Saturday, February 27, 2010

David Sirota on Why we Should Thank Glenn Beck for his CPAC Speech

Glenn Beck's rousing keynote address at CPAC last week was filled with his views on American values, American history and how the Conservative movement must move forward.

One of the most interesting and provocative comments that Beck made during his speech was his belief that the progressive movement is a "cancer" to America. Beck also called for its "eradication". Watch:

This tactic is an interesting strategy that moves forward a certain kind of "elminationist rhetoric" as has been described over at Crooks and Liars. This rhetoric doesn't call for a countering of ideas and debate, it labels a movement as a deadly disease that must be fought and wiped out to ensure the survival of the country. Serious stuff.

Author, journalist and radio-host David Sirota says that we should all thank Glenn Beck...seriously:

We owe this talk-show-host-turned-political-leader gratitude for using his televised keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference to so frankly outline what the conservative movement has become — and why it repulses so many Americans.


The lesson was eminently clear, coming in no less than the keynote address to one of America's most important political conventions. Beck taught us that a once-principled conservative movement of reasoned activists has turned into a mob — one that does not engage in civilized battles of ideas. Instead, these torch-carriers, gun-brandishers and tea partiers follow an anti-government terrorist attack by cheering a demagogue's demand for the physical annihilation of those with whom he disagrees — namely anyone, but particularly progressives, who value "community."

No doubt, some conservatives will parse, insisting Beck was only endorsing the "eradication" of progressivism but not of progressives.
These same willful ignoramuses will also likely say that the Nazis' beef was with Judaism but not Jews, and that white supremacists dislike African-American culture but have no problem with black people.

Other conservatives will surely depict Beck's "eradication" line as just the jest of a self-described "rodeo clown" — merely the "fusion of entertainment and enlightenment," as his radio motto intones. But if Beck is half as smart as he incessantly tells listeners he is, then he knows it's no joke.


Really, the threat isn't even veiled. To understand it, just ponder comparisons. For instance, ask yourself: What is the difference between Beck's decree and that of Rwanda's genocidal leaders in the 1990s? The former broadcasted a call to "eradicate" the "cancer"-like progressives; the latter a call to "exterminate the cockroaches." Likewise, what separates Beck's screed from a bin Laden fatwa? They may employ different ideologies and languages, but both endorse the wholesale elimination of large groups of Americans.

Sirota does bring up an interesting point in questioning just how one is to separate the calls for the eradication of a movement from the eradication of the members of that same movement. Beck is a massive figure in the tea-party and conservative movement and when he continues to rant and rave about progressivism being a disease and that it must be eliminated, it only throws red meat to the base.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rep. Anthony Weiner: The Republicans are a Subsidiary of the Insurance Companies

This video is one of the funniest things I have seen take place on the House floor.

Rep. Anthony Weiner goes off on Republicans, calling them a subsidiary of the insurance industry before getting reprimanded by another colleague. He then asks for his statements to be struck from the record, only to launch right back into the same rant. The first three minutes of this video are the best part (h/t Ezra Klein):

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rockefeller Retreats on Support for Public Option

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has been adamant in his support for the inclusion of a strong public option in the health care legislation. From October, 2009:

He's also a longtime advocate of health care for children and the poor – and, as Congress moves toward its moment of truth on health care, perhaps the most earnest, dogged Senate champion of a nationwide public health insurance plan to compete with private insurance companies.

"I will not relent on that. That's the only way to go," Rockefeller told me in an interview. "There's got to be a safe harbor."

Now that the Public Option has made a comeback and actually has a chance to pass the Senate via reconciliation, Rockefeller has made a surprising reversal:

"I'm probably not going to vote for that," Rockefeller said. "I don't think the timing of it is very good."

Earlier in the evening, in a brief interview with TPMDC, Rockefeller expressed concern that playing hardball with the public option at this time could imperil reform, but he didn't say he'd oppose it.

"I don't know, I think the timing of the public option piece of legislation, which is not in what the President's going to suggest at the summit I think, doing that could create a lot of turbulence when we don't need it," Rockefeller told me.

To recap, when it looked like the Public Option was on life-support and had a slim chance of passage, Rockefeller supported it to the fullest. Now that the Public Option has a legitimate chance of passing, Rockefeller doesn't think he will vote for it and may even vote against it. Per usual, Glenn Greenwald sums it up nicely:

This is what the Democratic Party does; it's who they are. They're willing to feign support for anything their voters want just as long as there's no chance that they can pass it. They won control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections by pretending they wanted to compel an end to the Iraq War and Bush surveillance and interrogation abuses because they knew they would not actually do so; and indeed, once they were given the majority, the Democratic-controlled Congress continued to fund the war without conditions, to legalize Bush's eavesdropping program, and to do nothing to stop Bush's habeas and interrogation abuses ("Gosh, what can we do? We just don't have 60 votes).


Basically, this is how things have progressed:

Progressives: We want a public option!

Democrats/WH: We agree with you totally! Unfortunately, while we have 50 votes for it, we just don't have 60, so we can't have it. Gosh darn that filibuster rule.

Progressives: But you can use reconciliation like Bush did so often, and then you only need 50 votes.

Filbuster reform advocates/Obama loyalists: Hey progressives, don't be stupid! Be pragmatic. It's not realistic or Serious to use reconciliation to pass health care reform. None of this their fault. It's the fault of the filibuster. The White House wishes so badly that it could pass all these great progressive bills, but they're powerless, and they just can't get 60 votes to do it.

[Month later]

Progressives: Hey, great! Now that you're going to pass the bill through reconciliation after all, you can include the public option that both you and we love, because you only need 50 votes, and you've said all year you have that!

Democrats/WH: No. We don't have 50 votes for that (look at Jay Rockefeller). Besides, it's not the right time for the public option. The public option only polls at 65%, so it might make our health care bill -- which polls at 35% -- unpopular. Also, the public option and reconciliation are too partisan, so we're going to go ahead and pass our industry-approved bill instead . . . on a strict party line vote.

This absurd dance does little for the millions of people without affordable health care coverage and will end up doing very little to fundamentally reform the system. Partly to blame for this mess is the filibuster which has proved to not only be a shield for the Democrats to hide behind, but also as a weapon for the Republicans to enact "minority rule". The Democrats talk tough and adopt populist views when they know they can not pass legislation due to the Republican threat of a filibuster. Then, when it becomes clear that the legislation can be passed through other means, those same Democrats amend their populist positions to appeal to the corporatist interests and avoid backlash.

All of this leads to partisan bickering and nothing productive getting accomplished. The best part is that no one wants to be accountable for standing behind policies that may not mesh well with the status quo.

While the Democrats continue to decide that they really don't want the public option (now that it has a chance of passing), Republicans continue to show even more evidence that their vision for America is to oppose anything that comes out of the Obama Administration.

The most recent example of this strategy is displayed through more hypocrisy by Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). Let's flash back to October, 2009 when Boehner criticized the Health Care legislation for being too long:

Fast forward to yesterday when President Obama released his own legislation which was presented in this eleven-page format. Boehner's response through his spokesman:

"The White House's 'plan' consists of an 11-page outline, which has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office or posted online as legislative text. So they want to reorganize one-sixth of the United States' economy with a document shorter than a comic book, and they're complaining that they can't find our plan on their own website? C'mon."

First the bill is too long and now, too short. Seems like the Obama Administration just can't win doesn't it? Well, that is precisely the point. Remember back in September of 2008 when former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced his three-page TARP plan? Boehner didn't seem to have much to say about the length of that plan and even rejected items that Democrats wanted to include saying:

“We need to keep it clean, simple, move it through the House and Senate, get it on the president’s desk so [Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson] can in fact intervene as quickly as possible.”

With Democrats being disingenuous and Republicans determined to oppose everything, it does not look hopeful for robust health care reform to come out of such a troubled process.

