Sunday, February 28, 2010

Letters: on Strauss and his political followers

         Don Campion took courses with Gary Schmitt as an undergraduate at the University of Dallas, had lively discussions with him, and has had himself an enduring interest in Leo Strauss. Schmitt, a political Straussian and long time intelligence operative (for instance, originally with Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and for the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, later as executive director of President  Reagan's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board - 1984-88).   At the American Enterprise Institute and in the Project for a New American Century, he has fomented aggression in Iraq and Iran and, as a once upon a time scholar of "executive power," spying on Americans and torture (see here). 

        Don found John Mearsheimer’s and my emphasis on Strauss as a German reactionary helpful (and of course, the early writings are at last, after long hiddenness, beginning to be available, so one can get a sense of the distant Nietzschean/Heideggerian planet from which Strauss comes). See here and here.  Don wrote me the following note, reflecting on the quasi-religious phenomenon among some Bloom aficianados (see my "the clashing visions of Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss" here which reproduces the text of Bloom’s letter to Strauss as a kind of magical rabbi).  Don rightly distinguishes Strauss’s own willingness to let students go their own way and explore America (not of much interest to Leo, except through the Public Affairs Conference at Chicago, politically) from Bloom's. 

       One qualification here: both Robert Goldwin (special assistant to Rumsfeld at NATO and to President Ford and Vice-President Richard Cheney, and Herbert Storing, who once again, admirably went far afield from the master in considering Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X and especially, editing 7 volumes on the anti-Federalists, created notions of “prerogrative” and “executive power” which translate Strauss’s “principles of the Right – fascist, authoritarian, imperial” into an American idiom, taken up by Richard Cheney and extending throughout the neocons. Storing was Gary Schmitt's mentor.

       Strauss himself was merely offering up Carl Schmitt’s dictum: “He is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception” (the first sentence of Schmitt’s 1922 Political Theology).   One might say that Strauss was the conveyor to the United States, through these students, of pure, anti-separation of powers, Schmittian reaction (first fascist, then Nazi).  Gary Schmitt, as it were, carries Carl Schmitt's water here - is a purveyor of Schmittian reaction - but has no other relationship.  Carl Schmitt's influence is, however, inimical to and places in mortal danger the balance of separate powers to protect individual rights, the core of the American Constitution.  

          The empire’s decline and the capacity of the war complex to take up bizarre neo-con fantasies at great cost (the imperial dreams and actions of Cheney) have made Carl Schmitt increasingly relevant here.  Strauss and his students play a decisive  role in giving previous American episodes of tyranny (Lincoln on habeas corpus, even more obviously, FDR’s jailing of Japanese-Americans for the “crime” of breathing while brown) this Germanic inflection.  Unlike these previous dangerous, and in FDR's case, degraded episodes, the bipartisan consensus that some 50 prisoners at Guantanamo, having been indefinitely detained and tortured, need to be thrown away (current Obama policy) gives far less promise of a return to the rule of law.    

      Don memorably names the casual, voyeur murderousness of the political Straussians:

       “Strauss and Neocons: You and Mearsheimer, have clarified my thinking. I met and talked with Bloom and had many conversations with Gary Schmitt and a Bloom student, Don Maletz. Anyone who thinks Strauss spent a lot of time on 'Americana' is sadly mistaken, in my view. That said, he apparently encouraged students like Storing, Berns, Jaffa, and Diamond to really delve into the "Founding" etc. Bloom seemed to almost worship Strauss. Maletz a Professor at Oklahoma U., while a student of Bloom, I believe at Cornell, was put off by the acolytes who slavishly followed Bloom and even apparently attempted to mimic his stutter! Rock stars are not the only ones with groupies! However, Gary Schmitt, Kristol, Shulsky etc. are the kind of groupies that think they are real men who see clearly Nietzsche's deadly truths (Lampert); who are the very few who see deeply into the ‘necessity’ of war; who have imbibed their Thucydides, Machiavelli, Xenophon ad nauseam; and proceed to advise the Princes to send young men to kill and to die in the desert. What a tragic farce. Anyway, thanks again for keeping up the good fight. Don”

       In my post on  Leo Strauss’s 1923 celebration of “pagan-fascism” here, Michael Zank whose scholarship I have praised here and who made the correct and revelatory translation of the mysterious phrase “meskine Unwesen” as a reference to grubby Jewish modern secularism or nonentity, a quasi-Nietzschean thought, rather than a reference to Hitler, sent me two striking comments: 

“Dear Alan  I haven't finished reading this post, which I find interesting for obvious reasons. But there seems to be a conflation (iterated in several places) between Strauss's 1923 affirmation of interest and relevance of Bible study and Sabbath observance on the one hand and  "orthodoxy" on the other.  It is quite possible of course that Strauss envisaged something of the kind which has been materializing more prominently in the wake of 1967, namely, the unholy alliance of nationalism and orthodoxy in the settler movement. But to my mind, his early writings never denied the historical critical appreciation of the Bible in contrast to the religionization Judaism underwent at the hand of the rabbis. (This distinction is not just characteristic of Spinoza but is also evident in the work of Jacob Neusner, of more recent vintage.) In other words, modern critique allowed to the (by  rabbinic standards) atheistic, i.e., pagan fascist, presuppositions of the Bible (esp. the Book of Joshua) to reemerge, presuppositions Strauss felt were more conducive toward steeling the Jews toward the task of reconquest (after all: he was a Jabotinsky-ite; and Jabotinsky was the only one who acknowledged that there were Arabs in the country who would not let go of their right to their land peacefully). That's the spirit of the early writings; not the exoteric affirmation of orthodoxy that you attribute to it. In my view you conflate something that should be kept apart (earlier and later Strauss, political and philosophical Strauss, whathaveyou).  Very best – Michael”

       Michael is right that Strauss does not refer to orthodoxy and so, I would now eliminate the term from my post. But there is another meaning here for Strauss which his differentiation of Jabotinisky and today’s military advisor-rabbis does not quite get. Isn't a Jabotinisky-like steeling of the Jews to dispossess the Palestinians something like Strauss’s exoteric/esoteric or atheist, philosophical/political distinction?  And doesn't the need for the Book of Joshua  (not something that Strauss believes in) fill in the idea I was trying to get at with orthodoxy more precisely?  The consequences of Strauss’s Mussoliniesque promotion of Walter Moses in the 1923 youth group Blau-Weiss, his “pagan-fascism,” extend both to Jabotinsky and the “transfer” of Palestinians (whom Michael rightly characterizes as having a right to land or property, the keys as is often said) and the settler-rabbis.  Jabotinsky has more justification in the sense that Jews were being persecuted and murdered in Europe (and the murder was shortly to become  genocidal), and Palestine was a place that Europe and American would permit Jews to flee (with the pretence often that there were no people there).  What is somewhat attractive about Strauss is his realism in willing the Jewish people into reality (see the initial post and the comparisons with Mearsheimer). With a state, they could avoid being murdered (though the "transfer" harmed those who had not hurt them).  What is unattractive and murderous about Strauss is the role of an authoritarian political theology to be manifested in Joshua-esque slaughter of innocents to this day. It is an aspect of Strauss’s influence sharper now than even his authoritarianism among neocons (I think he might well have seen the Iraq war as a fantasy - see here) and one that has been largely undiscussed.

       Israel was founded on a crime, as is true of perhaps every state (for instance, the US toward blacks, Native Americans and Mexicans).  It exists.  It could work toward a decent relationship toward other states in the Middle East.  Instead, post-1967, it has renewed the crime against Palestinians in the occupied territories, and repeats it today in a thousand bizarre ways.  What Israel is doing is self-destructive and has no future (its repulsiveness to Americans who go to the occupied territories, including Jews, is an indication).

       Do we not know how Pharoah treated us? Ordinary Jews in Israel have an interest in standing up against these fascist policies.

