Torture, Emperor and Forgetfulness

Via Mark Kleiman, I came upon the story of the torture memo in the Wall Street Journal.

Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn’t bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn’t be prosecuted by the Justice Department.

The advice was part of a classified report on interrogation methods prepared for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after commanders at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained in late 2002 that with conventional methods they weren’t getting enough information from prisoners.

[…]The draft report, which exceeds 100 pages, deals with a range of legal issues related to interrogations, offering definitions of the degree of pain or psychological manipulation that could be considered lawful. But at its core is an exceptional argument that because nothing is more important than “obtaining intelligence vital to the protection of untold thousands of American citizens,” normal strictures on torture might not apply.

This hypothetical has been invoked lots of times by supporters of torture. However, it assumes perfect information: We know an attack is coming, but not when, where, what; we have a guy in custody who we know that he definitely knows about the attack; and he’ll tell us about the attack when tortured. In the real world, we never have that information. The guy we have in custody might be innocent or our intelligence about a terrorist attack might be wrong, etc.

The president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture, the report argued. Civilian or military personnel accused of torture or other war crimes have several potential defenses, including the “necessity” of using such methods to extract information to head off an attack, or “superior orders,” sometimes known as the Nuremberg defense: namely that the accused was acting pursuant to an order and, as the Nuremberg tribunal put it, no “moral choice was in fact possible.”

Hey, it’s not me comparing these guys to the Nazis, they are doing that themselves.

[…]Foremost, the lawyers rely on the “commander-in-chief authority,” concluding that “without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president’s ultimate authority” to wage war. Moreover, “any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of unlawful combatants would violate the Constitution’s sole vesting of the commander-in-chief authority in the president,” the lawyers advised.

Likewise, the lawyers found that “constitutional principles” make it impossible to “punish officials for aiding the president in exercising his exclusive constitutional authorities” and neither Congress nor the courts could “require or implement the prosecution of such an individual.”

What better proof that the United States is turning from a republic into an empire than that the President wants to be emperor who can flout all laws.

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a “presidential directive or other writing” that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is “inherent in the president.”

[…]For members of the military, the report suggested that officials could escape torture convictions by arguing that they were following superior orders, since such orders “may be inferred to be lawful” and are “disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate.” Examining the “superior orders” defense at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the Vietnam War prosecution of U.S. Army Lt. William Calley for the My Lai massacre and the current U.N. war-crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the report concluded it could be asserted by “U.S. armed forces personnel engaged in exceptional interrogations except where the conduct goes so far as to be patently unlawful.”

That Nazi thang again!

A redacted version of the torture memo is online now (Newsweek also has a version of the memo with different missing pages.) It’s a long document and probably more useful for the lawyers, but I’ll note that it says that the Justice Department has ruled war crimes permissible against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda (see footnote 14 on page 17.)

Talking about lawyers, what better lawyer blogger to read on this topic than Phil Carter of Intel Dump. You should read his post (or his article in Slate) in full but I’ll excerpt only the punchline:

It is, quite literally, a cookbook approach for illegal government conduct. This memorandum lays out the substantive law on torture and how to avoid it. It then goes on to discuss the procedural mechanisms with which torture is normally prosecuted, and techniques for avoiding those traps.

Unqualified Offerings argues that this memo shows systemic corruption in the administration and that the story is much bigger than torture now.

Political Animal provides a timeline of all the torture memos we have heard about so far. It seems the discussion on torture started almost immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and has gotten worse over time.

Balkinization has a fascinating post about the history of claims that the US President is above the law in some respect. He is also ashamed to be a lawyer seeing that the torture memo is a lawyerly work. mentions that the memo’s position on Guantanamo is opposite that of the government in the Supreme Court case about the detainees there. The torture memo argues that Guantanamo is inside the US for jurisdictional purposes and so the overseas torture act does not apply there.

Beautiful Horizons has a good Q&A about the topic.

According to the New York Times, only the State department lawyer dissented from the torture policy of this memo.

President Bush was asked about the memo.

Asked whether he has seen the memos, Bush replied, “I can’t remember if I’ve seen the memo or not.”

