Monday, August 31, 2009

Only a foolish reactionary would assert that "there are no women philosophers"


        I correspond now with many Straussians, and am very engaged in a debate about how Strauss bred dark reaction in American politics.  One, skeptical of patriarchy in philosophy but not entirely convinced about it, wrote me the following note:

       “I do not for a moment think that [Strauss’s] belief in women’s intellectual inferiority was a response to having been rejected by Arendt.  That belief is rooted in Plato and Aristotle, indeed, in all the authors whom Strauss most admired; and it is rooted in Jewish tradition, perhaps even in Hebrew Scripture.  It seems wrong, but it is not irrational.  [The act of the woman at the American Enterprise Institute’s who announced I am a philosopher, turned her back on Allan Bloom and walked out] was great fun, but it was not a sufficient refutation.  Nor, let us be perfectly honest, was his assertion sufficiently proven.  We have decided today to ignore that argument.  But we have not yet shown that it is false, have we?”

       My Democratic Individuality, ch. 1, is a straight up refutation of all forms of bigotry about human equality (that we all have an equally sufficient capacity for moral personality to understand the law and participate in political life).  It focuses on the issue of slavery, but the subjection of women, or anti-semitism/Orientatism towards jews and Arabs or any putative justification of colonialism is equally at issue.  In modern philosophy, scientific explanations, like ordinary ones, are forms of induction  (Only mathematics is deductive).  This style of explanation, either in a detective novel or about slavery and sexism or about quantum mechanics is named inductive inference to the best explanation in a famous article by Gilbert Harman, Philosophical Review, 1965.   Through analysis of relevant evidence (determined by the relevant contending theories), it may turn out that a surprising hypothesis is in fact such an explanation.  The argument I give shows that so-called  natural slavery – and slave-hunting as a form of just war – believed by Greek slave-holders and even Aristotle are rightly rejected by Montesquieu and Hegel on Aristotelian grounds (there are not distinct groups of people who lack the mental capacity to govern themselves and “need” to be ruled by others).

        To certain hidebound reactionaries (and in this respect, Leo and his followers Bloom and Dannhauser, are mustily reactionary), it is just obvious that there are no women philosophers.

        Unfortunately, for Leo, Hannah Arendt, who was a more imaginative and creative Heideggerian and in fact, her own person philosophically much more than Strauss,  taught right down the hall at Chicago.  Arendt has a view of power, resting on the coming together of people nonviolently versus the inefficacy of (elite) violence in revolutionary circumstances which may be the single most powerful argument illuminating the potentials of nonviolent movements (In The Unconquerable World, Jonathan Schell adapts it; it is his central argument in a very good book).  Arendt’s 1967 view precedes and foreshadows the fall of the authoritarian regimes or what are perhaps inadequately called totalitarianisms in Eastern Europe in 1989. This is a more significant and interesting argument – just one argument of Arendt’s – than any produced by Leo Strauss or any follower of Strauss, period (as Leo used to say).  It is also vastly superior to Max Weber’s influential Nietzschean reduction of ideas to power, his misguided notion that states control the means of violence in a territory and have only forms of legitimacy, a view that renders nonviolence, as it is with Strauss (who was in this respect, a Weberian or a crude Nietzschean) outside politics altogether.  But this view now dominates American political science and sociology, what I sometimes style Weber with the lights gone out (see Democratic Individuality chs. 9-12).  In his view, violence is power and dominant; legitimacy is secondary, an adjunct to successful coercion.  In contrast, her view makes the power of oppressed people (with an implied common good) central and repressive violence ineffectual.  In a Nietzschean idiom,  Arendt’s view transvalues Weber’s terms in a revelatory way of thinking about power from below (even the Chinese Communist Revolution which she mistakenly dismisses as coming from the barrel of a gun).  This is just one important argument by Arendt. 

      In ethics and social theory, today, Martha Nussbaum is a very important figure.  She worked out with Amartya Sen the notion of individual capabilities - that we should judge development or democracy on the basis of its furthering of individual capabilities, and not misleading judgments about average per capita income or idle statements about how democracies don’t go to  war with one another (see here and here).  In Development as Freedom, based on this argument, Sen adapts his own previous work on famine to show that no society which has an opposition newspaper (as in modern democratic India) has a famine as opposed to British-ruled Calcutta in 1943.   This is, once again, a very large philosophical or social theoretical argument, perhaps the most telling one on behalf of party-competition as opposed to an authoritarian alternative. The two arguments together – one by a woman, the other by a man who collaborated with a woman - are certainly among the most significant arguments in ethics/political philosophy/social theory of the last half century. 

       As I have noted repeatedly, Strauss was a brilliant scholar and his exoteric/esoteric distinction sometimes casts enormous light on ancient and medieval thinkers.  Yet he offers no interesting philosophical arguments (his arguments are driven by a sublimely reactionary standpoint, without attention for example to why any person might be a modern democrat or without offering any intelligent argument against democratic views; instead, he invokes the mantra of Nietzsche’s “last men.”)  As argument, his emphasis on hidden writing, however insightful as scholarship,  is often radically defective.  In the Republic, Plato offers a great psychological indictment of tyranny; yet he points hiddenly, I suggest, to the notion that a tyrant of a certain kind becomes a philosopher-ruler or philosopher-tyrant.  The surface argument refutes the esoteric pointing; the argument as a whole is incoherent or  self-refuting (see my “Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?,”  Constellations, March 2009, here).

        Mike Goldfield  points to the irony of Arendt teaching down the hall from Strauss at Chicago as Strauss offered his reactionary proclamations (for a thundering German Jew to sound like Colonel Blimp takes effort).  See the 2007 APSA debate over Strauss 1933 letter to Loewith here.  Goldfield’s is an amusing rejection of this tale, even if one doesn’t know that Strauss himself cultivated this view largely, I think, because Hannah rejected him romantically and not simply because of its ostensible presence in Plato (I will post on this matter later this week).  Strauss liked to say that he preferred Xenophon who he analogized to Jane Austen – one who leaves certain things unsaid -  in contrast to Plato who he analogized as Dostoevsky.  Neither novelist is an obvious comparison, but what Strauss meant to celebrate in Austen is that she teaches us about virtue, about being your own person, not into it for the money or status, about  eudaimonism.  Some brilliant novels are also philosophical.  Instead of just contradicting himself, Leo might have noticed…

      Plato is sometimes invoked as the father of Strauss’s patriarchal view – an emanation of power which has always been stupid and is today in tatters.   But even the Republic, despite its terrible hierarchy in the “city in speech,”  does not invoke slavery.  In my judgment, Plato here followed Socrates, as is visible in the Meno.  Socrates says to Meno, bring me any slave, and then, through asking him questions, shows that the slave can prove, upon reflection and discovery of his own errors, one of the most advanced theorems of Euclidean geometry. (In Strauss’s semester course on the Meno, Goldfield tells me Strauss somehow managed to miss or skim over this issue; the lectures have apparently now been posted and I will check them soon, but the best one can hope is that Strauss notices them enough to contradict himself or didn’t see that Socrates rejects his view point-blank).  Socrates then says that souls, which are neither simply  male nor female, animal nor human, have this knowledge from eternity (both in human form and not), and can recollect it through questioning.  This is a pure egalitarian argument, as radical as it gets (it is amusing that those Straussians who assert that  every argument is in Plato - I suppose in embryonic form - have overlooked this one).  I will not elaborate on the distinction between Plato or Plato’s Socrateses and what Socarates might have thought here.  But that Plato himself believed something like this can be seen also in the Myth of Er of the end of the Republic.  In this context, Aristotle’s weak argument in book 1 of the Politics is an effort to contradict Socrates.

