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Wizbang Podcast #71

Here's what I thought you'd like to hear about today:

  1. Should we Talk to Iran? - Using North Korea as a Case Study
  2. Defining Torture Down - When discomfort and fear is confused with torture
  3. Good news on Iraq - How the media hides it
  4. Picking the Poster Children - Misplaying the Absolute Moral Authority Card

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Should we Talk to Iran? - Using North Korea as a Case Study

Many amateur pundits have been calling for the Bush Administration to open bilateral dialog with Iran. The idea is that you need to talk to your enemies even more than your allies. Jimmy Carter the other day said as much. Here is is on WBZ radio with Ed Walsh talking about talking to Iran. Thanks to OpinionJournal.com's Best of the Web for the link.

Play clip.

This is rich. During the Iranian hostage crisis, the Iranian government held our diplomats for over a year against their will in our diplomatic embassy. Some success for diplomacy. As James Tarranto comments:

Carter's failure to learn from his own experience is really quite stunning. He proudly cites the taking of "my hostages" (a very odd turn of phrase) at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran as evidence that America had diplomatic relations with Iran. Excuse us, but was that fact ever in dispute? The real point--and this is not so subtle that anyone can be excused for missing it--is that diplomacy with Iran didn't work back then, as evidenced by the Iranians' having taken our diplomats hostage!

Anyway, we talk to Iran today. We have had high level discussions about their shipment of weapons like EFP's into Iraq. They deny the evidence and claim they are doing their best to stabilize the region. And then they continue to ship arms to kill Americans. What point is there to talk to liars? Their promises have no merit.

President Bush was asked why we don't talk to Iran in his question and answer session on October 3, in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. Thanks to the WhiteHouse.gov for the audio and transcript. Here's his answer to a question from a 10th grader in the audience.

Play clip.

The president is clear that there are times and places to have discussions with your enemies. When we have the proper amount of leverage, we will talk to Iran. But not until we get the Russians, the Chinese, the Germans and others ready to give up their vast financial interests in Iran. When they are willing to work with us, then we can bring economic sanctions against the regime. Any talk before we have leverage is a waste of time.

Defining Torture Down - When discomfort and fear is confused with torture

Jimmy Carter was also asked about torture in his interview with WBZ. Here is Ed Walsh's question and the former president's answer.

Play clip.

Notice the deflection of the question about the so called enhanced interrogation techniques? He immediately reframes the question about interrogation techniques to a question about torture. But what is torture, and is what we are doing to get information from detainees actually torture? I don't know. My idea of torture is what John McCain


endured in North Vietnam, where he suffered broken bones and denial of medical treatment. From the Atlantic Robert D Kaplan describes the fate of Bud Day, a marine pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam and held for years in a prisoner of war camp. He later wrote a memoir.

In December 1967, a prisoner was dumped in Day's cell on the outskirts of Hanoi, known as the Plantation. This prisoner's legs were atrophied and he weighed under 100 pounds. Day helped scrub his face and nurse him back from the brink of death. The fellow American was Navy Lieutenant Commander John Sidney McCain III of the Panama Canal Zone. As his health improved, McCain's rants against his captors were sometimes as ferocious as Day's. The North Vietnamese tried and failed, through torture, to get McCain to accept a release for their own propaganda purposes: The lieutenant commander was the son of Admiral John McCain Jr., the commander of all American forces in the Pacific.
McCain suffered real torture. But are prolonged exposure to cold, head slapping, and fear of drowning really torture? Aren't we defining it down just a bit here?

I heard an egregious redefinition of the interrogation we do in Guantanamo by Bob Garfield talking on WNYC's On the Media last week. Here is an excerpt from that. It closely matches the Carter angle.

Play clip.

It just doesn't seem believable to these people that we could aggressively question terrorists without torturing them. I am just grateful that they are not in charge of interrogations. The man who is, President Bush, had this to say on the matter:

Play clip.

Go get-em George! Brett Stephens writing at OpinionJournal.com had this helpful bit of history for context:

a landmark 1978 decision laid down by the European Court of Human Rights. In Ireland v. the United Kingdom, which dealt with Britain's (extrajudicial) treatment of members of the Irish Republican Army, the court concluded that the following methods did not amount to torture:

"(a) Wall-standing: Forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a 'stress position,' described by those who underwent it as being 'spreadeagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers.'

