On June 17, The American Conservative will convene leading thinkers from across the political spectrum at George Washington University for a wide-ranging conversation about American foreign policy after the War on Terror.
The goal of the New Internationalism conference is to address America’s role in the world after Afghanistan and Iraq, and to discuss alternative visions for protecting America’s core security and economic interests in the new global framework.
The American Conservative and our co-sponsors The American Prospect and the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at GW will build on the emerging consensus that favors prudence, the rule of law, and diplomacy. We hope you can join us!
For more information and to register, visit theamericanconservative.com/newinternationalism. The event schedule is after the jump:
Tara McKelvey is a features writer at BBC News in Washington. She is the author of Monstering: Inside America’s Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War. We asked her a few questions about the Senate torture report, Donald Rumsfeld, and her book 10 years after the Abu Ghraib scandal.
1) Have you been following the leaks from the Senate inquiry into CIA
torture of detainees’ post-9/11? What do you make of reports that the CIA lied to the government and the public about the scope and effectiveness of the torture program?
Yes. I’m not sure if I would say “lied.” I don’t think we know enough to say they’ve done that. They have kept a lot of things hidden, and people on the Hill are trying to convince them to say more.
If enough of it is declassified, what will the Senate report tell us?
Who knows. But one thing I’ve wondered about is the interrogation methods that didn’t get approved. The former top lawyer of the CIA said in his memoir, Company Man, that they vetoed one method. Given all that they did, I am wondering what they decided was beyond the pale.
2) We recently marked the ten-year anniversary of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Your goal was to get beyond the frame of the Abu Ghraib photographs, and Monstering provides an account of extreme disarray there: interpreters who weren’t tested on language proficiency, private contractors with sectarian allegiances, a prisoner to guard ratio of 75 to one, soldiers who were told that they could “do whatever they wanted” to the detainees. What was the most surprising thing you learned while reporting the book?
How hard it was to give everyone their due. There is a German writer, Friedrich Hebbel, who once said: “In a good play…. everyone is right.” But when I interviewed Lynndie England, I had to keep reminding myself to give her the benefit of the doubt. A lot of people saw her as a monster, and I didn’t want to do that. Otherwise, I kept telling myself, I would be just like the people at the prison–the ones who didn’t see the detainees as fully human. But she was difficult to talk to–and she was at the prison when terrible things happened, and, anyway, I was surprised how hard that interview was.
3) What is the legacy of the scandal today as the U.S. winds down the War on Terror?
Obama outlawed torture. But years after he promised to close Guantanamo, it is still open. There is a place on the island called Camp 7 that is off-limits to virtually everyone, including journalists. That is where the people are who were once kept in the CIA’s black sites. That is one legacy of the scandal.
4) Monstering also addresses the elite policymakers (John Yoo, et al) who contributed to a climate of systemic abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. You conclude that instead of asking “how could this happen?” the question is really “how could this not have happened?” Several soldiers involved in the scandal, including Lynndie England, were sentenced to time in prison, but so many haven’t been held accountable. What do you make of this?
That it’s not completely surprising, but it still seems wrong. Putting soldiers on trial when they have committed crimes is not a slight against the military, but unfortunately some people think of it that way.
What policy measures have been put in place (by the army if not the CIA) to prevent future abuse?
Most people in the army were horrified by the abuses. They had rules in place before the Iraq war, and they are now making sure that the rules are followed more carefully. The worst abuse was carried out not by people in the military, though, but by people who worked for the CIA. They may have done tons of things to prevent future abuse, but they haven’t really talked about it.
5) Any thoughts on Errol Morris’s new Donald Rumsfeld documentary? Read More…
Talk of bipartisan prison form has rallied spirits in Washington in recent weeks, and was a topic of hope at CPAC last month. Though American politics may suffer schismatic divides in many issues, maybe—just maybe—we can find agreement here.
But it’s interesting how many are framing the debate—while the left’s motivation is largely viewed as humanitarian, the right’s motives are seen as decidedly pragmatic: prisons are costing us too much. Let’s change that.
