Adam Serwer

NYT Responds To Torture Study.

Michael Calderone talks to The New York Times about that torture study , pretty much vindicating what I wrote yesterday: However, the Times acknowledged that political circumstances did play a role in the paper's usage calls. “As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture,” a Times spokesman said in a statement. “When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves. Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and in American tradition as a form of torture.” The Times spokesman added that outside of the news pages, editorials and columnists “regard waterboarding as torture and believe that it fits all of the moral and legal definitions of torture.” He continued: “So that's what...

In Semi-Defense Of Godwin's Law.

Kevin Drum and Glenn Greenwald both say it's time to repeal Godwin's Law. Drum calls it "an endlessly tiresome way of feigning moral indignation," and Greenwald says, "The very notion that a major 20th Century event like German aggression is off-limits in political discussions is both arbitrary and anti-intellectual in the extreme." Greenwald writes : There simply are instances where such comparisons uniquely illuminate important truths -- recall, for example, Andrew Sullivan 's consequential discovery of the stark similarities between the Bush / Cheney and Gestapo "enhanced interrogation" program, both the tactics and "justifications" -- and to demand that German crimes be treated as sacred and unmentionable is to deprive our discourse of critical truths. As someone who thinks we should try to avoid inappropriate Nazi comparisons as well as those involving more obscure historical atrocities, I felt compelled to defend it. Godwin's Law is: "As an online discussion grows longer, the...

Gates Redux.

I want to take a brief moment to go back to that independent panel review that concluded both Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley missed opportunities to ratchet down the tension before Gates was arrested. Roughly, here's the sequence of events: The Cambridge police respond to a possible break in. Crowley and Gates talk, Gates provides his personal and university identification, but implies Crowley is treating him poorly because he is black. Crowley turns to leave. An angry Gates follows Crowley outside, demanding Crowley's name and badge number. Crowley says he attempts to give it to Gates, but Gates is yelling too loudly at him. Crowley arrests him on his own porch for disorderly conduct. Yesterday I described the idea that both men were equally at fault as strenuously even-handed, but it's worth reiterating -- the report essentially takes as a given the idea that a police officer can arrest you in your own home, not because you've committed a crime but because...

AQ Magazine.

Spencer Ackerman writes about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's latest venture, which is apparently a print magazine: The magazine itself has a hefty feature well, reports The Atlantic ’s Marc Ambinder , consistent with what any ambitious editor would want to see in a rollout issue. Osama bin Laden himself offers his thoughts on “How to Save the World”: blow stuff up when people disagree with you about what’s Islamic! His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri shares his insights on what’s going down in Yemen. But the anchor is a message from Anwar al-Awlaki , the New Mexico-born preacher who’s become al-Qaeda’s biggest draw as an online propagandist. So much so that the Obama administration reserves unto itself the right to kill Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, without due process of law. And then there are some promising front-of-the-book experiments. “What to Expect in Jihad” is self-explanatory. “The AQ Chef” gives you a step-by-step on “How To Make A Bomb In The Kitchen Of Your Mom.” And that...

Cucinelli And Equal Protection.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli , who has been engaging one culture-war issue after another since he came into office, says he doesn't think the 14th Amendment grants equal protection to gays and lesbians, arguing that "frankly, the category of sexual orientation would never have been contemplated by the people who wrote and voted for and passed the 14th Amendment.” Igor Volksy explains that there's something called "precedent" involved here: In 1996’s Romer v. Evans the court ruled that a Colorado law called Amendment 2, which rescinded recently anti-discrimination measures, violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause because animus towards a certain group of people does not constitute “a legitimate governmental purpose.” There are some very smart originalists. But I'm actually convinced that the reason it appeals to some people is that they think they don't have to read as much.

CENTCOM Red Team Contemplates "Materially Supporting Terrorism."

Spencer Ackerman and Gregg Carlstrom both have interesting thoughts on this Mark Perry piece , which includes a "Red Team" group of intelligence officers in CENTCOM engaging in a strategic exercise in which they make pretty clear distinctions between groups like Hamas and Hezbollah on the one hand, and al-Qaeda on the other: Among its other findings, the five-page report calls for the integration of Hizballah into the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Hamas into the Palestinian security forces led by Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas . The Red Team's conclusion, expressed in the final sentence of the executive summary, is perhaps its most controversial finding: "The U.S. role of assistance to an integrated Lebanese defense force that includes Hizballah; and the continued training of Palestinian security forces in a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas in its government, would be more effective than providing assistance to entities -- the government of...

The Kagan Hearings Have Been Substantive.

I know I'm in the minority here, but Elena Kagan 's confirmation hearing has been the most substantive and interesting since the Clinton administration. The last three confirmation hearings have been marred by disingenuousness -- whether it was John Roberts with his facile "balls and strikes" metaphor, Samuel Alito playing up his empathy for immigrants, or Sonia Sotomayor being forced to resort to platitudes in the face of implacable racialized hostility by her questioners. Maybe "better than the last three confirmation hearings" is a low bar, but there's no question that it's been met. Kagan, because she's aroused much less hostility from everyone but Sen. Jeff Sessions , has been able to provide an alternative legal philosophy from that espoused by Roberts. The metaphor might suggest to some people that law is a kind of robotic enterprise. That there’s a kind of automatic quality to it. That it’s easy. That we just sort of stand there, and we go “ball” and “strike” and everything is...

Fallout.

