The Library Basement
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Category politics

Hungry for violence

Today my wife and I viewed the film version of The Hunger Games, first in a popular trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins. The premise is quite disturbing - outlying territories of a future North American empire are forced to offer up 12-through-18-year-old children as "tributes" to fight to the death in an arena. This is continuing punishment for the territories' past rebellion. And the entire twisted affair is broadcast for the delight of the imperial society. It is the Roman gladiatorial games meets reality television, or perhaps a sick twist on The Truman Show.

My desire for the characters to survive without being corrupted by their situation drives my appreciation of this story. I recommend it, in spite of it being tough to read and watch. What makes the story most wrenching for me is that this hopeless, senseless bloodbath is perpetrated by children against children. Both in reading the book and watching the film, I felt a sense of dread as the prospect of such violence neared. I think most adults (especially parents!) feel similarly.

However "young adult" children are the target audience both of the books and the movie. I fear that the maturity of some may be lacking to understand the significance of the story. Case in point: I heard a few laughs burst from high-school-aged boys in the theater during some of the brutal killings depicted in the film.

Now do not get the impression that I am wholly opposed to the depiction of violence in the arts. I think at times it is necessary to tell a certain story, or convey a poignant message to the audience. Yet the default purpose of violence in media is entertainment, or worse: glorification.

We as a society are sensitive to violence in the media, though it can be somewhat confused. This past week I saw dueling headlines, some questioning whether The Hunger Games was too violent for its target audience, others alleging that fans may be upset because toned-down violence in the film lacks fidelity with the book.

I find no wonder that our society has these confused views on violence. After all, the same nation which celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day also celebrates numerous military holidays. Shocked by the concept of sending eighteen-year-olds to kill sixteen-year-olds? The same could be a characterization of our battles against the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Polite company may hem and haw at children playing violent video games or seeing depictions of war in film, but they constantly inform them of the necessity of such violence.

A fitting distillation of this contradiction is embodied in a hallway in the Portland VA Medical Center which hails the service of noteworthy underage military personnel. "Sorry son, you're too young to enlist, so just go play America's Army for now. But if you do manage to sneak in, we're going to make a star out of you." See? Confusion.

The Trayvon Martin scandal provides another opportunity to consider our nation's attitudes towards violence. I will focus here not on the case itself, but on the so-called "stand your ground" laws which came to my attention as a result. To quote the relevant portion of the pertinent Florida law:

a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony;

I am of course no legal expert, but these laws (which are on the books in twenty of these United States) seem to legalize dueling. I am only half joking about that. Deadly violence becomes the legally-justified first resort for those in conflict, and they need only claim their lives felt threatened to avoid judicial scrutiny.

I'll offer an alternative vision of "stand your ground:"

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.

At a crucial point in The Hunger Games, the heroine perpetrates a crucial act of non-resistance with a fellow tribute. In so doing she defies and enrages the powers that be, which is the catalyst for the next phase of the story. We as Christians must strive to "stand our ground" and eschew violence. In this we challenge the prominence of violence in our present society and hopefully prevent the downfall into the depraved society depicted in the film.

Political hopes

We fought for a decade, corruption and greed
It gave me a purpose, a reason to breathe
But now that it's over, now that we've won
I still sit in my bedroom, alone with a shotgun

To think of my family no longer compels me
With all things in common they'll manage without me

\~ Pedro the Lion, "A Simple Plan"

If I understand David Bazan's lyrics correctly, this is not a weak Randian critique of communism. He's not saying "communism will cause a deficit of responsibility leading to suicidal despair." Communism in this example could of course be replaced by any other political utopia for the same effect. What Bazan conveys here is the plain truth that human happiness does not subsist in our politics. I think this truth is obvious on its face, but the political forces in this American life are desperate to turn that truth on its head.

I am always tempted to liken engagement in politics by the non-ruling class to a spectator sport. Everyone picks a team, they get excited at the playoffs, one side wins, and everyone chills out in the off-season. However the intensity for many is a bit too high for the analogy to hold (except perhaps in the case of European soccer). It is not a sport, or even civic duty, but it's personal.

