Thoughts about torture and our self-referential president

I finally got around to watching Zero Dark Thirty, the film about the decade-long hunt for bin Laden.  Before it came out, conservatives were concerned because the White House gave the filmmakers unprecedented access to information about the hunt and about the actual hit on bin Laden.  This opened up the possibility that (a) the movie would betray America’s security secrets and (b) the movie would become a pro-Obama piece of political propaganda.

I don’t know whether the first fear was realized, but the second certainly wasn’t.  Those who claim that the movie supports using torture to obtain information are correct.  The movie opens with audio of phone calls from people trapped in the Twin Towers, and then shifts to a torture site somewhere vaguely Middle Eastern looking.  The torturer is a CIA man.  The person being tortured is a money man for al Qaeda.  Having heard that audio, you are not sympathetic to the al Qaeda guy.

Because of the CIA’s torture tactics, the man gives them useful names.  This happens repeatedly, with al Qaeda members getting hung in chains, hit, subject to water torture, deprived of sleep and human dignity, etc., and eventually revealing names and phone numbers.  The movie makes it clear that they are not being tortured for fun.  They are being tortured to get them to yield information about their, and other people’s, role in killing 3,000 Americans.

The film also makes the point that this information is necessary.  Every so often, after showing CIA interrogations aimed at drawing out a little more information about al Qaeda, the film breaks in with news reports about the Khobar Tower bombing, or the London bombing, or the Islamabad Marriott bombing.  The implication is that it’s vitally necessary for the CIA to crack open al Qaeda’s notoriously closed infrastructure.

The CIA operatives in the movie are dismayed when the situation in Washington changes, making “enhanced” interrogation techniques impossible.  As one says when his boss demands that he get information, if they ask someone in Gitmo, he’ll just get lawyered up and the lawyer will pass on the question to al Qaeda, which can then use it to their advantage.  The only “anti-torture” argument in the movie is a 30 second or so snippet of President Obama saying torture is “not who we are.”

That’s not who we are?  What a funny way to frame a rather more fundamental argument:  Are we, as a society, willing to have our public servants use torture for certain limited purposes?  That’s the question, and the movie answers with a definitive “yes.”  If using torture will get information that can save hundreds, thousands or (G*d forbid) millions of lives, torture is not just appropriate, it’s necessary.  We don’t torture for pleasure or “to make a point,” we do it to save lives.

As for Obama’s that’s “not who we are” statement, I was struck then, as I always am, by how self-referential Barack and Michelle are.  They were at it again in Africa.  Michelle, the spoiled darling of a middle-class Chicago family, said that she’s just like the Senegalese (and before that, she was just like youths in Chicago’s worst ghettos).  I know she’s striving for empathy, but it just ends up looking narcissistic.

Obama is worse, though, because he is America’s official spokesman.  While in Senegal, the press asked him about his response to the Supreme Court’s decisions opening the door for national gay marriage.  (By the way, I like Andrew Klavan’s take.)  Obama, of course, approves.  Not only did he say that, he used the question as an opportunity to talk about gay rights as human rights.  This is actually an important thing, because gays are subject to terrible abuse in both Muslim and Christian Africa.  No matter how one feels about gay marriage or homosexuality, the torture, imprisonment, and murder gays experience throughout Africa is a true crime against human rights.

With the gay marriage question, Obama — who is the greatest orator since Lincoln, right? — had the opportunity to make a profound statement about basic principles of human dignity.  Instead, he embarked upon a wandering rumination about his feelings and his thoughts:

The issue of gays and lesbians, and how they’re treated, has come up and has been controversial in many parts of Africa. So I want the African people just to hear what I believe, and that is that every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions. And when it comes to people’s personal views and their religious faith, et cetera, I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there.

But when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally. I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort. That’s my personal view. And I speak as somebody who obviously comes from a country in which there were times when people were not treated equally under the law, and we had to fight long and hard through a civil rights struggle to make sure that happens.

So my basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you — the benefits, the rights and the responsibilities under the law — people should be treated equally. And that’s a principle that I think applies universally, and the good news is it’s an easy principle to remember.

Every world religion has this basic notion that is embodied in the Golden Rule — treat people the way you want to be treated. And I think that applies here as well. (Emphasis added.)

No wonder that the Senegalese president Mackey Sall had no compunction about delivering a smackdown to the American president. And I do mean a smackdown, since he told Obama that he was a hypocrite to say that every culture has its own way of doing things, and Obama totally respects that, it’s just that the American way is better:

These issues are all societal issues basically, and we cannot have a standard model which is applicable to all nations, all countries — you said it, we all have different cultures. We have different religions. We have different traditions. And even in countries where this has been decriminalized and homosexual marriage is allowed, people don’t share the same views.

