Wednesday, February 28, 2007

feeling old

This recounting of an exchange between my little brother and my brother-in-law made me laugh:

the other day christopher told me he was listening to a lot of nirvana lately. then he asked me if i had ever heard of kurt cobain. he's 13, i'm 29.

i cried the day he died.

These young kids … next they’ll be discovering Prince or NIN.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

comprehensive immigration reform

The Economist has an update on the chances of a comprehensive immigration reform passing this year:

An odd coalition of business groups, trade unions and civil-rights organisations is pushing hard for reform under the umbrella of the Alliance for Immigration Reform 2007. An equally odd coalition of White House operatives, Democratic leaders and reform-minded Republicans is also working in the same direction. A new version of the McCain-Kennedy bill could be launched as early as mid-March. And Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, the two parties' leaders in the Senate, have said that immigration will be one of the first ten bills they will consider. This time the chances of success are higher than last.

The main reason is the new Democratic majority in the House. The most virulent opposition to reform came from Republican House members who were obsessed with cracking down on illegals and building a 700-mile (1,125km) fence along the border with Mexico.

That didn’t work out so well for some of them, as the article points out: “Several high-profile immigrant-bashers, such as Arizona's J.D. Hayworth and Indiana's John Hostetler, lost their elections.”

Now that the Democrats are in the majority, Zoe Lofgren, the head of the sub-committee on immigration, thinks a deal is at least a possibility.

The reformers are also adopting a tougher tone. The new McCain-Kennedy bill will put more emphasis on beefing up the border, punishing errant employers, enforcing the law and assimilating new immigrants. It will also try to rebut Republican charges that it rewards lawbreaking and offers amnesty. Two current ideas are to impose a hefty fine (up to $5,000) on illegal immigrants who want to become legal, and to make illegals return to their countries of origin (“touching base”, in the jargon) in order to apply for legal entry.

Hmm, that sounds pretty crappy. Would this be a hefty fine on top of the proposed fee increases?

The reformers will have to overcome some big political and practical problems.

I’ll pass over the magazine’s take on the political problems, since its political analyses are often as infuriating as they are wrong.

The practical problem is that the proposed bill will become so tough that it is self-defeating. Why should illegal immigrants come out of the shadows if they have to “touch base” and put themselves in the hands of America's notoriously slow and inept bureaucracy? And why, for that matter, should liberal interest groups support a bill that might seem punitive?

. . .

Karl Rove, Mr Bush's chief strategist, has long pointed out that it is stupid to alienate America's fastest-growing minority—particularly one as culturally conservative as the Latinos. In a swathe of states that Republicans need to retain the presidency, their numbers are crucial: New Mexico is 43% Latino, Texas 35%, Nevada 24%, Florida and Colorado 20%.

Here’s a political point with which I agree. But the party doesn’t seem to be listening much to Rove these days, and the White House position on immigration is one reason why.

immigration and crime

ImmigrationProfBlog brings us a report by Ruben Rumbaut and Walter Ewing on immigrants and crime.

Here’s the abstract:

Because many immigrants to the United States, especially Mexicans and Central Americans, are young men who arrive with very low levels of formal education, popular stereotypes tend to associate them with higher rates of crime and incarceration. The fact that many of these immigrants enter the country through unauthorized channels or overstay their visas often is framed as an assault against the rule of law, thereby reinforcing the impression that immigration and criminality are linked. This association has flourished in a post-9/11 climate of fear and ignorance where terrorism and undocumented immigration often are mentioned in the same breath. However, data from the census and other sources show that for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population. The problem of crime in the United States is not caused or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. But the misperception that the opposite is true persists among policymakers, the media, and the general public, thereby undermining the development of reasoned public responses to both crime and immigration.

This makes sense if you think about it for a minute. If out-of-status immigrants sneeze wrong in front of a cop, they will be deported. So they have the greatest incentive to stay out of trouble with the law. Permanent residents can also be deported for relatively minor offenses—almost any kind of drug possession charge, for instance. Those with the least incentive to strictly obey the law are U.S. citizens, who often, depending on their race and socioeconomic status, face the least serious consequences.

Some statistics from the report:

[A]bout three-fourths (73 percent) of Americans believed that immigration is causally related to more crime. That was a much higher proportion than the 60 percent who believed that “more immigrants were [somewhat or very] likely to cause Americans to lose jobs,” or the 56 percent who thought that “more immigrants were [somewhat or very] likely to make it harder to keep the country united.”

Here is the reality:

In 2000, 3 percent of the 45.2 million males age 18 to 39 in the United States were in federal or state prisons or local jails at the time of the census. Surprisingly, at least from the vantage point of conventional wisdom, the incarceration rate of nativeborn men in this age group (3.5 percent) was 5 times higher than the incarceration rate of foreign-born men (0.7 percent).

The foreign-born rate was nearly two-and-a-half times less than the 1.7 percent rate for native-born non-Hispanic white men and almost 17 times less than the 11.6 percent rate for native-born non-Hispanic black men. The lower incarceration rate among immigrants was found in every pan-ethnic category without exception. For instance, native-born Hispanic men were nearly 7 times more likely to be in prison than foreignborn Hispanic men, while the incarceration rate of native-born non-Hispanic white men was almost 3 times higher than that of foreign-born white men . . .

The incarceration rates of foreign-born Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans were the lowest of any Latin American immigrant group even though they were the least educated. These three nationalities are precisely the groups that make up the majority of illegal immigrants in the United States.

But, true to the propensity of each succeeding generation to define the nation as constituted by immigrants while denigrating those most recently arrived, an earlier study reached identical results—in 1901.

In a sense, these findings should not come as news, for they are not new—merely forgotten and overruled by popular myth. In the first three decades of the 20th century, during the previous era of mass immigration, three major government commissions came to similar conclusions. The Industrial Commission of 1901, the [Dillingham] Immigration Commission of 1911, and the [Wickersham] National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement of 1931 each sought to measure how immigration resulted in increases in crime. Instead, each found lower levels of criminal involvement among the foreign-born and higher levels among their native-born counterparts. As the report of the Dillingham Commission concluded a century ago: “No satisfactory evidence has yet been produced to show that immigration has resulted in an increase in crime disproportionate to the increase in adult population. Such comparable statistics of crime and population as it has been possible to obtain indicate that immigrants are less prone to commit crime than are native Americans.”

This also is somewhat disturbing:

[I]mmigrants, especially those from Latin America, have lower rates of adult and infant mortality and give birth to fewer underweight babies than natives despite higher poverty rates and greater barriers to health care. But their health status—and that of their children—worsens the longer they live in the United States and with increasing acculturation.

The authors attribute this to "an ‘American’ diet high in fats, sugars, and processed foods," leading to "sharp increases in obesity and in the incidence of diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure."

In addition, assimilation often entails incorporation into “minority” status in the United States, particularly among poor immigrants from non-European countries. As a result, the children and grandchildren of many immigrants—as well as many immigrants themselves the longer they live in the United States—become subject to economic and social forces that increase the likelihood of criminal behavior among other natives. This is especially true in impoverished communities where the native-born in particular are much more likely than immigrants (especially recent immigrants) to experience higher rates of divorce and drug and alcohol addiction.

