, like getting rid of termites by burning down the house? (And of course trying to prosecute someone for leaking a spoof document would be absurd.)

After all, whatever damage the story did to the nation was largely independent of its truth; even if it were convincingly refuted now, the people making IED’s would surely never hear about the refutation, and wouldn’t believe it if they did hear about it.

Glenn’s in a tough spot. He despises torture as un-American (by contrast with, e.g., LaShawn Barber, who seems to like it), he loves the War on Terror, and if he’s not actually pro-Bush he’s certainly anti-anti-Bush. So he’d much, much rather believe that torture, and the permanent imprisonment of falsely accused innocents like the Uighurs held at Gitmo, aren’t part of the War on Terror as BushCo is now fighting it.

But they are. Any grown-up discussion of the problem needs to start from there, and then ask what to do about it. Spy-novel fantasies should be reserved for play-time.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

18 thoughts on “Secret prisons: Red Blogistan de-compensates”

  1. I'd be willing to go with the consistent "leakers get fired no matter what the leak" paradigm, as it would rid us of the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Senators Shelby and Hatch, and a number of pernicious White House underlings.

  2. Spare your sympathy for those more deserving than Glenn Reynolds. He's not in a tough spot. If he wants to believe things that are patently false that's a problem of his own creation, which he can solve by just facing facts.

  3. Love the way you connect the fallacies, Mark, but I'm with Bernard. Why cut InstaLinker so much slack? He's made his bed, time and time again. Let him wallow in it.

  4. I would think that both as a lawyer, and as a professor, Reynolds has a moral and ethical obligation to the facts, and telling the facts.
    Unless Bush has hired Reynolds, I think he needs to leave the zealous defense in a drawer.

  5. Does US law recognize a "public interest" defense?
    Why the suggestion that McCarthy should go to jail for embarrassing Bush? It seems to me that, if she should go to jail, it's for violating the law and nothing else.
    Further, revealing the information wouldn't have been illegal because of the consequences of the revelation. That is, as I understand it, it isn't one of the elements of the crime that the revelation caused harm.
    It is true that trying to prosecute someone for leaking a spoof document seems to be absurd, but that's evidence for the outlandish conspiracy theory, not against, given the fact that McCarthy hasn't been charged with a crime and that the leak investigation was conducted by the CIA, not FBI.
    I'm not sure why any grown-up discussion needs to start where you'd have it start. I'm sure there's a productive conversation to be had about whether your priorities–the 15 Uighurs held at Guantanamo who the US can't release because no country will take them–are the priorities of every other grown-up.

  6. Neo-cons believe that it was unpatriotic for a CIA employee to leak information about secret prisons and torture but they also, at the same time, believe it's a democrat trick because they blindly believe that the Bush administration is telling the truth when they say "they" wouldn't do that. Of course "they" wouldn't; They're all non-combatants. They leave the dirty work to others.
    I wonder what the Bushites will say after the CIA European field Chief told "60 Minutes" Sunday that the Bush administration knew that Iraq did not have WMD?
    In the regular world that we live in every day, if a person incites someone to take a life, or commits and act that causes someone or a group injury or death, that person or persons would be charged with a crime. Is the President above this law or should he be held to the same standard as someone who shouts fire in a crowded theater causing death and injury?

  7. wouldn't putting that information out as a sting to catch a Democratic leaker at the CIA have been just a tad … extreme
    This is known in certain Cones of Silence as the "I Meant To Do That" Defense.

  8. Well, the Bush dead-enders–like most extremists–apply differential standards of proof as convenient. More than one of them has argued in my presence that Bush did not lie about the aluminum tubes because you can only lie about x if you know with absolute certainty that x is true, but say that x is false (or vice-versa). Since Bush did not know that what he said was false with absolute certainty, it was not a lie. (Note: I'm not making this up.)
    Now we get 'lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that x' = 'no evidence that x' = 'evidence that not x'.
    The problem here of course is not stupidity. It's intellectual dishonesty. Some folks, sadly, may be dumb enough to make such mistakes honestly, but not many. Rather, most of these folks are just so eager to maintain their belief that Glorificus Maximus '43 is the bestest president ever that they'll engage in any logical gyrations or adopt any auxiliary hypotheses, no matter how absurd, to dampen their ever-escalating level of cognitive dissonance.

  9. Also don't forget that Condi Rice made a visit to Europe right afte the publication of Priest's article and discussed this issue with various leaders … never denied it outright as far as I can recall.

  10. "I would think that both as a lawyer, and as a professor, Reynolds has a moral and ethical obligation to the facts, and telling the facts.
    Unless Bush has hired Reynolds, I think he needs to leave the zealous defense in a drawer."
    Posted by jerry
    I think that it's clear by now that Reynolds gave up any semblance of honesty after 9/11 (I'll give him the benefit of doubt as to what he was like pre-9/11). It might have started out as a reaction to 9/11, but by now there's no excuse left. He's played false to long, and worked it to great success and popularity.

  11. Was it a right wing or left wing blogger who pointed out Akrotiri as one of the locations for detainees?

  12. I don't think any of us realize how close we are to it being a criminal offense to be a Democrat.
    We're already guilty of treason for criticizing Bush. Now it's only a formality before the re-education camps open up.

  13. I think the trouble here is that red blogistan has firmly hitched their faith-based wagon to the President. This was the central virtue they touted during the pre- and post-war disputes: to believe is to be patriotic. It's a little difficult for the true believers to back out now. The only, dare I say rational alternative is conspiracy time.

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