Of course we can appreciate this pragmatism, but where is the principle and conscience in our prison reform views? Do conservatives only think in dollar signs?
In a conversation with Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador some weeks ago, he agreed that prison reform makes fiscal sense—but expanded conservative interests into the ethical sphere. He argued that as a Christian and defender of justice, our system ought not consign so many people to rotting in jail. “Because of the fear of crime,” he said, “We keep making it easier and easier for the state to take away your liberty and your freedom … we shouldn’t be throwing people in jail for long periods of time over non-violent offenses.”
Is this something other conservatives should be on-board with? Take solitary confinement, for instance: as conservatives, should we support it—and to what extent is it also deserving of reform?
A Wednesday piece by Lisa Guenther for Aeon provides some good philosophical reasons to oppose solitary confinement. She argues that, since man is (as Aristotle put it) a “social animal,” it is spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically deleterious for him to be alone. We depend on “the other” to undergird and reinforce our experience, our reality. Without that, the soul and mind are cut loose:
When we isolate a prisoner in solitary confinement, we deprive him of this network of perceptual and existential orientation. He might still have an experience of the table that is bolted in place in his cell, and he might still have the memory of what tables mean for other people. But the lived experience of these objects as both for-me and for-another is, by and large, denied to him. The ‘there’ that would otherwise anchor his experience of the world from ‘here’ has been pulled up, casting him adrift without a clear view of the horizon.
We may live in a rather individualistic society—but we never have to experience life in total solitude. “Only the prisoner in solitary confinement is forced to occupy the position of an isolated individual, and to bear the full weight of his existence alone,” writes Guenther. Traditional conservatism opposes individualism—it upholds the important and reforming nature of community. Should this principle extend to our penal system?
It depends, to some extent, on what you think prison is for. Those who believe in “locking up prisoners and throwing away the key” have a good, strong understanding of human depravity. But their belief in redemption is somewhat lacking. This is, perhaps, the largest problem I see with solitary confinement: it leaves absolutely no room for reform of the person. Instead, it turns the soul further toward its inner depravity, and keeps it locked there, away from “the other.” This may keep the individual from harming others—but it also leaves no room for the soul to grow or emerge from its inner prison.
True conservative prison reform should consider the impact such measures have on the human psyche and soul—not merely their monetary cost.
An interrogator isn’t just focused on extracting information, but on controlling it. When a closer sits down with a prisoner, she wants her prey to be entirely dependent on her for information about possible sentences, news of the outside world, or even the time of day, so she can manipulate or bargain with the truth as serves her needs.
As revelations from the Washington Post show, this is precisely the relationship that the CIA has been cultivating with Congress throughout the War on Terror. The recent allegations that the CIA hacked into the computers of Congressional staff and tried to erase damaging documents is only the latest salvo in the agency’s war of obfuscation. The CIA has overstepped its authority and then lied to Congress, to prevent the people’s representatives from reining the operatives in.
Current and former U.S. officials spoke anonymously to the Washington Post about the content of the classified report that the CIA has tried to sideline. Although the report on CIA detention and interrogation was completed in 2012, it has been tied up in bureaucratic red tape, and not one page of the 6,300 has been declassified. The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote this Thursday to recommend that Obama declassify the executive summary of the report.
Until then, judging by the leaks, it looks more and more like the CIA was engaged in unlawful practices. Not just the morally unlawful practice of waterboarding, which was nevertheless approved from on high, but other forms of torture that had no official sanction. The Washington Post describes the CIA’s treatment of the nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed:
At the secret prison, [Ammar al-]Baluchi endured a regime that included being dunked in a tub filled with ice water. CIA interrogators forcibly kept his head under the water while he struggled to breathe and beat him repeatedly, hitting him with a truncheon-like object and smashing his head against a wall, officials said.
This practice of near drowning and beating has never been authorized as an interrogation procedure. But, according to the Human Rights Watch, other prisoners at the same secret prison received the same treatment. CIA doctors stood by during these abuses, carefully checking the health of the prisoner, but serving the interests of the agency, helping the torturers push the bodies of their prisoners as far as they could go without killing anyone, presumably to avoid paperwork and oversight.
