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To follow up on

To follow up on this afternoon's post, various news outlets are reporting that the Pentagon steadfastly, firmly, or -- put in your tough-sounding adverb here -- denied the claims Sy Hersh makes in his new piece in The New Yorker.

But read the actual statement by Pentagon Spokesman Larry Di Rita, posted at the Pentagon website. This is not a denial of anything. It's a classic non-denial denial -- a bunch of aggressive phrases strung together to sound like a denial without actually denying anything.

The one thing Di Rita terms an error is, I believe, largely a matter of semantics rather than one of substance.

I don't fault Di Rita. This program Hersh says exists is even more secret than the normal classification system allows. So even if Di Rita had wanted to come out and say Hersh got everything right, he probably couldn't.

But reporters who characterize Di Rita's words for their readers should read them a bit more closely before describing them as any sort of blanket denial.

People who analyze polling

People who analyze polling data will often take a group of polls, toss out the outliers on either side, and then focus on the cluster of data in the middle which seems overlapping and confirming.

A similar procedure seems in order with the various information we're getting about the situation at the Abu Ghraib prison. All attention is now focused, and rightly focused, on Sy Hersh's latest installment (who says there are no second acts?) on the story in The New Yorker, in which he reports that the situation at Abu Ghraib was the result of a highly-secret 'black operation' intended for use against select, high-value al Qaida operatives, which tumbled out of control when expanded for use against the Iraqi insurgency -- which Pentagon and administration officials were understandably desperate to get under control.

Then there is another important Newsweek article which quotes a memo White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote to the president in January 2002, saying the following: "As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians ... In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

I've been away from regular Internet connectivity for the last couple days (one of the reasons for the lack of posts) so I haven't had the chance to dig into the rest of the news coverage in quite the depth I'd like to. And I think we'll need to wait a few days, and for follow-ups from other sources, to render a full judgment on Hersh's piece. (Rumsfeld spokesman Larry Di Rita's widely-quoted statement -- "Assertions apparently being made in the latest New Yorker article on Abu Ghraib and the abuse of Iraqi detainees are outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture." -- isn't a denial, it's splutter -- a classic non-denial denial.)

But to go back to my analogy about analyzing polls, even if we set aside the issue of whether there was this specific black operation -- noted by Hersh -- the basic story seems more and more clear, and increasingly confirmed from multiple sources. That is, that irregular methods originally approved for use against al Qaida terrorists who had just recently landed a devastating blow against the US, were later expanded (by which mix of urgency, desperation, reason, bad values or hubris remains to be determined) to the prosecution of the insurgency in Iraq.

In the words recently attributed to Gen. Miller, they Gitmo-ized the counterinsurgency operation in Iraq.

In other words, methods approved for use against the worst and most dangerous terrorists spread -- like ink through tissue paper -- to other military theaters that were, at best, only tangentially related to the war on terror. And this, I think we can say, is tied to the boundless, amorphous and ever-expanding definition which the administration has given to the war on terror.

Reed Irvine-in-ChiefThis is a

Reed Irvine-in-Chief?

This is a passage from Tuesday's Washington Times, which is itself an excerpt from Bill Sammon's new insider account of the Bush presidency, Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and the Bush Haters. (emphasis added)

"I get the newspapers — the New York Times, The Washington Times, The Washington Post and USA Today — those are the four papers delivered," he said. "I can scan a front page, and if there is a particular story of interest, I'll skim it."

The president prides himself on his ability to detect bias in ostensibly objective news stories.

"My antennae are finely attuned," he said. "I can figure out what so-called 'news' pieces are going to be full of opinion, as opposed to news. So I'm keenly aware of what's in the papers, kind of the issue du jour. But I'm also aware of the facts."

Those facts are extracted from news stories each day and presented to the president by a half-dozen aides, Mr. Card among them.

"Since I'm the first one to see him in the morning, I usually give him a quick overview and get a little reaction from him," Mr. Card explained. "Frequently, I find that his reaction kind of reflects [first lady] Laura Bush's take."

Indeed, the president often cites articles that Mrs. Bush flags for greater scrutiny, even when he has not personally slogged through those stories. Mrs. Bush routinely delves more deeply into the news pages than her husband, who prefers other sections.

"He does not dwell on the newspaper, but he reads the sports page every day," Mr. Card said with a chuckle.

'A clear outlook'

Mr. Bush thinks that immersing himself in voluminous, mostly liberal-leaning news coverage might cloud his thinking and even hinder his efforts to remain an optimistic leader.