       In a forthcoming post, I comment on several stories  Ilene Cohen sent me about recent activities in Israel (these are daily matters) which sadly illustrate this point.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Orleans and Haiti

      Last weekend, I was in New Orleans for a panel with two of my students and friends Matt Weinert and Amentahru Wahlrab at the International Studies Association.  The Association likes to haunt large hotels.  I stayed at the Westin in which the lobby is on the eleventh floor and one must use one’s room key to ride the elevator up to the high 20s.  The construction seems designed to keep the people of New Orleans away, though of course this is foolish since they work at the desks, wait on the tables, cook and clean up, responding with kindness and grace, and one can, if one wishes, communicate.  The attitude registered in the construction was also visible in the police murders and cover-up during Katrina as well as in the driving out of black workers in the Seventh Ward.  See here.

     These hotels are on the Riverwalk very near the French Quarter.  One has but to walk away. I was soon among the French structures of the Quarter, built solidly of cypress and painted brick on top of the original swamp long ago, the streets with resonant names like Chartres and Poydras, shops like Gnome, and the people, having little money, lifting their voices in song or playing a variety of instruments, filling the street with music, violin cases or cans beside them for contributions.  There is no city of music like New Orleans.  The French quarter was flooded by Katrina five years ago, coated with mud and swarms of flies, but now is reassembled, a rare place.  One can even find a lively Jewish community selling the occasional t-shirt inscribed shalom y’ll in Hebrew and English or a contemporary jewelry shop with interesting workings of menorahs, mezuzas (in an old story, Yahweh barbarically slaughtered the first sons of Egyptians, but spared the sons of his followers who had put lambs' blood on the door; the mezuza is perhaps a later memory or equivalent) and dreidl iconography.  The food is wonderful and often inexpensive, the people friendly, the music moves right through you and invites movement (why one would hide in one of these expensive hotels is beyond me). 

      Everyone has a story.  Laura’s candy shop has magnificent pralines, and the woman who runs it – a big woman – talks to me about how she left in 2005, her home destroyed, and came back in 2007, having paid to have it rebuilt with all her savings.  The contractor had taken the money, but not fixed it except for some beginning work.  He had run away.  She had given the evidence to the DA, but he still hasn’t pursued the case as of 2010.  The shop is doing all right.  But she is no AIG, no Goldman Sachs, has no Larry Sommers to counsel her smartly about how to make a still unregulated economy work for ordinary people…

        Listening is important.  As I left, she said: "Bless you." 

       A white woman bartending in a restaurant went to her father in South Carolina for 6 months. She spoke of the waters careening through the city, of the layers of mud and swarms of metallic flies even when she came back, of her collapsed apartment…

        The people have a deep sense of kindness and bone-deep solidarity.  They survived catastrophe together. The solidarity comes at an immense price. Haitians, too, have this solidarity.

       New Orleans gave America and the world the blues.  It has an airport named for Louis Armstrong, unique among politician or city names.  It made jazz an international phenomenon, what America is, culturally, renowned for.  It is hard to overstress what this city has meant to America.  But it is mainly black.

         The political establishment allowed the wreck of New Orleans to occur, did not repair it, and has chased many of the working class citizens of the Seventh Ward out.  It is no longer overwhelmingly a black city, no longer simply an antipode to reactionary Republican Louisiana. 

            The catastrophe rivals that of the plague in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War which sets the stage, even under Pericles, for the corruption of Athens, its decline and self-destruction.   The ravaging  of New Orleans also marks the end of a stage in America, the beginning of American decline. Only a declining regime would have let this city go under when it could have been prevented, would have failed to attend to the suffering.  An unembedded Fox News reporter, wading by a dead floating 2 year old in the water, screamed at Britt Hume “Where’s the government?” The question lingers.

         Only a declining regime would have turned away a Coast Guard ship with medical supplies from the harbor as Bush and Brownie did and  refused aid from Cuba which has experienced and well trained doctors to deal with hurricanes (one of Condi’s inept contributions).

        The election of Obama promised something new.  The reality of Obama, however, indicates that one man, leading a corporate party, will not change much.  But there is hope and strength in New Orleans despite the decline. 

        At the ISA, Matt Weinert who teaches at Delaware, in a paper about Arendt and international politics, asked a question about Haiti.    How come Haitians are now recognized as victims of nature – and the world sympathizes with them and acts to help them – but when they have been victimized by American imperialism (the overthrow by Woodrow Wilson of the Haitian republic in 1916, the overthrow by the two Bushes of the elected regimes of Jean-Bertrand Aristide), the world has turned away?  One might add for the French: or joined to plunder – Sarkozy’s performance, given French slavery and repeated demands for reparations for slave-owners from their former slaves, was particularly skin-crawling. Aristide was kidnapped in 2004 by the marines and taken to the Central African Republic, a former French colony).  Even Obama will not permit Aristide to return to the Hempishere (he is still in South Africa where Condi drove him).  As  I have written about the politics of relief in Haiti after the earthquake, on the one hand there is sympathy, on the other, racist stereotypes: Haitian coffins are like “cadillacs” says a New York Times front page story – see Death in Haiti here and here. Perhaps the same is true of New Orleans.

         The people of New Orleans gave jazz to the world.  Haiti was created by the one successful slave revolt in all of history, and the poor have a democratic vibrance which even the repeated murderousness of Haiti’s Northern neighbor cannot suppress.  The people of  New Orleans and Haiti deserve to be seen and  honored as well as aided.

         Still, solidarity opens new possibilities for understanding.  Stephanie Feldman of the American Council of Learned Societies has put up an article on the ACLS website based on the comments of four fellows (including me) who study Haiti, sympathize with democracy and cut through the many-layered web of Hollywood/US government racism.  See here.    

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Straussian - Gary Schmitt - foments torture and ignorance

        Several years ago, Gary Schmitt came to my school for a talk on China – he is at the American Enterprise Institute, a reactionary think tank treated in the mainstream press as a "conservative" organization -  and is part of the security establishment. In a two hour interview, Gary was straightforward with me.  Although one of the three principals of the Project for a New American Century and an advocate of aggression in Iraq, illegal spying on Americans and other aspects of so-called executive power, he spoke, when I pointed out that political Straussians in and around the administration had been silent abettors of torture, about his opposition to it.

        Neocons live in an ever shifting fantasy world in which mass murder – aggression and torture – is something they make themselves at home with.  In the Weekly Standard, Gary reviewed Mark Thiessen’s new book at Regnery Press (a fantasist reactionary publisher) called “Courting Disaster: How the CIA kept America safe and how Barack Obama invited the next attack."  Thiessen is, as Schmitt fails to report to the reader, a former Bush and Cheney speech-writer and thus has a conflict of interest about their war criminality of which he was at least an advocate and in which he is perhaps a (minor) participant.  Thiessen even indicts Andrew Sullivan, who is, as I have often indicated, a serious conservative who has defended habeas corpus and opposed torture determinedly over the last few years, as an "unreal" person, one who needs to stay away from the difficult decisions of politics, one who would make Americans "unsafe at home."  In contrast, Gary and other would-be torturers (the CIA in this matter) are really "their voice."  For Sullivan's responses to Thiessen as a fellow Catholic who might attempt to sanctify the Inquisition as well as Cheney, see here and here.

      If he is speaking for the people, why have Gary and others worked so hard to keep the long, grisly history of torture at Abu Ghraib, Bagram  and Guantanamo secret from ordinary citizens - that very people?  Being "their voice" according to Gary, citizens apparently need not to know what he is talking about.

      Gary invokes sketchily two claims of Thiessen's that CIA torture works where FBI interrogation didn't.  But the telling case is one they both ignore: Ali Soufan's questioning of Abu Zubaydah who revealed the identity of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (See here and below). Schmitt also fails to consider the cost of torture - the revulsion of every decent person worldwide, everyone who cares about law.  That policy also instigates the likely torture of any American captured in present or future conflicts at least at the level now practiced by the United States. Schmitt offers nothing to counter the photographs and stories from Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo or Bagram.  Nothing about the 500 or so prisoners released without charge from Guantanamo after being tortured and held for years without any legal proceeding. It is sad that this account was written by a onetime scholar.  

        Schmitt also does not tell the reader of an earlier and funnier Thiessen claim, echoing his boss Bush anachronistically, in a spring op-ed in the Washington Post, that the 2003 water-boarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed stopped an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles in 2002:

     "however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got - an unnamed FBI senior official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush's characterization of it as a "disrupted plot' was 'ludicrous' - that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed was not captured until March, 2003.

