Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Except for......Alaska oil spill now up to 100 gallons
Just last week, BP said the release involved an estimated 3 gallons of oil
By Associated Press
BP now estimates as much as 100 gallons of crude oil may have spilled in an area around a well house where a pipe broke in the Prudhoe Bay oil field, Alaska officials said Tuesday. BP's initial estimate was 3 gallons of oil.
The spill, discovered Dec. 21, came from a 6-inch line carrying a mixture of crude oil, water and natural gas, said spokesman Weld Royal of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. As of Tuesday, BP's updated estimate is that 300 to 700 gallons of liquid spilled, with as much as 100 gallons of that being crude oil. Last week, BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said the release involved an estimated 3 gallons of oil and 131 gallons of water.
Environmental Conservation officials acknowledge it's difficult to accurately assess spill volume where several liquids are involved, Royal said.
Royal said about six acres of snow-covered tundra, gravel pad and reserve pit have been affected. About 386 cubic yards of contaminated snow have been removed and stockpiled for transport to a temporary staging area.
The spill was discovered by a BP oil field operator doing a routine inspection. The break in the 6-inch line occurred where the production line left the well house.
* Continue Reading
Tom DeRuyter, the state's on-scene spill coordinator, said an investigation continues into why the line separated.
Cleanup workers will continue to remove contaminated snow near the well house using hand tools, Royal said. A skid loader will be used to clean a more heavily oiled area near the well house and reserve pit. Also, the well house will be removed to allow heavy equipment access to the more heavily contaminated area.
BP operates the Prudhoe Bay oil field -- North America's largest oil field.
Last month, one of the North Slope's biggest spills -- 46,000 gallons of oil, water and natural gas -- was reported at the Lisburne oil field, another BP-operated site. That spill occurred when an 18-inch line split on Nov. 29. The cause of that spill is believed to be ice buildup in the line.
Lois Epstein, an Anchorage consultant on pipeline safety, said the recent spills highlight a long-standing problem on the North Slope in certain pipelines that carry oil, gas and water. For decades those lines, unlike transit lines that carry oil after processing, have been unregulated by the federal government, she said. The flow lines were placed under state regulation only recently.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Reporting Bennett Cunningham
The city of
In August, Perry was given the "Defender of Jerusalem" award. So Perry and his wife flew first class to
They all took the 7,000 mile journey to accept the award at a time when the governor was asking everyone else in state government to cut back on travel. During a speech in
According to state documents, the taxpayers' bill just to take Perry's security officers on the 5-day trip was more than $70,000. The breakdown includes $17,000 for rooms at the swanky
The specific price tag for the governor and his wife are secret. So when CBS 11 asked to see the governor's expense records for the trip, we received four pages and no specifics. Perry refused to do a formal interview with us and would only say, "Going to
Keith Elkins is executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. Elkins and his organization fight for government transparency. Elkins says, "This Governor operates under the premise of 'believe what I say, not what I do.'" While Elkins suggests, "There is something else going on here," he doesn't know what that 'something' is.
Records obtained by CBS 11 show the governor's airfare and trip costs for he and his wife were paid for by Irwin Katsof, a financier for energy companies around the world. And the man who presented Perry with the Defender of Jerusalem award, Guma Aguiar, owns a company that made billions of dollars in the
Just two weeks before Aguiar and Perry posed for pictures in
Sheila Krumholz is the executive director of the
CBS 11 obtained a list of people on the trip. The organizers describe those attending as "an elite cadre of 20 executives in, gas and oil, biotech, finance and technology." The list includes an out of state Congresswoman and Texas Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo, whose agency regulates the oil and natural gas industry in
Carrillo says he paid his own way but refused to show CBS 11 any of his expenses. Also on the list of travelers: a host of energy executives, the governor's family -- which included his son's fiancée -- and a member of the State Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Juan Hinojosa of McAllen. Hinojosa told us the trip was not about energy. "I don't recall discussions about oil and gas with the business people there," he said.