You might also want to read about the military police soldier Specialist Baker who was severely beaten up in Guantanamo in a training exercise where he played the role of a prisoner. According to Baker, he was discharged because of the injuries he sustained from that beating. The army denied that at first, but now admits that those injuries were part of the reason.

All the reports about torture must also lend credence to the stories of the four British Guantanamo detainees who were released in March. At the time, I was skeptical about their allegations of torture and abuse

Brad Delong reports on a talk by journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the Abu Ghraib torture story, at the University of Chicago in which Hersh says that there is much more to come about torture and disappearings. Channeling Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I have to say I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.

Darfur, Sudan

Sudan has been in the news for quite some time. First there was the civil war between the North and the South. Finally, a peace agreement has been signed there. But now some militias backed by the Sudanese government are on a killing spree in the western region of Darfur. This has led to a more than a million refugees. Human Rights Watch has a summary:

The government of Sudan is responsible for “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity in Darfur, one of the world’s poorest and most inaccessible regions, on Sudan’s western border with Chad. The Sudanese government and the Arab “Janjaweed” militias it arms and supports have committed numerous attacks on the civilian populations of the African Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups. Government forces oversaw and directly participated in massacres, summary executions of civilians—-including women and children—-burnings of towns and villages, and the forcible depopulation of wide swathes of land long inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa. The Janjaweed militias, Muslim like the African groups they attack, have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders, and desecrated Qorans belonging to their enemies.

The government and its Janjaweed allies have killed thousands of Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa—-often in cold blood—-raped women, and destroyed villages, food stocks and other supplies essential to the civilian population. They have driven more than one million civilians, mostly farmers, into camps and settlements in Darfur where they live on the very edge of survival, hostage to Janjaweed abuses. More than 110,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad but the vast majority of war victims remain trapped in Darfur.

This conflict has historical roots but escalated in February 2003, when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) drawn from members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, demanded an end to chronic economic marginalization and sought power-sharing within the Arab-ruled Sudanese state. They also sought government action to end the abuses of their rivals, Arab pastoralists who were driven onto African farmlands by drought and desertification—-and who had a nomadic tradition of armed militias.

It is a tremendous humanitarian crisis. Living in luxury ourselves, we forget the problems of survival of others in this world. In addition, we have grown cynical of both crimes against humanity and the plight of people in the forgotten parts of the world. Forget doing anything to help the people of Darfur, I didn’t even consider the reports of the region blogworthy. There are other weblogs which have been following Darfur for some time now. Among these, the always excellent and essential read Head Heeb first wrote about it in November. Before that, I didn’t even know Darfur existed. He has since followed up with a number of posts on Darfur. The Head Heeb was also skeptical of the success of the ceasefire agreement signed between the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels a couple of weeks ago.

Amygdala has also been following the Darfur crisis.

There is also a weblog focused on the Darfur crisis (via The Bonassus).

Human Rights Watch has quite detailed coverage of the Darfur region. You can read their detailed report or a summary. There is also a FAQ as well as photos and a video.

What can we do? Collectively, we (in the form of the UN or the US or EU or other governments) can pressure the Sudanese government to make peace as well as take care of the refugees. That is not an easy task. However, as individuals, we can at least help the Darfur refugees by donating to Oxfam which is trying to help the refugees.

We are working in camps set up for the displaced people in Sudan and those who have escaped over the border to Chad.

We are constructing thousands of latrines and providing clean drinking water and washing facilities, to prevent the spread of disease.

The donation idea shamelessly stolen from Gary Farber. Also, thanks, Gary, for bringing the Darfur conflict to my attention.

UPDATE: There is also a list of humanitarian organizations providing aid in the area at the BBC website. (Via Body and Soul.)

Looking for Charity Recommendations

We are looking for charities for our regular annual charity-giving. Specifically we would like an organization working to help the poor in the underdeveloped world, preferably working with children (though not necessarily). Obviously, the charity organization should have a good repute, some transparency and shouldn’t be spending lots of money on its administrative expenses.

We would prefer a secular organization, but here are our priorities in terms of religion:

  1. Secular
  2. Muslim
  3. Jewish
  4. Christian
  5. Other religious

We would really appreciate any pointers to charitable organizations.

