2012 - %3, April

Former CIA Official Seeking to Confirm Efficacy of Torture Does The Opposite

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 11:12 AM EDT
Former CIA Official Jose Rodriguez talks to CBS' 60 Minutes.

Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's Clandestine Service during the Bush administration, was supposed to offer proof that the torture of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other Al Qaeda detainees led to the discovery of Osama bin Laden's hiding place. Instead, his interview with CBS reporter Leslie Stahl confirmed the exact opposite. 

"I am certain, beyond any doubt, that these techniques, approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government, certified by the Department of Justice, and briefed to and supported by bipartisan leadership of congressional intelligence oversight committees, shielded the people of the United States from harm and led to the capture of killing of Osama bin Laden," Rodriguez told the Washington Post's Dana Priest in a piece inexplicably published in the paper's Style section early last week. 

The debate over the efficacy of torture has been renewed by Rodriguez' recently published book and the Obama campaign's agressive effort to remind voters that bin Laden was found and killed under the current administration. Since bin Laden's death, Republicans have sought to reap credit for the raid by focusing on the torturous interrogation techniques Obama banned by executive order his first few days in office, claiming they led directly to the discovery of bin Laden's hideout. But the CIA's own inspector general found "you could not in good conscience reach a definitive conclusion about whether any specific technique was especially effective, or [whether] the enhanced techniques in the aggregate really worked."

Rodriguez' 60 Minutes interview doesn't do much to bolster the case of torture supporters. In fact, it actively undermines it. When Stahl confronted Rodriguez with the fact that KSM refused to divulge the identity of the courier who eventually led the CIA to bin Laden, Rodriguez confirmed what we already knew—that when asked about the identity of bin Laden's courier, KSM lied

Stahl: Well, [KSM] didn't tell you about Osama bin Laden. He didn't tell you how to get him. He didn't tell you how to find him.

Rodriguez: Some of these people were not going to tell us everything. Stahl: So you don't break 'em. Rodriguez: There is a limit, there is a limit to what they will tell us. Actually KSM lied about the courier - whose identity finally led to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the terrorist leader he calls Sheikh bin Laden was hiding.

Stahl: Now, here's what I heard: that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told you the courier had retired and threw you off the scent for a while.

Rodriguez: That was the one secret he was going to take to the grave, and that was the protection of the Sheikh. He was not going to tell us.

CBS has since posted more of the interview to its website, and the additional footage further erodes the notion that torture led to bin Laden's whereabouts. "We went to KSM and said 'What about this courier, [Abu Ahmed] al-Kuwaiti?' and he became very defensive, and he would not talk to us about it," Rodriguez says. "But later, we intercepted a message, that he was sending to the other detainees in which he said do not say a word about the courier. Which, to us meant this is important information."

Rodriguez employed a number of other well-worn fallacies in his defense of torture:

We had to torture KSM, because he's so tough, but he resisted so it's not torture. "Oh, he was not going to talk. I mean, Khalid Sheik Mohammed is one of the toughest killers out there," Rodriguez told Stahl. Later, arguing that waterboarding is not torture, Rodriguez says, "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would use his fingers to count the number of seconds, because he knew that in all likelihood, we would stop at 10. So this doesn't sound like a person who is afraid of dying." Stahl asks "Then why do it? What's the point?"

Torture works so well, but you know, don't torture so much. Rodriguez defends the efficacy of torture, but when asked by Stahl about the use of a power drill and threats of rape against his family members on a detainee, Rodriguez says "Stupid things that were done by people who had no authority to do that." But if torture is so effective, why would it be "stupid" to be even rougher? Wouldn't it just lead to detainees providing more information?

The month-long ticking time bomb. Rodriguez again uses the "ticking time bomb" scenario to justify using torture, then admits they take about a month to "work."  "If there was going to be another attack against the U.S., we would have blood on our hands because we would not have been able to extract that information from him," Rodriguez says of high value detainee Abu Zubayda. "So we started to talk about an alternative set of interrogation procedures." Rodriguez later admits that the psychologist touting the effectiveness of torture had "speculated that within 30 days we would probably be able to get the information that we wanted."

Although Rodriguez' didn't offer much in the way of new information during his interview with Stahl, he did introduce an inadvertently hilarious metaphor for the kind of tough guy rhetoric employed in defense of torture. When explaining to Stahl his request to use so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, Rodriguez said, "We needed everybody in government to put their big boy pants on and provide the authorities that we needed."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Rep. Allen West Calls Democrats Nine-Foot-Tall Aliens

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 11:02 AM EDT
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)

Here's a quick lesson in how political fundraising works: If you say crazy things about your political rivals, your base will give you a ton of money. But as a consequence, your political rivals will also find themselves raising a ton of money, which means that if you want to keep your head above water, you have to continue saying increasingly nuttier things.