People get so angry about the outcomes of our democratic process. And I'm not saying that outcomes cannot be genuinely bad. Politics can have real consequences which affect our happiness. Yet this cohort of political enthusiast get in an existential funk when they do not get their way, even for inane issues. Politics becomes a 24/7 battlefield, and every insignificant vote, or statement, or advertizement becomes an outrageous scandal. I just do not have the energy to be outraged all the time, but some people are addicted to it.

This frenetic political posture is encouraged by the political class because they directly benefit from it. Outraged people are more likely to give money, volunteer, and storm internet message boards and blogs. At the same time, I genuinely think our political process is damaged by the heightened drama, where every single vote must become an epic struggle to accommodate each side's ideology.

Why do people allow themselves to get so excited? I think it is the lie that happiness is rooted in politics. If only gun control was less, or welfare was more, or abortion was restricted, or there was single-payer health insurance - then I could really be happy. But even total partisan hegemony cannot bring true happiness nor shield from pain.

Politics is how we live together. It is not the essence of human happiness but a tool to help us get along. Let's engage in politics as required by conscience and pragmatism, but let's not rest our hopes in it. Political outrage can be reserved for situations wherein it is truly needed, but let's invest our energy in positive and not adversarial relationships with our neighbors.

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Category: politics

Do protests work?

I was somewhat amazed this past week when an acquaintance, scoffing at the Occupy Wall Street protests, said "protests never work anyway." That person must have a very short memory, because two governments have fallen to protests just this year (Tunisia and Egypt), with possibilities for more. In the United States we have a memory of the Civil Rights and Vietnam anti-war protests also bringing about real change. These changes came not by voting, but by applying public pressure to elected politicians to do the right thing.

Still, the vast majority of protest movements do not achieve their goals. I think a major problem for the Occupy Wall Street movement is that it does not have a goal or a central message to speak of.  It is a general outpouring of angst against the economic and political conditions in this country. The most central theme appears to be "we are the 99%", which deals with wealth disparity.

"I am a man"It seems to me that successful protest movements often have a powerful focal point. They are based on a single, understandable idea with fairly broad support in the public. So when protesters marched carrying signs which read "I am a man," it became a symbol for the cause which still resonates powerfully with us today.

I think wealth disparity in the US is a "first-world problem," but it is something that needs to be discussed in the public sphere. Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement will be able to transform "we are the 99%" into a successful symbol, and the issue will be taken up in earnest by politicians. At the moment I think the campaign will fizzle, though it may be paving the way for future protest movements.

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Category: politics

Labor Radio

I have been listening to a lot of Major League Baseball playoff games this past week. These are streams of the teams' local radio broadcasts, so you get the local commercials. Many of the teams involved are from midwest states.

What has stood out to me is the prevalence of labor unions in the advertizements. Detroit, Milwaukee, and St. Louis have all had radio spots for unions. This is something I almost never hear on the air in Oregon, so it caught my ear.

The unions also did not seem to be related to the manufacturing base of the region. Rather they were predominantly service unions of the sort which exist everywhere. So why don't we hear so much from unions in Oregon? Is it because there is less of a labor movement here? Or is it because the unions are under stress in those states?

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Category: politics Tags: labor

American political football

Glenn Greenwald on the killing of US Citizen Anwar al-Awlaki:

Well, one thing that is obvious, is that voting for Democrats as opposed to Republicans doesn’t help. In fact, if you read The New York Times article from 2010 confirming that Awlaki is on the hit list, it makes clear that there’s been no instances where George Bush ordered American citizens targeted for assassination, that this is extraordinary and perhaps an unprecedented step under the Democratic president. . . . So, I think if Americans cared about the constitutional rights the pretended to care about under George Bush, Democrats in particular, they would be very vocally protesting and objecting to this. But, the problem is that, the opportunity to use these issues as a means to undermine Republican politicians is now gone, and so, many people who, three years ago, were pretending to care about these things, no longer do.

Yes, that is American political football. Conversely, within one election cycle the Republicans have become a peace party and champions of limited government once more. So what if one wants to change the game instead of perpetuating the back-and-forth? Greenwald, in the gap in the quote above:

What people in the Arab world did, when their leaders did things like imprison them, let alone kill them, and their fellow citizens without trials, is they went out into the streets and protested and demanded that it stop. It’s hard to see how voting for one of these two parties is going to end these extraordinary excesses in violations of the constitution; it clearly doesn’t. Something outside of that system is necessary to address it. That’s been proven.

