Monthly Archives: February 2016

Yes, close GTMO

The reasons are many, but chief among them, for me, is what the prison symbolizes: abuse, illegality, and the politicization of justice.

To be sure, extremists who attack free and open societies like America deserve tough punishment, but if we want to keep our societies free and open, we must honor our values when we carry out that punishment. The gulag-like institution of GTMO has as of this writing yet to effectively try and sentence 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad — he lives while his victims fade into history — but when we honor our laws the system works: The Justice Department effectively tried and sentenced Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death in 2015.  Likewise, in the aftermath of World War II, American civil prosecutors led the Nuremburg trials that brought swift justice to Nazi war criminals.

Some politicians continue to cynically use GTMO to manipulate voters. This is foolish. When President Obama ran for office eight years ago on a platform to close the institution, voters, many of them conservative, sent a clear message of agreement, electing him in a landslide. In a tough battle for a second term — against a popular conservative who opposed closing GTMOObama continued his efforts to close the prison, and won again. Promoting torture and gulags will always inspire some, but is not a winning strategy in the long term.

GTMO was a mistake. It remains a symbol of failure. It’s time to correct course and close it down, and show the world that America learns from her mistakes — and intends to reassert her role as a world leader in promoting and respecting human rights. Human Rights First presents the case in detail:

Close Guantanamo

The continued detention of prisoners without charge at Guantanamo undermines our national security and is a recruiting bonanza for our enemies. We’ve joined forces with a group of retired generals and admirals; together we are pressing President Obama to deliver on his promise to shut down the prison.


— Marcus

Would bombing the oil fields really hurt ISIS?

Presidential candidate Donald Trump believes one solution to ISIS’s grip on power in Sunni areas of Syria and Iraq would be to destroy area oil infrastructure. The blog post below argues that the situation is more complicated, that, for example, ISIS’s opponents, including Syrian rebels and Assad’s forces, purchase ISIS’s oil, and that ISIS’s economy is diverse enough to handle the loss of oil revenue.

Why Is The U.S. Reluctant To Bomb ISIS Oil Fields? – Commodity Trader

There has been some revealing new information coming out recently regarding the strategy against ISIS. One aspect many find troubling is the apparent failure of U.S. and coalition forces to sufficiently target and destroy oil infrastructure located in ISIS territory, which accounts for a significant portion of the terror group’s annual income.

So do summary executions, secret police, and gulags…

Pathological narcissist, blowhard, and hair-club-for-men member Donald Trump said today that torture works, and that waterboarding is fine and that we should in fact go further.

To be sure, some kind of truth comes out under the tortured stress of simulated drowning. In that sense, yes, waterboarding works — but so do summary executions, secret police, and gulags: sane human beings fear instruments of extreme malice and will say whatever it takes to avoid them. This is one of many problems with torture: the information it produces is not reliable. Ask Senator John McCain, who has been waterboarded.

If you’ll allow me to be profane: Donald Trump is an asshole. Let’s pray America will find a leader unlike him, a man or woman of sober character, who can return us to a time when we were proud that we did not torture. This is the real way that we can make America great again.

— Marcus

Donald Trump: ‘Torture Works,’ But Waterboarding Not Tough Enough

Donald Trump, the Republican candidate currently leading the pack in South Carolina, told a crowd Wednesday morning that “waterboarding is fine” but “not nearly tough enough.” This was not the first time Trump has advocated in favor of the controversial enhanced interrogation tactic.



A worthy way to recycle techno-junk

Imagine living in the shadow of totalitarianism, in constant fear, yet having these miniature portals to the lands of freedom and prosperity in hand, and so having hope. Don’t know what we’re fighting for? This is it, friends.

Americans who want to understand more about our involvement in the Korean peninsula — and why it’s necessary to station troops there and send over used USB drives — should consider reading David Halberstam’s excellent history of the Korean War, The Coldest Winter.

In the meantime, send your old USBs to Flash Drives For Freedom.

— Marcus

Donate Your Old USB Drives to Fight North Korean Brainwashing

In the age of Dropbox and Google Drive, the USB stick has come to seem like a dusty tchotchke that belongs in the drawer with your iPhone 4 cables. But send your chunk of cheap flash memory into North Korea, and it becomes a powerful, even subversive object-one that a new activist project wants use to help chip away at the intellectual control of the hermit kingdom’s fascist government.


Why I will defend James Mitchell but never defend torture

Few in the West believe “following orders” is a defense against criminal behavior. Germany still arrests and prosecutes elderly former Auschwitz guards to hold them accountable for crimes committed during The Third Reich, so important is that notion. Likewise, in the United States Army we teach that following orders is not an excuse for criminal behavior. Yet at the same time, as with all military forces, we teach our soldiers to maim, destroy and kill, actions that are criminal under any other circumstances than warfare. And while we are told we can’t follow illegal orders, we must follow ones that nevertheless create hell for our enemies and often result in the loss of innocent life. This is the moral burden of military service; we soldiers endure it.

As I blogged about before, James Mitchell, if we believe his statements, was moved to tears when he was tasked to repeat the torture of KSM, and so we should be careful about how we judge this man. I said that soldiers, and I would add that even sophisticated ones with PhDs in psychology, are not conditioned to have the long-term vision we demand of our political and policy leaders, but to follow and to fight. We may be asked to adhere to the Geneva conventions, but we are tasked to shoot to kill.

I’d like to further this point by noting that Mitchell was a psychologist and SERE trainer, not a professional interrogator or lawman, and was being offered a fortune to do to a cabal of mass-murderers what he was already being paid far less to do to American soldiers. He wasn’t selected for his interrogation skills, but his skills at waterboarding. Should Mitchell have refused? Yes, damn right, and I wish he would have. But that’s a hindsight view; it doesn’t reflect the circumstances and tenor of the time. It’s a testament to Mitchell’s character that he came forward a few years ago to clarify his role in torture. He should follow by donating the excessive money he made to a good cause.

Plainly said, while I do believe the circumstances are mitigating, and that the focus should be on the administration members who concocted the policy, I also think Mr. Mitchell and his partner Bruce Jessen, both being retired Air Force, should have questioned the legality of the program. I think they had that duty, that burden. The money involved (80 million plus, I’ve read) is especially troublesome. Unlike some veterans, they aren’t living hand to mouth, or homeless, but comfortably with Federal Government pensions and the rich financial reward, if the numbers are to be believed, of the enhanced interrogation contract.

Somewhat related to this discussion, an article below from NYRB warns us that psychology is not a discipline that expects its experts to be supreme moralists. The article mentions Mitchell and Jessen as examples. I would add that the case is also the same for soldiers.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Roman Emperor, warrior, and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, as it illustrates the way I believe our leaders should approach this difficult subject:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change,
for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues
in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

The Psychologists Take Power

It is only recently that the claims of psychologists to moral expertise have come to be taken seriously. Contributing to their new aura of authority has been their association with neuroscience, with its claims to illuminate the distinct neural pathways taken by our thoughts and judgments.

— Marcus