Obama is a petty mind with a bully pulpit.

Yesterday, I blamed Obama for causing a problem; today, I echo Pamela Geller’s complaint that federal agencies are useless

My head is spinning.   I just wrote a post for Mr. Conservative based upon the most current news stories saying that an arrest had been made.  From the time of those stories to the time I published the post, it was about 10 minutes.  Within one minute after the post went up, all of the major news sites were recanting the story, saying a suspect had been identified, but not arrested.  (See here for an example of the swift turnaround in news reports.)  Breitbart has given up on specific headlines and just says “Chaos in Boston,” which is about as accurate as anything I’ve seen today.  CNN still has its stand-by fallback position, which is that it’s the Tea Party’s fault, while Fox reminds everyone that pressure cooker bombers are commonly used in such Islamic war places as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

That last point — about the differing CNN and Fox News stories — highlights one of the two truths we know with certainty amidst this swirl of rumors.  The first is that Obama lied through his teeth when he promised in 2008 that his election would heal divisions within America and that his presidency would further smooth the rift, once again creating a truly United States of America.  Instead, using his bully pulpit to demonize half of America (something no president has ever done before), Obama has deepened the rift between Blue and Red America to a point probably not seen since 1860.  Obama, therefore, is easy to blame for the bombing, because a truly united America would not be a good target for this type of attack, no matter who launched it.

The other thing we know with certainty is something that Pamela Geller highlights — we’re not getting any bang for the buck from the alphabet soup of federal law enforcement agencies we taxpayers support.  After commenting derisively on reports that law enforcement describes the terrorism attack investigation as “wide open,” and is begging media outlets to help, Geller points out how embarrassing this is:

This is where the status of the investigation is.  In Europe, and in Israel, whenever there is a terrorist attack, they have someone or some group in their sights or in custody every time.  Take 3/11 in Madrid, 7/7 in London, the Glasgow jihad plot — every jihad attack and jihad plot in Europe, European authorities are right on it, identifying and apprehending the perpetrators.  They know exactly who the bad guys are.  They know exactly where to go.  This is a historical first: that America is not dramatically ahead of the curve, but dramatically behind the curve.  So American citizens are now considered expendable, just the way our soldiers are in Afghanistan.

It should bother every American that Europe and Israel are so far ahead of us in intel that we’re begging CNN and Fox for clues — and apparently detaining people who have nothing to do with the bombing, raiding their homes, taking bagfuls of evidence out, and then saying, “Never mind.”

Really?  The billions that Americans spend for the CIA, FBI, DHS, NSA, JTTF, and all the other various counterterrorism agencies, and they don’t have a clue?  All they have for us is 1-800-CALL-FBI?  This is unconscionable.  If that’s where we are, disband these incompetent, inane agencies that call jihad “workplace violence” and name Atlas Shrugs as a “domestic hate group,” when in fact Atlas Shrugs is battling violence and mass murder across the world.  How did this happen eleven years after 9/11?

In 1995 (Oklahoma City) and 1998 (Atlanta), we didn’t have a multi-armed federal law enforcement infrastructure that, in return for tax dollars and vast, often unconstitutional powers, promised to keep us safe.  Just as Obama broke his promise to heal the rifts in American society, the federal alphabet soup has broken its promise to keep us safe and/or to bring wrongdoers quickly before the law.  Indeed, I seem to remember that it’s been more than half a year since the FBI jetted out to investigate what happened in Benghazi.  So far . . . nothing (although with Hillary screaming “what difference does it make,” investigators may have lost their momentum).

I guess we should all resign ourselves that for at least the next three years, the best we can hope for from our administration is “What difference does it make?”  Unless, of course, the difference is about emasculating our once robust Constitution.  But that’s another story for another post….

Petraeus resignation Open Thread

That’s some big news.  Three days after the President wins reelection, the head of the CIA, who just happened to be on the Benghazi watch, resigns, citing an affair.  That opens the way to a lot of ideas.

I’ll accept that he was indeed having an affair.  Did he resign because he was being blackmailed?  If so, was he being blackmailed by a foreign entity or was the administration blackmailing him to keep quiet about Benghazi?  And if the latter is true, does the fact that he resigned and that he identified the affair mean that he is escaping the administration’s grip and heading towards being a whistle-blower?

These are lovely conspiracy theories without a scintilla of evidence.  I think you should feel free to spin out your own theories.