      "How could Sheikh Mohammed's water-boarded confession have prevented the Library Tower attack if the Bush administration broke up that attack the previous year?  It couldn't of course.  Conceivably, the Bush administration or parts of the Bush administration  didn't realize until Shaikh Mohammed confessed under torture that it had already broken up a plot to blow up the Library Tower of which it knew nothing [since torture elicits only whatever the torturer wants to hear, however, it learned about a "plot" which may not have existed].  Stranger things have happened.  But the plot was already a dead letter. If foiling the Library Tower plot was the reason to water-board Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, then that water-boarding was not cruel and unjust [and more importantly, an act of war criminality].  It was a waste of water." 

     Perhaps Gary might have mentioned the cases of torture of innocents that have already come out. For instance, Binyam Mohammed was arrested for training to fight in Kashmir, the K in the original Pakistan, mainly inhabited by Muslims and which India holds immorally, against massive protest even last year, only by force.  The cause Binyam Mohammed had is roughly that of George Washington and other fights against empire.

     Binyam Mohammed was a British resident.  The CIA rendered him to Morocco where the jailers cut all over his body including his penis and poured acid in the wounds.  MI-5 was present at the torture and did nothing. After the Moroccan authorities found that he knew nothing, the CIA took him to Guantanamo where he was held for 6 years.  But there was massive protest against American/British aggression and torture in England.  The Blair government asked for Mohammed and other British citizens/residents to be freed from the American "Devil's Island."  In response to a law suit on Mohammed's behalf, the British Law Lords ruled that he had been tortured and that torture was "absolutely abhorrent."  And so, Mohammed was sent to Britain which released this "dangerous suspect" within a few hours of his arrival.  See my debate over whether my student Condi Rice is a war criminal with Republican State Senator Sean Mitchell, in which the case of Binyam Mohammed played a leading part here.

      Gary Schmitt does not discuss such cases in the review, perhaps because, if he did, he would make himself an obvious accomplice to the worst things. Instead, Gary does vapid publicity for the CIA - it is really "careful" about such matters, so careful that it demands secrecy and legal protection.  Ali Soufan, the FBI agent who got the identity of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed from Abu Zubaydah by talking and bonding with him, was repelled by the torture, and ignorance of the CIA  which relied on the psychologists Mitchell and Jessen (see What the torturer knew here).   He called FBI headquarters and requested to leave the scene.  The FBI commendably withdrew all their agents from Guantanamo.

      As Jane Mayer reports in the New Yorker here, Mitchell and Jessen designed the SERE program, which, based on Chinese Communist practices, seeks to harden American soldiers against torture.  Neither of these psychologists had ever done an interrogation.  But Cheney breathed on Tenet, a weak and ambitious man, and he would do anything Cheney wanted.  Tenet organized systematic torture in and through a network of secret prisons and foreign sites ("extraordinary renditions), with the approval of Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, and Rice.

      Contrary to Schmitt, one of the torture memos released by Obama last spring records that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was tortured 183 times in a month (6 times a day).  Every time, waterboarding gives the suspect the feeling that he will die.  Schmitt will not volunteer for a run-through, but Daniel Levin, acting assistant attorney general and the Bush appointee in charge, was so worried about it that he underwent the experience himself, knew immediately that he was going to die and that this was torture.  Gary also missed the 100 who, by Pentagon statistics, died of homicide in American custody.   In addition, at Guantanamo, all but 50 are scheduled for release without charges being preferred against them, a ratio of about 1 in 14 of those originally held (many of the remaining 50 will be detained indefinitely without charge).  Except for a few, has the US imprisoned determined enemies (before the imprisonment)? And what is Gary's objection to a police state?**  

      If the tortured person makes it through, she returns, Gary fantasizes, to a condition resembling normalcy.  The CIA "carefully" does "walling," with the walls calibrated not to do permanent physical or psychological damage when the prisoner's head bangs into them.  Maher Arar, the Syrian-Canadian engineer who was tortured, has spoken about what it was like flying back to Canada to be seized by the CIA at a stopover in Laguardia.  He begged his captors not to send him to Syria where he would be tortured.  He was hooded, put in a diaper and sent - as a form of torture - on a long CIA flight to Damascus, put in a coffin-size cell and tortured for 10 months.  The Syrian government then reported to the CIA that he knew nothing, that he was just a civilian engineer.  They returned him to Canada.  He reports that he sometimes cannot be with his children, that he shudders at the memories of torture, that in any darkness, he senses the torturing hand of America...

     The Canadian government has paid $11 million in damages to him for the role of the Canadian intelligence in cooperating with the CIA. That government has apologized for its role in trusting America and turning him over to be tortured.  Even in Canada and Britain, the distrust for America is now enormous.  Imagine in places which are not close American allies...

      In contrast, the US refused to allow Mohammed to sue - good we have the rule of law here or rather, that we know how to dispose of such cases "politically," as Gary might say.  About this case, too, however, Gary is silent. Instead, he repeats Thiessen's ridiculous claim that no one whom America has tortured has suffered lasting damage (perhaps Thiessen did a sceance with the 100 murdered in US custody to "verify" his claim).  Yes Gary, we should keep those British and Canadians away from power, and let  Cheney's speech writer, Torquemada and Himmler act on our behalf...

      Why was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed waterboarded 183 times in a month. Not to get any information to go after Al-Qaida - Bush had already forgotten Bin Laden's name - but because Cheney wanted false information connecting Saddam and Al-Qaida.  See here. KSM gave the CIA all kinds of false leads (whatever they wanted which is what the tortured usually aver), but not that particular bit of "intelligence." So they tortured it out of Al-Libi, a Saudi man who ended up dead in an American prison, not one of the 100 homicides, but something even more, as Gary might put it, "political."

         For his Febraury 2003 UN speech, Colin Powell spent 4 days at CIA headquarters, throwing out obviously false misinformation, before he winnowed out what he could finally use.  But putting himself on the line to justify American aggression in Iraq, the speech was the most degraded moment of his public life.  He said truly his name and his office.  Every other major claim was false. Powell probably regrets what he did. His assistant Lawrence Wilkerson has been one of the noble people in the government who stood up against torture, aggression and the "Bush-Cheney cabal."  Another of Powell's aides, Richard Haass, said it was the worst speech Powell has made in his life. 

    In the administration, Powell had stood up against torture on the plausible grounds that captured American soldiers would likely be subject to at least the same treatment.  He was himself, after all, a soldier (see his letters in Karen Greenberg, ed., The Torture Papers).  He then supported Obama, a man who made clear that he would and then did ban the most extreme forms of torture the day he took office (h/t Steve Wagner).  This is for Schmitt and Thiessen how Obama makes Americans less safe.  On the contrary, banning torture would make ordinary Americans much safer and less likely to be hated by every decent person in the world and in danger of terrorist attacks by outliers (it isolates the terrorists, whereas torture empowers them, gives them a broad audience of sympathizers or neutrals).  

    If the rule of law and American decency are to be restored, some of the war criminals need to go to jail and be out of American public life.  Obama's policy of allowing no investigations has done the opposite.  Republicans and neocons are rabidly calling for more torture, more aggression.  Given the depression especially for the large number of jobless, it is possible that some rabid authoritarian will succeed Obama in 2012.  Obama has temporarily weakened American torture, but even Senator Brown of Massachusetts, a "real man," demands more torture.

      Given the paucity of any evidence for his point of view and his willful ignorance of relevant counterexamples and arguments, Gary is reduced to authority.  He invokes Dennis Blair, Obama's National Intelligence chief, on behalf of the argument that torture works.  Blair did say (with a touch of conscience) that it is unknown whether other methods might have produced the same "results." 

      But a) Blair does not give any nor is he cited as giving any example which sustains the Schmitt/Thiessen claim that torture provides useful information, b) his public statements are as much gossip and hearsay as Thiessen's (perhaps not as anachronistic), c) in terms of character, he is a bad witness.  As an operative for the State Department under Clinton, he deliberately did not deliver a warning to Indonesia's General Wiranto, ordered by Blair's superiors, against committing genocide in East Timor.  Instead, he encouraged Suharto and thus linked the US even more strongly to genocide.  See Allan Nairn on Amy Goodman, Democracy Now, here. In contrast, Ali Soufan has shown that ordinary intelligence and legal procedures produce useful information and convictions; military tribunals do not. He has also underlined that torture produces only what the torturer wants to hear.  See here

      Obama’s counselors are the ones who have inveigled him, against his initial instincts, to block hearings on or  investigations of torture. Dennis Blair is just another agent of the American aggression and torture, like Gary Schmitt, in the new bipartisan consensus, as Jack Balkin rightly names it, on the “law.”  But this "legal" regime abolishes habeas corpus, characteristic of English law since the Magna Carta, and the only things that distinguish a system of law from tyranny.