"I like to have a clear outlook," he said. "It can be a frustrating experience to pay attention to somebody's false opinion or somebody's characterization, which simply isn't true."


What strikes me about this isn't the stuff <$Ad$>about the First Lady or the skimming of articles. It's that, at least from his self-presentation, the president seems to see his news reading largely, if not entirely, as an exercise in detecting liberal media bias. That, and he seems to see shielding himself from opposing viewpoints as a key to maintaining what he calls a "clear outlook" and what Sammon refers to as being an "optimistic leader".

I guess we can all relate to this, can't we?

How 'frustrating' it is to have to listen to "somebody's false opinion or somebody's characterization, which simply isn't true" (i.e., information that contradicts our assumptions and viewpoints)?

It (i.e., critical thinking) really gets in the way of having a "clear outlook", right?

Now, certainly no one is perfect when it comes to subjecting and then resubjecting their viewpoints to fresh facts or challenging their assumptions with intelligently stated contrary views. I can't claim to be. But it's one thing to fall short of the mark and another to work out a system of self-rationalization and denial to ensure you come nowhere near the mark. And this is it in spades.

He doesn't even need the yes-men who "extract" the "facts" from the news articles. He's his own built-in yes-man.

How could we have ignored so many warnings, so much expert advice, so many facts staring us in the face? The president just gave you the answer.

You know Marc Racicots

You know Marc Racicot's reputation as a liar is <$NoAd$>getting pretty widespread when the Post walks its readers through something like this ...

The Bush campaign has repeatedly accused the senator of "politicizing" Iraq. Bush-Cheney chairman Marc Racicot told reporters Wednesday that Kerry is relentlessly "playing politics" and exploiting tragedy for political gain.

Racicot, for instance, told reporters that Kerry suggested that 150,000 or so U.S. troops are "somehow universally responsible" for the misdeeds of a small number of American soldiers and contractors. Racicot made several variations of this charge. But Kerry never said this, or anything like it.

As evidence, Racicot pointed to the following quote Kerry made at a fundraiser on Tuesday: "What has happened is not just something that a few a privates or corporals or sergeants engaged in. This is something that comes out of an attitude about the rights of prisoners of war, it's an attitude that comes out of America's overall arrogance in its policy that is alienating countries all around the world."

What Racicot did not mention was that Kerry preceded this remark by saying, "I know that what happened over there is not the behavior of 99.9 percent of our troops."


Hats off to Jim VandeHei, the author of the piece, though Racicot has been at this for months.

An exchange with a

An exchange with a reader<$NoAd$> ...

Josh-- I've been reading your blog now for some time, and while I'm in school and have no money now, I was fully intending on donating as soon as I could. The past few days though I've realized that I won't be donating and I won't be reading your site anymore. I am very disappointed that you've written nothing on the execution of an American citizen in Iraq by what looks to be al quada. I didn't expect much, but the fact that you've gone on a rant over Sen. Inhofe's comments (which is probably appropriate) and continued your assault on the the president and have neglected to give even one line to this guy who was brutally slain for being one of us just sickens me. I didn't always agree with you, but I respected what you wrote and enjoyed reading what you had to say, but not anymore. I know this is hardly a 'blow' to your site as I'm sure readers come and go all the time, but I just thought maybe you'd appreciate some respectful feedback.

Anyway, good luck with your site, I'm sure you will do very well in the coming years. Ellis D.

Ellis,

You've just misjudged how I run the site and why I do so. I don't write about everything I think. I don't write just to say that X is good or Y is bad. I write when I feel I have something I can add to a discussion, and only then. I could write a post saying that I thought Berg's execution was horrifying and awful and that I couldn't get to sleep last night because the ugliness of the images wouldn't leave my mind. But what would that tell you? That al Qaida is awful and that I think they're awful too? Perhaps I simply have nothing to add. The online world has lots of vociferous me-too-ism, going on record saying in fist-clenched tones things I think we all know we all feel. That's fine; I just don't like doing that. Once, when I wrote nothing about a rapid series of court decisions touching on gay rights issues, one reader wrote in and attacked me mercilessly for being homophobic since clearly, he reasoned, I had judged these to be of no importance. He was wrong; and you've made the same misjudgment. This isn't a publication of record. And you're not in a position to judge what I think based on my silence.

Josh

Wheres the floorThe new

Where's the floor?

The new CBS poll has President Bush coming in at 44% job approval.

Can he break through into the thirties? I doubt it. But we're getting down to the margin of error, aren't we?

East wing or west

East wing or west wing<$NoAd$>?

This from Reuters ...