So are Americans going to hit the streets? The Occupy Wall Street campaign could be a beginning, though it does not seem to have much popular support thus far.

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Category: politics

Reasonable doubts about capital punishment

If you have not seen it already, see this exchange from a recent 2012 Republican presidential candidate debate:

(Texas Governor Rick Perry is questioned about the 234 executions which have occurred under his watch and the crowd applauds).

We cannot be very surprised by the audience's support for Perry on this issue, though I think it took an odd form as applause. Capital punishment has fairly significant popular support in the United States. Some states allow it, and some don't. Of those who allow it, some do not really actively execute death-row inmates. But Texas is the king of the death penalty.

The US finds itself in league with some strange partners in the use of capital punishment. We find ourselves in the company of North Korea, Libya, Zimbabwe, China, Iraq, and Iran. None of our traditional allies in Europe or Canada practice it, and many of the countries we regard as the most despicable do.

I know that the Declaration of Independence is not a binding legal document for the US. Still, it is the statement of the spirit of our republic, and many politicians invoke it. So I wonder how it could be true that "Life" is an "unalienable Right" where capital punishment is practiced. Let me be clear: I am not trying to portray the death penalty as a departure from our idealistic roots. The founders supported capital punishment in various forms. So there is some form of ideological hypocrisy there. Mostly I just want Americans to consider how the God-given, unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness relate to our current criminal justice system.

I found Perry's phrasing here interesting: "the ultimate justice." The word I was expected was "punishment," not "justice." I think it is useful to maintain a distinction between justice and punishment in our rhetoric. If the death penalty is carried out in error, it is the ultimate injustice. Rick Perry does not express doubts about 234 convictions, but I find it hard to believe that every single one of those condemned was truly guilty. That's a level of accuracy that is hard for humans to achieve in even the simplest matters.

Christianity has a mixed witness on capital punishment. I do not feel I can make an authoritative appeal to scripture or tradition one way or the other. So when I address the death penalty, I typically do so from the standpoint of reasonable doubt. I believe that the burden of proof for capital punishment should be higher than what can be delivered by our legal system. In other words, I never trust a judge and jury to get it right when the stakes are so high. We cannot afford to get it wrong.

I am surprised that more people do not distrust the government to make a life and death decision. So many people who are otherwise skeptical of government competence are supportive of an irreversible punishment. I think that is because most people never have to consider the possibility of a wrongful execution for themselves or their loved ones. But then cases like Troy Davis come along, and the media attention raised by them may help people to at least think about the issue.

Enduring freedom

This July 4th I was thinking again on the paradox of the Land of the Free having the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Approximately 743 out of every 100,000 Americans (about 0.7%) are currently imprisoned.

In the list of global incarceration rates, the United States is nowhere near any country we traditionally think of as an ally. Israel is the closest at rank 28, but with less than half the incarceration rate. Israel is also in an incredibly difficult security situation, so they should not serve as a peer or role model in this respect. A better match would be the UK, which comes in at rank 94 with 152 per 100,000: nearly five times smaller than the US.

[][]I must point out that the US is apparently being successful in exporting freedom and democracy to the world. Many of the nations we have blessed with freedom have notably low rates of incarceration:

  • #140 Iraq:        101 (per 100,000)
  • #157 Germany 85
  • #177 Kosovo c.66
  • #179 Afghanistan 62
  • #186 Japan 58

I know it is pedantic to equate incarceration rates with freedom. However, the state depriving people of liberty is about the most literal and practical offense to freedom which I can think of. Earlier I asked what the possible causes for this high incarceration rate in the US may be. I can suggest some here. This list is certainly not exhaustive, and all of the items probably contribute to the problem.

  1. The US has more laws than other countries.
  2. US laws are more likely to carry imprisonment as a punitive measure.
  3. US laws require longer prison sentences.
  4. US judges and/or juries tend to give longer sentences.
  5. The US has a higher rate of conviction.
  6. The US prosecutes a higher proportion of crimes committed.
  7. Americans actually commit more crime.

None of those sound very good unless you are of the opinion that higher prosecution and conviction rates are driven by a higher love for justice in the US than in other nations. Items 1-6 are in tension with our beloved "free country" self-description. #7 is just depressing.

