Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.


Optional soundtrack to this post may be found here.

So, speaking of anniversaries … last week was the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in Louisiana, and making a disastrous mess of the city of New Orleans particularly.

People have different reactions to the mention of that storm. Some think of all those people stranded on rooftops, and in the Superdome. Some think about all that history, of jazz and other things, lost. Some think of politics and emergency responses. Some people think about larger issues of economics and race and such.

Some people would clearly rather we just didn’t remember the whole thing … or at least the bad stuff.

George W. Bush, who was the President when Katrina hit, returned to New Orleans last week to take part in ceremonies commemorating the catastrophe. He made a speech at the Warren Easton Charter High School, and early in the speech he said this:

Hurricane Katrina is a story of loss beyond measure; it is also a story of commitment and compassion. I hope you remember what I remember, and that is 30,000 people were saved in the immediate aftermath of the storm by U.S. military personnel, by Louisiana law enforcement, and by citizens who volunteered. I hope you remember what I remember, and that is the thousands who came here on a volunteer basis to provide food for the hungry and to help find shelter for those who had no home to live in. There are people all around our country who prayed for you, many of whom showed up so they could say they helped a fellow citizen who was hurting.”

The bit of that speech which got my attention was that last sentence, a bit passed over by the few news stories that I heard which went into any great detail about the speech. Considering the frightening enormity of Katrina and its effects – it laid waste to a major American city! (how do we know it’s a major city? It’s got an NFL franchise, that’s how we know) – darn few news outlets spent the kind of time on it that I would have predicted, or hoped.

Many Americans, said the former president, came to New Orleans “so they could say they helped a fellow citizen who was hurting.”

I think Mr. Bush revealed something about himself there and about a great many political figures in our time, particularly those whose gig it was to bring help to all those “fellow citizens”. That has appeared to be Mr. Bush’s stock-in-trade since the very beginning – the unintentional moment of naked truth, which I once heard called the “Catapult-the-Propaganda Moment”. Mr. Bush has been capable of monumental manglings of the English language – putting food on families, “cain’t get fooled again”, all those gems. But – and he’s not the only politician ever to achieve this, but he’s in the top tier – I think his truly revelatory moments come when his use of the language (whether off-the-cuff or while reading from written remarks), examined carefully, serves as a small but clear window into his inner workings. (And no, he’s not the only politician who opens these windows without realizing.)

Here, with the luxury of hindsight, I note that he didn’t say something like “people … came to New Orleans to help their fellow citizens.”

Instead, he said – and I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that he was psychologically projecting himself onto the people he was speaking of – that the people showed up so they could say they helped a fellow citizen who was hurting.” So they could boast afterward about having done this great thing.

So they could look like they were doing this great thing. For the photo ops. It’s good optics.

Is this linguistic nitpicking? Is my admittedly dim view of our 43rd president clouding my judgment, causing me to jump at shadows? Or does this little tiny scrap of a statement echo the photograph of Mr. Bush, days after Katrina made landfall, looking out of an Air Force One window at the devastation below and (the White House press office surely was hoping) exuding sympathy and caring, albeit from many thousands of feet in the air? Or does it summarize his very presence at the Katrina commemoration ceremony last weekend?

Am I making too much out of this?


September 2, 2015 Posted by | current events, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

By What Small Men

This is by no means an essay about politics. My political leanings have nothing to do with this. Nothing.

Today, the US Senate Intelligence Committee released a report detailing the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 torture program. Actually what the Committee released was a summary of its actual report. The summary was 528 pages long. The report itself is more than 6,000 pages long.

I’m trying to decide if I have six thousand pages’ worth of details in my whole life. Verbose as I may be.

Five years of investigation have yielded a report that condemns CIA personnel who ran the torture program during the George W. Bush presidential administration. (That program has been called the “enhanced interrogation program” by many; but in one of his columns (to be found at esquire.com/blogs/politics/) today, political writer Charlie Pierce wrote, “[a]nyone who still calls this ‘enhanced interrogation’ is an idiot and a coward and I have no time for them.” He’s right, and that phrase will not be used here, not that I’d planned on it.)

True, the CIA has a reputation for carrying out intelligence endeavors without checking in with any of the actual branches of American government; but it was specifically authorized to carry out this program by Justice Department lawyers David Addington and John Yoo, among others.

