Archive: November 2005

Nine Arguments for War

A lot has been written on the case for war so far, but the Chicago Tribune's editorial truth squadding is among the most comprehensive. The conclusions are so heavily fortified with facts and context that even if you don't agree with them, you've got to admire their effort. The Tribune editorial board has identified nine major areas of argumentation advanced by the Bush administration in making the case for war. For each general rationale, the board is producing an expansive editorial to deconstruct the arguments, examining what was said then and exploring what we know now. So far, the first three in the nine-part series have been published. The first of these ginormous editorials, which ran on Nov. 20, examined administration claims about Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capabilities and assessed how much of a threat Iraq really was in that area. The editorial concluded that although there may not...

By Emily Messner | November 30, 2005; 12:53 PM ET | Comments (36)

This Week's Debate: The Case for War

With the couple hundred comments on the last post, my fellow Debaters have set the stage for this week's Debate on the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq. You made many excellent points, and I hope we'll have a chance to address each of them in more detail over the next few days. Today, we'll start off with an overview of the questions that must be answered to get to the bottom of this complicated issue. First, did the administration know more than it chose to reveal? If officials were holding back information because revealing it would have endangered national security, that would be understandable, but if information was disregarded simply because it didn't bolster their case, that's a pretty egregious lapse. One possible example of this: In September 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency produced a report that concluded that while it was thought that Saddam Hussein probably possessed...

By Emily Messner | November 28, 2005; 1:32 PM ET | Comments (197)

The Facts: The Case for War

We've got a huge and nuanced Debate topic this time: the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq. The administration says its critics are "rewriting history" while members of Congress say they were misled into voting for the use of force in Iraq when the intelligence wasn't as solid as the administration claimed. Was it just a case of bad intel, or something more sinister? Given that I expect little debate here over the holiday -- I figure the big debates on Thanksgiving will be taking place around the table, not here on this blog -- we'll be extending this debate into next week, leaving us plenty of time to try to come to some conclusions about what happened, and where we go from here. First, here are some documents to give the debate context. I'd highly suggest everyone go back and read the speech President Bush gave on Oct....

By Emily Messner | November 21, 2005; 1:36 PM ET | Comments (232)

Prisoner Abuse: What We've Learned

The administration's once quiet sanctioning of torture has turned into a full-blown defense of the practice -- even as the president insists, "We do not torture." I wish that statement didn't ring so hollow. It remains unclear exactly where the line is between abuse and acceptable coercion, but when John McCain, an overwhelming majority of his fellow senators and dozens of military leaders say the use of torture is more harmful than helpful, I'm inclined to believe them. Put simply, we should not need to sacrifice our morality to fight the War on Terror. So what have we learned this week? Torture -- yes, even of non-citizens, and yes, even of terrorism suspects -- goes against fundamental American principles, and may make the fight against terrorism more difficult. "Prohibiting torture of those captured by the U.S. in the war on terror is not only the right thing to do, but...

By Emily Messner | November 18, 2005; 12:15 PM ET | Comments (169)

Iraqis Torturing Iraqis

Want a concrete example of why the U.S. government sanctioning torture is harmful? It leaves us with no moral standing to denounce this. That's right, 173 Sunni Iraqis -- visibly malnourished, some apparently victims of torture -- were found in a secret prison in the basement of the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The RollingDoughnut blog says of the discovery of the Iraqi prisoners, "turning Iraq from a tyrannical pro-torture government into a democratic pro-torture government isn't much of a win." John Hudock expressed a similar sentiment nearly a year ago, in a post supporting clear codes of conduct for soldiers in charge of prisoners: "We should also insure that Iraqis will follow similar proscriptions before prisoners are handed to them. Having Saddam's torture chambers replaced with non-Saddam torture chambers will be no improvement." Were the Iraqis at the Interior Ministry prison torturing Sunni detainees because they were Sunnis (like Saddam torturing...

By Emily Messner | November 16, 2005; 12:03 PM ET | Comments (18)

Does Torture Work?

One of the biggest points of contention in the torture debate is this: Does torture work? Opponents say it doesn't; proponents insist that it does. The truth probably lies somewhere in between: It would yield key information in a few cases, but would prove ineffective -- and decidedly harmful -- in a vast many others. An informative Slate piece on torture includes this line: "Assuming that harsher interrogations can produce valuable intelligence -- an open question -- Congress and the president must weigh that benefit against the enormous strategic cost of operating a facility like Guantanamo." So let's stipulate for the purposes of this post that the reliability argument is a wash -- that is, neither side is going to win it. Torture might or might not work as intended. Working under that assumption, the most logical question to ask is, what is the best method to extract key information...