This is too bad, since for many immigrants, it seems that as their absolute standard of living increases, their relative quality of life decreases. And this is achieved by many through extraordinary sacrifice in pursuit of the American dream.

I guess there’s nothing more American than fighting for the right to destroy yourself.

Monday, February 26, 2007

pull the thread, dammit!

The NY Times brings us the latest round of the shell game in Iraq:

BAGHDAD, Feb. 25 — A raid on a Shiite weapons cache in the southern city of Hilla one week ago is providing what American officials call the best evidence yet that the deadliest roadside bombs in Iraq are manufactured in Iran, but critics contend that the forensic case remains circumstantial and inferential.

The new evidence includes infrared sensors, electronic triggering devices and information about plastic explosives used in bombs that the Americans say lead back to Iran. The explosive material, triggering devices, other components and the method of assembly all produce weapons with an Iranian signature that has never been found outside Iraq or southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah is believed to have used weapons supplied by Iran, the Americans say.

But critics assert that nearly all the bomb components could have been produced in Iraq or somewhere else in the region. Even if the evidence were to establish that Iran is the source, they add, that does not necessarily mean that the Iranian leadership is responsible.

I don't care whether the Ayatollah drove the weapons across the border in his bulletproof mullah-mobile and personally delivered them to al-Sadr, this still would not make it ok to bomb Iran.

Take the option off the frickin' table already.

Skeptics say the new details do not support a conclusion that only Iran could be providing the components. “Iran may well be involved in the supply of these weapons, but so far they haven’t proved it,” said Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for National Security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research and advocacy organization.

“Before we act on the assumption that these are Iranian we’ve got to rule out all these other possibilities,” he said. “The military hasn’t done that.”

He noted that a related weapon, the shape charge, “has been around for decades.

“This is not new stuff,” he continued. “There is a vast international arms market selling shape charges from many countries.”

. . .

Major Weber said many of those techniques were clearly Iranian in origin. Critics said that all of them could be replicated by skilled Iraqis or others in the Middle East with a solid knowledge of electronics and basic manufacturing techniques.

I have some unsolicited advice (as if there were any other kind on this blog) for these so-called "critics" and "skeptics". The correct response to the narrative of Iranian aggression being constructed by the White House is not “those EFPs could be made anywhere.” The correct response is “it doesn’t matter where those effing things were made, the idea of attacking Iran is the product of the fevered, sociopathic brain of Dick Cheney and needs to be neutered right now.”

The correct response to breathless reports of Iranian nuclear fiddling is not “Iran is at least 10 years away from a bomb.” The correct response is “The Bush administration is busy undermining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at every turn, so why doesn't it refocus its efforts on actually preventing proliferation.” If the debate centers around the first response, the obvious question then is what happens in 10 years? That’s not very far away, and most of us will probably still be around. What happens in 5 years, when Iran is 5 years away from a bomb? Or what if Iran is not 10 years away from a bomb? What if it’s more like 3 or 4 years? What if it has one now? What then?

The question that should be asked is not “How close is Iran to getting the bomb?” because the answer the White House is looking for to that question is “We can’t afford to wait to find out, mushroom cloud, etc.” Instead, the better questions are “Why have the Cold War nuclear powers failed to stop nuclear proliferation?” and “How can nuclear proliferation be reversed?” I have a decent idea, based on my careful, systematic observation of North Korea and Iraq from the period 2003-2006, that the solution does not include “threats of attack by the U.S.

The administration has framed the question in this way (and the Times has lapped it up): “Is Iran providing weapons to insurgents in Iraq that are being used to kill U.S. troops?” If the answer is shown to be “yes” to the satisfaction of the New York Times, then the administration will say it is duty-bound to take appropriate measures against Iran in response—I’m guessing that would involve air attacks against suspected nuclear facilities.

What air strikes on suspected nuclear sites have to do with EFPs, I do not know.

But for actual sentient critics of the Cheney foreign policy, arguing about the answer to the weapons question is a foolish thing to do. The administration’s question is irrelevant to the thread that unravels this particular bamboozle, which is: “Why would any sane person want to start a war with Iran?” This has little to do with which EFPs came from where and why, or how smoothly they are contoured or from which Radioshack in Tehran they were sourced, and more to do with whether we want to unleash a world of hurt on ourselves and the region and accelerate our national descent into madness.

warming up

Ezra Klein says he is warming up to Obama. I am glad to see this, since I consider him a bellwether for Edwards supporters who could be persuaded to change their minds.

And we see that Giuliani is outpolling the next three Republican candidates combined.

Once more, just so I’m clear about this, Giuliani will never never never win the Republican nomination for president in 2008. Never never never never. It’s simply not going to happen.

Here’s why:

Giuliani told the crowd he didn't like abortions but that that wasn't his choice to impose on others.

. . .

But all of the joshing aside, in front of this fairly conservative crowd, Rudy made no apologies for his support of men and men and women and women deserving the full protection of all laws for their domestic partnerships.

I don’t understand the confusion on this point. Rudy is pro-choice. And Rudy is pro-gay. Either one would be enough to sink his chances with the people who will be selecting the nominee. But with both, he might as well run as a Democrat. For good measure, he’s been married three times and favors gun control.

If he does manage to win the nomination, I will do a little celebratory dance in honor of Rudy, because it will mean that the Republican base has seen the error of its ways and agreed to relinquish the cultural direction of the country to Godless liberals like myself.

As far as this AP article which has for us the shocking revelation that Mitt Romney’s ancestors were polygamists (see here, here, and here for more), I have a scoop for the AP: virtually everyone whose ancestors lived in Utah in the 19th century (except for the Native Americans who managed not to get wiped out) is descended from polygamists.

That means me, and while I don’t know for sure, it probably means our esteemed Senators Reid, Hatch, Bennett, and Smith.

But I see that no one, in their discussions of this vile slander—vile!—has bothered to touch the merits of modern-day polygamy. If you allow gay marriage, then why not polygamy? It is a simple question, one that deserves an answer. As I understand it, the creators of Big Love decided to make the series in part to stir up questions about what constitutes “family” in the U.S.

But polygamists might as well be atheists for all the traction they’re getting with the mainstream left. I guess it’s one more question we’ll have to put off for our more enlightened grandchildren to deal with.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


The NY Times has another story on the problems facing the nation's immigration courts:

In a move that immigration lawyers say is highly unusual, a federal appeals court has recommended that a Justice Department appeals board review all immigration cases still on appeal involving a judge who has been criticized as being hostile to people seeking asylum.

The request came in a ruling on Wednesday by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan that struck down a decision by Judge Jeffrey S. Chase in the case of a Mauritania native who said he would be persecuted if he was returned to his home country.

The court said Judge Chase’s decision to deny asylum contained a “plethora of errors and omissions.” The three-judge panel capped off its ruling by saying that “given the court’s history with Chase, it may improve judicial efficiency” if the Board of Immigration Appeals “closely re-examined all of his cases” that are still on appeal.

The board is the first level of appeal in immigration cases before they can advance to the federal appellate courts. A phone call to the board’s offices in Falls Church, Va., last night was not returned.

