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Joe Klein vs. Joe Klein (Update)

John on January 9, 2009 at 11:15 am

Time’s leftist scribbler Joe Klein has another barn burning essay directed at George Bush, i.e. the source of all that is wrong with the world:

“This is not the America I know,” President George W. Bush said after the first, horrifying pictures of U.S. troops torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq surfaced in April 2004. The President was not telling the truth. “This” was the America he had authorized on Feb. 7, 2002, when he signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention — the one regarding the treatment of enemy prisoners taken in wartime — did not apply to members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. That signature led directly to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

Back in January 2005 Joe Klein had a somewhat different take on the situation:

Gonzales’ argument—that stateless, remorseless al-Qaeda terrorists should be detained in a manner different from and stricter than the standard Geneva Convention procedures—has merit. The use of aggressive, nonviolent interrogation techniques, perhaps even drugs like sodium pentothal, may not be inappropriate to elicit information from those intent on the mass murder of civilians. But physical assault is something else entirely. The world now knows that the Bush White House at least tacitly approved the loosening of standards that led to the outrages of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo…

So back in ’05, Klein was already blaming Bush for “tacitly approving” the loosening of standards, and yet he said that detention “in a manner different” (i.e. Guantanamo) had merit. He even went so far as to say that “nonviolent interrogation techniques, perhaps even drugs…may not be inappropriate…” Continuing on the topic of torture, Klein writes:

[T]he most definitive official account was released by the Senate Armed Services Committee just before Christmas. Much of the committee’s report remains secret, but a 19-page executive summary was published, and it is infuriating. The story begins with an obscure military training program called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), in which various forms of torture are simulated to prepare U.S. special-ops personnel for the sorts of treatment they might receive if they’re taken prisoner.

The “obscure” military training program called SERE has a website which you can view here. Not-so-obscure is this page of photos which depict the program. Maybe Klein hasn’t learned about an obscure search engine called Google.

Incredibly, the Bush Administration decided to have SERE trainers instruct its interrogation teams on how to torture prisoners. (Read “Shell-Shocked at Abu Ghraib?”)

[...]

[P]risoners held by the U.S. were tortured — first at Guantánamo Bay and later in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Armed Services Committee report details the techniques used on one prisoner: “Military working dogs had been used against [Mohammed al-] Khatani. He had also been deprived of adequate sleep for weeks on end, stripped naked, subjected to loud music, and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks.”

First note that what Klein describes blithely as “torture” is the very “non-violent” techniques he was defending in 2005. SERE instructors weren’t showing people how to pull out fingernails or lop off body parts. We’re talking about so-called “stress positions”, sleep deprivation, loud music, etc.

And note that link in quotes at the end of the top paragraph. That was added by some editor at Time, not by me. Clicking on it will take you to a fairly good story which suggests strongly that the abuses at Abu Ghraib had a lot to do with a) the fact that the prison was run in an area subject to constant mortar attacks and b) a specific mortar attack which killed several people in the presence of a commanding officer who was subsequently declared unfit for duty following signs of shell-shock (e.g. showering in a flak jacket). The entire story pretty much undercuts Klein’s current thesis, the idea that everything is George Bush’s fault.

But the hypocrisy doesn’t end there. Back in December of 2007 Klein wrote about a piece in the Washington Post which indicated Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats had been briefed on these very techniques as far back as 2002! Predictably, Klein had a different take on Democrats responsibility:

Republicans will say, “See! See! The Democrats knew all along!”…But the Washington Post reporters and their sources make clear that these briefings took place in the months after the September 11 attacks. There was fear that we would be attacked again by terrorists, and on a regular basis. Few were thinking clearly about the nature of the threat and how to deal with it.

So there it is. Democrats weren’t thinking clearly so just get over it. No such excuses for Bush or Rumsfeld though. In fact, Klein envisions quite a different response:

It would be interesting, just for the fun and justice of it, to subject Rumsfeld to four hours in a stress position — standing stock still with his arms extended, naked, in a cold room after maybe two hours’ sleep. But that’s not going to happen.

For the fun of it? Does anyone else think Klein is suffering from the same misplaced anger which led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib? He’s literally envisioning what he himself describes as torture as “fun.”

Finally, Klein had a very different take on all this back in 2002:

The legal issue is something of a sham. War boggles law. War is evil, morally debilitating to everyone it touches; it exists in a separate, far more desperate, spiritual universe than such social luxuries as motions, codicils and the laws of evidence. Applying law to war is like playing football on a baseball field – it can be done, but not very precisely. Treaties like the Geneva Convention stand as honourable guideposts so that civilised nations don’t go berserk the way, say, England did in 1842 when troops under the command of Major-General George Pollock conducted a free-range rape, pillage and massacre of Afghans to avenge the Afghan massacre of British troops and their families the year before. But the Geneva distinctions are incomplete, and occasionally foolish: does it really make a difference if the Brits and Americans who incinerated Dresden during the second world war wore uniforms and Mohammed Atta didn’t? A detail of implementation, I would say. This is one case where the spirit of the law clearly trumps the letter of the law. And I believe that the US is abiding by the spirit of the Geneva Convention, despite the casual, ill-considered remarks of our rough-hewn secretary of defence, among others…

Whether or not we call them PoWs in the end means little: the important thing is the absolute necessity to find out what they know, within the bounds of reason.

Ultimately, there were some at Abu Ghraib who were not abiding by the spirit or the letter of the law and who didn’t stay within the bounds of reason. But those failures don’t change the fact that what Klein argued here is correct. War is evil. The only thing worse is allowing oneself and one’s fellow Americans to become victims of an even greater evil in the form of Al Quaeda.

Joe Klein is suffering from shell-shock. Someone at Time needs to call for a medic and give this guy some time off to recuperate.

Update: Obama doesn’t seem to agree with Klein:

Aides to Mr. Obama say they have no intention of directing Mr. Panetta to oust C.I.A. officials who played a role in the agency’s secret interrogation and detention program…Mr. Obama will keep in place an official who had direct oversight of the agency’s network of secret prisons when he held in succession the top two jobs in the C.I.A.’s clandestine service from 2002 to 2004.

Obama also voted for the bill letting the telecom companies off the hook for wiretaps. It’s almost as if being closer to, you know, real responsibility for people’s safety makes you see these things a bit differently.

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Category: MSM & Bias |

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