    Now Gary is a Straussian, trained at the University of Chicago, and one of the leading proponents of the idea of tyrannical "executive power" in a "state of the exception" as Carl Schmitt named it.  He distinguishes "nice" torture, the American sort, from Hitler, "nice authoritarianism" - the American sort - from the worst aspects of fascism.  In fact, neocon fantasists like Gary have brought the world to the brink of no return.  American can make the world, through concatenating wars and global warming, uninhabitable for most humans, and leave the rest riven in blood.  Bomb Natanz with nuclear weapons/"bunkerbusters"  (as Bush considered), 50 kilometers from Teheran,  and watch the fall out: the collapse of the vibrant Iranian movement for democracy; immediately, that mainly Shia Iraq, the whole South, would rise up, American supply lines would be severed, and America would lose militarily in Iraq (be forced to withdraw, with no sense of it being on America's "terms"). There is a reason why the British are already camped at the airport in Basra, ready for a swift exit...

      Schmitt has placed himself at the forefront of these desperate fantasies.  One may recall John Mearsheimer's point about Leo Strauss - he may have been way on the German Right, but he was not a fool. See here.   The political machine that Strauss set in motion has gone on to do things that even the sublime reactionary might have rejected.

       I initially sympathized with Gary as a person, and was angered by the way he had been treated at the University of Virginia.  He worked with Herbert Storing, one of the master's most attractive students, who took Strauss's mantra about examining arguments one disagrees with much more seriously than Strauss himself. Storing studied Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X and wrote about the civil rights movement with some sympathy.  As a Straussian, he still condemned King's nonviolence in a silly way, for a supposed "lack of manliness." King faced assassination attempts from his first leadership of the bus boycott in Montgomery at 26 until he was murdered in Memphis 13 years later. Sneering Straussian patriarchy here is in inverse proportion to bravery.  Which neocon*** has exhibited the courage to serve in the army in the field, let alone, to face unarmed and sustained mainly by a nonviolent movement, 13 years of assassination attempts?

      But Storing admired Frederick and Malcolm and even King as a leader. He helped transform Strauss's virulent racism in American politics into at least a minimal anti-racism - the sometimes appreciative mention of King and civil rights - among some Straussians (for instance, Tom Pangle in his Leo Strauss worries bizarrely about demands for rights run amok, but admires King).  See my Sotomayor, Brown v. Board of Education, the social science of Kenneth and Mamie Clark and Leo Strauss here.  Storing had studied constitutional law for a second master's thesis at Chicago with C. Hermann Pritchett, and had learned of Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus for Confederate sympathizers and FDR's concentration camps for Japanese-Americans.  He wrote an influential piece on this (Storing, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” in Toward a More Perfect Union, ed. Herbert Storing and Joseph Bessette, (American Enterprise Institute Press, 1995) which influenced Schmitt's 7 articles and led to another Straussian, Michael Malbin, writing the idea of arbitrary or tyrannical executive power into the Iran-Contra Minority Report for Republican minority leader Richard Cheney.  Storing's work is  the origin during the Iraq war of the neocon mantra: "Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, FDR's concentration camps and Guantanamo."  No thought that each of the former has been discredited (FDR's policy even with revulsion) and perhaps one might want to reject torture and murder at the time (Gary can't even give them up now). As Malbin told me, "don't think I [a kid then] influenced Cheney; he didn't get from me anything that he didn't want." 

          Acolytes translated Strauss's May 1933 "principles of the Right - fascist, authoritarian, imperial" (letter to Karl Loewith) into American English. In contrast to Strauss's satire of Locke's "joyless quest for joy" which pleased the leftist Canadian political theorist C.B. Macpherson but would have had no influence on American government, Robert Goldwin pushed Locke's "prerogative," Storing, Schmitt and Malbin "executive" or "commander in chief power." Cheney energized war and authoritarianism, but the words were provided by the students of Leo Strauss.  See here.

      Gary Schmitt had gone to assist Storing when he went to the University of Virginia to set up a Center for the Study of the Presidency.  Sadly, Storing died of a heart attack that summer on a handball court at the age of 49. Though they were both promising academics,  Schmitt and Jeffrey Tulis were shabbily both let go by Virginia.  Schmitt had something that the followers of Strauss often have at their best: a commitment to scholarship.  This means a commitment to learning the original languages, to reading texts in the original idiom rather than being a prisoner of translations.  Gary told me he had studied an article by Gordon Wood, a famous historian of the American Revolution, and that 46 of the 49 footnotes were wrong.  This is probably excessive, but cut the number in half and Wood would then be on the loose side of historical scholarship - others are far more meticulous - but not without company.  For some, the danger of historical writing, working with fragments, is that it is way easier to imagine the details of a more or less complete, somewhat true ("truthy") tale and get a trade publisher to pay you a lot of money if you write about the Revolution, not only for biographers of leaders, but even in some social histories.  Beyond certain broad points, few others are likely to go back to check the fragmentary documents one invokes. History becomes historical fiction.  Sometimes, the way back is elusive.

        Yet whatever the truth in Schmitt's criticism, it is also part of an illusion - "we followers of Leo Strauss are the real scholars, know the languages, know something that is true.  We read Plato.  We are acolytes of Leo the master.  And he even set some of us to doing politics like Goldwin, special assistant to Rumsfeld and then to President Ford and Chief of Staff Cheney, Jaffa (author of Goldwater's line about `extremism in defense of liberty is no vice' in 1964) and Bloom."  Others like Schmitt found their way into the war complex independently of Goldwin (Schmitt airily dismissed Goldwin on prerogative, but told me I would find the "real story" of Straussians influencing Cheney in the Iran-Contra Minority report; Malbin actually cites Schmitt's articles there). Schmitt had entered the war apparatus with the help of another Straussian, Carnes Lord, Aristotle scholar, fan of Machiavelli in writing on how the President should rule, and underSecretary of State under Reagan, who lived nearby in Virginia.  Lord connected Schmitt with Democratic hawk, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Wolfowitz went to work for Democratic hawk Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson).

    "We deserve to dominate policy," Gary might say, "and will change the American regime for the better.  Ordinary people don't need to know what we will do - they are after all 'the last men,' don't know what's good for them.  Only we, the philosopher-tyrants or in Gary's case, the retinue, know.  We will put it over on them, with whatever fear and religiosity (Evangelicism) we can muster."

      Now Gary came to the University of Chicago when Strauss was ill and not taking on new students.  He was happy with Storing, but spoke of the master with some resentment.  If Storing had lived, or if he had taken a job, say, at Indiana, Schmitt might have had an academic career.  He would have done no harm.  In this respect, a possibility was open to him that was also open to my student - sadly, a war criminal - Condi Rice.  He perhaps had less her ambition. But he fiercely resented academia (he was in his own judgment - perhaps is really - a better academic than many of those who rejected him).   Straussian references to Nietzschean resentments of the last men often conceal their own envies and sorrows.  He chose to flee.

     Schmitt and Wolfowitz thus joined the war establishment along with Avram Shulsky who went into the Pentagon and Fukuyama. They published studies on military topics for Rand.   Schmitt and Wolfowitz peregrinated to the Republicans with the accession of Ronald Reagan.

      As one of the three principals of the Project for the American Century (now in a slippery vein rechristened by Kristol and Kagan,  because of odium, the "Foreign Policy Initiative," just as the murderous Blackwater morphed into "Xe"), Schmitt joined William Kristol, another Straussian (the son of Irving Kristol and student of Harvey Mansfield; editor of the Weekly Standard, he solicited Schmitt's review in a kind of incestuous circle),  and Robert Kagan (his father Donald Kagan is allied with Straussians, and thus, the sons, Bob and Fred) in lying for the aggression in Iraq.  They have profited off militarism and torture, advancing themselves and their fantasies.  But Schmitt swore to me that, unlike Kristol, he opposed torture.  He has settled in at the American Enterprise Institute (Wolfowitz has, too) from which he has an inside perch from which to influence the Washington political consensus to the Right. Straussians play a central role in this reactionary think-tank as in some others like the Hudson Institute.

