Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Column in the Daily Northwestern on John Evans

Gary Fine, a John Evans Professor at Northwestern has joined with several students in writing a fierce account of the much celebrated Evans' role in the Sand Creek massacre and the University's founding.

It emphasizes Evans's role as a railway magnate, a point well-known about Illinois, but vital as well to the massacre (the Union Pacific was run through Kansas and then Sand Creek). In Kansas, the Governor negotiated with the indigenous people to push them out. In the Colorado Territory at the end of the Civil War, Evans slaughtered them.


After his removal from office for his role in the Sand Creek massacre, Evans was invited to head the Trustees at Northwestern...


The amnesia about the Massacre which the letter rightly invokes is not just in the University but in the nation. I speak of founding amnesias because the settlers proceeding West denied the humanity and then, by force, the presence of those whom they dispossessed.

Mankato, Minnesota has no Dakota indians; there are no Arapahoes in Arapahoe County, Colorado...


The letter is forceful on how acknowledging painful truths can strengthen an institution and on calling for the founding of a University Senate group, now in fact set up, to investigate Evans's central role in the ethnic cleansing of Colorado...


Guest Column: Sand Creek Massacre a moral stain on Northwestern's past
January 23, 2013

Each year on Jan. 28, Northwestern University gathers to honor its founders. On that date in 1851, the Illinois Legislature approved Northwestern’s Act of Incorporation. Soon it will be Founders’ Day 2013, and we will celebrate with cake and self-congratulations.

Despite these festivities, Northwestern has a shameful past for which it must atone. In order to grow, institutions must remember their past, but this University has chosen amnesia. We must not forget that John Evans, the man who established this University and served as the chair of the Board of Trustees, was morally and politically culpable for one of the most despicable acts of genocide in American history: the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.

In 1862, President Lincoln appointed Evans the territorial governor of Colorado, a land in which white settlers were intent on conquering native lands for their own benefit. Evans, a railroad magnate, was one of those who believed the “Indian problem” could be solved through violence. He wrote a proclamation declaring that “all hostile Indians would be pursued and destroyed,” claiming that “most of the Indian tribes of the plains are at war and hostile to the whites,” and authorizing all citizens “to kill and destroy, as enemies of the country, wherever they may be found, all such hostile Indians”.

The native peoples – the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe – were camped at Sand Creek under an American flag and had been promised peace; they hoped to negotiate with the white settlers under their leader, Black Kettle. Evans, on the other hand, allowed his military commander, John Chivington, to accomplish their aims by means of a massacre of the Native peoples. The details are gruesome. John Smith subsequently told Congress, “I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces, worse mutilated than any I have ever saw before; the women cut all to pieces ... With knives; scalped; their brains knocked out; children two or three months old ... By whom were they mutilated? By the United States troops.” Estimates placed the number killed in the hundreds, mostly women and children. The crime was so obviously deplorable that Congress held hearings, and President Andrew Johnson removed Evans from office for covering up the massacre and decorating Chivington and his soldiers.

However, this story is truly about Northwestern University. After being indicted and removed from office, John Evans was welcomed back as the chair of our Board of Trustees throughout his life. This act of extermination, benefiting Evans’ railroad interests, built this University. After the massacre and because of Evans’ declaration that all Indians be considered hostile — and all peaceful Indians demonstrate this by relocating to camps under U.S. observation — Indian land in the Colorado Territory was opened to the railroads and sold to white settlers. Throughout his life John Evans remained our chief benefactor, making this University one that was built on the blood of native peoples.

On this 162nd Founders’ Day, we call upon President Morton Schapiro to establish a Commission on Truth and Justice that will have as its task the unearthing of the history of the Sand Creek Massacre and the extent of this University’s benefit from John Evans. This commission must be composed of administrators, trustees, faculty, students, alumni, and, crucially, representatives of affected native and indigenous communities. We demand a full accounting without fear and without deception. With this detailed historical record, we then call upon the president and the Board of Trustees to take steps to remember our history and to ensure that the University is committed to justice, through memorials, commemorations, lectures, scholarships, and support of the affected community. We do not prejudge the outcome but insist on an open and generous process.

In 2003, Brown University was faced with the recognition that parts of its campus were built through their founder’s connection with the slave trade. The investigation, sponsored by President Ruth Simmons, agonizing though it was, did not weaken Brown but made it stronger and more inclusive. Knowledge, even painful knowledge, frees us as scholars and as students and will guide us in the development of a more ethical community.

With respect, with dignity, and with determination, we call on President Schapiro to announce this commission on Founders’ Day. This is the moment for Northwestern to confront its past. It’s about time.

Gary Fine, sociology professor
Adam Mendel, Weinberg senior
Heather Menefee, Weinberg sophomore
Forrest Bruce, SESP freshman
Wilson Smith, Bienen and Weinberg freshman

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Witness against Torture and the hunger strikers at Guantanamo

I received many responses to “Torture is a war crime not a mistake.” See here. Perhaps the most important in terms of organizing against these atrocities is the letter below for Jeremy Varon, a teacher of history at Eugene Lang College at the New School, about the activites of Witness Against Torture in support of the hunger strikers at Guantanamo.

My friend Peter Minowitz continues – it is the war on terror mentality driven by fear and unjustifiable trust in authority – to apologize for Obama, whom, of course, we both like. Peter ignores the immense and continuing criminality – there is no other way to describe it – of American militarism. So consider the following facts about who is in Guantanamo and what is being done to them.

1. Obama promised to shut Guantanamo. He did so because the wretched barbarism and contempt for the rule of law and decency of Richard Cheney and George W. Bush were and are made visible, unmistakably, there.

2. Recall: Guantanamo is a US imperial outpost stolen from Cuba and the then powerful imperial rival Spain in the war of 1898 (something that might make racists happy, but no decent person, upon reflection, would feel much but nauseated by; it was a time when US troops committed genocide in the Phillipines, and the like).

3. Obama worked hard to close Guantanamo, even getting out small numbers of prisoners to the Marianas and other places that could be persuaded, in exchange for American aid, to take them.

4. Congress blocked doing so, the Republicans because they are racists and cowards, and the Democrats, because they fear to lose out in elections due to baiting on “national security,” also cowardly...

This exaggerated fear, which I have called the right wing two step of ordinary politics in the war complex, short of revolt from below, is responsible for much American craziness – given that we have a trillion dollar war budget, 1280 bases below the radar of public acknowledgment and scrutiny, a kept mainstream press featuring mainly generals to comment on war as in the run up to and orchestration of the aggression in Iraq, carefully chosen “academics” from the American Enterprise Institute or "responsible" individuals from other think-tanks on CNN, MSNBC and the like, and few of the many articulate and very well qualified critics....Warned of by Dr. King in his speech about Vietnam, militarism along with global warming in which “Congress” is, largely, in thrall to the oil companies, may destroy, in our children's lifetimes, the conditions of habitability of the earth for much of our species.

Thus, the protests on behalf of these prisoners, particularly the many innocent ones, are protests on behalf of humanity.

5. These prisoners have often been held for 10 or 11 years with only their names available to the public.

6. After being tortured – and after still being tortured under Obama during their desperate hunger strikes, for example by forced feeding by “doctors” (no Guantanamo doctor who has participated in force feeding should be allowed, unchallenged, to practice medicine again in the United States) – see here – no information has been released about the changes against any of them (trust me, trust me, says the Cheney-Bush-Obama regime about Guantanamo).

7. I repeat: there is no public information about the criminality or dangerousness of the people who are held there. That Cheney said “They are the worst of the worst” reflects the craziness of “going to the dark side”. After protests from many governments as well as ordinary people internationally, more than 600 of the original 800 prisoners have been released. Moazzem Begg, a Briton of Pakistani origin, was kept as Enemy Combattant (the title of his recent book) and tortured. He was at Bagram and was, as an English speaker, relied on by Pentagon investigators about the murder by American soldiers of Mr. Dilawar, a taxi driver (see "Taxi to the Dark Side"). Begg had planned to fight in Kashmir where there is enormous oppression of Muslims by the state of India (Kashmir was the "K" in the original "Pakistan.") After pressure from London, Bush released Begg to British authorities, warning how dangerous he was. The British spoke with Begg, and released him within 5 hours of his arriving in London...

Some are said to have joined with Al-Qaida upon leaving Guantanamo. Where often previously innocent, the experience of losing many years of one's life and being tortured is likely to make a victim hate the torturers. To accord with the rule of law, some legal process with evidence is needed, not just the word of war making authorities - "commander in chief" or executive power - that there are really criminals, "the worst of the worst" in Guantanamo. Bush finally transferred in 14 people from the even more secret dark sites who may - or may not - be "High Value Suspects."

8. But the real question is whether America has confidence in its own values, the morally decent ones of not empowering a big government in torturing and murder with no checks or oversight or even demand from the "free" media, any explanation.

Again, the powers who deserve morally to be defended like Spain try people in courts of law. The cowards who hide people, often innocent, forever in the dark, refuse to release information about and torture them are rightly regarded by most of the world as crazy and dangerous (I mean you Lindsay Graham and John McCain – people who once seemed to stand against torture – but the criterion applies, and many see it, now even to Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton…).

9. Recall the Pew Poll from 2004 in which 6 per cent of the world thought Saddam the most dangerous leader in the world, 7% Kim Jong-il of South Korea, 1% other – and 84% George W. Bush.

10. The world was so shocked and blown away – me, too – when American democracy then elected the smartest and most decent guy in the room (of Presidential candidates) Barack Obama President of the United States, that it gave America some grace.

11. Obama was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the hope that he would do something decent.

12. That America not yet bombing Iran – with immense pressure from Netanyahu, Romney and part of the war complex, is an amazing thing. Obama did not do this in a Presidential election and still hasn’t (we need a much stronger movement from below to fight against this – the danger continues…)

The war complex was divided because Obama was President, trying to hold back madness – and not every member of this “indispensable” power is high on hubris or to put it colloquially, insane.