Immigration experts say the court’s rebuke of Judge Chase highlights the escalating demands on the nation’s 218 or so immigration judges, who handle some 350,000 cases a year without the help of law clerks, bailiffs or stenographers. A scarcity of competent immigration lawyers and language barriers only complicate matters.

. . .

Mr. Chase is one of several immigration judges who have been criticized by the appeals courts in recent years. The nation’s immigration judges are employees of the Justice Department, not the court system.

In fact, Judge Chase has a record of approving asylum requests more often than the average judge. He denied 58 percent of asylum claims, compared with about 62 percent by immigration judges nationally, from 2000 to early 2005, according to the latest data available from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Lauris Wren, who runs an asylum clinic at Hofstra University’s School of Law, said the court was “scapegoating Judge Chase instead of addressing” systemwide problems.

Mr. Ba’s lawyer, Thomas V. Massucci, told The Associated Press that he had never heard of a court making such a recommendation. “There are probably hundreds of these cases in the pipeline,” he said.

As I noted here, the difference between the highest and lowest asylum denial rates among New York judges from 2000-2005 was 86 percentage points. Some asylum claims, no matter how strong on the merits, have virtually no chance of approval simply because of the judge who happens to be assigned to the case. And advocates of a stricter asylum system can’t be happy with the immigration judges who approve 80 or 90 percent of their cases. Pinning the blame on Judge Chase for acting uncivilly in his courtroom only distracts from the greater obscenity of a system with these outcomes.

As further evidence of the pressure [on the immigration system due to a large caseload], the appeals court issued a temporary notice on Friday that asylum cases would no longer be scheduled for oral arguments unless requested by the parties involved and approved by the court. The court’s immigration caseload has expanded in recent years as the Justice Department has curtailed its own appeals process. The court will take public comments before deciding whether to make the change permanent.

The overload of immigration cases in federal courts was the predictable outcome of Attorney General Ashcroft's decision to cut the number of judges on the Board of Immigration Appeals by half, purging it of its liberal members and gutting it of its ability to serve as a useful filter between immigration judges and the federal courts. This might have been an early example of the Bush administration's efforts to destroy the immigration system from within to stimulate legislative change to the system. Or it could just be incompetence--it's often hard to tell with this administration.

“Can you imagine if they said there were no longer going to be oral arguments in criminal cases, civil libertarians would go crazy,” said Bryan Lonegan, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society’s immigration unit. “But they’re doing this in these asylum cases because the workload is huge.”

And because noncitizens can’t count on being treated as human beings in U.S. courts.

If they can manage to even get there. Andrew Sullivan links to this article detailing a new facility at Guantanamo to keep men imprisoned the government admits are innocent:

Camp 6 includes detainees who have been cleared for transfer because the military has determined that they are no longer considered to be a danger to the United States or its allies, that they no longer have any intelligence value and that there is no other reason to keep them locked up. They remain only until they can be repatriated to their country of origin, or another country willing to accept them. Can there be any justification for a civilized country to hold any of this group of approximately 100 men, in conditions worse than maximum security? The answer is surely no. Yet we do.

. . .

There are about 400 men imprisoned at Guantánamo. Only 10 of them were charged under the president's first military commission system that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, and none has been charged under the new military commission system passed by Congress last year. The government claims it intends to charge and try 60 to 80 men; with approximately 100 men languishing, but cleared for transfer, this leaves more than 200 men already imprisoned or at risk of being imprisoned under conditions that are worse than the harshest prisons in our federal system-without due process and with no end in sight. The situation at Guantánamo is worsening, desperate and critical. Many minds have already been lost and their bodies will soon follow.

The most important indicators of guilt for a noncitizen who ends up in a U.S. prison appear to be (1) lack of U.S. citizenship and (2) the act of being in prison. Once those two conditions are met, the noncitizen is guilty as charged. Or can be—it’s in the judge’s discretion, so long as he uses polite language and shows the proper deference to the detainee as he tramples on notions of due process built over centuries.

On a side note, Legal Aid does good work for a range of clients. These permanent resident brothers served years in prison for a crime they never committed, and were convicted without any physical evidence linking them to the crime. Due to their own persistence and some resourceful Legal Aid attorneys, they managed to get the charge overturned.

Although one of the brothers may be deported anyway. This is the way the well-oiled machine that is our immigration system works.

Friday, February 23, 2007

ten-step program

Human Rights Watch has some suggestions for Congress (via Andrew Sullivan). The road to national sobriety starts here.


Ten Steps to Restore the United States' Moral Authority

A Common Sense Agenda for the 110th Congress

(1) Restore Habeas Corpus

Perhaps the most important protection against the arbitrary exercise of executive power, the writ of habeas corpus ensures that all persons can challenge the legality of their detention before an independent court. The Military Commissions Act of 2006, as interpreted by the current administration, would deprive any non-citizen labeled “enemy combatant” of this centuries-old right. A vote to protect the habeas rights of detainees in US military custody lost in the Senate by just three votes in September. Restoring habeas corpus to ensure judicial review of detentions and provide an important independent check on executive power should be a first order of business for the new Congress.

(2) Stop Renditions to Torture

The United States made great strides when, in 2005, it enacted the McCain Amendment prohibiting the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by any US official acting anywhere in the world. Now the United States needs to get out of the business of outsourcing torture and ill- treatment to other countries. Congress should pass legislation to protect detainees in US custody from being transferred to abuse.

(3) Abolish Secret Prisons

Although the US has long criticized other nations for engaging in forced disappearances – imprisoning people in secret – the Bush administration continues to assert the right to do so. While the administration claims to have emptied its secret CIA prisons for the time being, it has not ruled out their future use nor accounted for all the prisoners who are believed to have been secretly detained. Congress should pass legislation to ensure that the secret detention centers are shut down permanently and that no one in US custody is forcibly disappeared or otherwise held incommunicado. Congress should also demand an accounting of the whereabouts of all those formerly held in secret locations.

(4) Hold Abusers Accountable

Although more than six hundred US military and civilian personnel have been implicated in hundreds of known instances of detainee abuse, including 25 cases where the detainee ultimately died, very few have been prosecuted. Only eleven service members have been sentenced for more than a year – all low-ranking; no one has been convicted on the basis of command responsibility; and only one civilian – a contractor to the CIA – has been prosecuted. Congress should demand that the Pentagon and Department of Justice vigorously prosecute those responsible for engaging in, authorizing or condoning detainee mistreatment, including those up the chain of command. This would deter future abuse and demonstrate to the world the US’s condemnation of such ill-treatment.

(5) Hold Fair Trials

In October, the Congress authorized the use of military commissions to try non-citizen detainees in US military custody. The rules for these commissions raise serious concerns about the integrity and fairness of such trials. Of particular concern, the rules allow the use of coerced evidence and evidence obtained through cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment if obtained before January 2006 and found “reliable” by a military judge, and also allow the government to withhold from defense lawyers information about how the evidence was obtained. As a result of these provisions, defendants could be convicted based on the wide array of so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques allegedly employed by the CIA – techniques including extended exposure to extreme cold, prolonged sleep deprivation, and “waterboarding” (mock drowning). Congress should amend these rules to ensure that detainees are not convicted – and possibly executed – based on evidence obtained through torture or other abusive treatment, are provided a fair opportunity to confront their accusers and are given a meaningful chance to gather and present evidence and witnesses.

