May 20, 2006

The Trials of KSM

Remember, if you can, those halcyon days when What?, full of a righteous sense of vengeance and employing the language of a West Texas subterranean mammal exterminator, promised to smoke the terrorists out of their holes, get 'em running, and bring 'em to justice? Bush was magnificent in those days, and his poll numbers reflected his glory. Can that have been only five years ago?

I confess to a certain weakness for psychoanalytic theory when it comes to Bush. I can't help myself. I read Justin Frank, M.D., on the Huffingtonpost, I love throwing around terms like sociopathic, psychopathic, will-to-fail, antisocial personality disorder, adult attention deficit, etc. Is it just Bush's misfortune to have been president when amateur usage of such terminology became en vogue, or is it something else?

Maybe the something else is fear, although this may simply be another personal effort to wrap my mind around the problem psychologically. If we can label Bush, categorize him, get a handle on his protean awfulness, maybe we can control him. I suspect that's what might be going on. Who knows if any of these diagnoses-at-a-distance hold any water. Bush, in my view, seems like one of the least introspective people one is likely ever to encounter, and we're certainly never going to have the benefit of a professional analysis from anyone with actual access to Bush's inner turmoil. So we have to sift through evidence we gather second hand, work with behavioral inferences, make educated guesses. Such as:

What is Bush's problem with success? Get this, from the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9-11 conducted four years ago: George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), testified that “a common thread runs between the first attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993 and the 11 September attacks.” The thread is Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, also known as Mukhtar or “the Brain.” According to the DCI, Muhammad, “a high-ranking al-Qa’ida member,” was “the mastermind or one of the key planners of the 11 September operation.” The DCI noted that Mukhtar is Ramzi Yousef’s uncle, and, after the World Trade Center attack, Muhammad joined Yousef in the 1995 airplane plot, for which Muhammad has been indicted by a federal grand jury.

Apparently, we got Khalid runnin' out of his hole, we nabbed 'im, but we ain't brought 'im to justice yet. Recently, this omission, this critical third step in the gopher analogy, has received some comment from critical commentators. Conventional wisdom on the subject suggests the problem is that the Brain has been shipped around to various Third World dungeons, including Pakistan and Jordan and subjected to torture; thus, if he's brought back to New York for trial (under existing indictments or under those subsequently obtained), he's not likely to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege and refuse to testify. Since the Joint Inquiry has him on record as essentially copping to a conspiracy to commit 3,000 murders, silence is not an option. The Brain is going to prefer tabula rasa, and one way to wipe the slate clean is to argue KSM's confessions were coerced. Coerced how?

Water-boarding, so we are told, involves strapping the prisoner to a board, his feet slightly higher than his head, covering his face with cellophane, and then pouring copious quantities of water over the nose and mouth. The dowsing sets up an immediate gag reflex which puts the victim in an immediate, terrifying fear of drowning. In general, CIA operatives who have practiced on each other can withstand the procedure on average only 14 seconds. Some reports from the torture frontlines have it that agents were impressed that KSM actually lasted 2-1/2 minutes before he began begging to confess. To anything, just stop pouring this goddam water on my face. As an initial reaction, it's disturbing to think that someone who personally endured even a practice run at water-boarding could administer, or even watch, the technique on another human being for 2-1/2 minutes without profound psychic damage, but perhaps we're training a cadre of CIA agents who function solely through the brain stem.

So all of The Brain's lavish descriptions of the 9-11 plot, and his role in it, may have happened under less than pristine Miranda conditions. The government might have to start from scratch to prove his complicity, and we can be fairly certain that 19 key witnesses against him are unavailable. As are a couple more, Osama bin Laden and his Man Friday (or Goebbels), Zawahiri. Thus the preference for Show Trials, for throwing the book at mental cases like Zacarias Moussaoui. Put him in SuperMax, down the cell block from The Brain's nephew, Ramzi Yousef, whom the Clinton Administration captured, tried and convicted. Sort of like the old days. That's not the way we do things anymore. KSM was indicted once, in New York, but he's in no danger of ever standing trial in the United States, not while W is president. He may not have realized it (or maybe - given his background - it's all he expected), but those gargling days on the water-board were as close as he's ever going to get to a day in court.

May 19, 2006

Minutemen, PVS patients surround Nation's Capitol

Washington (AP)-

In a desperate attempt to attract the attention of the nation's lawmakers, activists disguised as Southern Border Minutemen wheeled dozens of activists disguised as Persistent Vegetative State patients into formation encircling the nation's Capitol. A broad coalition of public interest groups under the umbrella name "What About Us?" devised the scheme as a last-chance effort to convince the House and Senate that it should devote some of its legislative efforts into something other than improving Iraq's chances for democracy, Mexico's employment problems or the ongoing tragedy of the terminally brain dead.

