Today's Blogs

Justifying Torture

Bloggers are outraged by a 2005 Justice Department opinion that endorsed extreme interrogation techniques for terror suspects, squabble over the Chinese-Iraqi weapons deal, and celebrate Sputnik’s 50th birthday.

Justifying torture: The New York Times reported on a secret Justice Department opinion endorsing “severe interrogation” tactics that include “head-slapping, simulated drowning, and frigid temperatures.” The opinion was written after a 2004 legal opinion that publicly called torture “abhorrent”—and shortly after Alberto Gonzales became attorney general.

“These techniques are not just morally abhorrent; they are flatly illegal,” writes Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, continuing later: “When your policies violate treaties you have signed and laws that are on the books, you are not supposed to come up with some clever way of explaining that appearances to the contrary, what you’re doing is not illegal at all. You’re supposed to stop doing it.” Conservative Andrew Sullivan agrees, and headlines his post “War Criminal”: “Perhaps a sudden, panicked decision by the president to use torture after 9/11 is understandable if unforgivable. But the relentless, sustained attempt to make torture [a] permanent part of the war-powers of the president, even to the point of abusing the law beyond recognition, removes any benefit of the doubt from these people.”

At Salon, Liberal lawyer Glenn Greenwald argues against the simple “Blame Bush” reaction.  “All of these subversive and grotesque policies – the Yoo/Addington theories of the imperial presidency, torture, rendition, illegal surveillance, black sites – began as secret, illegal Bush administration policies. But the more they are revealed, and the more we do nothing about them, the more they become our own.”

Lawyer Jack Balkin posting at Balkinization focuses on the secrecy of the opinion, wondering: “[H]ow many other secret opinions the Justice Department has produced during the Bush Administration that justified violations of the Constitution, federal statutes, the laws of war, and international human rights. An essential component of the rule of law is transparency. The laws must be knowable, not only so that people can structure their behavior with fair warning, but also to prevent government officials from engaging in abuses of power.”

Political Animal Kevin Drum turns the story into an issue for the ‘08 candidates: “The Times says that ‘most lawmakers’ didn’t know about this secret opinion. That means that some of them did. I’d like to know which ones. I’d also like to hear each of the Democratic candidates tell us whether or not they promise to repudiate all secret Bush administration memorandums on torture and detention during their first day in office. Quickly, please.”

Read more about the newest secret torture opinions.

Made in China: News of  a $100 million weapons deal between China and Iraq has alarmed U.S. military experts. Iraqi officials say American arms aren’t coming in fast enough, while U.S. officials are concerned that the arms may fall into the hands of insurgents. Bloggers parse the controversy.

Jake Today is amazed. “I didn’t know if I should laugh, cry, or rage at the wall. Iraq, the land of guns and ammo, cannot outfit their police with weapons? They are not satisfied with U.S. arms merchants?…This makes little sense.”

The Mudville Gazette’s Mrs. Greyhawk tries to explain it: “if we don’t supply the weapons we can’t mandate them, so now that the Iraqi Gov’t is seeking arms elsewhere we can’t insure that those weapons will not fall in the hands of insurgents killing our troops.” She also raises an interesting point that Michael Rubin expounds upon at the National Review’s Corner: “It is curious that neither of the Washington Post reporters appear aware that the Iraqi ambassador to Beijing who likely played a key role in the deal is also Iraqi President (and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan head) Jalal Talabani’s brother-in-law (their wives are sisters). Of course, with the Iraqi process opaque, it is impossible to know for sure, but such family dealings are often quite remunerative and would likely never pass the conflict-of-interest test outside the region.”

And Sweetness and Light quips: “But what will the Iraqis do when these weapons are recalled for having lead paint?”

Read more about the Chinese-Iraqi arms deal.

Happy birthday: Sputnik launched on this date 50 years ago. Bloggers remember the event that started the space race (and to Al Gore’s dismay, is even credited with inventing the Internet).

“Sputnik was an act of the Cold War,” writes Texas Liberal. “Yet our imaginations allow us to see Sputnik as a first step in calling our attention to the fact we all share this planet and we must live in a way that respects the value of all people.”

Brian Utley at Technology Evangelist tracesSputnik’s launch as the beginning of the space race, arguing that the United States was behind, but “Sputnik was like adrenalin to the system. The sleeping giant woke up, but it would be years before the leadership crown could be reclaimed.” Elaborating on that point, John Simonds at Delusions of Adequacy argues that “we need events like this to mark progress, like the telegraph, the first crossing of the Atlantic by plane, splitting the atom, you get the point.”

At RealWorldNumbers, science buff Patrick wonders what it would have been like to listen to the first news reports: “It’s always strange to listen to old broadcasts and hear it called a satellite. Not because of the definition - that’s exactly what it is, but because in their context, there were not yet any spacey-words to describe things in space. There were no Orbiters, Lunar Modules, Command Modules, or any other common name you can think of. Only the minds of children reading science fiction were prepared for the realities of this new dialect of the elite – ‘space jabber’.”

Read more bloggers on Sputnik.