          Athens imprisoned women as patriarchal societies have since.  But as I noted in several posts from Crete this summer, the earlier societies of the Cycladic islands and Crete were women-led, comparatively egalitarian, trading communities.  Plato’s story of Atlantis in the Timeaus was anti-democratic – Plato himself, as Al-Farabi emphasizes was an enemy of Athens in this fundamental respect – and reimagines Atlantis in a nasty, hierarchical and authoritarian way. See Plato's Atlantis and the aubversion of Athenian democracy here and  What is lost in Plato's story of Atlantis here.   As I also traced, the Mystery religions brought the goddess – Demeter (the great mother from Crete) - into Athens.  They celebrated a kind of equality which influences some of Socrates' thinking (a participant in the Mysteries) and probably Plato’s.  See  Crete, the mystery religions, and Athenian democracy here.

       Even Plato notes that women may be guardians.  But his story of the city in speech in the Republic – a sexual mocking of women and men wrestling naked together – means to invert the today  no longer understood Cretan practice of young women and men vaulting over the bulls’ horns (two of the five remaining frescoes or statues in the archaeological museum at Santorini feature this),  Plato often varied stories, but in an Athenian patriarchal vein, he needed especially to bury this one under the metaphorical lava of the volcanic eruption (on Santorini in the 16th century b.c.) which destroyed Crete.  It was replaced with the unlovely warrior (Aryan) civilization in which a master is buried with his weapons (often along with slaves and women, his alleged subordinates).

      In the Symposium, Plato also invokes Diotima who teaches Socrates about love (she is a prophet from Mantinea, who postponed the plague for 10 years, a mocking account if one thinks of the role of the plague in Thucydides in undermining Athens during the Peloponnesian War, and of course teaches the wonders of boy-love to Socrates).  But is her presence not a refutation of Strauss’s prejudice?   Was she not speaking to Socrates of the matter of boy-love because that was what Socates was into (I guess he was “bi” as some like to say, but primarily into beautiful boys as  Plato’s dialogues show).  Strauss identifies and makes creative use of the exoteric/esoteric distinction – one of its more obvious applications is the story of Platonic love based on Socrates and Alcibiades in the Symposium.  But  bigotry against gays and lesbians is equally a prejudice.

         As Strauss also overlooks, Ibn-Rusd (Averroes) in his commentary on Plato’s Republic takes the vision of women guardians very seriously.  He says that the comparatively rich Cordoba and the other Arab cities are poor because they treat half the population as plants, not as humans.  Women could – and should – be lawyers or join other professions.  That was an original Platonic philosophical insight as of the 13th century - probably more advanced than anything in the Middle East till the 19th or 20th century (some Arab Marxists at least had better insights).  Similarly, Ibn-Rusd probably beats any European philosopher until Mill or Engels.  Ibn-Rusd understood the argument in Plato well and applied it in a novel way (the most interesting insight, that goes beyond Plato, in that volume).  Was he not – obviously – right?

         Forms of exploitation or power over others always lead, over long historic epochs, to the idea among the exploiters that those who are dominated lack the capacities to participate in political life. Hence I argue in Democratic Individuality, for a notion of limited moral objectivity (Greek notions that at least some males have a capacity for a free political life) and for  moral progress.  That the prevailing structure of power puts the words of prejudice toward others into the mouths of many, and even sometimes otherwise smart people, ones who have some real insights, is no reason, we can now see historically to believe that the prejudices they also espouse are true.   With the character of Roxanne who defies the tyrant Usbek in the Persian Letters, with the slave in the Phenomenology, Montesquieu and Hegel attacked this reactionary view in a way which is ultimately, as more and more evidence emerges, putting it out of business.  The first chapter of Democratic Individuality suggests that this view, not the ideology of the dominators, is an inference to the best explanation.

      Despite various forms of American decadence currently, one positive feature of American life is the emergence of large numbers of women in advanced education.  I taught a course on Ethics and International Affairs this summer.  16 of 21 students were women, and the most interesting philosophical argument in the class about the lingering influence of the social science idea of “value” – the one involved in the hope to be value free, see American moral judgments  here  – was offered by a woman.  Sen emphasizes capabilities, but when he begins to speak of conflicts of ethical goods or hard cases, he reverts to a notion of values which fails to distinguish such goods or such cases from their opposites. Nazis have values, patriarchs have values, etc. 

       In the law, in international studies and in the humanities, women now are majorities in classes (and one of the peculiarities of patriarchy – in its harms to boys and men is that this may continue for quite a while).  Soon philosophy faculties, at the junior level at least, are likely to become predominantly women.  Very soon, no one will still think that this reactionary argument about women has any merit – because it doesn’t.

       Larry Summers recently got into trouble because of avowing that women may lack insight into physics or mathematics compared to men.  Guess he never heard of Marie Curie (there is a particularly beautiful poem by Adrienne Rich about Curie and about the devoted study of x-rays, which breeding cancer, killed her young).  Harvey Mansfield got all manly in defense of Larry.  But the truth is that Larry is in this respect, as in wanting to dump toxic waste off South Africa, just a reactionary fool.

        Andrew Sullivan with whom I often agree for example about Obama or about the harms of torture or the dangers of empire, admires (with criticisms)  Charles Murray.  Everyone has their flaws.  But the Bell Curve of Murray and Herrnstein rests on IQ testing which merely operationalizes intelligence to whatever IQ tests test (the definition is circular and uninteresting; IQ tests actually just predict how people will do in class-, gender- and race- structured schools).  Herrnstein once wrote a laughable article in the Atlantic Monthly - 1990 - about how black and brown people are outbreeding whites.  The national IQ is falling, he suggested.  White women better get out of college and breed. This is just warmed over eugenics  and even King Canute, telling the sea to stop where his finger pointed, had less hubris…

       Herrnstein had a religion of IQ testing (he once debated Chomsky, and if one wants to see the difference between brilliance and the stammering religion of method, that exchange is a paradigm – see Ned Block and Gerald Dworkin, The IQ Controversy).  If one knows what is wrong with operationalism in philosophy of social science (the view that we differ about the meanings of concepts like intelligence and democracy and therefore we should develop a way of measuring these things that somehow skirts these differences rather than providing some reasons and evidence for thinking one thing as opposed to another – a hopeless, anti-intellectual and in practice, perverse and reactionary method - one will not be tempted to demonstrate one’s foolishness in this way.  Once infamous, Herrnstein is already earning, in this respect, the criticism of silence.