By Emily Messner | November 15, 2005; 4:29 PM ET | Comments (36)

Debaters Weigh In on Prisoner Abuse

Lots of engaging debate in the comments. Here's a quick review of some -- but by no means all -- of the most intriguing arguments. Debater Turnabout asks the question that is at the crux of this debate: "The American ethos is all about fair play, that's why we signed the Geneva Convention. Do we fight dirty (torture) when the other guy (terrorist) doesn't play fair?" Chris Ford answers: "the Geneva Convention is a reciprocal treaty between signatory nations. Al Qaeda never signed onto it, flouts all its rules, executes its captives - yet Turnabout 'feels' that every such unlawful combatant should be treated as an honorable soldier???" But it's about our character, not theirs, Turnabout responds, asking: "Are we John Wayne or Dirty Harry?" "History will not be kind to those that could have done something to stop this egregious distortion of our values but preferred instead to look...

By Emily Messner | November 14, 2005; 12:46 PM ET | Comments (95)

Two Thumbs Down

Here at the Debate, we try to focus on a single big issue each week. Of course, sometimes things crop up that don't warrant a week all by themselves, but are worthy of mention. Here are a few such items. * * * First, two thumbs down for Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who wants to put graffiti artists "on TV and cut off a thumb." The story goes on to explain that "Goodman also suggested that whippings or canings should be brought back for children who get into trouble." But, Goodman added reassuringly, "They would get a trial first." * * * Next, the tidbit that is germane to this week's debate. (Many thanks to Debater carpeicthus for the tip.) What's all this about crucifixion? Caveat: I haven't yet tracked down enough supporting evidence to be able to vouch for the authenticity of that story. If you have solid...

By Emily Messner | November 13, 2005; 11:59 PM ET | Comments (4)

Abuse at Abu Ghraib: Just Having 'A Little Fun'?

I recall receiving this "message from the ghost of General Patton" (warning: it's a stomach-turner) by e-mail several months ago, and it disturbs me as much now as it did then. (If you can handle looking at it, I'd be interested in your take.) "Patton" compares the abuse at Abu Ghraib with the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl and the attacks of September 11, 2001, and says the American abuses are minor in comparison. Above a photo of a smiling Lynndie England and boyfriend posed, thumbs up, with a bunch of naked detainees piled on top of one another, the Patton message says in gigantic type, "THIS is not 'torture' or an 'atrocity'. This is the kind of thing fratboys, sorority girls, and academy cadets do to newcomers." Below the photo are the words, "A little fun at someone else's expense. Certainly no reason to wring your...

By Emily Messner | November 11, 2005; 12:18 AM ET | Comments (169)

This Week's Debate: U.S. Treatment of Detainees

This week we'll be debating abuse of prisoners by U.S. personnel in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Have these documented incidents gravely damaged the U.S. image in the world? Have we lost our moral high ground and helped Al Qaeda recruit more terrorists? Are our troops in more danger now than before? Or, are abusive interrogations a useful tactic to elicit key information? Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense, writes that the stories of prisoner abuse are overshadowing the heroic things our soldiers are doing each day. This is undoubtedly a concern -- but what's the solution? Should we stop talking about the abuse or should we insist that our government put a stop to it categorically and in accordance with international law? Senator John McCain and 89 of his Senate colleagues favor the second option and passed an amendment to a defense spending bill prohibiting torture. But...

By Emily Messner | November 10, 2005; 9:05 AM ET | Comments (44)

The Facts: U.S. Treatment of Detainees

As you might have noticed, the ethics debate took a bit longer than our standard debates -- I should have known there would be too much ethical chicanery in the capital to fit into one week. Lots of good discussion in the comments, including the words of patriot1957: "I'm mad as hell and I don't even know who I'm maddest at. But if the schools haven't taught our citizens how to think and the media won't help, I'm going to stand on every streetcorner I can and slap people awake." The Debate this week is on something else that is making a lot of Americans angry: the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Several excuses have been used to explain why the Geneva Conventions should not apply to certain prisoners. Enemy combatants are not soldiers for a particular nation, some argue, so they are not covered by the Conventions; they...

By Emily Messner | November 9, 2005; 5:23 AM ET | Comments (17)

Why Am I Still Getting E-mails from John Kerry?

I got an e-mail yesterday from John Kerry urging me to vote in the Virginia election today. Why am I still getting e-mails from John Kerry? You know at the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- after the credits have rolled and a wounded Mr. Rooney has pulled off in the school bus with the gummy bear girl -- when Ferris comes down the hall and says, "You're still here? It's over! Go home. Go!" That's how I feel about John Kerry. It's time to go back to being the junior senator from Massachusetts. It's over. Go home. Go!...