That brings us to Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a bomb-throwing tea party rock star who's moving into a new district that gave 51 percent of its vote to Barack Obama in 2008, and is considered to be one of Democrats' top targets this fall. West has $3.3 million on hand for the fall—an enormous sum for a House candidate at this stage in the race. Not coincidentally, though, the two biggest fundraising hauls from Democratic House challengers nationwide came from the likely nominees in the district West currently serves in (Fla.–22), and in district he's moving into (Fla.–18).

So what do you do if you're Allen West? You keep on keeping on. Here's a Facebook note he posted last week:

Here we go again, the artful dodger, President Barack Hussein Obama, bribing the electorate with political gimmicks. We are witnessing a political propaganda program of Orwellian proportions designed to manipulate and deceive the American people. This is so reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man". Obama and his liberal progressive disciples are the modern day Kanamits. My warning to you all, don't fall for the intellectually dishonest rhetoric and become post-election day dinner America!

What is a Kanamit? The Broward–Palm Beach New Times helpfully informs us that the Kanamit were "a race of nine-foot-tall aliens that come to Earth and cure famine, blight, and nuclear warfare." But that was all just a ruse for their real goal: "their kindness is really just a not-very-elaborate ruse to fatten up the human race so they can be carted back to the Kanamit home planet to be eaten. A Kanamit book called To Serve Man that was discovered by the humans turns out not to be about helping man at all—it's a cookbook." It's people!

Here's the pivotal scene from the episode, now that I've spoiled it for you:

Hooray! Gasoline Prices Are Going Down

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 10:47 AM EDT

Last night, while trying to keep my dinner down during 60 Minutes' softball interview with CIA torturer Jose Rodriguez, I happened to notice during the commercial break that gasoline prices were down last week. I haven't been paying a lot of attention to this lately, but it turns out that gas prices have been declining for the entire past month. Jared Bernstein has a question:

When gas prices were rising in March, I couldn’t turn around without being asked to explain why we shouldn’t blame the President for higher gas prices....But this month, with prices falling, I’ve yet to get one request to explain why the president should get credit for falling gas prices (answer: he shouldn’t).

This just goes to show the agenda-setting power of Fox News and the rest of the conservative megaphone. They don't get all the credit, of course — it really is news when gasoline prices have gone up 20% since the beginning of the year — but they sure get a big chunk of it. When they're screaming, the rest of the media follows along. When they stop, everyone else stops too. Remarkable.

POSTSCRIPT: And why are gasoline prices down? Because crude oil prices are down. Remember the rule of thumb that a $1 change in crude oil prices translates to a 2½-cent change in gasoline prices? Well, Brent crude is down about $4 this month, which translates into an 8-cent drop in the price of gasoline. And that's roughly what we've seen.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 30, 2012

Mon Apr. 30, 2012 10:44 AM EDT

Soldiers of A Company, 412th Aviation Support Battalion, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade conducted confidence course training as part of their pre-deployment training, April 27, 2012. The event also helped to foster camaraderie, boost morale and build esprit de corps among soldiers before their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. Photo by the US Army.

Corn on "Hardball": When "Villionaires" Go Wild

Mon Apr. 30, 2012 10:37 AM EDT

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball on Friday to discuss dark money, anti-Obama ads, and who Corn calls "the villionaires," venting billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson who are pouring money into the 2012 elections.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. Follow him on Twitter.

Jack White Goes It Alone (Kinda)

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 6:05 AM EDT
Jack White

In 2011, the White Stripes called it quits. "It was necessary to announce that the White Stripes didn't exist anymore for me to really put myself out there as a solo artist," frontman Jack White told Rolling Stone.

By then, White had carved a niche for himself as an artist in his own right, making the rounds between two high-octane rock n' roll bands, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, and at last founding a brick-and-mortar outfit for his eight-year-old private label, Third Man Records, in Nashville. But he hadn't yet done the thing one would most naturally predict from a solo artist: a solo project.

That changed last Tuesday with the release of Blunderbuss, White's "debut" album as a solo artist. It's a wild-eyed, lushly orchestrated work that tends to showcase White's ear as a songwriter over his hand as a guitarist. Both talents were on display Friday night as White and his vast and fluid retinue of backing musicians played New York City's Webster Hall.

