Ph.D. Octopus

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Archive for the ‘terror/terrorism’ Category

Nuremberg, Eichmann, Bin Laden: Some Thoughts on Justice and Punishment

with 11 comments

by Weiner

I recently listened to this superb debate between Glenn Greenwald and David Frum on the subject of Osama Bin Laden’s death. In terms of policy, I’m far more sympathetic to GG than Frum, even with Frum’s most recent slight turn left. I think GG got the best of this debate, except when the subject of the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials came up. There I sided with Frum.

Greenwald, like many others, argues that the Nuremberg trials (pictured above) represent a highlight in our society’s dedication to the rule of law. Even the most heinous Nazi war criminals were offered a trial, found guilty, and justifiably punished. He also mentioned the Eichmann trial as an example when the Israelis brought a criminal to justice, provided him with a trial, and rendered the correct verdict. He wishes that Americans had been able to do the same with Osama Bin Laden, thinking a trial, guilty verdict, and then meted out punishment. To GG, that would have been a more effective outcome in the “war on terror.”

In this article, Greenwald highlights what he calls “The Osama Bin Laden Exception.” People who normally prefer abiding by the rule of law, but will make an exception in the case of Bin Laden. He points to Jonathan Capeheart’s confession of hypocrisy in this regard, along with John Cole’s similar admission. Greenwald has more respect for this hypocrisy as long as these people own it.

Still, Greenwald disagress with them, and would have preferred a trial. Over on Facebook, Wotty presented a similar view, expressing his preference for:

a legitimate trial where [Osama Bin Laden] then got to spend the rest of his years rotting in prison would have been a sweeter victory over the man and his ideas, though it would have made for fewer screaming frat boys at “Ground Zero.”

I must respectfully disagree with Greenwald and Wotty here, for a number of reasons.

Read the rest of this entry »


Written by David Weinfeld

May 7, 2011 at 08:32

Two Weddings* and a Funeral

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by apini

This has been a pretty dramatic week, between the Royal Wedding, the storms in the South, Obama’s hilarious White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech, and finally, the death of Osama bin Laden.

Did you watch the Royal Wedding?  I missed it, unfortunately, but the CNN coverage I caught afterwards was still great to watch.   The commentary has mostly been fairly bland – journalists seem so thrilled to write about something positive!  Simon Schama wrote a piece about the meaning of the British monarchy in this season of Arab uprisings against monarchs and dictators.  He noted that this dynasty seems pretty harmless and that’s why people are happy to celebrate them, whereas the Arab dictators being overthrown have poor records and dynastic legacies who would be even worse.

What I think is notable is the role of empathy.   A lot of people have had a wedding (or hope to) or have seen friends get married, or family.  It’s a moment that brings joy and that people (want to) relate to.  The wedding being a marriage of monarchs has very little to do with people’s fascination.  You could televise just about anyone’s wedding and if they were good looking and the pomp was enough, that many people might watch.  Particularly if they were well known  (David Beckham, for instance?).

Very few people have been, or want to be, or know someone who is a monarch, however.  Or a dictator.  Or an international terrorist.  So I suppose it’s not surprising that people in other countries are generally less moved by their overthrow or death.  Except that people seem to be very moved by the death of Osama bin Laden.  In a curious way. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by apini

May 4, 2011 at 05:01

Is that Mr. Bin Laden to you? A question for the NYT’s public editor

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by Wotty

To the Public Editor:

On Monday’s front page, Osama Bin Laden is variously referred to as “Mr. Bin Laden” or simply, and more frequently, “Bin Laden” (not to mention “bin Laden”). The Times’ policy of preceding everyone’s name with an honorific is certainly quaint and perhaps obsolete—to echo a recent, infamous judgement of the Geneva Conventions—but, like the Conventions, if the policy is in place, it must be applied equally to all, especially in the hardest cases; otherwise it becomes worse than meaningless. On what criteria was the Bin Laden decision made? Does it establish a precedent? If so, can we anticipate similar decisions in the future for America’s enemies?