This piece is also cross posted here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

President Obama Releases his Health Care Plan Without Inclusion of a Public Option

President Obama has drafted and released his own 11-page plan for health care reform ahead of the planned bi-partisan summit. The President's plan is said to bridge the differences that are found in the Senate and House legislation and will almost certainly be the starting point from which a renewed debate will take place.

Igor Volsky describes
some of what is in the President's plan:

The Obama plan maintains key elements of the Senate proposal but also incorporates stronger anti-fraud provisions and allows the federal government to review insurance rate hikes. On a call with reporters Pfeiffer insisted that the administration has not determined “on which path to move forward with”, but the bill’s substance suggests that Obama is hoping to bypass a prolonged-Senate debate and use the reconciliation process to fix the Senate bill and convince reluctant House progressives to pass the Senate legislation.

Volsky also has a great table that breaks down the differences in the three bills that you can check out by following the link above.

Jason Rosenbaum also does a good job at breaking down some of what is in the bill.

Here is how he describes Obama's employer-based plan:
The President’s plan, though not a full "pay or play" system, moves towards reconciling the House and Senate bills. If a business does not offer coverage, it must pay $2,000 per worker to help cover the cost of insuring its employees. The White House estimates that this amount is one-third less than the average amount businesses would pay under the House proposal.

and on taxing middle class plans:

The President’s plan does not do away with the excise tax entirely, but it makes some significant changes. The threshold at which the tax kicks in was moved from $23,000 as the cost of a health care plan in the Senate bill to $27,500 for families and from $8,500 to $10,200 for individuals, and the tax would not kick in until 2018.

In addition, dental and vision benefits won’t be part of the cost calculation, in effect raising the threshold higher.

Perhaps one of the most interesting elements that Obama's bill does NOT contain, is a public option. Though the public option remains quite popular with the populace, Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs has indicated that it will be up to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to get the Senate to pass this piece of the health care puzzle.

David Dayen makes a salient point on this:

We have seen this before during the health care debate. The House says it’s up to the Senate to determine what can pass. The Senate says it’s up to the White House to expend the political capital to get it across the line. And the White House punts it right back to Congress. Nobody wants to actually be responsible for the demise of the popular measure, but everyone wants to be on its side. Therefore you get the preposterous claim from Dan Pfeiffer today that the President didn’t include a public option in his proposal, but he supports it.

So once again we are back to wondering if the public option is going to survive another round of debate and negotiation. If Obama supports the public option, he sure has a funny way of showing it. If he really thought it was a plan that he could get behind, he would put it in the legislation that has his name on it. Since he did not do this, one can only surmise that he does not feel strongly enough to put his full weight behind a true public option.

As for the Republicans, here is a situation that fully illustrates their tactics on this matter.

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) sent a letter to the White House on February 8 asking them to post online any health care legislation that they wanted to discuss at the health care summit. Boehner stated:

If the President intends to present any kind of legislative proposal at this discussion, will he make it available to members of Congress and the American people at least 72 hours beforehand?

The White House did just this:

Since this meeting will be most productive if information is widely available before the meeting, we will post online the text of a proposed health insurance reform package.

Boehner then attacked
the White House for doing what he had asked them to do in the first place:
"A productive bipartisan discussion should begin with a clean sheet of paper," Boehner said in a statement.

It will be interesting to see what happens at this summit.

NATO Airstrike Kills 27 Civilians in Afghanistan

Continuing the win the "hearts and minds" of the people in Afghanistan. From Kristin Chick from the Christian Science Monitor:

A NATO airstrike mistakenly killed at least 27 Afghanistan civilians in the southern province of Uruzgan on Sunday, Afghan officials said Monday, in one of the deadliest attacks since a September strike killed up to 140 civilians in Kunduz province.

The airstrike was not related to the massive NATO offensive ongoing in Marjah, in neighboring Helmand Province, but is another blow to the new US strategy of winning over the local population by protecting civilians.


...the effects of the airstrike could be felt several hundred miles away in Marjah, where US and Afghan forces are embarked on the first real test of the new strategy, as The Christian Science Monitor reported. There, as in Uruzgan, the troops face the major challenge of distinguishing between friend and foe. That is made more difficult in Marjah, the Monitor reported, by the Taliban’s use of civilians as shields. And an airstrike that killed civilians in Marjah last week has already put the force on the defensive.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Around the Horn: Reaction to the Aerial Attack on the IRS Offices in Austin

As many of you are aware, yesterday a man named Joseph Stack flew an airplane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. The crash killed Stack and one other person who was in the building.

Stack left behind what is being called a suicide manifesto where he railed against the government, taxes and the bailouts.

I thought that this would be an appropriate topic to take a look at reactions from around the blogosphere.

Curt at Flopping Aces:

From a quick perusing of the letter it appears the guy is quite good at blaming everyone and everything instead of the poor decisions he made.

He blames “the puppet” George W. Bush and capitalist greed for his downfall. Good enough reason to try and murder your wife, kids, and those just trying to do their jobs eh?

How long until the left starts blaming the tea party movement for this? I know….crazy, since it appears the guy was anti-Christian and a communist but why let facts get in your way.

The Angry Anarchist:

These aren’t the words of an unintelligent lunatic IMO, he actually comes across as being very well educated and extremely aware of the hypocrisy and injustice occurring everyday in America. What makes this so upsetting is that everything that drove him into the side of that building will now be heightened for those of us that are still here on Earth. I can already see the ‘Patriot Act’ being warmed up by the government in an effort to “save good Americans from the terrorists that walk amongst us on our own streets and boulevards”.

Glenn Greenwald:

All of this underscores, yet again, that Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon. The term now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity.


In sum: a Muslim who attacks military targets, including in war zones or even in their own countries that have been invaded by a foreign army, are Terrorists. A non-Muslim who flies an airplane into a government building in pursuit of a political agenda is not, or at least is not a Real Terrorist with a capital T -- not the kind who should be tortured and thrown in a cage with no charges and assassinated with no due process. Nor are Christians who stand outside abortion clinics and murder doctors and clinic workers. Nor are acts undertaken by us or our favored allies designed to kill large numbers of civilians or which will recklessly cause such deaths as a means of terrorizing the population into desired behavioral change -- the Glorious Shock and Awe campaign and the pummeling of Gaza. Except as a means for demonizing Muslims, the word is used so inconsistently and manipulatively that it is impoverished of any discernible meaning.

Kempite at Politics 24/7:

Let’s make this pefrectly clear from the onset. Any acts of viloence are inexcusable, unaceptable and intolerable. Nothing can legitimize ones attempt to carry out revenge or try to carry out their own personal sense of justice on society. Therefore, no one….no one…….should see the events that took place today in Texas, as anything but tragic and deplorable. It was to a great degree, an act of terrorism.

That said, before anyone tries to claim that the Tea Party protestors or those on the right condone, excuse or prompted the insane flying of a private plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas by one Joe Stack , let it be known that that such is not the case. I do not believe that any rational person could ever reach such a conclusion.

E. Messamore at The Humble Libertarian:

As the Editor-in-Chief of The Humble Libertarian, I unequivocally and without qualification, condemn this brutal, senseless, and stupid act of violence. As a libertarian, I am incensed that Joe Stack took it upon himself to take innocent lives in the name of less government spending and lower taxes.


Joe Stack committed his violent crime just a few short hours after I published these words at The Humble Libertarian: "We need to be good representatives of libertarianism. Ultimately people are concerned about whether a libertarian society will be a good society, and we must show them it will be a good society by being good people." Joe Stack doesn't speak for me or the millions of other Americans who correctly support more fiscal responsibility in Washington. We are good people, law-abiding citizens, and peace-loving activists.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Glenn Beck Barks Like a Dog On-air...Seriously

Only so much time can pass before Glenn Beck decides to once again jump off the deep end on his Fox television show. This time, he did not break into tears or pour "gasoline" on a staffer, but barked like a wild dog in response to a video by President Obama:

Remember that this is the man who started the "9/12 Project" and who is the hero of many members of the "Tea-Party" movement.

