July 07, 2007

Torture

Michael Ledeen in the Corner on the National Review site posts a terrifying story about Iraq and Al Quaeda's operations there- Ledeen has been wrong before he announced the death of the still alive Ayatollah Khameini last year- but in this case he has provided the names of two US officers who have provided him with information- basically the information is that within Iraq, Al Quaeda are committing cannibalism and terrifying the local people through serving them their own children as meals. This may as I said be a myth or may be exaggeration- who knows. I have heard no other reports saying this from any correspondents in Iraq and Ledeen is not in Iraq- but he does name the US officers.

But the key part of Ledeen's post isn't those horrifying facts (though we will return to them)- its a last sentence about the use of torture- I quote

It just seems to me that anyone involved in such activity isn't really entitled to high-priced legal defense in American courts. Guantanamo is way too good for such animals.
Ledeen basically is saying that the nature of the crime justifies the idea that torture should be used. No doubt he has other justifications for torture- but he has made this one- so let us for a moment examine it. There are as far as I can see two problems with it. Torturing a person is designed to obtain information from them- the most natural time to be obtaining information is when you don't know what you want to know- and what you don't know may well be the crime itself- therefore you wouldn't necessarily know that the person you were torturing was involved in such activity until after you had obtained the information (and given it to a court and gone through a process) that you are torturing them to get. Furthermore even if they had committed the crime- there is a further principle involved that Mr Ledeen doesn't mention and that is the rule of law. The idea that for the same crime two individuals receive the same penalty- now in Iraq the US occupation obviously has to deal differently with people- but Mr Ledeen isn't invoking that- he is saying that the crime justifies torture- in which case if it justifies it in Baghdad why doesn't that principle justify torture in Beverley Hills for a cannibal!

But lets go a little further and re-examine the information that Ledeen is getting from his army commanders because it illustrates another danger of using torture. His officers are telling Ledeen no doubt in good faith that at Iraqi parties sons are served to their parents by Al Quaeda- but where did they get that information from- they weren't there. Lets say they got it by interrogating Iraqi prisoners- we know that in the prisons in Iraq US officers have been instructed to ignore the Geneva conventions, we also know that in Iraq at this very moment US soldiers are facing hideous psychological strain- strain which pushes them to thinking of every Iraqi as an enemy. Lets imagine the scenario- I want to find out what happened at a meeting- I therefore use robust methods of torture and I say to you that I will stop waterboarding you or stop degrading you if only you will tell me that at this meeting someone was served their own son as a meal. After four or five days of torture you might say yes- and then I might repeat it to Michael Ledeen.

I'm not saying that's what did happen but as soon as you allow torture its a safe presumption that most of your information obtained in that way may very well be absolutely useless. That involves a further danger- it means that many of the people involved in making the policy and implementing it on the streets of Baghdad don't know the true situation.

July 05, 2007

Fred Thompson's early political career

As a non-American I didn't know much about Fred Thompson's political career at all- seems though that his career dates far further back than his position as a senator in the 1990s- he was involved apparantly in the prosecution of Richard Nixon, leaking information from Congress to the adminstration. Obviously this throws light upon Thompson's political positions- but for an uninformed source on US politics, it makes me wonder about Fred Thompson's wider political credentials- he seems more political than we thought!

T&GWU Boycott Israel

The T&GWU have announced that they will be joining the boycott of Israel- I have commented before on the matter of the academic boycott of Israel but the T&G boycott strikes me as even more worrying. Academics- or politically motivated academics have a record of folly- the Soviet Union strikes me as the classic examples. But traditionally the major unions in the United Kingdom have been stalwarts of the sensible right of the Labour party- this move by the T&G strikes me as more worrying- that the idea that Israel's crimes are much worse than any other state's crimes is filtering down to some extent into the populationl. I commented before on another thread here about the casual racism on the right towards what Arabs and indeed any Muslims- or as Anne Coulter might ragheads. But it is worth remembering that casual anti-semitism is as prevalent on sections of the left as well. We have to be as wary of the second as the first- and therefore its important for blogs and journalists, politicians and people, to condemn both the boycotts and the racism on the right.