13. A larger Middle East war in the context of the US arming Israel and Israel's fierce oppression of the Palestinians could likely engender use of nuclear weapons – by Israel, the one nuclear armed power in the area, which in such a conflict, might end up quite desperate. There is a limit to how much militarism the Netanyahu/fundamentalist leadership can gin up in Israel, a limit to how long any decent settlement, recognizing the rights, as human beings, of Palestinians and Israeli Jews, can be shunned.

14. But Obama has also resorted to the war criminal policy of blowing up innocents with drones in 6 countries the US is not at war with. Legally speaking (and morally), this is a) aggression on America’s part, and b) the murder of innocents. The Senate in its dilatory way, is just now touching on this issue. Displaying the Bush regime's contempt for law, Obama has sent no representative to testify.

Consider, however, the viral testimony to the Senate of Farea Al-Muslimi, a Yemeni student in America who talks about how his village sees America after a US drone-strike.(h/t Aaron Ney) See and listen here. Please stop and take the time to look into this if you haven’t. The hatred for America engendered by drones is lethal, spreading rapidly and a pure an example of what Chalmers Johnson, making popular an old and rare intelligent CIA idiom, Blowback.

Blowback – counter-actions taken against unwise (usually criminal) American policies which fly below the radar of the bipartisan “consensus” in American policy and are thus hidden from the American people and democratic debate and judgement. This is how, as Richard Clarke, the leadings national security advisor under Presidents since Reagan, aptly, said the US ended up responding to the 9/11 by aggressing against and committing torture in Iraq. It was as if he said, FDR had responded to Pearl Harbor by attacking Mexico…

And he might have added, with lots of indefinite detention and torture adjoined to aggression.

Ordinary people who have suffered terrorization and murder by drone, are likely, some number of them, to want to strike against the United States. And many more will - rightly - detest the United States as the sender from far away of drones that mainly - often overwhelmingly - kill innocents (Bin Laden was not taken out by drone).

I will have a companion post on this.

15. It is true that innocent Yemenis – after being tortured and held for over 10 years and having hunger strikes unto death and being tortured again for going on hunger strike – may want to hit at the United States if released. After the experience of Guantanamo, some innocent people, when they recover have apparently chosen to fight the United States. Yet it is unlikely.

Maher Arar, the Syrian-Canadian engineer whom Bush sent to be tortured in a coffin-size cell in Syria for 10 months, was found by Syrian “intelligence” to have exactly nothing to do with Al-Qaida or politics. He was sent back to Canada, a broken man (one who could not, for a long time, play with his children). He never intended to and will do nothing against the US. Listen here.

The Canadian government has apologized to Arar and paid damages in a law suit. The Obama administration has so far prevented this Canadian from suing for being tortured in an American court relying on the Emperor’s New Clothes doctrine of “state secrets.” It attempts to hide from a court what is in the public record, i.e. not secret, by the laughable doctrine of "state secrets."

16. America is powerful but skates, with much bluster among the militarists, on thin ice…


The Times also had a fine editorial yesterday on the real Bush library - and thus a moral commentary on the American Presidents who are celebrating him: "the Stain of Guantanamo." The editors report that they received some criticism - there is a serious tendency toward barbarism and criminality in America - for printing the words of an innocent man who has been tortured there.

It, too, is below.


"Dear Alan,

This is Jeremy Varon, Professor of History, member of Witness Against Torture, and loyal reader of your blog.

Thanks so much for focusing on the grim topic of torture. In one of the snippets you quote a friend lamenting why no one seems to be talking about the current hunger strike at GTMO. OK, there has been a smattering of decent coverage (Chris Hayes, the Nation, the Guardian UK) and aspects of the saga are being reported by the "elite" press. More to the point, my group is deeply mobilized around the hunger strikes, coordinating demos throughout the country, calls to the White House and Southern Command (they actually answer and talk to us [a very good thing]), letter writing to the detainees (you can write them, no idea if they get the letters), a "rolling fast," and so on.

And, word of our actions, through lawyers, is making it, translated into arabic sometimes, to the detainees themselves. Please spend a few minutes to check out and consider alerting your readers that there IS grassroots response to the hunger strikes and all kinds of ways that people of conscience everywhere can tap into various activities.

If you want to talk in more specifics, by email or phone, let me know.



"Monday, April 22, 2013 5:18 PM

photos: &
video coming soon at

Press Release: April 22, 2013

Contact: Jeremy Varon,
Matt Daloisio,

Arrests at Federal Courthouse in NYC as
Hunger Strike at Guantanamo Widens

New York City, April 22: Responding to reports that 84 men — more than half of those imprisoned at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay — are hunger striking to protest their indefinite detention, 12 concerned citizens with Witness Against Torture were arrested at approximately 3pm in a “die-in” on the steps of the Federal Courthouse at Manhattan’s Foley Square (40 Centre Street).

Those arrested, some in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, held signs with names of the men who have already died under US custody at the prison. Fearing that more prisoners could die soon, the protesters are demanding that immediate measures be taken by the Obama administration to close the prison.

The hunger strike, begun on February 6, has reached dire proportions. Following a raid by guards of one of the prison sections (“Camp 6”) on April 13, inmates were newly thrown into solitary confinement and examined by medical staff. As a result, the number of those acknowledged as hunger striking by the US military has sharply climbed. Sixteen of the men are being force fed — a painful practice condemned by human rights organizations and described in testimony from Samir Mukbei published in the New York Times on April 14. More than half of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo, including some of the hunger strikers, have been “cleared for release” by US authorities.

“The hunger strike,” says Jeremy Varon, an organizer with Witness Against Torture, “is the predictable result of a failed policy of indefinite detention that is morally unacceptable and politically unsustainable. If action is not taken to change that policy, more prisoners will die and our nation’s shame will deepen.”

“I took part in the protest at the Federal Court,” says North Carolina resident Beth Brockman, “because justice is broken when men who our government has no plans to charge or put on trial no harm are held for years.”

“Shaker Aamer, the sole UK citizen still at Guantanamo,” added protestor Brian Hynes, “recently pleaded, ‘I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children.’ These words, from a man cleared for release 6 years ago, haunt me. The United States is slowly killing men in a prison that should never have existed. This nightmare must end.”

Since the hunger strike began, Witness Against Torture has been holding vigils and rallies throughout the country, calling the White House and US military, and sending letters to the detained men. Following a 7 day fast in late March, it has organized a “rolling fast” that will continue as long as the hunger strike does, in which more than 100 people nationwide have participated.


The Guantánamo Stain
Published: April 25, 2013

All five living presidents gathered in Texas Thursday for a feel-good moment at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which is supposed to symbolize the legacy that Mr. Bush has been trying to polish. President Obama called it a “special day for our democracy.” Mr. Bush spoke about having made “the tough decisions” to protect America. They all had a nice chuckle when President Bill Clinton joked about former presidents using their libraries to rewrite history.

But there is another building, far from Dallas on land leased from Cuba [sic - at gun point], that symbolizes Mr. Bush’s legacy in a darker, truer way: the military penal complex at Guantánamo Bay where Mr. Bush imprisoned hundreds of men after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a vast majority guilty of no crime.

It became the embodiment of his dangerous expansion of executive power and the lawless detentions, secret prisons and torture that went along with them. It is now also a reminder of Mr. Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised when he took office, and of the malicious interference by Congress in any effort to justly try and punish the Guantánamo inmates.

There are still 166 men there — virtually all of them held without charges, some for more than a decade. More than half have been cleared for release but are still imprisoned because of a law that requires individual Pentagon waivers. The administration eliminated the State Department post charged with working with other countries to transfer the prisoners so those waivers might be issued.

Of the rest, some are said to have committed serious crimes, including terrorism, but the military tribunals created by Mr. Bush are dysfunctional and not credible, despite Mr. Obama’s improvements. Congress long ago banned the transfer of prisoners to the federal criminal justice system where they belong and are far more likely to receive fair trials and long sentences if convicted.

Only six are facing active charges. Nearly 50 more are deemed too dangerous for release but not suitable for trial because they are not linked to any specific attack or because the evidence against them is tainted by torture.

The result of this purgatory of isolation was inevitable. Charlie Savage wrote in The Times on Thursday about a protest that ended in a raid on Camp Six, where the most cooperative prisoners are held. A hunger strike in its third month includes an estimated 93 prisoners, twice as many as were participating before the raid. American soldiers have been reduced to force-feeding prisoners who are strapped to chairs with a tube down their throats.

That prison should never have been opened. It was nothing more than Mr. Bush’s attempt to evade accountability by placing prisoners in another country. The courts rejected that ploy, but Mr. Bush never bothered to fix the problem. Now, shockingly, the Pentagon is actually considering spending $200 million for improvements and expansions clearly aimed at a permanent operation.

Polls show that Americans are increasingly indifferent to the prison. We received a fair amount of criticism recently for publishing on our Op-Ed page a first-person account from one of the Guantánamo hunger strikers.

But whatever Mr. Bush says about how comfortable he is with his “tough” choices, the country must recognize the steep price being paid for what is essentially a political prison. Just as hunger strikes at the infamous Maze Prison in Northern Ireland indelibly stained Britain’s human rights record, so Guantánamo stains America’s.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Emperor's new clothes: a student names the errors of Rogoff-Reinhart "Austerity"

During 2012, my colleague George Demartino organized a year long series on the role of ignorance - asking questions - in social science. It was a very lively series. Its theme is of even greater relevance today when a beginning economics student at U. Mass. Amherst (George's one-time department also) brought down the Rogoff-Reinhart thesis underpinning "Austerity" economics and harming - through blocking the policies needed to recover from the worldwide depression - a very large number of people from obtaining work or being functional members of society. (h/t Haider Khan)


Academic work is very hierarchical. Professors, who seek or achieve fame and status, sometimes do not check their work carefully and hawk results that catch a wave. Often reviewers, even for the best journals, are careless about "important" work - that of "substantial" people in the profession - or work of people they admire. The fame of the author sometimes overwhelms critical judgement.