What is continually interesting about Beck isn't just his circus-like antics that make you question his stability, but also how he has fun with facts. Take this recent spat between Beck and Rachel Maddow which Maddow addressed on her MSNBC show the other night:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I wonder what kind of movement someone like Beck, who plays loose with facts and acts like a madman, would be able to inspire? Oh wait:

Cheney Gains Rock-Star Status at CPAC

Remember this past Sunday when former Vice President Dick Cheney declared that he is a "big supporter" of waterboarding and effectively solidified his support for torture?

Remember how others have stated that is is pretty much a confession to conspiring to torture and how the Department of Justice should investigate and prosecute Cheney based off his claims?

Well I wonder how Cheney would be received at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) when he was announced as a surprise guest by his daughter Liz:

What an ovation! Check out this report from Ben Smith at Politico:

Chris Barron, organizer of "Draft Cheney," emails this morning that he's organizing a write-in vote for the former Vice President at the CPAC straw poll.

“We urge the grassroots conservatives who will be attending CPAC to join us in sending a powerful message about the future of our party, by writing in the name of the only person with the experience and conservative credentials necessary to lead our party in 2012 – write in Dick Cheney,” Barron says.

It looks like Conservatives at CPAC are more than willing to accept a man who openly embraces torture and openly thumbs his nose at the rule of law.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

John Boehner Continues to Advance the GOP's Strategy of Opposition

Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) has been a big critic of the stimulus legislation that was signed into law by President Obama last year. He even threw the actual bill on the floor during debate:

After the bill was signed into law, Boehner continued to publicly rail against the legislation, but in June he sent out a release which stated that the money redirected to "shovel-ready projects" by the Obama Administration created much needed jobs for Ohio. Here was the release:

“The stated intent of the so-called stimulus package was to create jobs, and certainly a $57 million slush-fund studying projects did nothing to achieve that goal. With Ohio’s unemployment rate the highest it’s been in 25 years, I’m pleased that federal officials stepped in to order Ohio to use all of its construction dollars for shovel-ready projects that will create much-needed jobs.”

Even though Boehner's statement gives credit to the stimulus for its ability to create jobs, Boehner posted this on his Twitter feed this morning:

Today marks one year since the trillion-dollar “stimulus” was signed into law. Since then, 47 states have lost jobs.

Boehner's post was coupled with the release of his report entitled "Where are the Jobs?" which concludes:

At the beginning of February 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that 20,000 more jobs were lost in the month of January. This report confirmed that the U.S. economy has lost nearly 3.3 million jobs since President Obama signed the trillion-dollar ‗stimulus‘ into law.

The trillion-dollar ‗stimulus‘ was put together so quickly and so secretively that no member of Congress had a chance to read it before it passed, and it shows. Yet, as poorly conceived and badly executed as the trillion-dollar ‗stimulus‘ was, President Obama and Democrats in Congress still think that Washington is the answer to everything. Democrats‘ proposed government takeover of health care is already hurting small businesses by causing additional uncertainty and stifling job creation. The dismal performance of the ‗stimulus‘ demonstrates the dangers of allowing Washington to take more control over our economy.

Americans are asking 'where are the jobs,' but all they are getting from Washington Democrats is more government, more borrowing, and more debt piled on the backs of our kids and grandkids. Our economy will ultimately recover, but it will do so because of the hard work and entrepreneurship of the American people, not wasteful Washington spending. Republicans have proposed better solutions focused on helping small businesses create jobs to get our economy moving again.

Through much of the report Boehner criticizes the Administration for how they count the number of jobs that are created, citing "gross inaccuracies" and examples of "fuzzy math". It is interesting to note that on the same day Boehner decided to release this report, this article appeared in the New York Times. Journalist David Leonhardt writes:
Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.


In the early months of last year, spending by state and local governments was falling rapidly, as was tax revenue. In the spring, tax revenue continued to drop, yet spending jumped — during the very time when state and local officials were finding out roughly how much stimulus money they would be receiving. This is the money that has kept teachers, police officers, health care workers and firefighters employed.

Not only do you have Leonhardt's piece that highlights the successes of the stimulus legislation, but you have private sector forecasters who are also saying that the stimulus has helped during this recession:

“It was worth doing — it’s made a difference,” said Nigel Gault, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, a financial forecasting and analysis group based in Lexington, Mass.

Mr. Gault added: “I don’t think it’s right to look at it by saying, ‘Well, the economy is still doing extremely badly, therefore the stimulus didn’t work.’ I’m afraid the answer is, yes, we did badly but we would have done even worse without the stimulus.”

In interviews, a broad range of economists said the White House and Congress were right to structure the package as a mix of tax cuts and spending, rather than just tax cuts as Republicans prefer or just spending as many Democrats do. And it is fortuitous, many say, that the money gets doled out over two years — longer for major construction — considering the probable length of the “jobless recovery” under way as wary employers hold off on new hiring.

So while elected Republican officials continue to claim that nothing about this stimulus has worked, it is clear that well-known economic firms as well as private sector forecasters tend to think otherwise. The narrative that Boehner and other Republicans continue to espouse is a narrative of opposition to everything that is supported by the Obama Administration. They continue to rail against the stimulus legislation while accepting funds for their districts that were made possible by the exact same legislation. This proves true once again with Boehner's recent report that slams the stimulus but fails to acknowledge that he supported the money that Ohio received. This is the meme of complete opposition and despite the inherent hypocrisies that result, this meme has become the focused strategy of the Republican Party as we move closer toward the mid-term elections.

This is cross posted here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More on Cheney's Torture Confession

I wanted to follow-up on this post in which I discussed former Vice President Cheney admitting that he was a "big supporter" of waterboarding.

There were a couple of reactions to Cheney's appearance on ABC this past Sunday that were right on the money and advance this discussion surrounding his behavior. I wanted to start with Glenn Greenwald who feels that Cheney knows exactly what he is doing...he is taunting the current administration:

In general, people who commit felonies avoid publicly confessing to having done so, and they especially avoid mocking the authorities who fail to act. One thing Dick Cheney is not is stupid, and yet he's doing exactly that. Indeed, he's gradually escalated his boasting about having done so throughout the year. Why? Because he knows there will never be any repercussions, that he will never be prosecuted no matter how blatantly he admits to these serious crimes.


Does anyone doubt that Cheney's assessment is right? And isn't that, rather obviously, a monumental indictment of most everything?

I think that this is sadly quite accurate. Cheney is not a stupid man and it is quite clear that he feels that he can speak freely about his support for what Attorney General Holder has explicitly stated, is torture. The Obama Administration has held true to their pledge to "look forward" and not to the past on the issue of torture, even when it is clear that crimes and have been committed and even when now, a former Vice President admits to supporting torture on national television.

Scott Horton lays out the section of the Federal Criminal Code that Cheney admitted to violating:

Section 2340A of the federal criminal code makes it an offense to torture or to conspire to torture. Violators are subject to jail terms or to death in appropriate cases, as where death results from the application of torture techniques. Prosecutors have argued that a criminal investigation into torture undertaken with the direction of the Bush White House would raise complex legal issues, and proof would be difficult. But what about cases in which an instigator openly and notoriously brags about his role in torture?


What prosecutor can look away when a perpetrator mocks the law itself and revels in his role in violating it? Such cases cry out for prosecution. Dick Cheney wants to be prosecuted. And prosecutors should give him what he wants.

It should be pointed out that not only did Cheney admit to supporting torture, but right at the end of the interview was this exchange (emphasis mine):

KARL: And, finally, I know that you have a reunion coming up later this month with President Bush. This'll be the first time you've seen him since leaving office, face to face?

CHENEY: Pretty much, yes. We talk on the telephone periodically, but the first time I've seen him since January 20th.

KARL: What does he think of you being so outspoken in contrast to him?

CHENEY: Well, I don't think he's opposed to it, by any means. I'd be inclined to let him speak for himself about it. The reason I've been outspoken is because there were some things being said, especially after we left office, about prosecuting CIA personnel that had carried out our counterterrorism policy or disbarring lawyers in the Justice Department who had -- had helped us put those policies together, and I was deeply offended by that, and I thought it was important that some senior person in the administration stand up and defend those people who'd done what we asked them to do.