These acts of abuse did not result in useful intelligence. The Congressional report makes it clear that some prisoners were waterboarded after giving up useful data, and, although the brutal treatment produced no new information, the original revelations were used as evidence for the necessity of the technique. According to one of the Washington Post‘s anonymous sources:
“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”
The CIA might be able to claim it concealed the full scope of its activities from the American people due to national security reasons, but it’s very hard to believe that briefing Congress honestly would give terrorists an edge.
The evidence suggest that the CIA has gone rogue—imprisoning and torturing suspects, misleading their superiors, and trying to hide the evidence. The declassification of Congress’s report can’t come soon enough, so we can assess the damage the agency has done, and decide how to keep it under proper supervision and surveillance.
Today’s Supreme Court oral argument, in the case of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, is correctly understood to pit defenders of religious liberty against those who believe that the government has a compelling interest in requiring employers to provide contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization services through their healthcare policies. In significant part, the case hinges on whether the companies—privately held businesses whose owners are unquestionably deeply religious individuals, and who run their businesses informed by those views—can be considered “persons” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I, like many Christians, hope their case prevails.
But while the businesses are often characterized as “family-owned businesses,” each is a national business with hundreds of employees and multi-state operations. Hobby Lobby is by far the larger chain, with 640 stores that employs 28,000 individuals. While it has religiously-themed goods, plays Christian music, and closes on Sundays, in most respects it is identifiably a “big-box” store that can usually be found in major retail corridors, surrounded by acres of concrete and provisioned largely by merchandise made in China. While it is a “family-owned” business, it is hardly a mom-and-pop shop.
The dominant narrative—religious liberty against state-mandated contraception—altogether ignores the economic nature of the case, and the deeper connections between the economy in which Hobby Lobby successfully and eagerly engages and a society that embraces contraception, abortion, sterilization, and, altogether, infertility. Largely ignored is the fact Hobby Lobby is a significant player in a global economy that has separated markets from morality. Even as it is a Christian-themed brand, it operates in a decisively “secular” economic world. It is almost wholly disembedded from any particular community; its model, like that of all major box stores, is to benefit from economies of scale through standardization and aggressive price-cutting, relying on cheap overseas producers and retail settings that are devoid of any particular cultural or local distinction. The setting where one finds Hobby Lobby near us—on Grape Road in nearby Mishawaka—is about as profane imaginable a place on earth, accessible by six lanes of concrete roads where there is a heavy concentration of large chain retailers, where it anchors a sensory-deadening row of retail store fronts that border acres of cracked and barren pavement, awash in discarded plastic bags and crumpled fast food wrappers. On the rare occasion that I enter the store, even amid the Chinese mass-produced crosses and the piped in Christian music, under the endless florescent lighting and displays carefully-managed to optimize impulse buying, I am hardly moved to a state of piety, prayer, and thanksgiving. I am, like everyone else, looking for the least chintzy item at the cheapest price.
Hobby Lobby—like every chain store of its kind—participates in an economy that is no longer “religious” or even “moral.” That is, it participates in an economy that arose based on the rejection of the subordination of markets embedded within, and subject to, social and moral structures. This “Great Transformation” was detailed and described with great acuity by Karl Polanyi in his masterful 1944 book of that title. He described a sea change of economic practice that took place especially beginning in the 19th-century, but whose theoretical groundwork had been laid already in the 17th- and 18th-centuries by thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith. As he succinctly described this “transformation,” previous economic arrangements in which markets were “embedded” within moral and social structures, practices, and customs were replaced by ones in which markets were liberated from those contexts, and shorn of controlling moral and religious norms and ends. “Ultimately that is why the control of the economic system by the market is of overwhelming consequence to the whole organization of society: it means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.” Read More…
Of Kristol’s evocation of the “original Constitution”—and, by implication, modern liberalism’s trashing of it—Chait writes, “The ‘original Constitution’? The one that permitted slavery? Does Kristol want to do away away with the 11th through 27th amendments to the Constitution? I’m sure he does not. But if Kristol obviously does not mean what he actually wrote, what does he mean?”
