Thursday, February 26, 2009

Conservative Hinterland who's who - Spring Schadenfreude edition

In the unending cycle of life in Canada, as the snows of a harsh winter recede, the rotting fetid corpses of Conservative scandals past are exposed for the nourishment of hungry bloggers. Some of the bodies available for scavengers are quite old and bloated.

Some scandals emerge from hibernation to provide sustenance as their weaknesses are exposed and attacked by ravaging hordes by packs of animals known as "commitees".

Other scandals mistakenly believe that they have fooled the Law of the Wild and evaded their fate .  
As any experienced outdoorsman knows, these weakened ungulates will provide nourishment as the season unfolds.  Predators can detect a severley wounded animal by its stance and will bring it down at a time that suits its needs.

Once the cold of winter loses its final battle with spring the scandal seeds scattered on the ground will germinate providing liberal amounts of feed for the progressive predators to grow fat on.
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Conservatives don't have a secret agenda - about 2 weeks later

On February 12, I blogged on how 10 working days after Tommy Flanagan, the Eminence Grease of the Conservative Party, had an editorial in the G&M outlining how they should use law and order legislation as confidence measures and "run them straight at the Liberals"; Van Loan announced outrageous proposals to spy on Canadians internet use.  Then it is all quiet on that front.

And then I find on the Conservative Television Network website that (my emphasis in bold):
The federal government is expected to unveil new legislation Thursday that will include an automatic first-degree murder charge for any gang-related killings, CTV News has learned.

Public Safety Minster Peter Van Loan, who has called the Lower Mainland "the gang capital of Canada," set the stage for the proposed legislation on Monday.

"The wave of gang killings in British Columbia right now is driven by criminal organizations that all function on the drug trade," he said.

"It is the drug trade that's at the core of that violence, that's making those communities unsafe and that's why we need to give police the tools they need in the form of mandatory prison sentences for drug crimes."

There you go, pete.  Scare the base and shake them up so the change falls out of their pockets.  If I am not mistaken, Thursday is February 26.  Two weeks (again 10 working days) after the internet snooping announcement. The Conservatives likely aren't overly serious about this.  Just as they are unlikely to risk inflaming the electorate over internet privacy issues.  They are, however, eager to rile up the ConZombies for fundraising purposes.  It will be interesting to see what happens on March 12.  The strict periodicity speaks to a lack of imagination but what else would we expect from this bunch?

At every step along the journey as the Reform Party morphed into the Alliance and finally deformed itself into the Conservative, every vestige of the grassroots movement that spawned it all has been abandoned except for the fundraising model.  The Conservative Party now serves as a shell to feed its own bureaucracy.  It is not about governing.  It is not about policy.  It exists to raise money to perpetuate the Party and provide salaries for the Ryan Sparrows of the world.  That Canada has to struggle through this crisis with a non-government in charge is a concomitant tragedy.

The matter of Flanagan's willingness to telegraph his moves speaks to arrogance, plain and simple.  The Harpovians are religious so they must know this one: Pride goeth before a fall.
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Dumbing down a nation

Paul Wells has a post (Let’s play Cut the Granting Councils!that is worth a read for a peak at the ongoing harm Harper will inflict on Canada through this budget.  Cuts to basic research.  good display of leadership and foresight.

From the Conservative standpoint, this accomplishes two objectives:
  1. If you, as Harper does, see Canada primarily as a resource supply satellite for the U. S. A. then research is an unneeded extravagance.  If what he sees as real countries need our resources, they will develop what we need and that can be imported.  There is not need to think for ourselves.
  2. As an obvious corollary to the John Stuart Mill axiom*, if you cut research there are fewer educated people and a lower overall education.  This helps out the Conservatives electorally.
*“Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.”

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A glimpse into RCMP Cadet Training (with video)

Forget about the headlines and the news you have read.  Just visualize this: Four heavily armed, able bodied, "highly trained" RCMP officers are faced with one tired confused frightened immigrant.  How would we expect the situation to unfold.  Keep in mind that the RCMP Cadet Training Program Standard contains the following (my emphasis in bold):
Police Defensive Tactics

Length: 75 hours

The police defensive tactics component of the Cadet Training Program is designed to provide cadets with safe and effective techniques to manage policing-related incidents within the context of the RCMP Incident Management Intervention Model. The Model was designed based on the following principles:

  1. The primary objective of any intervention is public safety;
  2. Police officer safety is essential to public safety;
  3. The intervention model must always be applied in the context of a careful risk assessment;
  4. Risk assessment must take into account the likelihood and extent of life loss, injury and damage to property;
  5. Risk assessment is a continuous process and risk management must evolve as situations change;
  6. The best strategy is the least intrusive intervention necessary to manage risk;
  7. The best intervention causes the least harm or damage.

