After we honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we need to leave the day behind. As a nation we have looked back for too long. We learned lessons from the attacks, but so many of them were wrong. The last decade was a detour that left our nation weaker, more divided and less certain of itself.
Reflections on the meaning of the horror and the years that followed are inevitably inflected by our own political or philosophical leanings. It’s a critique that no doubt applies to my thoughts as well. We see what we choose to see and use the event as we want to use it.
This does nothing to honor those who died and those who sacrificed to prevent even more suffering. In the future, the anniversary will best be reserved as a simple day of remembrance in which all of us humbly offer our respect for the anguish and the heroism of those individuals and their families.
But if we continue to place 9/11 at the center of our national consciousness, we will keep making the same mistakes. Our nation’s future depended on far more than the outcome of a vaguely defined “war on terrorism,” and it still does. Al-Qaeda is a dangerous enemy.
But our country and the world were never threatened by the caliphate of its mad fantasies.
We asked for great sacrifice over the past decade from the very small portion of our population who wear the country’s uniform, particularly the men and women of the Army and the Marine Corps. We should honor them, too. And, yes, we should pay tribute to those in the intelligence services, the FBI and our police forces who have done such painstaking work to thwart another attack.
It was often said that terrorism could not be dealt with through “police work,” as if the difficult and unheralded labor involved was not grand or bold enough to satisfy our longing for clarity in what was largely a struggle in the shadows.
Forgive me, but I find it hard to forget former president George W. Bush’s 2004 response to Sen. John Kerry’s comment that “the war on terror is less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement operation.”
Bush retorted: “I disagree — strongly disagree. . . . After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.” What The Washington Post called “an era of endless war” is what we got, too.
Bush, of course, understood the importance of “intelligence gathering” and “law enforcement.” His administration presided over a great deal of both, and his supporters spoke, with justice, of his success in staving off further acts of terror. Yet he could not resist the temptation to turn on Kerry’s statement of the obvious. Thus was an event that initially united the nation used, over and over, to aggravate our political disharmony. This is also why we must put it behind us.
In the flood of anniversary commentary, notice how often the term “the lost decade” has been invoked. We know now, as we should have known all along, that American strength always depends first on our strength at home — on a vibrant, innovative and sensibly regulated economy, on levelheaded fiscal policies, on the ability of our citizens to find useful work, on the justice of our social arrangements.
This is not “isolationism.” It is a common sense that was pushed aside by the talk of “glory” and “honor,” by utopian schemes to transform the world by abruptly reordering the Middle East — and by our fears. While we worried that we would be destroyed by terrorists, we ignored the larger danger of weakening ourselves by forgetting what made us great.
We have no alternative from now on but to look forward and not back. This does not dishonor the fallen heroes, and Lincoln explained why at Gettysburg. “We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground,” he said. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” The best we could do, Lincoln declared, was to commit ourselves to “a new birth of freedom.” This is still our calling.
By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2011
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to cut taxpayer funding for non-military elements of the Defense Department, starting with making retired, uninjured service members pay more for what he described as “extremely low-cost health care for life” for themselves, their wives and dependents under the Tricare Prime system.
For military retirees eligible for Medicare, he also wants to raise the co-payments that they are charged to be in Tricare for life, the second payer for health care after Medicare. In addition, he wants to increase low fees that Tricare beneficiaries pay for pharmaceuticals purchased at their local drugstores.
Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates proposed raising Tricare Prime enrollment fees for single retirees from $230 a year to $260 a year and fees for retiree families from $460 a year to $520 a year. Coburn wants the fees to be much higher and more in line with private-sector health plans.
Part of his concern is fairness, first for uninjured veterans who, for example, served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan but “leave the military without serving 20 years [and] are not entitled to any of these health-care benefits.” They represent some 70 percent of those serving, according to Pentagon officials.
Another comparison he makes is to other federal government workers whose plans are not as cheap. A medical doctor, Coburn told reporters last Monday: “Nobody in the country, as a single person working 20 years for the government, should be able to get health care for $250 a year. Nobody was ever promised that, and nobody should be able to do that.”
Instead, he wants to increase the enrollment fee for single retirees to “approximately $2,000 per year and $3,500 for a family.” At the same time he would limit out-of-pocket expenses at $7,500 for those retirees with families. He thinks these changes could save $11.5 billion a year.
His Tricare for life would require retirees to pay up to $550 for half the initial cost not covered by Medicare and then up to $3,025, after which all costs would be paid by Tricare. This change could save $4.3 billion a year.
