May 26, 2005

Heard of the "Al Qaeda Training Manual"? For those who are unwilling to accept the fact that some pretty nasty stuff is going on at our gulags rehabilitation centers at G-mo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, the "Al Qaeda Training Manual" (hereafter, the "AQTM", or the "Manual") is what explains why all those terrible allegations about beatings, torture, and Koran-flushing have been made by detainees. You see, the thinking among certain circles in the blogosphere and talk radio (see here, here, here, here, and here) is that the detainees who've been making some of these claims were told what to do and say out of this Al Qaeda playbook (including the detainees who have been released after we concluded they weren't connected to Al Qaeda), so that even though much of the alleged torture was well-documented by our guys (and, in the case of Abu Ghraib, well-photographed), the prisoners are still lying about everything, or at least lying about everything that didn't involve Pvt. England.

Having an hour to kill this afternoon, I decided to read the AQTM, to see how it was that I, Amnesty International, the Red Cross, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and the rest of the MSM had been so completely duped. Let's just say that if I wanted to draft a brief for the defense in this matter, showing that the Koran-flushing tales are little more than an Islamist version of the hippies-spat-on-Vietnam Vets urban legend, the AQTM would probably not be the strongest evidence at my disposal. For one thing, much of the material is clearly dated, as this passage (p. 16) reveals:
The member of the Organization must be Moslem. How can an unbeliever, someone from a revealed religion [Christian, Jew], a secular person, a communist, etc. protect Islam and Moslems and defend their goals and secrets when he does not believe in that religion [Islam]? The Israeli Army requires that a fighter be of the Jewish religion. Likewise, the command leadership in the Afghan and Russian armies requires any one with an officer’s position to be a member of the communist party.
One would hope that our enemies would crack open a newspaper at some point over the past fifteen years, or at least know that their former allies in the Afghani government were not communists. This error is ironic, since later in the AQTM the reader is instructed (pp. 21-2) to avail himself of the benefits of the Free Press:
In order to gather enemy information, the Military Organization can use means such as magazines, publications, periodicals, and official printed matter. Through these means, it is possible to learn about major government events and about the news, meetings, and travel of Presidents, ministers, and commanders.
Thus, it isn't just the violent rhetoric, the apocolyptic attitude, and the bellicose manner that the bloggers of the Right and the jihadists have in common; they also share a parasitic connection to the news media, which they use voraciously (and selectively), all while trying to destroy that very institution. And, assuming the authenticity of the AQTM, both groups apparently have a hard time believing that the Cold War is finally over.

Another interesting fact is that the names "Al Qaeda" and "Osama" never appear anywhere in the manual. In fact, the AQTM seems more consistent with an "old school" terrorist network that concerned itself with the random assasination, kidnapping and spying than on the ambitious program of OBL. There's nothing in the manual that would provide tips on how to get into a flight school, or how to strap enough explosive material onto one's body to blow up the Rose Bowl, or even survival tips for living in caves. Most of is is just common sense advice, such as don't discuss what you're doing with your wife, or don't try to be conspicuous in a crowd.

And a lot of it is quite chilling, too, if one assumes the authenticity of the AQTM, in the same manner that The Anarchists Cookbook isn't an easy read. But unfortunately for the Soft-on-Torture crowd, nowhere in the Manual does it instruct anyone to lie about torture, or to fabricate instances of Koran-abuse. There is a passage (p.16) that instructs prisoners to "...insist on proving that torture was inflicted upon them by State Security [investigators] before the judge," but considering that this was probably written well before 9/11, and was aimed at movements within Arab countries (p.9), such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, where the torture of prisoners would have been the rule, not the exception, this is merely evidence that they should document the pain inflicted upon them for reasons of propoganda, and can hardly be construed as evidence that our accusers are plying misinformation about their treatment.

As it turns out, the Bush Administration is now acknowledging that they did have reports that the Koran had been deliberately mistreated by interrogators. Better luck next time, fellas.
Quickie Trivia: With his release by the Phillies yesterday, the major league career of Jose Offerman is apparently at an end. Assuming that another major league team is not gullible enough to sign him, Offy will go into the record books as the second player in major league history to have homered in both his first, and his final, plate appearances. Who was the first?
Last night's season finale of Alias sure had the feel of a Final Episode Ever, at least up until the last two seconds of the show. The Rambaldi mystery solved, Sloane saving the day by sacrificing his own daughter to save the planet, and the oh-so-cool offing of the Palpitinesque Derevko sister, Elena...all seeming to indicate a valedictory of sorts for the show, which has finally achieved respectable ratings in its fourth season. Then, out of nowhere, the shocking final moment; I doubt that any show has ever thrown in a cliffhanger on such sudden notice, almost as if the producers tossed in the car crash at the last second once they were assured the show was going to be renewed for another season.