This is, of course, less true in the natural sciences than in the so-called social sciences (many theses of sociobiologists, a substitute for old fashioned eugenics, excepted).

In economics, however, results, when sound, are reproducible.


But powerful interests sometimes subsidize academic findings which serve their interests at the expense of a common good (the Koch brothers have even reached into corrupt schools to make appointments). In particular, they widely publicize such findings. Thus, even well-intentioned errors cause harm, and some whose intention is dubious like Richard Herrnstein, co-author of the Bell Curve at Harvard and Arthur Jensen at Berkeley, the authors of monographs and books pushing eugenics particularly toward blacks, can exert or license serious harms affecting the lives of millions of people.


In social science, there is no more startling paradigm of this than the corruption surrounding IQ testing and eugenics. A strong genetic component underlying IQ tests has long been alleged by Hitler, segregationists and defenders of apartheid to underpin the putative superiority of a master race. The 1924 American immigration law refers to "preserving the pure Nordic stock of the United States" and was borne on the wings of World War I IQ testing at Ellis Island, alleging that those who had not yet learned English were inferior in intelligence to Scandinavian immigrants from the 1890s. For instance, Carl Brigham of Princeton asserted this "fact" in his influential 1921 A Study in American Intelligence, but the lack of intelligence here is Brigham's; the earlier immigrants had learned English, lived in America for 20 years, and therefore could identify such innately obvious names as that of the Brooklyn National League baseball team of the 1910s (hint: it is not the Dodgers...).

Nonetheless, the library of the Educational Testing Service in Princeton is, to this day, named for Carl Brigham....


There is no theory of intelligence connected with IQ testing. IQ testing says that "intelligence" is merely what "intelligence" tests test. This is a circular and rather silly operational definition. The test actually tries to predict how students will do in class, race and gender structured schools. Its usefulness for the French psychologist Binet, was initially to help children who have learning differences- something morally defensible... - but it was Americanized and perversely linked to justifying class, race and gender structure by Stanford psychologist Louis Terman.

On the face of it, a well-defined genetic component, given this definition of "intelligence," is rather unlikely.


The claim for such a basis stems from the work of eugenicist Sir Cyril Burt in England. It relies on his once celebrated and now notorious "twin studies." Leon Kamin, the chair of the Princeton psychology department, tracked down errors in Burt's work and published The Science and Politics of IQ (1974).


Burt had conducted studies on the intelligence - IQ scores - of twins from the same egg (monozygotic twins) raised in different environments versus twins from different eggs (dizygotic twins) raised in different environments. One problem stemmed from a very small number of cases, and in addition, many of these were twins in small English villages, one raised by the mother and one by the aunt across the road...

Another came from Burt alleging exactly the same correlations to three decimal places over shifting - nearly doubling - ostensible sample sizes over a number of years...


In 1976, Dr. Oliver Gilley, an enterprising reporter and medical correspondant for the London Sunday Times, deepened the doubts about Burt by discovering a vivid fantasy life. Gilley investigated Burt's co-authors, Ms. Howard and Ms. Conway, who wrote articles in flaming Burtian style in the journal Burt edited defending Burt's findings against any criticism. Burt's journal announced they were Ph.D.s from the University of London. Neither existed...

Burt had not only been knighted for his research in England, but given the Thorndike award by the American Psychological Association in 1971...


In "scientific" psychology, that error concerning powerful social prejudices is hard to refute is evident even from this brief account.


IQ testing is a startling example of prestigious pseudoscience, spawning eugenics and used to justify racist immigration, anti-miscegenation and sterilization laws (for "feeble-minded" women) in the US, England, and surpassing them, Nazi Germany...


Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein cite an article from Ms. Howard and Burt in their influential, corrupt and false The Bell Curve (1990)...

It was reported prominently in the psychological literature that Burt was a fraud - Leslie Hearnshaw, Burt's official biographer who had spoken at his memorial service and set out to defend him, sadly acknowledged this in his 1979 book - and that Burt had misleadingly touted his own research through the voice of a made-up "colleague." Yet Richard Herrnstein - allegedly a scholar and a full professor at Harvard - and Charles Murray cited these "results" 11 years later in a book which made the front cover of Time magazine...


When the rich need ideas to justify themselves (or ideas to march by), exposing fraud and serious error - that is, scientific activity seeking the truth - will only destroy one version of the fable. More will be produced - the hydra will have many heads - by those hungry for money and fame...


Gilley also found that Burt, as a counselor to the London School System, had written such evaluations as "this is a typical slum monkey with the muzzle of a pale face chimpanzee."

Burt always knew, he reports, that his brightest children "were blondes." He did "estimated" IQs on the handful of twins he encountered (to use the verb "studied" in this context would be inappropriate).


Arthur Jensen, an arch-racist and enemy of "Head Start" early education programs for poor children but who feigned research in educational psychology at Berkeley, went to see Burt's housekeeper when he "got wind" of Kamin's research through the first talks Kamin gave (Burt was an old fashioned English don). Jensen wanted to look at Burt's records - the data and the original drafts - on the twin studies. She - who else but the housekeeper?...- had all of Burt's unpublished drafts, research notes and correspondence, but there was no evidence for the claims made in Burt's published articles. Jensen abandoned the quest...


Just now, in economics, there is a scandal of broadly similar proportions from the standpoint both of error posing as science and nefarious moral consequences. That is the widely circulated claim by Rogoff and Reinhart, two Harvard economists, that there is a limit on a reasonable debt to national product ratio of "90%" - after this, the economy allegedly falls off the "fiscal cliff" we have heard so much about - and that cutting back government programs, particularly programs for the poor involving education and health care (common good sustaining program on any reasonable notion of social and political commonality) is the antidote.


Rogoff was chief advisor to the International Monetary Fund which has specialized in imposing austerity in poor countries - once again, cutbacks to programs for education and medical care for ordinary people - in order to pay back debt largely occasioned by governments' buying weapons from the United States and other elite purposes. See Cheryl Payre, The Debt Trap and Walden Bello, Dark Victory.


Paul Ryan (an airhead posing as a serious person, one taken very, very seriously in the American commercial media and politics, companion of Romney and author of the new House Republican Budget) repeats "90%"...90%...90%." So do retrograde economists for the European Commission which has mired Europe in a growing depression...


It is a home truth of economics, discovered by John Maynard Keynes, that in a depression, a stimulus affecting poor people can get the economy moving again. The poor spend what they earn locally, to buy food and other necessities. Employing them has a multiplier effect on the economy.

In contrast, austerity, connected with tax cuts for the rich, does the opposite. The wealthy spend on an eighth house in Montecarlo or invest in China or, even more uselessly from the standpoint of combatting the depression, save the money. But even their spending is often a net loss to the domestic economy.


Thomas Herndon is a student at a radical economics department, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He took a methodology course asking students to try to reproduce, as an exercise, the results of famous papers. He figured out that Rogoff and Reinhart had made an error. He couldn't believe it and it took him some time to convince his professors. For even radicals in academia, are often impressed by status..."It couldn't couldn't be..." They told him to look more deeply, that he would figure out what they done.

But at last they agreed "it is," and recommended Herndon write to Rogoff and Rinehart to see their evidence and calculations. He got their spreadsheets and found further errors (see below).


Put differently, if one claims some famous person makes an error, the likelihood that the famous person and his or her friends will come down on you like a ton of bricks is high. No wonder the professors let the student pursue the issue alone and only later collaborated on the final article...


Nonetheless, the U. Mass. economists took Thomas Herndon's findings seriously and let him follow them out to his first and morally significant publication.


In many departments or with many advisors, a student who had found such an error would be counseled by "wise professionals" not to pursue it. In some departments, students have the confidence that they can seek the truth and stick to it and find something interesting beaten out of them in the process of professionalization. That, combined with the money which publicizes errors helping the rich and privileged, is why pseudoscience survives and sometimes flourishes in behavioral psychology and economics...


Paul Krugman has for a long time criticized the Rogoff-Reinhart thesis. Their claim is that high debt leads to low growth. But at most, there is sometimes a correlation between the two which is not the same as a cause.

For a collapse in growth (gross domestic product) may also lead to debt becoming a higher percentage of national output.

And stimulating growth will often lead to higher revenues and thus, reduce the ratio of debt to gross domestic product, as well as enable a paying down of debt.


That is, growth leads to diminished deficits. Austerity lowers growth, often making remaining debt a high percentage of output, and renders large numbers of people unemployed, homeless (foreclosures), and hungry...

Rogoff, in particular, plays with fire when he "doubts" this Keynsian thesis.


Now the Rogoff-Reinhart claim, were it to have been backed up by data, would not - in the absence of the rich pushing "Austerity" and publicizing their "findings" - have led to the dire policy conclusion in the US and Europe that cutbacks - as opposed to more stimulus - were necessary.


But as Thomas Herndon pointed out, even their statistical results cannot be reproduced. Their data is phony.

There is no "90%" ratio that is linked to economic collapse.


The child points out that the Emperor is not, despite the proclamations of the courtier/rich folks, wearing a stitch of clothes...


That the error is deep and serious has now even been revealed by the BBC and been the subject of an excellent column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times last Friday (see below).


Morally speaking, in our country, this thesis in the mouths of politicians has cost millions of people jobs and forced other millions to work part-time when they would work full time if they could (the real unemployment rate, as David Leonhardt showed in the New York Times, is perhaps 13 or 14%. The official government figure omits those who have given up looking for work (do not report each month to the federal employment offices) as well as those who have part-time jobs in announcing falsely that the unemployment rate hovers near 8%.


And in Europe, the Rogoff- Reinhart thesis has "scientifically' contributed to the Tories producing a greater downturn in England than the Great Depression - Tories who are in certain ways better not only than the Republicans but even than Obama on tolerance of gays, the climate, and occasionally the rule of law - as well as great hardship across the Continent (Greece and Spain are two telling examples).