Our rate of imprisonment is just embarrassing. I do not think it is necessary: we are not a nation of thugs. We like being "tough on crime" for some reason, and the impetus behind tougher prison sentences seems to come from the populace. Criminals are easily marginalized by the majority because as high as the population of current and former inmates is, it is still a very small portion (not to mention the fact that some convicted criminals are disenfranchised).

Nonetheless it is time to walk this trend backwards. We need to petition lawmakers to reduce prison sentences, repeal "mandatory minimums," and reduce the number of crimes for which incarceration is meted out as a punishment. We also need to turn a skeptical eye toward the criminal justice system which achieves such a high incarceration rate. Prison is expensive for the taxpayers and destructive to the inmates. Moreover it is contrary to our national pride in our freedom and our conscience. Therefore we need to reduce the prison population in order to let freedom not only endure but grow.

[]: http://thelibrarybasement.com/images/2011/07/ENDURING-fREEDOM-usmc.jpg

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Category: politics Tags: prison

US kills Voldemort, unsure of what to do next

I made some rather conspicuous comments about Osama bin Laden recently:

We hear a lot about al Qaeda and the Taliban, but very rarely the name of the infamous architect of 9/11. His name cannot be mentioned, because to do so would be to admit the impotence of US military power and intelligence. One man living in a cave has defied the will of the largest, most advanced military on the planet.

As it turns out, he was living in a rather large compound, not a cave. The name "Osama bin Laden" re-entered official Washington vocabulary in a big way since the US military killed him. There is now a lot of discussion about whether the US did the right thing in killing bin Laden. Was bin Laden a belligerent or a criminal? Does Christ condone the killing? And so on.

I am ambivalent about the situation. I do not rejoice in his death. Assuming his guilt he deserved death, but I say that with the caveat expressed by Gandalf in the Fellowship of the Ring:

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.

Osama bin Laden blurred the line between belligerent and criminal. So while I largely condemn as foolish the Justice Department's creation of a tertium quid between criminal and prisoner of war (the infamous "unlawful combatant"), I can see how the unprecedented nature of the crime of 9/11 lead to the decision. Indeed, the only comparison to 9/11 was Pearl Harbor, which was an act of war by another state.

Bin Laden was the leader of a militant movement against the United States. There had been no cessation of hostilities called for by al Qaeda, so he was very much akin to an enemy general in war. As such, he did not have the right to a Nuremberg style tribunal, so long as hostilities continued.

Does that make assassination any more palatable? No. I am not greatly acquainted with the details of Christian Just War, but it seems to me that killing in the course of war must be done to achieve the just aims of the war. It is not clear how a targeted killing of a leader of the opposition would meet that end. And certainly pacifists are skeptical of such a killing. But I digress.

My major point is that I found the celebration of the killing somewhat depressing. We really patted ourselves on the back for having a system in place which can apparently find and kill anyone, anywhere in the world (though not at any time, and for a steep price). Americans seemed very proud of this fact, as they fixated on the Navy Seals, the armored attack dog, and the live helmet-cam stream. Obama declared that

today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

This is not the sort of national greatness I desire.

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Category: politics

US Unable to Kill Voldemort

Newsweek has an article on the CIA's program to hunt down and kill suspected terrorists. In it we learn about the CIA's process for deciding which suspects to kill via Predator drone or other means. It is incredible though unsurprising that the final decision comes down to a lawyer:

The hub of activity for the targeted killings is the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, where lawyers—there are roughly 10 of them, says Rizzo—write a cable asserting that an individual poses a grave threat to the United States. The CIA cables are legalistic and carefully argued, often running up to five pages.

Wow, five entire pages! Now that's due process. If I find myself to be on a foreign government's hit list, I could only dream of getting five pages dedicated to my death warrant. Glad to know that the CIA are really doing due diligence before unilaterally murdering people abroad.

The cables that were “ready for prime time,” as Rizzo puts it, concluded with the following words: “Therefore we request approval for targeting for lethal operation.” There was a space provided for the signature of the general counsel, along with the word “concurred.”

The CIA general counsel, an unelected (though nominated and confirmed) civilian, has the authority to kill suspects overseas without a trial. Judge, jury, and executioner. Of course it is all strictly legal and in accord with executive orders. That this sort of activity is perfectly legitimate behavior for the US government is disturbing. Yet nobody is surprised.

