Cohen faults the senator for opposing some but not all torture, and for engaging in a definitional debate about torture rather than providing a denunciation of its immorality that makes clear he objects to all interrogation practices that violate American values and laws. He makes assumptions about the senator's views and purposes, which he describes as "cagey," and concludes the senator's full record reveals "he was against it before he was for it before he was against it," and exposes the senator as, "a tortured soul."
I served on Sen. McCain's staff during the period when he led opposition in Congress to the Bush administration's interrogation policies. I have better informed and fairer view of his position on torture and his intentions in opposing practices he believes are torture.
Contrary to Cohen's suggestion, the senator's opposition is based in his moral objections to torture, which he is "wholly against ... as a national policy and practice." In every significant statement he has made on the subject, he has made clear he considers all arguments about the efficacy of torture or its military and diplomatic consequences to be of lesser importance than his concern that it represents a terrible betrayal of our moral values. As he has often phrased it, this is not a debate about who they are, but who we are.
He began his op ed and the speech he made in the Senate that same day by refuting former Attorney General Michael Mukasey's recent assertion that the trail to Osama bin Laden began with disclosures obtained by waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Since bin Laden's death, the defenders of "enhanced interrogation techniques" have suggested that the al Qaeda leader wouldn't have been located had not KSM and others been subjected to waterboarding and other abuses.
McCain did not focus his objections to torture on KSM and waterboarding. He simply chose to address the efficacy argument first. He concluded, as he always does, by making a full throated moral argument against all use of torture. And it is his moral objection that was and remains the first principle of his opposition to all torture.
Many in the human rights community played an invaluable role in opposition to the Bush administration's detainee policies. Sen. McCain and his staff worked closely with many of them, both in his effort to pass the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) in 2005, and in his subsequent effort to strengthen the War Crimes Act in his negotiations with Bush administration officials on the Military Commissions Act (MTA) in 2006. Their forceful advocacy of American values was indispensible to ending those policies. And I think most of them would agree so was Sen. McCain's. They and he helped shape the debate, influence public opinion, and pressure Congress and the administration. But the senator had an additional responsibility as a lawmaker: to help write and pass laws that would prevent the use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on anyone held in U.S. custody.
Cohen claims that McCain helped make the debate about torture a definitional one rather than a moral one. If I understand him correctly, he believes the very act of entering into negotiations with the Bush administration to define torture undermined or betrayed the moral argument against it.
Although I understand why advocates outside government often resent the limitations and compromises inherent in legislating, I am puzzled by Cohen's contention that "Much of the debate over torture is 'definitional' (rather than, say, 'moral') because politicians like Sen. McCain have made it so. Definitions famously allow for leeway, after all, morality famously does not." I'd like to know how Cohen believes the senator could have opposed and tried to stop morally objectionable policies in an administration that disputed their immorality and asserted their legality by means other than defining what is morally objectionable and unlawful.
Cohen believes the only moral course was to insist on using the Army Field Manual's prescriptions for treating detainees. Those prescriptions, too, are definitional. They define what is permissible, and, thus, implicitly, what is morally unobjectionable. In negotiations over the MCA, Sen. McCain sought to define what is morally objectionable and not permissible. He hardly had a choice. In 2006, the debate was entirely about definitions, and the Bush Administration had enough support in Congress to prevent McCain or anyone from compelling it to impose the Army Field Manual's restrictions on CIA interrogators.
The Supreme Court had decided in the Hamdan case that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applied to all enemy detainees -- and so all interrogation techniques had to comply with it. In order to retain the ability to use the most abusive practices, the Bush administration sought to redefine Common Article 3 in law, and dilute its protections. Before any other member of Congress objected, the Senator announced he would oppose any weakening of the Geneva Conventions. He said at the time that he'd risk his presidential ambitions in order to stop the redefinition of Common Article 3. And he did.
It was clear in 2006 that the administration was going to get a Military Commissions Act. The senator worked hard to ensure it wouldn't get an MCA that weakened the Geneva Conventions (and the War Crimes Act, which criminalizes grave breaches of Common Article 3). McCain passed through the Senate Armed Services Committee legislation that persuaded the administration to negotiate.
The most important concessions he achieved in long and difficult negotiations with the Bush administration, were his amendments to the War Crimes Act. Of those, the hardest was the provision that defined as a grave breach of Common Article 3 any treatment that caused the subject "serious, but non transitory mental harm, (which need not be prolonged)." The defenders of "enhanced interrogation techniques" had insisted that mental harm would have to be severe and prolonged to be illegal.
Cohen would assert this accomplishment could have led to nothing more than a debate over what "serious" and "prolonged" and "non-transitory" mean. But it was clear to Bush administration officials, including Stephen Hadley and Steven Bradbury, who conceded to the senator that the definitions of prosecutable breaches of Common Article 3 had been strengthened and not weakened, and waterboarding and other procedures as brutal or nearly as brutal were now indisputably grave breaches and punishable as war crimes. That's why they asked and the senator agreed that the new definition not be retroactive to protect from prosecution those who used them prior to enactment of the MCA.