Shrek, Global Warming and Wizards

Shrek 2 is definitely better than the first one. Lots of great laughs.

We liked The Day After Tomorrow better than most other disaster movies. It is definitely overdone, but that is sort of a universal standard for disaster flicks. The special effects are pretty good. There is some interesting politics, like the reversal of roles in illegal immigration, the 3rd world saving the developed countries, a nasty vice president, and a disengaged president, etc. Scott Martens has a very interesting review at A Fistful of Euros.

For those thinking of global warming because of “The Day After Tomorrow,” I don’t get my science (or my history) from movies.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a good movie worth watching if you have been following Harry Potter. Otherwise it feels a bit like The Two Towers, being a middle movie and all.


I am thinking whether putting text-based ads on the weblog would be a bad idea. So here’s a poll for all of you to vote on it.

UPDATE: I have put Google Ads up temporarily. We’ll see how it goes in terms of popularity or otherwise among readers and revenue. The poll is currently 10-9 in favor of putting up ads.

The placement of ads on the main page is quite unobstructive in my opinion. The individual post pages, however, have the ads just after the post and before the comments. Let me know if you think that’s bad (or good). I might try a few different placements over the next few days to make the ads unobstructive as well as fitting in the page design while still generating revenue. Here are a few placements I am thinking of:

  1. Horizontal, between the post and the trackbacks/comments (current position).
  2. Horizontal, at the bottom.
  3. Vertical, at the right of the post.

Which one of these would you like? Or suggest some other position as well.

ڈھاکہ سے واپسی پر

بہت دنوں سے اردو میں کچھ نہیں لکھا کیونکہ کمپیوٹر پر اردو لکھنے کی مجھے بالکل عادت نہیں ہے۔ آصف، جلال، عمیر اور دانیال اس سلسلے میں بہت بہتر ہیں کہ اردو میں بلاگ کرتے ہیں۔ آج آپ کو فیض احمد فیض کی شاعری پر اکتفا کرنا پڑے گا۔ کسی اور دن میں خود سے کچھ لکھوں گا۔

بہت دنوں سے اردو میں کچھ نہیں لکھا کیونکہ کمپیوٹر پر اردو لکھنے کی مجھے بالکل عادت نہیں ہے۔ آصف، جلال، عمیر اور دانیال اس سلسلے میں بہت بہتر ہیں کہ اردو میں بلاگ کرتے ہیں۔

آج آپ کو فیض احمد فیض کی شاعری پر اکتفا کرنا پڑے گا۔ کسی اور دن میں خود سے کچھ لکھوں گا۔

ہم کہ ٹھہرے اجنبی اتنی ملاقاتوں کے بعد
پھر بنیں گے آشنا کتنی مداراتوں کے بعد
کب نظر میں آۓ گی بے داغ سبزے کی بہار
خون کے دھبے دھلیں گے کتنی برساتوں کے بعد
تھے بہت بے درد لمحے ختم درد عشق کے
تھیں بہت بے مہر صبحیں مہرباں راتوں کے بعد
دل تو چاہا پر شکست دل نے مہلت ہی نہ دی
کچھ گلے شکوے بھی کر لیتے مناجاتوں کے بعد
ان سے جو کہنے گۓ تھے فیض جاں صدقہ کۓ
ان کہی ہی رہ گئی وہ بات سب باتوں کے بعد

Freedom at Midnight

Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre was recommended to me by zackq and KO (who has his own thoughts here). It is a highly readable book with a great writing style.

The major fault of the book lies with the authors’ reliance on Mountbatten. One of their major sources is a personal interview with Mountbatten. In addition, they got some of Mountbattens personal papers about the events of his viceroyalty in India. In my opinion, the authors seem to be smitten with Mountbatten. Every mention of him has something really nice to say. His charm, persuasiveness, greatness, administrative and military genius are praised over and over again. No skepticism is applied to Mountbatten’s account. Since I am not a Mountbatten fan, this turned me off quite a bit.