      Schmitt was once a decent guy, an academic who believed some weird and anti-democratic things, but cared deeply for scholarship.  In the American war establishment, he has crossed line after line. Yet there were, he said, lines he would not cross.  Sadly, the review of Thiessen indicates that this is no longer the case.  I reprint Schmitt's review below followed by Ali Soufan's recent op-ed from the Times, arguing that civilian procedures and courts are both a more effective way of gaining information from arrestees and convictions than a hastily thrown together system of torture and military tribunals.  In addition, I link to Andrew Sullivan's several reports on the Office of Professional Responsibility's revised report, authored by David Margolis whose job apparently is to let Justice Department criminality pass here.  Nonetheless, Margolis indicates that John Yoo's conduct was shameful, just not quite at the level of, as it were,  legal scum.  See Jack Balkin here, David Luban here and Glenn Greenwald here.  

     Here for example is one of the war crimes advocated by Yoo according to the OPR report:


       Now Schmitt is a Straussian, trained at Chicago, and one of the leading proponents of the idea of authoritarian executive power in the “state of the exception” as Carl Schmitt named it.  He distinguishes “nice” torture – the American sort – from Hitler, “nice” authoritarianism – the American sort – from the worst aspects of fascism.  In fact, the neocon fantasists have brought the world to the brink of no return.  America can make the world, through concatenating wars and global warming, uninhabitable for most humans and leave the rest riven in blood.  Bomb Natanz with nuclear weapons (bunker busters as Bush considered) 50 kilometers from Teheran and watch the fall out: the collapse of the vibrant Iranian movement for democracy; immediately that mainly Shia Iraq – the whole South -would rise up, that American resupply lies would be cut and that America would lose the war, instead of withdrawing.  There is a reason why the remaining British troops are now concentrated at Basra airport…


      Schmitt has placed himself at the forefront of these desparate fantasies.  I recall John Mearsheimer’s point about Leo Straiss – he may have been way right wing (a German reactionary), but he was not a fool.  See here and here.  The little machine that he set in motion has gone on to do things that even the sublime reactionary would probably have rejected.


       I initially sympathized with Gary and was angered by what had happened to him in academia.  He worked with Herbert Storing, one of Strauss’s most attractive students, who took the master’s slogan about taking in alternatives more seriously than Strauss himself, studied Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, and wrote about the civil rights movement with some sympathy.  As a Straussian, he still condemned King’s nonviolence in a silly way for a supposed “lack of manliness” – King faced attempts at assassination from Montgomery when he was 26 till he was murdered in Memphis. Which neocon has exhibited the courage to serve in the army in the field, let alone to face, unarmed, continuous threats of assassination for 13 years?  But he really admired Malcolm and Douglass and even King as a leader – and helped transform Strauss’s own virulent political racism into the minimal anti-racism - the sometimes appreciative mention of King and civil rights - of some Strausians and neocons (Thomas Pangle, for example, in Leo Strauss worries about rights supposedly running amok but endorses King).  See Sotomayor, Brown v. Board of Education, the social science of Kenneth and Mamie Clark, and Leo Strauss here.


        Storing had studied con law with C. Herman Pritchett ,and learned of the Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus for Confederate sympathizers and FDR’s concentration  camps for Japanese Americans.  He wrote a piece on this (  see here)  which generated Schmitt’s 5 initial articles and led to another Straussian, Michael Malbin ( a student of Walter Berns) writing this idea into the Iran-Contra Minority report for Congressman Richarad Cheney.  During Iraq, that was the neocon mantra calling for FDR, Lincoln and Abu Ghraib.   As Malbin told me, “don’t think I [a kid then] influenced Cheney.  He didn’t get from me anything he didn’t want.”  Cheney was the energizer ot the policies, but the words “prerogative” and “executive” or “commander in chief power” were provided by students of Leo Strauss or other political Straussians.


          His students  thus provided the translation of Leo Strauss’s s principles of the Right – “fascist, authoritarian, imperial” (May 19, 1933 letter to Karl Loewith) into American English.  Robert Goldwin pushed Locke’s “prerogative”, Storing, Schmitt and Malbin “executive power.” Cheney energized torture and authoritarianism,  but the words were provided by students of Leo Strauss (or their students). See here.


        Schmitt had gone to assist Storing when he went to the University of Virginia to set up a Center for the Study of the Presidency.  Sadly, Storing died playing handball of a heart attack at the age of 49.  Schmitt and Jeffrey Tulis were let go by Virginia.  Though both were able academics, the department treated them badly.  Schmitt had something that followers of Strauss often have at their best, a commitment to scholarship (for instance, this means caring about the original languages, learning to read texts not just in translation).   He told me he had checked out an article by Gordon Wood , a famous historian of ideas in the American Revolution, and that 45 of 49 footnotes were wrong.  He had published an article on Wood.  He may have been ungenerous, but I suspect that if one cut the rate to one out of 2, he might have been accurate.  Wood would then be on the loose side of historians – others are far more meticulous – but not entirely atypical.  The danger of historical writing, working with fragments, is that it is way too easy to imagine what happened and tell oneself and others a beautiful, somewhat true tale – and get a  publisher to pay you a lot of money if you write about the Revolutionary period, at least for biographies, but even now for some social histories.  Beyond certain broad points, few are likely to go back to check the documents or mention their fragmentary character.  History becomes historical fiction.  Sometimes, the way back is elusive.


        Yet whatever the truth in Schmitt’s criticism, it is also part of an illusion – we followers of Mr. Strauss are the real scholars, know the languages, know something that it is true,  We can read Plato.  We are congnoscenti of Leo the master.   And he even set some of us to doing politics like Goldwin, special assistant to Rumsfeld, and then President Ford and Chief of Staff Cheney, Jaffa and Bloom.  Others like Schmitt found their way in independently of Goldwin (he amusingly told me that he didn’t know anything about Goldwin and his influence on Cheney with the Lockean idea of prerogrative, but he knew the real story, how he and Malbin had shaped the Iran-Contra Minority Report – Malbin amusingly quotes from Gary’s articles right in the Report!).  Schmitt had gotten into the policy apparatus with the help of another Strauss student, Carnes Lord.  


       We deserve to dominate policy, Gary might say,  and will change things, for Americans for the better.  They don’t need to know what we do because most – the last men - don’t know what’s good for them.  Only we, the philosopher-tyrants or in Gary’s case, their retinue, know.  We will put it over on them with whatever fear and religiosity we can appeal to.


       Now Gary came to the University of Chicago when Struass was ill and not working intensely with new students.  Since he came to work with Struass, he felt some injury by or resentment toward the master.  But he happily worked with Storing, who was Strauss’s student.


         If Storing had lived or had taken such  a job, say, in Indiana, Gary could have had a decent life in academia as my student Condi Rice could have.  He perhaps had less her ambition.  But he has also, I sensed, a fierce resentment against academia (Straussian references to Nietzschean resentment – that of the poor, the last men – often conceal their own envies and sadnesses).  He chose to flee.  He got a job, once again,  through a Republican Straussian, Carnes Lord, an underSecretary of State under President Reagan,  who lived near him in Virginia, with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Democratic hawk (and racist), just as Paul Wolfowitz got a job with Democratic Senator Scoop Jackson.  They thus entered the world of Washington through Democratic warmongers.  Schmitt then joined the “intelligence” establshment (like Avram Shulsky and Francis Fukuyama).  Their works can all be found in Rand publications.  As neocons Schmitt and Wolfowitz then moved on to Reagan.