And that's why I got started on it. I'm the vice president now -- ex-vice president. I have the great freedom and luxury of speaking out, saying what I -- what I want to say, what I believe. And I have not been discouraged from doing so.

Cheney mentions that the lawyers at the Justice Department had "helped us put those policies together" and that he felt it was his role to "defend those people who'd done what we asked them to do." In other words, the Bush Administration wanted to torture detainees and so they asked lawyers like John Yoo and Jay Bybee to craft memos that would allow them to do so. Yoo and Bybee obliged. This is conspiracy to torture and as Scott Horton mentions, a serious crime.

There has been no excuse to investigate for some time now and with the former Vice President's recent comments, there is no justification that the current Justice Department could use to defend not prosecuting those who broke such serious laws.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cheney Delcares His Support for Waterboarding

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was on ABC's This Week yesterday morning spouting most of the same talking points that he has become known for ever since leaving office last year. He slammed the Obama Administration as being weak on terrorism and criticized their handling of almost every aspect of their Foreign Policy.

While much of what Cheney had to say is not surprising there was this exchange between Cheney and guest host Jonathan Karl:

KARL: Did you more often win or lose those battles, especially as you got to the second term?

CHENEY: Well, I suppose it depends on which battle you're talking about. I won some; I lost some. I can't...


KARL: ... waterboarding, clearly, what was your...

CHENEY: I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques that...

KARL: And you opposed the administration's actions of doing away with waterboarding?


Cheney's open admission to being a "big supporter" of waterboarding has led some like Andrew Sullivan to claim that this is an open admission to a war crime by the former Vice President:

In fact, the attorney general of the United States is legally obliged to prosecute someone who has openly admitted such a war crime or be in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention on Torture. For Eric Holder to ignore this duty subjects him too to prosecution. If the US government fails to enforce the provision against torture, the UN or a foreign court can initiate an investigation and prosecution.

These are not my opinions and they are not hyperbole. They are legal facts. Either this country is governed by the rule of law or it isn't. Cheney's clear admission of his central role in authorizing waterboarding and the clear evidence that such waterboarding did indeed take place means that prosecution must proceed.

Cheney himself just set in motion a chain of events that the civilized world must see to its conclusion or cease to be the civilized world. For such a high official to escape the clear letter of these treaties and conventions, and to openly brag of it, renders such treaties and conventions meaningless.

In addition to pretty much confessing it only solidifies Cheney's sadistic tendencies each time he appears on one of these programs. When the former Vice President goes on national television and declares that he is a big fan and supporter of torture, one would hope that in a country that prides itself on being a nation of laws, some action would be taken. Still though, the Obama Administration and the Holder Justice Department continue to take no action on an issue that so clearly needs further investigation and civilized society suffers. After all, if there is no punishment for crimes as serious as these, then there will be no deterrent when history repeats itself in the future. These are grave and serious matters and it is on this Administration to stand up for the rule of law no matter how politically difficult.

For those interested, here is the full ABC interview in two parts:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Haiti's New Reality

As Haiti begins to fade out of the so-called "mainstream" media's spotlight, it is clear that the rebuilding is just beginning. After the earthquake, many Haitians fled the capital of Port-au-Prince to migrate back to the rural areas of the country. This response to the disaster is reversing migration patterns that Haiti has experienced over the last few decades and some worry that unless these individuals are given jobs, a humanitarian crisis will result from the strain that will be put on Haitian farmers.

In this in-depth piece that was put together by Avi Lewis for the Al Jazeera program "Fault Lines", you will see a country that is struggling clean-up and groups of Haitians that have a lot of ideas for solutions to help their country deal with a new reality.

This piece is also posted here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Blended Brew: The GOP Continues to Absorb the Tea Party Movement

After the election and inauguration of President Obama in 2009, it seemed as if tea-party movements began to surface all across the country. These groups strongly voiced their opposition to President Obama and the Democrats and advanced the claims that the country was being steered in a new and radical direction.

Not coincidentally, this was the same time period when Fox News host Glenn Beck was rising in popularity as part of Fox News' new business strategy in becoming the voice of opposition to the Obama Administration. I have written time and time again about Beck's wild and crazy antics over the last year and it is no secret by now that tea-party chapters all over the country look to him as a voice of sanity and reason in their quest to combat what they view as "socialism" and "communism" being forced upon the public. Beck and Fox News fueled and promoted tea-party protests all over the country during the Summer of 2009 and while some local groups were formed at the grassroots, much of the tea-party activity has been funded by corporate and Republican interests.

As the debate over healthcare reform became heated last summer, tea-party organizations began showing up to local town hall meetings to shout-down Congressmen and make hyperbolic and factually troubling claims about the proposed legislation. Not only were people showing up to rail against health care reform, but also to question President Obama's citizenship, claim that the United States was being taken over by Marxists and offer their support for Republican ideas. There was certainly a mixture of viewpoints within this movement and I wrote about this paradox in the protests at the time:

What was once political opposition driven by political figures of the 90's, has now morphed into that same opposition being embraced by national media figures as well as their viewers/listeners thus these views are presented as a genuine populist uprising.

and how this morphed into a brand of "Schizophrenic Conservatism":

This kind of complication manifests itself when you mix legitimate concerns of citizens with interests that work hard to maintain the status quo. These interests include national media figures like Beck, the influence of party interests who are working toward the political goal of defeating Obama, and those who perpetuate so-called "facts" that end up being completely wrong. What results is more than a complete mess. What results is a movement that does not know whether they are coming or going, let alone where they stand.

What has resulted, has been what equates to an identity crisis for the Republicans. Some Republicans are cautious about embracing the tea parties and some Republicans are icons within the movement. Sarah Palin recently suggested that the Republican Party try to "absorb as much of the tea party movement as possible" and South Carolina Republicans have officially started to collaborate with the tea party movement.

As Republicans continue to fund, promote, and work with factions of this movement, there is a disconnect that bubbles to the surface and only exacerbates the mixed identities that all seem to stem from seemingly the same movement. After all, it was the supporters of Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) who held the first tea party way back in 2007. What was different was the libertarian message that was being espoused by Paul and how the Republican Party explicitly rejected their association with this movement. This recent segment of The Rachel Maddow Show features Ron Paul and gets right at this very issue:

These recent tea-partiers seemingly came out of the woodwork after the election of America's first black President and have a much different message than that of the grassroots movement that united behind their support for Ron Paul's Presidential Candidacy. This is the confusion that we are seeing both on a national level as well as locally here in Cincinnati.

Ohio Public Radio did a story this past week that aired on 91.7 WVXU regarding the local tea-party movement and the Republican Party's willingness to accept tea-party candidates and supporters. The story states that Party Chief Kevin DeWine is "throwing out the welcome mat" by stating:

"If that group is concerned about fiscal discipline, fiscal restraint, lower spending and lower taxes, I'll put my candidates up against the Democrat candidates any day when it comes to trying to attract their vote."

This should not come as a surprise to any citizen who has been paying attention to the Cincinnati Tea Part movement. This local organization has embraced Republicans like Steve Chabot who was a featured speaker at a protest in Downtown Cincinnati along with Cincinnati Tea Party founder Mike Wilson back in October. Here is video that I posted at the time of the event:

As Chabot stated in his speech, he is "looking forward to working with" Wilson if he is elected to the Statehouse and if Chabot can reclaim his old Congressional seat. The Republican Party's willingness to absorb those within the tea-party movement is certainly a political strategy to try and harness the Conservative outrage into votes and in instances like we have seen with the Cincinnati Tea Party, they are often willing to throw their support behind long-time members of the Republican Party like Steve Chabot. This is what happens when you have a movement that takes an angry public, whips it into a political fervor and directs that anger into continued support for the same Republican politicians who have had a hand in the mess that we find ourselves in today. Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake sums it up the paradox between the old and new tea-party movements quite nicely:

The GOP establishment, on the other hand, struck a bargain for power with corporate America that is totally at odds with everything the libertarians stand for. I’ve often thought they have more points of honest intersection with progressives on the war, civil liberties, accountability and transparency than with the GOP and the “For Sale” sign they’ve affixed to the taxpayer trough.