The small, dim space was sold out to a crowd of black-leather-jacketed punk rockers, moms with cargo pants tucked into combat boots, greasy hippies, and a healthy contingent of clean-cut white kids who looked to have walked off the set of Girls. Photographers circulated with Polaroid cameras, leaving behind a wake of happy couples shaking negatives. Whispers (unconfirmed) circulated that Jim Carrey was quaffing champagne on the balcony. The show was broadcast live on YouTube; one might not have noticed but for a moment just before the first set when a screen descended and played a Jack White music video, presumably being watched simultaneously by eyes from Tulsa to Tokyo, for which, in a bizarrely meta twenty-first century moment, we all clapped.

Opening the show were The Black Belles, a Third Man Records-produced trio of white-faced, black-lipsticked femmes fatales who looked like they ditched out on Slytherin Quidditch practice to ride down to the Lower East Side on broomsticks, smoking cigarettes and blasting the Sex Pistols. Their set left behind a vague scent of premature Halloween. This was compounded by the stage hands, who drifted about in a fog of dry ice and sported porkpie hats and prodigious beards, as if the fresh ghost of Levon Helm were keeping watch in the wings. 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Merrill Garbus, Meet Buster Keaton

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Going into a screening of Buster Keaton shorts to music by Merrill Garbus, the force behind tUnE-yArDs, I had no idea what to expect—but was willing to buy a ticket for anything Garbus did. By the time it was over, I was ready to sign up as a roadie. The pairing of tUnE-yArDs, Keaton, and avant-garde guitarist Ava Mendoza was inspired: Garbus' eclectic, playfully physical music made for the perfect soundtrack to shorts full of pratfalls and zany stunts. And since tUnE-yArDs builds traditionally structured songs out of strange noises and sounds, it's perfect for backing a film: soundtrack and sound effects all at once.

Though some of the show's initial appeal came from the novelty of the dissonance between old movies and new music, the latter in some ways made for a more authentic experience: the original soundtrack to these types of films consisted largely of ragtime and jazz, which to modern audiences is familiar and old-timey, but at the time was viewed as strange, avant-garde, even dangerous. These are films meant to be paired with contemporary music, not classics.

It's Okay to Eat Sardines...Right?

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Sardines (Sardina pilchardus): Etrusko25 via Wikimedia CommonsSardines (Sardina pilchardus) Etrusko25 via Wikimedia Commons

Sardines are considered a sustainable seafood, one of the few fish you can eat guilt-free, right? Well, not exactly. Forage fish like sardines and anchovies are the key players in huge but delicate food webs known as wasp-waist ecosystems. These are so complex and dynamic that it's questionable whether we have the know-how to manage them well yet. And as we've learned the hard way from examples off California, Peru, Japan, and Namibia, wasp-waist ecosystems collapse catastrophically whenever the stresses of climate change intersect with the stresses of overfishing (see Andrew Bakun, et al., below*).

These systems are often driven by multiyear, even multidecadal, climate patterns like El Niño and La Niña—natural boom-and-bust cycles that remain largely beyond our abilities to scientifically manage. And while some overfished wasp-waist ecosystems have recovered after decades of fishing moratoria (California, Peru), others have not (Japan, Namibia). Some, like Peru, collapse repeatedly.

Global capture of sardines in the Sardinops genus in tonnes, 1950–2010, as reported by the FAO. Based on data sourced from the relevant FAO Species Fact Sheets: Epipelagic via Wikimedia Commons

Global capture of sardines in the Sardinops genus in tons, 1950–2010, as reported by the FAO. Based on data sourced from the relevant FAO Species Fact Sheets. Epipelagic via Wikimedia Commons 

I wrote about the downside of the sardine fishery in Mexico's Gulf of California in my latest Mother Jones print piece, "Can One Incredibly Stubborn Person Save a Species?" This is the story of my old friend Enriqueta Velarde's efforts to save the seabirds and other wildlife of the Gulf. Year after year she's taken on staggering problems. Today her biggest fear is the rapidly growing sardine fishery:

She's concerned because the Gulf of California sardine fishery, Mexico's largest by volume, landed more than a quarter million metric tons the year before. She knows the Gulf is a wasp-waist ecosystem: ecology-speak for a delicate food web dependent on forage fish (sardines and anchovies) that are virtually the only predators of all below them (plankton) and virtually the only prey of the tiers above them (bigger fish, seabirds, marine mammals)…Mexico just received a sustainability certification for its sardine fishery from the Marine Stewardship Council, which would vastly increase market demand in the US. Velarde fears that the fish, keystone to all Gulf species—including humans—will crash.

