Torture is Immoral and doesn’t work

 The New America Foundation and Slate sponsored a fascinating seminar this morning on “Manhunt: From Saddam to bin Laden; What Social Networks Mean for Modern
 The presenters included Colonel Jim Hickey,
Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, U.S. Army that caught Saddam; “Matthew Alexander” (a pseudonym),the Air Force interrogator of the captive who lead to the location and killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq); and Scott Helfstein, PhD, Associate, Combating Terrorism Center, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Sciences, United States Military Academy.

All of them stressed the importance of intelligence and of knowledge of the population in
which the military is operating for the success of counterterrorism/insurgency operations. Thus historical and cultural knowledge and relevant language skills are essential for understanding the population and gaining its trust and cooperation, and thus obtaining useful intelligence. Along with being the best equipped with military hardware, America’s military is one of the best trained. Significant delegation of authority to well-trained field commanders permits flexible reactions to conditions on the ground. I have always been highly impressed by the intelligence and quality of the American military officers I have met and this seminar underscored how critical the human capacity of our military is to its success.

The skills and knowledge needed in the field cannot be trained into or found in one person—a super soldier. Thus collaboration and information sharing among a number of people with different skills is essential. More resources should be devoted to
recruiting and training interpreters, for example. The interagency turf fighting and personality clashes between the Departments of Defense and State in Iraq, for example, undermined our effectiveness there.

Most fascinating for me were the comments by Mr. “Alexander,” whose interrogation of an
al-Zarqawi associate led to Mr. al-Zarqawi’s elimination as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. He expressed frustration that some political demagogues (my words not his) continue to call for “enhanced interrogation” techniques (torture) despite the generally held conclusion by the military (reflected in its field manual on interrogation) and interrogators like himself that such techniques are not effective in obtaining useful information not to mention in violation of the Geneva Conventions to which the U.S. is formally committed. He declared the call for the use of enhanced interrogation methods an insult to the skills of trained interrogators. “Imagine,” he said, “that American solders were told to use poison gases in their attack on the enemy. The suggestion that they could only succeed by violating international standards of warfare would be an insult to their skills.

By the way, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility’s investigation of John Yoo, the drafter of the Justice Department’s memo claiming to justify some forms of torture (sleep deprivation, water boarding, etc) found that he was guilty of “professional
misconduct” with regard to his advise on this matter (which could lead to his disbarment).
Earlier this week, that judgment was softened by the Justice Department’s David Margolis to “poor judgment.” I leave to legal scholars to debate the most appropriate characterization of the legal quality of Mr. Yoo’s conduct of his duties. The sad fact is that his ignorance of the substantive (as opposed to legal and moral) aspects of the subject he was advising on, so called “enhanced interrogation,” has done great harm to the United States. We are seen by much of the rest of the world and by many American’s as violating our treaty commitments and our standards of morality and we have in those limited cases
where such techniques were actually used, diminished our capacity to obtain useful information from interrogation.


Can we avoid a debt crisis?

  The rapidly raising U.S. Federal Government debt will reach levels sometime in the next decade that are not sustainable, yet this and the previous congress and administrations have not seriously addressed it. A conference this morning built around the recommendations of the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform explored approaches to overcoming the political deadlock before it is too late. My op-ed article on the same subject also appeared today in the Daily Caller: Please rate it (the stars at the end of the article) to let them know that you visited the DC? Thanks.


The Mother of all Snowstorms Followed by the Mother of all Snowstorms

Known here as the “Snowmageddon”

A week before Christmas we got 18
inches of snow, an all time record for the month of December. It messed up a
lot of Christmas parties. Most of the snow had melted by January 30 as I packed
for the quarterly Board meeting of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority.
However, another storm that night canceled my Cayman flight and I arrived a day
late in Grand Cayman, missing two subcommittee meetings.

I returned home from Cayman
Thursday evening (Feb 4) to the news that we were expecting the mother of all
snowstorms starting the next day. Friday I called our neighbor and friend Susan
Fiester and told her that we were canceling our plans to meet her in New York
City Saturday to see David Mamet play “Race.”

When I got up around 3:00am
Saturday to visit the bathroom—something older people do—I noticed that the
electricity was off and it was getting chilly in the house. By the time the
snow stopped falling Saturday evening 28 inches had fallen in our area (32
inches were recorded at Dulles Airport across the Potomac in Virginia). These
occasional power outages generally don’t last more than a few hours, but by
Saturday evening power had not been restored and the temperature in the house
continued to fall.