The IMF, always urging austerity for social programs for the poor (once again, violating a common good), is nonetheless, under Christine Lagarde, trying to urge some Keynsian stimulus in Europe against the proponents of austerity like Angela Merkel. Perhaps Herndon's exposing of the Rogoff-Reinhart error will strengthen the cause of sanity (with Krugman, however, one shouldn't hold one's breath). Perhaps it will reach even into America as the sequester lays off teachers and air controllers, diminishes demand, stalls the recovery...


Under criticism, Professors Rogoff and Reinhart acknowledge some serious statistical errors and say they will be more careful in future. But they affirm their false conclusion - one based on an elementary confusion of correlation with cause...

That this nonsense has flourished since 2010 in economics and in policy circles, and will, in new forms, flourish again, parallel to the hydra heads surrounding putative racial differences in "intelligence" in psychology, is, as Krugman underlines, sad.


Krugman sums up the scientific and moral truth of this matter:

"So the Reinhart-Rogoff fiasco needs to be seen in the broader context of austerity mania: the obviously intense desire of policy makers, politicians and pundits across the Western world to turn their backs on the unemployed and instead use the economic crisis as an excuse to slash social programs.

What the Reinhart-Rogoff affair shows is the extent to which austerity has been sold on false pretenses. For three years, the turn to austerity has been presented not as a choice but as a necessity. Economic research, austerity advocates insisted, showed that terrible things happen once debt exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. But 'economic research' showed no such thing; a couple of economists made that assertion, while many others disagreed. Policy makers abandoned the unemployed and turned to austerity because they wanted to, not because they had to."


Professors Rogoff and Reinhart, one might agree, should exert greater care. In fact, they might look in the mirror and see what hardships they have contributed to for so many people who did them no injustice...

Ideas have consequences. Being a "scientist" means being aware of and taking responsibility for the moral consequences of what one does.

And the world is watching...


Bad economics, Austerity and Joblessness

19 April 2013 Last updated at 19:53 ET
Reinhart, Rogoff... and Herndon: The student who caught out the profs
By Ruth Alexander
BBC News

This week, economists have been astonished to find that a famous academic paper often used to make the case for austerity cuts contains major errors. Another surprise is that the mistakes, by two eminent Harvard professors, were spotted by a student doing his homework.

It's 4 January 2010, the Marriott Hotel in Atlanta. At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, Professor Carmen Reinhart and the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Ken Rogoff, are presenting a research paper called Growth in a Time of Debt.

At a time of economic crisis, their finding resonates - economic growth slows dramatically when the size of a country's debt rises above 90% of Gross Domestic Product, the overall size of the economy.

Word about this paper spread. Policymakers wanted to know more.

And so did student Thomas Herndon. His professors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst had set his graduate class an assignment - pick an economics paper and see if you can replicate the results. It's a good exercise for aspiring researchers.

Thomas chose Growth in a Time of Debt. It was getting a lot of attention, but intuitively, he says, he was dubious about its findings.

Some key figures tackling the global recession found this paper a useful addition to the debate at the heart of which is this key question: is it best to let debt increase in the hope of stimulating economic growth to get out of the slump, or is it better to cut spending and raise taxes aggressively to get public debt under control?

EU commissioner Olli Rehn and influential US Republican politician Paul Ryan have both quoted a 90% debt-to-GDP limit to support their austerity strategies.

But while US politicians were arguing over whether to inject more stimulus into the economy, the euro was creaking under the strain of forced austerity, and a new coalition government in the UK was promising to raise taxes and cut spending to get the economy under control - Thomas Herndon's homework assignment wasn't going well.

No matter how he tried, he just couldn't replicate Reinhart and Rogoff's results.


a box in the BBC article

Reinhart and Rogoff reply...

We are grateful to Herndon et al. for the careful attention to our original Growth in a Time of Debt AER paper and for pointing out an important correction to Figure 2 of that paper. It is sobering that such an error slipped into one of our papers despite our best efforts to be consistently careful. We will redouble our efforts to avoid such errors in the future. We do not, however, believe this regrettable slip affects in any significant way the central message of the paper or that in our subsequent work.


"My heart sank," [Herndon] says. "I thought I had likely made a gross error. Because I'm a student the odds were I'd made the mistake, not the well-known Harvard professors."

His professors were also sure he must be doing something wrong.

"I remember I had a meeting with my professor, Michael Ash, where he basically said, 'Come on, Tom, this isn't too hard - you just gotta go sort this out.'"

So Herndon checked his work, and checked again.

By the end of the semester, when he still hadn't cracked the puzzle, his supervisors realised something was up.

"We had this puzzle that we were unable to replicate the results that Reinhart-Rogoff published," Prof Ash, says. "And that really got under our skin. That was really a mystery for us."

So Ash and his colleague Prof Robert Pollin encouraged Herndon to continue the project and to write to the Harvard professors. After some correspondence, Reinhart and Rogoff provided Thomas with the actual working spreadsheet they'd used to obtain their results.

"Everyone says seeing is believing, but I almost didn't believe my eyes," he says.

Thomas called his girlfriend over to check his eyes weren't deceiving him.

“New Zealand's single year, 1951, at -8% growth is held up with the same weight as Britain's nearly 20 years in the high public debt category at 2.5% growth”

[reports] Prof Michael Ash

"But no, [Herndon] was correct - he'd spotted a basic error in the spreadsheet. The Harvard professors had accidentally only included 15 of the 20 countries under analysis in their key calculation (of average GDP growth in countries with high public debt).

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Denmark were missing."


Herndon and his professors found other issues with Growth in a Time of Debt, which had an even bigger impact on the famous result. The first was the fact that for some countries, some data was missing altogether.

Reinhart and Rogoff say that they were assembling the data series bit by bit, and at the time they presented the paper for the American Economic Association conference, good quality data on post-war Canada, Australia and New Zealand simply weren't available. Nevertheless, the omission made a substantial difference.

Thomas and his supervisors also didn't like the way that Reinhart and Rogoff averaged their data. They say one bad year for a small country like New Zealand, was blown out of proportion because it was given the same weight as, for example, the UK's nearly 20 years with high public debt.

More or Less: Behind the stats

Prof Michael Ash told the story to Tim Harford on this week's More or Less - you can listen to the programme on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service, or download the free podcast


A box in the article

"New Zealand's single year, 1951, at -8% growth is held up with the same weight as Britain's nearly 20 years in the high public debt category at 2.5% growth," Michael Ash says.

"I think that's a mistaken way to examine these data."

There's no black and white here, because there are also downsides to the obvious alternatives. But still, it's controversial and it, too, made a big difference.

All these results were published by Thomas Herndon and his professors on 15 April, as a draft working paper. They find that high levels of debt are still correlated with lower growth - but the most spectacular results from the Reinhart and Rogoff paper disappear. High debt is correlated with somewhat lower growth, but the relationship is much gentler and there are lots of exceptions to the rule.

Greece is an example of a country with high debt that has suffered a slump

Reinhart and Rogoff weren't available to be interviewed, but they did provide the BBC with a statement.

In it, they said: "We are grateful to Herndon et al. for the careful attention to our original Growth in a Time of Debt AER paper and for pointing out an important correction to Figure 2 of that paper. It is sobering that such an error slipped into one of our papers despite our best efforts to be consistently careful. We will redouble our efforts to avoid such errors in the future. We do not, however, believe this regrettable slip affects in any significant way the central message of the paper or that in our subsequent work."

Accidents do happen, and science progresses through the identification of previous mistakes. But was this a particularly expensive mistake?

"I don't think jobs were destroyed because of this [sic - that is a fool's conclusion] but it provides an intellectual rationalisation for things that affect how people think about the world," says Daniel Hamermesh, professor of economics at Royal Holloway, University of London.

"And how people think about the world, especially politicians, eventually affects how the world works."

Discovering a spreadsheet error was never going to end the debate over austerity - and nor should it, according to Megan McArdle, special correspondent [she is often a bizarrely reactionary correspondant] for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

"There is other research showing that you can have these slowdowns when you get to high levels of debt,"[no, that is exactly the evidence and analysis which is missing...] she says. "We have a very vivid [example] in Greece." [This is typical "he said, she said." "Bush says the moon is made of green cheese, scientists say it isn't" style of reporting in a context and even an article in which the Rogoff-Reinhard side of this has been shown to be false; assertions of McCardle's sort are, by themselves, worth nothing, i.e. they offer no specific evidence and argument. If there is relevant evidence or counterargument to Herndon and Keynes - the vague allusion to Greece is a feeble attempt - the interviewee and the author need to specify it].

Thomas Herndon's view is that austerity policies are counter-productive. But right now he's delighted that the first academic paper he's ever published has made such a splash.

"I feel really honoured to have made a contribution to the policy discussion," he says.


Thomas Herndon is the hero of this story and made, even against his professors' initial skepticism, a great contribution to seeking the truth and preventing further harm to millions of people.


New York Times
The Excel Depression
Published: April 18, 2013

In this age of information, math errors can lead to disaster. NASA’s Mars Orbiter crashed because engineers forgot to convert to metric measurements; JPMorgan Chase’s “London Whale” venture went bad in part because modelers divided by a sum instead of an average. So, did an Excel coding error destroy the economies of the Western world?

See the photo here.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

The story so far: At the beginning of 2010, two Harvard economists, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, circulated a paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt,” that purported to identify a critical “threshold,” a tipping point, for government indebtedness. Once debt exceeds 90 percent of gross domestic product, they claimed, economic growth drops off sharply.

Ms. Reinhart and Mr. Rogoff had credibility thanks to a widely admired earlier book on the history of financial crises, and their timing was impeccable. The paper came out just after Greece went into crisis and played right into the desire of many officials to “pivot” from stimulus to austerity. As a result, the paper instantly became famous; it was, and is, surely the most influential economic analysis of recent years.