       The argument about women in philosophy is no different from other forms of hierarchical prejudice, for instance, the argument for “Kinder, Kueche, Kirche” (childen, kitchen, church) as the Nazis used to put it.    Women have not been in political life or lawyers or novelists or whatever; therefore they cannot be.  Hillary Clinton just ran for President.  The supposed merits of this unattractive argument vanish before our eyes, as Strauss liked to say.  It is no inference to the best explanation. Of a particularly hopeless, sexist remark in Strauss, Peter Minowitz in his recent Straussophobia, says: I will not attempt to defend this.  He does not bother to give any version of the foregoing argument.  Strauss’s assertion is the cant of fools.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Torquemada updated


        This memo  on extraordinary rendition,  provided to then Office of Legal Counsel head Dan Levin and released last Monday (see here), gives a barely euphemistic description of the cruelties involved in extraordinary rendition before the “HVD” (high value detainee) arrived in Morocco (where Binyam Mohammed was cut all over his body, including his penis and acid poured into the cuts) or Uzbekistan (where prisoners were sometimes melted).  Mohammed Jawad, we have now learned, was 12 years old (and very likely of the “high value” of working for the Americans near Bagram in order for him and his family to eat).  In ordinary Pentagon custody, 100 people were murdered (Pentagon statistics).  Perhaps these scrupulously monitored procedures, complete with “doctors” and “psychologists,” prolonged the agony. 

      Are there such meticulous documents from the KGB, the Gestapo, Latin American clients counseled by the CIA (the classified CIA files are perhaps must hopeful)?  Even the Inquisition probably did not exhibit such precaution, such detail, such refinement. The inquisitor refers to the “quiet” and “clinical” nature of the process.  If you are empathic, probably do not try more than a few paragraphs of this.   Scott Horton provides further background on the recent abduction and detention of Raymond Azar, a Lebanese businessman, accused of petty fraud here and David Cole answers questions about his book on the Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable as a whole just out here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Josef Korbel, Stalin and the Defense of Czech Democracy at Munich


   A year ago, my school was renamed for Josef Korbel, the former Czech diplomat, first dean of the Graduate School of International Studies, and father of Madeleine Albright and teacher of Condoleeza Rice. There is some dignity and even greatness in this renaming which it is not easy for those who come now or who will come later to appreciate.   Joe Korbel adopted me when I came to the University of Denver many years ago, and I got to speak about my friendship with and gratitude to him during those ceremonies. 

      Joe was away when I gave a job talk based on my book Marx’s Politics: Communists and Citizens (Rutgers, 1980).  But in the fall,  he took me to lunch.  He had read my first article, “Salvaging Marx from Avineri,” said it was an unusually fine essay, and looking at me shrewdly said: “You are in exile, too.” He asked me no further questions.  I had been thrown out of Harvard as a leader of the anti-War movement and later readmitted. 

      He liked to talk about politics.  World War II - at least the fact that the Nazis were mainly defeated in the Soviet Union and many related matters - was then a secret in American universities (Barrington Moore, my often brilliant teacher, had shared with me that it was cold in Russia – I soon found it hard to see why this didn’t affect Russians as well as Germans - and the ghosts of Suvorov and other tsarist generals, as well as the Church, had been invoked by Stalin.  The question had eventually  occurred to me, why didn’t these factors work for the Tsar in World War I against a less ferocious onslaught?   What the Nazis meant in Eastern Europe was even more hidden from American eyes.  That fall, Korbel invited me out to lunch or to come to his office about twice a week, and we talked the afternoon away.  He shared with me what it was like to see fascism on the rise in Europe.  He shared with me that the Social Democrats would not fight.  In Yugoslavia, as Czech ambassador after the War, he spoke of being afraid of the workers who marched (they were Communists) but of admiring them.  The Communists, he said, were the only ones who fought the Nazis (I think he meant the only organized force).

      During the War, Korbel said, he had been in the Czech resistance in exile in London, writing pro-Stalin releases (he was very critical of Stalin who murdered many of his colleagues and many innocent people, a monster, but he admired Stalin’s role in crushing the Nazis).  He asked me to co-teach a two quarter sequence on Comparative Communism with him.  In it, he would ask a striking political question and we would then all discuss them for a couple of hours.  In one memorable session, he spoke of Munich.  The Soviets alone, he said, had volunteered to defend Czechoslovakia if it fought, regardless of what France and England did.  Condi Rice was in that class, though she has now  repeated a neocon mantra about Munich for years.  To turn Hitler to the East, Neville Chamberlain betrayed democracy. Stalin, as the newspaper story below based on newly released documents from Soviet files finally reveals, was willing to fight, even to lead the effort.

        I was very critical of Stalin’s defense of the Spanish republic against Franco (he suppressed the left and the anarchists).  But there is no doubt that Stalin – as Korbel emphasized – sought to defend the Western democracies against fascism and for a long time, saw this as the only and preferred way forward.  The Soviet Union supported  Spanish republicans,  tried to strengthen Czech democrats –  Stalin went it alone while Britain and France, as the article below relates, pushed the Benes government to submit - and tried to steady even foolish English imperialists like Chamberlain (had it not been for their much greater war effort on the Eastern front, the Nazis would probably have defeated England).

         In a course session on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact , Korbel defended Stalin’s policy as a great act of state-building given English imperialism’s attempt to turn Hitler to the East.  I attacked it from the left as a betrayal of all the ordinary people, the anti-fascists, revolutionaries and democrats, who had looked to the Soviet Union for leadership.  Only after Hitler had attacked Russia anyway did the Communist movement regain, shakily, its influence, and eventually, play the central role in defeating Hitler (there were over a dozen battles in Russia in 1943 each involving a million Nazi troops; there 212 Nazi and allied fascist divisions, 6 million troops, fought  at Stalingrad; 1 1/2 million Nazis killed or captured; at the contemporary battle of El Aleman in North Africa in 1943, there were 12 Nazi divisions, 43, 000 captured or killed; along the entire Western front during the Normandy invasion a year later, when the Soviets had defeated the Nazis and were driving toward Berlin, there were but 70 German divisions).  I would be amazed if this spectrum of opinion among two professors  has ever been repeated in an English-speaking classroom including India.  Condi joined in the conversation.  See A Performer lost in her performance here