Certain that the power would come
on “any time soon,” we nonetheless buttoned up the beach room, lit a fire in
its fireplace, and moved in. For dinner Ito heated up in the fireplace the beef
chilly he had prepared the day before. We dug out thermal underwear and dragged
down two big feather comforters, played a game of chess, and spent the night on
the sofa and the fold out bed feeding logs to the fire. With no regular
telephone/internet access to the outside world, my Blackberry became a
psychological and practical lifeline. Our neighborhood association President
and other neighbors kept us all up to date on any and all developments (or lack
there of). I husbanded my Blackberry’s battery carefully—“text or email only
please.” One bit of news was that some trees had fallen across our street
further down the hill.

With daybreak we were still without
power and our street, which is the access to and from the outside world for our
community of 64 homes, had not yet been plowed. Susan called from New York,
which had received no snow, and asked if Ito could walk up to her house to
check if her generator had turned on properly and invited us to move in with
her if we still didn’t have power when she returned that evening. On Ito’s way
back from Susan’s, our next-door neighbor Martin grabbed him to join a few
chainsaw-armed neighbors heading down the hill to remove the fallen trees from
the road so that it could be plowed.

As the sun set and we lit the
candles we decided to stick it out another night, certain that the power would
be restored soon. Ito made lentil soap over the fireplace fire. This campfire
routine in our family room was less “special” the second time around, but the
soup tasted good. I read Niall Ferguson’s “The Ascent of Money,” a very
disappointing book, by candlelight and thought of Abraham Lincoln. By morning
(Monday) the huge stack of firewood in the garage that I had expected to last
all winter was down to a dozen logs and we moved to Susan’s. Not only was her
home warm, a very welcomed change for us, but it was also a beautiful sunny
day. The neighborhood association hired someone to plow our streets as the
county plows had given up when they encountered the fallen trees the day
before, so at last we were able to get out if we needed to. We decided to have
dinner in Potomac Village at Renato’s. Our friend Ken walked over from his
cousin’s house near by and joined us. The four of us enjoyed a wonderful
dinner, two bottle of wine, and several hours of Internet access via Starbuck’s
wifi next door until the waiter politely informed us that they were closing.

Tuesday we went grocery shopping to
stock up for the next storm expected to start that evening and dump another
8-12 inches on us. Many of the shelves in Safeway were almost bare. Fearing
they might not get to the remaining items first, some people behaved rudely. It
was quite shocking really. Those waiting in the long checkout lines could
afford to be and were generally more relaxed and philosophical about the
situation. While there we started getting emails from neighbors that their
power had been restored. Hallelujah. We returned home and set the thermostat at
76 degrees.

The storm has had interesting
consequences for our neighborhood. Its members are decent people whose lives
generally revolve around work activities and circles outside our neighborhood.
The cell phone communications brought us closer together, foreshadowing an even
nicer Christmas/Hanukkah/Ramadan/Kwanzaa neighborhood association party next
year. Susan advertised to everyone in the neighborhood via email that she had a
generator and anyone was welcome to stop by and warm up and charge their cell
phones. At the other end of the spectrum, a neighbor at the far end of the main
street who is home alone during these storms had the following conversation
with her neighbor when they walked their dog past her as she shoveled the snow
off her driveway. “You look cold” they said. “I am cold, very cold,” she said,
“I have no heat in the house, not even a fireplace.” “Oh,… we have a generator
and are nice and warm.” Period! End of conversation!! Our friend at the far end
of the street understands that she did not pay twenty to thirty thousand
dollars for a generator while her neighbor did. She understands that our
choices do and need to have consequences. But the inhumanity of her neighbors’
words and attitude shocked her. I know of no magic wisdom or solution for this
or hundreds of similar situations. It is quite proper that they are left to the
individual encounters of our and other neighborhoods, however. They find their
resolutions, if at all, in cultural and moral training and understanding
without which our neighborhoods and communities will be very unpleasant places.

The next storm started slowly on
schedule Tuesday evening and continued all day Wednesday (today) dumping
another 10 inches on us but this time with gusting winds. But the snow is
almost over now and I am hoping that no more trees will fall on power lines, or
roads, or my roof, which is now holding up three feet of snow. So perhaps it is
over. If you never hear from me I again I was wrong.