In fact, Reinhart-Rogoff quickly achieved almost sacred status among self-proclaimed guardians of fiscal responsibility; their tipping-point claim was treated not as a disputed hypothesis but as unquestioned fact. For example, a Washington Post editorial earlier this year warned against any relaxation on the deficit front, because we are “dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth.” Notice the phrasing: “economists,” not “some economists,” let alone “some economists, vigorously disputed by other economists with equally good credentials,” which was the reality.

For the truth is that Reinhart-Rogoff faced substantial criticism from the start, and the controversy grew over time. As soon as the paper was released, many economists pointed out that a negative correlation between debt and economic performance need not mean that high debt causes low growth. It could just as easily be the other way around, with poor economic performance leading to high debt. Indeed, that’s obviously the case for Japan, which went deep into debt only after its growth collapsed in the early 1990s.

Over time, another problem emerged: Other researchers, using seemingly comparable data on debt and growth, couldn’t replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results. They typically found some correlation between high debt and slow growth — but nothing that looked like a tipping point at 90 percent or, indeed, any particular level of debt.

Finally, Ms. Reinhart and Mr. Rogoff allowed researchers at the University of Massachusetts to look at their original spreadsheet — and the mystery of the irreproducible results was solved. First, they omitted some data; second, they used unusual and highly questionable statistical procedures; and finally, yes, they made an Excel coding error. Correct these oddities and errors, and you get what other researchers have found: some correlation between high debt and slow growth, with no indication of which is causing which, but no sign at all of that 90 percent “threshold.”

In response, Ms. Reinhart and Mr. Rogoff have acknowledged the coding error, defended their other decisions and claimed that they never asserted that debt necessarily causes slow growth. That’s a bit disingenuous because they repeatedly insinuated that proposition even if they avoided saying it outright. But, in any case, what really matters isn’t what they meant to say, it’s how their work was read: Austerity enthusiasts trumpeted that supposed 90 percent tipping point as a proven fact and a reason to slash government spending even in the face of mass unemployment.

So the Reinhart-Rogoff fiasco needs to be seen in the broader context of austerity mania: the obviously intense desire of policy makers, politicians and pundits across the Western world to turn their backs on the unemployed and instead use the economic crisis as an excuse to slash social programs.

What the Reinhart-Rogoff affair shows is the extent to which austerity has been sold on false pretenses. For three years, the turn to austerity has been presented not as a choice but as a necessity. Economic research, austerity advocates insisted, showed that terrible things happen once debt exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. But “economic research” showed no such thing; a couple of economists made that assertion, while many others disagreed. Policy makers abandoned the unemployed and turned to austerity because they wanted to, not because they had to.

So will toppling Reinhart-Rogoff from its pedestal change anything? I’d like to think so. But I predict that the usual suspects will just find another dubious piece of economic analysis to canonize, and the depression will go on and on.


Paul Krugman: 'So Much At Stake' In Reinhart-Rogoff Research Controversy
Posted: 04/17/2013

What may seem like a petty debate among wonks could have major consequences for major economies around the world, and Paul Krugman wants all of you to know it.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist wrote a series of blog posts Tuesday dissecting the fallout over a new study that claims that a widely-cited paper by famed economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff is full of errors. The highly influential Reinhart-Rogoff paper in question -- which found that economic growth slowed for countries whose public debt was more than 90 percent of their GDP -- has been a favorite of austerity lovers the world around in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

To Krugman, the economists' initial response to the criticism was "disappointing." "They’re basically evading the critique," he wrote in a Tuesday blog post. "And that’s a terrible thing when so much is at stake."

In a second response at 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning after Krugman wrote his post, Rogoff and Reinhart stood by their overall finding that higher debt is connected to slower growth. They did, however, admit to a now infamous Microsoft Excel mistake.

The controversy over the paper comes as debates continue to rage in Europe and Washington over the merits of cutting spending -- which has lead to high unemployment and slowed immediate economic growth in many cases -- in an attempt to boost growth and better deficit outlooks.

Indeed, just this week the International Monetary Fund's chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, asserted that while U.S. spending cuts improved the country's deficit outlook, it hurt its overall economic growth in the process.

For his part, Krugman says he never really believed the paper's findings anyway. He wrote in another post that the paper "wasn't worthy of the authors" and that austerity defenders seized on it "to find excuses for inflicting pain."


The Jobless Trap
Published: April 21, 2013

F.D.R. told us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. But when future historians look back at our monstrously failed response to economic depression, they probably won’t blame fear, per se. Instead, they’ll castigate our leaders for fearing the wrong things.
Enlarge This Image

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Paul Krugman

For the overriding fear driving economic policy has been debt hysteria, fear that unless we slash spending we’ll turn into Greece any day now. After all, haven’t economists proved that economic growth collapses once public debt exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P.?

Well, the famous red line on debt, it turns out, was an artifact of dubious statistics, reinforced by bad arithmetic. And America isn’t and can’t be Greece, because countries that borrow in their own currencies operate under very different rules from those that rely on someone else’s money. After years of repeated warnings that fiscal crisis is just around the corner, the U.S. government can still borrow at incredibly low interest rates.

But while debt fears were and are misguided, there’s a real danger we’ve ignored: the corrosive effect, social and economic, of persistent high unemployment. And even as the case for debt hysteria is collapsing, our worst fears about the damage from long-term unemployment are being confirmed.

Now, some unemployment is inevitable in an ever-changing economy. Modern America tends to have an unemployment rate of 5 percent or more even in good times. In these good times, however, spells of unemployment are typically brief. Back in 2007 there were about seven million unemployed Americans — but only a small fraction of this total, around 1.2 million, had been out of work more than six months.

Then financial crisis struck, leading to a terrifying economic plunge followed by a weak recovery. Five years after the crisis, unemployment remains elevated, with almost 12 million Americans out of work. But what’s really striking is the huge number of long-term unemployed, with 4.6 million unemployed more than six months and more than three million who have been jobless for a year or more. Oh, and these numbers don’t count those who have given up looking for work because there are no jobs to be found.

It goes without saying that the explosion of long-term unemployment is a tragedy for the unemployed themselves. But it may also be a broader economic disaster.

The key question is whether workers who have been unemployed for a long time eventually come to be seen as unemployable, tainted goods that nobody will buy. This could happen because their work skills atrophy, but a more likely reason is that potential employers assume that something must be wrong with people who can’t find a job, even if the real reason is simply the terrible economy. And there is, unfortunately, growing evidence that the tainting of the long-term unemployed is happening as we speak.

One piece of evidence comes from the relationship between job openings and unemployment. Normally these two numbers move inversely: the more job openings, the fewer Americans out of work. And this traditional relationship remains true if we look at short-term unemployment. But as William Dickens and Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University recently showed, the relationship has broken down for the long-term unemployed: a rising number of job openings doesn’t seem to do much to reduce their numbers. It’s as if employers don’t even bother looking at anyone who has been out of work for a long time.

To test this hypothesis, Mr. Ghayad then did an experiment, sending out résumés describing the qualifications and employment history of 4,800 fictitious workers. Who got called back? The answer was that workers who reported having been unemployed for six months or more got very few callbacks, even when all their other qualifications were better than those of workers who did attract employer interest.

So we are indeed creating a permanent class of jobless Americans.

And let’s be clear: this is a policy decision. The main reason our economic recovery has been so weak is that, spooked by fear-mongering over debt, we’ve been doing exactly what basic macroeconomics says you shouldn’t do — cutting government spending in the face of a depressed economy.

It’s hard to overstate how self-destructive this policy is. Indeed, the shadow of long-term unemployment means that austerity policies are counterproductive even in purely fiscal terms. Workers, after all, are taxpayers too; if our debt obsession exiles millions of Americans from productive employment, it will cut into future revenues and raise future deficits.

Our exaggerated fear of debt is, in short, creating a slow-motion catastrophe. It’s ruining many lives, and at the same time making us poorer and weaker in every way. And the longer we persist in this folly, the greater the damage will be.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Talk Thursday noon on the founding amnesia of Israel toward the Palestinians

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Denver is sponsoring a talk by me primarily on my visit to Palestine with the civil rights delegation led by Dorothy Cotton, the education director and only woman in the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Vincent Harding last October 10-24 (h/t Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi):

"Challenging a Founding Amnesia and Working Towards a Decent Solution in Israel/Palestine -- A Lecture by Alan Gilbert, Thursday, April 25, at noon
Sié 150 | Ben Cherrington Hall | Josef Korbel School of International Studies | University of Denver | 2201 S. Gaylord St."

See the event's Facebook page here.


Here is a photo of our delegation at the Wall which divides the Jericho Road, a road walked upon previously for 4,000 years (one of the oldest roads in the world). Two Palestinian brothers whose house was cut by the road go up on the roofs to communicate with one another. The Occupation will not allow them to cross to talk with one another.


"Israel imagines itself to have discovered 'a land without people for a people without land.' It was founded particularly in the context of ferocious European genocides against Jews, Roma, Slavs and many others, pivoting around anti-Semitism (pogroms, the Holocaust). But the land was then owned by the Palestinians who were driven out and every place given a Hebrew name written over a Palestinian one. This is a founding amnesia as great as the one in Colorado about Arapahoe County and Arapahoe Road -- there are no Arapahoes there and one might usefully ask: why?

Alan Gilbert visited the West Bank last October with a delegation from the American civil rights movement. Today, in the Occupied Territories, Israel uses Jim Crow or apartheid policies against ordinary Palestinians on the way to attempting to drive them out. It has created 500 illegal settlements. This is bad for Israeli Jews (enormously heightens tensions in the Middle East and it makes those who do not speak out the inheritors of those Europeans who once victimized Jews) as well as, more obviously, the Palestinians.


Alan Gilbert is John Evans Professor at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies. His many books include "Democratic Individuality" (1990), "Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?" (1999), and "Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence" (2012). He blogs at


Andrea Stanton is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver, focusing on 20th and 21st century Islam in the Middle East and beyond. She serves as the Religious Studies Department’s Undergraduate Adviser and on the Advisory Committee for the Intercultural Global Studies Minor. Her book "This is Jerusalem Calling: State Radio in Mandate Palestine" will be published this year.