Cadets learn and practice different techniques under a variety of simulated circumstances. The techniques taught include joint locks, take downs, use of O.C. spray, placement and removal of resistant suspects in/from vehicles, moving resistant suspects through doorways, stances, blocks, strikes, use of batons, carotid control hold, grappling, ground defense, body hold releases, handcuffing and searching suspects, and use of weapon defences.

So given the guiding principles, I expect that moving straight to tasering the lone person in this scenario would fall to a low position on the list of desired outcomes.  But wait, RCMP defenders might say, what if he was armed?  What if he was resistant?  Perhaps, as this report indicates there were mitigating events:
Rundel testified that Dziekanski held an object — a stapler — in one hand and his stance was considered combative just before he was shocked with a Taser
Good Lord!  A stapler!!  What are FOUR of Canada's finest to do when confronted with by this lone combative man with a stapler?

In the photo below, Constable Rundel, a proud member of the RCMP demonstrates this combative stance.

Const. Gerry Rundel demonstrates the gesture made by Robert Dziekanski moments before he was stunned with a Taser.(CBC)
 Just goes to show you what pap we get from TV.  I had always thought that signalled surrender.

Through secret channels that I am not at liberty to divulge, I have managed to get my hands on a top secret training video from Depot.  I expect this will fully exonerate the officers involved and the RCMP.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Ignatieff and Iraq Part I, The Burden or The Blunder

A major blot on Ignatieff's copybook is his support for the Iraq Invasion.  This was subsequently recanted approximately a year after the event and frequently therafter.  In this post, I will review the arguments he made for the invasion in a New York Time Magazine article: THE AMERICAN EMPIRE; The Burden. 

Thematic Qualities
I began this series with the sincere intention of giving Ignatieff a fair evaluation.  And up until I read this piece I felt comfortable saying that he had the best of intentions.  But the article got off to a bad start with the title.  "The Burden" is a reference to an 1899 Rudyard Kipling poem; "The White Man's Burden".  I can see the connection to his theme; the call for Americans to take up the responsibilities of their empire.  But I can't imagine what someone claiming to be a human rights champion was thinking linking to this artifact of European imperialism to an event in the 21st Century.  Consider the first stanza (My emphasis in bold):
Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
I hope that made you cringe as much as I did when I read that.  Think about how this looks to Iraqi's facing an invasion: "your captive's needs."  Sometimes literature is best used as an illustration of what to leave behind.

Another aspect of this article that wears poorly with the passage of time is Michael Ignatieff's (MI) use of 9/11 as a pre-text for invasion.  I counted 10 instances where MI cited those events.
But Sept. 11 was an awakening,  ... But Sept. 11 changed everyone, including a laconic and anti-rhetorical president. ... Since Sept. 11, it has been about whether the republic can survive in safety at home without imperial policing abroad. ... Sept. 11 rubbed in the lesson that global power is still measured by military capability ... Into the resulting vacuum of chaos and massacre a new imperialism has reluctantly stepped -- reluctantly because these places are dangerous and because they seemed, at least until Sept. 11, to be marginal to the interests of the powers concerned. ... Nowhere, after all, could have been more distant than Afghanistan, yet that remote and desperate place was where the attacks of Sept. 11 were prepared. ... On Sept. 11, the American empire discovered that in the Middle East its local pillars were literally built on sand. ... Until Sept. 11, successive United States administrations treated their Middle Eastern clients like gas stations. ... Both nationalism and narcissism have threatened the American reassertion of global power since Sept. 11.  ... Sept. 11 pitched the Islamic world into the beginning of a long and bloody struggle to determine how it will be ruled and by whom: the authoritarians, the Islamists or perhaps the democrats.
All I can say is that it is a good thing I wasn't playing the Bush speech drinking game in which you took a shot every time Bush mentioned 9/11.  The point with regards the references to 9/11 is that when discussing an event that overturns decades of precedent and breaks numerous international laws a long view of history should be taken.  9/11 was a tragic event but it did not change the world.  And no one single event can be used as a pretext for The Bush Doctrine.  MI's reputation as a deep independent thinker takes a hit when he provides insight I could get from People magazine.  The key point of being the director of the Carr Center at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University is that you are able to provide a long term independent view of the issue.  Not repeat what I could read in the Calgary Sun.