That concession and the senator's agreement to allow the CIA to continue interrogating detainees without limiting them strictly to Army Field Manual's regulations were the reasons some human rights advocates objected to the MCA. The senator believes he helped prevent abuses like waterboarding or putting a power drill to a detainee's head, which Cohen refers to, or any practice that would cause serious and not prolonged mental or physical suffering. He stood by the agreement and its compromises when Sen. Diane Feinstein offered legislation to restrict all interrogations to the limits defined in the Army Field Manual, which everyone knew would be vetoed by the Bush Administration -- and was.
You can disagree that his accomplishment justified the compromises he made. You can argue they neglected to make impermissible other morally objectionable practices. He doesn't believe they did, nor do I. You can claim that restricting all interrogations to the procedures permitted in the Army Field Manual would have offered greater assurance that all objectionable policies would end, even though it required a change in administrations to make that happen. Every lawmaker must accept that the compromises required to pass legislation will always invite criticism by those who have the luxury of remaining untainted by practical considerations that are the burden of those who must try to change things through legislation in a divided government.
I don't believe, however, the senator should have his intentions and position maligned with the false claim he hasn't always objected to torture. That's a cheap shot, and certainly undeserved. The senator's objections are as consistent and as deep as Cohen's and longer-standing. More importantly, in the years in question, John McCain did more than Andrew Cohen, or anyone else I can think of, to stop our government from continuing to violate the ideals that are our greatest strength and his lifelong cause.
Two scholars discuss the ups and downs of life as a right-leaning professor.
“I don’t think I can say it too strongly, but literally it just changed my life,” said a scholar, about reading the work of Ayn Rand. “It was like this awakening for me.”
Different versions of this comment appear throughout Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr.’s book on conservative professors, Passing on the Right, usually about people like Milton Friedman and John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Hayek. The scholars they interviewed speak in a dreamy way about these nerdy celebrities, perhaps imagining an alternate academic universe—one where social scientists can be freely conservative.
The assumption that most college campuses lean left is so widespread in American culture that it has almost become a caricature: intellectuals in thick-rimmed glasses preaching Marxism on idyllic grassy quads; students protesting minor infractions against political correctness; raging professors trying to prove that God is, in fact, dead. Studies about professors’ political beliefs and voting behavior suggest this assumption is at least somewhat correct. But Shields and Dunn set out to investigate a more nuanced question: For the minority of professors who are cultural and political conservatives, what’s life actually like?
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
The president’s unique approach to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will surely be missed.
No U.S. President has been a better comedian than Barack Obama. It’s really that simple.
Now that doesn’t mean that some modern-day presidents couldn’t tell a joke. John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton excelled at it. But Obama has transformed the way presidents use comedy—not just engaging in self-deprecation or playfully teasing his rivals, but turning his barbed wit on his opponents.
He puts that approach on display every year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This annual tradition, which began in 1921 when 50 journalists (all men) gathered in Washington D.C., has become a showcase for each president’s comedy chops. Some presidents have been bad, some have been good. Obama has been the best. He’s truly the killer comedian in chief.
After the successful Allied invasions of western France, Germany gathered reserve forces and launched a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes, which collapsed by January. At the same time, Soviet forces were closing in from the east, invading Poland and East Prussia. By March, Western Allied forces were crossing the Rhine River, capturing hundreds of thousands of troops from Germany's Army Group B. The Red Army had meanwhile entered Austria, and both fronts quickly approached Berlin. Strategic bombing campaigns by Allied aircraft were pounding German territory, sometimes destroying entire cities in a night. In the first several months of 1945, Germany put up a fierce defense, but rapidly lost territory, ran out of supplies, and exhausted its options. In April, Allied forces pushed through the German defensive line in Italy. East met West on the River Elbe on April 25, 1945, when Soviet and American troops met near Torgau, Germany. Then came the end of the Third Reich, as the Soviets took Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, and Germany surrendered unconditionally on all fronts on May 8 (May 7 on the Western Front). Hitler's planned "Thousand-Year Reich" lasted only 12 incredibly destructive years. (This entry is Part 17 of a weekly
“A typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash,” says a new report.
Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.
These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.
In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Why thyroid diseases are so common—and still so mysterious
When I first suspected I was suffering from hypothyroidism, I did what any anxious, Internet-connected person would do and Googled "dysfunctional thyroid symptoms," and, in another tab, "hypothyroid thinning hair??" for good measure.
What came up sounded like someone describing me for an intimately detailed police sketch:
heightened sensitivity to cold
unexplained weight gain
a pale, puffy face ("Finally, a medical explanation for this," I thought.)
This, combined with the fact that a close family member had recently been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, sent me scurrying to the nearest endocrinologist's office. They took a blood test, and two weeks later the results came back. Sure enough, the doctor said solemnly, I had hypothyroidism, which meant my thyroid was under-active. She would be starting me on thyroid medication. She couldn't know for sure, but I might have to take drugs for the rest of my life.
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.