This event is free and open to the public.

Lunch will be served.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Saskia Sassen on drones over there, total surveillance over here

My friend Saskia Sassen sent me her forceful piece from Al-Jazeera on the dissolution of the liberal state - one somewhat checked by the Bill of Rights and limitations on government spying on citizens - and the emergence of a depraved national surveillance state, the counterpart of drones. There are some 10,000 buildings mainly in Washington devoted to surveillance, and the adoption by states and cities of small drones to spy on people in their homes from high above - fueled by the lobbyists and money of the drone manufacturers - proceeds apace.


I met Saskia last year at an OccupyDenver gathering during the American Sociology Association meetings. For Occupy, she gave a brilliant talk on the international aspects of popular democracy or, as she puts it strikingly, the "global street." See here. Occupy, Arab spring, the indignados in Spain and the working class/democratic protests in Greece are all part of a creative movement for democracy, as honorable and decent as the changes in the elite are unseemly and corrupt.


I have written on the link between Carl Schmitt - "he is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception," Leo Strauss affirming the "principles of the Right - fascist, authoritarian, imperial" when he was pro-Hitler in 1933, and the emergence in the United States, birthed by the neo-cons who were often students of Strauss, of anti-democratic "commander in chief power." See here, here, here, here and here.

That this authoritarian idea - a theme song for the Nazis - should trump Montesquieu's and the constitution's liberty-defending balance and separation of powers is, however a result of a dialectic. The war complex (the military-industrial-Congressional-media-intelligence-subordinates in other militaries dependent on US aid-think tank-academic complex, as I have emphasized - see here and here - drains over a trillion dollars a year which could be used to prevent climate change, educate people, provide health care and many other matters. It has spawned 1280 military bases abroad (no other power has more than 5: the French in former French colonies in North Africa) - tends to make the military and militarism off-limits even for observation, let alone critical observation. It creates the underpinning of government surveillance - largely now privatized as are the soldiers on which the military depends, 7 in Afghanistan work for Blackwater/Xe corporations and the like for every 3 regular soldiers, and even, increasingly the "intelligence" services).


The power of large banks and corporations, inside or outside of this group, has expanded enormously. Saskia underlines a kind of awful financial globalism:

"At its most extreme, this combination of massive surveillance and savage inequality may be signalling a new phase in the long history of liberal democracies, one where the executive branch gains power partly through its increasingly international activities. Over the last 20 years and more, this incipient internationalism has been deployed in support of developing a global economy and fighting the "War against Terrorism"; thus the big-bank bailout is not so much a "return of the strong nationalist state" as some would have it, but rather the use by the executive branch of national law and national taxpayers' money to rescue a global financial system."


In addition, as the Senate fiasco about minimal gun checks revealed - take note of the complete lack of decency and obsequiousness to the NRA of Democratic Senators Udall and Bennett from Colorado - even mainly national capitalist institutions often frustrate plain and uncontroversial moral standards (i.e. it is bad to murder 20 six year olds and their teachers...) and democracy.


In this imperial setting, it is comparatively easy for ordinary monarchical power - "to waste the lives of subjects in the pleasure party of war" as Kant says - to reassert itself as executive power. This is the decision of one, unbridled by legislative or judicial oversight.

This tyrannical power was strengthened in the Bush administration, and is becoming consolidated even in the more cautious and less wantonly murderous or torturing Obama administration. The Schmitt/Strauss theme song is today echoed by reactionaries like Bill Kristol (who has little grasp that Strauss was once pro-Nazi) and the Democratic neo-neo cons, the ones who need to cry for war and drones to get face-time on television (Leslie Gelb, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, questioning why he had believed the lies about Iraq and repeated them on television, offered this explanation) and to be seen as "tough" in foreign policy.


There are thus special circumstances or, once again, a dialectic in the interplay of Leo Strauss/neo-con commander in chief power and the war complex. This dialectic even sweeps up the Obama administration because of his immoral and counterproductive incinerating of civilians with drones. Ideas and interests interact. The latter shapes the former; the former sanctifies the latter.


Obama took out Bin Laden in Pakistan without using drones. There was, in fact, no purpose to surging in Afghanistan (this was the result of pressure from generals and the Democratic neo-neo cons; Obama took a 6 week time out to try to figure out some other course, Biden argued against the surge...) and there is today no need for the widespread immoral and counterproductive (it makes ordinary people hate the US, the Company in "Avatar" far away) drone killing of civilians.


That Obama is a constitutional lawyer and a teacher of constitutional law is a sad commentary on his Presidency.


Saskia Sassen
Saskia Sassen is Robert S Lynd professor of sociology, and co-chairs the Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University.

Drones over there, total surveillance over here
The massive surveillance system built up over the last 10 years is the domestic companion of overseas drone killings.
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2013

(the program would not reproduce the photo - see here).

There are at least 10,000 buildings across the US, with a massive concentration in Washington, DC, engaged in ongoing surveillance of all residing in the territory of the US [AP]

The big story buried in all the commentary about the US government's drone policy is that the old algorithm of the liberal state no longer works. Focusing on drones is almost a distraction, if it weren't for the number of men, women and children they have killed in only a few years. What we should focus on is the deeper condition that enables the drone policy, and so much more, and that is the sharp increase in unaccountable executive power, no matter what party is in power.

The 1960s and the 1970s saw the making of laws that called for the executive branch of government to be more responsive to basic principles of a division of power and accountability to citizens. Many of its owners were curtailed by the legislative. With Reagan, Clinton and especially Bush-Cheney, many of these laws were violated under the claim of a state of exception due to the "War on Terror".

What we are facing is a profound degradation of the liberal state. Drone killings and unlawful imprisonment are at one end of that spectrum of degradation, and the rise of the power, economic destructions and unaccountability of the financial sector are at the other end.

The massive surveillance apparatus built up over the last 10 years is the domestic companion of the overseas drone killings. It is one outcome of this deep decay of the liberal state. While much is not known about either, we know enough to recognise its potential for enormous abuse. What is known is that there are at least 10,000 buildings across the US, with a massive concentration in Washington, DC, engaged in ongoing surveillance of all of us residing in the territory of the US. Surveillance and counter-terrorism activities employ about one million professionals with top level secret clearance. One estimate has it that every day over two billion emails are tracked. And on and on along these lines.

The basic logic of such a surveillance system is that for our security as citizens we are all being surveilled, or potentially so. That is to say, the logic of the system is that we must all be considered suspect in a first step in order to ensure our safety. Who, then, have we the citizens become, or turned into? Are we the new colonials?

The source of this excess of executive power is a foundational distortion at the heart of the liberal state. The liberal state was never meant to bring equality of opportunity and full recognition of all members of the polity. Inequality was at its core since its beginning - between owners of the means of production and those who only had their labour to sell in the market. But even so, the so-called Keynesian period throughout much of the west engendered a prosperous working class and an expanding modest middle class. It was a partial democratising of the economy. In the 1980s, this began to disintegrate.

In the 2000s, just about all liberal democracies were in sharp decline, with growing inequality, weakened unions, impoverishment of the modest middle classes, and an enormous capture of the country's profits by the top layer of firms and households. This is all captured in a couple of numbers found in the US census: In 1979, the top 1 percent of earners in New York City received 12 percent of all the compensation to workers in the city, a reasonable level of inequality in a complex economy such as is NYC. (This share excludes non-compensation sources of wealth, such as capital gains, inheritance, etc.) In 2009, the top 1 percent received 44 percent - a level of inequality that cannot be good for the city's economy.

At its most extreme, this combination of massive surveillance and savage inequality may be signalling a new phase in the long history of liberal democracies, one where the executive branch gains power partly through its increasingly international activities. Over the last 20 years and more, this incipient internationalism has been deployed in support of developing a global economy and fighting the "War against Terrorism"; thus the big-bank bailout is not so much a "return of the strong nationalist state" as some would have it, but rather the use by the executive branch of national law and national taxpayers' money to rescue a global financial system.

This is a kind of internationalism. Pity it is being deployed for this. It is possible that these new international capabilities of the executive branch might be reoriented to more worthy aims - climate change, global hunger, global poverty and many others requiring new types of internationalisms.

Saskia Sassen is Robert S Lynd professor of sociology, and co-chairs the Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University. She is the author of Cities in a World Economy; Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages; A Sociology of Globalization (Contemporary Society Series) and others.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Poem: Er in ye s

A friend of mine wondered about the title of this poem - i.e. is it from the girl's name Erin? It is one among several poems which have ancient Greek titles and for which the significance, if one read them more or less together, would be more obvious. Erinyes, in ancient Greek (Ἐρῑνύες, pl. of Ἐρῑνύς, Erinys; literally "the avengers" from Greek ἐρίνειν "pursue, persecute" [sometimes referred to as "chthonic - underworld - goddesses" - χθόνιαι θεαί ], are the furies, the terrifying women who haunt and hunt Orestes who has slaughtered his mother Clytemnestra for poisoning his father Agamemnon who sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to get favorable winds for Troy to go slaughter people and reacquire Helen from Paris who made off with her...

Women were then property, prisoners in Athens and elsewhere in the newly patriarchal Greece. The face of Helen launched a thousand ships and the death of Iphigenia gave them wind...

This is a story of Kings, Queen, Princesses and Princes, of murder of children for favor in war, axe-killing of the murderer (hard not to sympathize with the daughter and her mom), slaughter of the mother by Orestes (reasserting the patriarchal line), and hunting by the Furies. They are stopped by Athena, the warrior and wise woman, of no woman born, sprung from the head of Zeus, in the Oresteia (Ὀρέστεια), Aeschylus's trio of tragedies. They are transformed into Eumenides.


Athena, as I discovered in Athens three summers ago, was originally a snake goddess and rose out of the earth. She was connected to the earlier egalitarian matriarchal society in Crete. See here, here and here. The transformed myth - the stripping of Athena of womanliness because of the story about Zeus, though her son, Cecrops, the first king of Athens, is a snake - is part of the patriarchy, as false then as its deteriorated mirror (there is little one can do with the family sagas of the Bushes and Cheneys...) is false today in America.


