Sunday, May 31, 2009

Right-wing Extremist Violence

Dr. George Tiller, one of few remaining providers of late-term abortions in the United States, has been assassinated. He was shot in his own church.
A the gunman, a Scott Roeder, is in now custody, and some research into his background has (shocker) found that he is linked with right-wing extremist groups such as the anti-abortion group Project Rescue (now Operation Save America), the Sovereign Citizens and the Freemen. I Let me remind you that when the office of Homeland Security published a report on the threat posed by these groups, congressional conservatives threw a hissy-fit. Despite the politicking of the congressional Republicans the threat posed by right-wing extremists is all too real, as illustrated by this assassination, and the similar incident where a gunman began firing into a crowd in a Unitarian Church in the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church with the intention of killing liberals. The 90s saw a spurt of right-wing extremist violence. My guess is that the election Obama will galvanize a new group of extremists.
The campaign of Christianists against Dr. Tiller has been long and ongoing. They've previously vandalized his clinic and shot both his arms (for a more full walk-through of the Tiller campaign, click here and scroll down). The campaign of terror waged by Christianists forces against late term abortion providers has generally been successful, and Dr. Tiller was one of the last. Late term abortion is morally repugnant, and it seems acceptable if the a legislature or the Supreme Court wanted to take action to limit it. What is not acceptable is what has happened: the use of violence by a narrow band of extremists to impose their opinions on society.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pakistan Increasing Nuclear Spending

So say the New York Times
WASHINGTON — Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Unless we can prove that somehow Pakistan's nuclear program is beggaring its counterinsurgency effort, saying that money is being "diverted" doesn't make a lot of sense. Pakistan hasn't dealt with the insurgency raging in its hinterland very effectively, but the problem would not be solved by throwing money at it.
Robert Farley on the buildup.
This fits in well with a developing narrative about how Pakistan's focus on India is the problem: The story goes that the Pakistani military still considers India its central threat and isn't overly concerned with the Taliban. There are also long-term concerns about growing Pakistani capability and especially of the dangers of some of that capability falling into Taliban hands.

With that in mind, I'm not sure that these reports are as alarming as they seem on face. Pakistan has long sought a more capable nuclear arsenal. This build-up is part of Pakistan's long-term national security strategy, rather than a response to the availability of U.S. dollars. The logic of the strategy itself can certainly be criticized, but that is an altogether different debate. Were the United States not allocating substantial aid to help the Pakistani military fight the Taliban, it's unlikely that any money would be drawn from the nuclear program. Rather, the Pakistani Army would simply be less capable at counterinsurgency. The nuclear program has occupied the highest point of prestige and importance in Pakistani defense circles since 1971, and it is unlikely that the growing strength of the Taliban -- or complaints from the United States -- can change that. If there were any direct evidence that U.S. aid was funding an increase in Pakistani nuclear capabilities above and beyond what Pakistan had already planned, I'd be more concerned, but this doesn't appear to be the case thus far.

For Pakistan, as conventional wisdom correctly suggests, the cold-war with India has a higher importance than the damage warlords and fanatics a wreaking on their frontier. The is illustrated very clearly by the fact that Pakistan is only beginning to divert sufficient forces to fight this group of rural yahoos.
Pakistan, needless to say, has a somewhat different perspective on the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (father of Benazir), who initiated the Pakistani nuclear program back in the 70s, said that Pakistan would build a bomb even if Pakistanis had to eat grass. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist most responsible for the Pakistani bomb, is still regarded as a hero by most Pakistanis, even though he headed a network proliferating nuclear technology to rogue states. Pakistan's focus on the bomb seems folly, a bellicose one-upmanship with India which beggars the public good. The countries, it must be said, have behaved like the United States and the Soviet Union. So much the pity.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

India and Nuclear Diplomacy

India's recent elections come as a pleasant surprise, a big win for the ruling Congress Party, and a stinging defeat for the nefarious, nationalistic BJP. The Congress party should not have trouble forming a coalition, a departure from the difficult coalition forming that has characterized India politics for the last few decades.
The Times of India article:
NEW DELHI: India has yet again been surprised by Indians. Last time, no one thought a Congress-led UPA would emerge winners. It did. This time, many said Congress would be the single-largest party and UPA the top coalition, but few imagined Congress would retain office with 201 seats — the highest any single party has got in 25 years — and UPA 258 seats. And yet like a silent tsunami, the Congress swamped its rivals to triumphantly return to power.