      As one of the 3 principals of the Project for a New American Century, he and Bill Kristol, two Straussians (in Kristol’s case, the son of Irving, a Straussian, and a neophyte to Harvey Mansfield; editor of the Weekly Standard, he solicited Schmitt’s review, in a kind of incestuous circle), and Bob Kagan whose father Donald is allied with the Staussians and thus, the sons**, lied for aggression in Iraq.  They have attempted to profit off torture, to advance themselves and their fantasies.  But Schmitt swore to me that, unlike Kristol, he was against torture.  He has settled in at the American Enterprise Institute (Wolfowitz is now back there too) from which he has a permanent inside perch on or purchase in Washington politics, on moving the “consensus” to the Right.  Their role is central to this and other reactionary think tanks (i.e. the Hudson Institute), linked to military lobbying.


      Gary Schmtt was once a decent guy, an academic who believed weird and anti-democratic things but cared deeply for scholarship.  In the American war establishment, however, he has crossed line after line, becoming instrumental in the Iraq aggression.  Yet there were lines he said he still would not cross.  Sadly, the review of Thiessen below indicates that that is no longer true.  I reprint first Schmitt’s review and then Ali Soufan’s recent op-ed piece on how the normal court system is more effective both for gaining information and convictions and its sad implications for what America has become.  In addition, the reader might like to look at Sullivan’s several pieces on the revision of Office of Professional Responsiblities’ report on the lawyers, revised by Margolis whose job is apparently to protect prosecutorial criminality  here, here and here.  Even he holds his nose, relating that Yoo and Bybee are perhaps not quite “legal scum” (see Balkin here and Greenwald here).


      But John Yoo is something worse.  Here is one of the war crimes advocated by Yoo according to the OPR report:


      “At the core of the legal arguments were the views of Yoo, strongly backed by David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's legal counsel, that the president's wartime powers were essentially unlimited and included the authority to override laws passed by Congress, such as a statute banning the use of torture. Pressed on his views in an interview with OPR investigators, Yoo was asked:

    ‘What about ordering a village of resistants to be massacred? ... Is that a power that the president could legally—‘

    ‘Yeah,’ Yoo replied, according to a partial transcript included in the report. ‘Although, let me say this: So, certainly, that would fall within the commander-in-chief's power over tactical decisions.’

    ‘To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?’ the OPR investigator asked again.

    ‘Sure,’ said Yoo.


       Here is Ian Millhiser’s apt response at Thinkprogress on what Yoo, as a supposed lawyer, clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, and professor at Berkeley – see here – omitted ;

     Here is Ian Milhauser's comment on some deficiencies in Yoo's rendering of the law at

           "As far back as 1804, a unanimous Supreme Court held in Little v. Barreme that Congress has sweeping authority to limit the President's actions in wartime. That case involved an Act of Congress authorizing vessels to seize cargo ships bound for French ports. After the President also authorized vessels to seize ships headed away from French ports, the Supreme Court held this authorization unconstitutional on the grounds that Congress' decision to allow one kind of seizure implicitly forbade other kinds of seizure. More recently, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Court held that the President does not have the power to unilaterally set military policy (in those cases with respect to detention); he must comply with statutory limits on his power. Taken together, these and other cases unquestionably establish that Congress has the power to tell the President 'no,' and the President must listen."

Here is Ian Millhiser’s apt response at Thinkprogress on what Yoo, as a supposed lawyer, clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, and professor at Berkeley – see here – omitted ;

        "’John Yoo is a moral vacuum, but he is also a constitutional law professor at one of the nation's top law schools and a former Supreme Court clerk,’ the site added. ‘It is simply impossible that Yoo is not aware of Little, Hamdi and Hamdan, or that he does not understand what they say. So when John Yoo claims that the President is not bound by Congressional limits, he is not simply ignorant or misunderstanding the law. He is lying.”’ [The original OPR report was right]  See here.

Gary Schmitt, "Safe at Home," 2/22/10, The Weekly Standard reviewing: 

How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next

Attack, by Marc A. Thiessen, Regnery, 376 pp., $29.95

      Marc Thiessen is not a lawyer, nor does he play one on TV.

      However, should he ever decide to put aside his current professional life as a foreign policy hand and speechwriter, he should think about giving a career in the law a look. Based on the fact that Courting Disaster, his defense of the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program, is the most detailed and comprehensive brief for that program put forward to date. And in making that brief, he also makes a compelling case that the Washington Post, New York Times, Christiane Amanpour, Andrew Sullivan, Jane Mayer, and sundry others have engaged in

journalistic malpractice by the selective reporting of facts, or

ignoring of facts altogether, when it came to the CIA program. Many wanted to believe the worst about the CIA, the Bush White House, and the

“war on terror,” and wrote and editorialized accordingly.

      As detailed here, the CIA program of secret detentions and “enhanced interrogation techniques”—which included sleep deprivation, cold cells, head and belly slaps, prolonged standing, “walling,” and

water boarding—was a relatively small effort which paid big dividends.

Out of the thousands detained by the United States and allies in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and from around the world, some 100 were handed over to the agency, where approximately one-third were subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques, but only three were subjected

to the most extreme of those methods, waterboarding.

     Yet, it was those interrogations, according to Thiessen, that resulted

in the government’s going from being virtually blind when it came to al Qaeda at the time of the 9/11 attacks to obtaining lead after lead about follow-on plots, previously unknown networks, and the operational

ins and outs of al Qaeda itself. Some half of what we came to know about Osama bin Laden and his allies came directly from those grillings, with

the result that Courting Disaster can plausibly point to the fact that, before the interrogation program was established, the United States had suffered four major al Qaeda attacks—the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the bombing of American embassies in Africa, the attack on the USS Cole, and 9/11—while after . . . none.

      On the program’s effectiveness, it was then-Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet who famously said that it ‘is worth more

than [what] the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.’ Nor was Tenet alone in this view. As Thiessen points out, virtually everyone who has

examined the program has supported that opinion. Indeed, even Dennis Blair, the Obama administration’s choice to head up the U.S. intelligence community, testified to the fact that ‘high value information came from interrogations in which [enhanced interrogation]

methods were used.’

       Blair followed up this point with the comment that ‘there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.’ But is that the case? As Thiessen observes, we do know

that attempts to interrogate terrorists using FBI techniques both before and after the 9/11 attacks produced nowhere near the same level of information. In fact, in two cases documented in the book—one

involving the interrogation of a key al Qaeda logistician, and the second, the would-be 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attack—the FBI’s interrogators were at best getting dribs and drabs, and more significant intelligence was obtained only afte enhanced interrogation techniques were used. This, of course, does not disprove Blair’s point conclusively, but it does indicate that getting that information in an operationally timely manner through the FBI’s methods, and under the

strictures of the Army Field Manual (as currently mandated by the administration), is not something one might want to count on.

        Thiessen’s argument, however, does not rest on the program’s effectiveness alone. He also wants to show that, contrary to Bush  administration critics, the underlying premise of the CIA interrogation effort was not that “anything goes” or that “might makes right.”

To the contrary, Courting Disaster gives considerable space to addressing the program’s legality and its morality. As he and others

have pointed out, one cannot objectively read the Justice Department memos detailing what the CIA interrogators could and could not do to the

high-value terrorist detainees (such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and not come away impressed with just how carefully limited the use of the harsher techniques, such as waterboarding, was. Certainly no one would want those methods to be used on oneself; but then again, as Thiessen points out, none of the terrorists who underwent enhanced interrogation have suffered the kind of permanent physical or mental damage we normally associate with torture.

       To draw some moral equivalence between what CIA interrogators did, and the behavior of Japanese camp guards and the Khmer Rouge, as some commentators and some in Congress have argued, is to lose all sense of proportion. Not only were the methods radically different, so were the ends for which they were employed.

       Nevertheless, there are those who would ban the use of any harsher

interrogation methods no matter what the cost in public security. All

one can really say to them is that they should remain as far away from

government as possible, where at times moral and legal judgments are not clear-cut, but one has to take responsibility for the safety of one’s fellow citizens.

       The more nuanced criticism is that it is better, as a matter of law and public morality, to stay well clear of anything that smacks of torture in the normal course of events but to acknowledge that, in dire

circumstances, one may ignore the law and do what is necessary—the so-called “ticking bomb” scenario.