(6) Prohibit Abusive Interrogations

In the Military Commissions Act, Congress amended the War Crimes Act of 1996, specifying a list of eight “grave breaches” of the humane treatment requirements of the Geneva Conventions that constitute war crimes. Two of the primary authors of the Military Commissions Act, Senators John Warner and John McCain, have publicly stated that they intended to criminalize the abusive interrogation techniques allegedly used by the CIA in the past. But the administration continues to imply that it could continue the CIA secret detention program – and presumably the abusive interrogations that go with it. Congress should clarify that the full range of abusive interrogation techniques that have been prohibited for use by the military’s new field manual on interrogations are similar prohibited – and criminalized – if used by the CIA.

(7) Close Guantánamo Bay

The US continues to hold close to 400 detainees in Guantanámo Bay, many of whom have been held for five years without charge and without access to court to challenge the legality of their detention. Those detainees who have engaged in terrorism-related crimes should be charged and held accountable; those who are not charged with criminal acts should be released. The administration should work with its allies to develop appropriate procedures in accordance with U.S. and international human rights and humanitarian obligations to ensure that detainees are not returned to countries where they face torture or abuse. Congress should hold oversight hearings about the future of Guantanamo, and push the administration to put forth a plan for its closure.

(8) Respect the Laws of War

The US’s unilateral reinterpretation of the Geneva Conventions to support its questionable detention policies undermines respect for the rule of law around the world and puts US service members and civilians at risk if US’s policies and practices are adopted by others. Of particular concern, the US Congress in October enacted (in the Military Commissions Act) an overbroad definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” that turns a civilian munitions worker, a mother who provides food to her combatant son, and a US resident accused of giving money to a banned group into “combatants” who can be detained without charge in military custody or tried by a military court. The new Congress should strike this definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” and reaffirm the US’s longstanding commitment to the civilian – rather than military – courts to prosecute civilians who violate the law.

(9) Protect Victims of Persecution From Being Defined As Terrorists

The United States will never be able to effectively fight terrorism if it cannot distinguish between terrorists and victims. Yet, overbroad terrorism-related bars in US immigration law are now being used to define innocent victims as terrorists – and denying them entry to the United States. Hmong and Montagnards are being labeled as terrorists solely because they took up arms alongside the United States during the Vietnam War. Rape victims who were forced into sexual slavery by West African rebel groups are being labeled “material supporters” of terrorism because they performed household chores while enslaved. Congress should adopt a reasonable definition of terrorism that does not equate victims with terrorists and define any armed group as terrorist, even if it does not target civilians.

(10) End Indefinite Detention Without Charge

Ever since 9/11, the Bush administration has relied on a variety of means to detain individuals indefinitely and without charge. The material witness warrant law – a law that allows the government to temporarily detain key witnesses who pose credible flight risks – has been misused to detain dozens of terrorism-related suspects, some of whom were held for months without charge. Now, the administration is improperly invoking the “enemy combatant” label to justify the indefinite detention without charge of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a lawful US resident who since the eve of his trial for credit card fraud in 2003 has been held in a military brig in South Carolina. Congress should use its oversight authority and pass legislation that will prevent the administration from evading basic due process protections, and, in so doing, undermine respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

sorry de snorry, betsy

Inspired by the hardhitting journalism of CNN, I’ve striven to bring you something equally newsworthy.

catch the immigrant

In the NY Times today:

A game called “Catch the Illegal Immigrant” staged on New York University’s campus by a student Republican group drew several hundred students yesterday. But most came to protest the game, not to play it.

Under the game’s rules, according to one student Republican, players were to search on campus for the student chosen to wear a name tag saying “illegal immigrant.” The winner received a small reward.

But many students and other critics said they were repelled that anyone would want to play such a game.

Chanting demonstrators, marching on a side street near Washington Square Park across from a table set up by the Republicans, carried signs saying, “Racism Isn’t a Game” and “We Are All Immigrants.”

. . .

The College Republicans said their aim was not to offend, but rather to draw awareness to the issues.

Because illegal immigration is an issue that hasn’t received nearly enough attention lately.

“I’d rather have people motivated against us than sanguine,” added Mr. Laska, who described himself as “the grandchild of four legal immigrants.”

Yes, but were they legal from the moment they entered the country, or did they become legal later? Where were they from, and how difficult was it for them to immigrate? “Laska” sounds northern European, although I could be totally wrong. Immigrating from the Netherlands in the 1950s, for instance, was a much different proposition than trying to legally immigrate from Oaxaca today. For unskilled laborers from oversubscribed countries like Mexico, legal immigration is next to impossible.

But heaven help Mexico if anyone should infringe upon Mr. Laska’s god-given right to visit the Mayan pyramids for Spring Break. That would truly be an outrage.

I wonder if Mr. Laska’s family ever went through something like this. I know mine didn’t, and I’m the great-great . . . grandson of umpteen legal (illegal? those distinctions were meaningless then) immigrants.

As the protest wound down about 2 p.m., the protesters declared themselves satisfied with the outcome.

“For us, this is a victory,” said Dalia Yedida, speaking through a bullhorn.

Referring to the College Republicans, she said: “They’re scared right now. This is great. We showed N.Y.U. But this is not over.”

No, they are not scared. And no, you didn’t show NYU, you “showed” the NYU College Republicans, all 12 of them. What exactly you showed them is unclear. You are correct, it is far from over. But I find myself wondering what exactly happened here, aside from some college students making asses of themselves.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

acid tests

Julian Sanchez:

Almost 30 years ago, Robert Nozick wrote that Israel's kibbutzes provided "the acid test for voluntary socialism," and concluded that the results to date had not provided a ringing endorsement. Well, hate to say I told you so, but according to The Guardian, the oldest and best-known kibbutz in Israel has just decided to go private . . .
And this communal experiment failed much earlier.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

throw in the towel?

The AP has a story this week about a proposed fee increase for green card applications:

And now her plans -- and those of many other immigrants -- could be pushed out of reach by a proposal to increase the filing fees for more than two dozen forms by an average of 66 percent. The increases are likely to be implemented by summer.

"It was a huge amount of money for me," she said. "I went into overdraft to do it, but what else can I do -- throw in the towel, just give up?"

The $350 Nikitina paid this year to the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services would go up to $645 annually. That is just for filing the forms to renew her work and travel permits.

For the vast majority of legal immigrants who are just starting the residency application process that Nikitina already has under way, the fees for filing forms and for being fingerprinting would go from $935 to $1985. Some people are allowed to file for free, including members of the military and refugees.

"A lot of them are making very difficult choices, between food and bills and rent and these fees, plus whatever they have to pay an attorney," said Susan Bowyer, managing attorney at the International Institute of the East Bay, a nonprofit organization that gives newcomers cut-rate legal help. "Even with our reduced fees, it would be a real hardship."