"We think America has some real issues," said Brady Perkins, coordinator of the event, peering out from beneath the brim of his trucker's cap, his .30-.06 resting on his shoulder (safety on, no bullets). "For example, the minimum wage has not been raised since 1996, 45 million Americans have no health coverage, the nation's public schools are crumbling, the national debt is at 8 trillion, the annual federal defiict is over $400 billion, the trade deficit is approaching $1 trillion annually, Congress has no plan to repay the Social Security Trust Fund for all the money it's stolen over the years, Medicare is headed for insolvency, the global warming problem is getting worse with no leadership from Washington, the nation will need a new transportation plan with gas prices going through the roof, and the real standard of living in the United States has been going downhill since 1973."

Perkins paused to take a breath, mopping his bronzed forehead with a red bandana. The bandana came away with a bronze stain. "Makeup," he admitted. "We realize our plan is a little derivative, but we noticed Congress reacts to whatever's playing on evening cable news. We thought about including some lacrosse rape victims and abducted Aruba coeds, but hey, we don't wanna turn this thing into a circus."

Asked why he thought Congress was so reluctant to do anything whatsoever about such a formidable list of real problems for average Americans, Perkins turned philosophical. "We're not where the action is. Stories about how people make a living, put food on the table, take care of their kids lack that prime-time punchiness that makes for high-profile legislation. It just doesn't play on C-Span. Plus, with America's disintegrating middle class, a lot of us are just not in a position to buy Congressmen."

And if this last-ditch effort to get some action doesn't work? "Well," Perkins began slowly. "We ARE already here. We do have 'em surrounded. And we've got these guns..."

May 18, 2006

Bush's Mission (Accomplished) Statement continued

One of the more perspicacious utterances I have ever read concerning George W. Bush is that normative categories like correct/false, fact/fiction, honest/deceitful, and truth/lie seem to have no resonance with him. All of Bush's statements can be grouped under the umbrella category "Things I Might Say," and what he says is chosen on the basis, usually if not always, of political exigency. Under this view, Bush does not tell the truth because he values honesty as such, but because it is easier in the long run to keep his story straight if he tells the truth when he can; if he cannot tell the truth without political damage, he lies. What is very hard to think of, when it comes to Bush, is any instance when he has told a "hard truth," a truth which is personally unprofitable or injurious. Where he tells the truth, in other words, just because it's the right thing to do.

This is an extraordinary quality in a Chief Executive. It is not difficult to think of specific examples where Bush's tendencies in this direction have wasted enormous national resources while the truth is tracked down in roundabout ways necessitated completely by this aleatory approach to matters of integrity. As one such instance, the entire Valerie Plame investigation. I thought it was curious, in the summer of 2003, that Bush's first reaction to the breaking story was that "we may never know" who was responsible for the leak to Robert Novak. I have also thought it remarkable, in light of subsequent developments, that the mainstream media have never focussed on this initial reaction as they put the story together. What we now know is that it would have been difficult for Bush to throw a rock from the Oval Office without hitting someone with intimate knowledge of all of the details of the Plame matter. Specifically, it now appears that Vice President Cheney, Cheney's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, and Bush's political advisor, deputy Chief of Staff and Alter Ego Karl Rove, all were literally immersed in the scandal from the very beginning. It seems stupid, in this light, that a "special prosecutor" was necessary to get to the bottom of the Plame matter, that reporters would have been threatened with, or actually spent time in, jail for contempt, that a grand jury has listened to hundreds of hours of testimony -- all of it necessary because Bush would not do the right thing. The right thing, obviously, was to call one meeting with his senior staff and demand to know who knew what. Cheney's scribbled notes on Joe Wilson's NY Times column, Rove's e-mails, Libby's phone calls -- all of this would have popped immediately to the surface. Fitgerald, maybe, has determined that no substantive violation of the Identities Act itself has occurred, so the immediate disclosure of all of this information would presumably have resulted in NO criminal investigations or prosecutions, and no subsequent perjury, lying to federal agents or obstruction of justice indictments would have ensued. The "hard truth" revealed would have been limited to disclosures about typically over-zealous, vindictive, anti-American sniping and undermining by Bush's rabid jackals. But no crime in the technical sense.

But Bush likes the appearance of a tough, honest cowboy workin' hard to keep America safe, and admitting that all of this went on down the hall, or maybe even in the Oval Office, does not fit congruently with this false image. So he said what he said. It was unnecessary, it was misleading, it was demoralizing to the CIA and the American people, but Bush's ass was on the line (the ass of his image, anyway), and the Bush Random Statement Locator kicked in and guided his public response. Later he compounded this fatuous, misleading statement with another whopper where he said that anyone found to have leaked classified information would no longer be part of his administration. Subsequent investigation by Patrick Fitzgerald led to the inescapable conclusion that Bush's "promise," if followed literally, would have meant that most of his Administration would no longer be part of his Administration.

But he didn't mean it. He never "means" anything. He just says stuff, and if you want to believe it, go ahead. He counts on that. Almost no one believes anything he says anymore, however, and the reason is that most decent people do not follow Bush's corrupting example in matters of probity. Most people do tell hard truths for the sake of conscience, for the sake of holding the social fabric together, and for purposes of personal sanity. How much more of Bush's dissembling and toxic lying the country can take without losing its moral compass completely, however, is anyone's guess.