James Mattis Might Be Best We Can Hope For From Trump As Defense Secretary

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Like most observers, I am apprehensive about the names being mentioned for top positions in the Trump administration. His national security advisers are far too hawkish, although the same would be the case if Hillary Clinton had been elected. Although more hawkish than I would like, I had been thinking that General James Mattis might be about as good a choice for Secretary of Defense as could be expected in a Trump administration. He is certainly a better choice than picking Michael Flynn to be national security adviser.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton invited General Mattis to speak at their nominating conventions, which was not surprising with Clinton being the more hawkish of the two. Mattis declined both invitations, which I consider to be a point in his favor.

Mattis is more hard-line on Russia than Trump. While I was concerned about the history of belligerence and Cold War mentality towards Russia seen from Hillary Clinton, it might be safer to have someone suspicious of Russia to counterbalance Donald Trump’s crush on Putin. I am more worried about his hawkish position on Iran.

Another benefit of Mattis advising Donald Trump is that Trump was impressed when Mattis advised him that waterboarding and other forms of torture are not effective means of obtaining information. Trump quoted Mattis as saying, “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.” This is advice I want Donald Trump to hear.

Thomas Ricks, author of books including Fiasco: The American Military Adventure In Iraq had the following to say about Mattis in The New York Times:

Usually, I’d oppose having a general as secretary of defense, because it could undermine our tradition of civilian control of the military.

But these are not normal times. The incoming president appears to be a profoundly ignorant man who often seems to act on gut impulse or on what pleases the crowd. That is a dangerous combination to have in the White House. Having known General Mattis for many years, I am confident that he will be a restraint on Mr. Trump’s impulsiveness. I also think he will provide a strong counterweight to some of those around Mr. Trump who hold isolationist or pro-Putin views…

It helps that General Mattis, unlike Mr. Trump, is extremely well read. I once casually mentioned to him that I planned to learn more about the Carthaginian general Hannibal. He immediately named two books that he considered good studies. He told me once that in combat he liked to have a copy in his rucksack of “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, the second-century Roman philosopher-emperor, the better to help him gain some mental distance from the battlefield.

I also think that General Mattis will provide a useful balance to Michael Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant general chosen by Mr. Trump to be national security adviser. General Flynn strikes me as an erratic figure. For example, his joining in the “lock her up” chant at the Republican convention was unseemly and, for a career military officer, unprofessional. Also, General Flynn did not have a good reputation as an administrator when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency before being moved out by the Obama administration. It will help that General Mattis retired with four stars, while General Flynn wore just three — among military men, rank matters, even in retirement.

The public notion of generals is that they know how to use only the military as a means of policy and so are more likely to get the nation into wars. That is a false conception in most cases, but especially in this one. General Mattis knows that war is the last resort, not the first one. He also understands that the threat of force works best when it works in conjunction with robust diplomatic efforts.

If it is inevitable that Trump is going to chose someone who is conservative on foreign policy, Mattis might be as good a choice as we can hope for under Trump.

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Bernie Sanders Is The Only Candidate To Consider Defending Civil Liberties Following Terrorist Attack

Sanders Passion Civil Liberties

There’s nothing like a terrorist attack to bring out the craziness in Republicans. The terrorist attacks in Brussels resulted in some rather absurd recommendations from the two leading Republican candidates.  Donald Trump called for more torture and closing the borders.

Ted Cruz, who sometimes pretends to be somewhat libertarian, called for a police state, complete with police patrols of Muslim neighborhoods. He also calls for securing the border, despite the Department of Homeland Security having frequently debunked Republican claims of ISIS infiltrating the United States by crossing the border.

The Democratic candidates showed greater sanity. Clinton called closing the borders unrealistic.  Sanders, as usual, took this further than Clinton, seeing the big issue beyond whether matters are realistic. He responding to Cruz by saying, “That would be unconstitutional, it would be wrong.” While I am glad to see that Clinton does not believe that it is realistic to close the borders, she has also sounded alarmingly close to Donald Trump when it comes to the civil liberties issues involved in responding to terrorism, as in this recnt statement:

You’re going to hear all of the usual complaints, you know, freedom of speech, et cetera. But if we truly are in a war against terrorism and we are truly looking for ways to shut off their funding, shut off the flow of foreign fighters, then we’ve got to shut off their means of communicating. It’s more complicated with some of what they do on encrypted apps, and I’m well aware of that, and that requires even more thinking about how to do it.

