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.
As Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt sued the federal government to prevent rules about air and water pollution from taking effect.
Throughout the long campaign, and in the long month that has followed, President-elect Donald Trump sounded some odd notes about the environment.
He denied the existence of climate change, calling it a hoax or a fraud. He repeatedly announced his intent to repeal all of the Obama administration’s environmental regulations. He lamented, wrongly, that you couldn’t use hairspray anymore because it damaged the ozone layer.
And then, out of nowhere, he met with Al Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for educating the public about the dangers of climate change.
While the broad strokes of Trump’s policies were never in doubt, there was often enough bizarreness to wonder what he would do with the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Why the ingrained expectation that women should desire to become parents is unhealthy
In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a "safe haven" law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe-haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off in a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.
Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here's the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.
Trump's election has reopened questions that have long seemed settled in America—including the acceptability of open discrimination against minority groups.
When Stephen Bannon called his website, Breitbart, the “platform for the alt-right” this summer, he was referring to a movement that promotes white nationalism and argues that the strength of the United States is tied to its ethnic European roots. Its members mostly stick to trolling online, but much of what they do isn’t original or new: Their taunts often involve vicious anti-Semitism. They make it clear that Jews are not included in their vision of a perfect, white, ethno-state.
On the opposite side of American politics, many progressive groups are preparing to mount a rebellion against Donald Trump. They see solidarity among racial minorities as their goal, and largely blame Trump’s election on racism and white supremacy. Three-quarters of American Jews voted against Trump, and many support this progressive vision. Some members of these groups, though, have singled out particular Jews for their collusion with oppressive power—criticisms which range from inflammatory condemnations of Israel to full-on conspiracies about global Jewish media and banking cabals.
The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.
You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.
This “Marshmallow Test,” first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschek at the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.
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 has Trump shown such eagerness to select former military brass for his Cabinet? The reasons may be both pragmatic and political.
Donald Trump didn’t always speak highly of military brass. “I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” he said in fall 2016. “Believe me.” In September, he added, “I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing for our country…. And I can just see the great—as an example—General George Patton spinning in his grave as ISIS we can’t beat.”
But Trump’s disdain had a caveat: “I have great faith in the military. I have great faith in certain of the commanders, certainly.”
These days, he’s leaning toward the second pole. Already, Trump has selected three retired generals for Cabinet-level jobs. On Tuesday, he formally announced that he’s nominating retired Marine General James Mattis as defense secretary. On Wednesday, multiple outlets reported that he has selected John Kelly, another retired Marine general, as secretary of homeland security. Former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn got the nod as national security adviser on November 17.
Americans are optimistic about the communities they live in—but not their nation. Why?
I have been alive for a long time. I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when I was a 10th-grader, and then watching with my family through the grim following days as newscasters said that something had changed forever. The next dozen years were nearly nonstop trauma for the country. More assassinations. Riots in most major cities. All the pain and waste and tragedy of the Vietnam War, and then the public sense of heading into the utterly unknown as, for the first time ever, a president was forced to resign. Americans of my children’s generation can remember the modern wave of shocks and dislocations that started but did not end with the 9/11 attacks.
Through all this time, I have been personally and professionally, and increasingly, an American optimist. The long years I have spent living and working outside the United States have not simply made me more aware of my own strong identity as an American. They have also sharpened my appreciation for the practical ramifications of the American idea. For me this is the belief that through its cycle of struggle and renewal, the United States is in a continual process of becoming a better version of itself. What I have seen directly over the past decade, roughly half in China and much of the rest in reporting trips around the United States, has reinforced my sense that our current era has been another one of painful but remarkable reinvention, in which the United States is doing more than most other societies to position itself, despite technological and economic challenges, for a new era of prosperity, opportunity, and hope.
A unified theory of why political satire is biased toward, and talk radio is biased against, liberals in America.
Soon after Jon Stewart arrived at The Daily Show in 1999, the world around him began to change. First, George W. Bush moved into the White House. Then came 9/11, and YouTube, and the advent of viral videos. Over the years, Stewart and his cohort mastered the very difficult task of sorting through all the news quickly and turning it around into biting, relevant satire that worked both for television and the Internet.
Now, as Stewart prepares to leave the show, the brand of comedy he helped invent is stronger than ever. Stephen Colbert is getting ready to bring his deadpan smirk to The Late Show. Bill Maher is continuing to provoke pundits and politicians with his blunt punch lines. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is about to celebrate the end of a wildly popular first year. Stewart has yet to announce his post-Daily Show plans, but even if he retires, the genre seems more than capable of carrying on without him.
To many white Trump voters, the problem wasn’t her economic stance, but the larger vision—a multi-ethnic social democracy—that it was a part of.
Perhaps the clearest takeaway from the November election for many liberals is that Hillary Clinton lost because she ignored the working class.
In the days after her shocking loss, Democrats complained that Clinton had no jobs agenda. A widely shared essay in The Nationblamed Clinton's "neoliberalism" for abandoning the voters who swung the election. “I come from the white working class,” Bernie Sanders said on CBS This Morning, “and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to where I came from.”
But here is the troubling reality for civically minded liberals looking to justify their preferred strategies: Hillary Clinton talked about the working class, middle class jobs, and the dignity of work constantly. And she still lost.
Now there’s another chance. Here’s Trump, meeting with Al Gore. Here’s Trump, saying maybe torture isn’t a tremendous idea. Here’s Trump, telling Time that he wants to find an accommodation for DREAMers, the unauthorized immigrants brought here as children and raised in the United States.
So with an eye toward recent history, here’s some advice: Don’t be tempted.
Take the Gore meeting. There’s no good way to know what motivated the summit, which was arranged by Ivanka Trump. Gore gave a tight-lipped statement when he emerged. Whatever the point of the meeting, as Robinson Meyer notes, the balance of Trump’s statements and his concrete actions on climate change point in a clear direction. There are his repeated claims that climate change is a Chinese hoax, and there is his appointment of Myron Ebell, an outright denier of global warming, to head his EPA transition team.