• On The BBC Defending Not Torturing People

    December 15, 2014 // 10 Comments »

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    I joined fellow whistleblower and former chief Guantanamo prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis on the BBC’s World TV recently to speak out against torture.

    Because most “journalism” these days defines objectivity as having people from bizarrely opposite sides of an issue yell at each other until time is up, I found myself “rebutting” a handful of nut jobs whose argument was basically that torture is good, or maybe useful, or vengeful, or whatever, as long as it hurts dirty brown Muslims because, 9/11. Witches deserved it. Also, torture works.


    Torture Worked at Salem

    Torture does indeed work, if your goal is simply to punish, humiliate or extract false confessions. One example of torture’s very successful use in American history was with the Salem witch trials. Innocent women in 17th century America were brutalized until they admitted to being witches. In one ingenious twist of logic worthy of their post-9/11 successors, the torturers devised a 100 percent effective strategy: hold a suspected witch under water until she either drowns (oops, not a witch, exonerated) or magically floats (confirming she is a witch) and then execute her. One way or another, you’re always correct!

    The logic holds for our modern day torturers. We learned than some 26 men held by the United States and tortured, some for years, truly had no connection to terrorism. Everytime they were waterboarded, threatened with death or beaten, they told the truth: they were not terrorists. However, their denials of culpability were taken merely as signs that more torture was needed to get them to confess.


    9/11 Left Us with No Choice

    One of the other points the troglodytes supporting torture, from the other guests on the BBC show to the Director of the CIA and the President, have brought up is the urgency and seriousness of the post-9/11 environment. They insist torture must be viewed in that light, not from the soft comfort of 2014. America had been attacked, and only through any and all means necessary could we protect her.

    Many other times America faced dire circumstances, most far more dangerous to the nation, when government-sponsored torture on a massive scale somehow wasn’t needed to prevail. The American Civil War, and WWII, especially in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, are two examples that come to mind. What made a handful of jihadis more dangerous?


    Ticking Time Bomb Scenario

    OK, OK, the ticking time bomb scenario. This one pops up as regular as bowel movements. Isn’t torture justified under a situation where a captured terrorist knows information that would stop a bus full of patriotic orphans from being blown up?

    Of course, no such scenario has ever existed, and is unlikely ever to exist. For a real 24 TV-like ticking time bomb scenario to exist, here’s what would need to fall into place: the U.S. would have to capture a terrorist in a timely fashion who knew the full, precise details (Monday morning, corner of 5th and Main, Columbus, Ohio, bad guy in white Prius), the U.S. would need to know that the terrorist indeed possessed this information, the U.S. would have to know only torture would elicit the information, the terrorist would need to “break” and give up the full, true information in a timely manner and the information would need to be transmitted to the appropriate law enforcement authorities wherever they were and they would need to act conclusively under whatever time pressures existed, and be successful in their intervention.

    Absent even one of those elements, there is no ticking time bomb scenario. It is a false argument for torture, as they all are.


    17th Century Morality

    But at the end of the day, what troubled me most was not the odd idea that the venerable BBC had stooped to scouring the world to find advocates of torture and given them an audience larger than those they normally addressed from under the rocks they live hidden beneath, or that journalism stoops so low now.

    The saddest thing of all is that in what is supposed to be the enlightened 21st century, with so many cries of “never again” echoing in our historical background, we are still forced to defend the notion that a country like the United States should not torture people. We have reverted to a 17th century morality.




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    I Finally Make It to Wikileaks

    February 12, 2014 // 17 Comments »

    Though I believe one of the alleged cables I allegedly wrote while allegedly employed by the alleged Department of State may have alledgedly been included in the 250,000 documents Chelsea Manning most certainly revealed to Wikileaks, I’m not supposed to tell.


    But now, thanks to an alert reader (DP, this one goes out to you), I have just found out that I officially made it to Wikileaks.


    The “GI Files” (General Intelligence files) published by Wikileaks, feature over five million emails from the Texas headquartered “global intelligence” company Stratfor. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as a publisher, but in reality provides confidential, subscription-based, intelligence services to large corporations, such as Dow, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including Homeland Security, the Marine Corps and the Defence Intelligence Agency.

    Wikileaks revealed that on June 13, 2011, one of my blogs posts was blended into an article published by the English-language Jordan Times, which was picked up by the BBC. Stratfor then republished the article, including BBC’s copyright, which included my stuff, as an intelligence product to its paying clients.

    Now, the implications of this are several-fold:

    — Obviously if you get your news from Stratfor, the BBC or the Jordan Times, stop wasting your time and just read my blog. It’s free.

    — How can the BBC copyright something I wrote?

    — How can jerks like Stratfor get away with charging people serious coin for republishing things off the internet/BBC/Jordan Times?

    — And lastly, I think somebody owes me a check (which I will donate to Wikileaks)


    Your move Stratfor.




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    Shipping Up to Boston: BBC, Brandeis, Brewery

    May 22, 2013 // 6 Comments »

    I was privileged while in Boston to sit at the WGBH PBS studios for an interview with the BBC Radio World Service.

    Our topic was the simmering chaos in free Iraq. With over 290 dead in the past month, the interviewer questioned me on whether things might get as bad as in 2006. My reply: They will get worse, because unlike in 2006 the American Army is not sitting in between the angry Sunnis and the Shias, meaning no third party is available to intercede. In addition, the sort of successful Sunni rebels in Syria (ironically supported by the US against the Shia government assisted by Iran, politics makes strange bedfellows) are at least an inspiration in Iraq and perhaps a source of arms. The Sunnis in Iraq appear now to be strong enough not to lose while not being strong enough to win, a prescription for more and more violence.

    I also noted for the BBC audience that the U.S. still maintains the world’s largest and most expensive embassy, in Baghdad, some 11,000 American personnel. Their role in abating chaos is of course zero. No one really knows why they are even there anymore; the embassy’s last role is simply as an artifact of our errors.



    Also while in Boston I had a chance to meet some of the students and faculty of Brandeis University. My hat tips to them for maintaining a broad curriculum that emphasizes social justice at its core, in every subject from Biology to Literature.



    Lastly, it must be noted that Boston is the source of America’s original patriots, the ones who truly believed in creating a nation based on the rights of people, and who were willing to stake their lives in pursuit of those inalienable rights. These men stand as a reminder to modern Americans that the real meaning of commitment means more than just making it to the gym three times a week.

    I thus dropped by the Sam Adams Brewery for a tour and tasting session, held under the oil-painted gaze of namesake Samuel Adams, Brewer and Patriot. Just because you believe in freedom doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time.





    Bonus: Those of you who don’t get the reference to Shipping Up to Boston better go get a beer and click here.



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    BBC Panorama Interview: What Would You Say to Bradley Manning?

    September 21, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    My thanks to the nice folks at the BBC’s Panorama show for coming all the way out into Northern Virginia to interview me on camera for a special documentary they are producing on the US and Middle East.

    The show airs in the UK, and hopefully will find its way to PBS or BBC America while we all can still afford cable TV. Panorama is the world’s longest running investigative television show. Suck that 60 Minutes.

    The questions were good, very introspective. The one that haunts me still was one I wasn’t sure how to answer: If you could talk with Bradley Manning, what would you say?

    What would you say to Bradley? Add your thoughts to the Comments below and I’ll email the best of them to the people at the BBC.




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