       Although there is a case to be made for this approach in theory, in practice it has two major drawbacks. First, as the CIA discovered with the planned follow-on attacks against the United States by al Qaeda, we might not learn about a “ticking bomb” until an enhanced interrogation has actually taken place. Second, it will not be a president doing the rough stuff, but it will fall on the shoulders of intelligence or military personnel to carry out his order. Good luck

convincing them that it’s okay to break the law when they risk losing their careers, savings (as they hire lawyers), and liberty, with their only defense being “I was told to break the law.” Nor is the “ticking bomb” argument without its problem as a theory, for it implies that the law, including the Constitution, is not sufficient to protect the country—a dubious lesson for citizens and leaders alike [this 

paragraph seems remarkably confused even for Schmitt and Weekly Standard editing; what he probably means is that the Constitution supposedly includes tyrannical executive power, permitting CIA torture].

          There is a take-no-prisoners quality to Courting Disaster. Thiessen seems happy to do battle with anyone and everyone who has a negative

take on the CIA program. But given the moral preening Barack Obama and his allies have engaged in when it came to the CIA program, Bush

administration policies, and Guantánamo, the walloping Thiessen hands out is mostly deserved. 

        The truth is, Americans are not nearly as fastidious as Obama assumed they were when he released the interrogation memos last April. Polls consistently show that only one-quarter of the nation reject out of hand enhanced interrogation methods for the highest-value detainees. The

majority see a need to use more coercive interrogation methods in certain select instances. This is not a case of Americans being morally obtuse, but quite the opposite: We understand perfectly well both the threat we face and the fact that men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are not likely to break if faced only with the interrogation techniques allowed under the Army Field Manual. They understand that innocent lives are at stake in whether the Obama administration is effectively addressing this

and similar issues in the war against al Qaeda.


Gary Schmitt is director of the Program on Advanced Strategic Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and editor of and contributor to the forthcoming Safety and Liberty: Democratic Approaches to Domestic Security (AEI).


Ali Soufan:

SINCE Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York announced that he no longer favored trying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind, in a Manhattan federal court because of logistical concerns, the Obama administration has come under increasing attack from those who claim that military commissions are more suitable for prosecuting terrorists. These critics are misguided.

        As someone who has helped prosecute terrorists in both civilian and military courts — I was a witness for the government in two of the three military commissions convened so far — I think that civilian courts are often the more effective venue. In fact, the argument that our criminal justice system is more than able to handle terrorist cases was bolstered just last week by revelations that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called Christmas bomber, is cooperating with the authorities.

       Of the three terrorists tried under military commissions since 9/11, two are now free. David Hicks, an Australian who joined Al Qaeda, was sent back to his native country after a plea bargain. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver and confidante, is a free man in Yemen after all but a few months of his five-and-a-half-year sentence were wiped out by time spent in custody. (The third terrorist, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a former Qaeda propaganda chief, was sentenced to life in prison.)

         In contrast, almost 200 terrorists have been convicted in federal courts since 9/11. These include not only high-profile terrorists like Zacharias Moussaoui, who was convicted of conspiracy to kill United States citizens as part of the 9/11 attacks, but also many people much lower on the Qaeda pecking order than Mr. Hamdan.

       The federal court system has proved well equipped to handle these trials. It has been the venue for international terrorism cases since President Ronald Reagan authorized them in the 1980s, and for other terrorist cases long before that. Prosecutors have at their disposal numerous statutes with clear sentencing guidelines. Providing material support, for example, can result in a 15-year sentence or even the death penalty if Americans are killed.

       Military commissions, however, are new to lawyers. Military prosecutors are among the most intelligent and committed professionals I have ever known, but they faced great difficulties as they operated within an uncharted system, the legality of which has been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court three times.

        It’s also worth noting that, since 9/11, there have been only two terrorists apprehended under military law on United States soil: Jose Padilla, the American accused of plotting to set off a “dirty bomb,” and Ali Saleh al-Marri, a Qaeda operative accused of being a sleeper agent. After several years, both were transferred to the federal system and are now serving time. If anything, holding them in military detention might have hindered our ability to gain their cooperation, as they gave no new significant information during that period.

        Nonetheless, attacks on the abilities of the federal justice system have intensified ever since Mr. Abdulmutallab was arrested in Detroit on Dec. 25 and charged with federal crimes. Critics claim that he should have been held under the laws of war and not read his Miranda rights.

        Whether suspects cooperate depends on the skill of the interrogator and the mindset of the suspects — not whether they’ve been told they can remain silent. When legally required, I’ve read some top Qaeda terrorists their rights and they’ve still provided valuable intelligence. Now we’ve learned that “despite” being read his Miranda rights, Mr. Abdulmutallab is cooperating with his F.B.I. interrogators. This should have been no surprise.

        Critics were also off base in claiming that the two F.B.I. agents who first questioned Mr. Abdulmutallab were inexperienced local officials. They were veterans of counterterrorism work, at home and abroad, and are led by the special agent in charge of the bureau’s Detroit office, who has run antiterrorist operations across the world. I’ve worked with him; he’s highly experienced. The bureau ignored the attacks on the effectiveness and professionalism of its agents as it focused on getting vital intelligence from Mr. Abdulmutallab. It is owed an apology.

       Indeed, it’s very disappointing to see politicians and pundits smear the law enforcement community, to imply that the United States attorneys and the F.B.I. cannot do their job properly under the law. Our justice system is an integral weapon in our war against Al Qaeda, and its successes are a big reason the terrorist group has failed to hit our homeland for nine years.

       Other criticisms are similarly off the mark, including claims that classified information is at risk in federal courts. Terrorism cases aren’t the only instances in which classified information is handled in federal courtrooms — in espionage cases the threat of sensitive material being made public is just as great. That’s why in 1980 Congress passed the Classified Information Procedures Act, which allows the government to request permission to withhold classified information, produce summaries and redacted versions, or to show information only to defense lawyers with security clearances. The law is routinely invoked in terrorism trials, especially those related to Al Qaeda.

       Critics also claim that trials might give terrorists a soapbox. But federal courts do not allow photography, recordings or broadcasts. What the defendants say is made known only through press reports afterward — just as with military commissions. And federal judges (like military judges) have the power to gag or remove defendants who try to disrupt trials.

         Military commissions do serve an important purpose. We are at war, and for Qaeda terrorists caught on the battlefield who did not commit crimes inside the United States, or who killed American civilians abroad, military commissions are appropriate. But for terrorists like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who plotted to murder the innocent on United States soil, federal courts are not only more suitable, they’re our best chance at getting the strongest conviction possible.


Ali H. Soufan was an F.B.I. special agent from 1997 to 2005.

*Many thanks to Peter Minowitz, who, I think with some trepidation, forwarded me Schmitt’s review.

**About a political follower of Leo Strauss, this is sadly never an idle question. See here and here 

***Storing served in World War II, was a liberal Democrat, and, despite his sad essay on executive power, not a neocon.

****Robert Kagan wrote the amusing “I am not a Straussian at least I don’t think I am” for the Weekly Standard in February, 2006 here.   He reports as a 13 year old going to the Cornell faculty club with his dad and hearing Don debate Allan Bloom about whether Plato meant the “city in speech” seriously.  Bloom oddly thinks it is just a comedy designed anachronistically to put off ‘60s radicals from doing anything – since it will supposedly enable them to see that one just can’t get a just regime of the sort that communists or fascists want – he did not understand Leo in this respect. Kagan thought the philosopher-king was serious.   Leo likes Plato’s satires about women (women and men wrestling naked together - see my Cretan Bull-vaulting and Plato's Republic here and here), but leaves aside the seriousness of Diotima (the Symposium); Ibn–Rushd is far smarter about Plato on this than Strauss.  But Strauss said Plato was serious about the philosopher-tyrant; it is a leading hidden thought for Strauss. Bloom, once again, was a good translator and a clever gossip, but his main "discovery" about Plato turns out a) to be not Strauss, b) to be false about Plato, and c) to be one of the few decent things Bloom thought.  Bloom, was, in this respect, not a Straussian.  He reports a lot of struggle subordinating his individuality to the great books, to the religion of Strauss (for a letter in which he relates his experience of conversion by Strauss as a kind of magical rabbi, see here).  Hate to say so, Bob, but apparently not reading political philosophy and having a couple of courses from Tom Pangle, you don’t know whether you are a Straussian or not.  In that debate, your dad was right both about Plato and about Strauss.