New images of Iraqi prisoner abuse contain awful scenes of violence and sexual humiliation, members of Congress said after a viewing on Wednesday that one lawmaker likened to a descent into "the wings of hell."

...

"There were some awful scenes. It felt like you were descending into one of the wings of hell and sadly it was our own creation," said Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. "And when you think of the sadism, the violence, the sexual humiliation, after a while you just turn away, you just can't take it any more."


That's gotta be 'rings of hell'. Right?

Like in Dante?

I suspect it's the reporter's goof. But who knows?

Late Dante Studies Update: I'm told by a reporter on the scene that Durbin did indeed say 'rings' of hell, as one might have expected. The Reuters correspondent seems to have misheard. Where are E.D. Hirsch and Allan Bloom when we need them!?!?!

Okay I think the

Okay, I think the wheels are now officially off this car. The Baltimore Sun quotes Colin Powell as saying that "we kept the president informed of the concerns that were raised by the ICRC and other international organizations as part of my regular briefings of the president, and advised him that we had to follow these issues, and when we got notes sent to us or reports sent to us ... we had to respond to them, and the president certainly made it clear that that’s what he expected us to do."

Powell further said that he, Rice and Rumsfeld kept Bush “fully informed of the concerns that were being expressed, not in specific details, but in general terms.”

Not only does that contradict what the White House and the president have said. It contradicts the testimony of one of Don Rumsfeld's principal deputies from only yesterday.

When asked by Sen. John Warner whether the ICRC's concerns had made their way to the Secretary's level, Stephen Cambone replied: "No, sir, they did not. Those reports -- those working papers, again, as far as I understand it, were delivered at the command level. They are designed -- the process is designed so that the ICRC can engage with the local commanders and make those kinds of improvements that are necessary in a more collaborative environment than in an adversarial one."

I've been hearing for days that the State Department at the highest levels (i.e., not a few lefty FSOs in the bureaucracy, but authorized at the highest levels) has been leaking like crazy against the civilian leadership of the Pentagon on this story.

And here we have it right out in the open. Powell isn't exactly saying the White House or the president is lying. What he's doing might fairly be described as walking up to the black board, writing out "2+2=" and then letting us draw our own conclusions.

Now, Powell's critics will argue that this is his standard operating procedure: distancing himself from bad news with a shrewd campaign of leaks and carefully phrased attacks, which give the targets of the attacks no clear place to grab on to. And they'd be right. That is classic Colin Powell, a master Washington insider.

But that doesn't mean it's not true. And at a certain point -- though you'd imagine we'd already reached that point -- having the Secretary of State openly contradicting the Secretary of Defense and the president on a matter of such grave concern to the country is a situation that simply cannot last.

The first sentence in

The first sentence in the Post's lead editorial for Wednesday: "The Bush administration still seeks to mislead Congress and the public about the policies that contributed to the criminal abuse of prisoners in Iraq."

As I said earlier

As I said earlier today, I don't think I can remember a more shameful spectacle in the United States Congress, in my living memory, than the comments today of James Inhofe, the junior senator from Oklahoma. Clearly, it is part of the RNC talking points now to shift the brunt of the media storm from the abuses themselves to the political storm they've created. But no one that I saw at least rose more naturally to the effort than this man. No one else's heart seemed so matched to the deed, with his snarls at "humanitarian do-gooders" (i.e., the Red Cross) trying to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions.

America's greatest moments in the last century came when she tempered power with right and toughened, or sharpened, the edges of right with power -- World War II, then the post-war settlement that framed the Cold War are the clearest, though certainly not the only, examples.

But here you have Jim Inhofe lumbering out of his cave and on to the stage, arguing that we can do whatever we want because we're America. Inhofe's America is one that is glutted on pretension, cut free from all its moral ballast, and hungry to sit atop a world run only by violence. Lady Liberty gets left with fifty bucks, a sneer, a black eye, and the room to herself for the couple hours left before check out.

Yet there was a much brighter side to these hearings on Tuesday. For all the dishonor Inhofe brought on them, I was struck by how much of this is being carried by Republicans -- in particular, John McCain, John Warner and, perhaps most strikingly, Lindsey Graham.

Graham has become some mix of the star and the conscience of these proceedings because of his specialized knowledge as an Air Force JAG and his ability to see that this goes beyond partisan politics, threatening as it does not only America's honor, but (in a way someone like Inhofe could probably never understand) also her power.

Graham got it exactly right today when he said: "When you are the good guys, you've got to act like the good guys."

Another way to put this might be to say that being the good guys is about what you do, not who you are. That's a truth that the architects of this war, in subtler but I suspect more damaging ways, frequently failed to understand.

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