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 Thinkprogress.org:

           "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.

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