"(b) Hooding: Putting a black or navy colored bag over the detainees' heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation.

"(c) Subjection to noise: Pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise.

"(d) Deprivation of sleep: pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep.

"(e) Deprivation of food and drink: subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the center and pending interrogations."

Remarkably, the European Court reached this careful judgment despite the fact that the "five techniques were applied in combination, with premeditation and for hours at a stretch" and that some of the detainees sustained "massive" injuries. The court's reasoning wasn't meant to excuse the behavior of British authorities, which it rightly described as "inhuman and degrading." But by maintaining the "distinction between 'torture' and 'inhuman or degrading treatment,' " the court sought to preserve the "special stigma [attached] to deliberate inhuman treatment causing very serious and cruel suffering."

Can we agree that some things are torture and others not? I doubt it.

Good news on Iraq - How the media hides it

Howard Kurtz's Reliable Sources on CNN Sunday morning had two reporters on to discuss the hiding of good news about Iraq. Their viewpoints were striking. Listen to this clip from the middle of the show.

Play clip.

Yes indeed, it sure is tricky to hide anything that doesn't take your side in the argument. Dispute over how to count the numbers. But every single number that could be counted, was counted, and all types of violence is down, mostly around 50%. And Howard's question towards the end: If casualties were up, would you report that? The reporter acknowledged that she would report bad news regardless of trends. What ever happened to disinterested and complete reporting? Ethics anyone? Good work showing them off for who they are, Howard.

Picking the Poster Children - Misplaying the Absolute Moral Authority Card

There has been a lot of back and forth lately about the Democratic response to the President's radio address last week. They chose a 12-year old boy to read the prepared text, presumably because of his moral authority. Who would dare criticize a poor boy in need of health insurance? Well, it turns out his family made choices with their money that did not include health insurance. That is their prerogative. And it is the government's role to ensure that those who don't have such luxurious choices get health coverage of the kind currently available in the S-CHIP program. Lefty bloggers are upset that righty bloggers have uncovered the considerable financial assets the 12-year old's family has available to them. An editorial in the OpinionJournal.com summed up the controversy this way:

After the Schip veto, Democrats chose a 12-year-old boy named Graeme Frost to deliver a two-minute rebuttal. While that was a political stunt, the Washington habit of employing "poster children" is hardly new. But the Internet mob leapt to some dubious conclusions and claimed the Frost kids shouldn't have been on Schip in the first place.

As it turns out, they belonged to just the sort of family that a modest Schip is supposed to help. One lesson from this meltdown is the limit of argument by anecdote. The larger point concerns policy assumptions. Everyone concedes it is hard for some lower-income families like the Frosts to find affordable private health coverage. The debate is over what the government should do about it.

I love this controversy because it highlights to trouble people get into when they play the moral authority card. A perfect example in another issue is the use of poster children to talk about illegal immigration. Mickey Kaus noticed this on last week. He writes:

Here's an anguished NPR report on a victim of the highly-touted "E-Verify" system for checking the immigration status of employees. It seems Fernando Tinoco, an American citizen, "thought he was living the American dream." But at a new job he got a "tentative non-confirmation" for his Social Security number. Two hours after being hired he was fired. And then ... he "cleared up the problem" ... and then he got his job back. ... So what's the big difficulty? He was ... humiliated! Yes, that's the ticket. Though he doesn't sound very humiliated in this report--despite the egging-on of the NPR reporter ("They thought you were illegal. ... Criminal! But you're an American." ..."Yes. We're in America, yes.") ... Remember: This is the best case NPR and the legal rights groups that feed it could come up with. ...

Play clip.

Mickey goes on:

database-error rate for those pre-employment checks? ... 3) The Corner's Mark Krikorian points out that making Mr. Tinoco iron out the problems with his Social Security number actually helped him in one respect--because it presumably means he will now get his Social Security benefits without a bureaucratic hassle. ...

That's it for now podcatchers. I'm Charlie Quidnunc reporting from cool clear fall day in Mercer Island.

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