The governor and others met with the President of Israel, the Prime Minster and Israeli soldiers. They toured the old city of
Like the governor, State Senator Hinojosa's entire trip was paid for by Katsof, the financier. Hinojosa also received the Defender of Jerusalem Award. But unlike the governor's four pages of documents, Hinojosa gave us everything he had -- fully disclosing the nature of the trip.
Hinojosa maintains there was no conflict of interest by accepting the trip. "We as public officials have to make decision on public policy. Not who contributes money or pays for a trip," he explained. But Krumholz disagreed, saying, "This trip raises real concerns for the potential for a secret junket."
The trip also had its share of perks. CBS 11 obtained private emails and found the organizer, Katsof, asked attendees what kind of scotch they preferred for a "scotch and cigar bar" where they would admire "a starry
In late May a
Thursday, October 29, 2009
LIEBERMAN THE LYING WANKER
Lieberman’s 60th vote is needed to get the Senate bill to the floor and overcome a Republican filibuster. And once again, he is abandoning the Democratic Party when he is most needed. Despite his campaigning for Sen. McCain during the presidential election and speaking out in opposition to candidate Barack
During Lieberman’s 2006 Senate run as an Independent, after losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, Lieberman campaigned heavily for single payer, universal health insurance for all:
“What I’m saying to the people of Connecticut, I can do more for you and your families to get something done to make health care affordable, to get universal health insurance,” Lieberman said during a July, 2006, debate.
Lieberman also supported a proposal called, “MediChoice,” which would “allow anybody in our country to buy into a national insurance pool like the health insurance pool that we federal employees and Members of Congress have.”
Lieberman also promised his health insurance plans would cover “95 percent of those who are not covered now, and it will reduce the pressure on rising costs for all the millions of others.”
Three years later apparently, Sen. Lieberman is now strongly opposed to even a watered down state opt-out public option. In recent days, Lieberman has puffed up his chest and taken his disingenuous “I’m against the public option” road show to Fox
One day Lieberman claims he opposes the opt-out public option, because it would raise the deficit and increase the burden on taxpayers. The next day he makes a contradictory argument, claiming a public option would reduce rates paid to health care providers, which would result in higher costs to consumers.
This from a senator who, as much as anyone, helped run up the national debt since 9/11 by pushing to raise the military budget to its highest level since World War II. It is a budget inflated by enormous expenditures on high-tech weaponry irrelevant to combating terror, such as the $2-billion-a-piece submarines -- produced in his home state of Connecticut -- that he claimed were needed to combat al-Qaida, a landlocked enemy holed up in caves. Lieberman is worried about the impact of a very limited public option on the debt the same week as he and others in Congress passed a $680-billion defense bill larded with pork of the sort the Connecticut senator has always supported. . . .
Maybe he can also take some time then to justify his strong support for the government bailout of troubled banking and insurance companies that has tripled the federal deficit this year to $1.4 trillion. Is AIG not now a 'government-run insurance company,' and doesn't the $185 billion of taxpayer money thrown at that sorry enterprise add up to more than twice the yearly cost of the health reform package?
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The Evil Public Option
(from the funpie weblog)
In the town where I grew up, there were a couple of mom and pop bookstores, one called Borders, and one called Barnes & Noble. These small businesses, the backbone of our economy, provided a wide array of reading material, music and games, along with coffee and scones. Each also provided a type of membership card. The one from Borders was free, and entitled holders to additional discounts on books and free desserts on their birthdays. The one from Barnes & Noble cost $25 and entitled holder to save at least $25 over the course of purchasing something like another $1000 worth of books. Both were a great deal, and these little mom and pop stores provided each other with a healthy competition in the spirit of the American Dream.
