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“A Deeply Unhealthy Support For Barbarism”: Donald Trump Sees A Problem Only Torture Can Solve

The latest reports out of Turkey point to an increasing death toll following the terrorist attack at Istanbul’s busy Ataturk Airport, with 41 deaths and more than 230 injuries. U.S. officials, of course, have condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms.

In our presidential election, however, Donald Trump wasn’t satisfied with a condemnation.

The presumptive Republican nominee appears to have resisted the urge to say, “Called it!” which tends to be his go-to reaction in response to most major events. Trump did, however, manage to respond to events in Turkey in a deeply unsettling way.

Donald Trump on Tuesday prescribed fighting “fire with fire” when it comes to battling terrorism, seemingly making the case for using similarly brutal tactics as terror groups like ISIS have in the past.

The GOP’s presumptive nominee has been outspoken on enhanced interrogation, telling Tuesday’s enthusiastic crowd once again that he doesn’t think waterboarding is “tough enough” and that it’s “peanuts” compared to what terrorists have done in the past.

Trump seemed particularly annoyed that the United States feels the need to act lawfully. “We have laws; they don’t have laws,” the GOP candidate said last night in Ohio, adding, “Their laws say you can do anything you want and the more vicious you are the better.”

From there, Trump transitioned to emphasizing his support for barbarism. “You have to fight fire with fire,” he declared. “We have to be so strong. We have to fight so viciously. And violently because we’re dealing with violent people viciously.”

Trump added, “Can you imagine [ISIS members] sitting around the table or wherever they’re eating their dinner, talking about the Americans don’t do waterboarding and yet we chop off heads? They probably think we’re weak, we’re stupid, we don’t know what we’re doing, we have no leadership. You know, you have to fight fire with fire.”

In a CNN interview, Trump went on to say he intends to “change our law on, you know, the waterboarding thing” in order to “be able to fight at least on an almost equal basis.”

Or put another way, the Republican presidential hopeful evidently sees value in the United States becoming more like our enemies. Donald J. Trump genuinely seems to believe torture, chest-thumping rhetoric, and posturing are the foundations of an effective national security policy.

Anything else might look “weak.”

Here’s the part of this that Trump struggles to understand: crises are leadership tests. When the pressure’s on, would-be presidents have an opportunity to demonstrate what kind of leadership they can and would provide if elected.

In this case, Trump sees an ISIS attack on a NATO ally and his first instinct is to effectively say, “This looks like a problem torture can solve.”

Postscript: In case anyone’s forgotten, when the Senate Intelligence Committee examined the Bush/Cheney administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” senators found torture was ineffective, illegal, brutal, and “provided extensive inaccurate information.” Trump, in other words, has no idea what he’s talking about.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, National Security, Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tentative, Unprepared And Unaware”: Rough Interview Raises Awkward Questions For Sanders Campaign

If you talk privately to Hillary Clinton campaign aides, one of the more common complaints is that Bernie Sanders just hasn’t faced enough scrutiny. It’s ironic, in a way – Sanders supporters generally argue the Vermont senator doesn’t get enough attention from the national media, and in a way, Team Clinton agrees.

As the argument goes, much of the political world has treated Sanders as a protest candidate, who’s serious about putting his ideas in the spotlight, but less serious about actually winning the presidency – a dynamic Sanders’ own campaign has conceded was largely true at the start of the race. The result has been less scrutiny and a less robust examination.

Whether you find these concerns compelling or not, Sanders’ Democratic critics embraced this Sanders interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News with the kind of enthusiasm we haven’t seen all cycle. The Atlantic’s David Graham helped explain why.

There’s little doubting Bernie Sanders’s core political convictions – he’s been saying the same things for decades, with remarkable consistency. But turning convictions into policy is the challenge, and the Vermont senator’s interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News raises some questions about his policy chops.

Throughout his interview, Sanders seemed taken aback when he was pressed on policy – and not just on the matters that are peripheral to his approach, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or interrogation of detainees, but even on bread-and-butter matters like breaking up the big banks, the Democratic presidential hopeful came across as tentative, unprepared, or unaware.

It’s easy to overstate these things. A Washington Post piece called the interview, conducted on Monday and published yesterday, a “disaster.” A writer at Politico argued that when Sanders was pressed for specifics on trade and jobs, the senator was “not much better than Trump in his cluelessness.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s not unfair to note that the Daily News interview raised concerns about Sanders that the Vermonter has largely avoided after nearly a year on the campaign trail.