Coburn wants to reduce the $8 billion annual government share of the cost of drugs that Tricare beneficiaries purchase from their local private retail pharmacies rather than buying them at lower cost by mail order or at military base facilities. Where the price is now $3 for a 30-day supply of a generic drug and $9 for a brand-name from private pharmacies, Coburn would raise that to$15 for generic and $25 for brand names and save some $2.6 billion a year.
Coburn told reporters he has no doubt about the reaction to his Tricare ideas.
“There’s no question,” he said, “. . . retired military, they won’t like what I’ve done. But the fact is is nobody’s going to like what we’ve done, because everybody gets a pinch — everybody. ”
Beyond health care, Coburn has several other proposals that will rattle the Pentagon. He wants to eliminate most of the $1.3 billion-a-year subsidy that supports the Defense Commissary system of 252 grocery stores on military bases worldwide. Prices at commissaries are much lower than at civilian supermarkets; they are listed at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge. That money goes to offset costs of new commissaries or to repair and maintain old ones. It does not pay for salaries and benefits of the roughly 18,000 people who work at the commissaries.
Coburn supports a Congressional Budget Office proposal that would reduce the taxpayer subsidy over five years and see a gradual raise in prices so commissaries could become self-sufficient. The increase in cost, according to the CBO, would amount to $400 per service family per year and save the government about $900 million annually.
He also wants to close down the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, which for more than 20 years has added around $200 million a year primarily for breast, lung and prostate cancer projects that have to be managed primarily by contractors. Coburn’s option is to “transfer funding for cancer research that affects the general population back to [the National Institutes of Health] and reduce the administrative costs of administering this research for savings.”
By: Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, July 24, 2011
To the anti-union governors, the Tea Partyers, the whiner down the street who is convinced that everyone in the public sector enjoys a high salary and benefits for doing a cushy job, let us consider the government worker whose effort we have witnessed in the past week.
Let’s start with all the career intelligence staffers—and this includes those who worked under the Bush administration—who have been looking for clues for a decade to chase down and capture or kill Osama bin Laden. These include people who may have had small successes that led to last week’s big success. Or they may have had enormous successes we don’t even know about: Who can say how many major terrorist attacks our teams at the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the White House, and the Pentagon have averted through good intelligence work? They can’t say. It would endanger their work. And when people complain about what they do—or don’t do—they just have to suck it up and keep quiet, lest they tip off terrorists.
There are some pretty high-level government workers to thank—President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. First, kudos to Obama for offering Clinton the job at State after a bruising and testy primary fight. Kudos to Clinton, as well, for accepting it. Being in government service, at any level, means setting aside personal gripes for the sake of the public. They both did that. And if Clinton had a problem with the United States going into Pakistan to get bin Laden—an idea she questioned during the primary campaign—she surely got over it, and presumably was deeply involved in the diplomatic gymnastics required before and after the raid.
And how about the Navy SEALs, who are, after all, government workers as well? They conducted a brilliant surgical strike on the most wanted man in the world, and we will likely never know their names, never be able to approach them on the street just to say thanks. They’re used to that; they are, I imagine, OK with that. Service isn’t about personal aggrandizement or fame. It’s about doing your job, sometimes anonymously.
And underneath these teams are the support staff who helped the intelligence workers and high-ranking officials and military people do their jobs. They, too, helped make this mission happen.
To the antigovernment forces who repeatedly ask the (hopefully) rhetorical question, “What good is government? Name me one government program that has worked.” Of course, we can start with roads and bridges, public libraries, Social Security, public education, and a raft of other items. But for those who can’t even see the value in those public works, we have the teams that worked for a decade, over two administrations, to get bin Laden. This is what your government does, and it was carried out by government workers. They deserve thanks—not derision.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and Worl Report, May 9, 2011
Did torture work? This is the question everyone is asking after Osama bin Laden’s death and the revelation that his fate was sealed by the identification of a courier whose nom de guerre emerged from the interrogation of top al Qaeda operatives who were known to have been subjected to waterboarding and similar techniques. “Did brutal interrogations produce the intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?” a May 3 New York Timesstory asked.
This is hardly the first time we’ve had this debate. In 2006, my team of interrogators in Iraq located local al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by identifying and following one of his spiritual advisors, Abu Abd al-Rahman. Eric Maddox, a U.S. Army interrogator, found Saddam Husseinby similar means, identifying his former bodyguards. It’s these little pieces of information that form the mosaic that gradually leads to a breakthrough. But how best to get those little pieces?