We all know the drill by now: the “original,” pre-Progressive era Constitution was not designed for the expansive power to regulate interstate commerce that Congress now enjoys; for “transfer payments” or the redistribution of wealth; or, generally speaking, for any interference between the consensual acts of individuals in the marketplace.
I return to it from time to time, because it’s such a perfect distillation of the kind of jurisprudence that infuses the tea party and liberty movements, and Kristol’s musing furnishes me another excuse: Ken Cuccinelli’s legal brief against Obamacare’s individual mandate in the Texas Review of Law & Politics.
In it, Cuccinelli answers Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous Lochner dissent that “a constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory … The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s social statics.” (Hence Chait, lazily switching between upper- and lower-case “c”: “The Constitution is not a vague set of ideals; it’s a clear set of rules. That’s the whole point of a Constitution.”)
Cuccinelli says Holmes was arguing with a straw man. Of course it’s nonsense to claim the Constitution or the 14th Amendment embody Social Statics. But could Holmes plausibly deny that it embodies John Locke? “This would have been regarded as puzzling at best and at worst demonstrably false.” So there, fine: Forget Herbert Spencer. We can appeal to Locke (and Blackstone, and Hooker) and basically arrive at the same libertarian defense of economic rights. Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas: so use your own as not to injure another’s property.
For now, let’s table this aspect of the debate. Readers know I’d rather live under Chait’s Constitution than Cuccinelli’s. My point here is this: Bill Kristol is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad ambassador for the Tea Party Constitution!
A constitution whose notion of executive power is expansive enough to satisfy the likes of Bill Kristol and John Yoo should have no trouble accommodating social insurance programs or public assistance for the needy.
I’m sorry: you don’t get to have your kickass policy suite of torture, democratism, intergalactic swamp-draining, World War XXIV, and “We’re all Everybody-ians now,” and also complain about food stamps or federal insurance exchanges.
Tea Party and liberty movement conservatives have every right to argue for an originalist interpretation of individual economic rights.
Bill Kristol does not.
“Religious Right Cheers a Bill Allowing Refusal to Serve Gays.” Thus did the New York Times‘ headline, leaving no doubt as to who the black hats are, describe the proposed Arizona law to permit businesses, on religious grounds, to deny service to same-sex couples. Examples of intolerance provided by the Times:
In New Mexico, a photographer declined to take pictures of a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. In Washington State, a florist would not provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. And in Colorado, a baker refused to make a cake for a party celebrating the wedding of two men.
The question Gov. Jan Brewer faces?
Should Christians, Muslims, Mormons who refuse, on religious grounds, to serve same-sex couples—that photographer, that florist, that baker, for example—be treated as criminals? Or should Arizona leave them alone?
“Religious freedom,” said Daniel Mach of the ACLU to the Times, is “not a blank check to … impose our faith on our neighbors.” True. But who is imposing whose beliefs here? The baker who says he’s not making your wedding cake? Or those who want Arizona law to declare that either he provides that wedding cake and those flowers for that same-sex ceremony, or we see to it that he is arrested, prosecuted and put out of business? Who is imposing his views and values here?
What we are seeing in Arizona in microcosm is what we have witnessed in America for half a century: the growing intolerance of those who preach tolerance and the corruption of the concept of civil rights.
We have seen the progression before. In 1954, the Supreme Court declared that segregation in public schools was wrong and every black child must be allowed to attend his or her neighborhood school. By 1968, the court was demanding that white children be forcibly bussed across entire cities to insure an arbitrary racial balance. Under the civil rights acts of the 1960s, businesses were told that in hiring, promotion, pay, and benefits, black and white, men and women must be treated alike. Equality of opportunity.
But, soon, that was no longer enough. We needed equality of result. Corporations were ordered to maintain extensive records of the race, gender, ethnicity and sexual preferences of their entire work force to prove they were not guilty of discrimination. And if your work force is insufficiently diverse today, you are a citizen under suspicion in a country we used to call the Land of the Free. Consider how far we have come.