As with disco, some things can sound pretty embarrassing when you look back at them.  Such as this simile, in which MI now seems to be channeling Donald Rumsfeld's "Old Europe" tripe:
The United Nations lay dozing like a dog before the fire, happy to ignore Saddam, until an American president seized it by the scruff of the neck and made it bark.
Rationale for war Humanitarian or Imperial?
Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in The New Yorker last year of a diplomatic soiree that Powell attended on the eve of war, at which a foreign diplomat recited a news account that Bush was sleeping like a baby. Powell reportedly replied, "I'm sleeping like a baby, too. Every two hours, I wake up, screaming."

The Tragedy of Colin PowellHow the Bush presidency destroyed him.

Going to war is one of the most terrifying decisions a leader will ever make.  MI's support for the Iraq War provides an insight to the decision making process he would employ if in charge of Canada's forces.

When it comes to the actual reasons for invading Iraq, protection of Kurds and other minorities is not given significant airing.  It is essentially addressed by the following lukewarm reasoning:
The moral evaluation of empire gets complicated when one of its benefits might be freedom for the oppressed. Iraqi exiles are adamant: even  if the Iraqi people might be the immediate victims of an American attack, they would also be its ultimate beneficiaries.  It would make the case for military intervention easier, of course, if the Iraqi exiles cut a more impressive figure. They feud and squabble and hate one another nearly as much as they hate Saddam. But what else is to be expected from a political culture pulverized by 40 years of state terror?
Certainly the British and the American governments maintained a complicit and dishonorable silence when Saddam gassed the Kurds in 1988. Yet now that the two governments are taking decisive action, human rights groups seem more outraged by the prospect of action than they are by the abuses they once denounced. The fact that states are both late and hypocritical in their adoption of human rights does not deprive them of the right to use force to defend them.
Hardly a fervent humanitarian basis for intervention.  When it comes to conventional imperialistic reasons for war, MI is much more thorough:
Being an imperial power, however, is more than being the most powerful nation or just the most hated one. It means enforcing such order as there is in the world and doing so in the American interest. It means laying down the rules America wants (on everything from markets to weapons of mass destruction) while exempting itself from other rules (the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and the International Criminal Court) that go against its interest.
Regime change is an imperial task par excellence, since it assumes that the empire's interest has a right to trump the sovereignty of a state.
This essay does not provide a basis for any subsequent attempts by MI to portray support for the invasion of Iraq as a manifestation of concern for the plight of Iraq's oppressed minorities.  It is a puff piece for imperial ambitions.

With support like this who needs critics
What I found most striking about this article is that manner in which it could be used as a source for reasons not to invade Iraq.  Consider the following:
What empires lavish abroad, they cannot spend on good republican government at home: on hospitals or roads or schools. A distended military budget only aggravates America's continuing failure to keep its egalitarian promise to itself.
Why should a republic take on the risks of empire? Won't it run a chance of endangering its identity as a free people?
If only invasion, and not containment, can build democracy in Iraq, then the question becomes whether the Bush administration actually has any real intention of doing so.
If America takes on Iraq, it takes on the reordering of the whole region. It will have to stick at it through many successive administrations. The burden of empire is of long duration, and democracies are impatient with long-lasting burdens -- none more so than America
If an invasion of Iraq is delinked from Middle East peace, then all America will gain for victory in Iraq is more terror cells in the Muslim world.
Again, the paradox of the Iraq operation is that half measures are more dangerous than whole measures. Imperial powers do not have the luxury of timidity, for timidity is not prudence; it is a confession of weakness.
The question, then, is not whether America is too powerful but whether it is powerful enough. Does it have what it takes to be grandmaster of what Colin Powell has called the chessboard of the world's most inflammable region?
At the beginning of the first volume of ''The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,'' published in 1776, Edward Gibbon remarked that empires endure only so long as their rulers take care not to overextend their borders. ... This characteristic delusion of imperial power is to confuse global power with global domination. The Americans may have the former, but they do not have the latter.
Some of these statements are a style issue.  MI likes to state the possible objections and lay out the reasons the objections do not, even in the aggregate, out-weigh the imperative for war.  But his reasons are generally un-convincing and raise the point that there is enough danger in the event of even one of the objections becoming operative that the entire enterprise will fail.  As an example:
Unseating an Arab government in Iraq while leaving the Palestinians to face Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships is a virtual guarantee of unending Islamic wrath against the United States. 
In other words the success of this illegal war hinges on the ability to solve the Palestinian-Israeli question.  There are better odds of Stephen Harper actually finishing a book on the history of hockey than this happening.