This election was supposed to be without any national issue. The Indian voter, however, had different ideas — he has voted with his feet for a coherent and stable government. Manmohan Singh is set to take charge as Prime Minister and become the only PM since Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961 to be voted back after completing a full five-year term. What's more, he will head a government without the support of the Left, whimsical partners like Mayawati or any other coercive ally. The middle class would be heaving a sigh of relief.

Mark Kleiman thinks after this win, we should even credit Bush's policy of bringing India in from the cold and reversing the traditional US tilt toward Pakistan. This seems to me what the administration had in mid when it cut the nuclear deal with India: a "Nixon goes to China" moment of grand diplomatic thinking. If we've forgotten about Bush's nuclear deal with India, the New York Times wrote a piece on the Bush administration's relationship with India.
In July 2006, 15 years after the Soviet Union collapsed and five years after Islamic terrorists became America’s principal enemy, Mr. Bush decisively reversed course. Raising India to the status of a strategic ally, he cut a unique exception in the global nonproliferation regime, proposing that India be allowed to keep its military stockpile even as it gained access to technologies and fuel for its civilian reactors. Over the next two years Mr. Bush used dwindling political capital to get the deal approved by the Congress and foreign governments. When Pakistan requested a similar pact, it was told that such deals were reserved for “responsible” states.

This was the diplomacy of the grand gesture, and when this barrier fell others followed. The American and Indian militaries increased joint exercises. They exchanged trade delegations. Their companies won expanded access to the other’s markets. American officials began to talk up India as a rising great power in a new century.

This seems a basic problem with Bush's approach to nuclear weapons, the administration always approached such weapons with the attitude that such weapons are ok, in the right hands. He was doubtless right to pursue such a close relationship with India, but the means by which he did it are questionable. Though the deal is legal under non-proliferation law (the guidelines which would have prevented the deal were rewritten), it necessarily undercut the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty by giving India all the benefits guaranteed to NPT signatories. The message to countries that develop weapons outside of the nuclear non-proliferation regime: hold on, and you could get legitimated by the world only superpower, have your arsenal and nuclear technology cooperation. Not a bad deal.
It makes sense that the deal was not extended to Pakistan as well. The notorious Abdul Qadeer Khan famously sold nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya, the last of which snitched and thereby blew the lid off of the network. Though Khan himself took full responsibility for the entire program (though he was oddly let off the hook) I can see from a Pakistani point of view such a deal being regarded as scary from a strategic point of view. United States nuclear cooperation with India, though ostensibly only on the civilian nuclear program, necessarily. It's no wonder that Pakistan has tried to negotiate a similar deal with France and increased its nuclear arsenal.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Torture and Exposure

It certainly feels like my blog is morphing into a running commentary on the torture issue. The latest controversy is over centers around Obama's decision not to release the additional pictures depicting torture. The decision was a tough call. I think it's a pretty good guess that Obama heard from the military that releasing the photos would endanger the lives of American troops, perhaps even endangering his timeline for withdrawal. This sort of advice would be very difficult for a president of the United States to resist. I'm not completely decided, but I think I would lean toward declassification. The opinionator has a rundown of opinions on the issue. Particularly of interest is Joan Walsh:
For the first time in his presidency, I had the sick feeling that Obama was lying in his remarks on the photos, once when he said the new images "are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib" -- I simply don't believe that -- and again when he insisted "the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken." That is a flat-out lie. Out of eight prosecutions, mostly of so-called bad apples, only reservist Charles Graner sits in prison today, while the architects who "Gitmo-ized" Abu Ghraib and encouraged torture all went free.