The federal agency, required by Congress to support its operations with fees, plans to use the funds to reduce lengthy delays in processing certain applications, strengthen its security and fraud investigations teams, and modernize equipment, said agency spokeswoman Sharon Rummery.

Some of the agency's goals -- speeding up processing, putting files online instead of in boxes and clearing the backlog -- are in the applicants' interest, she said.

"We've come very far," she said. "There used to be lines that would go around the block. We don't have that anymore."

However, immigrants and their attorneys fear the hikes will hurt people who are trying to follow the rules, stalling their immigration process or delaying their ability to bring over close relatives.
Referring to applicants for permanent residence as “legal immigrants who are just starting the residency application process,” as this article does, is not accurate in most cases. Most of them are really “intending legal immigrants” who are not likely to be deported provided they cross their “t’s” and dot their “i’s” and are eligible to adjust their status to lawful permanent residence, but whose status in the U.S. is not yet legal.

Many people who are here out of status—which is how USCIS refers to illegal immigrants—have no route to legal status, either because they entered the country without inspection, overstayed a visa, missed a deportation hearing, or simply have no family members here to sponsor them. That’s just the way the law works. There is a general sense among both immigrants and the general population that if someone comes into the country legally (for instance, on a visitor’s visa), doesn’t break any laws, and works hard and pays taxes, they will be able to legalize their status somehow. That simply isn’t the case for a great many people.

For most of those who are eligible to apply for permanent residence, doubling and, in some cases, tripling the required fees is a huge burden. This is not likely to encourage more people to legalize their status and come out from the shadows. Once again, the government’s stated aim of promoting compliance with the law is at odds with the policies it is enacting. If your goal is to further undermine the viability of the current immigration system in order to promote legislative change, then this would be a good strategy.

Noting also that this NY Times article about how more effective border enforcement is leading to fewer arrests of illegal immigrants, there’s this quote from an immigrant about the new tactics:
“It’s harder and harder, and that’s the reason why people are dying in the desert,” said Miguel Pérez, a 24-year-old migrant from Guerrero State. “It makes no sense."
The reporter does not bother to follow up on this, although a recent study shows that stricter policies since 1996 have led to thousands of deaths in the desert. For all we know, deaths have gone up even more since the new enforcement tactics, but we won’t find out one way or the other from reading the Times. The article also does not mention one likely consequence of stepped up border enforcement, which is that those immigrants already here will just stay here rather than going back home periodically to see their families.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I said, what what

Which presidential candidate will be the first to address the allegations leveled in each of these videos? How can any serious candidate afford not to address these issues? Discuss.

thoughts of the day

1. Via Dan Drezner, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that:

as a hot-button headline issue, offshoring appears to have gone the way of Y2K and the Red Menace. File it under N, for Not as Big a Deal as We Thought.
On to the next xenophobic craze!

2. From TPM Muckraker we find that the Supreme Court will likely determine whether or not Guantanamo detainees merit habeas corpus review in civilian courts, since the D.C. Circuit Court upheld the administration’s position that they do not. Marty Lederman has some pretty thorough "brief, preliminary reactions to the majority opinion” here.

Let’s hope Justice Kennedy is in a good mood when they hear arguments on this one.

3. And IOZ brings us the latest bit of grandstanding from Ahmadinejad about Iranian nukes:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking to a crowd of thousands in Iran, said his country was ready to stop its enrichment program, but only if Western nations do the same _ something the United States and others with similar programs are unlikely to even consider.

"Justice demands that those who want to hold talks with us shut down their nuclear fuel cycle program too," he said. "Then, we can hold dialogue under a fair atmosphere."

The White House dismissed Ahmadinejad's call.

"Do you believe that's a serious offer?" White House press secretary Tony Snow asked. "It's pretty clear that the international community has said to the Iranians, `You can have nuclear power but we don't want you to have the ability to build nuclear weapons.' And that is an offer we continue to make."

I like Snow’s answer: “Are you serious? Like, I’ve already told you no more cookies and it’s way past your bedtime. What you can do, though, is go brush your teeth.”

Ahmadinejad: “But it’s not fair! Why do you get to stay up all night and eat all the cookies?”

Snow: “Because I’m the dad and you’re not. Now go to your room.”

I like the fact that the U.S. doesn’t feel compelled to offer up even the tiniest sliver of a justification for why it and selected other countries get nukes and nobody else does. Snow doesn’t argue that the expansion of nuclear weaponry anywhere increases the chances of a nuclear attack somewhere, or assert that Iran has a history of violent behavior towards its neighbors (it doesn't), or basically even attempt to string together nouns, verbs, and adjectives to form a coherent thought intended to persuade. “Just because” is all he’s willing to offer.

He can’t even rely on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and say, “Well, this is how everyone decided it should be back in 1968,” since the U.S. kneecapped the treaty with Bush’s recent buddy-buddy deal with India.

I got a similar response from a State Department nonproliferation official at an international law conference a couple years ago when I asked a panel he was on by what principle the nuclear powers thought non-nuclear powers should accept the premises of the NPT. He didn’t even bother to acknowledge that the question had been asked. Another member of the panel offered by way of quasi-explanation that nations which had previously sought nuclear weapons, like Brazil and South Africa, thought that supporting the status quo in the form of the NPT was sufficiently in their interests to abandon their nuclear programs. I take this to mean that it is the consensus position of the international community, such as it is, to support the nuclear freeze even if it’s inherently unequal since the consequences of nuclear proliferation could be so dire. That position would seem to make the NPT, including its provisions requiring the nuclear states to gradually disarm, the lynchpin of any successful U.S. nonproliferation program.

But we’ve made it clear we don’t really think much of the NPT. What we’d much prefer is a more ad hoc arrangement whereby we don’t disarm and we prevent others from arming themselves. Any attempt to further formalize multilateral nonproliferation arrangements will be met by the U.S. with a rousing yawn, if not outright hostility. And we’re sufficiently confident that this approach will carry the day that we won’t even bother to explain something as basic as why we are right and they are wrong. We are always right, and they are always wrong—it is in the nature of things, a fundamental truth about how the universe works, a premise upon which further argumentation can be based.

What everybody knows is that the only rule about nukes that matters is whoever gets them gets to keep them. This is the inevitable result of U.S. nonproliferation “policies”. Iran is just stalling for time, and all Bush can do is splutter and threaten and in the end, do nothing.

Monday, February 19, 2007

an intervention

For any fans of 24 out there, help is available. But you have to take the first step.

. . . wondering, incidentally, is that Keith Lockhart directing the Tesh supporting players (sometimes known as the Utah Symphony Orchestra) somewhere in the vicinity of Cedar City? I understand that they've got to do what they can to make a living with a dying demographic, but one would have hoped it wouldn't come to this. Then again, I've got Enya on my iPod, so my credibility is somewhat limited.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

truth, justice, etc.

Aspiring democracies around the world should take note of how justice is executed by the world’s oldest democracy. Here are two recent case studies that the attentive student will find instructive.

Case study one:

From Migra Matters:

A Guatemalan immigrant who worked for ten years at various minimum wage jobs to saved $59,000, has been ordered by a US District Court in Broward County Florida to hand the bulk of those savings over to the government.

