Friday, May 15, 2009

Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and Nuclear Warfare

So, the new trope the Right is trotting out to defend torture is carpet bombing of Germany and Japan in WWII:

On the night of March 9, 1945, [General Curtis] LeMay sent 346 huge B-29 bombers loaded with napalm from the Mariana Islands (Guam, Saipan and Tinian) to Tokyo. The first planes dropped their incendiaries on the front and back of the target area -- like lighting up both ends of a football field at night. The rest of the planes filled in the middle. More than 16 square miles of Japan's capital city were gutted, two million people were left homeless, and 100,000 were dead.

It didn't end there. Washington gave LeMay the green light as his bombers burned 64 more cities. He used the World Almanac and just went down the list by population. Altogether, an estimated 350,000 people lost their lives. Anyone hearing this for the first time in 2009 would be hard pressed to defend such an action.

The author is right: anyone hearing this for the first time in 2009 would be hard pressed to defend such an action...due to the stunning accuracy of American weaponry today. If the American military were to engage in action like this in modern combat, I assure you the commanders responsible for such a campaign would be condemned the world over--in addition to being run out of the service and probably court martialed. Does the advancement of weapon technology excuse LeMay's actions? Not necessarily, but neither are all horrible actions during wartime viewed ex post facto in the same league, ballpark, or sport. Furthermore, in the case of torture, we're not even discussing war: we're discussing humane treatment of unarmed individuals in American custody. In particular, we're dealing with international criminals; murderers of a special sort that nevertheless have unalienable rights--such is the very definition of unalienable--which should not be crossed UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

The logic of Mr. Kozak's argument is thus: Japan was bad. We were at war with Japan. We did bad things to Japan to win in a just cause, thus that action was justified--or at the very least, exusable--even if somewhat barbaric.

Certainly, setting hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians ablaze is more morally condemnable than going to extreme measures for information against a known terrorist responsible for murders, yes? On its face, this argument seems to work, but again--we're comparing unlike actions to one another as if they could ever be on the same moral plane. I intend to show that they are not, for moral and consequentialist reasons.

The Right's new-fangled argument rests on two premises: 1) that LeMay's actions were, indeed, justifiable militarily and politically and 2) that they were integral in the decision of the Japanese to surrender, thus bringing a(n assumed) just conclusion to a horrific war. (I will stipulate that, from a matter of justice, ultimately it was more just for the Allies to have won WWII. I don't think this is much of a concession.)

I will grant the bulk of #2 straight off for the simple reason that I haven't studied the battles of the Pacific that closely, nor the internal politics of 1940s Japan, well enough to know whether these strikes were actually effective in bringing about a swifter end to the war. I think the numbers of U.S. casualties is nothing but loosely-based conjecture and not worth addressing on a substantive level. For the sake of argument, however, I am prepared to stipulate that the carpet bombing with incendiary bombs (a tactic already used in the European theatre, by the way, lessening the strength of the race angle insinuated by the article) helped break the will of the Japanese people, thus paving the way for a quicker and less costly (to the U.S.) end to the war in the Pacific. The numbers of American dead, then, will be assumed to be much less in the pro-LeMay scenario.

The first assumption, however, I know to be based on contestable claims--at the very least. The article bases the military motives almost entirely on the fact that American lives would be spared. As I write above, I will assume this to be true, absent any decent evidence to the contrary. However, this is hardly the only--and some would argue, not the primary--geo-political reason for such aggressive action on the part of the American military against the Japanese mainland.

As the fighting in Europe ended, the spoils were being divided by the Great Powers; spheres of influence were established between the Soviets and the West as a conglomerate. The threat of communism was not unknown to either Great Britain or the United States, and thus the looming confrontation with the USSR was not one of great surprise. While it certainly hadn't reached the Berlin Airlift stage of crisis, the situation developing in Berlin, the rest of Germany, and Eastern Europe was undeniably a tenuous one. There is reason to believe that the Western powers wanted Japan to be free--or free from Soviet influence, at any rate. Thus, a prevailing sentiment among some Russian and WWII scholars is that the use of Fat Man and Little Boy against Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a last ditch effort to get the Japanese to surrender before Autumn--the time when the Soviets had indicated they would be ready for an invasion of Japan from the North.