Ron Paul has been tireless in taking his message to college campuses, and he has tremendous support among younger people who identify themselves as fiscal conservatives but are uncomfortable with the fundies and their gay-bashing. But as the libertarian message is gaining traction, it is being hijacked by the Neocons — and Sarah “bridge to nowhere” Palin leads the parade.

It’s completely incoherent that there are now tea party-identified candidates are trying to oust Ron Paul himself from his seat. I hope the libertarians lay down markers and come down on the side of ending ConAgra’s corporate welfare, and showing Palin and her many bombs to the door.

This piece is cross posted here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pay No Attention to the Republicans Behind that Curtain...

Part of the responsibility of the media has been and should always be to call out those in power when their rhetoric does not align with the truth. This also includes moments when the rhetoric of those in power is hypocritical in its very nature. It is no secret that this is an exception in the so-called "mainstream media" these days, but you have to give credit where credit is due.

It is because of this that Rachel Maddow gets another "thumbs up" for her coverage of how certain members of the Republican Party have railed against President Obama's stimulus plan, while at the same time graciously accepting stimulus money. Watch:

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Hell, the Washington Times even did a piece on this the other day. Maddow makes a point toward the end of her piece that is dead on. The behavior of the Republicans on the issue of the stimulus funds is a prime example that policy is not their focus. Their focus is on opposing anything and everything that the President and that the Democratic leadership endorse. This holds true even for policies that Republicans initially proposed and that they even think are good policies. It matters not when all you are doing is playing politics.

If the Democrats continue to try and reach out to Republicans and if President Obama continues to strive for bipartisan solutions to the problems that face this nation, I think we all know how that will turn out. The Republicans continually show that they are not interested in agreement, cooperation, or honest debate on any of the issues that have come before them. They have (and will continue to) use the filibuster to oppose legislation and will run on this kind of opposition in 2010 and 2012. If the Democrats don't get this by now, then I don't hold out much hope for meaningful legislation to be passed in the near future.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sarah Palin Educates the Public on When it is Okay to Call Someone a "Retard"

Rahm Emanuel recently made news when it was publicized that he had called liberals "fucking retarded" during a private conversation.

This sparked outrage from Fox News Contributor Sarah Palin (who has a child with disabilities) who called for Emanuel to resign.

On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh jumped on Emanuel's comments and proceeded to call liberals "retarded" as well. Take a listen:

This set the stage for Sarah Palin to be questioned about Limabaugh's use of the slur versus its use by Rahm Emanuel. Palin was asked about this on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace this past Sunday:

So if you are keeping score at home, in Sarah Palin's mind it is wrong for Rahm Emanuel to call liberals "fucking retarded", but it is okay for Rush Limbaugh to call liberals "retards" because of some perceived level of satire. I, for one, would be interested to hear Palin's analysis of how Limbaugh's so-called "satire" was artfully used on his radio show.

In the meantime, we have the witty and on-point Stephen Colbert to analyze the situation for us:

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Xe, formerly Blackwater, in the Running for $1 Billion Government Contract

Just after the turn of the year, it was reported that two men who work for the private contracting firm "Xe" (pronounced "zee" and formerly known as "Blackwater") would be charged with murder in the death of two Afghan civilians:

Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon are charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder each in connection with the May shootings in Kabul. The 12-count, 19-page indictment returned by a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia also includes weapons charges against the two men.


The incident spotlights the issue of the role and conduct of U.S. security contractors in Afghanistan. A similar issue arose in Iraq after a September 2007 confrontation involving then-Blackwater contractors that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

Blackwater lost its contract there after Iraq's government refused to renew its operating license. The company then changed its name to Xe, and it continues to receive multimillion-dollar contracts in Afghanistan.

This was not the first incident that has drawn attention to this troubled mercenary firm. You may remember the infamous Nissour Square Massacre in Iraq in 2007 during which it was reported that 17 Iraqi civilians were shot and killed by Blackwater guards. From a 2008 New York Times:

The Sept. 16 shooting in Nisour Square is considered by the F.B.I., the Pentagon and the Iraqi government to be among the most egregious examples of unprovoked violence by private security contractors. It ignited such outrage that the Iraqi government threatened to ban Blackwater from the country.

Since this massacre, former employees of the organization have come forward to tell tales of weapons smuggling by the firm into Iraq and allegations that implicate the founder of the organization, in murder. From an August 2009 piece by Jeremy Scahill:

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company.


In their testimony, both men also allege that Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq. One of the men alleges that Prince turned a profit by transporting "illegal" or "unlawful" weapons into the country on Prince's private planes. They also charge that Prince and other Blackwater executives destroyed incriminating videos, emails and other documents and have intentionally deceived the US State Department and other federal agencies. The identities o
f the two individuals were sealed out of concerns for their safety.

In the midst of all of these serious allegations that surround this organization, one would think that it may make the United States Government a little wary of continuing to hire Xe to operate within war-stricken countries, but then there comes this news highlighted by the Huffington Post (emphasis mine):

Now called Xe Services, the company is in the running for a Pentagon contract potentially worth $1 billion to train Afghanistan's troubled national police force. Xe has been shifting to training, aviation and logistics work after its security guards were accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians more than two years ago.

Here is a video that was created by ReThink Afghanistan that also outlines how this security firm is still in the running for lucrative government contracts even as there continue to be unsolved questions that surround various legal and moral issues:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Palin's Primitive Palm Pilot

From the "almost too weird to be true" file, we have the latest from Sarah Palin.

Last night the former Govornor and now Fox News Contributor gave her much anticipated keynote address at the National Tea Party convention in Nashville. Palin called for a new populist "revolution" and stated that "We're at war and to win that war we need a commander-in-chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern".

During her speech Palin also renewed criticisms of President Obama's for his use of teleprompter in delivering his speeches. This point of criticism would quickly become almost too ironic to be believed. Take a look at Palin during a question and answer session after the convention, most noticeably during the :48 mark in the video:

It sure looks like she checks her hand for reference doesn't it? That would mean of course that she knew the questions ahead of time and still felt that she needed some additional help. I guess this isn't surprising considering that Glenn Beck revealed how paranoid Palin has become with people trying to "trip her up". Regardless, I wasn't completely sold on this despite the suspect video. That was...until this picture turned up (h/t Huffington Post):

and zooming in on the hand:

Sure enough, she has notes scribbled on her hand. It looks like "Energy", "Budget" (crossed out), "Cuts", "Tax", and "Lift American Spirits".

I doubt that this will affect her popularity among conservatives and I don't really have a big problem with her writing down some notes (isn't Fox paying her enough to afford note cards?), but the hypocrisy can't be defended. The same woman who rails against the President for using a teleprompter is now caught scribbling cliff notes on her hand so that she doesn't get tripped up in a Q&A session. Priceless.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

O'Reilly's Unedited Interview With Stewart Released

For the first time in four years, Bill O'Reilly had Jon Stewart on The O'Reilly Factor this past week. I watched the interview as it appeared on the program and found it to be kind of dull. They would both make some uneasy jokes about each other, Stewart would get in some zingers about Bill and Fox, there would be some more funny comments, etc. It was somewhat entertaining, but nothing to write home about.

This was apparently what the producers at the O'Reilly Factor wanted to convey as is evidenced by the full, unedited interview that has since been released (h/t Dave Neiwert). The clips below are compiled by Crooks and Liars to show some extended segments that were edited out of the interview that originally aired on Fox. Stewart really takes it to Fox with some on-point criticisms of the network and it is far better than anything that O'Reilly actually put on the air:

Stewart nails Fox's behavior on several issues and when O'Reilly tries to defend the network, Stewart dismisses him with a "please" and a hand-wave. Fox's behavior as a so-called "news" organization is so obvious and blatant at this point, that it seems ridiculous for O'Reilly to try and put together any kind of defense.