       Korbel would have been in foreign minister in the Masaryk government after World War II.  Instead, the Communist coup took place in 1948.  For 9 months (Korbel did not tell me this; I learned it from Elizabeth Bumiller when she interviewed me for her biography of Condi), Korbel remained in Czechoslovakia.  He was sent by the Communist government to work for the United Nations in Kashmir (hence his book) and emigrated to the United States.  He had been a left-wing social democrat who cooperated with the Communists to fight the Nazis.  Any sane person would (many jews did.  My sister-in-law’s father was I.F. Stone, the brilliant radical journalist, who, when blacklisted, created an initially isolated but later famous newsletter from his home which actually reported – with humor -  from Washington, pointing out the corruption, even then, of the mainstream press.  In a recent biography  American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone, D. D. Guttenplan spends some time on charges that Stone collaborated with Russia.  There is no evidence for this; Izzy just talked with some people whom he may or may not have known were associated with the Soviet embassy about politics.  But being around or knowing Communists at the time – given that they were mostly leaders in the fight against fascism – was, if you hated and feared the Nazis, where any decent person was likely to be.   Stone was a “premature anti-fascist,” as the House Unamerican Activities Committee  called the 3,000 Americans who fought and died in the Abraham Lincoln brigade in Spain - half were killed; such charges are among the ravings of the people who just brought us into two aggressions, torture, global depression, and poverty - and wait still to do more damage...). 

      Korbel came to the United States, met with the Council on Foreign Relations, applied for and was settled in a job as a Professor and Dean of the School of International Studies at the University of Denver.  He wrote four anti-communist books in diplomatic history (they are not sufficiently marked by the complexity of what he really thought).  Unlike many émigrés to the United States, however,  he was, in the questions he posed in classes, an anti-fascist (he didn’t get along with a professor of Russian who was a reactionary).  When my friend Doug Vaughan came back from Chile after the US-sponsored coup against democracy, the murder of Allende and the “disappearance” of thousands of others in 1973, he met with Korbel. He was going to law school but wanted to do joint work at the Graduate School of International Studies.   Korbel listened to him talk about some of what he had done there, looked at Doug with a twinkle in his eye, and said: “you’ll be safe here.”   See It can’t happen here here.  As my colleagues Arthur Gilbert and Joseph Szyliowicz said, he made of GSIS a family.  He and his wife, Mandula, welcomed people at the School and to their home, and kept in touch with all the faculty (he recruited an unusual number of jews at the time, mainly quite conservative ones).  He also stood out against persecution.

     As Dean, however, he initially favored the Vietnam War (he came to regret this).  A young professor protested against the War and Korbel (and a majority of the faculty) let him go.  I asked him about it.  He looked at me and said; “He didn’t know much.”  I am not sure why a young professor must (Korbel had also spoken ironically of our colleagues who were mainly  political scientists: he was amused that they “don’t like to talk about politics.”)  No one is perfect. 

       Joe and I talked a lot about why the Russian Revolution had become corrupt.  I thought that introducing pay differentials in the Communist Party had been central.  To industrialize rapidly in order to fight the looming threat of Nazism in 1934, Stalin thought this measure would get people to work harder.  But the revolution itself (and the Chinese revolution) had no such differentials; people worked for the political cause, not for an extra 5 cents  an hour.  If pay diffentials are needed to motivate Communists, what is the difference between Communists and capitalists? 

       My friend Neal Koblitz from Harvard was a mathematician who spoke Russian.  He went to study in Moscow in the mid 1970s. He was appalled at the ten levels of stores.  A student from abroad (at least from the West) could shop in the fifth level and get fruit out of season.  On the Central Committee, they shopped at the highest store and got fashions from Dior.  Most of Joe’s friends in Czechoslovakia, growing up, became communists.  After the War, he wanted to keep a modest salary.  But the Communists told him: “Joe, it’s okay.  You can move up the hill now.”

        My second year at GSIS, the University of Denver’s finances were mismanaged.  The admissions director sent out forms with a date due preceding the date on which they were mailed.  The University was tuition-driven and had at the time a small endowment.  There was a wage freeze and a a decision to eliminate 12 junior faculty to make up the short fall.  GSIS had a mean, slightly crazy acting dean who decided on his own to have hearings to determine which of the four junior faculty members was least necessary to the School, and, thus, could be sacrificed. 

     Joe and I organized a meeting of the whole department, faculty and students, over a hundred people, to discuss what to do.  At it, he proposed that no one should be laid off.  Instead, each faculty member should give up some salary – he offered three thousand dollars of his own – to make up the salary of the person who would be retained.  He knew what it was to be helped or protected by the decency of others (others had helped him against the Nazis in 1939 and the Communists in 1948);  he protected all of us (I have tried to follow in his footsteps in this regard).  Honor and decency, too, should be celebrated.

      Joe died of cancer suddenly in the summer of my second year at GSIS.  I spoke, in tears, at a memorial service for him.  Condi and Chris Gibson (another close student of both of ours) attended; we just looked at each other.

      Joe's daughter Madeleine Albright became Secretary of State under President Clinton.  Joe and her mother did not share with her quite a lot of knowledge about who they had been.  She only discovered during her tenure that he and Mandula were Jews (he had not told me, either; I also learned at the renaming ceremony some details of his and his family’s hair-raising escape from Hitler in 1938).  She had known, however, some  things about their escape. She had known of the Masaryk and Czech democratic tradition of anti-sexism which her father shared (it is not surprising that Madeleine and Condi, who “had the same father,” both became Secretaries of State).  She had learned of his admiration for Gandhi which she shared with all of us at the ceremony renaming the School.

      But his subtlety or complexity of mind sometimes escaped her, sadly, as Secretary of State (following Clinton and Gore, she was the leading spokesperson for the UN boycott of Iraq which killed 4,500 children every month in the 1990s by UN statistics, and politically strengthened Saddam Hussein).  But she was exceeded by Condi who tragically became a war criminal: a direct implementer of torture and aggression.  See a video of  my debate with State Senator Shawn Mitchell here.  Doug Vaughan and I are both in the film “Courting Condi” and the documentary “American Faust: From Condi to neo-Condi” just now going into theaters (trailer here).

      From knowing Josef Korbel very well, I find myself in the midst of thinking about the Jews of Europe (and Sephardic Jews as well).  Joe was a Czech radical and democrat, with close ties to Communists, who escaped to the United States – that turbulent center of world capitalism and Truman-McCarthyism - and hid much of his background.  But I am also writing about Leo Strauss, the reactionary German Jew and exile, who had to keep much of his politics (his affection for fascism and even the German National Revolution) hidden in the United States, too. Both were subjects of and feared persecution; both were exiles.   I admire Strauss’s scholarship more than Korbel’s (Joe's books are good, but Strauss sometimes points to quite revelatory things), but in politics, Korbel is admirable, and Strauss, if he had not exerted so terrible an influence on neoconservative authoritarianism to this moment, would be best left to the critique of silence.  Philosophers and poets are exiles – Socrates speaking of his situation at the trial (a stranger in the court unable to acclimate himself or in the somewhat elitist phrase of Plato's Gorgias,  a doctor judged as a pastry chef by children), Baudelaire, in the image of “L’Albatros” in Fleurs du Mal, “ses ailes du geant l’empechent de marcher” [his giant wings prevent him from walking].  The situation of a jew in an assimilated family, a “scion of an accursed race” as my anarchist grandfather JJ Cohen once wrote about himself in The House Stood Forlorn, has perhaps merged its feelings and colors with these encounters with Korbel and Strauss.