Without delving into the immorality of communism, would LeMay's actions be as acceptable if made from this more geo-political motive? Is the threat of communism enough to burn hundreds of thousands of people alive--either to benefit U.S. political influence or, conceivably, to protect the surviving Japanese people from the threat of Soviet domination? These, I believe, are not questions easily answered. But they are questions that we, today, can debate and have reasonable disagreements about. I would, however, be hard-pressed to ever compare these very contoured and complex questions about war planning to anything outside of that particular time period, due to its special circumstances.

The evolution of warfare makes comparisons almost laughable--can you really compare carpet bombing to the pillaging hordes of the Mongols or the Vikings? Where, exactly, should we stand on the conquest of North America, including the use of germ warfare, that made it possible for me to be raised in the Ohio Valley? Can you compare the use of flame-throwers on D-Day to the battle of Antioch (Holy Hand Grenade notwithstanding)? In all seriousness, the point of this is that it's nearly impossible to compare, let alone excuse, even conventional warfare. Yes, there are established rules, but the rules which governed battle on open fields in 1776 hardly apply to house-to-house fighting in Mosul in 2009.

How on Earth Mr. Kozak can make honest sense of a comparison between the dumb, blunt force of millions of tons of explosives dropped from 1000s of feet in the air in the 1940s to the up-close and personal psychological violence inflicted by torture--both currently and historically quite ineffectively--fully against the rules of war (if we are to suspend disbelief for a moment that the previous administration intended to give our prisoners the basic protections of war combatants) is well-beyond my capacity of rational thought.

From a practical and military perspective, in order to collect actionable intelligence, guilt or innocence is effectively irrelevant. Thus, comparing the guilt of Khalid Sheik Mohammad versus the innocence of Japanese (or German) families killed in incendiary bombing campaigns misses the point entirely. Unalienable means unalienable, especially while in the full custody of the U.S. government, and the blunt use of force at the military's disposal of the military in the first half of the 20th century is in no way comparable to the centuries-old custom and knowledge that torture leads to false confessions--and that dismissing tried and true interrogation techniques in favor of such unreliable torture is an act of gross negligence that, in my opinion, rises to the point of criminal.

The interrogation professionals shunned the euphemistically-named "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" for traditional methods (and, until I get evidence to the contrary, I'm going to assume that these people wanted the best and most reliable intelligence to be collected as efficiently as possible and aren't part of some ultra-Left cabal bent on treating terrorists with kid gloves and sissifying our military and intelligence operations). The most vital information thus far made public was provided by these traditional methods and--if the interrogators are to be believed--hampered by the implementation of torture.

The level heads and trained professionals of our intelligence-gathering agencies who, like the rest of us, experienced the horror of 9/11, still argued against the use of torture--even against those most responsible for it. Mr. Kozak's invocation of the reflexive pain and anger of 9/11 serves only to remind us of how emotional--not rational--we were after that day. Those charged with finding the truth of those events, and of subsequent dangers, managed to set aside their quite righteous emotional sentiments against the guilty and lust for vengeance that many--if not most of us--felt. Furthermore, Mr. Kozak's citation of public opinion viz. war with Japan and Germany pre- and post-Pearl Harbor could just as easily be used to justify Japanese internment and the blatantly racist Korematsu decision. The emotional state of the masses is hardly a sound base for foreign, domestic, or intelligence policy.

In the end, Mr. Kozak makes a fragmented and irrational case for the use of torture against our enemies. His submission is based on selected facts that really should not be compared with one another for temporal, technological, and practical reasons. Yes, bad things happen--and they often happen in the name of national defense or security. It does not follow, however, that questionable military decisions from the 1940s are in any way related to, or could possibly excuse, counterproductive and plainly cruel interrogation tactics of today.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Quote of the Day

As I mentioned last night on Rachel Maddow, the Obama Administration has become the greatest bait and switch in history. No torture prosecution. No abuse photos. No citizen lawsuit on privacy. Absolute executive privilege claims. It is not surprising that civil libertarians feel that we have succeeded in merely upgrading to Bush 1.2 (with the added ability to pronounce multisyllabic terms).

--GW Law Professor Jonathan Turley

Obama's Economic Extortion

As usual, but certainly not without exception, George Will has submitted another great column. Money quote:
The Obama administration's agenda of maximizing dependency involves political favoritism cloaked in the raiment of "economic planning" and "social justice" that somehow produce results superior to what markets produce when freedom allows merit to manifest itself, and incompetence to fail. The administration's central activity -- the political allocation of wealth and opportunity -- is not merely susceptible to corruption, it is corruption.
Whole thing, well worth the read, here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thank God We Got That Stimulus Passed in Time!