Freedom at Midnight starts when Mountbatten was appointed Viceroy of India in March 1947 and ends with Gandhi’s assassination in January 1948. Thus it is an account of the last year of British India. If you don’t know anything about the Indian independence movement, you might be better off reading a more comprehensive account. There is, however, a lot that happened in 1947 and “Freedom at Midnight” covers it in good detail, taking almost 500 pages to do so.

One of the side-effects of the authors’ Mountbatten-worship is that most of the major figures, like Gandhi, Nehru, and Jinnah, are seen mostly through Mountbatten’s eyes. One result of this is the extremely negative portrayal of Jinnah. I don’t usually have much of a problem with his negative portrayal since that is quite common in history books not written by Pakistanis. But “Freedom at Midnight” tries a negative adjective for Jinnah every time he’s mentioned. I know Jinnah was a determined fellow who was arrogant and vain as well, but still the authors lost me there. I do agree with this statement though:

Jinnah himself celebrated the day [of independence] by assuming full powers for his supposedly ceremonial office. In the year of life remaining to him, the London-trained lawyer who for years had not ceased to proclaim his faith in the constitutional process would govern his new nation as a dictator.

This, in my view, was one of the problems with Pakistani democracy since its founding. Contrast Jinnah’s behavior with Nehru. Nehru became Prime Minister of India and set up a parliamentary government. In the end, Nehru probably had as much dictatorial power as Jinnah but the foundation of parliamentary democracy had been set up in India while Pakistan became a land of dictators.

The authors also do not seem well-versed in Indian history before the British. For example, they mention that Islam came to India “after the cohorts of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane had battered their way down the Khyber Pass to weaken the Hindus’ hold on the Gangetic plain.” I guess they are confusing Muslims and Mughals. It was during the slave dynasty and then the Khaljis that the battles with the Mongols took place. Oh and Tamerlane himself was Muslim (not that it matters) and defeated Mahmud Tughluq in 1398.

The imperialist attitude of the British is captured well by the authors.

Their rule was paternalistic, that of the old public-school master disciplining an unruly band of boys, forcing on them the education that he was sure was good for them. With an occasional exception they were able and incorruptible, determined to administer India in its own best interests —- but it was always they who decided what those interests were.

This description of the Viceroy’s travel reminded me of Pakistan’s President-General.

Whenever the viceroy’s white-and-gold train moved across the vast spaces of India, guards were posted every one hundred yards along its route twenty-four hours in advance of its arrival.

Mountbatten impulsively decided the date of partition (Aug 15, 1947) at a press conference. No prior thought or discussions on this. And this is a guy who, according to the authors, had provided the Congress and Muslim League leaders with a 34-page document titled “The Administrative Consequences of Partition when partition had been agreed on because

He [Mountbatten] had forced these seven men to come to grips with a problem so imposing that it would leave them neither the time nor the energy for recrimination in the few weeks of coexistence left to them.

He had chosen the date because it was the anniversary of Japanese surrender. To top that impulsive decision, he decided not to reveal the Boundary Commission awards until a couple of days after independence. This created a lot of confusion in the provinces of Punjab and Bengal which were being partitioned.

I talked about dual loyalties in a previous post. Two instances in this book provide some food for thought.

  • When the tribal irregular forces from Pakistan invaded the state of Kashmir (which was sort of independent at the time) on Ocober 24, 1947, this news was relayed to the British commander-in-chief of the Indian army, Lt. Gen. Sir Rob Lockhart, by the British general commanding the Pakistani army, Maj. Gen. Douglas Gracey. Do you think Gracey was being disloyal to the country he served, Pakistan? Why? Or why not?
  • Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, then a major in the army (later foreign minister of Pakistan), opted to leave for Pakistan from his home in Rampur. He led a battalion of the Pakistani army in the war in Kashmir in 1947-8. His younger brother, Younis Khan, had decided to remain in his ancestral Rampur. He too was an army officer. And he too fought in Kashmir. But on the Indian side. What did these two guys think of loyalty? What do you think?

Any thoughts on the matter?

New York New York

Taken from the Liberty Walk.

Downtown Manhattan around dusk
About 15 minutes before sunset
Downtown Manhattan after sunset
Almost an hour after sunset