Trump reverses course on unlawful orders

Just the day after he doubled down on his assertion that he could order the U.S. military to violate the laws of war by committing torture and murdering enemies’ families, and that he would be obeyed because he’s such a great leader, Donald Trump backed off, without of course admitting that he’d be wrong.

Of course that’s good news. Anything  that reminds people that war – and politics – are contests within rules is, to that extent, valuable. The worst thing among many bad things about Trump his consistent message that the rules only apply to “losers” and “p*ssies.”

Why did he do it? After all, backing off is not Trump’s strong suit (though neither is consistency). It’s impossible to be sure at a distance, but my guess is that he was told by people he has to listen to that – while he can get away with a lot – he couldn’t get away with dissing the military. Perhaps the combination of the letter by 25 Republican-foreign-policy Establishment figures, the furious denunciation by Mitt Romney, and the fairly harsh words from John McCain finally sunk in, though all of those took place before the debate.

Hudathunkit? Looks as if The Donald might be minimally educable after all. Of course that doesn’t make him fit to be President, but it suggests that limits still apply. That’s a relief.

Update Kevin Drum offers a more cynical take: Trump was relying on the fact that masses of people would see and hear him acting tough while much smaller numbers – but including members of elites he needs to please – would read about the retraction. That makes him a winner both ways. The only sure thing about the 2016 election is that the more cynical interpretation is likely to be the correct one.

Have “black sites” come to Sweet Home Chicago?

The Guardian and The Atlantic have now both reported that Chicago police maintain a site at which they interrogate suspects without booking them or letting them talk to their lawyers.  On the Huffington Post, this is what I have to say about that.

As it turns out, this news doesn’t come too late to have an impact on the race for mayor in Chicago.  Perhaps we can use the six weeks before the runoff election to ask Rahm what he knows about these sites, and when he knew it.


Sarah Palin can’t tell a sacrament from a war crime. If I were a Christian, I’d be pretty damned angry.

“Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

St. Joan of the Tundra

Now, I’m not a Christian. So if Sarah Palin wants to associate a war crime with a Christian sacrament, it’s really no skin off my nose.

But if I were a Christian, I’d be pretty damned angry about this. It will be interesting to see whether any of the praying-aloud-in-the-marketplace-so-as-to-be-seen-of-men crowd has any problem with it.

Update I’m happy to see that one politically conservative Lutheran agrees with me.

Second update Rod Dreher is on the same page. I said “blasphemy;” he says “sacrilege.” Maybe it’s both; if not, I’m happy to defer to the expert.

Like Charles Krauthammer on the Bundy affair, Dreher is really hot under the collar:

Man, the 12 minute speech Sarah Palin gave to the NRA convention is awful. It’s just witless, red-meat blathering, delivered in that nasal whine of hers that makes it sound like she’s chewing wads of tinfoil. For people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.

I recall that the Terri Schiavo affair peeled some reality-based conservative and libertarian folks off the GOP bandwagon: not because the issue was so important in itself, but because the unreason and contempt for law the right-to-lifers displayed woke some people up to the fundamental bogisity of Karl Rove Republicanism. (If John Ellis Bush does run for President, I hope we will hear a lot about his role in that comedy of cruelty.)  

At some point, you say, “Wait a minute! If that’s what the people I’m with are saying, what am I doing with them?” (The day Lyndon Johnson, my political hero, said that voting for Gene McCarthy was unpatriotic because it would make the leadership in Hanoi happy was the day I started wearing a McCarthy button.)

It would be too much to hope that the combination of the Bundy debacle and Palin’s rant might similarly awaken any substantial number of the remaining GOP faithful, but this stuff has to hurt anyone with any intellectual self-respect who’s trying to hang on to both that self-respect and his Red Team membership. And the howls from the NRA crowd just make it that much worse.  

Third update Patrick Brennan at National Review says ” barbarism,” and offers a full-throated denunciation of torture from a Catholic perspective. Looks as if Gov. Half-Term isn’t entirely useless after all; she seems to have the capacity to focus some conservative minds.

I can’t say how happy it makes me to find myself on the same side as some Red Team thinkers on this question. Now if there were only a single GOP politician prepared to annoy the Palinites …


What makes torture OK?

The Nation and the Guardian both carry stalwart defenses of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela against Yanqui imperialism and its counterrevolutionary allies in the streets of Caracas.  Curiously, neither account picks up on this sentence from an AP story:

Maduro said Friday that San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos, a member of the same party as Lopez, would soon join the jailed opposition leader behind bars for fomenting violence. “It’s a matter of time until we have him in the same cold cell,” Maduro said.

The “cold cell” refers to the use of hypothermia as torture. I seem to recall that when the cold cell was being used on the orders of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, progressives – including writers for The Nation and the Guardian – tended to be rather critical of the practice. I wonder what might make this circumstance different enough to allow support for a regime whose leader openly boasts about torturing his opponents?

Query on fictional torture

In patriotic fiction before 9/11, Americans were always torture victims, never torturers. Not true now. Sad.

I believe that the following statement is true, and am looking for counterexamples:

In any TV show, movie, or novel written from a conventionally patriotic viewpoint before 9/11/01, if there’s a torture scence involving an American, the American is always the victim, never the torturer.

If that was true, of course it now isn’t. In the same vein, even during the Cold War the use of torture never became a partisan issue. The change is sad and disgusting. 

Romney on waterboarding

He’s for it.

Just in case there was any doubt, here’s the audio.

I can’t make out every word, but I could make out the gist:

Q: Waterboarding: do you think it’s torture?

Romney: I don’t. … We will have a policy of doing what we think is in our best interest. We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques that go beyond what’s in the military handbook right now.