My favorite part of the article comes with a Harry Potter reference (intentional or not, I cannot tell):

Many of them ended up dead, but not all: “No. 1 and No. 2 on the hit parade are still out there,” Rizzo says, referring to “you-know-who and [Ayman al-] Zawahiri,” a top Qaeda leader.

Yes, Osama bin Laden is now Voldemort: he who must not be named. I have observed that  for quite some time the name "Osama bin Laden" seems to have disappeared from official vocabulary in Washington. We hear a lot about al Qaeda and the Taliban, but very rarely the name of the infamous architect of 9/11. His name cannot be mentioned, because to do so would be to admit the impotence of US military power and intelligence. One man living in a cave has defied the will of the largest, most advanced military on the planet. Surely the US government could not admit to this, so he has simply been erased, and replaced by generic or abstract foes.

[][]In this context, I find it very amusing to hear the former acting general counsel of the CIA refer to bin Laden as "you-know-who." In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the wizarding world lead by Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge is terrified by Voldemort and refuses even to utter his name. The more evidence mounts of his return, the more taboo the name becomes. With bin Laden it is the converse. It is not that he has come back, it is that he never left. No matter how obvious this is to the general public, the authorities cannot admit it officially.

Here we have a government where a lawyer has final say on overseas assassinations, but even such a creature has yet to eliminate the elephant in the room.

[]: http://thelibrarybasement.com/images/2011/04/Lordvoldemort.jpg

The land of the free?

Why does the Land of the Free imprison more of its population than any other nation? We're not in good company at the top of that list. Most of our peers are well below us, both in rank and in proportion. The UK has nearly six times fewer inmates by proportion. On the other hand, the world's largest democracy India supposedly only has 30 out of each 100,000 of its citizens in prison.

Just think about possible answers to that question.

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Category: politics

Libya and the apex of cynicism

I have a few brief observations on the war in Libya floating around in my mind.

Turnabout is foul play

It is somewhat amusing to hear recently hawkish Republicans decrying the war in Libya. Suddenly concerns abound among the GOP about the mission, the exit strategy, and the wisdom of going to war while at war.

The downward spiral

While I think the Iraq war's overt aggression is worse than intervening in Libya, I must admit that President Bush had the approval of the US Congress to go to war. Obama just launched the missiles and jumped in head first. Some congressmen are venting their frustration about this, as they should. However, given the history of warrant-less wiretapping and extraordinary rendition and military tribunals, I feel somewhat certain that congress will legitimize this after the fact.

I wonder if Obama and Biden are ashamed of their current actions, given that both had previously been quite vocal about the fact that it is illegal for the President to unilaterally launch a war. Yet we are never surprised by policy reversals in politics. We normally chalk it up to practical exigencies trumping ideology. But perhaps permitting these reversals is even more cynical than my outlook on the American state.

Fool me once

The US needs to stop intervening in civil wars.

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Category: politics Tags: Libya

The American system

There are days when I am tempted by this sentiment:

The American political system works, if only the people will keep to the founders' principles.

But I realize that the above is only another way of saying "the American system doesn't work." If the constitutional democratic republic must perpetually be met with a chorus of "you're doing it wrong," maybe that system does not effectively take human nature into account.

I have little faith in the American system in the current circumstances. Our leaders are not able to fix systemic problems because doing so is electoral suicide. As an example, most Americans would like to see federal spending reduced. It just so happens that the vast majority of federal spending is comprised of programs which the people are not willing to cut. Sometimes the right thing to do in the long term is not popular in the now.

We find ourselves in a third war this week. I do not care if we are just "enabling" other countries to enforce a UN mandated no-fly zone. It was an act of aggression nonetheless. There was no check on the Executive's power by congress. We cannot survive this behavior as a nation, and our political systems seems to lack the necessary corrective force.

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Category: politics

Libya demonstrations in PDX

On my commute home this past Friday I waited for the train at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland. There happened to be a lot of hubbub going on, but that is not unusual in and of itself. But this particular group of noisemakers was a bit different from the usual crowd.

