As Congress has debated legislation that would set up military tribunals and govern the questioning of suspected terrorists (whom the Bush administration would like to be able to detain indefinitely), at issue has been what interrogation techniques can be employed and whether information obtained during torture can be used against those deemed unlawful enemy combatants. One interrogation practice central to this debate is waterboarding. It's usually described in the media in a matter-of-fact manner. The Washington Post simply referred to waterboarding a few days ago as an interrogation measure that "simulates drowning." But what does waterboarding look like?
Below are photographs taken by Jonah Blank last month at Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The prison is now a museum that documents Khymer Rouge atrocities. Blank, an anthropologist and former Senior Editor of US News & World Report, is author of the books Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God and Mullahs on the Mainframe.
He is a professorial lecturer at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and has taught at Harvard and Georgetown. He currently is a foreign policy adviser to the Democratic staff in the Senate, but the views expressed here are his own observations.
His photos show one of the actual waterboards used by the Khymer Rouge.
Here's the first:
Here's another view:
How were they used? Here's a painting by a former prisoner that shows the waterboard in action:
In an email to me, Blank explained the significance of the photos. He wrote:
Finally, after two-and-a-half years, George W. Bush has demonstrated that he -- or, that is, his speechwriters -- is not completely out of touch with reality regarding Iraq.
In yet another Big Speech on Iraq -- delivered at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland -- Bush recognized that the insurgency in Iraq encompasses more than "terrorists" linked to al Qaeda. In speech after speech in recent months, Bush and Dick Cheney have sold their war in Iraq as an us-versus-them confrontation between the United States and "terrorists" who want to destroy America. They regularly misrepresented the insurgency, refusing to acknowledge that it was mostly a homegrown rebellion composed of Sunni Arabs, some of whom are former Baathists looking to regain power, some of whom are fighting out of sectarian motivation. (This gang, while certainly anti-American cares more about gaining power in Iraq than annihilating Cincinnati.) Bush and Cheney talked about the war in Iraq as only a black-and-white showdown between US troops and al Qaeda-ish terrorists.
But at the Naval Academy, Bush presented a less comic-bookish analysis of the war. He conceded that the insurgency has been made up of Sunni Arab rejectionists, Saddamists, and terrorists. And he said the largest element in the insurgency is the Sunni Arabs. The terrorists, he said, are the smallest but most lethal slice of the insurgency. Here was the president at long last characterizing the insurgency in an accurate fashion. That's a good sign. After all, how can you win a war if you don't know who or what you're fighting?
Still, belatedly defining the enemy properly should not be considered a major accomplishment for a commander in chief who launched an elective war to neutralize a supposed immediate threat (Saddam Hussein harboring stockpiles of WMDs, building nuclear weapons, and plotting with al Qaeda) that did not exist. So Bush in his speech maintained that the effort to stand up Iraqi security forces is proceeding well. Speaking beneath a sign that declared, "Plan for Victory" (what happened to "Mission Accomplished"?), Bush threw out statistics illustrating progress in this area. He quoted US and Iraqi military officers saying that the Iraqis are increasingly able to handle security responsibilities.
But the Bush administration has attempted to prop up support for the war with impressive-sounding but not reality-based figures before. As former CIA analyst Larry Johnson noted yesterday:
I advise all students of political speech to read the transcript of the press briefing conducted by White House press secretary Scott McClellan on Monday. It was a smorgasbord of stonewalling. He entered the White House press room at 1:00 p.m., his eyes darting about, and started off by reading a statement from President Bush on the tenth anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica.
Then the subject changed. Rather abruptly. Reporter after reporter asked McClellan about Karl Rove and the news -- broken by Michael Isikoff of Newsweek -- of a July 11, 2003 email written by Time's Matt Cooper that noted that Cooper had spoken to Rove on "double super secret background" and that Rove had told him that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's "wifeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ apparently works at the agency on wmd issues." The email is proof that Rove leaked to a reporter information revealing the CIA employment of Valerie Plame (a.k.a. Valerie Wilson).
