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“No Doubt It Works?”: Donald Trump Wants To Reclassify Waterboarding So It’s No Longer A War Crime For Him To Order It

While there was some discussion among the Republican candidates at Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire as to whether or not waterboarding was a form of torture (it is), Donald Trump went below and beyond everyone else on stage to insist that not only would he reinstitute waterboarding against America’s enemies, he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” as well. Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday morning, Trump elaborated on his position and confirmed that he would “go through a process and get [waterboarding] declassified” as a war crime in order to use it, “at a minimum,” against ISIS if he’s elected president. So far, Trump has not explained what forms of torture he would bring back that are worse than waterboarding, which is essentially simulated drowning. “You can say what you want I have no doubt that it does work in terms of information and other things,” Trump insisted to Tapper, though it’s worth noting that torture doesn’t actually work when it comes to gathering useful intelligence from prisoners.

Regarding the rest of the GOP field’s responses to the torture question Saturday night, Ted Cruz stood by the Bush-administration’s discredited assurance that waterboarding was a form of enhanced interrogation, not torture, though either way he wouldn’t “bring it back in any sort of widespread use.” Jeb Bush changed his position, from saying he wouldn’t rule it out, to last night saying that he was happy with Congress’s ban on waterboarding as it was. Marco Rubio dodged the question by insisting it would be inappropriate to discuss his future plans for America’s interrogation techniques. Regardless, though Rubio missed the Senate vote on banning torture, he has said he would have voted against the ban, and on Saturday night championed the idea of filling up Guantánamo with new prisoners to interrogate.

Though he was not asked about it on Saturday night, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has previously said he did not consider waterboarding torture and would not rule it out as an interrogation method. Carly Fiorina supports the practice as well. Ben Carson has made a statement that seems to suggest he would consider waterboarding prisoners, too. It’s not clear what John Kasich’s position is.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 7, 2016

February 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Enhanced Interrogation, Torture, Waterboarding | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republicans Want Revenge”: Democrats Elected The Guy Who Reminded Us About “e pluribus unum”

If you’re a Democrat who occasionally talks to Republicans, you might have heard this response when you point to the ridiculous charges that have been waged against President Obama: “Democrats did the same thing to George W. Bush when he was president.”

What can ring true about a statement like that is that a lot of Democrats thought that things like invading a country based on lies, sanctioning the use of torture, and skirting Constitutional processes by setting up a prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were actions that are antithetical to our values as Americans. Now listen to how Frank Luntz describes what Trump supporters think about President Obama:

…just about all of them think he does not reflect the values the country was built upon.

For those of you who think I’ve lost my mind by making that comparison, stick with me. I have a bigger point that I want to make beyond a question of whose argument is more grounded in reality.

It is true that liberals/Democrats were incredibly angry at the direction George W. Bush took this country. And so it is interesting to note who they looked to for leadership to change all that. They picked this guy:

Regardless of how you feel about the “values” that are/are not being threatened today, it is crystal clear that the direction Republicans are going these days with their anger is the opposite. As Luntz says, “Trump voters are not just angry – they want revenge.”

The anger these voters are feeling goes to something a lot deeper than what Luntz suggests with this:

His [Trump’s] support denotes an abiding distrust in — and disrespect for — the governing elite. These individuals do not like being told by Washington or Wall Street what is best for them, do not like the direction America is headed in, and disdain President Barack Obama and his (perceived) circle of self-righteous, tone-deaf governing partisans.

That pretty well captures how a lot of Democrats felt after the Bush/Cheney era. But it does very little to explain why so many Republicans are thrilled with Donald Trump’s ravings against Mexicans, Muslims, women, African Americans, etc. Nope…there is something much deeper at work here. I described it as a world view in its death throes.

So the next time a Republican tells you that their reaction to 8 years of a Democratic president is no different than yours was to 8 years of a Republican president, remind them of how differently Democrats handled that anger. Republicans are looking for revenge. Democrats elected the guy who reminded us about “e pluribus unum.”


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 30, 2015

January 1, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Donald Trump, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Our ‘American Sniper’ Sickness”: How American Exceptionalism Wrought Guantanamo

Let me begin with a disclosure: I have not yet had the chance to experience “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s phenomenally successful new film starring Bradley Cooper as the late Chris Kyle, the Iraq War veteran and Navy SEAL who is supposedly the most lethal long-range sharpshooter in U.S. military history. Aside from 1992’s “Unforgiven,” Eastwood’s searing anti-Western masterpiece, I’m not a big fan of the Man With No Name’s work, which I often find kitschy and generic. Still, my not having seen the film yet is due less to my qualms with the Chairman than the fact that, until recently, no one seemed to care much about the movie one way or the other. Funny what a $100 million opening weekend, and the “liberal” media’s Pavlovian fear of conforming to the out-of-touch coastal elitist stereotype, can do.

