Jesse Ventura is Correct?

I could never do the math on Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Did he say one smart thing for every dumb thing? Two to one? One to two? But in this clip he fares very well, by my count. His opinions and my verdicts:

1. George Bush is the worst president in his lifetime.

2. Guantanamo is our own Hanoi Hilton.

3. People involved in torture should be prosecuted.

4. Waterboarding doesn't yield good intelligence (or Dick Cheney carried out the Sharon Tate murders).
Check (or check)

5. Legalizing Marijuana is equivalent to ending prohibition in terms of reducing crime.
Check (and I don't even smoke pot or wear hemp, though I'd like my books published on hemp paper)

6. Al Franken should win the Minnesota senate seat and the feds shouldn't weigh in because states should make that choice.

7. Dick Cheney is a coward.

8. Colin Powell is a hero. Rush Limbaugh ain't.
Check and check

9. We should end the embargo on Cuba.

10. Surfing is a religion.
Okay, well...

11. The Miss California flap is a waste of time.

12. Marriage shouldn't even be a government issue, and government should only recognize civil unions.
Check and a big Amen!

13. Jesse Ventura is a poet.
Certainly not. Ouch.

14. If torture really worked we'd have Bin Laden.
Well, that doesn't necessarily follow...

15. Torture doesn't work.
No argument here.

Okay, so he's 13 for 15, counting the two-for-one. Not shabby. I'm still not sure I'd vote for the guy, but if we ever need a replacement for Joe Biden, Obama could do worse.


On Star Trek and Torture

I saw the new Star Trek on Thursday and loved it. I think this article short changes the movie a bit, taking it to task for a merely obligatory torture scene. In fact, I'd say any torture scene makes a political statement now; if the bad guys are torturing, the writer is saying something (Star Trek), and if the good guys are doing it (24), the writer is also making a statement. Star Trek only speaks out against torture by virtue of placing it in the arsenal of the bad guys and elevating the behavior of the good guy who resists. It's meager, but it's something. Still, when I came across this piece on an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I immediately remembered the episode which had a lot more to say about "enhanced interrogation techniques" than any fiction I've seen or read since (not counting re-readings of 1984). I recommend the piece, and a revisiting of the episode itself, if you have the time and means.

Pelosi and Torture

The Washington Post reports that a newly released memo indicates that Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques in 2002. Now, some on the right and left will say this explains the Obama administration's hesitance to prosecute the writers of those memos. That may be the case. I hope, instead, it serves as an impetus to get the ball rolling on prosecutions for all the people responsible. After all, it's a win-win for the administration; it gets to uphold the principle that torture is unacceptable by holding those responsible accountable (something I've argued for before), it could show the country that this isn't a political witch-hunt but a principled stance, and it gets to remove Pelosi. Let's face it, she's a liability to the President and the party. Ignoring her heavy-handed mismanagement of Obama's first attempt at reaching across the aisle to bail out the financial system, she's from San Francisco. If she goes, the party could find leadership from somewhere that doesn't scream lefty-pinko-commie, while retaining the seat (it's more likely to go to a Green than a Republican, if I'm not mistaken). If she knew about the torture, she should go down because it's the right thing to do. If it's the right thing to do, that principle should cross party lines. Herbert Hoover said "Honor is not the exclusive property of any political party," and he was right, but dishonor isn't either, and torture shames us all. The fact that dealing with this dishonor is also politically expedient for the Obama administration is just icing on the cake.

Bravo, Dan Froomkin!

Dan Froomkin, in his piece "Krauthammer's Asterisks", takes on Charles Krauthammer, his colleague at the Washington Post and a grade A hole. After Krauthammer argues that torture is "impermissible evil" that should only be undertaken in two circumstances (when we think we need to, and when we feel like it), Froomkin takes his claims apart one at a time and shows Krauthammer for what he really is: a sociopath apologist for torture. Thanks Mr. Froomkin!