While Clinton remains the lesser evil in comparison to the Republican candidates, Bernie Sanders is the only candidate to stress civil liberties issues. This is crucial considering the degree to which conservatives (including Clinton) have been quick to abandon civil liberties in response to terrorist threats.

Update: CNN reports, Clinton calls for more surveillance, police after Brussels attacks

Clinton’s Weaknesses With Independents & Young Voters Make Bernie A Better Bet In General Election

Sanders Clinton There Is A Difference

Recent posts have noted criticism of Clinton from the left for her attacks on Bernie Sanders and single payer health plans, along with repeating neoconservative talking points and citing 9/11 to justify both her hawkish foreign policy views and the level of her contributions from Wall Street. At times she  is campaigning as if she already won the nomination. It could be risky for Clinton if she continues to alienate the progressive vote in this era in which elections are often won by motivating the base to turn out. This strategy is made even riskier considering Clinton’s weaknesses with independents and in the battleground states.

Albert Hunt, former executive editor of Bloomberg News, looked at Clinton’s weaknesses in the general election:

To be sure, a number of women, especially middle-aged ones, are energized by the prospect of electing the first female U.S. president. That’s a strong asset.

But Clinton has a striking problem with young voters. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed a solid plurality of young voters has a negative view of Clinton. She did even worse in Bloomberg Politics national poll.

Here’s a result to unnerve her Brooklyn campaign headquarters. Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton get a 60 percent favorable rating with 18-to-29-year-olds. She gets 35 percent approval and 57 percent unfavorable.

In the last presidential election, 19 percent of the voters were in that age cohort, which Obama won, 60 percent to 37 percent, providing his overall margin. There was a substantial decline in the number of young voters in the off-year elections, probably costing Democrats a couple Senate seats; a similar drop-off in 2016 might be decisive in a close election.

Clinton also has big problems with independent voters. In the nomination contest, she’s running well ahead of her chief challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But she loses to him among Democratic-leaning independents. Over all, independents are negative about her by a margin of better than 3-to-2.

In 2012, almost three in 10 voters were independents and Obama came close to splitting that vote with Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate.

There is little doubt that Clinton easily would defeat any Republican among blacks and Hispanics. It’s far from certain, however, that these voters would be motivated to turn out in as large numbers as they did for Obama: In 2012, 13 percent of the electorate was black, and went more than 90 percent for Obama; 10 percent was Hispanics, who gave 71 percent of their vote to the president.

While Clinton might benefit politically from fear following the recent terrorist attack in Paris, this generally helps more with those who vote Republican, although a recent poll does show her beating Donald Trump on handling terrorism. (I would hope Clinton could beat a candidate such as Trump, who is relying on fear mongering with talk of resuming waterboarding and  debunked claims of Muslims in New Jersey cheering when the World Trade Center crumbled). I do not think that Clinton can count on beating the Republicans by creating more alarm over terrorism, along with promoting a plan which is not likely work.

It will be even harder for Clinton to win among voters who desire a reform agenda. Her defenses based upon a noun, a verb, a gender reference, and 9/11 will not alter the facts around her Wall Street connections, and view that she is too indebted to Wall Street to push reform. Any claims of supporting campaign finance reform are undermined by the manner in which she not only relies on Super PACS but violates the rules prohibiting campaigns from coordinating with them. She violated the transparency rules established when Obama took office, along with prior rules, in responses to the abuses under George Bush. While she might be preferable to whoever the Republican nominate, Clinton will be too much like the Republicans in supporting a hawkish and bellicose foreign policy,continuation of the drug war, continuation of the surveillance state, and showing a lack of respect for civil liberties and separation of church and state.

The Clinton strategy comes down to hoping to win because the Republicans are worse. It is one thing to get people to tell pollsters they prefer your candidate to the opposition. It is an entirely different matter to get people to turn out in big enough numbers to win by running as the lesser of two evils. We saw in 2014 that voters are less likely to turn out when Democrats are running as Republican-lite.