The patriarchal Founding Myth about Zeus' headache (and an axe blow from Hephaestus) birthing Athena is linked to the suppression of egalitarian matriarchy on the Greek islands. This Founding Myth or Amnesia is connected to American Founding Myths about slaves and indigenous people, and to Israel about Palestinians.


My friend is, of course, right that the separation of the syllables (more or less) gives them a different life, finds something new.

Here is the poem.


Er in ye s

blackwoman among whites

Madame Secretary

cannot g o

Mr. President


can not g o

Mr. Pentagon


bighousein Marylan d

Mr. Cheney

can not g o

a b r o a d

Friday, April 19, 2013

Talk Sunday at 11 am on Drones, Militarism and Founding Amnesias

I will speak on Militarism, Drones and Founding Amnesias at the First Unitarian Society of Denver, 1400 Lafayette, Sunday, April 21, at 11 am.


"The First Unitarian Society of Denver Peace Committee presents:

Drones Hit Homes
Militarism, Drones and Founding Amnesias

How can the United States justify drone killing inside 6 nations we are not at war with? What are the costs? Who are the casualties?

Guest Speaker:
Professor Alan Gilbert
Josef Korbel School of International Studies University of Denver
2012 - author of Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence

All are welcome and wanted
Contact Arnie Carter for more info.

Sunday April 21st 11:00am - lunch will be served First Unitarian Society of Denver - 1400 Lafayette Street in Denver.

Please come and invite others from First Unitarian Society of Denver or the community"


I will also link up the use of drones against non-white civilians in countries the US is not at war with - "Gentlemen, this is indian country" as a Colonel put it to soldiers about to aggress against Iraq - to the practice of torture and flouting of the law. See here, here, here and here. The discussion should be lively.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Torture is a war crime, not a mistake...

Thomas Pickering has overseen the production of a long, straightforward report that America during the Bush administration tortured prisoners. This punctures all the administration/New York Times' vapidities about "enhanced interrogations..."


George W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Condi Rice cannot go abroad. If they do, they will be arrested.


At the Super Bowl two years ago, announcers reported that Bush was going to hawk Decision Points in Switzerland. But he was then warned from Europe that he would be arrested. He stayed home.


Condi (my onetime student) snuck into London to watch Olympic basketball protected by America's war criminal ally, Great Britain.


Here is a poem I wrote in February 2011:

Er in ye s

blackwoman among whites

Madame Secretary

cannot g o

Mr. President


can not g o

Mr. Pentagon


bighousein Marylan d

Mr. Cheney

can not g o

a b r o a d


See also here.

In the course of the New York Times article, Scott Shane (as well as Pickering in the Washington Post) invokes the Convention against Torture which was signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 and ratified by Congress in 1994. Both Shane and Pickering, nonetheless, say only that torture is a "mistake" which must not be repeated as does the Times editorial below.


That torture must be barred is true and important. Nonetheless, the claim is also false. Charles Graner and Lynndie England are in jail for crimes of racist sadism (somehow creepier than ordinary torture) they committed at Abu Ghraib (Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush go free though having ordered these crimes and water boarding for which the US hanged the Tokyo war criminals). See the straightforward article by Evan Wallach, a J.A.G. officer and judge, on waterboarding from the 2007 Washington Post below, except that Wallach leaves out that conviction for this offense has carried the death penalty...


Torture is a criminal act under international law - the Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture - signed and fought for by the United States, and under American law. The Supremacy Clause, Article 6 section 2 of the Constitution, makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land. There are also domestic anti-torture laws. See here.


The unpunished criminality of the American elite contrasts with its jailing of 2.3 million prisoners, 25% of the world's prisoners, many for marijuana possession, and ruining the lives of many young blacks, latinos, and poor whites.

These practices deprive words of freedom of much of their content. America is the biggest police state in the world - for the poor...


Through agreement within the elite consolidated by Obama, those who had committed vast crimes, for instance, murdering over a hundred people in American custody (a Pentagon statistic) like Mr. Dilawar at Bagram, ones which gravely injured Americans, as well as the primary victims, go free.


The New York Times has helped smooth the way for this criminality. Shane's article and the words of its editorial also do this. Torture must be ruled out as a policy, they rightly say. But it is no "mistake."


Torture is a crime.


Here are several pointed letters about the last post here.

Tom Ricks, an historian from Pennsylvania, writes:

"Hi Alan,

Please don't forget to add the A team "Obama and Hillary R. Clinton" to the list of top decsion makers who continue to approve the torture and forced feeding (a form of torture) of the 100+ GITMO prisoners - btw, it was Bill Clinton who FIRST began the "retention program" and I have voted Democrat for most of my life!



Fred Dallmayr, an old friend and a political theorist intolerant of Imperial vaporing, writes:

"Dear Alan, thank you thank you thank you for distributing this information. How can one not be terribly ashamed of what this country is doing to some people??? Yours, Fred"


Jin Wilkinson notes:


Amy Goodman (Democracy Now) is talking about the hunger strike but I don’t know who else is. I think it was Washington who said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Has the Left EVER been weaker and more powerless? You are an historian so you should know.

If I remember, I will submit a prayer request for the Gitmo prisoners next Sunday. Jack Nicholson said it best, “You can’t handle the truth!” Just saw “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at the Conference on World Affairs Cinema Interuptus. I learn a lot more there than I do listening to the guests. David Corn, the Washington editor of Mother Jones, wouldn’t talk about Amy Goodman.

As an historian, I don’t need to say to you that what is not said is often more powerful than what is. As Paul Newman said in “Cool Hand Luke,” “Sometimes nothing is a real cool hand.” And Jesus said, “Know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

REAL History now does what true journalism is supposed to do: afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I wish there were more of you.



Ted Ricks (Tom's brother) adds:

"Hi Tom and Alan,

We know that “extraordinary rendition” - – was launched in 2003 as the PBS Frontline documentary Egypt among many sites -

Obama did close down – or at least claimed to have - all “black sites” and torture except for Guantanamo Bay Naval Base where some 166 prisoners now languish [conducting a hunger strike in the face of torture is courageous and not remotely "languishing"...).

Despite 11 years of imprisonment in Gitmo and military trials, only 2 people - from the 6,000 + rounded up in Iraq and Afghanistan - have been found guilty of war crimes in Guantanamo Bay:

David Hicks, an Australian citizen, was found guilty in a plea bargain, of providing material support for terrorism in 2001, according to his military lawyer under retrospective legislation introduced in 2006.

Salim Hamdan was convicted of being Osama bin Laden's chauffeur. After his release, he appealed his case. On October 16, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated Hamdan's conviction, on the grounds that the acts he was charged with under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 were not, in fact, crimes at the time he committed them, rendering it an ex post facto prosecution.

Ali al-Bahlul was convicted of making a video celebrating the attack on the USS Cole.

This roundup and torture from 2002-2008 is a criminal period of American history that has been reported on by many, most notably by Jane Mayer’s “The Dark Side” and Alfred McCoy’s “A Question of Torture.” It has most recently being investigated by the “Constitution Project for Task Force on Detainees Treatment” with a report due this spring -

I agree that It is time to stop this miscarriage of justice in Guantanamo Bay.



Here is Scott Shane's story from the frontpage of the Times:

April 16, 2013
U.S. Engaged in Torture After 9/11, Review Concludes

WASHINGTON — A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.

Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.

While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.

“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.

The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

Interrogation and abuse at the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites, the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba and war-zone detention centers, have been described in considerable detail by the news media and in declassified documents, though the Constitution Project report adds many new details.

It confirms a report by Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the C.I.A., challenging the agency’s longtime assertion that only three Al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the near-drowning technique. It includes a detailed account by Albert J. Shimkus Jr., then a Navy captain who ran a hospital for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison, of his own disillusionment when he discovered what he considered to be the unethical mistreatment of prisoners.

But the report’s main significance may be its attempt to assess what the United States government did in the years after 2001 and how it should be judged. The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end.

The question of whether those methods amounted to torture is a historically and legally momentous issue that has been debated for more than a decade inside and outside the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2005 concluding that the methods were not torture if used under strict rules; all the memos were later withdrawn. News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not.

In addition, the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.

Like the still-secret Senate interrogation report, the Constitution Project study was initiated after President Obama decided in 2009 not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, as proposed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others. Mr. Obama said then that he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” Aides have said he feared that his own policy agenda might get sidetracked in a battle over his predecessor’s programs.

The panel studied the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A’s secret prisons. Staff members, including the executive director, Neil A. Lewis, a former reporter for The New York Times, traveled to multiple detention sites and interviewed dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees.

Mr. Hutchinson, who served in the Bush administration as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he “took convincing” on the torture issue. But after the panel’s nearly two years of research, he said he had no doubts about what the United States did.

“This has not been an easy inquiry for me, because I know many of the players,” Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview. He said he thought everyone involved in decisions, from Mr. Bush down, had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.

“But I just think we learn from history,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “It’s incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.”

He added, “The United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.”

The panel found that the United States violated its international legal obligations by engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions. It questions recidivism figures published by the Defense Intelligence Agency for Guantánamo detainees who have been released, saying they conflict with independent reviews.

It describes in detail the ethical compromise of government lawyers who offered “acrobatic” advice to justify brutal interrogations and medical professionals who helped direct and monitor them. And it reveals an internal debate at the International Committee of the Red Cross over whether the organization should speak publicly about American abuses; advocates of going public lost the fight, delaying public exposure for months, the report finds.

Mr. Jones, a former ambassador to Mexico, noted that his panel called for the release of a declassified version of the Senate report and said he believed that the two reports, one based on documents and the other largely on interviews, would complement each other in documenting what he called a grave series of policy errors.

“I had not recognized the depths of torture in some cases,” Mr. Jones said. “We lost our compass.”