A young boy led a chant:

1 2 3 4
Kick Gaddafi out the door
5 6 7 8
Stop the violence, stop the hate

The boy marched at the head of a column of dozens of people, waving a large (pre-Gaddafi) Libyan flag. The throng behind him carried many flags and signs, all critical of the Gaddafi regime. I assume that many of the people in the march were Libyan ex-patriates.

I liked what I saw. It was a far sight more interesting than the usual hellfire preachers and "free hugs" crowd. I hope those folks get what they are demonstrating for. It takes a long memory to recall Libya before Gaddafi, though many of the people in the march look like they were younger than the regime. But as I am fond of quoting:

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

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Category: politics

Fear and hope in republican revolution

A certain nation overthrew  its tyrant and set out to establish its own unique system of governance. With a new constitution in place, the new republic set about its business.

However, it was not long before this new republic was in trouble. It was constantly fighting wars, even picking on its weak neighbors. It decimated an indigenous population. Abhorrent social structures exploited the weak. Before long it descended into civil war. Even after the war, social injustice was systemic. The republic was a hotbed for religious zealots. It continued in its belligerent ways.

This could be many republics, but of course I am here describing the United States of America. We've had a pretty rough stretch since our founding, and some might say we are not out of it yet. That does not mean that we as a society have not had our bright moments. But there is something dangerous in the midst of the hope of a new republic.

We saw this same danger play out in the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Sure the nation threw off a dictator, but the resulting republic is fairly repugnant in some of its practices. Now there are corrupt elections and a growing distrust of the "revolutionary" system.

This year we have the opportunity to see many new republics born in the middle east. When the dust settles I expect we'll see at least one true constitutional republic, and probably more. But a simple change in governance does not guarantee the well-being and peacefulness of a nation. The trouble with democracy is that the guy you do not like can win.

We in the West are fortunate enough to experience an international political wonder: A wave of revolutionary fervor is sweeping through an entire region, and nobody knows what will come of it. Some new republic may be the paragon of a new golden age of democracy. Or, sadly, the same republic could be another repugnant embarrassment.

Time will tell, but I am hoping for the best in the region. I do not have any horses in this race, and I am trying to just observe the process, to just take it in. To truly respect republican ideology, we must accept the fact that this revolutionary wave will sweep away dictators both friend and enemy to the US. Our national concerns are not important. Rather we should focus on hearing the story of how the people of these nations are deciding their own fates.

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Category: politics

The Ballad of Colin Powell

This week the CIA source codenamed "Curveball" (Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi) [admitted that he fabricated his account of chemical weapons production in Iraq.][] Given that eight years of searching has led to the discovery of zero weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, this should not really come as a surprise to anyone.

I think this is nonetheless a crucial moment to reflect on the lies and mistakes which lead to the Iraq war. How did the testimony of a person that US Intelligence had never actually interviewed face-to-face come to form the core of the case for the Iraq war? Why was Curveball's testimony believed, when other conflicting testimony from more reliable sources was available (as reported in Ron Suskind's The Way of the World)? This man's lies lead to the invasion of Iraq, unleashing a civil war with its attending death, civil strife, and displacement. Yet I did not see this story cropping up in the "mainstream" US media when it was first released.

Thankfully an interview given by Colin Powell on the subject is bringing the topic of Curveball into the public consciousness. He is calling for an investigation into the intelligence apparatus which believed the false claims. That is a good and necessary step. Powell has been quietly working to retool his image after presenting the (false) case for the attack on Iraq before the whole world. He went from being a highly-respected American figure to being a out of the spotlight fairly quickly. No doubt he was deeply embarrassed in retrospect.

Now Powell can bank on the fact that he was hoodwinked by Curveball, the CIA, and anyone else into making that case for war. It really wasn't his fault, was it? He was just doing his best with the information he had available.

But I think the false intelligence is rather beside the point. Intelligence good or bad is not an excuse for the aggressive act of invading another country. Being tricked by unreliable sources and botching the execution of the war do not diminish the responsibility for waging it.

I feel bad for Powell. I really respected him as a public figure. He is right to point out the rather disturbing failure of intelligence and the even more disturbing trust that our leaders were willing to place in it. But rather than saying "I was lied to," I would really like to hear Powell say "I was wrong to advocate for attacking Iraq, period."

[admitted that he fabricated his account of chemical weapons production in Iraq.]: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/15/defector-admits-wmd-lies-iraq-war

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Category: politics

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