More Gracchi

Aha just thought I'd offer up four articles I have written at Bits- one on the plight of migrant workers in the Middle East, another on why educated Muslims become terrorists and reviews of two films, Shrek 3 and Inland Empire, David Lynch's latest confusing masterpiece- hope that something there entertains you!

Am I more extremist than you

Moderate governments historically have had mixed success. It was the administration of the moderate Jimmy Carter (a Democrat who afterall had voted for George Wallace) that is commonly acknowledged as the worst of the recent completed Presidencies in the United States, the moderate governments of the 1950s and 1960s in the UK are commonly reviled (inaccurately possibly in the case of the fifties) for creating the problems of the 1970s. Its the administrations of the moderate appeasers in the 1930s and 1940s who offered blandishments to the two tyrants of the age and probably supreme tyrants (excluding Mao) of all time- Hitler and Stalin. Churchill was always regarded as a firebreathing extremist and a rather dangerous one at that, irresponsible in his political activity. Milton Freidman and Freiderich Hayek may have been right in their economic diagnosis of the ills of their age- but noone gave them credit for it at the time. Conventional wisdom has the habit of being wrong just as much as it has the habit of being right.

And yet all of us persist in the idea that there is some of merit in being in the centre of the argument. Often we construct artificial centres to do this with. Jane Galt in a recent post blasts both conservatives and liberals in the United States for their approach to what is the centre- she suggests that in the United States roughly speaking George Bush represents the centre-right and Al Gore the centre-left- having said that of course for a leftwinger Al Gore is the centre, George Bush the rightwing and Ralph Nader the left, and for a rightwinger Bush is the centre, Gore is the left and a Pat Buchanan or a Sam Brownback stands on the right. Galt is right in a wider sense than she implies. Conversations with American conservatives often bring up the sense that if something is believed by middle America- ie by those living in the farm belt it is somehow the centre of the country, the silent majority beloved of President Nixon speaks and defines what is in the centre. Conversations with Liberals are about how America compares to other states- and often by that token of a comparison to say Western European social democracy the liberal finds America to be rightwing. Both are inaccurate perceptions- defining the American centre by the silent majority that votes Republican is as silly as defining the American centre by the majority that votes Democrat. Defining America with reference to Europe as rightwing over say homosexuality or sexuality in general forgets that there are continents- Africa- and regions like the Middle East for whom American conservatism is the height of decadence- it was a rural dance in the American midwest that turned Said Qutb into an Islamic fundamentalist afterall.

But why ultimately do people want to appear to be in the centre- what claim are they making. Ronald Dworkin in his fascinating recent attempt to homogenise political language in the United States argues that liberals and conservatives falsely beleive themselves to be talking in languages that claim different things about politics- rather Dworkin suggests that they talk in a similar language but just draw different conclusions from the same axioms. Dworkins analysis matters in this question- because if conservatives and liberals are so different that they talk in different languages, the one whose language is centrist will win the argument. If however they are actually arguing within the same philosophical tradition- it means that the centre will and can always change as people are persuaded or not that their common axia lead to conservative or liberal conclusions.

The argument about the centre therefore is often an argument to stop arguing- its something addressed to your own side to persuade them that it isn't neccessary to couch your ideas in terms that the other side might understand. Its also an aggressive move designed to intimidate the other side into coming over to your side- designed to make the other side beleive you have won the discussion and that they have to join you. Its not a very pleasant political tactic- and as I've noted above being in the centre doesn't mean you are right. Having said that neither does being an extremist mean you are right- all these questions of where one lies avoid the real question which is is someone talking the truth or are they talking nonsense. That ultimately is the only question that matters- and centres or extremes are far less important- especially because historically anyone who beleives in the combustion engine, is definitely on the far extreme of human behaviour and belief!

July 04, 2007

4th July


To all Americans out there and all non-Americans- Happy American Independence Day! With all my criticisms of past or present US Foreign Policy- there is a line of American Presidents from Washington to Lincoln, from Roosevelt to Johnson, and a line of American intellectuals from Maddison and Hamilton right up to the present day and of course the cultural output of Hollywood- great films and great songs- that make me reflect that the United States is one of the great nations of the earth- so its Independence Day is something not merely for Americans to celebrate but for all to celebrate for the acheivements of Americans are the inheritance of us all- as part of the common stock of humanity.

