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June 20, 2005

Amnesty, gulags, an the shadow of Kissenger

J. M. Tyree has a great piece about Christopher Hitchens, Amnesty International, Iraqi reality TV, and more.

Here are two salient passages, which I hope will encourage you to read the whole essay:

I have taken the column, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, very badly, because I believe it represents an act of extreme intellectual dishonesty and political decrepitude on the part of an influential American public intellectual.


What's really eating Hitchens, I would submit, is not just the gulag analogy, but also the fact that Amnesty has recommended that foreign governments can legally open indictments against Rumsfeld and possibly even Bush, in accordance with their obligations under the Geneva Convention against torture, if it can be proven that U.S. leaders knew about and approved some of the techniques repeated at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and during the "rendition" process in places like Uzbekistan and Syria. The true horror here for Hitchens involves a suppression of the rather obvious fact that these men may well turn out to be the Kissingers of our time, and rather than doggedly pursuing their less savory activities, as Hitchens used to do, he has this time thrown his lot in with the likes of Ahmed Chalabi and Laurie Mylroie on Iraq.

Hat tip to Abbas.


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I stopped reading Hitchens a while ago. It's not just his politics about the war. He has really lost it. He just doesn't put together rational arguments.

What's amazing about Hitch's piece is his defence of forced confessions of battered and bruised prisoners, who confess to drunkeness, sexual deviency, etc., alongside confessin to attacks. Even if they are jihadists, this TV reality show--what a turn for the genre, or maybe its logical end--reminds me, and should remind everyone, of Stalinist show trials and confessions during the Chinese cultural revolution. Odd, that even as Hitch condemns the use of "gulag" he celebrates another page taken from the pits of Stalinism. All of that without a sense of irony or self-awareness.

So what did happen to Hitch anyway that turned him into an ass?

I'm tempted to say he's been running with bad compnay, specifically Messrs. Daniels, Beam, and Walker. But really, it's more than likely that even if he does somehow manage to claw himself out of his whisky-soaked stupor, Hitch will remain the same asshole he was before -- just with fewer dents in his car. (To borrow a line from Robin Williams, back when he was still funny.)

Hi - first time commentor (if that's a word); I believe in much of what you write - keep it up! Anyway, the most relevant quote I've come across by Henry Kissinger is as follows, from 1974:

"Depopulation should be the highest priority of foreign policy towards the third world, because the US economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals from abroad, especially from less developed countries."
~ Henry Kissinger

This is more relevant today than ever before.

Hey, I bend an elbow myself on a regular basis. Alcoholism does not explain why Hitch went off his rocker.

Hitch has in The Nation and in interviews claimed that the politics of 9/11 came as a sort of relief. I think that for Hitch the politics of things like the environment, WTO, etc., were small and unheroic, insufficiently world historical. This fight against Islamic fundamentalism is cast in terms of a fight for civilization on the order of the contest with European fascism. Hitch wants a replay of the Spanish Civil War, and not in the way that Joe Strummer did.

For Hitch politics before 9/11 were also messy, conceptually. (It should also be kept in mind that he did call for the left to give up on abortion rights in the 1980s (because he thought giving up on it would destroy the right and because he didn't believe in it) and in the early 1990s said that the colonization of North America and, specifically, the subjugation/eradication of the native population should be celebrated with great "vim and gusto".) Anyway, for him 9/11 simplified politics, created a world that is black and white, or rather led to an intellectual and ethical collapse which causes him to see the world in black and white and all that can't fit into that frame (i.e., the left that wouldn't buy into the crap that was being peddled) as detritus.

He has become the Don Quioxte of our time. Sadly, he has no Sancho Panza to keep him out of trouble and to spare us the consequences of his follies and delusions.

And now with his descent into a defense of show trials and a system of prision camps without check and spanning the globe as necessary for the salvation of liberalism (!!!), the term "delusion" becomes inadequate.

