Friday, April 17, 2009

The Bush Torture Memos

Clarence Darrow
Clarance Darrow, the famous defense lawyer, got it right back in 1920 talking about that era's parade of hysteria-driven abuses known as the First Red Scare: "People are getting more cruel all the time, more insistent that they shall have their way," he told friends back then. "The fact is that I am getting afraid of everyone who has conviction."

Eighty years later, in 2001, President George W. Bush showed plenty of conviction when he declared his Global War on Terror after the attacks on our country of September 11 that year. Every American, as a basic civic duty, should spend the few minutes it takes to read the "Torture Memos" released yesterday by the Department of Justice, written in 2002 and 2005 to justify dispensing with two centuries of American decency -- just to see when happens when hysteria is allowed to control the minds of normally rational people.

These memos -- well-wrtten, highly-researched, and technically cogent -- specify in sobering detail just how cruel our government was prepared to be in waging this War, with no weighing of any consequences outside these narrowest legal grounds. They explain how ten forms of aggressive interrogation did not amount to torture and thus were protected by law: "(1) attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap (insult slap), (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivations, (9) insects placed in a confinement box, and (10) the waterboard."
Imagine if any other country ever dared to use these techniques against American citizens, and then justified them on the basis of the attached legal mumbo-jumbo.
Here are the links:

-- The August 1, 2002 memo, initially justifying the ten technogues, written by Jay Bybee, who sits today as a Federal Appeals Court Judge. (On whether Judge Bybee should be impeached, click here to see Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman's take on the issue from last January);

-- The May 10, 2005 memo providing a more detailed legal justification (much more graphic);

-- The May 10, 2005 memo, justifying use of the techniques in combination; and

-- The May 30, 2005 memo, justifying how the techniques do not violate United Nations Conventions.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Books I've Blurbed

Check out these recent titles, now in bookstores, that I had the pleasure to write advance blurbs for (which means, obviously, I liked them):
The Canary Sang but Couldn't Fly: The Fatal Fall of Abe Reles, the Mobster Who Shattered Murder, Inc.'s Code of Silence by Edmunh Elmaleh

My blurb: “Elmaleh has brought fresh energy, a fresh point of view, and a flair for original research to this story, tracing its conspiracies in the best tradition of life mimicking film noir. This blank spot in New York’s underworld history deserves to be filled, and Elmaleh fills it."

My blurb: "[An] intimate portrait of decline. Throughout, the contrast between the great President and his descendants—living lives of little social impact or public purpose—is crystal clear."

The Long Pursuit: Abraham Lincoln's Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas for the Heart and Soul of America, by Roy Morris, Jr.

My Blurb: "[A] key addition to out understanding of antebellum America -- the forces driving the nation to th brink -- and a fine human drama."

Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America by David A. Taylor
   My blurb: "This intimate portrait of the Writers' Project, a gem of FDR's New Deal, is a nostalgic journey through America in the Depression Era. Familiar faces dot every corner, young writers from Studs Terkel to Richard Wright, John Cheever to Ralph Ellison. It's a journey well worth taking, a key formative moment in our literary common culture, well written and nicely researched."