This puts Rove and the White House in a pickle. Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, says that Rove did not mention Valerie Wilson's name to Cooper. But this is a rather thin defense. (I explain why here, and I also note why George W. Bush, if he takes his own rhetoric seriously, has no choice but to dismiss Rove.) But legal and criminal difficulties aside, the email is undeniable evidence that Rove leaked national security information to a journalist to discredit a critic (Joseph Wilson). How does that square with White House policy as it has been previously stated? Well, it doesn't. And the journalists in the White House press room knew that. Many had a list of previous McClellan statements at the ready. I was there, and I had a list, too. Here are some of the past White House statements I had collected.
On September 29, 2003, Scott McClellan said of the leak (which first appeared in a Bob Novak column on July 14, 2003):
You have a rather funny way of doing business.
That's the one-line email I sent to Jennifer Nix, editor-at-large of Chelsea Green Publishing, last week. And I never heard back from her.
What prompted my note to her was a piece she wrote for AlterNet that chided Michael Moore, Al Franken, Amy Goodman and me for having published our books with corporate publishers. The article, entitled "Sleeping with the Enemy," was billed as "the opening salvo at the company's soon-to-be-launched weblog." I was tempted to ignore her acting-out article. But it received some pickup on other sites. So allow me to reply.
Nix started her piece this way:
I've got an invitation for all progressive authors out there.
How about putting your money and ideas where your mouths are? Why not work with independent book publishers to share with the public your thoughts about progressive politics, social justice, sustainability and media reform ... instead of lining the pockets of the corporate publishers (and ultimately the five or ten rich white men who control nearly every media message we read and hear in the U.S. today).
Well, I have an invitation for Nix. How about approaching potential colleagues in a reasonable fashion – rather than attacking them – if you want to run a successful progressive-minded business?
She goes on:
I'd like to ask Amy Goodman why she published her last book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media that Love Them, with Disney-owned Hyperion.
Michael Moore: What possessed you to make money for Rupert Murdoch by publishing your book, Stupid White Men, with ReganBooks/HarperCollins, and to then go to AOL/Time Warner's Warner Books with Dude! Where's My Country?, before jumping to a third corporate ship, Viacom's Simon & Schuster, to publish your latest offering, Will They Ever Trust Us Again?
David Corn: When you were underscoring the media's role in spreading W.'s deceptions, in The Lies of George W. Bush, why did you choose not only to go with a corporate-owned publisher, but with Crown – for years now, a member of the German-owned Bertelsmann AG conglomerate, which helped to spread anti-Semitic literature and Nazi propaganda in the years leading up to and during WWII?
Al Franken: When publishing Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, why did you make money for Dutton, a cog in the wheel of British-owned media giant Pearson, rather than help to reform American media by making a commitment to and money for an independent American publisher? And, finally, I really hate to point out to populist Jim Hightower that he, too, made money for that same Brit media giant, by going with another of Pearson's holdings, Viking, when he published his latest book, Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush.
Come on, people. Is it all about the big advances? Hear this: a big advance does not a bestseller make. It should be about how many people buy your book.
Pardon the royalties out of me. But advances do matter – at least to me. Unlike Moore and Franken, I am not a millionaire. (I am assuming they are, and they better be, given the sales of their books and movies.) I have worked for 18 years (yikes!) at The Nation, making a salary well below my peers in mainstream journalism. (I have also written for AlterNet, which hardly pays Vanity Fair rates.) I have two small daughters. To complete The Lies of George W. Bush in nine months (while still working my day job), I had to take time away from my family. My hard-working wife picked up plenty of slack. The only way I could justify such a project was to guarantee it made economic sense for my family.
That meant being sure I would be well paid for these stress-inducing efforts. An advance against future royalties achieves that. If I had embarked on such a project with no advance – or a low advance – I would have been taking a rather large risk. I would have had to count upon the publisher to sell many books. And I would have had to assume (or hope) that no unforeseen events would derail my book. Let's say an anti-Bush book had been scheduled to come out on Sept. 18, 2001. It would have been subsumed. There would be no sales and, thus, no royalties for the author. If the author of that book had not received an advance, he or she would (in a financial sense) have wasted his or her time. By taking an advance, I and other authors pass the economic risk on to the corporate publisher. Would you work for a year – or years – on a project for little or no money, just hoping that when it is done the stars will line up right and you will be able to make money off the sales? For some people, that might be an appropriate course of action. Well-off authors (the few, the proud) could afford to do so. First-time authors, who are driven to be published, might have no other choice. But those of us in between have to consider other steps.