So rather than engage in the questionable practice of reviewing a movie I have yet to see (and which has already been ably reviewed by Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir), I’d like to focus instead on an analogy established in “American Sniper” that those who have had the opportunity to see it say is among its central themes. Namely, that all 7 billion-plus humans in the world can be separated into three groups: wolves, sheepdogs and sheep. The wolves are the bad guys, the theory holds, while the sheep are most everyone else. And sheepdogs? They act like wolves, but only in order to protect the sheep.

The lecture from Kyle’s father that brings the schema into “American Sniper” is apparently a creation of the film’s screenwriter, who may have borrowed it from former U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, according to a piece from Slate. But whether or not Kyle actually held this mindset himself isn’t too important, at least not for my purposes. What matters, instead, is the fact that the “sheep, sheepdogs, wolves” breakdown resonates so powerfully with millions of Americans — and not just those who’ve seen Eastwood’s latest. It may sound nice, as formulas that promise to simplify our impossibly complex world often do; but it can take its adherents to some hideous extremes.

At heart, the sheepdog analogy, at least in the context of “American Sniper” and the Iraq War, is a kind of Aesopian repackaging of the hoary idea of American exceptionalism. Rather than view every human being as an individual, capable of making any number of decisions based off of their history and circumstance, the sheepdog worldview essentializes its targets, divorcing action from identity. It’s not that wolves are wolves because they kill; sheepdogs do that, too. Wolves are wolves because, well, they just are. They’re the “bad guys.” It’s as simple as that.

Similarly, the sheepdogs, who are the real protagonists in this morality play, also cannot be recognized as such by anything they’ve actually done. Sheepdogs coerce, they intimidate, they bribe, they maim, they kill. The difference, of course, is that the sheepdogs’ target is always a wolf. Except when it isn’t. To take an example from the “American Sniper” trailer (which, as something of a movie-theater junkie, I’ve seen more times than I can recount), there’s at least one moment in the film when Kyle and his fellow sheepdogs have to decide how to treat the Iraqi women and children being manipulated or forced into helping the wolves.

But, at least in the trailer, when Kyle’s got a prepubescent in his cross-hairs, there’s little question of whether the child, if left unharmed, will be making it more likely that violence will befall a sheep or sheepdog in the near future. He will. He’s carrying a weapon. Instead, the only question in that moment is whether Kyle has what it takes to assume the sheepdog’s burden, knowing that, as one of his fellow-soldiers whispers, “they” (presumably the sheep in Washington) will “fry [him] if [he’s] wrong.” Having not seen the film, I don’t know whether Bradley Cooper’s Kyle ultimately shoots the little boy; but in the real world, in Afghanistan, soldiers were told to take lethal action against “children with potential hostile intent.”

There’s something else that sheepdogs do, something arguably more wolflike than anything mentioned above. It’s been in the news a lot lately, and I’d hazard a guess that its recent prominence has more than a little to do with the American public’s enthusiasm for a film that makes their country’s fundamental goodness crystal clear. It’s torture — and as we were reminded last fall, with the limited release of the Senate’s so-called torture report, it’s something American sheepdogs did during the early years of the war on terror. And they did it a lot.

According to a thoughtful and insightful essay at Vulture by author and Iraq War veteran Brian Turner, “American Sniper,” like countless Hollywood war movies before it, pays essentially no attention to what the war years felt like to non-Americans. And, needless to say, we pay even less attention to those non-Americans we’ve labeled as wolves, the ones we’ve decided to leave at the sheepdogs’ mercy. Which is why “Guantanamo Diary,” the just-released and heavily redacted memoir from Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a 44-year-old Mauritanian and longtime Guantanamo Bay prisoner, is so vital and so stunning. Written by Slahi in the colloquial English he picked up after spending more than a decade in the custody of his tormenters, the diary is as close as most of us will ever get to understanding the living hell this man — who has never been charged with a crime, and whom a judge ordered released in 2010 — continues to suffer.

Slahi’s book, which has been covered repeatedly and expertly by the Guardian, is an historical watershed and a literary triumph. I won’t even attempt to do it justice here. But I do hope that even those who don’t have the time, wherewithal or stomach to read it at least take a moment to think about how the kind of American exceptionalism typified by the sheepdog analogy can often play out in the real world, and in the lives of real human beings. In perhaps the diary’s most chilling moment, Slahi, desperate to end one of his countless rounds of pointless torture, all but begs the men who are beating, freezing, sexually abusing and sleep-depriving him to just say what it is they want to hear. When he tells them that, in order to “confess” to their outlandish accusations, he’d have to indict other innocents, these American sheepdogs respond with a revealing and total lack of concern.

“So what?” Slahi quotes his torturer saying. “We know your friends are bad, so if they get arrested, even if you lie about [redacted], it doesn’t matter, because they’re bad.” Guilty, innocent; why bother with a distinction? Slahi’s a wolf, regardless. And despite all of the pronouncements over the years from Americans who swore the morally disastrous war on terror had taught them valuable lessons, the popularity of “American Sniper” testifies that there’s one conclusion many of us are still unwilling to reach: We can tell ourselves we’re sheepdogs who protect the vulnerable flock from bloodthirsty wolves. But a sheepdog and a wolf act much the same way, and in the dark of a Guantanamo torture chamber, it can be hard to tell the difference.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, January 24, 2015

January 26, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Iraq War, Torture | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“With Or Without You”: Obama Leaves Obstinate GOP Behind With State Of The Union

With his penultimate State of the Union address, President Obama gave the speech that Democrats have always wanted him to give.