U.S. District Judge James Cohn ordered that Pedro Zapeta of Stuart Fla. would be returned only $10,000 of the $59,000 confiscated by Customs Agents as he attempted to board an airplane with in September 2005.

The money was confiscated at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport when Zapeta didn't sign a declaration form before trying to board an airplane. The 39-year-old Mayan, whose native language is Quiche, said that he was unaware of the requirement to disclose amounts greater than $10,000 and only wanted to return home to start a business with his savings.

"It is unconscionable for the government to take that money," said Robert Gershman, Mr. Zapeta's attorney. "They do it because they can. That's the only reason. It's just not right. He could have left with all $59,000 if he had signed the form."

. . .

Mr. Gershman believes that the dishwasher's immigration and social status worked against him: "If Mr. Zapeta were a professional man, or more intellectual, or more mainstream, there's no question that he would not have been treated this way."

Palm Beach Post Jan. 31, 2006

Case study two:

The NY Times reports:

In the early hours of Jan. 6, Laith al-Ani stood in a jail near the Baghdad airport waiting to be released by the American military after two years and three months in captivity.

. . .

After his release from the American-run jail, Camp Bucca, Mr. Ani and other former detainees described the sprawling complex of barracks in the southern desert near Kuwait as a bleak place where guards casually used their stun guns and exposed prisoners to long periods of extreme heat and cold; where prisoners fought among themselves and extremist elements tried to radicalize others; and where detainees often responded to the harsh conditions with hunger strikes and, at times, violent protests.

Through it all, Mr. Ani was never actually charged with a crime; he said he was questioned only once during his more than two years at the camp.

American detention officials acknowledged that guards used electric devices called Tasers to control detainees, but they said they did so rarely and only when the guards were physically threatened. The officials said that detainees had several ways to report abuse without repercussions, and that all claims were investigated.

Officials declined to give specific details about why they had detained Mr. Ani or why they had freed him.

. . .

The American detention camps in Iraq now hold 15,500 prisoners, more than at any time since the war began. The camps are filled with people like Mr. Ani who are being held without charge and without access to tribunals where their cases are reviewed, the Times examination published last December found.

. . .

In interviews, former detainees seethed with rage at the United States.

One, a 43-year-old man from Samarra, Iraq, said he was released last year despite having fought American troops.

“I wish to go back to Iraq and fight against the Americans, God willing,” vowed the man, who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his nom de guerre, Abu Abdulla, for fear of reprisal.

It appears that, due to failure to make the most cursory efforts to determine guilt or innocence of detainees, we are jailing people for years who’ve done nothing and releasing people who’ve told American news outlets they have fought American troops and want to do so again in the future. Any detainees who didn’t previously have a motive to sabotage U.S. efforts in Iraq certainly will after their detention.

Mr. Ani said the electric prods were first used on him on the way to Camp Bucca. “I was talking to someone next to me and they used it,” he said, describing the device as black plastic with a yellow tip and two iron prongs. He said the prods were commonly used on him and other detainees as punishment.

“The whole body starts to shake and hurt,” he said. “And you lose consciousness for a couple of seconds. One time they used it on my tongue. One guard held me from the left and another on my back and another used it against my tongue and for four or five days I couldn’t eat.”

. . .

Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a detention system spokesman, said: “Every use of less than lethal force, to include use of Tasers, is formally reported by facility leadership, ensuring soldiers are in accordance with proper use. Touching a Taser to someone’s tongue is not one of the approved uses.”

Someone should notify the guards of this policy.

“I didn’t see any kind of solution for me,” Mr. Ani said after his release. “The only solution was to die,” he said, his eyes welling with tears. “I was hoping to die.”

In releasing Mr. Ani, the American military transferred him to Camp Cropper in Baghdad and gave him $25, which he and his parents used to hire a taxi. Along the way home, they had to dodge Shiite-controlled checkpoints, and just days later, he said, he narrowly escaped capture by a Shiite militia. Mr. Ani and other Iraqis say they believe these militias have found a way to learn when Sunni men are released from jail and then hunt and kill them.

Maj. Gen. John D. Gardner, commander of American detainee operations, said that he had heard such concerns and that he was trying to alter the process of releasing detainees to improve their safety.

Mr. Ani said that for him there was only one way to stay alive: flee Iraq.

He said he was scared and puzzled about his next step. He said he felt that he could not stay in Syria, if only because work was scarce. But he must compete with other refugees for the attention of another host country.

“Until now, I can’t sleep, really,” he said. “Whenever I hear something noisy I stand up. I’m in a very bad psychological situation. I can’t stop thinking of what we should do. I don’t have a future here. How should we live?”

When his uncle put on Al Zawra, the satellite television station, Mr. Ani turned to look at the scenes of Sunni children who had been killed and the attacks on American soldiers.

“I am an Iraqi,” he said. “I love my country. Of course, everyone who is an Iraqi at the moment, we are thinking how can we support our country.”

“The United States through its actions made people hate the Americans much more than before.”

Saturday, February 17, 2007

a nation of immigrants

The American Immigration Law Foundation has a summary up of a University of Arizona study showing that border deaths have increased dramatically since the enactment of more strict immigration policies in 1996.

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. governments deterrence approach to immigration control militarized the U.S.-Mexico border, closed off major urban points of unauthorized migration in Texas and California, and funneled hundreds of thousands of unauthorized immigrants through southern Arizonas deserts and mountains. As a result, immigrant deaths along the border have increased dramatically. Experts estimate that the bodies of 2,000 to 3,000 immigrants have been found along the Southwest border since 1995. According to one expert, this border has been more than 10 times deadlier to migrants from Mexico during the past nine years than the Berlin Wall was to East Germans throughout its 28-year existence.

Fortunately, Mexicans don’t vote in our elections, so we don’t have to care if they die in the desert. In fact, the Arizona funnel should be viewed as a legitimate civil defense tactic for use against the “obscene alliance of corporate supremacists, desperate labor unions, certain ethnocentric Latino activist organizations and a majority of our elected officials in Washington” who have conspired to crush the long-suffering white American middle class under the jackboot of Mayan oppression.

Dammit, if I have to contemplate one more carefully-mowed suburban lawn or neatly-trimmed hedge, efficiently-harvested field of fruits or vegetables, or spic and span office building or hotel room in this great land and the literally dozens of dollars we pay these people to work each day, dollars that could be used instead to fight the forces of evil overseas, I think I’ll be sick.

We know, thanks to heroes like Dobbs, O’Reilly, and Beck, that we don’t want to let in people who simply want to be underpaid to do backbreaking, often dangerous work. But what about the right sort of immigrant, the one who has built his fortune on the hard work of others or better yet, gotten it the old fashioned way, from his parents? Isn’t there a way to let him in, quietly and without too much fuss?

Thankfully, there is. A cool half a million will do the trick. From the Economist:

Wads of cash, obliging bureaucrats, and an urgent need for fresh travel papers are a connection that in most countries is dealt with by the police. But there is a respectable end to the trade. In most rich countries a hefty investment brings a visa that can eventually turn into a passport: $500,000 typically secures an American “investor visa”. For the British equivalent it is £200,000 ($392,000). But three countries—Austria, and the Caribbean island states of St Kitts and Dominica—have refined the process further, offering citizenship, in effect, for cash.