Welcome to the Seminar

Andrew Leonard writing in Salon sums up something I have often thought about the medium of blogging- he discusses in particular economic blogging or rather blogging by professional economists and suggests that its actually rather unimportant for the formation of government policy. There is a sense here that we really don't and won't know- and may not for years- contemporaries didn't know that President Eisenhower's first activity every morning was to get up and read all the morning newspapers, President Bush's may be to wake up and read a morning digest of the internet. But I suspect that Mr Leonard is right. He beleives and again I suspect he is right that the main value of a blog is educational- again in my view that is a correct assumption- analytical blogs won't and don't at the moment influence vast ammounts of people to change their views- but there is a chance that they educate one of two people or provoke discussion. In that way say the analytical blogosphere is really to be compared to a large and rather raucous graduate seminar in which theses are presented and ideas debated- if Mr Leonard will allow me to extend the image, I'd suggest its a Graduate seminar with free entry to anyone who wishes- so bloggers unlike many academics try and couch their thought in ways that an ignorant but intelligent person will understand. Mr Leonard's image is a positive one- but for many blogs- including I hope at times this, its one that I think works.

July 03, 2007

End of Romney

Well on the day that John McCain's candidacy died, it appears that another major Republican is about to bite the dust. Yep that's right Governor Romney has lost a key constituency- for America's dogs have come out against him- and their canine campaigning is bound to bring him down- see here for more!

(Can I apologise for linking to this site instead of to another last night- I am really sorry!)

July 02, 2007

I have been interviewed..

I have just been interviewed by Ashok of inrethinking, one of the best blogs on the net, the interview is up here and I hope is interesting. Anyway have a read!

July 01, 2007

Marking a new Relationship

Mark Steyn, an idiotic and supposedly humerous commentator on the National Reviewer, has just put into print a scathing attack of a new ministerial appointment- Mark Malloch Brown- at the junior Ministerial level in the Foreign Office. The attack is mostly on the basis that he said that Rush Limbaugh was an idiot- probably a correct assumption in my view- that he mispronounced Mr Limbaugh's name- perhaps he was inspired by Mr Steyn's brand of humour to ridicule the pronounciation or perhaps unlike Mr Steyn he made an honest mistake that any foreigner in another country might make- that he rented a property and later worked for George Soros- George Soros is not a participant in the UK political scene and has not been convicted of any crime that I know of- and furthermore that he worked for the UN and the UN has been guilty of corruption- true but then Mark Steyn worked for the Independent, it doesn't exactly mean that either he supported the Independent's policies at the time or even that he working for the Telegraph should be accused of Fraud if its proprietor Conrad Black is found guilty. But then again Steyn doesn't have a good record- he has reported Osama Bin Laden's death many times and that the Iraqi insurgency would die in six weeks and his attitude to the truth is dubious- afterall this is the man who reported that a student in Manhatten knew on September 10th that something bad would happen on September 11th- an accusation that was later proved to be untrue. Mr Steyn is not to be trusted.

Mr Malloch Brown may or may not be a good appointment- it does indeed signal a distancing from the current American administration over Iraq and a disdain for unilateral policies. Yet Gordon Brown, despite being unhappy about Iraq, has always been incredibly pro-American as most British politicians are. Mr Steyn may not realise this- but the British elite are instinctively pro American as are the British public- equating the attitude of the British towards the Bush administration with their attitude to America is like equating an American's attitude to Neville Chamberlain with their attitude to the UK. Ultimately Mr Malloch Brown I suspect will be there to rebuild diplomatic relations between the UK and institutions and governments that have been more distant in recent years- perhaps the present US administration will find us less compliant over the next few years but then as Andrew Rawnsley's recent documentary on the Blair years demonstrated a couple of nights ago they were effectively handed a blank cheque by the Brits on Iraq and look at where that got us.

Ultimately the appointment of Malloch Brown signals that Britain has gone back to having a more normal relationship with the United States- friendship doesn't mean subservience- it means friendship and whilst the United States is a great nation, it does not always get everything right. Mr Brown appointed Mr Malloch Brown to signal that criticism within the UK government would be allowed of United States policy- but make no mistake for the United Kingdom the alliance with the United States remains the special relationship. Nothing Mr Steyn says should lead anyone to suspect otherwise.