Then one day, a “public option” was forced upon my little town. This government-run public option – some called it a “library,” I called it a nazi-loving beauracratic nightmare – had the audacity to swoop down and start offering books to people for FREE! How in the hell could our little mom and pops ever hope to compete with that?!? This evil library also gave out membership cards, and anyone who had one could take home a whole STACK of books for up to a MONTH at a time!!! Sure, sometimes people had to wait a little bit for access to bestsellers, and since books had to be returned you couldn’t give them as gifts or keep them on your shelves to show people how well-read you were, but still. No one on the planet could possibly compete with this kind of undermining of the free market.
Soon after this public option library came to town, Borders and Barnes & Noble were forced to close up their small businesses, costing hard-working Americans their jobs, and bringing us one step closer to Stalinist Russia. That is why I will never again support a public option of any kind for anything. I love America too much. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the post-office, which means I have to drive all the way past the fire house, the public elementary school and the police station, so I’d better get going.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Beyond the Fringe Right Reaction
Here is a round-up of world reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Obama as reported by news agencies.
We are entering an era of renewed multilateralism, a new era where the challenges facing humankind demand global common cause and uncommon global effort. President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world's biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges.
It confirms, finally, America's return to the hearts of the people of the world... you can count on my resolute support and that of France.
In a short time he has established a new tone, creating a willingness for dialogue and I think we all should support him to make peace in this world possible. There is a lot do but a window of opportunity has been opened. His advocacy of a world free of nuclear arms is an aim we all need to make real in the next few years.
I am really pleased. I want to congratulate him from my heart. I've seen the world changing since President Obama took office. It was outstanding when he made the speech in Prague calling for a nuclear-free world.
President Obama has made extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples.
He has also demonstrated his strong commitment to help build peace and defend fundamental human rights, including through the atlantic alliance. This honour is well deserved.
There is nobody today in my view who is more deserving of that peace prize than Barack Obama. In less than a year he brought a radical change in the way we look at ourselves, in the way we look at our world. He is restoring the basic core values that every one of us should live by - dialogue, respect, democracy, due process, human rights, a security system that does not depend on nuclear weapons. His dedication to these values rekindles hope that, finally, we could have a world at peace with itself.
We have no objection if this prize is an incentive to reverse the warmongering and unilateral policies of the previous US administration and if this encourages a policy based on just peace.
The appropriate time for awarding such a prize is when foreign military forces leave Iraq and Afghanistan and when one stands by the rights of the oppressed Palestinian people.
We congratulate Obama for winning the Nobel. His hard work and his new vision on global relations, his will and efforts for creating friendly and good relations at global level and global peace make him the appropriate recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
We have seen no change in his strategy for peace. He has done nothing for peace in Afghanistan. He has not taken a single step for peace in Afghanistan or to make this country stable.
We condemn the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for Obama. We condemn the institute's awarding him the peace prize. We condemn this year's peace prize as unjust.
You have already inspired so many people around the world, and I know that this award also expresses the hope that your presidency will usher in a new era of peace and reconciliation. Nowhere is such a peace needed more than in the Middle East, a region that has been long marked by terror and bloodshed.
I look forward to working closely with you in the years ahead to advance peace and to give hope to the peoples of our region who deserve to live in peace, security and dignity.
We hope that he will be able to achieve peace in the Middle East and achieve Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders and establish an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.
We are in need of actions, not sayings. If there is no fundamental and true change in American policies toward the acknowledgment of the rights of the Palestinian people, I think this prize won't move us forward or backward.
I am happy. What Obama did during his presidency is a big signal, he gave hope. In these hard times, people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported.
He's not even finished a year in his first term of office of a relatively young president. It's an award that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all.
So soon? This is too soon. He has not yet made a real input. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act.
This is probably an encouragement for him to act. Let's see if he perseveres.
It is a bold statement of international support for his vision and commitment to peace and harmony in international relations. It shows the hope his administration represents not only to our nation but to people around the world.
I think it's extremely well deserved. I think it will take some time before people put together all the different moves that linked his speech at the UN on the abolishing of nuclear weapons, his shift on the missile defence programme in Eastern Europe and the movement of Russia to joining the international consensus that confronted Iran to abide by the non-proliferation treaty.