In the recent past we have seen Sanders embrace the principles of FDR while Clinton has been embracing the foreign policy views of George W. Bush and citing bogus attacks from the Wall Street Journal. This is not how to get Democratic-leaning voters to turn out to vote. A candidate such as Sanders, who excites crowds and is motivating more people to register to vote Democratic, is a far safer bet in the general election.

There is strong evidence that Sanders is electable in a general election. While it might turn out that the Republicans nominate a candidate anyone could beat, there are big question marks when looking at a Clinton candidacy. Plus the same views and history which make Clinton a weak candidate also make her a far less desirable president than Sanders, even if it turns out that either could win.

Fox Twitter Hashtag Backfires

On Tuesday Fox & Friends asked Twitter users to post things they were over with the hashtag #OverIt2014. They started with Fake Journalist Barbie tweeting, “I’m over attacks against Christianity.” This worked out about how you might expect.  Gawker reported some of the snarky responses, and far more are now up:

You get the idea. The responses are continuing to come in at a rapid rate.

Reasons Why Torture Does Not Work

One major finding of the recent bipartisan Senate report on torture was that torture used in the United States post 9/11 did not produce any useful intelligence. The same lack of efficacy was seen by every other country which tried to use torture, even in cases such as Nazi Germany and North Vietnam, which are often claimed by supports of the use of torture as examples of torture working. The only examples of torture working come from watching Jack Bauer on 24 or from watching Fox “News”–both of which are fictional sources.

Ryan Cooper has a good summary of the reasons torture does not work, and never has, at The Week. He began:

In the wake of the Senate report cataloging a whole lot of torture committed by the CIA, Dick Cheney has been reduced to arguing that torturing people — even innocent ones — is worth doing if you eventually get good results. The ends justify the means.

I can see why he makes this argument — he’s simply got no other option. It is now obvious that what the CIA did was illegal, brutal torture. Claims that it kept the nation safe are all that Cheney has left.

But Cheney is wrong: torture doesn’t work and never has.

I have referenced the work Torture and Democracy, by Darius Rejali of Reed College, many times in the past. It is widely agreed to be a benchmark work on torture — perhaps the most thorough investigation and analysis of the subject available. Here’s what Rejali says, to put this question to rest for all time.

Over 12 years of research, Rejali examined the use of torture in the U.S., Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, South Vietnam, and Korea. He looked at torture inflicted during the French-Algerian War, as well as at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. His research found that there is no record of any successful use of torture to gather intelligence, not even in totalitarian states.

The full article is worth reading as it contains many of the usual reasons discussed, such as the livelihood of receiving false information, along with reasons based upon the nature of pain:

Causing someone pain is not like turning a dial on a stove. Greater damage to the body often translates as less pain, since the body, in shock, shuts down the pain system (as victims of car accidents or shootings can often attest). Going too far, too fast with torture can simply desensitize people or cause them to black out. Furthermore, different people have different thresholds for pain, and they use certain types of pain to mask other ones. As a result, even with technological assistance, it is simply impossible to torture in any scientific, reproducible way.

Torturers understand this, and so are drawn to two blunt techniques: 1) apply maximum allowable pain, so as to push past all limits and 2) vary the torture methods widely to exploit as many phobias and specific weaknesses as possible. One perverse result of this is that there will be constant pressure to ignore limits set by the law in favor of a maximum diversity of pain.

Cooper also discussed additional problems with torture such as that  “torture badly corrodes organizations that practice it”, ” torture directly undermines traditional intelligence-gathering” and that “what little information is produced under torture is extremely unreliable.”

Detainees with a score to settle may falsely rat out old enemies, hoping they will be tortured instead. Detainees with no information will sometimes try to appease their torturers with lies, making interrogators waste time and effort chasing false leads. The CIA did just this, in fact. The Senate report documents at least one instance in which the CIA tortured a detainee, who gave them bad information, which led to more innocent people being detained.