I'll take these unedited clips over what aired any day.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tom Tancredo: Obama's Election Was Due to a Lack of 'Literacy Tests'

The National Tea Party Convention is underway in Nashville and the event has already sparked some fun coverage from some of the reporters that are covering the event.

Just how many reporters? Well, after initially showing reluctance in issuing press passes, there are now an estimated 150 journalists covering the event. When you take into account that there are 600 paying attendees, that equates to about a 1 to 4 ratio of reporters to attendees.

Needless to say there were plenty of media around for the kickoff event in which former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo made this statement (emphasis mine):

The opening-night speaker at first ever National Tea Party Convention ripped into President Obama, Sen. John McCain and "the cult of multiculturalism," asserting that Obama was elected because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country."

The speaker, former Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., told about 600 delegates in a Nashville, Tenn., ballroom that in the 2008 election, America "put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House ... Barack Hussein Obama."

Zaid Jilani at ThinkProgress states the obvious problem with this:

Given that the convention is being held in Nashville, Tennessee, Tancredo’s remarks are particularly offensive. For years, literacy tests were used across the South to disenfranchise African-American voters, who generally had illiteracy rates 4-5 times as high as whites due to historical discrimination and lack of opportunity. Unfortunately for Tancredo, the 1965 Voting Rights Act makes literacy tests illegal.

Talk about taking the country back to the days of the Founding Fathers.

Something tells me that this won't be the only interesting bit of information that comes out of this convention.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Reparing the Information Infrastructure

There was a fantastic edition of GRIT-tv that aired yesterday and that you can get more information on by clicking here.

In this episode host Laura Flanders spoke with her guests about the ever-changing landscape of the media and how we are at a critical point in the decision about how we will fund the "public good" that is journalism. Panel members include Robert McChesney and John Nichols (co-founders of and authors of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again), Tracy Van Slyke (co-author of Beyond the Echo Chamber: How a Networked Progressive Media Can Reshape American Politics) and Kate Giammarise (co-founder of

The conversation is really vibrant and focuses on the problems that we are seeing with the quality of journalism since the collapse of the newspapers. Not only is the quality of journalism suffering, but the availability of jobs that compensate (young) journalists for digging into important issues is also a very real concern. Watch the 20 min. segment here:

Naturally this very issue hits close to home as I am one of those who must blog, write, research and interview all in my "spare time" and do so without compensation. I, like many others, am quite passionate about where society is headed and about the kinds of stories that are being covered. I completely agree with John Nichols and Bob McChesney that a strong and independent media is vital to a healthy democracy. After all, this is why I started this blog and contribute to The Cincinnati Beacon. There needs to be a reinvestment in the information infrastructure so that journalism and democracy can flourish in this new digital age.

I think the talk of subsidies are a great place to start as I recognize the need to initiate, develop, and compensate the work that needs to be done. After all (like others), I am but one person and my coverage of issues is limited to the amount of "spare time" that I am able to devote to my work. I can't take my camera to every public event that I would like, I can't devote the amount of time that is needed to do research on some issues that I think are important, and I must choose to spend my personal funds on continuing this work. We are at a very interesting point in time for the media and I think it is quite obvious how necessary it is for this conversation to continue on how to productively move forward. The media is and should continue to be, a public good; we are just in need of a new commitment to the important principles that will allow for a new age of journalism to thrive.

U.S. Conducting 'Night Raids' in Afghanistan

As President Obama's newly presented budget figures show an increase in war spending, journalist Anand Gopal has a very interesting piece that is posted over at the Nation.

The piece should be read in full and covers some troubling behavior that has become all too familiar to the discussion of the so-called "War on Terror". Gopal tells the story of how U.S. forces have been taking Afghani citizens from their homes during "night raids" and killing innocents in the process:

November 19, 2009, 3:15 am. A loud blast woke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni, a city of ancient provenance in the country's south. A team of US soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for Afghanistan's agriculture minister. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of them sleeping in the family's one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran toward the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted toward his injured cousin. He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor.


Weeks after the raid, the family remains bitter. "Everyone in the area knew we were a family that worked for the government," Qarar said. "Rahman couldn't even leave the city, because if the Taliban caught him in the countryside they would have killed him."

Beyond the question of Rahman's guilt or innocence, it's how he was taken that has left such a residue of hatred among his family. "Did they have to kill my cousins? Did they have to destroy our house?" Qarar asked. "They knew where Rahman worked. Couldn't they have at least tried to come with a warrant in the daytime? We would have forced Rahman to comply."

"I used to go on TV and argue that people should support this government and the foreigners," he added. "But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so? I don't care if I get fired for saying it, but that's the truth."

In addition to being abducted in the middle of the night, these "night raids" are usually just the beginning of the process:

Suspects are usually sent to one of a series of prisons on US military bases around the country. There are officially nine such jails, called Field Detention Sites in military parlance. They are small holding areas, often just a clutch of cells divided by plywood, and are mainly used for prisoner interrogations.


Of the twenty-four former detainees interviewed for this article, seventeen claim to have been abused at or en route to these sites. Doctors, government officials and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, an independent Afghan body mandated by the Afghan Constitution to investigate abuse allegations, corroborate twelve of these claims.

One of these former detainees is Noor Agha Sher Khan...


The interrogators blindfolded him, taped his mouth shut and chained him to the ceiling, he alleges. Occasionally they unleashed a dog, which repeatedly bit him. At one point they removed the blindfold and forced him to kneel on a long wooden bar. "They tied my hands to a pulley [above] and pushed me back and forth as the bar rolled across my shins. I screamed and screamed." They then pushed him to the ground and forced him to swallow twelve bottles of water. "Two people held my mouth open, and they poured water down my throat until my stomach was full and I became unconscious," he said. "It was as if someone had inflated me." After he was roused, he vomited uncontrollably.

Gopal goes on to describe suspicious deaths of Afghanis who were taken in these raids as well as citizens who are still unaccounted for after being abducted from their homes. Gopal states that some are more afraid of these night raids than they are of the Taliban.

The entire article is very interesting and I again urge you to read it in full, but these are the very topics that need to be discussed in full when President Obama continues to talk about pouring more money into this war. While drone attacks often make headlines, it is these covert operations, often carried out by Special Forces, that fly under the radar. When it becomes a viable strategy to scoop up seemingly random villagers in these raids to hold them, torture them, and then potentially release them, some very real questions needs to be asked about the long-term gains from such a policy.

Anand Gopal was also on Democracy Now! earlier in the week. You can watch his discussion on this issue by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Harold Ford Jr. Gets Grilled by Colbert

This clip of New York Senate Candidate Harold Ford Jr. (D-NY) on The Colbert Report from last night is a prime example of what a train wreck looks like.

Colbert calls out Ford on his shifting positions on various issues over the years and it isn't pretty:

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Revising Hell's History: Col. Larry James, Interrogation Policies, and Calls for Accountability

If ever the collective mindset surrounding a single word has changed over the last decade, it can be argued that the word “torture” must be high on that list. Prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, one may have used the word in passing to describe sitting through a boring lecture in college or their feelings about their grueling nine to five work week. Torture. Nearly a decade later, when one utters the word, their mind probably flashes to images that came out of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the many reports that have been released detailing how this word, how torture, became official governmental policy of the United States. The 2000’s took the concept of torture from that of something unlawful that was only put into practice by brutal dictators, to accepted policy that was put into place by a democracy. Torture had been rebranded and even had a snappy new euphemism: “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Cleaner, professional, sanitized.

Debates on the topic of interrogation policy lit up our television and computer screens. Were we really condoning torture…is the United States justified in using these techniques on detainees…do these policies break laws and should we investigate? We saw a Vice President insist that we (as a country) needed to go to the “dark side” to get information and we saw some defenders of these policies line up in support of what they would have been the first to condemn if done to a U.S. Marine. These were extraordinary times.