[T]he Justice Department drafted memos providing the brutal program with a veneer of legality,” said the Senate report. And by this time, many articles and books have been written which identify the people within the Bush administration who fully supported the various legal memoranda which were created to justify all this genuine awfulness, this inhuman activity to be carried out by humans against other humans.

On the one hand, during the Nuremburg trials after World War II, no quarter was given to Nazi personnel who claimed to be “merely following orders”. Sorry, said the prosecutors; that doesn’t cut it. That won’t get you off the hook. Perhaps we can’t know what kind of pressure was exerted upon Nazis who ranked anywhere below Hitler (it may have been difficult to just resign), or upon American intelligence personnel who were authorized to do this, this, and this to prisoners in order to interrogate them fully.

As Charlie Pierce also noted today, there are plenty of CIA agents who have been properly excoriated for what they actually did, but who may also be feeling thrown under the bus somewhat – at the very least because the people, the leaders, whose orders they were carrying out appear to have largely escaped the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ire, at least within their report. Many CIA personnel are done; meanwhile, their superiors of that time are still being interviewed on CNN, are still giving speeches, and astonishingly are still being asked for their opinions about what American foreign policy should be and how it should be carried out.

Great. Thanks to them, the United States of America has ceded the moral high ground in international relations for a good long while.

There are a number of writers, whose work I have read in the last 48 hours, who suggest that all this was not merely done “in our name” … which is bad enough … but that it was done by us, the United States of America, and we all bear responsibility.

Sorry, but I reject this idea. I didn’t authorize such miserable things, and you likely didn’t. My friends wouldn’t have, and I bet your friends wouldn’t have either. Most decently-adjusted people wouldn’t.

Sound a little naïve? Perhaps.

But beyond such lofty, American-history-class thoughts as “our representative government has failed us”, and “if we can only muster 30 percent turnout in an election, then we get the government we deserve”, and such … I can’t think of a single person that I know personally, in any of my spheres of life – family, personal, professional – who would consider any of the torture techniques of the Bush years as remotely okay, never mind actually participate in them.

I’m willing to bet that even some of the people who jump on the Internet and post genuinely awful comments in the comment sections … even some of the people who make chest-thumping noises about taking people they don’t agree with and doing horrible things to them just because they believe something different … even some of the Ted Nugents of the world … … if push came to shove, I’d still bet that the vast, vast, VAST majority of those people would still physically buckle if given the instruction to actually commit the acts that the Senate report detailed, themselves, with their own hands.

(I know, I know, there are all those intriguing science experiments wherein people were instructed to administer electric shocks to other people who gave wrong quiz answers and those shock-administering people’s behavior seemed to suggest that the veneer of civilization can be thin indeed. My delicate mind would prefer that those didn’t exist, this moment. And the book Lord of the Flies, as well.)

I’ve written previously in this space about empathy, or the lack thereof. There are those, assuredly, who do lack. But I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of American citizens still possess some … enough, at least, to recoil from orders like those that the CIA agents were given. I’d be willing to hope so, at least. Again, this probably brands me as naïve.

The people in the higher echelons of the Bush Administration – knowing that they wouldn’t ever have to be the ones to use their own hands in this effort – didn’t flinch. They figuratively pulled the trigger. According to a lot of articles and books that I’ve read in the past few years, they did so enthusiastically.

Which brings me to yesterday’s New York Times editorial page.

In it, there’s an op-ed piece (found at nytimes.com/2014/12/09/opinion/pardon-bush-and-those-who-tortured.html?_r=0) by Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union; an essay which makes a remarkable suggestion (for an ACLU leader; and for anyone who has been supportive of any effort to prosecute the bastards):

Before President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names.

But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.”

The way to establish this, Mr. Romero said, is indeed to pardon these people for authorizing and ordering the torture. After all, the only way anyone can merit a pardon … is if they’ve committed a crime, yes?

Clever, these natives.

I am hugely conflicted about this idea.

At first, I recoiled as much as Mr. Romero did. A pardon, to some, might imply exoneration … might suppose a lifting of guilt … and, in extreme interpretations, might even suggest forgiveness.

No. No, damn it.