        I had dinner one night with Thomas Pangle at the American Political Science Association meetings in 2007.  I told him some of my background, including the story of my friendship with Korbel and Stalin’s support for Czech democracy at Munich.  I had never seen this story in print.   Pangle is very well read (he did a fine translation of Plato’s Laws with an erudite commentary; must be why they denied him tenure at Yale once upon a time); he recalled  Litvinov’s – the Soviet foreign minister’s – memoirs about it.  That was until just now the only written source of which I have heard.

      Among the reactionary fantasies that drove the Cold War on the American side was the thought that Stalin had allied (temporarily) with Hitler.  Stalin corruptly shared in the dismantling of Poland (that usually isn’t added to the story since knowing even some details will eventually upset the whole thing).  The idea that the West stayed “neutral” in the Spnaish Civil War while the Luftwaffe bombed Guernica is not much discussed.  Why Picasso, among many others,  became a Communist – not much discussed.  That Munich was about turning Hitler to the East – oh, no, it’s just some mantra about “peace in our time.”  The head of the British Empire, dominating and murdering so many from Ireland to India, a “civilized” man, Neville Chamberlain, no doubt wanted “peace.”

     New documents, however, have just come to light from the Soviet archives.  In 1939, Stalin went to Britain and France with the offer to mobilize a million Soviet  troops to protect Poland and cordon off Hitler.  It was his third effort, in the Spanish Civil War, at Munich and now to save Polish democracy.  Whether he could have prevented World War II, if the Western capitalist democracies had listened, is doubtful.  But that they could have checked Hitler much earlier – that they all could have fought in a much cleaner way – and that some 20 million Russians and 6 million jews and 2 million Polish children killed in the crimes now named by the UN Convention against Genocide (1948), need not - or many of them need not -  have died.  Though a monster domestically, Stalin was a brilliant tactician (it is what Condi found most absorbing about him, adopted as a sort of “realism,”  and then showed no trace of it in lying for hopeless aggressions and torture).  One would have to look much more closely and self-critically at the democracies to see why they shunned this noble offer.

       Reactionary ideas about the Cold War have brought us to – and underpin – American militarism and unilateralism to this day.  They have cost American and many other lives and threaten in the next century or so  (through our use of depleted uranium, our propensity to wage war in ever more mechanized and hideous ways – the unmanned drones killing civilians in Pakistan - combined with global warming inter alia) human life on the planet.   Here is a news story on the possible alliance of the USSR and the democracies – one that might have humanized both and created paths to an alternate and more attractive future -  that Doug Vaughan sent me:

“Stalin 'planned to send a million troops to stop Hitler if Britain and France agreed pact' 

Stalin was 'prepared to move more than a million Soviet troops to the German border to deter Hitler's aggression just before the Second World War'

By Nick Holdsworth in Moscow

Last Updated: 1:14AM BST 19 Oct 2008

Papers which were kept secret for almost 70 years show that the Soviet Union proposed sending a powerful military force in an effort to entice Britain and France into an anti-Nazi alliance.

Such an agreement could have changed the course of 20th century history, preventing Hitler's pact with Stalin which gave him free rein to go to war with Germany's other neighbours.

The offer of a military force to help contain Hitler was made by a senior Soviet military delegation at a Kremlin meeting with senior British and French officers, two weeks before war broke out in 1939.

The new documents, copies of which have been seen by The Sunday Telegraph, show how the vast numbers of infantry, artillery and airborne forces which Stalin's generals said could be dispatched, if Polish objections to the Red Army crossing its territory could first be overcome.

But the British and French side - briefed by their governments to talk, but not authorised to commit to binding deals - did not respond to the Soviet offer, made on August 15, 1939. Instead, Stalin turned to Germany, signing the notorious non-aggression treaty with Hitler barely a week later.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, named after the foreign secretaries of the two countries, came on August 23 - just a week before Nazi Germany attacked Poland, thereby sparking the outbreak of the war. But it would never have happened if Stalin's offer of a western alliance had been accepted, according to retired Russian foreign intelligence service Major General Lev Sotskov, who sorted the 700 pages of declassified documents.

"This was the final chance to slay the wolf, even after [British Conservative prime minister Neville] Chamberlain and the French had given up Czechoslovakia to German aggression the previous year in the Munich Agreement," said Gen Sotskov, 75.

The Soviet offer - made by war minister Marshall Klementi Voroshilov and Red Army chief of general staff Boris Shaposhnikov - would have put up to 120 infantry divisions (each with some 19,000 troops), 16 cavalry divisions, 5,000 heavy artillery pieces, 9,500 tanks and up to 5,500 fighter aircraft and bombers on Germany's borders in the event of war in the west, declassified minutes of the meeting show.

But Admiral Sir Reginald Drax, who lead the British delegation, told his Soviet counterparts that he authorised only to talk, not to make deals. "Had the British, French and their European ally Poland, taken this offer seriously then together we could have put some 300 or more divisions into the field on two fronts against Germany - double the number Hitler had at the time," said Gen Sotskov, who joined the Soviet intelligence service in 1956. "This was a chance to save the world or at least stop the wolf in its tracks."

When asked what forces Britain itself could deploy in the west againstpossible Nazi aggression, Admiral Drax said there were just 16 combat ready divisions, leaving the Soviets bewildered by Britain's lack of preparation for the looming conflict.

The Soviet attempt to secure an anti-Nazi alliance involving the British and the French is well known. But the extent to which Moscow was prepared to go has never before been revealed.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, best selling author of Young Stalin and Stalin: The Court of The Red Tsar, said it was apparent there were details in the declassified documents that were not known to western historians.

"The detail of Stalin's offer underlines what is known; that the British and French may have lost a colossal opportunity in 1939 to prevent the German aggression which unleashed the Second World War. It shows that Stalin may have been more serious than we realised in offering this alliance."

Professor Donald Cameron Watt, author of How War Came - widely seen as the definitive account [sic] of the last 12 months before war began - said the details were new, but said he was sceptical about the claim that they were spelled out during the meetings.  "There was no mention of this in any of the three contemporaneous diaries,two British and one French - including that of Drax," he said. "I don't myself believe the Russians were serious." [the he said, she said style of “journalism” here ignores the fact of the documents]

The declassified archives - which cover the period from early 1938 until the outbreak of war in September 1939 - reveal that the Kremlin had known of the unprecedented pressure Britain and France put on Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler by surrendering the ethnic German Sudetenland region in 1938.