Written by (wotty)

May 2, 2011 at 11:52

A Review of Absurdistan for Your Holiday Pleasure

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by Luce

Oh wait, actually it’s a review of Bush Junior’s Decision Points from Eliot Weinberg over at the London Review of Books. Thanks to Mircea, always on the look out for the absurd, for sending my way. For those of you who are not regular readers of the London Review of Books or my facebook wall I am providing some key moments. Consider it a holiday treat [question: does my use of the term “holiday treat” constitute a Battle on Christmas?]. I would provide extensive commentary except that really, at this time of year, all we want is  to get to the good stuff:

I will note that the review, presumably reflecting the book, plays as a tragicomedy — the further you go in it the sicker you feel. Apply Foucault to Bush! Clever! But keep going on and the fictionality of the text and the vagueness of the author makes your stomach do a few flips. “Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality?” are all fine things to ask about J. M. Coetzee, but they’re not ones you want to have to ask constantly about the actions and words of a president who ran your country for eight years:

‘Damn it, we can do more than one thing at a time,’ I told the national security team.

As I told my advisers, ‘I didn’t take this job to play small ball.’

‘This is a good start, but it’s not enough,’ I told him. ‘Go back to the drawing board and think even bigger.’

‘We don’t have 24 hours,’ I snapped. ‘We’ve waited too long already.’

‘What the hell is going on?’ I asked Hank. ‘I thought we were going to get a deal.’

‘That’s it?’ I snapped.

As Foucault says, ‘The author’s name serves to characterise a certain mode of being of discourse.’

This is a chronicle of the Bush Era with no colour-coded Terror Alerts; no Freedom Fries; no Halliburton; no Healthy Forests Initiative (which opened up wilderness areas to logging); no Clear Skies Act (which reduced air pollution standards); no New Freedom Initiative (which proposed testing all Americans, beginning with schoolchildren, for mental illness); no pamphlets sold by the National Parks Service explaining that the Grand Canyon was created by the Flood; no research by the National Institutes of Health on whether prayer can cure cancer (‘imperative’, because poor people have limited access to healthcare); no cover-up of the death of football star Pat Tillman by ‘friendly fire’ in Afghanistan; no ‘Total Information Awareness’ from the Information Awareness Office; no Project for the New American Century; no invented heroic rescue of Private Jessica Lynch; no Fox News; no hundreds of millions spent on ‘abstinence education’. It does not deal with the Cheney theory of the ‘unitary executive’ – essentially that neither the Congress nor the courts can tell the president what to do – or Bush’s frequent use of ‘signing statements’ to indicate that he would completely ignore a bill that the Congress had just passed.


I never know whether to admire or detest Barbara Bush. I admire her brute strength and the fact that she whips George Junior into shape, but Margaret Thatcher had some of the same qualities. I like that she called her son out for fabricating or at least falsifying the fetus-in-a-jar story. But at the end of the day all one can say is that she might be the best of a very bad lot:

Mother – she’s never Mom – pops up frequently with a withering remark. As middle-aged Junior runs a marathon, Mother and Dad are, of course, coming out of church. Standing on the steps, Dad cheers ‘That’s my boy!’ and Mother shouts ‘Keep moving, George! There are some fat people ahead of you!’ When Junior decides to run for governor, Mother’s reaction is simply: ‘George, you can’t win.’ Not cited is Mother’s indelible comment on the Iraq War: ‘Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? Why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?’ But the single newsworthy item in this entire book is the get-this-boy-to-therapy scene where Mother has a miscarriage at home, asks teenaged Junior to drive her to the hospital, and shows him the foetus of his sibling, which for some reason she has put in a jar.

Bush claims this was the moment when he became ‘pro-life’, unalterably opposed to abortion and, later, embryonic stem-cell research. (The thought would not have occurred to Mother. At the time, patrician Republicans like the Bushes were birth-control advocates; like Margaret Sanger, they didn’t want the unwashed masses wildly reproducing. Dad was even on the board of the Texas branch of Planned Parenthood. )

Decision Points flaunts its postmodernity by blurring the distinction between fiction and non-fiction. That is to say, the parts that are not outright lies – particularly the accounts of Hurricane Katrina and the lead-up to the Iraq War – are the sunnier halves of half-truths. The legions of amateur investigative journalists on the internet – as usual, doing the job the major media no longer perform – are busily compiling lists of those lies. Gerhard Schroeder has already stated that the passage in which he appears is completely false. And even Mother has weighed in. Interviewed recently on television, she said she never showed Junior that jar, but maybe ‘Paula’ did. (It was assumed we would know that Paula was the maid.)