While the Constitution Project report covers mainly the Bush years, it is critical of some Obama administration policies, especially what it calls excessive secrecy. It says that keeping the details of rendition and torture from the public “cannot continue to be justified on the basis of national security” and urges the administration to stop citing state secrets to block lawsuits by former detainees.

The report calls for the revision of the Army Field Manual on interrogation to eliminate Appendix M, which it says would permit an interrogation for 40 consecutive hours, and to restore an explicit ban on stress positions and sleep manipulation.
The core of the report, however, may be an appendix: a detailed 22-page legal and historical analysis that explains why the task force concluded that what the United States did was torture. It offers dozens of legal cases in which similar treatment was prosecuted in the United States or denounced as torture by American officials when used by other countries.

The report compares the torture of detainees to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. “What was once generally taken to be understandable and justifiable behavior,” the report says, “can later become a case of historical regret.”


April 16, 2013
Indisputable Torture

A dozen years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an independent, nonpartisan panel’s examination of the interrogation and detention programs carried out in their aftermath by the Bush administration may seem to be musty old business. But the sweeping report issued on Tuesday by an 11-member task force convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, provides a valuable, even necessary reckoning.

The work of the task force, led by two former congressmen — Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, who served in the Bush administration as under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and James Jones, a Democrat, who was an ambassador to Mexico during the Clinton years — is informed by interviews with dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as with former prisoners.

It is the fullest independent effort so far to assess the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A.’s secret prisons. Those who sanctioned the use of brutal methods, like former Vice President Dick Cheney, will continue to defend their use. But the report’s authoritative conclusion that “the United States engaged in the practice of torture” is impossible to dismiss by a public that needs to know what was committed in the nation’s name.

The report found that those methods violated international legal obligations with “no firm or persuasive evidence” that they produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. This blunt language should help end a corrosive debate that has broken down on largely partisan lines.

Reaching a stronger national consensus on the issue of torture is crucial because, as the report says, “as long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United states could again engage in torture.” The task force found that using torture — like waterboarding, slamming prisoners into walls, and chaining them in uncomfortable stress position for hours — had “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” And in engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions, the United States violated its international treaty obligations. A detailed 22-page appendix cites dozens of legal cases in which the United States prosecuted similar treatment or denounced it as torture when carried out by other countries.

Brutality is not uncommon in warfare. But, as the panel notes, there never was before “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.”

The panel further details the ethical lapses of government lawyers in the Bush years who served up “acrobatic” advice to justify brutal interrogations, and of medical professionals who helped oversee them. It is also rightly critical of the Obama administration’s use of expansive claims of secrecy to keep the details of rendition and torture from becoming public and to block victims’ lawsuits.

The report’s appearance all these years later is a reminder of the lost opportunity for a full accounting in 2009 when President Obama chose not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs. At that time, Mr. Obama said he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” But identifying past mistakes so they can be avoided is central to looking forward. The Constitution Project’s effort is a good step in that direction. But the portrait of what happened is still incomplete. For starters, a separate 6,000-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based on Central Intelligence Agency records, has yet to be declassified and made public. The next step should be its release. There is no excuse for further delay.


America must atone for the torture it inflicted
By Thomas R. Pickering, Published: April 16
Thomas R. Pickering is a member of the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment. He was undersecretary of state for political affairs from 1997 to 2001 and served as ambassador and representative to the United Nations from 1989 to 1992.

It’s never easy in this volatile world to advance America’s strategic aims. For more than four decades, in the service of Democratic and Republican presidents, it was often my job to persuade foreign governments to adhere to international law and observe the highest standards of conduct in human rights — including the strict prohibition of torture. A report released Tuesday by an independent task force on detainee treatment (to which I contributed) makes it clear that U.S. officials could have used the same advice.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government’s use of torture against suspected terrorists, and its failure to fully acknowledge and condemn it, has made the exercise of diplomacy far more daunting. By authorizing and permitting torture in response to a global terrorist threat, U.S. leaders committed a grave error that has undermined our values, principles and moral stature; eroded our global influence; and placed our soldiers, diplomats and intelligence officers in even greater jeopardy.

It’s not just the Bush-Cheney administration that bears responsibility for diminished U.S. standing, although the worst abuses undeniably took place in the years immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration also has failed to be as open and accountable on such fundamental questions of law, morality and principle as a great power that widely supports human rights needs to be.

What can be done to mitigate the damage and set this country on a better course? First and foremost, Americans need to confront the truth. Let’s stop resorting to euphemisms and call “enhanced interrogation techniques” — including but not limited to waterboarding — what they actually are: torture. Torturing detainees flies in the face of principles and practices established in the founding of our republic, and it violates U.S. law and international treaties to which we are a party. Subjecting detainees to torture, no matter how despicable their alleged crimes, runs counter to the values embodied in the U.S. Constitution.

Too much information about the abuse of detainees remains hidden from the American people. Specifically, the Obama administration’s ongoing concealment of the details about our use of torture has made it impossible for the United States to comply with its legal obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and has contributed to a disturbing level of public support for torturing suspected terrorists.

President Obama should direct relevant officials to declassify as many related documents as possible as quickly as possible — starting with the more than 6 million pages of classified documents that were the basis for the Senate intelligence committee’s recent report on the CIA’s interrogation program, and the still-secret report itself — so that the American people may finally learn what was done in our name. Admitting our mistakes is the only legitimate basis on which we can reassure the world that America remains committed to the rule of law and to upholding human rights and democratic values.

Second, Congress needs to work with the administration to close the loopholes that allowed torture to occur under a pretense of legality. In 2009, Obama signed an executive order giving interrogators clear instructions about permissible techniques. But future presidents could reverse course with the stroke of a pen — and no public notice.

To ensure that cannot happen, the federal Anti-Torture Statute should be amended to make clear that the deliberate infliction of severe pain and suffering is torture — regardless of the duration of the torment being inflicted. The War Crimes Act should be amended to make clear that cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees is a federal crime even when it falls short of torture. Instead of being told to rely on secret legal memos or doctors’ unethical monitoring of brutal interrogation sessions, interrogators should be given unambiguous orders that all detainees are to be treated in strict compliance with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which is the basic provision of international law outlawing torture. And there should be clear, public rules ensuring prompt access to detainees by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Third, the United States must not transfer detainees to torture in other countries. Such transfers, known as “renditions,” have occurred under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama — despite the fact that they violate the Convention Against Torture. In part, this is because of a policy of reliance on “diplomatic assurances” from other countries that detainees would not be tortured, despite clear evidence that these assurances were not credible. In part, this is because the United States has refused to acknowledge that the prohibition against transfers to torture is legally binding outside of U.S. territory. Both must change.

Democracy and torture cannot peacefully coexist in the same body politic. Successful human rights diplomacy and torture can’t either. Our country and its place in the world — as well as the Americans bravely serving in military, intelligence and diplomatic posts around the globe — deserve nothing less.

Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime

By Evan Wallach
Sunday, November 4, 2007

As a JAG in the Nevada National Guard, I used to lecture the soldiers of the 72nd Military Police Company every year about their legal obligations when they guarded prisoners. I'd always conclude by saying, "I know you won't remember everything I told you today, but just remember what your mom told you: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." That's a pretty good standard for life and for the law, and even though I left the unit in 1995, I like to think that some of my teaching had carried over when the 72nd refused to participate in misconduct at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

Sometimes, though, the questions we face about detainees and interrogation get more specific. One such set of questions relates to "waterboarding."

That term is used to describe several interrogation techniques. The victim may be immersed in water, have water forced into the nose and mouth, or have water poured onto material placed over the face so that the liquid is inhaled or swallowed. The media usually characterize the practice as "simulated drowning." That's incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding's effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.

The United States knows quite a bit about waterboarding. The U.S. government -- whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community -- has not only condemned the use of water torture but has severely punished those who applied it.

After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: "I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure." He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. "Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning," he replied, "just gasping between life and death."

Nielsen's experience was not unique. Nor was the prosecution of his captors. After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan's military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.

In this case from the tribunal's records, the victim was a prisoner in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies:

A towel was fixed under the chin and down over the face. Then many buckets of water were poured into the towel so that the water gradually reached the mouth and rising further eventually also the nostrils, which resulted in his becoming unconscious and collapsing like a person drowned. This procedure was sometimes repeated 5-6 times in succession.

The United States (like Britain, Australia and other Allies) pursued lower-ranking Japanese war criminals in trials before their own tribunals. As a general rule, the testimony was similar to Nielsen's. Consider this account from a Filipino waterboarding victim:

Q: Was it painful?

A: Not so painful, but one becomes unconscious. Like drowning in the water.

Q: Like you were drowning?

A: Drowning -- you could hardly breathe.

Here's the testimony of two Americans imprisoned by the Japanese:

They would lash me to a stretcher then prop me up against a table with my head down. They would then pour about two gallons of water from a pitcher into my nose and mouth until I lost consciousness.

And from the second prisoner: They laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air. . . . They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was almost impossible for me to breathe without sucking in water.

As a result of such accounts, a number of Japanese prison-camp officers and guards were convicted of torture that clearly violated the laws of war. They were not the only defendants convicted in such cases. As far back as the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for using the "water cure" to question Filipino guerrillas.

More recently, waterboarding cases have appeared in U.S. district courts. One was a civil action brought by several Filipinos seeking damages against the estate of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. The plaintiffs claimed they had been subjected to torture, including water torture. The court awarded $766 million in damages, noting in its findings that "the plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to . . . the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee's mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation."

In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with violating prisoners' civil rights by forcing confessions. The complaint alleged that the officers conspired to "subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning."

The four defendants were convicted, and the sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

We know that U.S. military tribunals and U.S. judges have examined certain types of water-based interrogation and found that they constituted torture. That's a lesson worth learning. The study of law is, after all, largely the study of history. The law of war is no different. This history should be of value to those who seek to understand what the law is -- as well as what it ought to be.

Evan Wallach, a judge at the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York, teaches the law of war as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School.