Wonder Woman gets a new uniform. Need to overturn a legal precedent? Sprinkle some Brown on it. The Last Airbender is going to suck . The Haqqanis and al-Qaeda. Tom Periello wants to be re-elected. The ACLU announces its plans to challenge the no-fly list. Day three is over.

When Is Torture Not Torture?

When journalistic conventions of evenhandedness get involved. Glenn Greenwald points to a study from the Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard showing that news outlets referred to waterboarding as "torture" in stories in which other countries used the technique but not in stories when the U.S. government used it (jpeg of chart borrowed from Kevin Drum ): In the NY Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the U.S. using waterboarding against an individual called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture. Yet when the U.S. was the perpetrator, only 7.69% (16 of 208) articles said or implied that waterboarding was torture. Just 0.8% of the articles (1 of 133) dealing with the War on Terror where the U.S. was the perpetrator said or implied that waterboarding was torture. The LA Times follows a similar pattern of avoiding the label of torture when the U.S. is responsible for using waterboarding. In articles that considered other countries using...

About Those Minority Witnesses.

My old colleague at the Columbia School of Journalism, Adam Weinstein , has a great piece up at Mother Jones looking at the military witnesses the GOP has called to the Kagan hearings. A taste: There's also Flagg Youngblood , a Yale grad who has complained on the talk-show circuit about the unjust hardship of attending ROTC drills on another college campus, 70 miles away, when Yale shuttered its military cadre over the service's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly. (What Youngblood has failed to mention, though, is that his university provides free transportation to the military evolutions, and his ROTC scholarship subsidized 100 percent of his Ivy League education.) He now works full-time as a military outreach coordinator for the conservative Young America's Foundation (YAF), whose treasurer is a former RNC deputy chairman and a key player in the creation of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth . Youngblood's views on Kagan are well-known: He's...

In Which I Describe, But Do Not Knock, The Hustle.

Yesterday I went on The Ed Show , which is being guest hosted this week by The Nation 's Chris Hayes (who is doing a really incredible job) opposite the terribly smart Reihan Salam of National Review , discussing financial reform and Social Security. I'm assuming at some point this week they'll call Tim Fernholz on to discuss felony voter disenfranchisement and enhanced interrogation techniques. Visit msnbc.com for breaking news , world news , and news about the economy I want to take a second to talk about this experience, because I think it's instructive on the uselessness of the two-minute debate format. Last week I was contacted by NBC, told Chris was hosting, and asked if I wanted to be on the show next Tuesday. I said sure. Yesterday afternoon I was told what the topics would be -- FinReg, Social Security, and Democrats trying to get incriminating videos of Republicans. Knowing that these weren't really my areas of expertise, I asked Tim, who has some chops on these issues , if...

Back To Gates.

An independent review panel put together by the Cambridge police to examine the incident last year in which Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his own home for disorderly conduct by Sgt. James Crowley is complete : The situation at Gates' home quickly escalated when it shouldn't have, according to the review put together by a 12-member panel assembled in September. No one on the panel had direct ties to the Cambridge Police Department. The report suggests that Crowley could have more clearly explained what he was doing and why he was doing it, especially after being shown Gates' license and university ID. For his part, Gates could have used a more respectful tone to address the officer. This seems strenuously even-handed. Being "disrespectful" to police in your own home, even if you're cooperating with an inquiry, is now grounds for arrest?

Kagan: A Liberal By Another Name.

The conventional wisdom is that the Elena Kagan hearings are a bit of a snoozefest. People complain that the process is useless because nominees refuse to disclose how they might rule on particular cases. In fact, in terms of divining Kagan's legal philosophy, the hearings have been quite instructive. Kagan has been rather forthcoming about her legal philosophy, and it's one people should recognize, because it's similar to the political philosophy claimed by the president. When asked directly, Kagan responded, " I have no grand theory of constitutional interpretation. I am more pragmatic. " This in fact is a "grand theory of constitutional interpretation"; the defining feature is that it pretends not to be a grand theory of constitutional interpretation. The hearings will continue, and both sides will press their ideological arguments, but the hearings have, for the most part, already achieved their purpose. When asked about the role of "original intent" in interpreting the...

Fallout.

Spencer Ackerman , reporting from the Danger Room, says Gen. David Petraeus is having a hard time convincing Republicans he's OK with a 2011 Afghanistan drawdown date. Russ Feingold is WRONG on the internet FinReg. The Walking Dead TV show will not preempt The Walking Dead comic book. Cheering the Confederacy while criticizing the KKK is awkward . Gene Demby is on my turf now. Chris Hayes is subbing for Ed Shultz on MSNBC; I'll be on around 6:30 this evening.

Breitbart's Journolist Reward.

Andrew Breitbart has offered a hundred grand for the entire Journolist archives, the now-defunct off-the-record e-mail list of center-left-leaning policy wonks and journalists that led to Dave Weigel leaving The Washington Post . The only person who could likely fulfill that request is Ezra Klein -- since the archive has been deleted, all that's left is what people haven't removed from their inboxes, and even then, that's premised on the possibility that Ezra never deleted anything. Anyone else would only be able to offer the e-mails they were sent after they joined. If Breitbart does succeed at getting some substantial portion of the list, he's going to be terribly disappointed with all the threads about Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen , wonky arguments over health care and Social Security, disagreements over whether Italy's victory in the 1934 World Cup was tainted by Benito Mussolini 's interference, and inside jokes about obscure sub-genres of East Asian art. There was no message...

Pages