In the midst of it all, time continued its relentless march toward the future. America chose a new President who, amidst all of the questions that still surrounded this issue, insisted that we “look to the future” and not get caught up in the past. This new President boldly declared that the old era was over while still continuing to advance policies like extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention without charge. Now, in 2010 we no longer are witnessing intellectual arguments over policies surrounding torture on the evening news and the eight years under the previous Administration seem like an old memory. While there may no longer be a robust collective debate on this issue, there are moments when we are reminded of the continued ramifications that remain unresolved.

Most recently Scott Horton, a reporter for Harper’s, wrote a lengthy piece in which he blew the cover off of the official story of three deaths of detainees that were being held at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba in 2006. At the time, the deaths were reported as suicides, but new witnesses have come forward to strongly suggest that an investigation needs to take place about the potential that these detainees were killed at a separate “black site” just outside of the official prison grounds. The soldiers who came forward in Horton’s piece did so after they had approached the Obama Justice Department with their story:

The Justice Department thus faced a dilemma; it could do the politically convenient thing, which was to find no justification for a thorough investigation, leave the NCIS conclusions in place, and hope that the public and the news media would obey the Obama Administration’s dictum to “look forward, not backward”; or it could pursue a course of action that would implicate the Bush Justice Department in a cover-up of possible homicides.

The Obama Justice Department did the politically convenient thing and told the soldiers that there was no justification for any such investigation into a cover-up of the deaths of these detainees. This behavior, that of refusing to look into potential criminal behavior by the Bush Administration, is nothing new. Though there is continued insistence that the United States is a land where the rule of law reigns supreme, the actions that can be observed in cases like this one tell a different story. These actions tell a story of concealed truths and a dark history that is eagerly being swept under the rug. While it is evident that some wish to keep that history hidden from sight, others have decided to take an active role in crafting a new, revisionist history. This is a history where those in power in 2002 did not advocate for torturous policies, but instead recognized the evil of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” taking place in Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. This revisionist history consists of a narrative where those in leadership positions not only saw abuse, but actively took steps to correct its spread.


Col. (Ret.) Larry James is the author of Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib. James spent 22 years in the Army as a Colonel and was the Chair of the Department of Psychology at Walter Reed Medical Center. Currently, James is the Dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. In Fixing Hell, James tells the story of how he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in January, 2003 and to Abu Ghraib in the summer of 2004 in lieu of the discovery of abusive interrogation tactics. James claims that he was sent to both locations because the leadership wanted these abuses stopped and wanted his services as a psychologist in order to design humane methods of interrogation. Here is a passage from right before he was sent to Cuba:

“I would have to deploy to Cuba and replace Major Leso myself. Colonel Cooper and Colonel Banks agreed that this was the right course of action, particularly because things were getting worse down there. Gitmo needed an experienced senior Army psychologist with a significant background in correctional and forensic psychology.”

In his book, James immediately establishes the narrative that the problems at Guantanamo Bay were structural. James doesn’t claim that the command structure at the prison was partly to blame, but insists that “all problems” at the prison could be attributed to this flaw. He also makes it known that once he arrived at the prison in January 2003, there was some inappropriate behavior taking place. He even describes witnessing one such interrogation, but instead of interfering or reporting the abuse, he lets it play out (emphasis mine):

“I heard lots of yelling, screaming, and furniture being thrown around. I saw Luther and three MPs wrestling with a detainee on the floor. It was an awful sight. I wanted to run back to my room and wash my eyes out with bleach. The detainee was naked except for the pink panties I had seen hanging on the door earlier. He also had lipstick and a wig on. The four men were holding the prisoner down and trying to outfit him with the matching pink nightgown, but he was fighting hard. My first instinct was to rush in and start barking orders at the men, demanding they stop this ridiculous and abusive wrestling match. But I managed to quell that urge and wait. I opened my thermos, poured a cup of coffee, and watched the episode play out, hoping it would take a better turn and not wanting to interfere without good reason, even if this was a terrible scene. I waited several minutes, but with no good end in sight I had to act.”

This is the only instance in the entire book where James describes witnessing inappropriate conduct in detail during interrogations and despite the initial reaction of wanting to “wash his eyes out with bleach”, his response to this instance is to pour himself some coffee and not “interfere without good reason”. After James does decide to act, he simply speaks with the interrogator, suggests that he instead give the detainee a McDonald’s fish sandwich and the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, and claims that this new “humane” and trust-building tactic began to spread like wildfire throughout the prison.

During the five months that James spends at Guantanamo Bay, he states that he had free reign to put policies in place to stop the abuses and that psychologists only accessed the medical records of detainees to protect them, not use the information in coordination with interrogators to maximize the effects of the torture. Then, when it was time for Col. James to leave Guantanamo in May of 2003, he says that he was proud to know that he has instituted polices that fixed all of the problems stating that there have been “…no incidents of abuse at Guantanamo Bay by either an interrogator or psychologist reported since my arrival in Cuba in January 2003”.

The accuracy of James’ statement is contradicted by mountains of reports and articles that have been written not only since he left Cuba in 2003, but since his book was published in 2008.

Still, after James left Cuba in 2003, he was summoned to Abu Ghraib in June 2004 to, as he states, clean up the practices at that prison as he did in Guantanamo Bay. In his book he often claims that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were the result of bad leadership and how this led a handful of troubled soldiers to cross the line and commit these abuses. James tells the stories of how sexual frustrations played a role in the chaos at the prison and uses his “psychological expertise” to tell the reader how he knew one of the soldiers at the prison was a lesbian:

“I didn’t have to ask her if she was a lesbian, but as a highly trained psychologist I spotted all the signals that made that a pretty safe conclusion. At the very least, this was one tough gal, no matter her sexual orientation. Her voice was deeper than mine, and if I had any tattoos I’m sure that I would have chosen more feminine ones than hers.”

James tells the same kind of story in Abu Ghraib as he told in Guantanamo and how he became the leader that the prison needed to get turned around. He even makes the claim that there were “no more incidents of abuse reported by an interrogator or a psychologist” after he arrived in June 2004.

Even though James is a psychologist and represents himself as a medical professional, he describes an internal struggle that he has surrounding his role as both a soldier and a healer. Despite this conflict, James picks a side:

“It was clear to me that I was no longer a doctor but rather a combatant with the sole purpose of helping the Army kill or capture the enemy.”

It is this conclusion that leads to questions about whether James felt that he was a combatant when he was interacting with detainees at Guantanamo Bay and when he expresses disdain for groups and individuals that have been critical of United States policy. Here is how James describes the International Committee of the Red Cross in his book:

“Like most other soldiers, I saw the ICRC representatives as a bunch of radical left do-gooders, mostly from Europe, who were as interested in giving America a black eye as they were in truly helping the innocent. Every ICRC rep I met had long, disheveled ‘60s and ‘70s hairstyles as well as Birkenstock sandals—the consummate hippie motif. They thought all of the detainees were completely innocent and only needed to be hugged more.”

James denies that he ever did anything inappropriate or criminal while he was at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib and claims that his critics have no evidence to back up their charges. In fact, James claims that he was never at either location when abuses were occurring. This is a puzzling claim considering many publicly available documents that shed more light on the time period when James was stationed at Guantanamo Bay.


Col. Larry James, PH.D. arrived at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility in January 2003 as the Chief Psychologist of the Joint Intelligence Group and a senior member of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT). James’ stint at the prison facility lasted until May 5, 2003. According to what James wrote in Fixing Hell he was responsible for improving interrogation methods and his boss, Major General Geoffrey D. Miller, was also on board with implementing humane and respectful tactics:

“General Miller had discussed how I would be replacing Major Leso, and that it would be my job to teach the interrogators how to get intel without yelling, slapping, sleep deprivation, humiliation, or food deprivation.”


“While working with them [juvenile prisoners], I was still expected to oversee the rest of the interrogation process at Gitmo and to fix what had gone so wrong in the past.”