 

Tern with fish: Badjoby via Wikimedia Commons

Tern with fish Badjoby via Wikimedia Commons 

But it's the Marine Stewardship Council, and you can trust what they say is okay to eat is okay, right? Well, not necessarily. As I've written here about swordfish, here about Chilean sea bass, and here about pollock, hake, Antarctic toothfish, and krill, there are increasing concerns among scientists about the criteria the MSC is using to certify fisheries as sustainable.

So before you take a bite of that sardine sandwich, you might think about all the truly vast ecosystems—composed of seabirds, bigger fish, seals, dolphins, whales, and sharks—utterly dependent on sardines and their kin. And the fact our fisheries management might not yet be capable of managing what we don't yet fully understand.

*Papers:

  • Andrew Bakun, Elizabeth A. Babcock, Salvador E. Lluch-Cota, Christine Santora, Christian J. Salvadeo. Issues of ecosystem-based management of forage fisheries in "open" non-stationary ecosystems: the example of the sardine fishery in the Gulf of California. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries. 2009. DOI 10.1007/s11160-009-9118-1
  • Andrew Bakun. Wasp-waist populations and marine ecosystem dynamics: Navigating the "predator pit" topographies. Prog Oceanography. 2006. DOI:10.1016/j.pocean.2006.02.004

 

Video Exclusive: Ani DiFranco's "Which Side Are You On?"

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Ani DiFranco

"Which Side Are You On," the haunting 1931 labor classic by Florence Reece, the wife of a union organizer, has been covered by Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg, Natalie Merchant, and Dropkick Murphys, to name just a few. In January, with the release of her album of the same title, the inimitable Ani DiFranco added her name to the list. Actually, it's always been pretty damn clear which side DiFranco is on. (In this 1999 interview, we spoke at some length about her collaboration with labor organizer and rabble-rousing storyteller Utah Phillips.) DiFranco's reworked version updates Reece's sparse union-versus-management call to action to focus on the contemporary political machine. This exclusive video below, seen here for the first time, combines DiFranco's update with a montage of images submitted by her fans who were inspired by the song—you can find plenty more here. You can also download a free MP3 of the song here. And if this makes you want to hit the barricades, well, it just so happens that the Occupy and labor movements have big plans for tomorrow, so check back, because we'll be covering the protests as they happen.

Click here for more music coverage from Mother Jones.

Obama Spikes the bin Laden Football

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 12:26 AM EDT

After taking a low-key approach to the killing of Osama bin Laden for most of the past year, the Obama campaign released a video on Friday taking credit for green-lighting the operation and questioning whether Mitt Romney would have made the same call. Conservatives scoffed, claiming that the raid was a no-brainer that any president would have approved. I don't know who's right, but if you want to decide for yourself you probably ought to know just how the entire operation was planned and what part Obama played. David Corn explains in detail in Showdown, his recent book about the Obama presidency during 2011. Here's a small piece:

Five months into his presidency, he sent a memo to Leon Panetta, then the new CIA chief, signaling that he considered finding bin Laden a high-priority task. He requested a detailed operation plan for locating and “bringing to justice” the mass-murderer. Yet for a year, Panetta did not have much to report to Obama on this front. Then in the summer of 2010, the agency informed Obama there was a lead: bin Laden might be in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about 35 miles north of Islamabad. He could be within Obama’s reach.

....As the planning meetings proceeded—the president and his aides often had a model of the compound before them—a critical point about a unilateral U.S. assault caught Obama’s attention: How would these covert warriors return safely from the compound, especially if they were to encounter hostile Pakistani military forces?....McRaven had based the planning on an assumption that if his commandos were confronted by the Pakistanis, they would protect themselves without attempting to defeat the Pakistani forces, while waiting for the politicians in Washington and Islamabad to sort things out. He calculated that his team could hold off any Pakistani assault for one or two hours.

Obama nixed the idea of commandos hunkering down to await diplomatic rescue. He worried that the Navy SEALs conducting the mission could end up as hostages of the Pakistanis, and he told McRaven to ensure that the U.S. forces could escape the compound and return to safety, whether or not they encountered Pakistani resistance.

“Don’t worry about keeping things calm with Pakistan,” Obama said to McRaven. “Worry about getting out.”

The rest is at the link. I don't know what Mitt Romney would have done in similar circumstances, but there's not much question that Obama played an active and ultimately crucial role. Without his leadership, things might have turned out quite differently.