"At every stage of the appeasement process, from the earliest top secret meetings between the British and French, we understood exactly and in detail what was going on," Gen Sotskov said.

"It was clear that appeasement would not stop with Czechoslovakia's surrender of the Sudetenland and that neither the British nor the French would lift a finger when Hitler dismembered the rest of the country."

Stalin's sources, Gen Sotskov says, were Soviet foreign intelligence agents in Europe, but not London. "The documents do not reveal precisely who the agents were, but they were probably in Paris or Rome."

Shortly before the notorious Munich Agreement of 1938 - in which NevilleChamberlain, the British prime minister, effectively gave Hitler the go-ahead to annex the Sudetenland - Czechoslovakia's President Eduard Benes was told in no uncertain terms not to invoke his country's military treaty with the Soviet Union in the face of further German aggression.

"Chamberlain knew that Czechoslovakia had been given up for lost the day he returned from Munich in September 1938 waving a piece of paper with Hitler's signature on it," Gen Sotksov said.

The top secret discussions between the Anglo-French military delegation and the Soviets in August 1939 - five months after the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia - suggest both desperation and impotence of the western powers in the face of Nazi aggression.

Poland, whose territory the vast Russian army would have had to cross to confront Germany, was firmly against such an alliance. Britain was doubtful about the efficacy of any Soviet forces because only the previous year, Stalin had purged thousands of top Red Army commanders.

The documents will be used by Russian historians to help explain and justify Stalin's controversial pact with Hitler, which remains infamous as an example of diplomatic expediency.

"It was clear that the Soviet Union stood alone and had to turn to Germany and sign a non-aggression pact to gain some time to prepare ourselves for the conflict that was clearly coming," said Gen Sotskov.

A desperate attempt by the French on August 21 to revive the talks was rebuffed, as secret Soviet-Nazi talks were already well advanced.

It was only two years later, following Hitler's Blitzkreig attack on Russiain June 1941, that the alliance with the West which Stalin had soughtfinally came about - by which time France, Poland and much of the rest of Europe were already under German occupation. 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where we are - or why Andrew Sullivan and I agree on the dangers of a culture of torture part 2*


   When I wrote Democratic Individuality (Cambridge, 1990), I was concerned that the term liberal had been degraded in American politics.  The Reagan-first Bush era marked an anti-radical or anti-communist assault on the idea -   on Walter Mondale with the “L word” or on Michael Dukakis as a “card-carryng ACLU liberal” -  to which the Democrats, by and large did not respond and the corporate news media fell silent.  I wanted to articulate the attractive moral core of the term.  In Democratic Individuality, I argued that liberalism, broadly speaking or at a certain level of abstraction,  is,  for example in the Federalist Papers, Montesquieu, Hegel, Rawls, Oakeshott and Marx, the view that society is a civitas in which the laws (and the economy) must be so arranged that each individual can pursue her own good as she sees fit, and change that view as she finds necessary, so long as she does not (fundamentally, physically) harm others. To this, I added the important Greek eudaimonist thought,  reiterated by Michael Walzer in Spheres of Justice, that activities and relationships must be engaged in for their own sakes, not primarily to make money or gain status.  To do activities only for the money’s sake is, as Hegel and Marx named it, alienation. These are common core moral understandings among conservatives, liberals and radicals underlying larger, empirically or social theoretically motivated differences in complex moral and political understandings which divide these modern political perspectives.  Thus, liberalism, radicalism and conservatism I argued all emerge out of the rejection of slavery. They are all, in this broad sense, liberal.   That we are all free, free to pursue our conscience so long as it does not harm others – and to speak out, as a “majority of one,” when such harm is done by the powerful, even if a large number support or commit atrocities – is the secret of a decent regime and an underlying commonality of these points of view.  That is the core notion of democratic individuality.  

       But America has moved further to the Right.  Perhaps I might sketch a complex international and domestic mechanism by which this occurs.  Both of today's mainstream  American political parties are dominated by money (they are in many respects only democratic parties, ones that even try to listen to ordinary people or serve a common good,  in appearance).  Even when decent, their policies primarily serve the rich.   Worse, the American empire abroad, in particular, the vast engagements in military bases and financial domination (the WTO), results in a steady, seeping pressure to the right on the political parties.   International politics, for the most part unchallenged from below, forces domestic politics in an anti-democratic direction (what I name in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? Princeton, 1999, anti-democratic feedback).  Only in  extreme circumstances like the Vietnam or Iraq war do democratic movements from below emerge to challenge the elite.  The Right assaults; most of the Democrats cater.  This was the story of the response to 9/11 and much politics since. It is a deformed right wing two step (a dance mainly to the right – see here).

      Had a Democrat been President, some extreme measures might have been taken in response to 9/11, but not two crazed, ineffectual and self-destructive wars and torture.  Today, it is no longer the name liberal but rather the name  conservative that is in question, not mainly the other equal liberties, but habeas corpus itself which is under threat.  Habeas corpus is the bare minimum that separates a system of law from tyranny.   Even under Reagan, E.L. Doctorow stated this danger very well in a commencement speech at Brandeis in 1989: "This poisonous thing I'm trying to describe is [a] characteristic way of dealing with criticism  It used to be enough to brand a critic as a radical or a leftist to make people turn away.  Now we need only to call him a liberal.  Soon 'moderate' will be the M word, 'conservative' will be the C word, and only fascists will be in the mainstream.'

        The movement is clear.  The miracle of electing Obama interrupts it.  But only if we rally people to fight from below for law and decency will that interruption become a fact of a restored regime.  There was once a sketch on Saturday Night Live of a Nazi Superman who observed that Jimmy Holstein was circumsized with his X-ray vision and flew him off to Auschwitz on the way to defeating the Russians at Stalingrad: “Untruth, Injustice and the Nazi way.”   If morals are just what the powerful say they are with Thrasymachus in book 1 of Plato’s Republic – “justice is the advantage of the stronger,”  a form of metaethical relativism – then of course there is nothing wrong with such an Uebermensch.  But they are not.  Ethics is the study minimally of what a decent life is for human beings. Democratic individuality in the above sense is; Nazi genocide is not.  The difference is worth fighting for.

      Often, conservatives are as timid as Democrats.  In this period, however, I have found myself in  agreement with Scott Horton and Andrew Sullivan daily about habeas corpus and the erosion of law.  I also agree with Glenn Greenwald  (a liberal who is  termed a radical around here by bizarre authoritarians like Representative Peter King or mainstream reporters like Joe Klein – see the latter's confrontation with Aimai, my niece and a blogger at nomoremrniceblog, here); it is only the ACLU, whose lawsuits have finally forced the release of the CIA inspector general’s 2004 report three days ago by the Obama administration (that Obama released it, is  modestly hopeful).  Where is the mainstream press (the New York Times editorial page excepted) , the Congress (Congressman John Conyers and Senator Russ Feingold and some others excepted), or the President?