The current President, whom I admire, and who upon his inauguration immediately instructed the CIA to knock off the torture … nonetheless feared political fallout too greatly to put into action the means of holding the proper people accountable for the policies they justified and the orders they gave. And now, for many (although not all) of these people, the statute of limitations has run out. That’s one of the things that I can not appreciate Mr. Obama for. Maybe there were backroom Beltway highest-levels-of-government so-secret-even-the-Prez-knows-little-of-them reasons why it was a fool’s errand to even think that such holding-accountable would ever happen. I’m not a conspiracy theorist; but my God, there are days …

He hasn’t – or, all right, we haven’t – even been able to properly try and convict the Addingtons and Yoos and Rumsfelds and Rices yet. A pardon could give them the idea that they’ve dodged the biggest bullet of their lives. Unless they don’t require that idea. Unless, as former Vice President Dick Cheney takes every possible televised opportunity to insist, they feel that if they had it to do all over again they’d not change a thing because it was justified and correct and right and so am I.

This interpretation of a pardon strikes me, at least, as unfair: because those who might be pardoned don’t deserve this peace of mind – not after what they put other people through. Not just the other people who were on the receiving end of the torture, but the other people who went to fight wars (utilizing intelligence, gathered from tortured prisoners, which has been shown to be inaccurate and useless and therefore actively unhelpful to them), and to die, and to leave behind families to grieve and never get their loved ones back (or just return physically and psychologically damaged) and wonder what in the hell it was any good for.

Then I got thinking … maybe, just maybe the pardon really would do what President Obama has not: label these people, unequivocally, once and for all, as criminals. “An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted,” wrote Mr. Romero.

And after all, the only way anyone can merit a pardon … is if they’ve committed a crime, yes?

The jury inside my head is still out.

But what makes me certain that at the end of this particular figurative day, the label of “criminal” needs to be assigned, and made to stick, is this:

Former President George W. Bush approved these measures. Captain goes down with the ship. Fish rots from the head. Name your aphorism; it’s all there.

Nations would be terrified if they knew by what small men they are in reality ruled.”  -Charles de Gaulle

Oh! …That’s a good one, too.

In his remarkable book, “Bush on the Couch”, professor of clinical psychology Dr. Justin A. Frank created a psychoanalyst’s profile of Mr. Bush, tracing his character from childhood through presidency. He utilized a startling amount of circumstantial evidence to identify and analyze Bush’s patterns of thought, action, and communication.

Two of Frank’s cited anecdotes stand out, to me:

First, this. In May 2000, New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof quoted Bush’s childhood friend Terry Throckmorton: “’We were terrible to animals,’ recalled Mr. Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush home turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out. ‘Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them,’ Mr. Throckmorton said. ‘Or we’d put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.’”

As Baltimore Sun reporter Miriam Miedzian subsequently wrote in September 2000: “So when he was a kid, George W. enjoyed putting firecrackers into frogs, throwing them in the air, and then watching them blow up. Should this be cause for alarm? How relevant is a man’s childhood behavior to what he is like as an adult? And in this case, to what he would be like as president of the United States?” Dr. Frank lays out why he thinks it’s very relevant indeed.

And second, this. Dr. Frank references commentator Tucker Carlson’s interview with then-Texas Governor Bush about how his state’s Board of Pardons had arrived at the determination of the clemency plea of convicted murderer Karla Faye Tucker. During the interview, Bush alluded to a TV interview which Tucker had given to Larry King. Carlson wrote:

In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, ‘A number of protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Karla Faye Tucker.’

‘Did you meet with any of them?’ I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. “No, I didn’t meet with any of them,” he snaps, as though I’ve just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. “I didn’t meet with Larry King either when he came down for [the interview]. I watched his interview with [Karla Faye] Tucker, though. He asked her real difficult questions like, ‘What would you say to Governor Bush?’”

What was her answer?” I wonder.

‘Please,’” Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, “’don’t kill me.’”

I must look shocked — ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel — because he immediately stops smirking.”

The former President was interviewed this past Sunday on CNN, as news of the Senate torture report’s impending release was spreading. He said this:

We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf. These are patriots, and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”

Their contributions to this country, Mr. Bush, were both inhumane acts on a personal level and also disastrous acts on a foreign-policy level, on an international-relations level, and on a less-intellectually-driven, patriotic-music-laden “what this great nation stands for” level.

