While most of Washington was focused on the White House “Health Care Summit” on February 25, something far more interesting was underway on Capitol Hill. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee showed up to work that day to find that a new provision—the “Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Interrogations Prohibitions Act”—had been inserted in the bill that funds U.S. intelligence activities for 2010.
The 11-page amendment may have sounded inoffensive. But three things gave the game away: the sponsor (Representative Jim McDermott, who accepted a prewar trip to Iraq financed by Saddam Hussein’s regime in order to rail against the United States); the method of inclusion (it was literally inserted overnight without one minute of debate in a “manager’s amendment” that is attached to the bill without a separate vote); and the plain language of the provision.
It seems that McDermott, and the congressional Democratic leaders who assented to sneaking it in, are not satisfied with President Barack Obama’s ban on enhanced interrogation techniques or the executive order he issued limiting interrogators to techniques in the Army Field Manual. There is very little good to say about Obama’s moral preening on interrogations. It’s clear from a variety of declassified materials released over the past year that the use of enhanced interrogations during the two Bush administrations prevented terrorist attacks and saved lives.
But at least Obama’s directive was transparent and signed in front of cameras with the whole world watching. And the president didn’t specify prison sentences for interrogators who may want to test the bounds of the Army Field Manual. The McDermott amendment, by contrast, was an underhanded attempt to criminalize all sorts of interrogation techniques that fall well short of torture. Congressional Democrats wanted to make it easier for prosecutors to target intelligence professionals. Period.
So they sought to ban “prolonged isolation.” What does that mean? Two hours? Ten? Twenty? Who knows?
And what about the ban on “depriving the individual of necessary food, water, sleep or medical care?” How much sleep is “necessary”? And “necessary” for what? If an intelligence professional is questioning a detainee and the prisoner says he’s tired, will the interrogation have to be suspended? Who decides?
Also banned: Placing hoods on detainees for any reason. But the use of hoods is sometimes crucial to the safe transportation of hard core terrorists.
The contemplated punishment for such supposed transgressions ranged from a stiff fine and jail time to a sentence of life in prison. Would any CIA director allow his personnel to interrogate detainees under these rules? Unlikely.
The bottom line: The same political party that has taken more than a year to establish an interrogation group to question high-value al Qaeda detainees is stepping up its efforts to target the men and women we pay to protect us from those terrorists.
After strong denunciations from Michigan’s Pete Hoekstra and other members, the amendment was pulled. The White House sought to distance itself from congressional Democrats. Tellingly, the White House objected not so much to the content of the McDermott amendment but to its
encroachment on prerogatives of the executive branch. Dick Cheney lives.
Stiffing the Falklands
The Scrapbook has a word of advice for our European friends: Be careful what you wish for. Case in point: Barack Obama. Since he was sworn into office last year, to worldwide acclaim, the 44th president of the United States has shown an astonishing predilection for cultivating our enemies (Iran, North Korea, Venezuela), appeasing the Putin regime in Russia, the People’s Republic of China, and the Assad kleptocracy in Syria, and throwing our friends and allies (Poland, the Czech Republic, Honduras, NATO, Israel, the G‑8, India, Germany, Italy, etc.) under the bus, or giving them the back of his hand—choose your metaphor.
The latest example is the State Department’s pronouncement that the United States is strictly neutral on the question of British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. “We are aware not only of the current situation,” says a Department spokesman, “but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality. The U.S. recognizes the de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.”
This not-so-rare instance of State Department bumptiousness is guaranteed not only to infuriate all sides in the British polity, but also to leave the inhabitants of the Falklands feeling a little nervous. After all, the “history” to which State eludes is the 1982 invasion by the brutal Argentine junta, and the “current situation” is the combination of threatening noises from Argentina’s latest ruler—the erratic leftist Cristina Kirchner—and her best buddy in the hemisphere, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez. In The Scrapbook’s view, by pointedly refusing to support the British in this instance, the Obama administration is effectively siding with the unstable/hostile Kirchner regime and with Chávez.
The Falklands, it is true, are a collection of rocky, windswept islands in the south Atlantic populated largely by sheep and sheep farmers. But while Argentina lays claim to the Falklands, it has been under British sovereignty since the early 19th century, and the inhabitants of the Falklands have always made it overwhelmingly clear that they wish to remain British, not Argentine. Now that Kirchner and Chávez know that Barack Obama has washed his hands of this one, it is entirely possible that the Falklands war of 28 years ago could be repeated.
The Scrapbook has a theory about this. People used to wonder about Bill Clinton’s tilt toward Gerry Adams and the IRA, and against the British, on Northern Ireland. But Clinton was a student at Oxford when the Troubles erupted (1968-70), and good leftists in those days tended to side with the IRA terrorists and against Great Britain. In April 1982, when the Argentine junta attacked the Falklands, Barry Obama was finishing up his junior year at Columbia, and once again, good leftists in those days sided with the Argentine generals against Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.
American foreign policy, in other words, might well be held hostage in certain places to the youthful enthusiasms of our left-leaning presidents. This is only a theory, of course. But for the English-speaking, democratic-minded farmers in the Falkland Islands, as well as for our traditional allies around the world, let’s hope its application is limited.
Welcome the ‘Jewish Review of Books’
We interrupt this Scrapbook to bring you a public service announcement from our boss, William Kristol, to whom we defer on matters Jewish:
The Weekly Standard is happy to welcome a new kid on the magazine block, the Jewish Review of Books, a print and web publication for serious readers with Jewish interests, covering new (and some old) books about religion, literature, culture, and politics.
The first issue’s just out, and it’s pretty spectacular (jewishreviewofbooks.com). In it you’ll find articles that are high quality and thought provoking, engaging and unpredictable, lively and deep. Particularly striking in the first issue, I thought, was Hillel Halkin’s brilliant reflection on the Jewish prayer book, using as its occasion the publication of the new Koren Sacks Siddur. It’s an essay that will be of great interest not just to observant and non-
observant Jews, but really to anyone who’s puzzled about the question of prayer.
Also fascinating are Michael Weingrad’s “Why There is No Jewish Narnia,” Allan Arkush on Zionism, and Jon Levenson on the idea of Abrahamic religion—all great stuff.
A word for non-Jews: Don’t be intimidated by the journal’s title; take a look. As for my fellow Jews—if I may be presumptuous—you really have no excuse not to read it, and subscribe. So do so!
Despite last week’s decision by New York governor David Paterson not to seek reelection amid a brewing scandal (Paterson intervened on behalf of an aide accused of domestic violence), this doesn’t mean the race will be a cakewalk for the presumed frontrunner, Andrew Cuomo. For standing in the way of the popular state attorney general (who has yet to formally announce) is Kristin Davis, who herself has a full understanding of the demands of the job. Known as the Manhattan Madam, Davis provided the call girls who fulfilled the various needs of former governor Eliot Spitzer.
According to a press release, “Davis will announce her intention to petition her way onto the ballot and will outline her platform,” which includes, among other things, “legalization, regulation, and taxation of prostitution and marijuana to generate urgently needed new revenues for New York State.” At least she has her priorities straight.
The Scrapbook wishes her the best of luck. But we can only guess what Davis’s campaign slogan will be: “Get Your Money’s Worth”? “Time Is On My Side”? Or perhaps something more selfless like “Serving the People of New York One Hour at a Time”?
We Didn’t Finish
"From the very beginning of the U.S. intervention in Iraq and the effort to build some kind of democracy there, a simple but gnawing question has lurked in the background: Was Iraq the way Iraq was (a dictatorship) because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq was the way Iraq was—a collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist? Alas . . . ” (Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, February 24).