Thanks, Majikthise. One remark: If Hitchens were simply a drunk buffoon - as he satirized himself in the Galloway piece - then he wouldn't be worth the effort. Don't leave him that excuse.

Hitch started going off the rails in the mid-1990s, when he concluded that Clinton was the most horrible thing to happen to liberalism and The Republic since the Three-Fifths Compromise. He wrote a bunch of blistering denunciations of Clintonian triangulating, and helped root on the lynch mobs during the Lewinski affair, which ended with him giving speeches are anti-Clinton rallies, to warm applause.

Some people would point to Clinton and Hitch attending Oxford at the same time, and some nasty bit of personal resentment lingering from their overlapping presences back in the late 1960s. Did Bill steal Hitch's girlfriend? Did Bill deflect one of Hitch's come-ons? It would explain a great deal.

I suspect that Hitch is besotted by (among other things) the smash-the-system energy that the lunatic right possesses, and that the reasonable center-left had (by 2001) largely abjured. Palling around with the Freepers and giving well-received firey speeches denouncing the moral lapses of politicians seems like a lot more fun than writing crabbed responses on THE NATION's letters page.

Or maybe it's a money thing. David Horowitz makes a very good living as a lefty turncoat, and maybe Hitch just wanted a taste. Perhaps he's saving up to buy a new liver?

It's got to be a money thing. His daughters are coming up on collage age.

Alcoholism does not explain why Hitch went off his rocker.

No, but it is the most parsimonious explanation for the incredible deterioration in his logical and rhetorical skills.

Some drunks can still manage to write well, obviously -- although most have found the "write drunk, edit sober" maxim helpful. But Hitchens, from all reports, is completely shitfaced 24/7. Trust me, after a while, that takes a toll.

Hitchens still writes clearly. It's his conclusions that are problematic and illogical, not his prose.

Hitchens still writes clearly.

You're shitting me, right?

To choose an example at random from his most recent Slate column:

I am now forced to wonder: Who is there who does not know that the Bush administration decided after September 2001 to change the balance of power in the region and to enforce the Iraq Liberation Act, passed unanimously by the Senate in 1998, which made it overt American policy to change the government of Iraq?

I think you're right about the fear of prosecution for war crimes. I went to the ACLU website and down loaded the FBI reports.

Among the various torture techniques it also says that the DOD interrogators were impersonating FBI agents so that if it ever got out into the public what they were doing... the FBI would take the fall.

Also the FBI compalined that every time they began to build a rapport with a detainee and get him to cooperate... the DOD boys would immeadiatly take the prisoner and work him over and that would destroy their efforts.


7/12/04, 8/2/2004 12/15/2004 FBI [OGC] “I am responding to your request for feedback on aggressive treatment and improper interview techniques used on detainees at GTMO. I did observe treatment that was not only aggressive, but personally very upsetting, although I can’t say that this treatment was perpetrated by Bureau employees. It seemed that these techniques were being employed by the military, government contract employees and [redacted].” Reply asked for more details. Response: “Here is a brief summary of what I observed at GTMO. On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand a foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18 24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night. . . .”

06/25/2004 12/15/2004 FBI [OGC] “The following information provides initial details from an individual [redacted] who observed serious physical abuses of civilian detainees in [redacted] Iraq during the period of [redacted]. . . . [redacted] observed numerous physical abuse incidents of Iraqi civilian detainees conducted in [redacted] Iraq. He described that such abuses included strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees ear openings, and unauthorized interrogations. [redacted] was providing this information to the FBI based on his knowledge that [redacted] cover-up of these abuses. He stated these cover-up efforts included [redacted] . . . .”

12/05/2003 12/15/2004 FBI [CIRG/ BAU] “Of concern, DOD interrogators impersonating Supervisory Special Agents of the FBI told a detainee that [redacted]. These same interrogation teams then [redacted]. The detainee was also told by this interrogation team [redacted]. These tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralization nature to date and CITF believes that techniques have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee. If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done the “FBI” interrogators. The FBI will be left holding the bag before the public.”