Virtually all decisions to hire, fire, promote or punish employees, to oversee the sale and rental of housing, to ensure that all minorities have access to all restaurants, hotels and motels, are under the jurisdiction of these minions who are right out of Orwell’s 1984. Scores of thousands of bureaucrats—academic, corporate, government—are on watch, overseeing our economy, patrolling our society, monitoring our behavior. Read More…
Some children are products of their environments, while others are products of their communities. I was neither. Growing up in Coney Island in the early 1990s, my immediate surroundings held few opportunities for a child whose ambition stretched beyond the boardwalk. By the age of four, I could read and write at a first-grade level, and my collection of Dr. Seuss tales bored me. Determined to give me the best education available, my mother took me to every private school that granted me an interview until one accepted me and awarded me a sufficient scholarship to attend. I stayed at that school all the way through high school, went on to college, and am now in the fledging stages of a career in journalism.
Here’s the question: what color is my skin?
Better yet—should it matter?
Technically, I am racially mixed: my father is black and my mother is Hispanic. I’ve never seen myself as exclusively one or the other, but as a unique combination of both. My heritage, like my skin color and gender, are aspects of me that contribute to my identity, but do not tell the whole story.
Over the years, I have been trapped by the sense that because of my race—not in spite of the historical baggage that accompanied it—I was afforded the opportunities granted to me. On a good day, my love of learning and work ethic came second and third, respectively, to my ethnic background. The assumption was that I was an indigent child rescued by a benevolent program that put me on the path to success after polishing my uncouth mannerisms. I was keenly aware that I was a guest in a foreign land, because I was often sought out by my peers to provide perspective to bolster an already formed opinion, but was not engaged with based on the quality of my ideas. That a minority student could matriculate at a private school having skipped the polishing step was apparently so rare that I was perceived as odd, and never broke free from that mold.
Steven L. Carter, a Yale Law professor, aptly sums up the feelings of inadequacy in the introduction of his book Confessions of an Affirmative Action Baby: “…labels, too bedevil the black intellectual, and many of them, as though required in truth-by-advertising law, are in the form of cautions…not least, qualifications for one’s position: ‘Warning! Affirmative Action Baby! Do Not Assume That This Individual Is Qualified!’” I eventually tired of the implicit expectation of relying on identity politics to advance my education, and, for a variety of reasons, switched political affiliations. On this side of the aisle, my skin color is second to my work ethic, which pleases me. Affirmative action, in granting me access to institutions that fostered my potential, ignored the rest of me because it did not fit the stereotype of a refugee from the inner city. Read More…
Just as our army has, in President Obama’s famous debating words, moved beyond horses and bayonets, so too has our surveillance moved past using hot air balloons to count campfires. After demonstrating once again his wide-ranging knowledge of obsolete military technologies, Obama used his long-awaited speech today to frame broad new surveillance programs as a similar modernization for cyberwarfare.
He acknowledged that such modernization of spycraft had led to overreach, though he described surveillance and interrogations conducted under his predecessor’s term as “contradict[ing] our values” while the excesses under his own watch were ascribed to intelligence officers’ passion for defending their country. However, in order to rein in the expansion of spying, especially on American citizens, President Obama announced four major structural changes:
First, the president has approved a new directive meant to provide guidance to intelligence agencies, so they have clearer instructions on how to balance goals of protecting national security, obeying treaties we have signed, respect for civil liberties, and other concerns. The preferred way to make trade-offs was not detailed in the president’s speech, though he did disclose that the priorities set by the directive will be reviewed annually. Various new staff positions will be created in the executive branch to monitor compliance and recommend further revisions.
Second, President Obama listed several changes intended to increase transparency and set limits on any future overreach. He encouraged the declassification of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions, when appropriate, so that citizens have some idea what the current interpretation of privacy law is. Additionally, he called on Congress to establish a panel of advocates from outside government to act as devil’s advocates in some cases before the FISA court. At present, the FISA court, which approves wiretaps and other surveillance requests, is not an adversarial system. Only representatives of the government present their case, the surveilled cannot hear or dispute their arguments.