I think that it is kind of foolish to think that the Nobel Prize isn't politicised - it's not a humanitarian prize, it's a prize in recognition of change in the world to contribute to peace, sometimes its a recognitions of visions for peace. He is facing huge contradictions as well - he is going to be sending 40,000 new American troops into Afghanistan just as he receives the Nobel Peace Prize? I think that is a contradiction that needs to be seriously looked at.
Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama is a way of encouraging him to not renege on the universal principles that he has championed.
We would have preferred a human rights defender like Oleg Orlov from Memorial in Russia or Natalia Estemirova [human rights activist murdered in Chechnya].
Monday, October 05, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
As he told his audience in 1936, "It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them."
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
"Nazism is fascism, by the way, which is far right.
Socialism is an economic system, not a form of government.
Socialism provides greater individual freedom, not less.
Totalitarianism is not socialism.
Fascism is not socialism.
Big government is not socialism.
Our present oligarchy is not socialism.
Conservatives aren't freedom loving.
Conservatives by definition, don't want change.
That is why all government is conservative--the role of government is to protect--you can't protect what hasn't come yet.
That is why all politicians are conservative: you can't win voters who don't exist yet.
That is why popular movements bring the real changes in society, and laws, governments and other institutions catch up later.
And now, the time for change has come as our current economy has failed.
Obama can't stop the future, no matter how hard he tries, he is a mere mortal waving a sword at a tidal wave. The future will come, whether we fight it or welcome it, just as night becomes day, winners become losers, and so on. Even the Bible makes this observation."
Posted by: Jason at August 25, 2009 04:30 PM
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Five right-wing myths about healthcare reform, and the facts
By Mike Madden
Turning America socialist apparently wasn't enough for him -- now President Obama is trying to make old people kill themselves, callously deny important medical procedures, funnel tax dollars to abortion clinics and wiggle the government's way into every doctor's office in America.
At least, that's the sense you might have about the healthcare reform proposals Congress is considering from listening to opponents describe them. Already, conservative activists have erupted against the plan, with protesters hanging Democratic lawmakers in effigy and disrupting town hall meetings.
As both the House and the Senate clear out of the Capitol for the month, expect the viral buzz -- and the TV battle -- about what's in the bills to grow louder and louder. The White House finally seems to have realized that the administration can't win the policy debate without addressing some of the attacks from the right. Aides recently released a video rebutting some of the claims about what healthcare reform would and wouldn't do. An administration official told Salon Wednesday that the White House will soon launch a Web site modeled on the "Fight the Smears" site Obama's campaign ran last fall, where voters can find -- and debunk -- some of the rumors about the reform proposals, and the White House is already collecting chain e-mails at "email@example.com," an address Obama aides set up to receive them.
But the administration might already be behind the curve. Over the last few weeks, opponents have managed to get out their spin on the bill through talk radio, blogs, chain e-mails and other channels. And their talking points depend on a notably elastic approach to the truth. Here's a fact check of some of the more alarming claims that the right is making about healthcare reform, claims that are already hardening into myth.
Myth 1: Democrats want to kill your grandmother. This claim seems too outlandish on its face to get much traction, but Republicans actually made some headway on it recently. Two House GOP leaders put out a statement warning that the healthcare reform bill "may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia." To hear opponents of reform talk about it, the legislation would force seniors to go in for sessions once every five years -- and more frequently if they're sick -- where doctors will encourage them to end their lives. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., summarized the scare tactic pretty well on the House floor last week, when she said the bill would "put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government," and therefore, wouldn't be pro-life. The GOP has pushed this line especially hard with some of the conservative groups behind the government's intervention in the Terri Schiavo case a few years ago, hoping to get antiabortion allies on board fighting reform. "Can you imagine the response of the American people when they find this out?" one-time GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson asked about the alleged euthanasia scheme on his radio show last month. "They're going to counsel you on preparing you to die," Rush Limbaugh pronounced a few weeks ago. Proof of how far this attack has spread came last week, when a caller to an AARP forum asked Obama about it directly. (Probably unwisely, the president tried to make light of the question, saying there weren't enough government employees to go meet with old people to talk about end-of-life care.)
