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Pick Your Team.

I'm with the goober on this.

From the Washington Post:
Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell came out in opposition today to White House-sponsored legislation to create special military commissions that would try terrorist suspects, saying he rejects efforts to "redefine" a key provision of the Geneva Conventions.

Powell, a retired Army general who formerly headed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated his position in a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of three Republican senators who are blocking President Bush's plan for military tribunals. The three -- who also include Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the committee -- are advancing an alternative tribunal bill that contains more protections for defendants.

I can only pay attention to so many issues at once. I have a life. I have to pick and choose what to focus my little brain on. So I have not paid a lot of attention to the issue of miltary tribunals.

I don't generally make up my mind on any issue depending on who supports and who opposes a particular approach. The idea ought to stand on its own.

But I occasionally make an exception. Like when on one side of the issue you have ten Nobel laureates, and on the other side you have Billy Bob the bait salesman from Gap-Toothed Joe's Bar and Grill. Doesn't mean I'll always go with the "smart guys" or the academics or the experts, but sometimes the choice of who to trust is pretty clear.

In this case we have George W. Bush on one side, and John McCain, John Warner, Lindsey (looks like a goober, talks like a goober, and yet is not a goober) Graham and Colin Powell on the other side.

George W. Bush vs. McCain, Warner, Graham and Powell. That's pretty easy.

Incidentally this plays hell with the Bush/Rove strategy of turning this against Democrats. Every Democrat House member facing a competetive race needs to have an ad loaded up and ready to go that says, "I voted with John McCain. My opponent is just another Bush rubber stamp."

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“Pick Your Team.”

  1. Blogger Alan Stewart Carl Says:

    Yeah. That's about the reaction I had to this story. I haven't analyzed the issue closely, but I gotta give a lot of weight to the side that attracts this line-up.

  2. Blogger Patrick Martin Says:

    So you think Sen. Graham, Secretary Powell, and Sen. McCain, who are more delicate about aggressive methods of interrogation of terrorists would be less reticent to blow up a collection of Taliban, along with assorted innocent attendees, at a funeral?

  3. Blogger amba Says:

    WTF? Left a comment here last night and it just vanished. I'm starting to feel like a ghost. Is this what it is to live in North Carolina? Are you doing this just to spook me? BWAHAHAHAHA . . .

    It was essentially the same as Patrick's. I agree in admiring Graham et. al., but -- how does your stand on this comport with your worry that we can no longer be ruthless enough in fighting a war? Aren't you contradicting yourself? (I know, I know: Whitman: "Well then, I contradict myself . . . I contain multitudes.") If it's OK to slaughter innocents for the goal of our survival and triumph, why is it not OK to imprison and torture the innocent along with the guilty? Ya gotta drown a few dolphins to catch tuna fish, etc. etc. . . . I'm playing devil's advocate. Please explain.

  4. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    McCain used to drop bombs on people. I think he'd have dropped one here.

    It's not a question of being delicate with terrorists. (And innocent atteendees don't stand in formation.) It's a question of American values. We're not trying to be nice to terrorists, we're trying to be Americans.

  5. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    Amba:
    There's what you do to people in battle, and there's what you do to people in your custody. Criminal with a gun, we shoot. Criminal in handcuffs, we feed.

    Throughout WW2, even while we were burning German cities to the ground, we were decent to their POW's. We have international law -- and a set of basic beliefs as well - on how POW's should be treated. In part it's self-serving: we want our POW's treated decently. Yes, of course we know what Al Qaeda does to prisoners, but AQ will not be the last adversary we fight. We may be fighting China or some other nation-state in twenty years and we'll want to have established some minimal standards on POW's.

    Ruthlessness in battle serves a purpose. I'm not convinced that waterboarding does, a lot of experts say it does not. A tortured man tells you what you want to hear. This adminsitration already has the problem of hearing only what they want to hear.

  6. Blogger amba Says:

    OK, good. Thank you. That's what Graham has been saying too, since way back when: This is about who we are -- both in our souls and in the eyes of the world. It's one of those places where morality and strategy align.

    There's only one gap in your reasoning, and that is that there's no longer any such thing as "battle" in the ancient and honorable sense when the enemy weaves himself through the civilian population. The answer must be that the enemy who fights that way actually bears the moral responsibility for the deaths of his own civilians, even as he scores a propaganda victory by making the would-be honorable warrior appear to be a butcher.

  7. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    Amba:
    You know, I think the honorable way of battle is so historically rare as to be almost but not quite a myth. You remember in Henry V (or the real life battle of Agincourt) when the French end-run the Brits and kill all the boys in the supply train?) The slaughter or rape (or both) of civilians has a regrettably long history.