With this article MI severly damaged his credentials as an international public "intellectual"and human rights defender.  As with his discussions on torture, he continues a trend of reaching conclusions based on specious reasoning.  As a prominent member of the international community he had a responsibility to bring a long view of history, current facts and international law to this issue.  He fails this test.  These failures form obvious questions as to his suitability to serve as Prime Minister.

A much better take on whether or not to invade Iraq was provided by fellow Liberals such as Irwin Cotler.  MI has published several retractions of this blunder.  The next post in this series will examine whether or not these efforts to absolve this mistake were sufficent and met the standard set by Mr. Cotler and many others.
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Twitter vs Facebook, blogrolls vs following, adsense vs commonsense

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

Lewis Carroll

This post is just an excuse to blog on some miscellaneous items and quote from a favourite poem.

Twitter vs. Facebook
I've been trying out Twitter for the past couple of weeks and it seems to work well as a facility for quick shots.  Maybe the last thing I need though is another application to sign on to.  It would probably work better if I was a Blackberry guy.  I still need lots of hints, or so it seems, and I am thankful for those.  Once ski season is over, I will expend some effort on who I want to follow.  Right now I am happy with the mini-me aspect of it.

Twitter calls the posts tweets.  But if I use Blogger to blog, does that not mean I use Twitter to twit?  I know, probably not original but I like it.

What I haven't made sense of is Facebook.  It just doesn't work for what I want to use the Internet for.  It might be an age thing because my daughters can't go an hour without signing on to it.

Blog rolls versus Following
I have been following a few blogs that I selected for various reasons.  Mostly for what I see as their excellent work in their field of interest.  I haven't maintained a conventional blogroll because I tend to go to Progressive Bloggers and other aggregators so I can get a diversity of view points and catch some of the interesting newer blogs that pop up.  I like to think this prevents me from falling into a reading rut.

But after considering an interesting request and keeping with my proclivity to try different things, I have set up my take on a blogroll: Blogroll Shinny.  If a nascent (or established for that matter) blogger would like to be added just send an email to and I will add youto the list so you can try out your best moves.  Just like the real shinny, there aren't any rules except you have to show respect to others and no bad language (Sorry Canadian Cynic.  As much as I like your blog, it is a guilty pleasure.  My daughters read this blog.  And some day my mum might too.)

But don't expect too much fame from this.  Based on my traffic, I doubt if it will be a path to blogging glory.  But then surely that is not fame is not why any sane person would blog.
Update: Or leave the url in the comments. - CV

As I mentioned above, I like to try different things.  You may recall, I set up the ads as an experiment in fund raising for the following causes: Liberal leadership campaign debts, the Liberal Party and other causes.  Well, as a form of progress report, yesterday it was 3 months since the ads went up and the results for the first quarter are $1.18.  At that rate I am not in danger of exceeding any contribution limits by this method.  I guess it will have to continue to come from little old me.

Back to serious posts.  Upcoming, Ignatieff and Iraq.
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The future price of oil

Sometimes posts are written for you.  I have been maintaining a spreadsheet of weekly world oil prices for the purposes of posting on the behaviour of oil prices in the future and the effects on the economy.  Then today, Phil Hart at The Oil Drum beat me to it.

In short, the events of today are laying the groundwork for drastic increases in oil price for the near  future.  If you care about my recommendations, prepare for sharp swings in price as the price responds to demand side signals.  These will come about at even lower levels of economic activity as the supply side becomes constrained.

As mentioned in the first comment, the following youtube does a great job of summarizing this:
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"If torture works ..." Not

I have voiced my criticisms of Ignatieff's views on torture here and here.  In the first post, I mentioned that I would address the strong, mainly Internet based, complaints that Ignatieff supports torture.

The accusations I have found fall into two main groups.  A strong majority of them contain ad hominem attacks connecting these accusations to his religion, party affiliation and other smears that I will not discuss or link to.

The provenance of the accusations that appear to be based in the real world seem to stem mainly from work by Linda McQuag and her book: HOLDING THE BULLY'S COAT: Canada and the U.S. Empire.