If the senator had flubbed a question or two, struggling with details on obscure areas outside his wheelhouse, it wouldn’t have made much of a ripple. But as Jonathan Capehart noted, this happened more than once or twice in this interview. Asked about breaking up the big banks, Sanders wasn’t sure about the Fed’s authority, or the administration’s. Asked about court fights over too-big-to-fail measures, Sanders conceded, “It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.”

There were a few too many similar answers. On negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Sanders said, “You’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer.” Asked whether the Obama administration is pursuing the right policy towards ISIS, he responded, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Asked about interrogations of ISIS leaders, Sanders said, “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”

This is a sampling. There were other related exchanges. They were not encouraging.

For Sanders’ supporters, I suspect the response is that the senator is leading a revolution by emphasizing broad themes and identifying systemic crises. Presidents don’t need to know a lot of specific details, the argument goes, so much as they need to establish clear goals.

For Sanders’ detractors, meanwhile, it’s likely this interview was evidence that Sanders’ understanding of major issues is, at best, superficial. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are technocratic wonks, fluent in granular policy details on a wide range of issues, and Sanders just isn’t in their league when it comes to knowledge, preparation, and breadth of expertise.

Obviously, observers will make up their own minds about the significance of the interview. But as an objective matter, Sanders is just now facing the kind of questions he’s avoided for months: there’s no doubt the senator has a clear vision and the ability to inspire his supporters to follow his lead, but how much does he know about implementing his goals? Sanders can paint beautifully with a broad brush, but how prepared is he when it comes to the unglamorous work of governing?

If the senator and his campaign have good answers to these questions, now would be an excellent time to offer them.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 6, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, National Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Dick Cheney’s America Is An Ugly Place”: Foremost Champion Of Amoral Patriotism, Residing Well Beyond Good And Evil

I used to like Dick Cheney.

I can still remember watching him on NBC’s Meet the Press back in the early 1990s, when he was serving as defense secretary under President George H. W. Bush. Whether he was talking about the collapse of the Soviet Union or making the case for expelling Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait, Cheney was impressive. Unlike so many career politicians and Washington bureaucrats, he came off as charming, sober, smart, unflappable, and sincere.

Today? Well, I’ll give him this: He still seems sincere.

Some day I hope some psychologically gifted writer will turn his attention to Dick Cheney and explore just what the hell happened to him after the Sept. 11 attacks. Something about the trauma of that day — perhaps it was the act of being physically carried by the Secret Service into the Presidential Emergency Operations Center under the White House — flipped a switch in his mind, turning him into America’s foremost champion of amoral patriotism.

The man interviewed on Meet the Press this past Sunday resides completely beyond good and evil. Despite the manifest failure of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” to generate actionable intelligence, he has no regrets whatsoever. (“I’d do it again in a minute.”) He expresses nothing but contempt for the Senate intelligence committee’s 6,000-page report, based on 6 million pages of documents, meticulously cataloging forms of treatment that virtually every legal authority in the world and every totalitarian government in history would recognize as torture. Waterboarding, “rectal feeding,” confining a prisoner in a box for a week and a half, dangling others by their arms from an overhead bar for 22 hours at a time, making prisoners stand on broken bones, freezing prisoners nearly to death — none of it, according to Cheney, amounts to torture.

What does constitute torture? For Cheney, it’s “what 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11.” (Maybe our military response to the events of that day should have been christened “The Global War on Torture.”)

Perhaps most stunning of all was Cheney’s response to Chuck Todd’s question about 26 people who, according to the Senate report, were “wrongfully detained” by the CIA at its overseas black sites. The imprisonment and torture of innocent people? “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.” The end justifies any means. Got it.

Cheney’s hardly the first person to defend such a position. Machiavelli advocated a version of it in The Prince. It’s been favored by some of the most ruthless nationalists and totalitarians in modern history. And it’s expressed in Book 1 of Plato’s Republic by the character Polemarchus (the name means “leader in battle”), who defines justice as helping friends (fellow citizens) and harming enemies (anyone who poses a threat to the political community). This is what patriotism looks like when it’s cut off from any notion of a higher morality that could limit or rein it in. All that counts is whether an action benefits the political community. Other considerations, moral and otherwise, are irrelevant.

