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.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, and much more.
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, cosplay in Paris, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, a train wreck in Pakistan, an airshow over St. Petersburg, Russia, and much more.
“I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants.”
If the U.S. and Iran conclude a nuclear deal next week, the Islamic Republic stands to gain billions of dollars in eventual sanctions relief. But money isn’t the most important reason the Iranian leadership may be set to shake hands with its historic enemy after 18 months of negotiations.
“One of the most important reasons Iran is signing this deal, in my opinion ... is not actually sanctions,” said Vali Nasr, the dean of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “It’s ISIS. There is actually support for this deal within the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, because their day job is right now fighting ISIS, and they need the United States, particularly in Iraq, on the right side of that fight.”
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.