To quote from her interview in Quill and Quire (my emphasis in bold):
Michael Ignatieff doesn’t fair too well in McQuaig’s estimation either:

That quote [in Holding the Bully's Coat] from Ignatieff, where he talks about torture [being defensible] as long as it’s done by a patriotic American, now that’s an interesting quote. That one hasn’t gotten the play that some of the others [have]. That one was from an interview he did with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. That is an incredible statement of the notion of American exceptionalism, the idea that America should be excepted from being bound by international law. And for Ignatieff to come out and endorse that in the way he did is just phenomenal. I find it striking, because he doesn’t talk like that in Canada. You don’t hear him talk like that so much in Parliament…. And yet if you actually look at some of the things he’s said, he’s actually an extraordinary neoconservative. He’s up there with guys like Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and some of those people in terms of the extremism of his position. And yet this guy’s a prominent politician in Canada….

Based on an Internet search and Ms. McQuiag's references, that would be this interview: ABC Radio National - Background Briefing: 24 April  2005  - Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil 

To quote from her book:...
While Justice O'Connor shows how international law unequivocally rejects torture in all circumstances, Ignatieff has argued that if torture is being administered by a "non-sadistic" and patriotic American," then the torturer should be made to stand trial for his crime _ but be allowed the legal defence of "mitigation."  We should be willing to cut the torturer a little slack, in other words, as long as he means well and is advancing the cause of America.
There are a few points to address here.  First off, while it was an ABC broadcast, it was taped in an Boston in front of a live audience.  Any references to American in the particular may, in fairness, have stemmed from the questions asked.  We have no way of knowing since the questions aren't presented.

But more importantly we should dissect the statement in the interview Ms. McQuaig refers to.  This would appear to be it:
But it’s clear to me that there will be ticking bomb cases. There may be ticking bomb cases, I would always and unconditionally, outlaw any form, even a physical contact with an interrogation suspect, I’m not shaking, I’ve gone through the Israeli Supreme Court cases, I don’t want people being shaken and thrown against walls, I don’t want any of that, I don’t want physical torture. But repetitive, recursive, stress-inducing interrogation, yes, I can see us doing it. I can also see situations where in good faith an interrogator, a non-sadistic, patriotic American consciously believing he has to apply physical methods to save lives, would apply them, and they should always in every case, be punishable. That is to say, torture should be a criminal offence, period. Any physical means should be a criminal offence. I would then, it’s a standard legal doctrine, allow that in mitigation, that is, the right way to deal with this is not to permit physical methods, but to allow a mitigation excuse to be advanced in front of a jury when assessing the criminal charge that in my judgment should follow from the use of any physical methods. I can’t see any other way to do this.
Read in it's entirety, and ignoring the particular reference to "American", I believe that this statement is entirely consistent with his statements in Prospect magazine.

So, in summary, Mr. Ignatieff does speak out about torture and strongly denounces it.  There is not any concrete proof, that I could find, that he provides "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" supportfor  torture to different audiences in other parts of the world.  Mr. Ignatieff, in my opinion,  has a flawed view on the need for an absolute ban on torture with enforceable prohibitions and unavoidable consequences.  But the fact that he opposes torture seems to be incontrovertible.  I believe that criticisms of his stand should focus on the flaws in the argument rather than accusations of his holding a pro-torture position.
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If torture works... Please make it stop

In a comment to my post: "If torture works..." And another thing, Ted pointed out that the evidence I used in my assertion that torture doesn't work were weak.  After consideration of this, I accept that I could have done better.  I should have dug around to find these refernces that I remembered from a while ago:

Here goes.  The following is a more thorough outline of the source of my assertion (My emphasisas is my wont, in bold):
It's wrong and it doesn't work, according to interrogation expert STUART HERRINGTON

Recently revealed White House memos have raised the ugly question yet again: Is torturing prisoners captured in the Global War on Terrorism an effective and permissible use of our nation's might?

I served 30 years in the U.S. Army as an intelligence officer, which included extensive experience as an interrogator in Vietnam, in Panama and during the 1991 Gulf War. In the course of these sensitive missions, my teams and I collected mountains of excellent, verified information, despite the fact that we never laid a hostile hand on a prisoner. Had one of my interrogators done so, he would have been disciplined and most likely relieved of his duties.


In interrogation centers I ran, we called prisoners "guests" and extended military courtesies, such as saluting captured officers. We strove to undermine a prisoner's belief system, which we knew instructed him that Americans are unschooled infidels who would bully him and resort to intimidation, threats and brutality. Patience was essential. We rejected the view that interrogators could merely "take off the gloves" and that information would somehow magically flow if we brutalized our "guests." This notion was uninformed and counterproductive, not to mention illegal, and we made sure our chain of command understood that bowing to such tempting theories would result in bad information.