Current and former U.S. officials and their supporters have been quick to argue that “enhanced interrogation techniques” and waterboarding led to the identification of the courier’s alias, which started U.S. intelligence down the road to bin Laden. The day after the al Qaeda leader’s death was announced, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the House Homeland Security Committee chair, told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that “For those who say that waterboarding doesn’t work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information [from waterboarding] that directly led us to bin Laden.” John Yoo, the former U.S. Justice Department official who drafted the George W. Bush administration’s legal rationales for officially sanctioned torture, repeated the claim and praised“Bush’s interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produced this week’s actionable intelligence.” The torture bandwagon has started to kick into high gear. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In fact, the information about the existence of a courier working for bin Laden was provided by several detainees, not just waterboarded al Qaeda operatives Kalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi — we had one detainee in Iraq who provided information about a courier in 2006. The key pieces of information, however, were the courier’s real name and location. His family name was first uncovered by CIA assets in Pakistan through other sources. The NSA subsequently figured out his full real name and location from an intercepted phone call. Waterboarding had nothing to do with it.
Moreover, common sense dictates that all high-ranking leaders have couriers — and their nicknames do little to lead us to them. This is because many members of al Qaeda change names or take on a nom de guerre after joining for both operational security and cultural reasons. The names are often historically relevant figures in the history of Islam, like the Prophet Mohamed’s first follower, Abu Bakr. Think of it as the equivalent of a boxer taking on a nickname like “The Bruiser.”
Understanding these cultural nuances is just one critical skill interrogators must have to be effective. The other is an understanding of the social science behind interrogations, which tells us that torture has an extremely negative effect on memory. An interrogator needs timely and accurate intelligence information, not just made-up babble.
What torture has proven is exactly what experienced interrogators have said all along: First, when tortured, detainees will give only the minimum amount of information necessary to stop the pain. No interrogator should ever be hoping to extract the least amount of information. Second, under coercion, detainees give misleading information that wastes time and resources — a false nickname, for example. Finally, it’s impossible to know what information the detainee would have disclosed under non-coercive interrogations.
But to understand the question “Does torture work?” one must also define “work.” If we include all the long-term negative consequences of torture, that answer becomes very clear. Those consequences include the fact that torture handed al Qaeda its No. 1 recruiting tool, a fact confirmed by the U.S. Department of Defense’s interrogators in Iraq who questioned foreign fighters about why they had come there to fight. (I have first-hand knowledge of this information because I oversaw many of these interrogations and was briefed on the aggregate results.) In addition, future detainees will be unwilling to cooperate from the onset of an interrogation because they view all Americans as torturers. I heard this repeatedly in Iraq, where some detainees accused us of being the same as the guards at Abu Ghraib.
The more you think about, the less sense torture makes. U.S. allies will become unwilling to conduct joint operations if they are concerned about how detainees will be treated in U.S. custody (an argument made by the 9/11 Commission, among others). And future enemies will use our actions as justification to torture American captives. Torture also lowers our ethical standards to those of our enemies, an ugly shift that spreads like a virus throughout the Armed Services; witness the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the recent murders of civilians in Afghanistan.
Most importantly, we should be talking about the morality of torture, not its efficacy. When the U.S. infantry becomes bogged down in a tough battle, they don’t turn to chemical weapons even though they are extremely effective. The reason they don’t is because such weapons are illegal and immoral.
During the Revolutionary War, one top general made the point that torture was inconsistent with the fundamental beliefs of our founding fathers. “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to insure any [prisoner] … I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require,” he wrote to his troops in the Northern Expeditionary Force in the first year of the war. The general in question was George Washington. There’s a reason we pledge to believe in “liberty and justice for all” and not “liberty and security for all”: It’s because we place our values and principles higher than we place our security. When we cease to do so, we forfeit our right to be called Americans.
We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him. American interrogators safely guided us through World War II without the use of torture, fighting an enemy and interrogating prisoners every bit as brutal and dedicated as the members of al Qaeda. Our interrogators continue to prove time and time again that they are smart enough to outwit al Qaeda’s best and brightest. No one should ever doubt that we have the mental and ethical fortitude to win this war — and to do it without lowering ourselves to the level of our foes.
By: Matthew Alexander, Foreign Policy, May 4, 2011