And finally the infamous claim that the worst moment of his presidency was Kanye West, which I’m surprised was actually let in by whatever crowd of advisers/consultants/focus groups vetted/wrote the thing

The book states that, for him, the worst moment of his presidency was, not 9/11, or the hundreds of thousands he killed or maimed, or the millions he made homeless in Iraq and jobless in the United States, but when the rapper Kanye West said, in a fundraiser for Katrina victims, that Bush didn’t care about black people.

West was only half right. Bush is not particularly racist. He never portrayed Hispanics as hordes of scary invaders; Condi was his workout buddy and virtually his second wife; he was in awe of Colin Powell; and he was most comfortable in the two most integrated sectors of American society, the military and professional sports. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about black people. Outside of his family, he didn’t care about people, and Billy Graham taught him that ‘we cannot earn God’s love through good deeds’ – only through His grace, which Bush knew he had already received.

And that’s where the devastation really hits. Because who would want a president who lacks empathy, and why would such a man ever become president except for the most noxious of reasons.


Written by Kristen Loveland

December 24, 2010 at 21:13

Conservative Contributions to “Stand Up and Sing”

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by Weiner

I know we can all find the anti-war songs that we know and love, from the 1960s on down. To spice things up a little, I’ll play provocateur and nominate Toby Keith‘s infamous “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American),” his fiery musical response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. I confess to enjoying country music a great deal, and I think this song is really catchy. But it’s also got hilarious yet inspirational lyrics:

Now this nation that I love is fallin’ under attack.
A mighty sucker-punch came flying in from somewhere in the back.
Soon as we could see clearly through our big black eye,
Man, we lit up your world like the fourth of July.

Yes, America’s foreign policy in the Middle East undoubtedly had some causal connection with the 9/11 attacks. But the correct response is not to kill a janitor and 3000 other innocent people of all races and religions in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and Flight 93. Keith is right to be angry about that. He’s also right to demand some measure of justice.

Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage:
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage.
An’ you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A.
‘Cos we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.

This verse makes me happy. Maybe that’s because of my own unresolved issues concerning the military and masculinity. Unfortunately, lots of innocent people got boots in their ass, and Bin Laden’s butt is still boot-free, and the war in Afghanistan remains a quagmire, probably worse than the conflict in Iraq.

This leads me to observe that Keith’s contribution is a good deal less controversial than Clint Black‘s more questionable “Iraq and I Roll”. The catchy chorus “I rock, I rack ’em up and I Roll,” celebrating the “high tech G.I. Joe”  is funny if a little sad. The verse “If they don’t show us their weapons, we might have to show them ours,” is a little funny but mostly sad.

I suppose someone should nominate something by the Dixie Chicks in response. I like them too.

Written by David Weinfeld

December 1, 2010 at 18:03

Why Terror: Islamic Fundamentalism, Revenge or Both?

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by Weiner

More than many liberals and progressives, and more than most of my co-bloggers, I think, I enjoy reading conservatives. Not only because I want to “know my enemy,” but also because few of my beliefs are firmly in place, because I change my mind on many issues time and time again, and because I feel like I have something to learn, even from the die-hards of the Right.

And so I read Charles Krauthammer‘s column in The Washington Post every week. Like me, Krauthammer is a Montreal Jew. I disagree with him on most everything, but I value his clarity of writing and thought, his consistency (which has unfortunately come to border on predictability) and his realism, even if it’s a realism that I don’t think is very hinged to reality.

In his most recent column, however, Krauthammer inadvertently advanced a point of his opponents. In arguing the Islamic fundamentalism is the chief cause of terrorism, Krauthammer wrote of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter:

Remember the wave of speculation about Hasan’s supposed secondary post-traumatic stress disorder — that he was so deeply affected by the heart-rending stories of his war-traumatized patients that he became radicalized? On the contrary. He was moved not by their suffering but by the suffering they (and the rest of the U.S. military) inflicted on Hasan’s fellow Muslims, in whose name he gunned down 12 American soldiers while shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

Krauthammer concludes that the chief cause here is Islamic fundamentalism. But what about the “suffering” that the US military has inflicted upon Muslims from Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond? Islamic fundamentalism, like all religious fundamentalism, should not be ignored, but neither should US actions that inspire violent reactions.

Written by David Weinfeld

July 2, 2010 at 15:52