The problem with this view, which Socrates soon gets Polemarchus to see, is that amoral patriotism is indistinguishable from collective selfishness. It turns the political community into a gang of robbers, a crime syndicate like the Mafia, that seeks to advance its own interests while screwing over everyone else. If such behavior is wrong for an individual criminal, then it must also be wrong for a collective.

But this judgment presumes the existence of a standard of right and wrong that transcends the political community. Just as an individual act of criminality is wrong because it violates the community’s laws, so certain political acts appear worthy of being condemned because they seem to violate an idea of the good that overrides the politically based distinction between friends and enemies.

There are many such standards. In the Republic, Plato’s Socrates nudges Polemarchus toward the view that true justice is helping friends who are good and harming no one. Then there are the Hebrew Bible’s commandments and other divine laws, Jesus Christ’s insistence on loving one’s enemies, categorical moral imperatives, and the modern appeal to human dignity and rights — all of these universal ideals serve to expand our moral horizons beyond the narrow confines of a particular political community and restrict what can be legitimately done to defend it against internal and external threats.

Against these efforts to place moral limits on politics stand those, like the former vice president, who claim that public safety depends upon decoupling political life from all such restrictions. Friends and enemies, us and them, with us or against us, my country right or wrong — it doesn’t matter which dichotomous terms are used. All of them emphasize an unbridgeable moral gulf separating the political community from those who would do it harm. And that gulf permits just about anything. Even torture. Even the torture of innocents. Even redefining torture out of existence in order to exonerate the perpetrators. Everything goes, as long as friends are helped and enemies are harmed.

That’s what Dick Cheney — along with a distressingly large number of Americans — understands by patriotism: a willingness to do just about anything to advance the interests of the United States and decimate its enemies.

Just like a lawless individual.

Just like a gang of robbers.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, December 16, 2014

December 17, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Meet The Press, Torture | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Painfully Obscene”: Dick Cheney’s Tortured Appearance On ‘Meet The Press’ Should Be His Public Swan Song

It pretty much goes without saying that any pundit or political writer coming from the left side of center can be expected to presume Vice President Dick Cheney to be nothing less than the political equivalent of Darth Vader.

However, there has remained a small cadre of left leaning pundits and commentators willing to give a fair hearing to the man who was arguably the most powerful Vice-President in the nation’s history—a group I previously would have included myself to be among.

After Mr. Cheney’s appearance on Sunday’s “Meet The Press”—where he employed twisted rationales coupled with outright, provable and painful lies to support his position on torture—finding a commentator from either side of the aisle willing to give credibility to Cheney, let alone those from the left, should prove exponentially harder if not completely impossible.

While there was nothing particularly surprising or odd about Cheney highlighting the politics that may have played a role in last week’s release of the Senate torture report, even the most ardent Cheney supporter had to question the logic of the Vice President’s answers—which are better characterized as retorts—most notably Mr. Cheney’s constant deflection of a question asking for his definition of illegal treatment of detainees.

Cheney’s response?

Torture is  “an American citizen on his cellphone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York on 9/11.”

Cheney would be right were he to pose this as an example rather than the defining metric when seeking to determine an act of torture.  The horrendous, unthinkable experience referred to by Cheney is, unquestionably, one example of inflicting torture—and a pretty good example of horrific torture at that—but hardly the sole method that Cheney insisted on pretending to be the case.

Yet, each time Cheney was asked for a more realistic and more encompassing definition of torture that would rationally go beyond any one particular example, he continuously returned to the experiences of our lost countrymen on 9-11. This seemed, in the mind of Dick Cheney, to be the only standard to be applied when determining if our interrogation methods may have exceeded the legal bounds imposed by the Geneva Convention for the treatment of detainees.

At a point, it became more than clear that Cheney had pre-planned this “non-answer” for his appearance, thinking it to be very clever.

By pretending that only a horrible infliction of agony similar to what was heaped on the victims of 9-11 would rise to a level that could be termed torture, the Vice-President was simply sending a coded message to his supporters to remind them that, given what the bad guys did to us, there was nothing too horrible that we could do to them—Geneva Convention be damned.

Of course, that includes waterboarding, a practice that Cheney continued to argue is not an interrogation method that constitutes torture or a violation of international law.