Remember this?
"The [stimulus] plan is not perfect," the president said. "No plan is. I can't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans."
Right. And without any sense of irony, he said:
Obama said his administration inherited a deficit of more than $1 trillion along with "the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression." "That is a deficit that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe. And I refuse to let that happen."
Back to reality. The 'imperfect' (read: pork-laden) stimulus money?:
It turns out the federal government is not even efficient at wasting our money. The New York Times reports that less than 6 percent of the $787 billion stimulus package approved by Congress in February has been spent so far.


They'd better hurry [to spend the money], before the economy recovers on its own. Both Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Christina Romer, chairwoman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, say it looks like the recession will end later this year. (Barclays Capital strategist Barry Knapp says it may have ended last month, which he predicts is where the National Bureau of Economic Research ultimately will locate the bottom of the downturn.) Yet the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 25 percent of the stimulus money will be spent by the end of the year. That's one-quarter of a sum that stimulus enthusiasts such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said was woefully inadequate.
And how about our projected deficits? Courtesy of Megan McArdle:

Also via Megan:
The White House raised the 2009 budget deficit projection to a staggering $1.8 trillion today. For context, it took President Bush more than seven years to accumulate $1.8 trillion in debt. It also means that 45 cents of every dollar Washington spends this year will be borrowed.

President Obama continues to distance himself from this "inherited" budget deficit. But the day he was inaugurated, the 2009 deficit was forecast at $1.2 trillion -- meaning $600 billion has already been added during his four-month presidency (an amount that, by itself, would exceed all 2001-07 annual budget deficits). And should the president really be allowed to distance himself from the $1.2 trillion "inherited" portion of the deficit, given that as a senator he supported nearly all policies and bailouts that created it?

The president also talks of cutting the deficit in half from this bloated level. But even after the recession ends and the troops return home, he'd still run $1 trillion deficits -- compared to President Bush's $162 billion pre-recession deficit. In other words, the structural budget deficit (which excludes the impacts of booms/recessions) would more than quintuple.
To sum up: we borrowed a lot of money that we really didn't need at a time we really couldn't afford it because...too many people borrowed money that they really didn't need for stuff that they really couldn't afford.

Economic genius.

Shark Jumping: 101

With the deficit approaching the point where the Congressional Budget Office will have to hire people just to count all the zeros, rising chatter and Senate hearings about torture and war crimes of the previous administration, and a health care plan coming down the pipe that could actually make trips to the doctor's office MORE of a hassle than it already is (woo forms!) in addition to decreasing the quality of care (woo disease!), the Gallingly Obtuse Party's leadership has decided to hold "an extraordinary special session" at which they...they...I can't even bring myself to type it:
A member of the Republican National Committee told [Roger Simon] Tuesday that when the RNC meets in an extraordinary special session next week, it will approve a resolution rebranding Democrats as the “Democrat Socialist Party.”

That's right: the GOP's grand strategy has literally been reduced to NAME CALLING. I'm just waiting for a Republican to get up on the floor of the House or Senate and just scream "Nuh-uh, Doo Doo Head!"

My money is on Michelle Bachmann.

Quote of the Day

"I'll put it to you this way, you give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders." Former Navy SEAL and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura
H/T: Glenn Greenwald

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

'By Any Means Necessary' Does NOT Apply to Prosecutions

Some disturbing news I just read in WaPo:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Lawyers for sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad are asking a federal appeals court in Virginia to toss out his conviction and death sentence.


On appeal, Muhammad claims prosecutors withheld crucial evidence. He also alleges errors by his court-appointed attorneys and the trial judge.
I'm less concerned with the errors by his attorneys and, from the cases I've read, judges are loath to overturn judges on procedural grounds in all but the most egregious cases. Prosecutorial misconduct, however, is in the news right now thanks to the nitwits who botched Sen. Ted Stevens' case.

I'm not familiar with the Muhammad/Malvo proceedings, but hopefully charges from other murders can be pursued if he gets off. That said, he should be freed (on this charge) if his allegations are true.

Without the spectre of convictions being overturned for violating defendants' rights, prosecutors have little incentive to abide by the rules.

John Allen Muhammad deserves to die, but only after being convicted at a fair trial. To many, this distinction may seem unimportant or even insulting, but the rights of defendants--even guilty ones--must be respected. Proper prosecutorial procedure is essential to a fair criminal justice system.