And while I am at it, let me confess that for years I drove a used Volkswagen. No doubt, Nix disapproves of purchasing vehicles made by a firm with historic links to the Nazi regime. (Now, I am happy to inform her, I ride about in a car from the pacific land of northern Europe.)
Nix claims that her firm knows how to turn a book into a bestseller, pointing to the success it had with George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, which did hit the best-sellers chart. At the time I started work on my book, Nix's house had no track record in turning a political book into a bestseller. And who knows if it can do so again? Suggesting that it's a breeze for an indy and lefty publisher to produce a bestseller, she cites MoveOn's 50 Ways to Love Your Country, which was published by Inner Ocean. I am not impressed by that example. That's no reflection upon MoveOn. I credit the group for being a success story of modern-day political organizing. But if an outfit with nearly 2 million highly committed members cannot produce a book, market it aggressively to its membership, and then land that book on the best-seller list, it is rather inept. (A book can hit the best-seller lists by selling several thousand copies a week.) By the way, when my book came out, I approached MoveOn and asked if it would send out an e-mail to its members notifying them of the existence of my book and other anti-Bush books. I was turned down. The explanation: that would be too commercial an act. Fair enough. But that concern did not stop MoveOn from later pushing ticket sales for Fahrenheit 9/11.
Nix is not so pure herself. She was a staff writer for Variety, which is owned by a gigantic, transnational corporation run by – can you believe this? – a host of white guys. (Was it wrong for her to cover the all-important showbiz world in order to enrich these fellows? Why was she not running a bilingual newsletter for immigrant farmworkers?) She also worked for NPR, a lovely outfit but one that accepts donations from rapacious corporations attempting to enhance their images in order to preserve their hold on the global economy.
Don't get me wrong. I would be delighted to work with an indy house if an appropriate deal could be arranged. And I wish my friends at AlterNet success with the book they are publishing with Nix. But the fact that Nix chose to whack me – without apparently knowing anything about my situation and my needs as an author – leads me to believe she lacks the business sense I would look for in a publisher, corporate or independent.
This past Saturday I was in the green room in the Reuters television studio overlooking Times Square, waiting with others to appear on the Dutch equivalent of Nightline, and it felt like my heart was going to explode. I was staring at Cathy Heighter. Her 21-year-old son Raheen, an Army private, was killed when a convoy in which he was riding outside Baghdad was attacked. Sitting across the room from Heighter was Ivan Medina, a 23-year-old veteran who served in Iraq. His twin brother, Irving, an Army specialist, was killed in Baghdad when his convoy struck an improvised explosive device. I tried to envision their sense of loss. Medina, a co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, handed me a business card that had on it his brother's photograph and an American flag. Heighter offered me a magnet bearing the image of her son and the address for a scholarship fund created to honor him. It was not possible to fathom fully their bottomless grief.
In the room and the adjoining hallway, other guests milled. I spotted Dan Senor, the former spokesman for the U.S. authority in Iraq. There was a Republican lawyer who spins for the White House. There was a member of the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Vets outfit that was spending millions of dollars on attack ads against John Kerry in order to keep George W. Bush in office. All in one setting: the victims of George Bush and Bush's lieutenants – there to discuss calmly and reasonably the war in Iraq and the upcoming U.S. election. I wanted to scream.
Before me was one price of Bush's war in Iraq – or 0.18 percent of it. I did the math, multiplying the suffering in this room by the tens of thousands of relatives and friends of Americans whose lives ended too early in Iraq. I added in the pain and misery of those wounded in Iraq and their families. And none of this included the suffering on the Iraqi side. In terms of past wars, the number of killed and wounded U.S. troops in Iraq has not loomed large, but the collective grief I was imagining seemed overwhelming.
If Bush had been in the room, I would have had the strong urge to throttle him and ask, "Was it absolutely, 100 percent, without any doubt, necessary for these people to lose their loved ones?" Before the invasion, Bush said the primary reason for war was to address the "direct," "immediate" and "gathering" threat Saddam Hussein's regime presented. And Iraq was such a threat, Bush asserted, because it possessed biological and chemical weapons and a revived nuclear weapons program and because it was "dealing" with Al Qaeda. None of that has proven true. The Duelfer report concludes that Hussein had neither WMDs nor any active WMD programs (and that Hussein's WMD programs were in a state of decay – that is, de-gathering). The 9/11 Commission and the CIA found no evidence of an operational relationship between Hussein's government and Al Qaeda. There was no pressing threat that required a war. There was plenty of time to pursue other options. In fact, the inspections and sanctions had worked. These days, Bush hails the war in Iraq as an essential part of an overall crusade to bring democracy and freedom to the Middle East. But that is not how he sold the invasion originally. The main reason for which those two men – and others – have died was bunk. Bush failed the most solemn obligation of his office: to order men and women to their death for good cause and only if there is no other choice.