Through the words of James, it is quite clear that his role was to oversee the interrogation process and while he claims that he did, that abusive techniques were addressed, and that all the problems were fixed during his tenure, officially released documents tell another story.

In November 2008, the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded an investigation into the treatment of detainees that were held in U.S. custody. The bipartisan report was released on April 21, 2009 and covered military interrogations. Some of the conclusions that the report reached were as follows:

- Once President Bush made a written declaration on February 7, 2002 that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, it opened the door for techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, stress positions, and others to be used.
- High level Bush Administration officials and Cabinet members held meetings in 2002-2003 that specifically discussed interrogation techniques.
- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of “aggressive interrogation techniques” on December 2, 2002 was a direct cause of abuse at Guantanamo Bay.
- When Major General Geoffrey Miller visited Iraq in August and September 2003, he encouraged interrogators to be more aggressive during interrogations.
- The detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not the result of a few soldiers acting alone, but the techniques depicted in the infamous photos were the result of their approval in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

The 232 page report also details some of the behavior that transpired at Guantanamo Bay in the Spring of 2003, the same time period that Col. James was present and working to (in his words) “fix what had gone so wrong in the past”. Contrary to the statements made by James in his book regarding Maj. Gen. Miller, on Page 129 of the Senate Armed Services Report it states:

“General Hill’s March 21, 2003 memo stated that both he and MG Miller felt that approval of all of the previously authorized techniques (in Categories I, II and III) was “essential”. General Hill stated that ‘both Geoff Miller and I believe that we need as many appropriate tools as possible’ and called Category II and the one previously authorized Category III technique ‘critical to maximizing our ability to accomplish the mission, now and in the future.” The ‘critical’ techniques referred to by General Hill included stress positions, deprivation of light and auditory stimuli, removal of clothing, use of detainee phobias such as dogs, and the one Category III technique the Secretary had authorized, which included grabbing, poking and light pushing.

This was during a time period when Generals and a Working Group were looking into techniques that should be used and which techniques were appropriate at Guantanamo.

Also during this time period, the SASC Report states that a “Commander’s Inquiry” was launched to investigate claims that military personnel and military police were forcing detainees to participate in “physical training”. According to page 133 of the report, an interrogator, two analysts, and a member of the GTMO Behavior Science Consultation Team (the same BSCT team of which Col. James was a senior member) were interviewed for this inquiry. The report states that all of these figures “believed that the technique was appropriate, approved, applied properly, and was common practice…”

The report goes on to say that a subsequent memo (entitled a “Historic Look at Inappropriate Techniques used at GTMO”) was later filed and was very critical of the Commander’s Inquiry saying that it did not adequately review multiple claims of inappropriate behavior nor follow through with appropriate discipline. One of the incidents that was not reviewed, was one in which a female military interrogator wiped (what she told the detainee was) menstrual blood on his face and forehead. Furthermore according to the SASC Report, this “Historic Look” document concluded that:

"…the incidents occurring during the Spring of 2003 signif[ied] a consistent problem at GTMO.” It stated that it was “clear” that interrogators “may use several if not all of the techniques that require SECDEF notification.” The memo also concluded that the “interpretation of the SECDEF approved techniques has resulted in variations on how techniques are applied (i.e., is yelling, loud music and strobe lights environmental manipulation?)” and “[d]espite these revelations by interrogators, the supervisory chain of command reports that these techniques are not used.”

Not only does the SASC Report refute the claim made by Col. James that “…no incidents of abuse at Guantanamo Bay by either an interrogator or psychologist reported since my arrival in Cuba in January 2003”, but it also shows that these same patterns continued after James left GTMO in May 2003 after he claimed to have instituted policies “intended to prevent prisoner abuse at all military prisons.”

The SASC Report discusses the interrogation of Mohamadou Walid Slahi that began in July 2003 and went on through the end of that summer. Slahi was subjected to “variable light patterns” and “rock music to the tune of Drowning Pool’s ‘Let the Bodies Hit the Floor’”. Slahi was also shown a fake letter which contained information that Slahi’s mother had been captured and would soon be brought to GTMO. The fake letter also made sure to point out that she would be the first female prisoner at the “previously all-male prison environment.”

As the summer wore on, Slahi was reported to have been cooperative with interrogators yet his level of interrogation did not change. In an October 17, 2003 email that is highlighted in the SASC Report, that was sent from a GTMO interrogator to a member of the BSCT, it was discussed how Slahi was now hearing voices and knew that this was not normal. The member of the BSCT, LTC Diane Zierhoffer replied, “sensory deprivation can cause hallucinations, usually visual rather than auditory, but you never know…In the dark you create things out of what little you have…”

This is the same BSCT team that Col. James had been a senior member of only months earlier and where he claims he left in place policies that would prevent the abuse of future detainees.

It is clear through the SASC Report as well as through supplemental documents, that torture at Guantanamo Bay was instituted from the top down. It started with President Bush’s declaration that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the detainees at the prison, continued with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s authorizations, and percolated right down into the individual cells of detainees. As much as Col. James wants his readers to believe that the abuse stopped upon his arrival, it is overwhelmingly clear that it did not. Abuses happened during James’ 5 month tenure at the prison facility and it is clear that health care professionals were involved with interrogations. It is also clear that these problems were not “fixed” once James left GTMO and the Scott Horton piece that I reference in the introduction is further proof that suspicious deaths even occurred 3 years after James supposedly installed measures to protect against abuse.

Major General Miller, who Col. James mentions was on board with treating detainees humanely, made a trip up to Iraq in June 2003. This was one month after Col. James departure from GTMO. The SASC Report mentions that Miller thought they were running a “country club” in Iraq and that they were not “getting the maximum” out of the prisoners. When Miller was asked by another Major General what he meant, Miller replied, “you haven’t broken [the detainees] psychologically” and that he would get back to him on “some techniques you can use” to break them. The Abu Ghraib scandal broke in late 2003 and Miller was put in charge of the prison in March 2004.

General Miller’s conduct both during and after the tenure of Col. James in GTMO, should raise serious questions about the claims that Miller was trying to implement policies that would allow for the humane treatment of detainees. What should also be cause for concern is the amount of fundamentally misleading and false statements that can be found in Col. James’ book. From the characterization of Gen. Miller, to the statement about the absence of abuse at the prison post-2002, and to his statements about the role that he played during his tenure at the prison. When there are so many statements that seem to contradict various reports and official documents, one would think that it would only be appropriate to further examine the actual role that Col. James did play when so many documented abuses were ongoing. No in-depth investigations have been conducted and James is still a licensed psychologist in Louisiana, Ohio and Guam.


Currently, Col. Larry James is retired from the military and is the Dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Though retired from the military, James is still very much involved in issues of terrorism and the psychology of terrorists. This week, on February 3-4, James is leading a “Psychology of Terrorism Executive Workshop” at Wright State University. The stated goals of the Workshop are to:

- Define Psychological Terrorism
- Identify Types of Psychological Terrorism
- Discuss the role of the media in counterterrorism efforts
- Identify how demographics are used to recruit teenage terrorists
- Understand the psychological make-up of the suicide bomber
- Discuss strategies to prevent psychological terrorism

The website indicates that the intended audiences for this Executive Workshop are law enforcement officials, members of the Department of Homeland Security, DOD, and the Border Patrol. According to the agenda, there will be a total of four presenters at this Workshop (including James) and the program fee is $2,000 (lodging and transportation are not included).

The Campus Anti-War Network is planning to protest this event and there are continued calls from the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Canadian Center for International Justice, and Physicians for Human Rights to investigate James and his potential involvement in the abuses that took place in Cuba and Iraq. These organizations feel that it is important for those who were responsible for carrying out and implementing policies of torture, to be held accountable for their actions. It is also important to recognize the difference between actual accounts of what took place in GTMO, Afghanistan and Iraq and the revisionist history that is found in books like Col. James’ “Fixing Hell”.

This piece is cross posted here.