But the so-called ticking time bomb scenario is a Hollywood construct that I never encountered in my 30-year career. Even so, it has become the rallying cry of many well-intentioned but ethically challenged military and civilian personnel. And it has been hawked by a large constituency of senior government officials, from the White House to the Department of Justice to Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, and is most recently evidenced in the surfacing of a January 2005 memo, written almost a year after Abu Ghraib, that characterizes face slapping and waterboarding as acceptable conduct.

Stuart Herrington is a retired Army colonel, an expert in interrogation and counterinsurgency operations and the author most recently of "Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher's World" 

Next up:

Military, Intelligence and Law Enforcement Officers Opposing Torture (Amnesty International)

Army Field Manual 34-52 Chapter 1

"The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor condoned by the US Government. Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear."

Rear Admiral (ret.) John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General for the Navy

"The United States has been a strong, unwavering advocate for human rights and the rule of law for as long as you and I have been alive. I'm not ready to throw in the towel on that just because we are in a battle with some terrible people. In fact, in a war like this, when we are tempted to respond in kind, we must hold ever more dearly to the values that make us Americans. Torture, or "cruel, inhuman or degrading" conduct, are not part of our national character. Another objection is that torture doesn't work. All the literature and experts say that if we really want usable information, we should go exactly the opposite way and try to gain the trust and confidence of the prisoners. Torture will get you information, but it's not reliable. Eventually, if you don't accidentally kill them first, torture victims will tell you something just to make you stop. It may or may not be true. If you torture 100 people, you'll get 100 different stories. If you gain the confidence of 100 people, you may get one valuable story." (Legal Affairs "Debate Club" January 27, 2005)

And finally

Why Torture Doesn't Work

No one has yet offered any validated evidence that torture produces reliable intelligence.  While torture apologists frequently make the claim that torture saves lives, that assertion is directly contradicted by many Army, FBI, and CIA professionals who have actually interrogated al Qaeda captives.
Brigadier General David R. Irvine is a retired Army Reserve strategic intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years with the Sixth Army Intelligence School. He currently practices law in Salt Lake City, Utah.

My thanks to Ted for keeping me on my toes.  I re-assert that torture doesn't work.

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"If torture works..." and another thing

On reflection on my earlier post on the essay by Michael Ignatieff: "If torture works..." there were two additional points that I regretted not including.

These are:

-The following statement:
As Posner and others have tartly pointed out, if torture and coercion are both as useless as critics pretend, why are they used so much? While some abuse and outright torture can be attributed to individual sadism, poor supervision and so on, it must be the case that other acts of torture occur because interrogators believe, in good faith, that torture is the only way to extract information in a timely fashion. It must also be the case that if experienced interrogators come to this conclusion, they do so on the basis of experience. The argument that torture and coercion do not work is contradicted by the dire frequency with which both practices occur.
can be refuted by a few easy searches. This seems to reflect a willingness to accept conventional wisdoms upon which can form the basis of travesties.  This, as I will dicsuu in a review of Ignatieff's support for the Iraq invasion, is a troubling tendency of Ignatieff.

-And the notion of mitigation of the sentence for an interrogator convicted of torture: 
An outright ban on torture and coercive interrogation leave a conscientious security officer with little choice but to disobey the ban. In this event, as the Israeli supreme court has said, even a conscientious agent acting in good faith to save lives should be charged with a criminal offence and be required to stand trial. At trial, a defence of necessity could be entered in mitigation of sentence, but not to absolve or acquit. 
Again a little research and thought on the results would have found the fallacy of this approach.  From 

International Law and Political Reality

 By Anthony A. D'Amato:
Under international customary law, a plea that the defendant was merely carrying out the orders of a military superior has rarely if ever been allowed as a defense to the commision of an international crime.  At the same time, it has almost always been allowed in the mitigation of punishment.
So technically Ignatieff is correct.  But that is for the actual person holding the waterboard.  Somewhere along the line someone has to accept responsibility.  It is better to maintain the absolute ban with strong enforecement so that the buck is stopped early on.
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Women's Campaign School

I have added a badge to the top of the blog for the "Women's Campaign School".  Look over there to the left.  If you are
  1. A woman (obviously*),
  2. passionate about change,
  3. considering a run for office at any level and
  4. believe that having more women elected to office is important
visit this site and give it some thought.  It would be a good networking opportunity too.  And late March in Vancouver beats the surroundings in the rest of the country.

Dion did a good job of looking to have more women nominated but for long term success, this sort of grass roots initative is key. 

*Men can go to the site as well.  They just can't go to the seminar.

Stetson tip to Impolitical for bringing it up.
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Harper's legacy - a dumber Canada

While I can understand and agree with the political realities involved in the decision to walk away from the coalition  and support the budget, it doesn't make observations on the real impact Harper and his cabinet clowns are having on Canada.

Latest in a long line off examples: A government induced brain drain.
Katrin Meissner is determined to be on the forefront of understanding the climate change affecting everything from permafrost to bird migrations.

The celebrated young scientist at the University of Victoria had planned to build her career in Canada. But Ms. Meissner is packing up her young family and heading for Australia.


"I didn't really want to leave," says Ms. Meissner, who is walking away from a coveted tenure-track position in Victoria. But she says the opportunities in Australia seem much more promising. 'Long-term it looks quite scary in Canada," says Ms. Meissner.


Projects involving hundreds of scientists have entered their final phase and will be shut down by March 2010. "They're dead as of next spring," says atmospheric physicist Richard Peltier of University of Toronto, noting that


Atmospheric scientist James Drummond, who directs a remote polar lab on Ellesmere Island that is fast running out of money, says he has already lost a post-doctoral student to a NASA contractor in the U.S. He fears more will follow given President Barack Obama's plan to spend more than $400 million on climate change research at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mr. Drummond notes that Mr. Obama's approach to science stands in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's. His stimulus package disappointed many in Canada's research community. It provided no funding increases for key science funding agencies and did not renew funding for others.

Even without a majority these fools are doing long term damage to the country.  I can see why the Conservatives are anti-science/anti-intellectual/anti-education.  It is easier to fool people when they are poorly educated and the country as a whole is poorly educated.

But living through the final scenes of a Harper minority gives me an faint inkling of what a cancer paitient undergoing intensive chemotherapy is faced with.  Is the treatment worse than the disease?

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Friday, February 13, 2009

If torture works...

One of the most damning criticisms I have read on Ignatieff is that he supports coercive interrogation and torture.  The most direct path to Ignatieff's side of the story is by reading "If Torture Works..."  Ignatieff claims to have written this to clear up some of what he claims are misconceptions that arose from "The Lesser Evil". As I read this essay, I realized I would need to approach this subject in two posts.  The first would be a review of Ignatieff's views as outlined in this paper and the second, a follow-up to investigate the claims that he is a torture supporting neo-con.  Does his in-depth exposition of his ideas and reasoning on the subject lend itself to being mis-quoted and mis-construed, perhaps even by people of good intentions, or did he say one thing at Harvard and another in Australia.

I am one of the many who would insist that there must be an outright ban on torture.  And as Ignatieff states in the opening paragraph:
"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency," says the convention, can "be invoked as a justification of torture." That terrorists themselves torture does not change these imperatives. Our compliance does not depend on reciprocity. 
Fair enough.  But few of us have dug deeply into the implications of this stand.  Ignatieff takes this challenge on and in the end forced me to wrestle with some tough issues.

What is torture?  This is an important part of the questions since the excesses of the Bush era flowed from a manipulation of the differences between torture and coercive interrogation.  
In the now notorious memos submitted by the office of legal counsel to the White House in 2002, these definitions were stretched to the point that the threshold for torture "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death." Any physical abuse below that standard counted as "coercive interrogation." Some forms of coercive interrogation, the lawyers admitted, might not be torture, but they would still be defined as "inhuman and degrading treatment."
 A definition of this difference is hard to pin down.  And Ignatieff doesn't provide one.  He is against lumping both together as a work-around this problem.
Clear thinking about torture is not served by collapsing the distinction between coercive interrogation and torture. Both may be repugnant, but repugnance does not make them into the same thing.
He sees the path from coercive interrogation to torture as a continuum.
But at every ratchet of coercion, moral problems arise.
At what sort of interrogation would he draw the line?
It might be lawful to deceive a subject under interrogation, by stating that all of his associates are already in detention when they are still at large. But other forms of deception can inflict excruciating psychological anguish. Threatening a subject with the imminent death or torture of those dearest to him may not leave any physical marks, but it rightly can constitute torture, not just coercion, in even the US Senate's definition.
This leads to the region that leaves him most open to criticism.  Even if the actual meaning of the words make it clear that he does not support torture itself.
Like Elshtain, I am willing to get my hands dirty, but unlike her, I have practical difficulty enumerating a list of coercive techniques that I would be willing to have a democratic society inflict in my name. I accept, for example, that a slap is not the same thing as a beating, but I still don't want interrogators to slap detainees because I cannot see how to prevent the occasional slap deteriorating into a regular practice of beating. The issue is not, as Elshtain implies, that I care overmuch about my own moral purity but rather that I cannot see any clear way to manage coercive interrogation institutionally so that it does not degenerate into torture.
On the issue of regulation, there are those—Alan Dershowitz, for example—who believe that banning torture and coercion outright is unrealistic. Instead, the practice should be regulated by court warrants. But judicialisation of torture, and of coercive interrogation techniques involving stress and duress, physical abuse, sleep deprivation and so on, could lead to torture and coercion becoming routine rather than an exception.
It seems clear from the dire experience of Abu Ghraib that outright prohibition of both torture and coercive interrogation is the only way to proceed. Rules for interrogations, with penalties in the uniform code of military justice, should be mandatory. 
And the enunciation of his position is:
So I end up supporting an absolute and unconditional ban on both torture and those forms of coercive interrogation that involve stress and duress, and I believe that enforcement of such a ban should be up to the military justice system plus the federal courts. I also believe that the training of interrogators can be improved by executive order and that the training must rigorously exclude stress and duress methods. 
But this is where I start to have qualms about his approach.  In reviewing the most vexing facet of the issue, the ticking bomb scenario:
First of all, there is the problem of the exceptional case, one where lives can be saved by the application of physical methods that amount to torture.... An outright ban on torture and coercive interrogation leave a conscientious security officer with little choice but to disobey the ban. In this event, as the Israeli supreme court has said, even a conscientious agent acting in good faith to save lives should be charged with a criminal offence and be required to stand trial. At trial, a defence of necessity could be entered in mitigation of sentence, but not to absolve or acquit. This is the only solution I can see that remains consistent with an absolute ban on torture and coercive interrogation. Let us not pretend that the enforcement of this rule would be easy. Where the threat could be shown to be genuine, it seems evident that few legal systems would punish such a conscientious offender.
I don't see how this method won't fall into the same trap as the regulation of torture.  It doesn't take too much imagination to see where Bush could see his way to pardoning torturers on almost any pretext.  This is too easy a loophole to leave open.

But that doesn't mean that Ignatieff's critics can sidestep the issue he raises.  Linda McQuaig, a severe critic of Ignatieff, promulgates this view in her book: Holding the Bullies Coat: Canada and the U. S. Empire.  
"Permissible duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation (like keeping prisoners in hoods) that would produce stress."

And Ignatieff's thoughts on what might constitute acceptable levels of torture are revealing.  It's hard to imagine that he would find such coercive methods of interrogation acceptable if the were, say, applied to him."
Page 242
That is a very reasonable assertion.  But in making it, one must be willing to answer the question Ignatieff poses: What if the application of torture results in saving the lives of thousands of innocent people.  I do not accept that you can seriously answer the question by saying you just wouldn't do it.  To level criticism at Ignatieff's view, you must respond to this scenario.  In Ignatieff's words:
If they are right, then those who support an absolute ban on torture had better be honest enough to admit that moral prohibition comes at a price. It is possible, at least in theory, that subjecting interrogators to rules that outlaw torture and coercive interrogation, backed up by punishment if they go too far, will create an interrogation regime that allows some interrogation subjects to resist divulging information and prevents our intelligence services from timely access to information that may save lives. 
My take on this is that people unfortunate enough to be placed in this quandary cannot expect clemency from the courts.  Ignatieff's proposal absolves those in charge of the responsibility for their actions.  As a society we must insist that the ban on torture and coercive interrogation is absolute.  This absolute ban enforced by legal sanctions will make anyone who breaks the rules fully aware of the stakes at hand.  It will also provide the maximum encouragement to find a way to get the information that does not involve torture.

This is harsh for the people at the centre of the storm.  But at times of conflict people have been placed in this awful position.  Numerous officers ordered their men over the trench parapet.  Churchill has been accused of allowing the Coventry raids to proceed to protect the cracking of the Enigma code.  An excellent example of someone acknowledging the full responsibility for the awful decision they had to make if the letter Eisenhower wrote in advance of D-Day.

In short, if I was put in that position, I would be willing to make the decision based on the facts at hand, being fully aware of the prohibition and live with the consequences of my decision.  I believe that I would, in fact, be more at peace knowing that I made my decision fully on my own values in a paradigm that discourages torture.  This would, I believe in the final result lead to a solution that would not involve torture or excessively coervice interrogation.
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