Of course waterboarding – repeated partial drowning – is torture. It’s war crime under inernational law; as John McCain once said, we hanged a couple of Japanese admirals for it. It’s also a felony under the laws of the United States.

Barack Obama banned it. And W. Mitt Romney wants to use it.

Any questions?

“Young Guns” and the Squire of Gothos

Gen. Trelane (ret.) -- The Original GOP Young Gun

By now it is pretty obvious that the House GOP leadership is essentially devoid of ideas outside of Social Darwinism and Objectivism.  But I noticed the other day that its cultural pose is also one of pure puffery.

Consider “Young Guns,” the “book” theoretically authored by Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy.  “Young Guns” was also their term for Republican challengers to Democratic House members.  Notice something?

Neither Cantor, McCarthy, nor Ryan ever served in the military.  Essentially, all three are career party apparatchiks — Ryan and McCarthy were congressional aides; Cantor “worked” in the family’s real estate business for a while, but essentially, he graduated from law school and immediately started running for the state legislature.

There’s nothing wrong with that, although for people who claim that the private sector is so great, they sure have managed to stay far away from it.  But to avoid service while affecting a pose of military toughness is really quite pathetic.  And no wonder that Republican national security policy is really more about seeming tough — torture the bastards! — than understanding reality.  It is policy as wish fulfillment-fantasy.

It reminds me of a classic Star Trek episode, “The Squire of Gothos.”  Captain Kirk and the crew find themselves on a planet with a man who introduces himself as a General, challenges them to duels, and likes to re-enacts battles.  By the end of the episode, it becomes clear that he is quite literally a child, and his incorporeal parents send him, whining, back to his room.

Recall the architects of the disastrous Bush national security policies.  With the important exception of Rumsfeld, none of the neocons ever served.  Cheney famously got five deferments.  Wolfowitz never served.  Neither did Feith.  Neither did Libby.  Nor did Haynes, or Bybee, or Yoo.  Addington dropped out of the Naval Academy after less than a year.  Those who fought hardest against the administration from within, however, were usually the career military people — Eric Shinseki (now Veterans’ Affairs Secretary), the JAGs of all the services.

You would think that at some level, the House Republican military peacocks might be a little sheepish about this.  But no.  They advertise it.  There is something either deeply disturbing, or deeply fatuous, or both, here.

A couple of the GOP Congressmembers advanced by the “Young Guns” program did serve: Tom Rooney and Pete Sessions come to mind.  And as I said, I don’t think that it says something bad about someone that they didn’t serve.  I didn’t serve.  But there is something childish about those who did not serve then puffing up their military bearing.

Put another way, maybe we should acknowledge that Cantor, McCarthy, and Ryan are indeed “Young Guns.”  But the armaments are pop guns, and they are very, very young indeed.

Terminological inexactitude

Rick Santorum thinks that human beings are things that you’re allowed to break. He cannot therefore properly be called either a Christian or a conservative.

Alleged Christian conservative Rick “man-on-dog” Santorum, explaining the subtleties of torture for the benefit of torture survivor John McCain:

He doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody, and after they’re broken, they become cooperative.

Let’s ignore the morals and the facts here, and concentrate on the language. If you think that human beings are things that you’re allowed to break, you cannot properly be called either a “Christian” or a “conservative.”

Dick Cheney Speaks the Truth!

Commenting yesterday on how the United States discovered Bin Laden’s whereabouts:

“I would assume that the enhanced interrogation program that we put in place produced some of the results that led to bin Laden’s ultimate capture,” said former Vice President Dick Cheney on Fox News.

That’s right!  He would assume it.  He wouldn’t try to check it out.  He wouldn’t hold his tongue if he didn’t know the details.  He wouldn’t speak to those who might actually know the facts.  He would assume it.  And then he would go on torturing people, over and over again.

And if this policy was ineffective, or worse, had catastrophic effects in terms of intelligence gathering and US diplomacy?  He would assume that it didn’t.

Gotta hand it to the guy: he’s certainly self-aware.

Bradley Manning: Is the maltreatment over?

At least he’s out of Quantico, and out of solitary. Good news, though more than a little late.

Having complained bitterly about what appears to have been a flagrant attempt to break Pfc. Bradley Manning’s will – if not his mind – at Quantico, I have to regard it as good news that Manning is being moved to Leavenworth, and that his period in solitary confinement appears to be over.

From a distance, it’s hard to say what this means. Did the President, despite his rather callous dismissal of the problem in public, pass the word down the chain of command that torture was a no-no? Was the vicious handling at Quantico actually the decision of a sick-minded commandant, rather than a matter of high policy? (If so, that reflects very badly on Secretary Gates.) Or did the pressure on Manning work, with Manning agreeing to testify against the real target in the case, Julian Assange?

P.J. Crowley, who lost his job at the State Department for speaking out about Manning, thinks the move resulted from heavy pressure on the Pentagon: pressure from both inside and outside the government.

Update Manning’s lawyer reports that he was about to file for a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the conditions of Manning’s confinement.

Footnote: The Guardian story refers to the group that protested about Manning’s treatment at an Obama fundraiser as “supporters of Manning.” That may be true of some of them, but it needn’t be.

It’s possible to disapprove of torture even when applied to people whose conduct you disapprove of. I surely wouldn’t call myself a “supporter” of Manning; modulo the presumption of innocence, the President’s comment that he “broke the law” is almost certainly factually true, and it’s not a law I disapprove of generally. Secrecy is often overdone, and whistleblowing can be an honorable and even heroic action, but just doing a core-dump of classified cables wasn’t really a good idea.