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April 18, 2009

Mike Allen Would Like To Explain To You In Detail Exactly How Much He Sucks

Blogland has been rightfully aflame over this section of a story yesterday by Mike Allen in Politico:

A former top official in the administration of President George W. Bush called the publication of the memos “unbelievable.”

“It's damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama's action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are,” the official said. “We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time-bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake."

This, from Andrew Sullivan, is a representative example of the reaction:

Allen is allowing a member of the administration that broke the Geneva Conventions and commited war crimes to attack the current president and claim, without any substantiation, that the torture worked. He then allows that "top official" to proclaim things that are at the very least highly questionable. What journalistic standard is Allen following in allowing such a person to speak anonymously?

Allen felt he had to attempt to explain his behavior. And beautifully enough, he did so without comprehending he was revealing the devouring black hole of corruption at the heart of Washington "journalism":

While I was writing the piece, a very well-known former Bush administration official e-mailed some caustic criticism of Obama’s decision to release the memos. I asked the former official to be quoted by name, but this person refused, e-mailing: "Please use only on background." I wasn’t surprised...

I figured that readers could decide whether the former Bush official’s comments sounded defensive or vindictive. And POLITICO readers aren’t so delicate that we have to deceptively pretend there’s no other side to a major issue.

So, what is Mike Allen accidentally telling us here? That the Bush official initiated the contact, and without Allen agreeing to any conditions. In other words—even if Allen believes there's some value to printing unsubstantiated, blatantly self-serving assertions—he had absolutely no obligation to ask permission to quote the official, by name or otherwise. But since he's a well-trained little lad, he did anyway.

Thus, while Tim Russert may be dead, his ethos of anti-journalism lives on:

RUSSERT: [W]hen I talk to senior government officials on the phone, it's my own policy our conversations are confidential. If I want to use anything from that conversation, then I will ask permission.

AND: Recall that Mike Allen's boss Robert Albritton was quite tight with Chilean dictator Auguste Pinochet. Here's a letter to Pinochet from Albritton's father Joseph:

Dear General Pinochet:

I am pleased to report the business relationship between Riggs and the Chilean Military is prospering. I am also grateful for our thriving personal friendship, which you have demonstrated through your gracious hospitality...We in the United States and the rest of the western hemisphere owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude...

So it's understandable the Politico has a soft spot for torturers and is eager to explain the "other side" of the torture issue.

ALSO: Charles Davis writes more here about the bizarre Washington misunderstanding of going "off the record."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at April 18, 2009 12:17 AM

You just don't get it, do you? If Allen published this brave whistle-blower's name, he would never email Allen again with the sort of insight that Allen shared with his readers. Sheesh.

Posted by: drip at April 18, 2009 05:27 AM

Crap becomes "insight," black is white, ignorance is looking back, torture is justice, up is down, whistle blowing is defending torture. I think I get it, up is down.

Posted by: knowdoubt at April 18, 2009 07:55 AM

Crap is insight, ignorance is looking back, torture is justice, black is white, up is down, defending torture is whistle blowing. Did I get that about right? I'm trying to understand.

Posted by: knowdoubt at April 18, 2009 07:59 AM

And like, wow, torture techniques that have been used since the beginning of time like smashing somebody's head against a wall and pouring water down somebody's throat are gonna be a big surprise to the enemy.

Posted by: ApplePie at April 18, 2009 08:01 AM

That quote from that letter to Pinochet made my blood boil. Amazing how many people were in bed with that corrupt terrorist thug (I count the car bomb in DC as an amazing bit of terrorism on US soil) in the US and the UK. Grrrr.

Posted by: Gekkou at April 18, 2009 08:10 AM

Tempest in a teapot

"The release of these memos that provided legal cover for the use of torture ultimately do not reveal any new facts about torture nor do they not reveal new facts about the legal arguments made. In both regards, the subject of those memos has been the subject of public dialogue for many years."--Stephen Abraham, LTC, US Army Res. (Ret.), from 2004-2005, served in the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants at Guantanamo Bay.