      Attorney General Holder has appointed an independent prosecutor with the express purpose of rerunning the Abu Ghraib legal farce: let us punish little people like Charles Graner or Lynndie England for torture, while those who ordered it go to sip coffee with the elites or be interviewed as authoritaties on the “news” channels.  This is what Thucydides meant when he spoke of public corruption, the denial of a common good – see here.   In America, the standard for understanding public corruption goes back to the distinction in England, in 1218 of habeas corpus or the idea of law - that the doors of a court must be open to each prisoner who must not be tortured – and tyranny.  Jack Balkin, the Yale constitutional law professor, has rightly spoken of the dangers of a new legal regime initiated by Bush but increasingly sanctioned by the Democrats: a National Surveillance state.  Such a regime is a police state. In a post, Andrew Sullivan underlines the fascist criticism of American democracy, stemming from neoconservatives and as I have suggested, Straussians like William Kristol or Harvey Mansfield (see below).  In another post, Sullivan identifies the decadence or corruption of American culture to which the Bush-Cheney regime has brought us and which Obama sadly largely maintains (see also below).  These are a call for all of us to do what we can to restore America.


The Failings of our Democracy

By Andrew Sullivan

       Scott Hinderaker [actually someone named John, but the rest of the post is apt]  believes that democracy fails when it tries to keep its executive branch from violating the rule of law by authorizing the brutal torture and abuse of thousands of prisoners, many innocent. Let that sink in. It is part of the failure of democracy, in Hinderaker's view, that it doesn't empower the government to do anything it wants to do in the name of national security.

      To put it bluntly, this is the classic fascist critique of liberal democracy. Fascists have always criticized democratic restraints on executive war-power, even when that war power is specifically designed to include citizens and to apply across the territory of the homeland as well as anywhere on the globe. As for the torture techniques previously used by the Gestapo, the Communist Chinese, the Soviet Gulag, and the Vietnamese, Hinderaker believes these were all "reasonably humane." What was done to John McCain, in Hinderaker's view, was humane, and certainly not torture; and what McCain was forced to confess was as reliable as the tortured confessions we now see on Iranian television.

      Understanding the current right's embrace of total state power against the individual takes time to absorb. But liberal democracy has no more dangerous enemies than these.


The Evidence Mounts still Further

By Andrew Sullivan

     I'll write at more length when I'm back off my summer bloggatical, but the question of torture - and the United States' embrace of inhumanity as a core American value under the presidency of George W. Bush - remains, in my view, the pre-eminent moral question in American politics. The descent of the United States - and of Americans in general - to lower standards of morality and justice than those demanded by Iranians of their regime is a sign of the polity's moral degeneracy. Compare these two stories today. Item One:

The charges of rape and torture have struck directly at the moral and religious authority the nation’s theocratic leaders claim. The government initially denied Mr. Karroubi’s charges, and the speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, said a review had proved they were baseless.

        But Mr. Karroubi has refused to back down even as clerics and military leaders aligned with the government have called for his arrest. Faced with public disgust and outrage, the Parliament agreed to review his evidence. A parliamentary committee met with Mr. Karroubi on Monday. One member, Kazem Jalili, told Iranian news agencies that Mr. Karroubi had said that four people told him they had been raped.

     You will notice once again that the New York Times is able to use the word "torture" to describe torture - but only when it is committed by governments other than that of the US. The NYT under the editorial guidance of Bill Keller has, by cowardice and weakness, abetted the degeneracy that Cheney accomplished. Every time the NYT uses a different standard to judge foreign and American torture, it undermines the core moral basis of liberal democracy. And if the NYT cannot stand firm, what chance someone like Pete King? Here he is, responding to acts that included murder, rape, sexual abuse and torture conducted by the CIA under the command of George W. Bush:

     "When Holder was talking about being 'shocked' [before the report's release], I thought they were going to have cutting guys' fingers off or something – or that they actually used the power drill," he said. Pressed on whether interrogators had actually broken the law, King said he didn't think the Geneva Convention "applies to terrorists," and that the line between permitted and outlawed interrogation policies in the Bush years was "a distinction without a difference."

      "Why is it OK to waterboard someone, which causes physical pain, but not threaten someone and not cause pain?" he asked, warning of a "chilling" effect on future CIA behavior.

       King is right, of course, that the difference between what Bush authorized and the new revelations is non-existent. There is no moral or legal distinction between subjecting someone to 960 hours of sleep deprivation (as Bush did to Qahtani), or slamming people against walls, of freezing them to near-death, or murdering them by stress position ... and threatening to murder someone's kids or stage a mock execution. But King then draws the inference that all of it is fine, as long as it cannot be portrayed in the tabloids as literally drilling through a detainee's skull. (He seems unaware that this would actually kill someone, not torture them.)

          But King is not alone in believing that the US should be less restrained by moral qualms than Iranians demand of their own illegitimate regime. Indeed, much of the American people, especially evangelical Christians, expect less in terms of human rights from their own government than Iranians do of theirs'. In fact, American evangelicals are much more pro-torture in this respect than many Iranian Muslims.

       This is what Bush and Cheney truly achieved in their tragic response to 9/11: two terribly failed, brutally expensive wars, the revival of sectarian warfare and genocide in the Middle East, the end of America's global moral authority, the empowerment of Iran's and North Korea's dictatorships, and the nightmares of Gitmo and Bagram still haunting the new administration.

        But what they did to the culture - how they systematically dismantled core American values like the prohibition on torture and respect for the rule of law - is the worst and most enduring of the legacies.

        One political party in this country is now explicitly pro-torture, and wants to restore a torture regime if it regains power. Decent conservatives for the most part simply looked the other way. Unless these cultural forces in defense of violence and torture are defeated - not appeased or excused, but defeated - America will never return the way it once was. Electing a new president was the start and not the end of this. He is flawed, as every president is, but in my view, the scale of the mess he inherited demands some slack. Any new criminal investigation which scapegoats those at the bottom while protecting the guilty men and women who made it happen is a travesty of justice. If it is the end and not the beginning of accountability, it will be worse than nothing.

        But it need not be the end of the story. Indeed, it can be the beginning if we make it so. We cannot stop this sad and minuscule attempt to restore a scintilla of accountability to some individuals low down on the totem pole. Eric Holder is doing what he can. But we can continue to lobby and argue for the extension of accountability to the truly guilty men who made all this happen and still refuse to take responsibility for war crimes on a coordinated scale never before seen in American warfare, and initiated by a presidential decision to withdraw from the Geneva Conventions and refuse to abide by their plain meaning and intent.

         Our job, in other words, is to raise the core moral baseline of Americans to that of Iranians. That's the depth of the hole Cheney dug. And it's a hole the current GOP wants to dig deeper and darker.

*For the first post, immigration or why Andrew Sullivan and I agree about an emerging police state, see here.