We Need Accountability for Torture

Back in January, I encouraged everyone to read Tom Junod's piece from Esquire, "What the Hell Just Happened? A Look Back at the Last Eight Years". In it, he called us all to take our share of the blame for the Bush torture policies. Now, in Slate, Jacob Weisberg uses our collective guilt as a rationale for not going after criminal prosecutions of the people responsible. In his piece "All the President's Accomplices: How the country acquiesced to Bush's torture policy" he essentially argues that because we all knew the gist of what was going on, and because we allowed it (and even re-elected the people doing it), there's no point in going after the people who wrote the memos, gave the orders, or carried out the torture. After all, we would be going after more than 51% of the population, right? Instead, he says we should have a South African style truth and reconciliation commission and move on.

I completely disagree.

This is a representative democracy, not a direct one. We elect people to enact the popular will, but we also choose people who should know when to stop in those cases where the majority of people are simply wrong. The day of 9/11 I was teaching at a high school. One of the kids in the class said, "We should just nuke Baghdad." I was appalled. I convinced him that killing millions of innocent people when we didn't even know who was responsible was simply wrong. Then, when I tried to share how horrified I was by the student's reaction with another teacher, she basically agreed with him. Now we know that there were no Iraqis responsible for 9/11, but what if this teacher and this student had been expressing the popular will? Would we have caused the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis because we were reacting out of ignorance and fear?

Oh, wait, we did that.

I understand that a full blown prosecution could create a myriad of problems. It will tie up the Obama administration in accusations of partisan recrimination, and they will lose some political capital necessary to do good work. It will redirect the national focus from more pressing issues. It could create paralysis for future legal and political actors who are afraid of recriminations from future administrations. All of these are real fears. They can be minimized in some ways. The President can separate himself as much as possible from an independent prosecutor. The trials could be held slowly, deliberately, and with as little flashiness as possible, to bore the hell out of the American public so that they keep their attention focused on more immediate concerns. And as for paralyzing future leaders, that moment's hesitation might not be a bad thing at all. Reagrdless, these concerns are outweighed, at least in my mind, but a much greater danger that would come from inaction on the issue of torture.

If we don't hold anyone accountable, we will have created a nightmarish precedence: the ultimate Nuremberg defense for the most vile, evil politicians of the future. They will be able to say, in coming times of crisis, that the people were scared and wanted them to ignore any legal and moral boundary in order to be made to feel safe, so they did what they thought was right. They will look back into history and say, "Look what people have gotten away with in the past. Why should we be held to a different standard?" In fact, Weisberg does this same thing for them. He brings up examples of what he calls "American history's hall of shame," including "the Alien and Sedition Acts, Japanese internment during World War II, and the excesses of the McCarthy era." What do those have in common? Not only were they shameful, but no one was held accountable. In the American hall of shame, each shiny brass placard reads, "The perpetrators got off scott-free."

Whatever the negative consequences of criminal prosecutions for those responsible for illegal torture of detainees may be, they are outweighed by the power said prosecutions would hold in preventing future illegal and immoral acts in times of crisis. This time it's torture. The next time it could be a nuclear bomb dropped on Baghdad.

Inevitable Disappointment?

Many liberals like me have been cynically admitting that we have set ourselves up for inevitable disappointment because we've elevated our hopes in an Obama presidency to untenable heights. On the Daily Show this is a joke. For some of us, it's a reality we reluctantly acknowledge.

Well, keep that disappointment train in the station, folks, because we have some big victories to be pleased with already. Not only has Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanimo within a year (closing it in a day, as some have asked for, would have been irresponsible) and signing another prohibiting torture, but today he signed one allowing international aid to go to clinics even if they (gasp) provide full reproductive healthcare to women in the third world. Under the Bush administration, if a clinic told a woman she had options like contraception or abortion, anything other than abstinence, then they could risk losing their funding. Well, no more.

And it gets better! The Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which already passed the House, so Obama will soon be signing that into law.

It will be important for us to remember, when something doesn't go our way, that we've already gained a lot in just a few days. Hell, Americans can't legally torture people anymore. As much as that should have been a point of shame for anyone with a patriotic bone in their body, this should be a point of pride.

Inevitable? Probably.
Arrived? Not yet.