This move by the new administration is simply a diversion to say: Look, we're a nation of laws. See how righteous we are. We've released the documents, now ket's move on.

Posted by: Don Bacon at April 18, 2009 10:30 AM

It's really quite simple. Media, universities, the academy, etc, are all centers of power occupied by people, who are fundamentally flawed. The people with enough moral courage to stand up and speak out against deeply immoral and barbaric actions by the state and government such as military aggression, imperialism, torture, etc. will always be a minority. Most people are too apathetic, or too cowardly, or too racist, or don't have the moral courage to stand up and speak out. Most people just don't give a fuck: as long as it's some brown foreigner or some other country full of ragheads getting bombed, invaded and tortured, why should "mainstream", "heartland" America and Joe Sixpack care?

Thus it is quite foolhardy and contrary to history and human nature to expect human institutions and centers of power like the media, government, etc, to oppose the actions of the all-encompassing, all-powerful state. The state is everything. It is the fabric on which everything else is built. As Chomsky likes to remind us, the media has never been anything but an organ of propaganda for the state, for the powerful and for the establishment.

As the American state becomes more corrupt and lurches into a more overt and violent imperial state, and is subsequently forced to use methods like torture and wars of aggression to crush resistance by other races and other nations against the American imperium, institutions within the American state such as the media, the academy, the intelligentsia, etc, will inevitably get corrupted too and will inevitably bend and mold themselves to serve the American Empire, and rationalize its barbarity and excesses. Expecting institutions within a state to oppose the state, or expecting human beings to behave contrary to human nature is like expecting water to flow upwards and defy gravity.

If my point sounds muddled, what I'm trying to say is that the corrupting forces of the media which produces sycophants and idiots like Mike Allen are the result of the media and various other American institutions bending and molding themselves to accomodate the corruption of the American state and its aggressive militarism and imperialism. You can see this molding taking place through the bizarre false neutrality of the media whereby they refuse to take sides and instead choose to report "both sides" as if they were equally valid, even when one side is blatantly wrong, immoral, and barbaric. Thus the media will report the issue of torture as a "he said, she said" issue and one in which "the other side", i.e, the pro-torture side, has equal merit, as Mike Allen attempts to do so above, because to stand up and unequivocally point out the barbarity, immorality, and wrongdoings of the American state and the American government would require more moral courage than most human beings are capable of. Not only would it mean career suicide by going against the institutional purpose of power centers like the media, which contrary to the state purpose is NOT to serve the interests of the general public but rather to defend and propagandize on behalf of the state, the government, and the powerful, it would also be a wildly unpopular stance, which would incur the wrath of the right-wing, and even of most "mainstream", "heartland" Americans, who would rather wallow in nationalistic, patriotic propaganda about their country and their beloved soldiers, CIA, Navy Seals, etc, than be confronted by the harsh and ugly truths about what those people are really up to.

You can see also this corruption mechanism whereby other American institutions such as the academy - already conservative institutions and well known defenders of the status quo - are being increasingly penned in further by delegitimizing dissent by any left-leaning professors, who have traditionally been the biggest and most effective critics of American imperialism and of wrongdoings of the American state. Defenders of the status-quo and of the powerful like that smug, self-righteous asshole Stanley Fish are given prominent platforms on mainstream media and on the establishment precisely because they argue in favour of the same kind of bizarre false neutrality in the American academy whereby professors shoudn't be allowed to express any opinion or to clearly state right and wrong, and whereby dissent and criticisms against American imperialism are effectively delegitimized.

Posted by: hv at April 18, 2009 11:59 AM

I wouldn't publish something from email without permission. I think it has an implicit privacy to it.

I don't know if that works the same for journalists, or should, but it's easy to see why the reporter and news maker friendship screws up everything.

If you didn't know the reporter, your email would unquestionably be public.