There is a kernel of truth at the root of this attack: The legislation would order Medicare to pay for consultations between patients and doctors on end-of-life decisions, which it currently doesn't cover. But the consultations wouldn't be mandatory; if your grandmother doesn't want to go talk to her doctor about end-of-life care, she won't have to. Because Medicare doesn't pay for this kind of planning now, only 40 percent of seniors who depend on the government insurance say they have an advance directive that tells healthcare providers what measures they do and don't want used to prolong their life, even though 75 percent say they think it's important. The lack of planning actually costs a lot of money. Medicare spends billions and billions of dollars annually on expensive treatment during the last year of a dying patient's life. Without allowing Medicare to pay for end-of-life consultations, it's hard to know whether patients even want to go to such expensive lengths.
Myth 2: The government -- i.e., you -- will have to pay for abortions. This is another way the GOP is stirring up antiabortion activists against healthcare reform -- by warning that your tax dollars will be used to pay for someone else's abortion. An ad by the Family Research Council dramatizes the issue about as creepily as possible. "To think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run healthcare plan and spending tax dollars on abortions," a distraught older man tells his wife, sitting at their kitchen table after opening a letter from the government. "They won't pay for my surgery, but we're forced to pay abortions." The narrator lays out what's going on: "Our greatest generation denied care, our future generations denied life." A House Republican aide says the GOP thinks this could be the most potent type of viral attack against reform, since antiabortion Democrats will have trouble voting for the legislation if it includes taxpayer funding for the procedure.
But only the most extreme antiabortion reading of the legislation would say it does that. The words "Planned Parenthood" and "abortion" don't appear anywhere in the text, despite conservative buzz that it would funnel millions of dollars to killing babies. (A proposal in the Senate version of the reform legislation would require insurance plans to cover preventive care and screening visits to community health providers, which could include Planned Parenthood.) Even an AP story that Matt Drudge was hyping on Wednesday as proof that the government would be funding abortions didn't go quite that far -- instead, the story detailed a fight over whether women who buy government-subsidized private insurance through a proposed exchange system should be able to have abortions covered by their plans. Pro-choice lawmakers are trying to craft a compromise that would require insurance companies to pay for abortions out of premiums paid by patients, not out of tax dollars. Pro-choice Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., amended the House version of the legislation to state that abortion is not part of an "essential benefits package" that all insurance plans must provide -- meaning someone could offer a special "pro-life health insurance" plan that doesn't cover abortions, even under the reforms.
Myth 3: Obama will ban all private health insurance. Allegedly, the House proposal for healthcare reform bans private insurance. This rumor comes complete with a citation: "Right there on Page 16 is a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal," the unflaggingly pro-business paper Investors Business Daily wrote in an editorial last month. Other right-wing blogs and news outlets picked up on the idea, as well. It fits in with a broader message Republicans have been using: The reform will lead to a total government takeover of healthcare.
The IBD line is literally true -- Section 102 of the House bill says insurance companies can't independently issue any new individual policies after the legislation takes effect (though existing policies are grandfathered in). But it misses the point. Private plans aren't banned, but rather shifted into the new health insurance exchange the legislation would set up. You can still get a private policy, but the way in which you buy it changes. If you wanted to buy your own insurance, you have to do it through the government-run insurance exchange. Your policy becomes part of broader risk pools, which makes the premiums cheaper and keeps insurance companies from dumping them once they get sick. PolitiFact looked into the claim and rated the IBD editorial "pants on fire," its lowest rating -- as in, "Liar, liar, pants on fire."