I can appreciate that there are a great many Americans who agree that torture should be employed in the circumstances we have faced in our battle with terrorists. Indeed, a CBS News poll out today reveals that while more than half of all Americans believe that waterboarding is torture, just a bit less than half of the American public believes that the use of torture is sometimes appropriate .

If Cheney had shown up on “Meet The Press” and argued that what we did was torture but that, in his estimation, it was completely appropriate to engage in such torture under the circumstances, a far more meaningful discussion could have ensured.

Instead, Cheney played a game of saying that what we did was not torture while winking to his loyal supporters in the audience in an effort to say that what we did certainly was torture…but you know you loved it.

In what might have otherwise been amusing, had the entire performance not been so painfully obscene, Cheney actually went on to admit that there did exist actions that constitute torture, separate and apart from the one and only criteria he was willing to subscribe to involving 9-11 victims.

When Chuck Todd reminded the Vice-President that the United States prosecuted and hung Japanese soldiers following WWII for engaging in the waterboarding of American soldiers, Cheney answered that this was not the reason we hung offending Japanese soldiers. According to Cheney, we prosecuted these people, “For a lot of stuff, not for waterboarding… and they did a lot of other stuff.”

 

By: Rick Ungar, Forbes, December 15, 2014

December 17, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Torture, Waterboarding | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Make This Monster Pay A Price”: Why We Needed To Hear From Dick Cheney One Last Time

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s time is about up, in many senses. For a Republican Party trying to look forward, he shouldn’t be a go-to voice for the media on national security policy. His sneering attacks on President Obama aren’t news anymore. The man who famously said, “It’s my new heart, not someone else’s old heart,” about the donor to his taxpayer-funded heart transplant should have lost the power to shock us by now. Unless he has a sudden attack of conscience, and apologizes for his career, he has nothing to say worth hearing.

Except on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report. There’s been some anger on the left that Cheney took his seat yet again on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, but I think he belonged there, one last time. Let the American people hear from the man who claims that interrogation methods we prosecuted after World War II, as well as others even more depraved, aren’t actually torture.

Cheney is such a monster that he couldn’t even keep himself from defending “rectal feeding.” While he acknowledged that it “was not one of the techniques that was approved,” he sanctioned it nonetheless. “I believe it was done for medical reasons. … It wasn’t torture in terms of it wasn’t part of the program.”

That would seem to imply that anything that was “part of the program” was torture, which of course Cheney denies.

Ironically, earlier on Fox News Cheney said, “I don’t know anything about” rectal feeding or rectal rehydration (he may well have been lying). But by the time he got to “MTP,” he wasn’t willing to let any torture method go undefended. And even host Chuck Todd noting that “the medical community has said there is no medical reason to do this” didn’t shame him.

Todd asked Cheney some tough questions about U.S. prosecution of Japanese officials who waterboarded Americans, about the fact that at least a quarter of the detainees were innocent and, of course, about rectal feeding. Unfortunately, Cheney either dodged or lied.

Their exchange about innocent detainees showed Cheney at his most sociopathic:

TODD: Twenty-five percent of the detainees, though, twenty-five percent turned out to be innocent. They were released.

CHENEY: Where are you going to draw the line, Chuck? How are –

TODD: Well, I’m asking you.

CHENEY: — you going to know?

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: Is that too high? You’re okay with that margin for error?

CHENEY: I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States. I was prepared and we did. We got the authorization from the president and authorization from the Justice Department to go forward with the program. It worked. It worked now for 13 years.

“I have no problem” if 25 percent of the people we detained and potentially tortured were innocent. Take that in. It’s the same mentality that leads to police shooting unarmed black men in the name of public safety. But it squares with Cheney’s famous “one percent doctrine” that governed the aftermath to 9/11: If there’s even 1 percent chance that terrorists might have a weapon of mass destruction, the U.S. should act as if it’s a certainty, and do whatever it takes to stop them.

It also squares with Cheney telling Larry King, about his lifesaving heart donor, “I don’t spend time wondering who had it, what they’d done, what kind of person.”

America’s torture architect got a new heart, but he can never get a soul. Americans needed to see that display of authoritarian arrogance on Sunday. But now let’s hope he goes away.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 15, 2014

December 16, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, National Security, Torture | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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