Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Items of Note: catching up

The last couple of days have seen some interesting news items. I haven't posted on everything because, frankly, not everything interests me to the same degree. However, since I've been asked, I'll use this post to sort of "catch up" with the wider news cycle.

Deep Throat revealed. As you couldn't possibly have missed if you've had the TV on for any 30 consecutive minutes in the last day, the identity of the Watergate anonymous informant known for the past 30 years only as "Deep Throat" has been revealed. Former Deputy Director of the FBI W. Mark Felt was the man who leaked information to Washington Post newsmen Woodward and Bernstein. To be honest, I find it interesting but hardly world-shaking. As I found out yesterday, the majority of people I'm in contact with under the age of 30 have no real idea what Watergate even was, let alone who the players were. It says something about our media today that these same under-30 people find it completely unremarkable that the reporters involved in the case, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, used an anonymous source and refused to divulge his identity even under terrific pressure from the government and private sectors alike.

Lost amid the hype, however, is a lesson that needs relearning where such anonymous sources are concerned. Woodward and Bernstein went to their editor with this story and were told the WaPo couldn't run it because they only had 1 source, had to hold him anonymous, and could not independently verify his claims. Until they had some corroboration, the Post's editorial staff wouldn't run the story. Today, you have Eason Jordans and Linda Foleys and Newsweeks and CBS's that seem to delight in printing all over their pages and announcing at the tops of their lungs just the kind of allegations that those WaPo editors wouldn't touch. The media seems stuck in a perpetual "gotta get Nixon" rut and, lacking anything remotely close to the kind of source Mark Felt was for Woodward and Bernstein, they settle for less. Much less. Their credibility suffers, as does the ability of the people they purport to serve to make rational decisions. "Gargage in, garbage out" goes the saying in the computer field, meaning that a system given bad information to start with will produce flawed results. The public's logical thought processes suffer the same issue.

I don't know why Mr. Felt wanted to come forward now. Perhaps he was concerned that if he let the task fall to Woodward and Bernstein - who have long said they would not reveal the name of Deep Throat until after he was dead - that enough questions would remain to throw the revelation into question. Doing it this way allows all the parties to the secrecy to confirm, in public, what they were all saying. I saw a small spot on CNN this morning wherein someone was saying that they found it hard to believe that Felt was Deep Throat because he didn't feel that Felt would have had access to the information. Even with Felt, Woodward, and Bernstein all saying Felt's the guy, doubts remain. Perhaps Felt wanted to mitigate that as much as possible.

Amnesty International reports US running gulags. As liberals are so fond of saying, words have consequences. As I am so fond of saying, the way an argument is presented is as important as the argument itself. Well done argumentation tries to remove as much emotive content as possible from the argument so as to prevent the emotions from obscuring the point. To say that one should avoid offending your audience as much as possible is to be so obvious that it should go literally without saying. When you see an outfit with the kind of literary capability as Amnesty International make the comment that the US is running a "gulag", that's not a slip of the tongue. They used the term specifically because they had an image they wanted to portray and they were counting on the emotive content of the word to convey the message. Now, remember, you don't want to offend your audience if you're interested in persuading them. That tells you their audience was most specifically not the government of the United States. They were aiming squarely at the opponents of this administration and I believe strongly at the enemies - and I mean that literally - of this country.

Again, our media hasn't given much attention to it, but there was something far more concerning in that report than the use of the term gulag to describe one of the best investigated and best controlled detention facilities on the face of the plant. The report simply concludes that US forces engage in torture and that they are ordered to do so by our government. In spite of the contested nature of such claims, the report calls upon foreign powers to pursue those considered the architects of said torture. From their report:

::::::::“Tolerance for torture and ill-treatment, signaled by a failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible, is the most effective encouragement for it to spread and grow. Like a virus, the techniques used by the United States will multiply and spread unless those who plotted their use are held accountable,” said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. “The U.S. government’s response to the torture scandal amounts to a whitewash of senior officials’ involvement and responsibility. Those who conducted the abusive interrogations must be held to account, but so too must those who schemed to authorize those actions, sometimes from the comfort of government buildings. If the United States permits the architects of torture policy to get off scot-free, then other nations should step into the breach.”

The Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture) place a legally binding obligation on states that have ratified them to exercise universal jurisdiction over persons accused of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and torture or to extradite the suspects to a country that will. Therefore, if anyone suspected of involvement in the U.S. torture scandal visits or transits though foreign territories, governments could take legal steps to ensure that such individuals are investigated and charged with applicable crimes.

First, the US govenment and the military have absolutely investigated each allegation of torture and mistreatment and in every case, they started that investigation long before anyone in the media reported it. Amnesty International ignores that, simply states that the opposite is true, then uses that statement as proof that the US has a "tolerance for torture and ill-treatment." Note the loaded statement in there, as well - the complete assumption that the allegations are also true; that the investigations, were they actually done, would absolutely find people who are guilty and must, therefore, be prosecuted. If AI had anything more than the unsupported allegations made by people whose training manual tells them to make such accusations to the media and trusting fools like AI, then where is it? Why is that all AI provides? As usual, the word of the military and the government is completely dismissed as lies while every word that drops from the mouth of one of the US's enemies is sterling-silver truth every time.

The real point is the emphasized section I put in boldface above. Read that carefully. While not coming right out and saying it, AI is calling on the governments of the world to level charges against the people AI considers responsible for the alleged torture and to "ensure that such individuals are investigated" for the crimes. They're calling for other governments to arrest these people if such a person "visits or transits though foreign territories" during, for instance, a state visit. The man they hold most highly responsible is the President. They are calling on foreign governments to arrest and charge the President. I'm not a lawyer, but that certainly strikes me as seditious.

AI has managed to take what was supposed to be an international human rights watchdog and turn it into just another Bush-bashing mouthpiece. Congrats, boys. You've managed to marginalize yourselves and destroy any credibility you once had. Good show.

And that's my wrap up.