Prayers for Raymond Davis

He’s not in a uniform, but Raymond A. Davis, former Special Forces soldier, and current CIA operator and prisoner in Pakistan is a soldier for American interests.  Our own government has admitted that he “was part of a covert, C.I.A.-led team collecting intelligence and conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country.”  When he was attacked as part of a robbery, he fired on the robbers, killing both.

The New York Times also reports that this may not have been a straight forward robbery.  The implication is that Davis blatantly committed a crime.  My suspicion, if it wasn’t a garden-variety robbery, is that Davis was attacked as part of his line of work.

When help finally came Davis’ way, the driver of the rescue vehicle managed to run over another Pakistani.  Davis, who theoretically has diplomatic immunity, found himself arrested, thrown into a Pakistani prison, and made a cause celebre to the radicals and credulous street in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government, which has known all along about his CIA affiliation, is now hamstrung by the radicals on the street.  They want Davis dead, and Pakistan is afraid of those radicals.  However, given that Davis has diplomatic immunity, killing him is a problem.

Davis, of course, is in an even worse situation than the Pakistani government.  He’s in a Pakistani prison, and has to hope that the government, to make its own life easier, doesn’t simply turn its back and allow a lynch mob in.

In a spy movie, the Americans and Pakistanis would arrange for Davis to be snuck out of the country, with no one the wiser.  This isn’t a spy movie, though, and I don’t think there’s enough competence between the two countries right now to arrange for a “no one the wiser” scenario.  It seems, right now, as if Davis’ best hope is prayer — which he certainly deserves for repeatedly putting himself on the line in the service of this country.

Blind intelligence

Has the U.S. ever been so clueless as  it is today with respect to events going on in Egypt?

CIA Director Panetta just admitted that he gets his information on Egyptian events from the media, rather than from his own agency. National Intelligence Director Jim Clapper, meanwhile, pontificates about how the Muslim Brotherhood is a largely secular organization, only to be immediately followed by the rapid back-pedaling of his minions.

http://www.mediaite.com/online/report-cia-chief-based-congressional-mubarak-testimony-on-media-broadcasts/

So, is it fair to blame the CIA for these massive intelligence failures?

What we are seeing is the successful culmination of the witch hunts that have been directed against the CIA post 9/11 by the Democrat Left and their fellow travelers. Remember AG Eric Holder’s crusade to prosecute CIA personnel when the Obama administration came to power?

Were I in the CIA today, I expect that I would be doing everything that I could to take no risks, make no decisions, and effectively do…nothing! And that’s what we have got for national intelligence…a blind nothing.

No, I don’t blame the CIA or any other intelligence agency for these intelligence failures.

Feel safer now?

Idle question about the Dems and the CIA

The Politico headlines reveal that the Dems are picking a direct fight with the CIA.  Pelosi says they lied to her, while the Dem leadership is accusing the CIA of breaking laws.

My idle question is this:  Is it wise to pick a fight with those who ferret out and keep the secrets?  Bush never attacked the CIA and they set out to destroy him anyway, in part because they felt he made them look bad by revealing their failed intelligence in Iraq.  While the CIA (to put it politely) may have a Democratic tilt, it’s primarily a “look out for yourself organization.”  There’s no way in H-E-double toothpicks that CIA operatives are going to sit by while the Democrats, from the president on down, impugn their collective integrity and threaten them with criminal action.

My answer to my own question is that this was an incredibly stupid move on the Dems’ part.  If they were wise, they’d drop it and work hard to make amends.  Since wisdom seems beyond them, they’re just digging deeper and deeper.

Don’t mess with the people who hold the secrets

Although Bush did not mess directly with the CIA, it nevertheless turned on him, either because his Iraq War humiliated the CIA by showing how poor its intelligence gathering was or because the CIA is a heavily Democratic institution.  If the CIA turns on Obama, though, it will be personal:

The CIA’s war against President Bush was motivated by ass covering, or by political partisanship. But with President Obama, it’s personal.

Many are furious about his disclosure of explicit details of the interrogation methods used on some al Qaida bigwigs, and his waffling on whether or not those who employed them will be subject to prosecution.

Others are incensed by his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and to let some of those incarcerated there (17 Chinese Uighurs) loose in the United States.

[snip]

Other Western intelligence services regard the Obama administration with contempt and rising concern, an officer of the DGSE, France’s military intelligence agency, told my friend Jack Wheeler (the real life Indiana Jones) last week.

“All of us in our little community are worried — us, our friends in Berlin, London, Tel Aviv,” the DGSE officer told Jack. “It is not like the barbarians at the gates. It is every barbarian horde in the world being told there are no gates.”