Myth 4: The government can't possibly run a healthcare program. Opponents of reform trot out comparisons to government services frequently when they try to argue against a public, government-funded healthcare plan. Republicans drew up a chart that purports to show how convoluted the bureaucracy involved in any government plan would be. This message doesn't make Obama the enemy, it makes government inefficiency the enemy. "If you like the Post Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles and you think they're run well, just wait till you see Medicare, Medicaid and healthcare done by the government," conservative economist Arthur Laffer told CNN this week.
If that doesn't quite make sense, there's a reason -- Medicare and Medicaid are, of course, government-run healthcare programs. Medicare in particular is quite popular; polling shows some seniors are anxious that the reform will affect the care they already get from the government. (In fact, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says she frequently encounters voters who say they want to keep the government out of their Medicare.) The Department of Veterans Administration also runs a healthcare system that experts praise for its well-developed health information technology network, which lets doctors see results of tests and procedures any patient has had anywhere in the network -- eliminating the wasteful duplication that Obama says he wants to cut out of the larger healthcare world, as well.
Myth 5: Unlike private insurance, government bureaucrats will ration care. This line also makes government the enemy. "You may want healthcare that your doctor has prescribed for you," Peter Ferrara, of the anti-tax, anti-government Institute for Policy Innovation, wrote on the National Review last month. "But the rationing bureaucracy in Washington that doesn’t even know you, or your doctor, may decide that your doctor doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or that you are too old for the government to pay for your hip replacement to stop the pain, or to get an expensive triple bypass or a pacemaker operation to save your life." Since the Obama administration keeps talking about encouraging doctors to shift to outcome-based pay scales and evidence-based guidelines for what treatments or procedures to use, opponents don't have much trouble painting a troubling picture of faceless government hacks denying the care you -- or your loved ones -- need.
Of course, there are already plenty of faceless hacks denying people care right now; they just work for private insurance companies, not the government, and they're denying care because that helps keep the insurers' profit margins up. At a recent House hearing, just three insurance companies testified that they had "rescinded" -- or dropped -- coverage for nearly 20,000 patients between 2003 and 2007, often after patients had submitted claims they thought would be covered. Even Republicans seem to know the insurance companies can be bad. "I would always rather the devil I know than the devil I don't know," House GOP boss John Boehner said last week, explaining why going after the government works even though private insurance companies would seem to be just as much of a villain.
Monday, June 01, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Friday, May 08, 2009
Thursday, May 07, 2009
What more can be added to the debate over U.S. interrogation methods, and whether waterboarding is torture? Try firsthand experience. The author undergoes the controversial drowning technique, at the hands of men who once trained American soldiers to resist—not inflict—it.
by Christopher Hitchens August 2008
Here is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as sere (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). In these harsh exercises, brave men and women were introduced to the sorts of barbarism that they might expect to meet at the hands of a lawless foe who disregarded the Geneva Conventions. But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict.
Exploring this narrow but deep distinction, on a gorgeous day last May I found myself deep in the hill country of western North Carolina, preparing to be surprised by a team of extremely hardened veterans who had confronted their country’s enemies in highly arduous terrain all over the world. They knew about everything from unarmed combat to enhanced interrogation and, in exchange for anonymity, were going to show me as nearly as possible what real waterboarding might be like.
View a video of Hitchens’s waterboarding experience.
It goes without saying that I knew I could stop the process at any time, and that when it was all over I would be released into happy daylight rather than returned to a darkened cell. But it’s been well said that cowards die many times before their deaths, and it was difficult for me to completely forget the clause in the contract of indemnification that I had signed. This document (written by one who knew) stated revealingly:
“Water boarding” is a potentially dangerous activity in which the participant can receive serious and permanent (physical, emotional and psychological) injuries and even death, including injuries and death due to the respiratory and neurological systems of the body.
As the agreement went on to say, there would be safeguards provided “during the ‘water boarding’ process, however, these measures may fail and even if they work properly they may not prevent Hitchens from experiencing serious injury or death.”