Even when prisoners say true things, the interrogators very often do not believe them. This happened to John McCain when he was tortured in North Vietnam. Formal studies show that torturers cannot reliably distinguish truth from falsehood.

He also addressed the “ticking time bomb” scenarios often raised by supporters of torture:

That brings us to the ticking time bomb thought experiment, where someone is known to have information about an imminent attack but will not talk. This is the centerpiece of the pro-torture case. Setting aside the fact that this sort of situation is extraordinarily rare, there is no reason to think time-limited, high-pressure torture would be any more successful than in other circumstances. On the contrary, all the problems with torture identified above are made worse by a time constraint: the techniques are limited, as slow ones must be ruled out; pain must be applied more quickly, thus increasing the risk of blackouts, desensitization, or memory damage; and time wasted chasing false leads becomes an even greater loss.

As with so many Republican views, the facts do not support their policies, but this does not affect their views because they choose their positions based upon ideological and philosophical reasons, and then try to twist the facts to support their views. Their support for torture, despite all the evidence that it does not work, certainly does say something about their character.

24 And Torture

24 torture

Matt Bai has discussed the “24 Effect” on how terrorism is viewed:

In a sense, “24” became a kind of virtual universe in which all of us could role-play — even if we happened to know more about the roles than the actors did. I recall a conversation with Bill Clinton in 2007 during which he brought up the show and spent the better part of a half hour dissecting the strengths and flaws in its portrayal of real-time decisions.

There was something comforting, too, about the portrayal of intelligence agencies in “24.” Even with the insipid station chiefs who cycled in and out of the show, CTU itself remained amazingly high-functioning and high-tech. State-of-the-art computers gleamed in brilliant new offices of steel and glass. Satellites saw everything, everywhere, and beamed it all flawlessly to Jack’s phone during the commercial break.

That false portrayal of our counterterrorism agencies was demolished by the 9/11 commission report in 2004, with its accounts of missed clues and outdated technology. And what we now also know, thanks to the new Senate report, is that it wasn’t the bureaucrats back in Washington who were balking at torture while the real Jack Bauers jettisoned the rules, but often the other way around entirely.

In truth, a lot of the operatives were apparently sickened by immoral tactics they knew weren’t working, but their bosses insisted on believing that the world was like TV, and the bad guys would break just as they did for Jack, if only our agents would do what they had to do. If the Senate’s investigators can be believed, those bosses were wrong — both morally and tactically.

Another view  from Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian:

This week the writer Matt Bai made the intriguing argument that the success of 24 might have shaped America’s whatever-it-takes approach to terrorism, at the very least allowing policymakers to believe that a US public that was cheering on Jack Bauer would have little objection to US agents engaging in similar behaviour in real life. It’s a thought I had – and worried about – at the time. But it misses something crucial.

It’s true that 24 struck a chord in that post-9/11 period. It channelled our collective id, ourdeepest, darkest urges. Caught up in the story, we wanted Bauer to, say, sever the head of the villain with a hacksaw. But that is not necessarily what we wanted from our governments. The state cannot be the sum of our collective impulses and instincts, no matter how base. It has to be better than that. It has to listen to cooler demands: the rule of law, basic rights and common human decency. Reality may outstrip fiction, but it has to behave better too. The alternative is the horror laid bare this week — and whose legacy we live with still.

I had also made a recent comparison to 24, and another source of fantasy as opposed to the reality of torture:

Senate Intelligence Committee Report Shows That CIA Lied About Torture & Torture Did Not Work

The Senate Intelligence Committee released their report today, providing documentation that the CIA was both brutal and dishonest about their tactics, and that torture did not work. The New York Times listed these seven key points:

  • The C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed.
  • The C.I.A. interrogation program was mismanaged and was not subject to adequate oversight.
  • The C.I.A. misled members of Congress and the White House about the effectiveness and extent of its brutal interrogation techniques.
  • Interrogators in the field who tried to stop the brutal techniques were repeatedly overruled by senior C.I.A. officials.
  • The C.I.A. repeatedly underreported the number of people it detained and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques under the program.
  • At least 26 detainees were wrongfully held and did not meet the government’s standard for detention.
  • The C.I.A. leaked classified information to journalists, exaggerating the success of interrogation methods in an effort to gain public support.