What could be more American than that? The only question is why, with budget deficits stretching as far as the eye can see, we don’t take the Austrian approach and make more money off of incoming immigrants (immigrants or their employers are already required to pay the government anywhere from $500 to a couple thousand dollars to become legal, if they are eligible through family members or employment). After all, illegal immigrants pay thousands of dollars to coyotes or snakeheads just to sneak into the country, money that could go instead directly into the public coffers. What’s that you say? Citizenship is a sacred collection of rights and duties that shouldn’t be commodified? And it’s the only thing that separates an American from a Mexican, or, god forbid, an Iranian? Friend, I sense that you’ve argued yourself into a corner.

One shouldn’t expect too much coherence or rationality from the U.S. immigration system. Think of it instead as you might a religious text—to be approached with flexible reasoning and unwavering faith in an omniscient, benevolent executive.

I’ll leave you with a thought from the Champion of the Middle Class, Defender of the American Way, CNN’s Great White Hope:

We are a nation of immigrants, and there is no more diverse and welcoming society than ours.


Friday, February 16, 2007

duck and cover!

IOZ has another installment in his ongoing project to make the rest of the anti-war blogosphere redundant.

Vladimir Putin went to Munich and said what everyone was already thinking: that the United States is fucking shit up. Robert Gates, the United States Secretary of Defense, said in response, "As an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday's speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time." He paused, as the saying goes, for effect. "Almost." That he would refer to himself as a "Cold Warrior" and speak of "nostaligia for a less complex time" is telling. The idea of the "Cold Warrior" is a classic of the Reaganite habit of conflating rhetoric with action--to make a speech calling something an "Evil Empire" is to in some sense combat it; to say "tear down this wall" is to tear it down, and so on. The newly acquired habit of referring to the Cold War era as "a less complex time" is a clumsy bit of verbal flippery meant to obfuscate charges that the relative dangers of "terrorism" or "jihadism" or "Islamofascism" are insignificant compared to a half-century of nuclear brinkmanship between two paranoid continental empires sitting atop tens of thousands of nuclear warheads, each ruled fitfully by crazy people with varying penchants for bouts of bellicose grandiosity.

How I miss those simple bygone days of innocence and security.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

assorted unconnected dribblings

1. Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls: Wow. Just wow.

2. pesto + perogies = a tasty treat

3. John Bolton exercises the tact and nuance which brought him such success in his previous role as Ambassador to the UN. Talking about the new tentative agreement with North Korea, he said to Wolf Blitzer:

This is in many respects simply a repetition of the agreed framework of 1994. You know, Secretary Powell in 2001 started off the administration by saying he was prepared to pick up where the Clinton administration left off. President Bush changed course and followed a different approach. This is the same thing that the State Department was prepared to do six years ago. If we going to cut this deal now, it's amazing we didn't cut it back then. So I'm hoping that this is not really what's going to happen.

The president strongly disagrees:

“I strongly disagree,” Mr. Bush said. “The assessment made by some that this is not a good deal is flat wrong.” But he added that those now calling on North Korea “to prove themselves by following through are right.”

I’m left shaken and confused, since a world in which John Bolton and President Bush publicly contradict each other is a world I’m not sure I know how to live in.

4. This is pretty entertaining.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

what's worse, that the government knew, or that the government didn't know?

President Bush today, in order to ratchet down tensions with Iran, prudently accused the Iranian government of supplying Shiites inside Iraq with weapons used to kill U.S. soldiers.

Mr. Bush said it had been established beyond a doubt that a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps known as the Quds Force is supplying Shiite groups inside Iraq with particularly deadly, Iranian-designed weapons known as explosively formed penetrators, or E.F.P.s.

“We know that,” Mr. Bush said at a White House news conference.

The United States regards the Quds Force as part of the Iranian government, since the force has historically been under the command of Iran’s senior religious leaders. And even if the highest officials in Tehran have not directly ordered the Quds Force to supply weapons to Iraqi Shiites, they are still complicit, Mr. Bush said.

“What’s worse?” Mr. Bush asked. “That the government knew, or that the government didn’t know?”

. . .

“I intend to do something about it,” Mr. Bush said, alluding to the armor-piercing weapons.

Assuming that the U.S. government knows what it’s talking about in this instance, I’m curious what the president intends to do about it. And by curious I mean terrified.

This is why. We have a long history of fucking things up in the Middle East. And our good president appears determined not to dishonor this national tradition.

The Editors speculate that the turmoil in Iraq is a cunning stunt carefully engineered by the foreign policy masterminds in the administration to draw opposing groups in the Middle East into a regional conflict while the U.S. slips unseen out the back door. However, the post concludes with a more solid piece of reasoning:

This theory does conflict with the one piece of information that we know with perfect certainty, which is that the people who have actually put this policy together are fucking completely fucking retarded.

That’s really all you need to know about this.

Monday, February 12, 2007

my moment of terror

Last night I was just dozing off when I heard a crash in the living room. I thought the cat had knocked some books off the shelf somehow. I stumbled into the living room and saw the cat but no books on the floor. Then I heard what sounded like something scurrying in the wall. “Mice!” I thought, but it sounded larger than that. Then it happened again, and I realized it wasn’t an animal at all, but bricks falling inside of the wall.

We live on the top floor of a 90-year old brownstone. I immediately had visions of something like this and freaked out. “Wake up!” I said to my fiancée, “I think we should get out of the building.” Still groggy and far from rational, I felt like the floors could cave in at any moment. We threw some clothes on and ran downstairs and out the door into the cold.

The building from the outside was peaceful and by all appearances completely stable. We ventured back in and woke up our long-suffering landlords on the lower floors.

Long story short, the chimney on the roof had collapsed and bricks from the top had fallen inside the shaft. Structurally not a problem, but it could have been bad news if our landlord hadn’t realized what had happened and turned off the boiler. I guess the fumes could have collected inside instead of being vented safely outside. At any rate, it is a relief to know our building is not collapsing.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

the old fraud

Eric Fair, a former civilian interrogator in Iraq, belatedly displays courage in a Washington Post op-ed (via Andrew Sullivan):

A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.

That dream, along with a host of other nightmares, has plagued me since my return from Iraq in the summer of 2004. Though the man in this particular nightmare has no face, I know who he is. I assisted in his interrogation at a detention facility in Fallujah. I was one of two civilian interrogators assigned to the division interrogation facility (DIF) of the 82nd Airborne Division. The man, whose name I've long since forgotten, was a suspected associate of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, the Baath Party leader in Anbar province who had been captured two months earlier.

The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.

Atrios reacts:

Aside from the obvious moral evil which led us to this place, it's also important to remember the thinking which brought us there. The people "running" this war were never capable of distinguishing between the vision of the war they were selling to the country for propaganda purposes and the reality of what was happening. Even if torturing people to get "intelligence" was something which actually worked, the premise that such "intelligence" would actually help to solve the situation was based on the fantasy vision of what that problem was. They really believed that there were some evil masterminds with evil lairs - first former Baathists and then various "foreign fighters" - and if only they could find them and kill them then the problems would go away. There was an "enemy" which could somehow be vanquished, and once we did that the ponies would arrive.