Posted by: Dilapidus at April 18, 2009 12:47 PM

Wait, what are these "blogs" of which you speak?

Posted by: saurabh at April 18, 2009 01:23 PM

per Applepie's comment, Menachem Begin wrote in his memoirs about going through sleep deprivation in a British prison in the 1940s. I guess somebody should've said something to Alberto Gonzalez.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at April 18, 2009 07:56 PM

Obama released the memos as a result of a Freedom of Information Act suit brought by the ACLU, so the release was neither initiated by Obama nor was it voluntary. It seems to me it was Obama’s statement regarding the release that was more important than the releasing of the memos which was that there will be no prosecution or investigation regarding the use of torture by the Bush administration.

Posted by: Rob Payne at April 18, 2009 08:24 PM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 18, 2009 11:56 PM

@Don Bacon: Thanks for passing on Abraham's reaction.

What I like about people like Spencer Abraham and Yvonne Bradley and other straight arrows who went into the lawless detention/torture/show trial muck as true believers is how far the shock of realization takes them. They're absolutely fearless and frank in a way that politicians and pundits with something to lose can never be.

The dirty little secret is that, as the Robert Jackson Committee's letter said:

We see no need for these prosecutions to be extraordinarily lengthy or costly, and no need to wait for the recommendations of a panel or "truth" commission when substantial evidence of the crimes is already in the public domain.

That's the February 24th letter to Holder requesting a special counsel to investigate for prosecution those responsible for torture. It was before the Red Cross report was leaked, much less before the OLC memos.

There's a lot of good that more information can do, though, politically to lay the groundwork and in fact-gathering for prosecutors.

The Office of Professional Responsibility report on the OLC lawyers will be helpful. The CIA's internal Inspector General report from 2004 already found them to have violated the Convention Against Torture; would be good to have that. Bush's September 17, 2001 directive to the CIA: why the hell shouldn't we see that? It started the ball rolling.

There aren't going to be trials for years, anyway, though that is no reason whatsoever not to demand them now and keep on demanding them. In the meantime: bring on the documents.

Posted by: Nell at April 19, 2009 02:48 AM

@Rob Payne:

Obama's statement was appalling, disgusting. But it very much did not rule out prosecuting the use of torture by the Bush administration, much less investigation. It ruled out prosecuting CIA personnel within a carefully hedged set of parameters.

That's wrong, indefensible; it makes a mockery of the Nuremberg principles. (Speaking of which, check out the distance between Justice Jackson on individual accountability and Pres. Obama's 'Befehl es Befehl' statement, courtesy of Valtin.) But it is not at all a commitment not to prosecute those who gave the orders and set the policy from the top.

Posted by: Nell at April 19, 2009 03:00 AM

Nell, a commitment to looking forward not back is another way of saying he is not going to prosecute those at the top, just more subtle. B.O. is not going to go after those who gave the orders unless he is made to do it by the people.

Posted by: knowdoubt at April 19, 2009 09:27 AM

On further reflection: Stephen, not Spencer Abraham. And Befehl ist Befehl, not es.

Probably best not to post after 2 am.

Posted by: Nell at April 19, 2009 10:47 AM

This quote from Obama's statement clearly applies just as much to high Bush administration officials as it does to those who carried out the torture:

But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence.

And this is of course just a reiteration of what Obama's been saying over and over again.

We don't do ourselves any favors by holding on to wishful thinking about what Obama might do—especially when it contradicts everything he's said and done thus far.

Posted by: John Caruso at April 20, 2009 03:40 AM

John Caruso: There's STILL a Congress. Obama is up to his neck in Bush's leftover turd. Call Nan 1-202-225-0100, inject YOUR OWN OPINION into Congress directly.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 20, 2009 12:25 PM

Obama is up to his neck in Bush's leftover turd.

Thanks for the wonderful image, Mike. And if only Obama wasn't taking the same laxatives, he might be able to extricate himself.

Posted by: John Caruso at April 20, 2009 01:11 PM