Poem: and


the painter strokes her     breath

heaves under a rib

a mother does not suckle colors


fingers culled in sleep a

child moments


the artist is not a father


the woman is not a painting



Sunday, February 21, 2010

Afghanistan and democracy break the Dutch government - part 2

     When is a modern “democracy” – a supposedly representative government - interested in what ordinary people (not racists like the Tea Baggers* stirred from above)  think?  The American public has been deeply skeptical of the long Iraq occupation and even resistant to sending more troops in Afghanistan.  It is part of the drop in enthusiasm for the Democrats since they were elected to withdraw the troops in Iraq – Obama was the anti-“dumb” Iraq war candidate as opposed to Hilary, the toughest "guy" on the block, the one who takes the “3 AM” phone call, was "under fire" in the Balkans, and out-McCains McCain.  The greatest problem the Democrats have is, of course, jobs and the appearance that with enormous majorities in the House and Senate and having the Presidency - controlling all  but the quasi-authoritarian Supreme Court - they can do nothing.  This is the brokenness of the Senate as an institution. 

       But Barack is waging 5 or 6 wars whose costs have to be kept out of sight, out of mind – a completely privatized military, good news of the capture of a Taliban leader (misnamed by Glenn Beck a leader of Al-Qaida whom he called for shooting in the head – vigilante justice being the great tradition of the Ku Klux Klan and the Republican Party/t-bag crowd).  But the big story internationally this week was the American missile which killed six children among twelve innocents in a house in Marjah.  General McChrystal had to apologize to Prime Minister Karzai, the weak Afghani puppet whom the US imposed but dislikes – corrupt and won’t mobilize Afghans to fight – because of the anger of ordinary people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention everyone in Europe who heard about it on the BBC and even Americans who follow these matters.  McChrystal even promised not to fire any more missiles at Marjah (maybe as a torturer in Iraq, perfectly willing to be odious and criminal, but who finally figured out this wasn't bright,  the General could tell Obama that shooting up civilians with drones - and trying to name this "collateral damage" - is criminal, hateful, wins America no friends, and makes Americans hourly more insecure.

     Two scenes: the American media, tries to pump America up (the Pakistani ISI got the Taliban leader but we pushed them into it, as in the Times' front page story last Tuesday),  America in terms of world public opinion becomes, despite its surprising turn-around with Obama, more and more lost.

       Part of the corruption of any empire is what I name the moral backbrokenness of American and global news.  The privatization of war, including keeping secret American operations of a war criminal sort (outside of the photos from Abu Ghraib which finally revealed even to Americans what America had become) is part of reducing civilian, common good-oriented, democratic opposition.  If the people knew, as in the majority movement before the Iraq war (the greatest anti-War movement before a war in the history of the world), there might even be an uprising.

       The American people also want everyone covered by health care (otherwise known as universal health care).  The number diminishes when the insurance companies launch a campaign in the kept media in favor of unnecessary deaths and cruelty, but it has probably always been a strong majority when intelligent questions - roughly “do you want your children and elders covered?”, as opposed to variants on “do you hate socialized, big government medicine?” - are asked.

       Oligarchies with parliamentary forms as in Holland - a big election once every few years and then the elite rule - are not very democratic or common good-oriented (except to get elected occasionally), even when they are not dominated by a war complex, in decline both economically and as the "unipower," and with increasing executive or Presidential – meaning tyrannical – rule as in the United States.

       But Holland now considers the Iraq war a crime.  Antiwar sentiment kept the Dutch, despite its support of NATO, from sending troops to Afghanistan in 2001, but Bush kept working, working the elite parties including Labor, and in 2006 they sent troops against popular sentiment.  Still, the continuing US/"NATO "effort to impose even more troop demands, as Dutch soldiers die, has run into opposition from the coalition Labor Party which caused the downfall of the government.  21 soldiers are dead; the war is not getting Bin-Laden (American occupations and drone missiles killing civilians actually strengthen Bin-Laden; diminishing or ending the occupations, trying to divide and co-opt the Taliban through negotiations and money (one of Barack's plans) and taking steps, as with Pakistani security, to go after enemy leaders would do much to improve America's standing in the world and weaken Al-Qaida).  In any case,  democracy rules in this respect in Holland whereas it does not in the war complex-driven United States.

       September 11th murdered 3000 civilians in the United States.  Al-Qaida did this. Bush was going to strike back regardless of whether what he did would actually bring down Bin-Laden.  Afghanistan was a crude war of vengeance, launched as an aggression by Bush and supported by others.  But the Bush administration never cared about getting Bin Laden.  From “Wanted Dead or Alive” to “I can’t remember his name" – and presto, “Saddam!”   It is 8 years in Afghanistan  and counting.  Pat Tillman, who models American heroism in response to Al Qaida, was murdered by “friendly fire” and lied about by McCain and the Pentagon probably because he disagreed about the war in Iraq.

      Democracy in the United States, Obama sadly seems bent on proving, is the comparatively intelligent will of the war complex (the military-industrial-think tank “expert”–media-political complex).  See here.  Glenn Beck and the Republican/authoritarians just want: shoot ‘em in the head.  It beats torture because even the pretence of getting information as opposed to murdering whoever "other" they can their hands on really is not of much interest to them. To speak of a rule of law here, even among the lawyers who compose the Republican as well as the Democratic Party, is further and further unreal.  I guess the “center” in American politics is the newly elected Massachusetts Senator who drives a truck and wants more and bigger Guantanamos. To say that this spectrum is variants on aggression and torture  (Obama has barred the worst forms of the latter, but has left of the rule of law in shambles) is, sadly, to say the truth.

      No war complex as in Holland, the people speak.  No war complex, the Dutch government falls.  War complex and depression, the American regime promises to fall to the right.   If we can’t fight for something more decent from below here – I mean ordinary people - and if the Democrats don’t force a few decent measures though the Senate, this incredibly weaponized government which cannot and will not help its own people or the world, which is so deeply broken that even someone quite exceptional among the elite like Obama cannot patch it, will take a lot down with it.

Published on Saturday, February 20, 2010 by Agence France Presse

Dutch Government Falls over Afghan Military Mission: PM

The Dutch government collapsed Saturday, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said, after members of the coalition government failed to agree on a NATO request to extend the Netherlands' military mission in Afghanistan.

THE HAGUE (AFP) - - The Dutch government collapsed Saturday, the prime minister said, after members of the coalition government disagreed on a NATO request to extend the Netherlands' military mission in Afghanistan.

"Later today, I will offer to her majesty the Queen the resignations of the ministers and deputy ministers of the (Labour Party) PvdA," premier Jan Peter Balkenende told journalists in the early hours.

He made the announcement after the cabinet held more than 16 hours of talks in The Hague to try to settle the dispute between the PvdA and Balkenende's Christian Democratic Appeal, the senior partner in the governing coalition.

In the latest in a string of political rows, vice-premier Wouter Bos invoked the ire of his cabinet colleagues by stating this week that his PvdA would not support extending the Dutch deployment in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen had asked the Netherlands earlier this month to take on a new training role and remain in Afghanistan until August 2011, a year later than originally planned.

Bos' comments prompted Balkenende to respond that the matter was still under discussion, while the Christian Union (CU), the junior partner in the coalition, chided Bos for speaking out of turn.

The public spat resulted in a snap parliamentary debate Thursday, during which Bos was accused of using the issue for political gain as polls show his party lagging in the run-up to March 3 municipal elections.

The deployment of Dutch troops in Afghanistan was an unpopular move with voters from the outset.

"As the leader of the cabinet, I came to the conclusion that there is no common road for the CDA, PvdA and the Christian Union to take into the future," Balkenende said.

"For days we have seen that unity has been affected by ... statements that clash with recent cabinet decisions."

This was Balkenende's fourth government in a row in eight years. All have collapsed before their mandate expired.

Around 1,950 Dutch troops are deployed in Afghanistan under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The Dutch mission, which started in 2006, has already once been extended by two years and has cost 21 soldiers' lives.

*The Tea Party is a New York Times/media rebranding since t-bagging is silly, but the Boston Tea Party was something.  To say that history repeats itself as farce does not quite get this.  Even Mel Brooks might have trouble with it: Springtime for Glenn Beck in…