       Some say that Leo Strauss was just a scholar, lost in ancient texts. This certainly reflects the surface of much of his published writing.  As rightfully admirers of his teaching, they might especially take note of his letter to Jacob Klein, written from Union College in Schenectady, on November 28, 1939:

       “Teaching is really great! And I believe I’m doing it to the delight of my auditors. It’s especially charming when one introduces, without a wink, the obvious teaching of Socrates [in English] and then, in Blitzkrieg [im Blitzkrieg] against these primitive field-works, over-runs them.”   [GS 3: 587, trans. Will Altman].

         Kristallnacht* had already passed.  What did it take for a German Jew, an exile in New York, to revel in the glory of his teaching as if he had overrun in a mere 31 days Poland (September, 1939), or could foresee the Panzer divisions breaching a fortifcation in Belgium and motoring through the Maginot Line into Paris?


*On the night of the broken glass, the Hitler Youth and the SS murdered 90 jews and sent some 25,000 to concentration camps, destroyed 1000 synagogues, and thousands of homes and little shops.



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The banality of evil


        In my debate with Republican State Senator Shawn Mitchell over whether Condi Rice committed war crimes for commanding torture – see the video here – Shawn made two contradictory arguments.  The first was that we were debating about the wrong person.  It is not Condi you want, he suggested, but Bush and Cheney.  The second is that it is “comforting” to have had Principals’ meetings in the basement of the White House – all the main officials except Bush – which discussed just how many times Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was to be waterboarded, how many hours strung up from the ceiling, how many days kept sleepless, and the like (When Obama later released the torture memos in response to an ACLU law suit, it turned out that KSM had been waterboarded 183 times in a month – to try to elicit the lie that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al-Qaida).  It is really important, Shawn said, that the torture be meted out with care.  At the end of one late meeting according to the ABC news report, Condi, suppressing I suspect a pang of conscience, urged Tenet: “Go for it.” 

       In response to the release of the CIA inspector-general’s torture report in 2004, long suppressed by Vice-President Cheney  (see here and here), Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti wrote the main column in today’s New York Times (p. A1, right) on “Records Show Strict Rules for C.I.A. Interrogations: Details of Harsh Treatment were Overseen by Managers, Lawyers and Doctors.”  The authors are comforted:” “Managers, Lawyers and Doctors” and they could have added psychologists like Mitchell and Jesson.  The revolt in the American Psychological Association against a leadership which furthered this parallels the revolt in the FBI – Ali Soufan, see here – and the CIA against these policies.  But Shane and Mazzetti have smooth words:

       “the first news reports this week about hundreds of pages of newly released documents on the C.I.A. program focused on aberrations in the field: threats of execution by handgun or assault by power drill; a prisoner lifted off the ground by his arms, which were tied behind his back; another detainee repeatedly knocked out with pressure applied to the carotid artery.”

The hundred who died in American custody by Pentagon statistics are just -  “aberrations.”  Good to know that our jail keepers are professionals.  “But” they continue,

       “the strong impression that emerges from the documents, many with long passages blacked out for secrecy, is by no means one of gung-ho operatives running wild.  It is a portrait of overwhelming control exercised from C.I.A. headquarters and the Department of Justice – control Bush administration officials say was intended to insure that the program was safe and legal.”

      Note that this apology makes a farce of Attorney General Holder’s appointment of an independent prosecutor who will only investigate the original crimes by particular CIA officers (they had been ordered by Cheney in his move to the “dark side,” but Holder looks away).  The reporters note this contradiction.  In addition, the Justice Department memos were mere apologies crafted by Yoo and Bybee in response to  C.I.A. or Cheney requests, shifting the line to encompass more and more torture.  These were no legal documents.  But the form of the torture – every detail was calculated, doctors were present – Shane and Mazetti tell us earnestly – it was not, it could not be…torture.  The Bush officials, however, make it clear that every iota of torture was supervised from the top.  Torture was not aberrant.  It was Bush policy.

     “Managers, doctors and lawyers not only set the program’s parameters but dictated every facet of a detainee’s daily routine, monitoring interrogations on an hour-by-hour basis.  From their Washington offices, they obsessed over the smallest details: the number of calories a prisoner consumed daily (1,500); the number of hours he cold be kept in a box (eight hours for the large box, two hours for the small one); the proper time when his enforced nudity should be ended and his clothes returned.”

       “The detainee ‘finds himself in the complete control of Americans; the procedures he is subjected to are precise, quiet, and almost clinical,’ noted one document.”

       In the lengthy continuation on p. A10, the reporters treat waterboarding in this context, succeeding in getting a true description, with a conditional (only American torture is not torture, in the New York Times’ usage) by the editors: 

       “Waterboarding might (??!!!) be an excruciating procedure with deep roots in the history of torture, but for the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, record-keeping for each session of near-drowning was critical. ‘In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented,’ said medical guidelines prepared for the interrogators in December, 2004.”

      “The required records, the medical supervisors said, included ‘how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was used in the process (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment.”

     Waterboarding is torture, said Eric Holder and Barack Obama.*  Those who read mystery novels may be familiar with the obsessions of certain murderers.  Perhaps, the murderers are technically psychotics…Every detail must be in place, calculated, ritualized…Yes, the tortures have a bureaucratic character.  But does the bureaucratic accounting of Cheney’s obsessions hide either their criminality or their madness?

       Shane and Mazzetti cite Tom Parker of Amnesty International who says aptly that the documents are “chilling.’  But even he is quoted only within the framework of the Times’s editorial censorhip; “‘They show how deeply rooted this new culture of mistreatment became,’ he said.”   The correct word is torture and it is against the law.  It is an assault on the idea of law itself.

       In her recent collection Something to Exchange (see here), Celia Gilbert has written a powerful poem. "July 20, 1944"  on the Nazi removal and categorization of all the goods of Jews, the sanitation of quantities of clothes to be provided to German citizens…The Nazis were meticulous bureaucrats of genocide, the Bush-Cheney administration of torture.  As Hannah Arendt once said, this is the banality of evil. 

*The Times’ editorial page has an apt assessment of “The Torture Papers’ (the split between Times’ editorials on the issue and its so-called reporting is as schizophrenic as the Wall Street Journal‘s though in the latter, it is the reporting which is often sane).  What the Times says here is admirable and important.   It concludes:

        “The report offers one more compelling reason for a far broader inquiry into Mr. Bush’s lawless behavior.  It is possible to sympathize with Mr. Obama’s desire to avoid a politically fraught investigation.  But the need to set this nation back under the rule of law is no less urgent than it was when he promised to do so in his campaign.”

        “That will not be accomplished by investigating individual interrogators. It will require a fearless airing of how the orders were issued to those men, and who gave them.  Only by making public officials accountable under the law can Americans be confident that future presidents will not feel free to break it the way Mr. Bush did.” (p. A20)