05/13/2004 12/15/2004 FBI [CIRG/ BAU] “After we got off the phone, I found the attached email which we sent to General Miller last year. Also, there is a copy of the military’s use of approved coercive techniques which are quite different I am sure from the Bureau guidelines you are preparing.”

05/06/2004 12/15/2004 FBI [Referrals from DOJ, Criminal Division] “In late 2002 and continuing into mid-2003, the Behavioral Analysis Unit raised concerns over interrogation tactics being employed by the U.S. military. As a result an EC dated 5/30/03, was generated summarizing the FBI’s continued objections to the use of [redacted] techniques to interrogate prisoners. This EC is attached and includes a collection of military documents discussing and authorizing the techniques. We are not aware of the FBI participating directly in any [redacted] interrogations. It should be noted that FBI concerns and objections were documented and presented to Major General Geoffrey Miller...Search of Iraq interviews identified one instance a woman indicated she was hit with a stick and she wanted to talk only to German officials." States that on rare occasions, FBI personnel saw documentation of techniques noted in interviews by Military personnel.

07/13/2004 12/15/2004 FBI [CIRG/ BAU Wkbook, Vol. 1 “On several occasions, I did hear loud music being played and people yelling loudly from behind closed doors of interview rooms but I could not say that detainees were present in those rooms. I also observed strobe lights in interview rooms on several occasions but never observed these being used on detainees.” "There were many comments made by investigators during my tenure at GTMO that every time the FBI established a rapport with a detainee, the military would step in and the detainee would stop being cooperative. The military... routinely took control of the detainee when the interview was completed. The next time that detainee was interviewed, his level of cooperation was diminished."

12/15/2004 FBI [CIRG/ BAU Wkbook, Vol. 1 "DoD Interrogation Tactics: BAU personnel witnessed sleep deprivation [redacted] and utilization of loud music/bright lights/growling dogs in the Detainee interview process by DOD representatives. These tactics were brought to the attention of the appropriate DoD legal personnel who requested that BAU members write out "statements" concerning these matters."

11/25/2003 12/15/2004 FBI/[CTD/MLDU] Memorandum to document information concerning the impersonation by DOD interrogators at GTMO who represented themselves as officials of the FBI in conjunction with interrogation techniques not endorsed by the FBI. Originally drafted in Nov 2003, when content was briefed to CTD Exec Management, AGC [redacted], DOJ David Nahmias. OGC Valerie Caproni was provided with electronic copy 5/7/04.“DIA has never advised the FBI that they were impersonating an FBI agent as part of their interrogation plan with [redacted].”

07/30/2004 12/15/2004 FBI [OGC] Describes Defense Department interrogation witnessed by FBI personnel. “I saw [a] detainee sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing. I left the monitoring room immediately after seeing this activity. I did not see any other persons inside the interview room with the Israeli flag draped detainee, but suspect that this was a practice used by DOD DHS . . .” "Approximately one or two days later, DHS tactics were discussed at a weekly held CITF staff meeting Many of the CITF investigators discussed how some of the DHS tactics had been counterproductive in building rapport with detainees."

05/22/2002 12/15/2004 FBI [OGC] [redacted] stated that he had been beaten unconscious approximately three or four weeks ago when he was still at Camp X-Ray. According to [redacted], an unknown number of guards entered his cell, unprovoked, and started spitting and curing at him. . . . [redacted] rolled onto his stomach to protect himself, [redacted] state a soldier named [redacted] jumped on his back and started beating him in the face [redacted] then choked him until he passed out. [redacted] stated that [redacted] was beating him because [redacted] was a Muslim . . . .”

What is shocking about this column, at least to a former admirer of Hitchens like me, is that he is now pro-torture. I explain this at more length in this post.

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