Is Obama trying to cover-up the torture issue? I'm not convinced this is the case. Obama came out strongly against torture, the administration just seems to want to get it off of the agenda in order to concentrate on what they want to concentrate on. On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi is a different story. Conservatives are fond of responding, when one brings up prosecution of the torture team, by asking "which Democrat who was informed would you like to see prosecuted?" Actually, almost know one was informed outside the executive branch making it difficult for congress to curb the program. One of the few that was informed, though, was Nancy Palosi. While I don't think that there's a prosecutable case against Pelosi, she clearly was informed early on, making her complicit. She's been turning herself in all kinds of knots to avoid blame.
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Saturday, May 9, 2009

More on Torture

One of the biggest questions for the media is not whether "torture" ethical or effective, but simply whether to use the word "torture" (as opposed to a more neutral "aggressive interrogation") to talk about the policies of the previous administration. Most media outlets, such as the Times have opted for "aggressive interrogation, which very clearly sides with the previous administration.
Andrew Sullivan points out, these the Times has no such qualms about describing these acts as torture.
Col. Harold E. Fischer Jr., an American fighter pilot who was routinely tortured in a Chinese prison during and after the Korean War, becoming — along with three other American airmen held at the same prison — a symbol and victim of cold war tension, died in Las Vegas on April 30. He was 83 and lived in Las Vegas. The cause was complications of back surgery, his son Kurt said.

From April 1953 through May 1955, Colonel Fischer — then an Air Force captain — was held at a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria. For most of that time, he was kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door through which a bowl of food could be pushed. Much of the time he was handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air.

As Sullivan points out, the techniques used by the Chinese in this case are the exact same ones which became the basis for the United States torture program (the techniques cribbed from the SERE program were the based on the techniques that Harold Fischer, among others, was subjected to.)
But I would like to know if Bill Keller will remove the t-word from this obit and replace it with "harsh interrogations" as he does when referring to the US government's use of identical techniques. If not, why not? Remember: these people won't even use the word torture to describe a technique displayed in the Cambodian museum of torture to commemmorate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge - as long as Americans do the torturing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jon Chait on Torture and the Rule of Law

In keeping with this blogs recent focus on prosecution for torture, I recently read an piece by Jon Chait summing up how ridiculous the right's arguments about torture are.
Remember the Rule of Law? In the late 1990s, it was all the rage in conservative circles. Having maneuvered Bill Clinton into a position where he could either lie under oath or suffer massive personal and political embarrassment, conservatives reasoned that Clinton must be held accountable for perjury or the basic underpinnings of democracy would be shattered. The Republican sensibility was best reflected by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which not only crusaded for impeachment but demanded, in 2001, that Bill Clinton be indicted even after leaving office. The Journal rejected the logic of promoting healing and insisted that a post-presidency indictment would uphold "the principle that even Presidents and ex-Presidents are not above the law."

Over the last decade, though, the right's thinking on this question has evolved. Today, the administration malfeasance consists of illegal torture, a crime I'd argue is no less serious than lying under oath about fellatio. Yet Republicans now believe that the Rule of Law is not only consistent with letting administration crimes go unpunished but actually requires it. To prosecute the departed administration would make us (to use their new catchphrase) a "banana republic"--the premise being that banana republics are defined not by their use of torture but by their overly zealous enforcement of anti-torture laws.

The GOP line is once again reflected by the Journal editorial page, which now thunders against "a new Administration prosecuting its predecessor for policy disagreements." The editorial notably fails to even address the question of whether the previous administration complied with the law, which is apparently no longer an important element of the Rule of Law.

The right's newfound outrage is a more hysterical manifestation of the mainstream sentiment that it would be an unseemly form of vengeance or "looking backward" to hold the previous administration legally accountable for torture. It's a bizarre sentiment. The prosecution of any crime is inherently backward-looking. We prosecute law-breakers to keep them or others from breaking the law.