    There were some clean, stand-up warrior on warrior battles, to be sure, but it's hard to find a war where that rule wasn't discarded in extreme circumstances.

    The Taliban fight is classic guerilla insurgency married to some terrorism. Not much different than the war we were fighting in Vietnam or the Philippines or Bleeding Kansas or against the Seminoles.

  8. Blogger Patrick Martin Says:

    We're treating most of our prisoners pretty damn well, it looks like. That we subject a few, like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, to some aggressive interrogation techniques is hardly dishonorable.

    Personally, I would find it dishonorable to intentionally target a bunch of people assembled at a funeral, no matter how bad they are, just as it is generally considered dishonorable to lob grenades at people after the battle is over while the other side is collecting the bodies of the fallen.

    If ruthlessness in battle serves a purpose (making the enemy fear us, you said elsewhere), why wouldn't beating the crap out of them after we klil them? If you really believe they aren't going to love us no matter what (and presumably that applies to all future enemies as well), then to what purpose are we decent and humane to them after they're captured?

    As for hoping that our captured soldiers will be treated well by future enemies one day, I don't see it. The only enemy we've fought in recent memory that treated our POWs even close to decently was the Nazis. Most of the people we are every likely to really wage war with don't share our cultural values. They don't care all that much, except for PR purposes, how we treat the prisoners we take, because they don't value individual human life the same way we do. And if we ever get in a fight with someone who does, like Russia maybe, it's going to be a big conflict with its own rules.

    I'm with McCain and Graham on this issue. But to suggest that our own values must dictate how we treat prisoners but not how we wage war is simply inconsistent. You have preached, over and over, the "total war" doctrine. Put the boot on their neck, you say. Make them fear us. Crush them. Care not for innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, you've at least implied. Well, if we're going to do that, then let's make them fear us all the way around. I'd much rather they hate us because we vigorously interrogated a terrorist picked up in battle than because we killed some women and children attending papa's funeral. I think your positions are entirely inconsistent with one another.

  9. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    Patrick:

    I don't think I ever said our purpose was to make people fear us, I just that I put more stock in fear than in affection. The goal in war is to prevail. The best way to do that, historically, is to destroy the enemy's army and his ability to field a replacement army.

    If I thought we could somehow gain so much affection from the tribal areas that the Taliban would be incapable of replacing fallen fighters I'd be all for it. I just don't think it's possible. And historically we've made our greatest p.r. gains after we won, not after we lost. The world did not fall in love with us after Vietnam.

    Our purpose is not simply to terrorize (although that's part of it) but to destroy an enemy's capacity to fight. Beating up prisoners doesn't accomplish that. Even if in some very few circumstances it did, we have to weigh it against the down side: setting precedent for the future and corrupting our own military personnel among other issues.

    What happens on a battlefield to an enemy is one thing. What happens to a prisoner is another. It's certainly a fuzzy line which is why troops in the past (even the greatest generation) often killed prisoners.

    But the rule of thumb has been that savagery in battle is different than savagery against a shackled and defeated foe. It becomes even more different when we are talking about people we propose to run through a legal system. At that point it becomes a question of reverence for our own laws, and our own legal traditions -- remember, they would be tried under US law, whether it was the uniform code or some jury-rigged system.

    I'll repeat the example I gave Amba: a criminal has a hostage and is threatening to kill? Shoot him. The criminal surrenders and becomes a prisoner, we extend legal protections. Logically inconsistent, perhaps, but essential just the same.

  10. Blogger amba Says:

    Just for the record, here's my take on torture.

    What I detested about Abu Ghraib was the indiscriminate, amateur, sadistic extension of torture and humiliation to people who had been rounded up in some sweep and might or might not have anything at all to do with terrorism.

    We know who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is and what he may know. He is not some poor schmuck who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. If bad things happen to him in secret places it's OK with me, especially if it is done in skillful enough alternation with respite and calculated mercy to elicit real information, but I think it should be reserved for very high value targets, should be a classified transaction between an unfortunate but necessary class of professionals, and should be done off the books and even against stated, enforced policy -- so that it always remains the rare exception, not the rule.

  11. Anonymous Bob J Young Says:

    It's strange how bush keeps shooting himself in the foot.
    Didn't anyone in the White House think to take a headcount in the senate before proposing this plan?

    On the other hand there is a distinct smell of fear coming from the president. I watched his performance when he announced the existence of the secret prisons. He struck me as a man afraid of going to jail. I get the impression this legislative push is more about keeping himself from being impeached rather than terrorists.

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