The Washington Post indexed the report by twenty key findings. See the articles in The Washington Post and New York Times for more specifics on each point.

1 “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”
2 “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness”
3 “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented”
4 “conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher”
5 “repeatedly provided inaccurate information”
6 “actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight”
7 “impeded effective White House oversight”
8 “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions”
9 “impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General”
10 “coordinated the release of classified information to the media”
11 “unprepared as it began operating”
12 “deeply flawed throughout the program’s duration”
13 “overwhelmingly outsourced operations”
14 “coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved”
15 “did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained”
16 “failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness”
17 “rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable”
18 “ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections”
19 “inherently unsustainable”
20 “damaged the United States’ standing in the world”

The Daily Beast lists The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA ‘Torture Report’

Right-leaning Politico reports: Dick Cheney Was Lying About Torture–The Senate report confirms it doesn’t work. As those of us on the inside knew.

Needless to say, there is commentary throughout the blogosophere. Andrew Sullivan wrote:

The US did torture many many people with techniques devised by Nazis and Communists, sometimes in former KGB facilities. The CIA itself admits in its internal documents that none of it worked or gave us any actionable intelligence that wasn’t discovered through legal means. The torture techniques were not implemented by highly-trained professionals, but by goonish amateurs who concealed what they were doing and lied about it to superiors. All the techniques were and are clearly illegal under US and international law.

Building The Infrastructure For A Police State

The government has accumulated and is storing massive amounts of data on Americans but is keeping this information secure and promises not to use this to spy on individual Americans not connected to terrorism. What could possibly go wrong?

Yeah, obviously that is a sarcastic rhetorical question. One good answer to this question is found in an op-ed by Daniel Ellsberg, who knows a bit about whistle blowers:

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

Unfortunately this is run under the title Edward Snowden: saving us from the United Stasi of America. Yet another example of hyperbole seen on this issue, like another example I gave here. Fortunately Ellsberg acknowledges that this is not a police state, and is warning about a potential threat as opposed to exaggerating about the current situation. I certainly don’t see any sign that anyone fears discussing this issue, as would be the case in a true police state. On the other hand, would anyone trust John McCain, who has never seen a war he didn’t like. to have this information about people who might protest whatever wars he got us into if elected? Would you trust Mitt Romney, who seems to be devoid of any principles? In a two party system, who knows what type of Republican might manage to win an election in the near future (and not all Democrats can be trusted either).

There are a number of answers I’m hearing which aren’t very good, ranging from paranoia to the opposite reaction of denying the problem. I have received an answer that “Bush did it.” Is George W. Bush the standard by what is right? Yes, as I pointed out last week, this is an ongoing problem, not a new issue, and not a question of whether you like Bush or Obama better. Look at the issue independent of political personalities. Besides, if you want to blame politicians, as Steve Benen pointed out you can also blame Congress:

With this in mind, Jonathan Bernstein asked a compelling question over the weekend and provided a persuasive answer: “If you don’t like the revelations this week about what the NSA has been up to regarding your phone and Internet data, whom should you blame?”

There is, to be sure, plenty of blame to go around. The NSA has pushed the limits; federal courts approved the surveillance programs; George W. Bush got this ball rolling; President Obama kept this ball rolling; and telecoms have clearly participated in the efforts.

“But save plenty of your blame — perhaps most of your blame — for Congress.

“Did you notice the word I used in each of the other cases? The key word: law. As far as we know, everything that happened here was fully within the law. So if something was allowed that shouldn’t have been allowed, the problem is, in the first place, the laws. And that means Congress.”

It’s worth pausing to note that there is some debate about the legality of the exposed surveillance programs. Based on what we know at this point, most of the legal analyses I’ve seen suggest the NSA’s actions were within the law, though we’re still dealing with an incomplete picture, and there are certainly some legal experts who question whether the NSA crossed legal lines…

In theory, Obama could have chosen a different path after taking office in 2009, but the historical pattern is clear: if Congress gives a war-time president vast powers related to national security, that president is going to use those powers. The wiser course of action would be the legislative branch acting to keep those powers in check — limiting how far a White House can go — but our contemporary Congress has chosen to do the opposite.