I confess: I find it increasingly difficult to be civil about this. I certainly can argue politely and passionately with conservatives about welfare reform, school choice, faith-based initiatives, tax cuts, antiballistic missile defense. I can see how people of good faith might disagree in good faith over these contentious issues. But I am losing my patience with anyone who refuses to acknowledge that Raheen Heighter, Irving Medina and many others died under George Bush's false pretenses. And given that the war in Iraq was indeed an elective war, I want to grab advocates of the war by the lapel and say, "Unless you're willing to put your butt – or that of a precious son or daughter – in an unreinforced Humvee in Iraq, why should anyone die for your and Bush's assertion that the war in Iraq is essential for America's safety?"
What compounds the ill will I feel for Bush and the war-backers is the manner in which Bush discusses the war while campaigning. Rather than strive for a high-minded and somber debate about the most critical issue of the campaign, he has resorted to cheap shots and derision. He blasts Kerry for advocating "pessimism and retreat" and for considering terrorism a "nuisance." when Kerry merely said is that it would be desirable to reach a day when terrorism is nothing more than a "nuisance." (That sounds like a decent goal, particularly when Bush says, "Whether or not we can be ever fully safe is – you know – is up in the air.") Bush claims Kerry would submit U.S. national security decisions to other nations for a veto. At a campaign rally on Monday, he declared that Kerry "believes that instead of leading with confidence, America must submit to what he calls a global test. I'm not making that up....That means our country must get permission from foreign capitals before we act in our own self-defense." That is not what Kerry has said. He has explicitly stated he would not allow other governments to block actions he deemed necessary. But he did say that if a U.S. president orders a pre-emptive strike, he ought to do so for a reason that is compelling enough to convince the American public and people abroad. Bush responds to that with mockery based on a falsehood.
Bush has belittled any discussion of the war that is not black and white. For example, he attacked Kerry foreign policy adviser Richard Holbrooke, a former UN ambassador, for saying "We're not in a war on terror in a literal sense" and for calling the so-called war on terrorism a "metaphor" like the war on poverty. "Confusing food programs with terrorist killings reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the war we face," Bush exclaimed, "And that is very dangerous thinking." This is not serious debate about a serious matter: the war in Iraq and the best way to counter the threat of Islamic jihadism. This is a shallow-minded Bush putting politics over all else. Accusing Holbrooke of not knowing the difference between "food programs" and "terrorist killings" – there is a word for that: stupid.
Worse, Bush refuses to acknowledge he sold the war with false information. Even after the Duelfer report was released, Bush insisted Hussein had been a "gathering" threat. And if the mission in Iraq was, as Bush now describes it, "to help Iraq become a free nation in the midst of the greater Middle East," why did he have to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003 – before the inspections process was done, before more of the United States' major allies were recruited for the coalition, before the U.S. troops were fully equipped with body armor and reinforced Humvees, before plans were readied for the post-invasion period and the economic, social, legal, political and security challenges to come?
Bush has not been honest about this war. That means he has not been honest about the immense loss suffered by Cathy Heighter, by Ivan Medina and by thousands of other Americans. What an insult. And those who stand with Bush share in the deceit. They are the masters of war who force others to be their servants of sacrifice. And I appear with them in television studios so we can debate the finer points of the latest developments in Iraq and the so-called war on terrorism. I am not sure if I hate them. But I do despise what they have wrought and what they defend. And I do want to shout – I mean really shout – at them for supporting and enabling the callous miscalculations of a reckless and disingenuous president. But that would make for bad and ineffective television. So I sit politely and wait to have my say, as do Heighter and Medina, and hope that somewhere, somehow, sometime (perhaps even this coming Tuesday) what we say rather than scream – as well as what Heighter and Medina feel – will matter.