After six years of hedges and qualification, the president finally offered a confident, full-throated defense of his economic record, and of his progressive vision of government.

“Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis,” the president declared. “More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”

“It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years, and for decades to come,” Obama said. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

The president went on to lay out a program of “middle-class economics,” featuring tax cuts for working families, the expansion of paid sick leave, free community college, new infrastructure spending, and a higher minimum wage. He also highlighted his administration’s work on several issues close to the hearts of liberals, such as combating climate change, protecting the rights of LGBT people around the world, closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, defending the right to vote, and safeguarding elections from “dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter.”

While nothing the president proposed would have the impact of historically significant Obama-era achievements like the Affordable Care Act or the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, most of his proposals poll extremely well with the American public. And Obama practically dared Republicans to stand in their way.

“These policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns,” Obama said. “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.”

The president’s speech featured few surprises (in fact, the White House released a full transcript of Obama’s remarks before he even entered the House chamber). But the official Republican response from newly elected senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) contained even fewer. Her sunny speech had almost nothing to do with what Obama proposed; in fact, just seconds in, she flatly acknowleged that “rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities.”

Apparently, Republicans still think that those priorities include building the Keystone XL pipeline — which Ernst labeled the “Keystone jobs bill,” although it will create just 35 permanent positions — cutting taxes and spending, repealing the health care reform law, and little else.

“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare,” Ernst lamented. “It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.”

That statement betrays Republicans’ central political problem in 2015. For years, they have claimed that President Obama’s policies would lead to disaster. But now, as the GOP takes full control of Congress, those “failed policies” have resulted in a booming economy — an irony that the president noted in his address.

“At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits,” Obama said. “Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.”

Meanwhile, the GOP had no response except for  the same plans that it pitched at the depth of the recession.

It’s no secret that Republicans will dismiss most of the proposals that President Obama put forth during his speech. But the rest of the nation might not follow suit. According to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, 45 percent of Americans are happy with the state of the economy  — an 11-year high — and 49 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the issue. Democrats’ economic message is starting to resonate, and Republicans still don’t have a serious plan of their own.

If they don’t find one shortly, they risk seeing the national debate leave them behind just as they hope to win the White House in 2016.


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, January 21, 2015

January 22, 2015 Posted by | Economy, GOP, State of the Union | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Hollow Words”: The Wrong Argument At The Wrong Time From The Wrong People

Conservative critics of President Obama’s new Cuba policy are in a tough spot. The right can’t argue in support of the old policy because it obviously didn’t work. Republicans can’t point to public attitudes because most Americans have supported a change for years. Conservatives can’t say this will adversely affect the U.S. relationship with other countries because the exact opposite is true.

And so folks like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and others are instead making an argument based on Cuba’s horrendous record on human rights. This case is certainly based on reality – the Castro regime has been brutal and dictatorial – but as Digby argued yesterday, it’s hard not to marvel at the Republicans’ timing.

[Y]ou have to wonder if any of these people have the slightest bit of self-awareness. Do they have any idea how hollow their words sound when just a week ago they were condemning our own government for releasing a report that documented America’s own human rights abuses?

It’s absolutely true that the most notorious prison camp on the planet is in Cuba — but it’s run by the U.S. government. Guantánamo Bay is still open for business and its practices are still condemned the world over for its mistreatment of prisoners. And Ted Cruz’s lugubrious hand-wringing over the Cuban government holding people without due process would certainly be a lot more convincing if Americans hadn’t been holding innocent people for years in Cuba with no hope of ever leaving.

Referencing a Rubio tweet, Digby added, “To think that just last week the man who is preaching today about America’s commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was exhorting us all to thank the people who used torture techniques like ‘rectal feeding’ on prisoners in American custody.”

Those who condemn Castro’s human-rights abuses are on firm ground. Those who also celebrate torture as a tool of U.S. national security are not.

Of course, this isn’t even the end of the hypocrisy. Igor Volsky noted yesterday:

In August, top aides to [Marco Rubio] and [Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida] “took an all expenses paid trip to China this month courtesy of the Chinese government,” the Tampa Bay Times reported. The trips – by Rubio’s deputy chief of staff Sally Canfield and Ros-Lehtinen chief of staff Arthur Estopinan – included meetings with Chinese government officials and could have exceeded “$10,000 a person.”

At the time, Rubio spokesperson Alex Conant defended the travel to the Times, arguing that China is a strong economic competitor to the U.S. and that diplomatic relations could actually help spread American freedom and democracy to the world’s most populous nation.

Conant’s diplomatic argument is sound. In fact, a variety of Obama administration officials have been making the identical case this week as part of the rollout of the new policy towards Cuba.

Why diplomatic relations could actually help spread American freedom and democracy in some countries but not others remains unclear.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 19, 2014

December 21, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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