This is, by the way, a bipartisan phenomenon — lawmakers in both parties gave Bush expansive authority in this area, and lawmakers in both parties agreed to keep these powers in Obama’s hands. What’s more, they not only passed laws these measures into law, they chose not to do much in the way of oversight as the surveillance programs grew.

We cannot expect any president to voluntarily give up powers present upon taking office, but at least there have been favorable signs that Obama is starting to ask the right questions. Under normal circumstances we need Congress to do their job. Unfortunately many Democrats were afraid to do this under Bush, and the Republicans are preoccupied by matters which are more important to them, from restricting reproductive rights to voting to repeal Obamacare thirty-seven times.  We also need the courts to do more than rubber stamp requests. Even under the best of circumstances, we cannot count on government to reveal its sins. If not for whistle blowers, we would not know much of what we know about Viet Nam, mistreatment of prisoners at places such as Abu Ghraib, CIA rendition, and the use of drones.

I’m seeing far too many cases of liberals playing down this issue, seeing it as an attack on Obama, when most opposed these provisions of the Patriot Act under George Bush. I’m also seeing some making this about Glenn Greenwald (who says more revelations are coming). I agree that at times he has gone overboard in attacks on Obama, but this is about the facts he is reporting, not his personal views.  Meanwhile the right is divided between those want to attack Obama and big government, contradicting their previous support for big government under George Bush, and those who are such big proponents of an authoritarian surveillance state that they will even overlook the fact, just this one time, that Obama is involved.

Another poor response I’m seeing is a comparison to all the information we give up when we go shopping, or post on Facebook. There is absolutely no comparison to information which is given voluntarily and to a retail store as opposed to information being secretly obtained by a government. When Google was accused of possessing too much information they initiated action to notify users of the information they have and offer ways to opt out. This might not be completely satisfying, but it is far preferable to a government system where it is illegal to even discuss requests for information.

Obama Calls For An End To A Perpetual War on Terror And For Respect For Civil Liberties

I only heard portions of Barack Obama’s speech while driving to and from lunch today but did like what I heard. It was clear that whether or not I wound up agreeing with everything, contrary to claims from portions of both the left and right, Barack Obama is no Richard Nixon or George Bush. For now I am relying on the prepared text, which lacks the portion where I hear Obama did an excellent job of responding to the criticism of a heckler. While we could question if some of this is being said later than desired, there was much in today’s speech which I did like, such as addressing this early in the speech: “I believe we compromised our basic values – by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.”

Obama discussed our triumphs in fighting al Qaeda , and then its cost:

These questions matter to every American. For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, exploding our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home. Our service-members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation – and world – that we leave to our children.

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.

He recognized that victories over terrorist groups often come from targeted efforts and police actions as opposed to the Bush/Cheney concept of a global war on terror:

Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting extremists. In Yemen, we are supporting security forces that have reclaimed territory from AQAP. In Somalia, we helped a coalition of African nations push al Shabaab out of its strongholds. In Mali, we are providing military aid to a French-led intervention to push back al Qaeda in the Maghreb, and help the people of Mali reclaim their future.

Much of our best counter-terrorism cooperation results in the gathering and sharing of intelligence; the arrest and prosecution of terrorists. That’s how a Somali terrorist apprehended off the coast of Yemen is now in prison in New York. That’s how we worked with European allies to disrupt plots from Denmark to Germany to the United Kingdom. That’s how intelligence collected with Saudi Arabia helped us stop a cargo plane from being blown up over the Atlantic.

Obama called for greater oversight over the use of drones and targeted killing, and greater transparency:

This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil…

Going forward, I have asked my Administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress. Each option has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice. For example, the establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority. Another idea that’s been suggested – the establishment of an independent oversight board in the executive branch – avoids those problems, but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy into national-security decision-making, without inspiring additional public confidence in the process. Despite these challenges, I look forward to actively engaging Congress to explore these – and other – options for increased oversight.

I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. Because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe. We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

He called for a media shield to protect journalists:

Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.