By Emily Messner | November 8, 2005; 7:43 AM ET | Comments (77)

Ode to Civilized Debate

Debater Salt made a comment late last week that I wanted to share: I hope all bloggers will take care not to be abusive at any time in any way. Political discussions should always be conducted with a large dose of humility. We all believe what we believe, but we should all write with the fact in the back of our minds that [we] can be wrong. This is what makes America great, not the bile and hate that spews forth in our political media of all forms. The Debate has hosted terrific discussions on some very complicated subjects, with persuasive comments from Debaters holding wildly varying political beliefs. I want this to be a blog where informed opinions are shared and, of course, debated. Perhaps through this dialogue, we can all come to understand each other a little better, and maybe even -- dare I say it? -- find...

By Emily Messner | November 7, 2005; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

Will It Get Worse for Bush?

Adam Shpeen at the Agenda Gap predicts that "things will get worse before they improve." He anticipates the Republicans will "take some major hits" next week in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections. Knowing how off the mark some pre-election polls have been in Virginia in the past, I'm not so sure. Eric A. Hopp writes in his "Oh Well" blog that the poll numbers "are schitzoid. So 2/3rds of the public disapprove of the way Bush is handling Iraq, with almost 60% saying the U.S. should have never invaded Iraq in the first place.... If this war continues on over time with no resolution, that 18% of the public, who wants to withdrawal U.S. forces immediately, is going to start increasing. And the congressional midterm elections start next year." (Should Bush dip into his Strategic Approval Reserves?) The Ambivablog says: "I almost feel sorry for Bush now that...

By Emily Messner | November 4, 2005; 6:51 PM ET | Comments (25)

Low in the Polls: Are the Ethics Scandals to Blame?

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll points to erosion in the belief that Bush is "honest and trustworthy." Debaters, what do you think is behind the decline? The Edit Copy blog includes this possible "Moderate/Democrat weekend talking point: Doubts on personal integrity are in part a result of Karl Rove's continued presence in the White House." At FreeRepublic.com, JustaCowgirl posts a story about an AP-Ipsos poll that also shows Bush's numbers sinking. Her assessment: "AP is becoming worried that the Plame/Wilson witch hunt might not stretch to get Karl Rove after all. Must create a poll to fan the flames." Of course, that doesn't take into account the CBS News poll (results) and the Post-ABC poll (results) that also indicate a fairly substantial drop in Bush's popularity. But optimism is not in short supply: One of the comments to the post notes, "but when he makes a comeback, it will...

By Emily Messner | November 4, 2005; 10:42 AM ET | Comments (24)

Looking Back at the Leak

To review: Back in 2003, Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA agent as part of an attempt from within the Bush administration to discredit Joe Wilson's New York Times op-ed challenging the legitimacy of part of the case for the Iraq war. In the op-ed, Wilson disputed the infamous"16 words" in Bush's State of the Union address. Nevermind that those 16 words -- "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" -- could have been defended by the administration out in the open, using actual facts. Instead, the identity of Wilson's wife was leaked to a small group of journalists, one of whom, Robert Novak, published it in his nationally-syndicated column. Now we have one indictment, top presidential adviser Karl Rove still under investigation (Debaters: should he resign?) and the conversation has finally come full circle. After two years -- and...

By Emily Messner | November 3, 2005; 10:15 AM ET | Comments (106)

The Race to Spin Alito

It didn't take the liberals long to catch up to the conservatives in the race to paint a picture of Judge Samuel Alito for the consumption of their followers. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by pointing out that ThinkProgress seems displeased. Howard Dean proclaims that the nomination is a distraction from the administration's current troubles, and calls Alito an "extreme conservative" and an "activist judge." Given the clamor from the right insisting that Bush appoint a judge with an indisputably conservative track record, Kos says, "They wanted a showcase of conservatism they could shove down the throats of the likes of us liberals and the rest of America. They wanted one of those obnoxious touchdown dances." The trouble with this characterization is that it's premature, and quite possibly flat-out wrong. Alito is almost unfailingly conservative in his decisions, granted, but there are indications that his opinions...

By Emily Messner | November 1, 2005; 9:01 AM ET | Comments (116)

Should a Democrat Try DeLay?

As you might recall, Tom DeLay's petition to have his case heard by a different judge will be decided today. Why does DeLay want a new judge? Because the one currently assigned, Bob Perkins, donated some $3,400 to Democratic causes, including MoveOn.org. B.B. Schraub, the administrative judge to whom the petition was referred, is a Republican. Schraub himself has donated at least $6,400 to Republican campaigns. Schraub, in turn, assigned the case to retired state district judge C.W. Duncan, who now goes in as needed in the capacity of "visiting judge." But if the DeLay case is reassigned, isn't it just as likely that the new judge will have contributed to candidates or causes on one side of the other? What effect will DeLay's request have in a state where all the judges are elected and thus are in some way beholden to some party's interest? When I posed this...

By Emily Messner | November 1, 2005; 5:14 AM ET | Comments (8)

 

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