And since you (and your Administration colleagues) gave the orders, gave the okay, pulled the trigger … that means that those contributions are your contributions.

And if you think that this means that, via the commutative property, you are a patriot? …

I beg your pardon.

December 9, 2014 Posted by | books, civil rights, current events, Famous Persons, government, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Assuming Responsibility

Ten years ago this day, portions of the US government committed ordinance, materiel, and most importantly, people to a military action that lasted, by all accounts, at least a dozen times longer than its inventors envisioned.

This military action was, by most after-the-fact accounts, based not so much on a wealth of credible evidence of clear and present danger to the United States, but rather on a clear and present wish on the part of numerous officials, both publicly-elected and not elected. That wish was the desire to go to war.

Political and military intelligence was misread or ignored. Historical and demographic information about the region in question was not considered or in some cases even known. All in the effort to justify the desire to go to war.

Weapons of mass destruction? No, said the international agency whose purpose it was to recognize such things. Connection between Saddam and the 9/11 attackers? No, since Al Qaeda was a global Islamist organization with a corresponding religious affiliation, and Saddam was firmly against such things as religion (no dictator wants anyone thinking of a high power than himself, eh?). Who lives in Iraq? Sunni? Shia? What’s the difference? Is there a difference? Why should we care? Do we care enough to research that question before we go to war?

In this space some time ago, I noted that President George W. Bush, in his post-presidency memoir “Decision Points”, insisted that he did (and, reportedly, still does) have a “sickening feeling” about the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq – one of several rotating justifications for going to war. I also noted that his sickening feeling probably didn’t compare to the sickening feeling of those Americans who lost family members, or to the sickening feeling of Iraqis who lost family members or whole neighborhoods to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The ultimate results of that Operation, in spite of a few public officials’ continuing insistence that the effort was worthwhile, are these: the physical and political wrecking of one nation and the international shaming of another one.

Evidence has piled up, and continues to emerge, pointing to the whole operation as being fraudulently conceived, poorly (or non-existently) prepared, and (at best) clumsily executed. It has cost the United States, by some estimates, $2.2 trillion dollars – money that could have been sent to far more deserving places in the world, or even within our very States, to do good works. And yet, not one of the elected or appointed officials who should bear responsibility for the resulting foreign-policy catastrophe and humanitarian disaster – both of which will have repercussions far into the future, both for nations and individuals – have been called to account. At least, beyond the occasional feeble attempt at cross-examination by a corporately-sponsored press full of people who can barely claim the title of “journalists”. Such cross-examination surely was not conducted in the run-up to the war, at least by journalists well-funded enough to be visible to the majority of Americans at the time.

(The estimable Charlie Pierce wrote a piece yesterday on his political blog about this facet of the story. It’s short, to the point, punchy, and dead-on.)


Not only has none of those elected or appointed officials been prosecuted in any civil or criminal court, domestic or international – but not a single main character in this tragedy has even come close to admitting responsibility.

Never mind the Paul Wolfowitzes, the Richard Perles, the Colin Powells, the Lawrence Wilkersons, the John Boltons, etc., of this story – the supporting players. Most statements about the Iraq War from the four figures in the iconic Crawford, TX ranch photograph – the former Secretary of State (then the National Security Adviser), the former Vice President, the former President, and the former Secretary of Defense – betray no evidence of having learned anything. The President and Vice President in particular have been shown – in interviews included in MSNBC’s recent documentary “Hubris: The Selling of the Iraq War” – to say that, knowing what they know now, and given the same set of circumstances, they would not act any differently. And they say such things with an air of utter confidence and unshakable belief. In the documentary, the former President’s attitude edges close to flippant (as has become familiar over the years); the former Vice President’s is much more dogged, serious, even foreboding (as has also been his wont). Remarks from each man come off (to this eye) as callous at best. No genuine admission of mistakes; no hint of atonement; no apologies; no assumption of responsibility for any of it.

Nearly four-and-a-half thousand Americans lost their lives in the Iraq War. Tens of thousands of American servicemen and -women have returned home as damaged goods, physically or psychologically or both. And hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were sacrificed, in the service of the geopolitical aims and (arguably) the psychological needs of a scant few very powerful and in some cases unaccountable people.