While Republicans were leading us into a perpetual war, Obama realizes that, like all wars, this war must end:

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

He is addressing the continued detaining of prisoners at Guantánamo:

Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.

Even after we take these steps, one issue will remain: how to deal with those GTMO detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted – for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law. But once we commit to a process of closing GTMO, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.

I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?

The president does not micromanage every action by the United States government and, as Ed Kilgore and David Weigel pointed out, Obama did try to hold the Congressional Republicans for their actions:

One thing is fairly clear: the speech poses a challenge to congressional Republicans that may not be that easy for them to meet, distracted as they are and as divided as they tend to be on national security policy these days. As Slate’s Dave Weigel quickly noted, Obama four times shifted responsibility for current dilemmas at least partially to Congress: on drones (where he insisted the appropriate congressional committees have known about every single strike); on embassy security; on the 9/11-era legal regime that still governs anti-terrorist efforts; and on Gitmo (where Republicans have repeatedly thwarted effort to transfer detainees to U.S. prisons). But like critical reporters, Republicans, other than neocons who want GWOT not only to be maintained but intensified, will probably tear off tasty chunks of the speech and masticate them noisily, or just dismiss it all and get back onto the crazy train of Scandalmania ‘13.

David Corn sees this as Obama taking the middle ground:

Not shockingly, Obama is attempting to find middle ground, where there is more oversight and more restraint regarding activities that pose serious civil liberties and policy challenges. The McCainiacs of the world are likely to howl about any effort to place the effort to counter terrorism into a more balanced perspective. The civil libertarians will scoff at half measures. But Obama, at the least, is showing that he does ponder these difficult issues in a deliberative manner and is still attempting to steer the nation into a post-9/11 period. That journey, though, may be a long one.

He is also looking for a middle ground which considers our security needs in the era of international terrorism along with the need to respect civil liberties and the principles which the nation was founded upon. He might not get it completely right, and the answers are not always entirely clear but, contrary to Bush and Cheney, he is considering the key issues.

Bipartisan Report On Torture After 9/11

In case anyone still had any doubt that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be tried as war criminals, a bipartisan report confirms the long-standing criticism of torture being used under them:

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.

Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.

While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.

“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.

The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

Interrogation and abuse at the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites, the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba and war-zone detention centers, have been described in considerable detail by the news media and in declassified documents, though the Constitution Project report adds many new details.

It confirms a report by Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the C.I.A., challenging the agency’s longtime assertion that only three Al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the near-drowning technique. It includes a detailed account by Albert J. Shimkus Jr., then a Navy captain who ran a hospital for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison, of his own disillusionment when he discovered what he considered to be the unethical mistreatment of prisoners.

But the report’s main significance may be its attempt to assess what the United States government did in the years after 2001 and how it should be judged. The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end.

The question of whether those methods amounted to torture is a historically and legally momentous issue that has been debated for more than a decade inside and outside the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2005 concluding that the methods were not torture if used under strict rules; all the memos were later withdrawn. News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not.

In addition, the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.

Like the still-secret Senate interrogation report, the Constitution Project study was initiated after President Obama decided in 2009 not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, as proposed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others. Mr. Obama said then that he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” Aides have said he feared that his own policy agenda might get sidetracked in a battle over his predecessor’s programs.

The panel studied the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A’s secret prisons. Staff members, including the executive director, Neil A. Lewis, a former reporter for The New York Times, traveled to multiple detention sites and interviewed dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees.

Mr. Hutchinson, who served in the Bush administration as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he “took convincing” on the torture issue. But after the panel’s nearly two years of research, he said he had no doubts about what the United States did.

“This has not been an easy inquiry for me, because I know many of the players,” Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview. He said he thought everyone involved in decisions, from Mr. Bush down, had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.

“But I just think we learn from history,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “It’s incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.”

He added, “The United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.”

The panel found that the United States violated its international legal obligations by engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions. It questions recidivism figures published by the Defense Intelligence Agency for Guantánamo detainees who have been released, saying they conflict with independent reviews.

Many on the right justified these actions belieing they were necessary for our national security. Therefore I will repeat the line above which points out:  The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.