Third, the president addressed concerns specific to Section 702 of the FISA Amendment Act, which allows intelligence agents to intercept massive volumes of communication for later data mining and review. Currently, when the federal government uses a national security letter to force a private company to turn over troves of user data, the company can’t reveal to their users that their security has been compromised. President Obama would tweak national security letters so the companies are not silenced indefinitely, and the secrecy would have an expiration date. Unless, he added, it was prudent to renew the gag order. Read More…
Kevin Bales, co-founder of Free the Slaves and well-known human trafficking expert, first estimated there to be 27 million slaves worldwide. This was an approximation offered in his 1999 book Disposable People. Since then, the topic of human trafficking has garnered international attention—yet for the past 14 years, the estimated number of slaves worldwide rested at Bales’ original approximation. But now, with a team of researchers at the Walk Free Foundation, Bales has introduced a new number: 29.8 million. The new “Global Slavery Index 2013” seeks to measure international slavery and human trafficking, and to provide informational tools for institutions fighting the problem.
Two potential weaknesses of such a report lie in its definition (how broad or specific it is, how easy to measure) and its methodology: how does one measure the global population of slaves worldwide, when slavery is an illegal and clandestine activity? The report’s authors explain their methodology, which focused primarily on secondary collection (via both governmental and non-governmental reports) and representative random sample surveys. Nick Grono, CEO of the Walk Free Foundation, told The Guardian, “Measuring a hidden crime is very challenging, but there are efforts to measure domestic abuse and drug trafficking. A lot of it boils down to taking the best data on reported issues and then looking at the scale of the unreported or ‘dark’ problems.”
The index’s definition of slavery and human trafficking has received some skepticism. Bridget Anderson, Deputy Director of the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society at Oxford, told The Guardian this report gathers “unjust situations” around the world and labels them as “slavery.” “You have a definitional problem, everything depends on the definition and if you use tricky words like ‘forced’, you are already straying into difficult territory,” she said. Here is an excerpt from the report’s definition section:
In 2013, modern slavery takes many forms, and is known by many names. Whether it is called human trafficking, forced labour, slavery or slavery-like practices (a category that includes debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children including in armed conflict) victims of modern slavery have their freedom denied, and are used and controlled and exploited by another person for profit, sex, or the thrill of domination … The chains of modern slavery are not always physical – sometimes escalating debts, intimidation, deception, isolation, fear or even a ‘marriage’ that is forced on a young woman or girl without her consent can be used to hold a person against their will without the need for locks or chains.
One can see Anderson’s point. Not only does this definition include a plethora of hidden, illegal criminality—it also includes criminality across a broad variety of platforms: the trafficking of persons across borders, private commercial labor, sex slavery, child soldier kidnappings, and forced marriages. Also, from reading Bales’ books and a variety of other books on the subject, I have learned “coercive labor” situations often do involve pay. But they involve pay in ridiculously minuscule amounts, offset by mountains of employer-determined debt. Thus, the “bondage” described is of a tricky and hidden nature.
The report’s definition is not necessarily wrong. It is good to have some broad (albeit sketchy) statistics on the issue. But Grono himself admitted “the data is not that strong; we want to be open about this. If a government says they don’t agree [with the data], we will say great, let’s work with a national statistics office to do a study across the country to try and analyse the scale of the problem.”
While child and forced marriage are awful human rights abuses, should they be included in the Global Slavery Index? Perhaps so—but consider, we now have a conglomeration of commercial, domestic, and sexual exploitation in the same dataset. How does one begin to parse a number so large? The index’s inclusion of basic law information for the top 10 worst countries in the index could be helpful—if one fights trafficking in Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan or India. But this is a limited contribution.
This is not meant to be harsh—the report’s authors are working for a noble cause. But one hopes they can improve the index with time. Perhaps a next step would be to specify data according to definitional groupings. What if one was to apportion the numbers for each nation according to commercial, domestic, and sexual slavery (perhaps another category for child soldiers, as well)? It would require more work, of course, but this division would allow for more practical data offerings. 29.8 million is a horrid and shocking number. But it is also, unfortunately, a rather useless one at this point.