These people either have no soul, or they have successfully compartmentalized their consciences to the point where those consciences will never again see the light of day.

Why are these people still asked for their opinions about foreign policy?

Why are these people still treated as honored guests on television chat programs?

Why are these people allowed to make money writing books and making speeches?

Why are these people not in jail?



P.S. I have included a link to Charlie Pierce’s article where it’s mentioned above, so that you may properly click it and give him the Internet hits he richly deserves. But I think it bears re-printing here. It’s great, and damning, and angry, and a must-read.


by Charlie Pierce / Esquire.com

The ‘public editor’ of The New York Times tells us today that the paper’s coverage of the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War is likely to be less of a hoot than back in the drum-banging days when Judy Miller was standing atop a great pile of stove-piped bullsh*t while Bill Keller threw roses at her feet.

I asked Dean Baquet, a managing editor, about the low-key approach. He said that while a few stories are planned, editors did not see a need for a major project or special section, as they did with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. ‘The war itself has been dissected to a tremendous degree,’ he told me. ‘You have to have something new or fresh to say.’ He would not provide specifics about the articles that are planned, but said there might be one or two that would make their way onto the front page this week … Is The Times’s own role in the run-up to the war a part of this relative reticence, as some readers have suggested to me? Is there reluctance to revisit a painful period in the paper’s history? Mr. Baquet said that’s not a factor. ‘The Times has probably acknowledged its own mistakes from that period more than anyone,’ he said. ‘We certainly haven’t been shy about doing that. We’re doing the stories that make sense to us and that offer our readers something worthwhile.’

That is, of course, all bollocks. Keller still writes a column. The Times is playing this on the downlow precisely because it never truly has atoned for its role in a fiasco. The op-ed page still welcomes submissions from people whose work on this most grotesque foreign-policy blunder should have been as definitive a career-killer as were Joe Hazlewood’s navigational abilities.

I can hardly wait for this week to end. If it’s not Dean Baquet, copping a cheap alibi for his newspaper’s unforgivable malpractice, it’s Richard Perle. who should be displayed in a pillory outside Walter Reed for the next 10 years, being allowed to vomit blood all over the op-ed section of USA Today.

Many commentaries on the Iraq War, including the one to which this is a response, show little understanding of what it means to manage risk. We do not normally consider it to have been foolish to pay for fire insurance when the house does not burn down – or particularly clever to have done so when it does. When thousands of American lives are at stake, insurance, sometimes pre-emptive military action, is not cheap.

And precisely what risk did you ‘manage’? What chance did you take? You gambled with other people’s children in a game you’d helped rig. What cost was exacted from you, sitting your fat ass in a swivel chair at a wingnut intellectual chop-shop while kids are still staggering around the wards without legs and arms, or the cognitive functions to get them through the day? What price did you pay? You have to send out for lunch one day? Show me the butcher’s bill for the Perle household, you vampire son of a bitch.

And let us not forget Perle’s onetime co-author, David Frum, who’s mysteriously been allowed through the tradesmen’s entrance back into the discourse conducted by decent people. It should be recalled, before we all start doing that which Winston Wolf cautioned us not to do, that Frum did a lot more than write one speech in 2002. Two years later, he also wrote a discreetly McCarthyite book with the aforementioned Perle called An End To Evil. If we’d found a single cache of biotoxins anywhere in Iraq, Frum would have been waving his warrior dick at CPAC last weekend. Instead, we hear about Dick Cheney, and Tony Blair, and how really sorry David Frum is for the hand he played in the deaths of so many people who are not named David Frum.

Shut up, all of you. Go away. You are complicit in one way or another in a giant crime containing many great crimes. Atone in secret. Wash the blood off your hands in private. Because there were people who got it right. Anthony Zinni. Eric Shiseki. Hans Blix. Mohamed ElBaradei. The McClatchy Washington bureau guys. Dozens of liberal academics who got called fifth-columnists and worse. Professional military men whose careers suffered as a result. Hundreds of thousands of people in the streets around the world. The governments of Canada and France. Those people, I will listen to this week. Go to hell, the rest of you, and go there in silence and in shame.”

This article copyright © 2013 Hearst Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | government, journalism, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment