Guantanamo, Forward Causality, and Other Things

I’m not sure if David Brooks saw the same speech I did:

Obama has taken many of the same policies Bush ended up with, and he has made them credible to the country and the world. In his speech, Obama explained his decisions in a subtle and coherent way. He admitted that some problems are tough and allow no easy solution. He treated Americans as adults, and will have won their respect.

Do I wish he had been more gracious with and honest about the Bush administration officials whose policies he is benefiting from? Yes. But the bottom line is that Obama has taken a series of moderate and time-tested policy compromises. He has preserved and reformed them intelligently. He has fit them into a persuasive framework. By doing that, he has not made us less safe. He has made us more secure.

The remainder of Brooks’ column today can be best summarized as a bunch of hemming and hawing about how Obama’s policies are really quite similar to those in place when Bush left office coupled with justified praise for Obama’s rhetorical shift. Fair enough, but I’m pretty sure this passage from Obama’s speech addresses that head on.

The third decision that I made was to order a review of all pending cases at Guantanamo. I knew when I ordered Guantanamo closed that it would be difficult and complex. There are 240 people there who have now spent years in legal limbo. In dealing with this situation, we don’t have the luxury of starting from scratch. We’re cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess — a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant, almost daily basis, and it consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.

I know at some point people will tire of blaming Bush, but this is one of those instances where within the context of forward moving time, it’s really tough to build a compelling case against Obama. I mean, were it not for the Bush Administration’s system of willy-nilly extralegal detention, Obama could not possibly be confronting this problem.

On another related note, I know that as a progressive in good standing, I should be outraged that Obama isn’t working harder to break from Bush’s policies, but considering he has literally inherited a prison with a non-insignificant number of possible terrorists, I think the politics are stacked against him. That is, I’m not sure how Obama can simply let the subset of prisoners who are likely terrorists but also impossible to indict,  simply return to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Of course, I understand that the policy of lawlessness epitomized by the Bush Administration animates anti-American extremism, but the literal connection between the release of likely terrorists and the damage they may cause in their recidivism makes the political sell all but impossible. I think a little sympathy from progressives on this point is warranted.

Bush Administration Used Torture to Not Find Links between 9/11 and Iraq

As I wrote earlier, one defense tactic employed by the pro-torture crowd is to make the argument that “ticking time bomb” scenarios justified the inhumane interrogations. But then we learned that Abu Zuybadah was waterboarded 183 times in one month, which at the time the information came available, either suggested the presence of an improbably high number of time bombs or revealed that the interrogations were pervesely used as punishment. Now that the Senate Armed Services Committee has released a report on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” we found there was another reason: complete stupidity. McClatchy reports.

Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn’t any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies.”

Senior administration officials, however, “blew that off and kept insisting that we’d overlooked something, that the interrogators weren’t pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information,” he said.

The article itself goes in to a fair amount of detail, so I’d suggest a full read. That the torture techniques employed were based on methods aimed at extracting false confessions from U.S. prisoners of war only makes the Bush Administration look worse, if that’s even possible. Not only were intelligence gathering agencies unable to produce any legitimate link between Iraq and al Qaeda (though they did hire Doug Feith to fabricate such “intelligence”), they couldn’t even extract a false confession to make the connection and still prosecuted the war anyway.

To call the Bush Administration morally bankrupt would be an insult to sociopaths everywhere. These people were truly reprobate degenerates.

For some good reporting on the issue, check out Spencer Ackerman here.

Thiessen: Since Bush’s Last Fuck Up, He Hasn’t Fucked Up Again

Marc Thiessen, formerly employed as George W. Bush’s speechwriter, had an idiotic Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post, rolling out the familiar defense of Bush’s national security record that, “When President Bush left office on Tuesday, America marked 2,688 days without a terrorist attack on its soil.” If we leave alone for a moment the fact that the claim is false, and leave aside for the moment that thousands of US soldiers have died because of terrorism in Iraq, the claim raises an interesting problem. That is, if we assume Thiessen doesn’t believe Bush should be blamed for the attack 2,689 days before the day Bush left office, then he also shouldn’t receive credit for preventing terrorist attacks during the duration of his presidency. You don’t get to pick and choose for which moments you are accountable.

Besides, how can anyone even remotely take seriously an argument following the formula, “Since [TERRIBLE EVENT X], no more [TERRIBLE EVENT OF THE SAME VARIETY] has taken place. Therefore, the record is good.” Try it out yourself, you can fix virtually anyone’s record on anything.

“Since Mike Tyson was convicted of raping Desiree Washington 6,191 days ago, he hasn’t been convicted of raping another woman.”

“Since O.J. (allegedly) committed double-homicide 5,338 days ago, he hasn’t engaged in double-murder since.”

Now, obvioulsy I realize there are differences between Bush’s record on national secuirty and O.J.’s (alleged) record on murdering people, but the basic point stands that time ellapsed since a horrible failure does not erase the horrible failure from one’s record, much less transmute it to one worthy of applause.

The Ultimate Jedi Mind Trick

Often bandied about by Bush Administration supporters and neocons in defense of the GWOT — and raised again by Bush himself during his good riddance speech — was the fact that after 9/11, Bush kept America free of terrorist attacks. In addition to the fact that this simply isn’t true, it basically misses the point that under Bush’s watch, America was in fact the target of a major mass-casualty terrorist attack. Matt Yglesias puts together a helpful graph.

The historical perspective draws a stark contrast. And of course, it’s worth reminding everyone of the ignored “Bin Laden Determind to Strike in U.S.” memo of August 2001.

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Auto Bailout Announced

President Bush announced $17 billion in Federal loans to Detroit, contingent on the Big Three’s adoption of reforms that will signal “a return to profitability.” The reforms generally follow Sen. Corker’s changes to the failed Senate bill — restructuring of UAW contracts and severe debt reductions — but place no strict timetable on the need for their implementation. Instead, the judgment will be left to Barack Obama.

Under the plan announced this morning, Mr. Bush essentially handed off to President-elect Obama what will become one of the first, most difficult calls of his presidency: a political and economic judgment about whether General Motors and Chrysler are financially viable.

If, by March 30, the two companies cannot meet that standard — and clearly they could not meet it today — the $13.5 billion in Treasury loans would be “called’ for immediate repayment, with the government placed in top priority, ahead of all other creditors.

“Financially viable,” at least politically, seems open to a bit of interpretation. Though as the Times points out, Obama’s team will need to present a “convincing, public case,” it doesn’t appear that will necessarily mean that only provisions outlined by Republicans will need to be fulfilled. It’s like the companies will comply with union contract restructuring and the debt-for-equity swaps, but it’s also possible that Obama will impose his own reforms (forcing Detroit to abandon lawsuits against state emission laws comes to mind).


Bush has been in full victory-lap mode lately, patting himself on the back for the Administration’s wayward efforts at “democracy promotion.”  Needless to say,  it’s tough to describe the situation in Iraq as “democratic” when you hear about things like this.

BAGHDAD — Up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general have been arrested over the past three days with some of them accused of quietly working to reconstitute Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, according to senior security officials in Baghdad.

The arrests, confirmed by officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security as well as the prime minister’s office, included four generals. The officials also said that the arrests had come at the hand of an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

“Elite counterterrorism force” that arrests 35 political officials, “some” of whom are “accused” of conspiracy. Sounds plausible..

A police officer, who knows several of the detainees but spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they were innocent, longstanding civil servants and had little in common with one another. Those who once belonged to the Baath Party were lower-level members, he said, insisting that the arrests were politically motivated.

And lest we think this power consolidation a good thing, remember that al-Maliki’s Da’wa Party was exiled in Iran during Saddam’s reign and al-Maliki’s closest political allies come from the ISCI, which was established in Iran.

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Short Memory

Not that it should surprise anyone, George W. Bush was warned about the financial crisis as early as 2005:

In 2005, faced with ominous signs the housing market was in jeopardy, bank regulators proposed new guidelines for banks writing risky loans. Today, in the midst of the worst housing recession in a generation, the proposal reads like a list of what-ifs:

-Regulators told bankers exotic mortgages were often inappropriate for buyers with bad credit.

-Banks would have been required to increase efforts to verify that buyers actually had jobs and could afford houses.

-Regulators proposed a cap on risky mortgages so a string of defaults wouldn’t be crippling.

-Banks that bundled and sold mortgages were told to be sure investors knew exactly what they were buying.

-Regulators urged banks to help buyers make responsible decisions and clearly advise them that interest rates might skyrocket and huge payments might be due sooner than expected.

Not surprisingly, George doesn’t seem to have any memory of this:

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, we anticipated some issues revolving around Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and early in my administration called for a regulator, on the knowledge that an implied government guarantee could cause, and eventually did cause, the agency to become excessive in its lending practices, which eventually was a part of the financial meltdown.

And I can remember sitting in the Roosevelt Room with Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke and others, and they said to me that if we don’t act boldly, Mr. President, we could be in a depression greater than the Great Depression.

GIBSON: When was that?

BUSH: That was, I would say, five weeks, four weeks after we began to deal with some — like AIG…

Posted without comment.