I noticed 24 did much the same thing on Monday. The shot of Jack Bauer walking into the sunrise, having been disowned by the government he served and by the woman he loved, officially a non-person; no cliffhanger, just a dangler for the fans in the event the show (or Kiefer S.) didn't return.

May 25, 2005

I think it should go without saying that the agreement to let Owen, Brown and Pryor receive floor votes on their nominations should not be seen as setting a precedent for future Supreme Court nominations. The standard should naturally be higher for the nation's highest court than for the Court of Appeals; a judge whose politics may be acceptable in the context of an appellate court with dozens of sitting judges, and whose decisions are appealable, may be deemed too extreme in the context of a smaller court whose decisions are final and binding. And since one of the three judges (ie., Janice Rogers) may be headed for a defeat before the full Senate, it would hardly behoove the Bushies to interpret the agreement as a license to nominate Clarence Thomas for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

In addition, the agreement to maintain the filibuster against at least two other nominees is evidence that the agreement was based more on political horsetrading than on anything that could be used as binding precedent for the future. William Myers and Henry Saad are no less conservative than the Fortunate Three, and there doesn't appear to be anything in the public record that would indicate that either is personally corrupt. Their exclusion was clearly intended by the Gang of Fourteen to be a signal that the filibuster could be used in certain circumstances against judicial nominees, without defining what those circumstances might be. Pretending that this language ties the hands of any Democratic Senator when it comes to the next Supreme Court nominee reflects the stupid tendency of liberals to find defeat in any compromise.

May 23, 2005

This is not unqualified good news for Democrats. The filibuster remains an option for the future, and it may prevent the rubberstamping of a Clarence Thomas or an Antonin Scalia to the position of Chief Justice. Republican Senators also stood up to the Christian Right on this issue; the long-term ramifications of defying Dr. Dobson and his acolytes will be felt on future nominations. The agreement also affirms the principle that "advice and consent" entails the consultation with members of both parties before nomination, a proviso that Democrats can use in the future to justify any "extraordinary circumstance" triggering a filibuster.

It's also a defeat for Bill Frist, who clearly didn't have the backing of his party's rank-and-file, so that's cool as well. By allowing votes on some of the appellate nominees, the Democrats look reasonable and moderate, while forcing Snowe, Chafee, DeWine, et al., to take a position on the worthiness of Janice Brown and Patricia Owen that is really going to matter; the "threat" of the filibuster allowed them to vote for some of Bush's more extreme picks without fear that their vote would matter, a safety net that at least with some of these picks no longer exists. And lastly, keeping enough Democrats in line on future cloture votes was going to be more difficult than it was last year, when the party had four more Senators, so this deal strengthens Harry Reid enormously.

But the advantage of having a vote on the nuclear option was that if Frist lost, it would effectively act as a vote of confidence on Frist, as well as preventing Bush from stacking the appellate courts with the likes of Janice Brown. If Frist won, it would mean the beginning of the end of the filibuster, which would cause short-term pain for liberals, but as I wrote a week and a half ago, it would also allow the achievement of some wonderful progressive goals in the future. So I guess the best-case scenario would be for Bush to try to nominate some wack-job from Texas or Alabama to the Supreme Court, then have the Senate revisit this issue when more people are paying attention.

May 22, 2005

Smythe sez...Revenge of the Sith wasn't bad at all; better than Return and Clones, and much better than Phantom. What worked: great effects (if you can, see this film on a digital projection screen, or better yet, IMAX); the two Scottish actors (Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid) playing Obi-wan and the Emporer, respectively; the final 45 minutes, which features the slaughter of the Jedi and the emergence of the Empire. What didn't: uninvolving battle scenes; General Grievous; Natalie Portman and Hayden Christenson, neither of whom strikes a true note in their scenes together.

I saw the movie at the multiplex next to Universal Studios, a place I had not visited in awhile. In fact, I can recall the exact date I was last there: October 11, 1998. That was the day my father died. He had slipped into a coma a few days earlier, and it was clear that it was just a matter of time. I think I ended up seeing a movie, then going to Gladstones, a seafood restaurant which is sort of a pretentious version of Red Lobster, to nosh and watch Game 5 of the ALCS, plus whatever assorted football games were playing that Sunday.

Obviously, I wasn't really in the mood for sports that day, so I came home to be with my dad. I held his hand and spoke to him, read him the battlefield speech from Henry V that he loved so much, as well as speeches from Winston Churchill ("Sail on, O Ship of State...") and John L. Lewis ("It ill-behooves those who sup at labor's table...") that always seemed to inspire him. I don't know if he heard me, but I figured it couldn't hurt. He died that evening, in the middle of Game 4 of the NLCS; like Nick Hornby in Fever Pitch, sports play way too important a role in marking the chapters of my life. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think back to that night, nor a week that goes by without a vivid dream about my father.