This was a cartoon version of the war they tried to sell to the American public, but it was also what was driving their truly barbaric behavior.

I’ll interject that these strategies weren’t simply a product of the benighted fantasies of right-wing wackos in power at the time, they reflect a logical extension of some fundamental premises about the U.S. and its place in the world held by most Americans. More on this below.

Ezra Klein ponders the impact of the war on American exceptionalism:

What America is going through isn't, I think, a revulsion at the physical horrors of war. Nor is it a precise analogue to the Vietnam Syndrome, wherein we question our own power. Our power is massive, our ability to salve ancient ethnic conflicts is less so, but that's a different issue. What no longer looks certain, though, is the righteousness of our cause, the morality of our mission. American exceptionalism is what's taking a beating, even among Americans. We're shocked at the moral transgression of this invasion, and the blithe ease with which the country accepted a tragic conflict which will leave, when all is said and done, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, dead. It is the ease with which we have taken those lives, and the realization that we were capable of doing so immorally and irrationally, that will be most unsettling to the American psyche.

This is probably an accurate description of what is going on in the minds of some people. But I doubt that the capacity to accept responsibility for something most Americans supported at the time extends quite as far as Ezra would like to believe.

First of all, I don’t quite understand the idea of American exceptionalism. Yes, I’d had it drilled into me almost since birth, like everyone else. It goes something like: The U.S. has never lost a war. The U.S. can do no wrong, it spreads democracy and goodness around the world and fights the forces of evil, like a nation-size version of Superman. Without the U.S., the world would be plunged into a Hobbesian nightmare of godless chaos and death.

Then I learned that many people in other countries feel more or less the same way about their own homelands. They may recognize that their nations don’t have the same power to act abroad as the U.S., but that same feeling that their country is smarter, truer, better than all the others, is certainly there. There is a nearly universal tendency, when your nation is in a conflict with another nation, to support your countrymen without question. And this is judged in most cases by most people to be the morally correct thing to do. This seems almost too obvious to waste time pointing out.

I also learned that some leaders in the past had put the love of country in the service of heinous ends. Most famously, Hitler used the supposed need to protect the Fatherland against foreign attack to justify the slaughter and displacement of millions. But he was certainly not the only one; leaders in many times and places have appealed to the sense of national pride in time of conflict to justify the use of violence against outsiders. Most importantly, we were taught, nothing Hitler, Stalin, or Mao ever did in the name of national pride should ever cause us to think twice about the patriotic feelings welling up inside every American heart upon hearing the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem.

So then I thought, what makes our version of national pride more justifiable than all the others? Why is our version of nationalism—sorry, I understand that “patriotism” is the preferred term—better than the others; why are we the One True Nation, and all the others false, or at least lacking something crucial? If there were another major war and the draft were reinstated and I were called up to active duty, how could I justify picking up a rifle and shooting another person for no better reason than that he was born in country X and I was born in country Y? Arguments like “that’s what I was ordered to do” or “that’s what has always been done” or “it’s what everyone else was doing” would not be worth much in a situation like that. The argument “shoot him or he will shoot you first” is a more convincing one, but doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Would he really have broken into my apartment in the middle of the night and shot me in my bed? Probably not. The circumstances under which he and I would have ended up at the same location with guns aimed at each other would probably have less to do with actual threats to safety than with perceived or manufactured ones.

So why should I be willing to kill and be killed in service of this, the One True Nation? Not just willing, but duty bound? Why was I taught in Sunday School to thank the Lord I was born in the land of the free and home of the brave? What makes the U.S. that much better that I should actually consider that I’m doing people in another country a favor by picking up a gun and unloading it into them? Is it because of our democratic beginnings and our 200+ years of uninterrupted republican rule? Is it because we were on the winning side of both world wars? Is it because we have a unique sense of empathy and compassion for the downtrodden of the world? Is it because, as the most powerful country in the world, we have a duty to regulate and police the actions of others for the benefit of all? Is it because we have a special obligation to promote the ideals of the free market and democratic government that will better the lives of people mired in poverty and degradation?

Back to Ezra again:

We're shocked at the moral transgression of this invasion, and the blithe ease with which the country accepted a tragic conflict which will leave, when all is said and done, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, dead. It is the ease with which we have taken those lives, and the realization that we were capable of doing so immorally and irrationally, that will be most unsettling to the American psyche.

Those words would have been even more appropriate if said about the Vietnam War. But now, having been misled into a war in a region most of us knew little about, we find ourselves in a similar situation 35 years later. Granted, we’ve done less of the actual killing ourselves this time around. But the premises that led us into Vietnam have not changed much since then.

Premises such as:

1. The U.S. when it acts abroad does so in the general interest, not simply in its specific national interest.

2. However, and this should in no way be viewed as a contradiction of Premise 1 (!), the U.S. when sending troops into harm’s way only does so to promote a specific national interest. (Any potential contradiction is resolved by assuming that the U.S. national interest and the amorphous collective best interests of the other nations of the world are the same. If any specific national interest of another country conflicts with the U.S. national interest, then the U.S. national interest trumps the other national interest with the understanding that what is good for the U.S. is good for the world, in the long run, after history has ended, at judgment day.)

3. The U.S. is the world’s oldest democracy, and since democratic countries only engage in violence when they must, and the U.S. is a very powerful and enlightened democracy, when the U.S. engages in violence, it will always and everywhere have the effect of promoting democracy.

4. Wha?

I certainly hope that Ezra is right, and that the Iraq War will lead to a widescale reevaluation of our assumptions about our country and how we interact with the rest of the world. But based on the national discourse on the war I’ve witnessed thus far, I’m not optimistic.

Here’s a stab at some new premises to work toward:

1. Each human life has equal worth.

2. Thou shalt not kill.

3. The anarchic international state system has not always existed and may not always exist. It is neither more nor less natural or inevitable than the international political systems which preceded or may follow it.

4. Nobody not a citizen of the U.S. gets any say in how the U.S. conducts its foreign policy. Therefore, the U.S. may or may not act in the interests of non-U.S. citizens, no matter how much it claims that its actions are always taken in the interests of others. It is up to each person to define his or her interests and to decide what actions promote or hinder those interests. These things are not decided by the consensus opinion of Washington punditry.

5. In the (currently) anarchic international arena, where the government of the U.S. is not democratically accountable to anyone not a citizen of the U.S., the U.S. is not a priori morally superior to any other nation-state. Being democratic or powerful does not insulate it from moral judgment. It should be (and, outside the U.S., is) judged by its actions as any other state would be. For instance, the Iranian government may be morally blameworthy because it hangs its citizens for being gay and generally oppresses women. However, on the “invading other countries for no good reason” metric, Iran is in far better standing than either Iraq or the U.S.

If there’s one good thing that could come from this war, it would be to put a dagger through the heart of that old fraud “American exceptionalism.”