On the night before the encounter I got to sleep with what I thought was creditable ease, but woke early and knew at once that I wasn’t going back to any sort of doze or snooze. The first specialist I had approached with the scheme had asked my age on the telephone and when told what it was (I am 59) had laughed out loud and told me to forget it. Waterboarding is for Green Berets in training, or wiry young jihadists whose teeth can bite through the gristle of an old goat. It’s not for wheezing, paunchy scribblers. For my current “handlers” I had had to produce a doctor’s certificate assuring them that I did not have asthma, but I wondered whether I should tell them about the 15,000 cigarettes I had inhaled every year for the last several decades. I was feeling apprehensive, in other words, and beginning to wish I hadn’t given myself so long to think about it.
I have to be opaque about exactly where I was later that day, but there came a moment when, sitting on a porch outside a remote house at the end of a winding country road, I was very gently yet firmly grabbed from behind, pulled to my feet, pinioned by my wrists (which were then cuffed to a belt), and cut off from the sunlight by having a black hood pulled over my face. I was then turned around a few times, I presume to assist in disorienting me, and led over some crunchy gravel into a darkened room. Well, mainly darkened: there were some oddly spaced bright lights that came as pinpoints through my hood. And some weird music assaulted my ears. (I’m no judge of these things, but I wouldn’t have expected former Special Forces types to be so fond of New Age techno-disco.) The outside world seemed very suddenly very distant indeed.
Arms already lost to me, I wasn’t able to flail as I was pushed onto a sloping board and positioned with my head lower than my heart. (That’s the main point: the angle can be slight or steep.) Then my legs were lashed together so that the board and I were one single and trussed unit. Not to bore you with my phobias, but if I don’t have at least two pillows I wake up with acid reflux and mild sleep apnea, so even a merely supine position makes me uneasy. And, to tell you something I had been keeping from myself as well as from my new experimental friends, I do have a fear of drowning that comes from a bad childhood moment on the Isle of Wight, when I got out of my depth. As a boy reading the climactic torture scene of 1984, where what is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world, I realize that somewhere in my version of that hideous chamber comes the moment when the wave washes over me. Not that that makes me special: I don’t know anyone who likes the idea of drowning. As mammals we may have originated in the ocean, but water has many ways of reminding us that when we are in it we are out of our element. In brief, when it comes to breathing, give me good old air every time.
You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.
This is because I had read that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, invariably referred to as the “mastermind” of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, had impressed his interrogators by holding out for upwards of two minutes before cracking. (By the way, this story is not confirmed. My North Carolina friends jeered at it. “Hell,” said one, “from what I heard they only washed his damn face before he babbled.”) But, hell, I thought in my turn, no Hitchens is going to do worse than that. Well, O.K., I admit I didn’t outdo him. And so then I said, with slightly more bravado than was justified, that I’d like to try it one more time. There was a paramedic present who checked my racing pulse and warned me about adrenaline rush. An interval was ordered, and then I felt the mask come down again. Steeling myself to remember what it had been like last time, and to learn from the previous panic attack, I fought down the first, and some of the second, wave of nausea and terror but soon found that I was an abject prisoner of my gag reflex. The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it. Also, in case it’s of interest, I have since woken up trying to push the bedcovers off my face, and if I do anything that makes me short of breath I find myself clawing at the air with a horrible sensation of smothering and claustrophobia. No doubt this will pass. As if detecting my misery and shame, one of my interrogators comfortingly said, “Any time is a long time when you’re breathing water.” I could have hugged him for saying so, and just then I was hit with a ghastly sense of the sadomasochistic dimension that underlies the relationship between the torturer and the tortured. I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.
I am somewhat proud of my ability to “keep my head,” as the saying goes, and to maintain presence of mind under trying circumstances. I was completely convinced that, when the water pressure had become intolerable, I had firmly uttered the pre-determined code word that would cause it to cease. But my interrogator told me that, rather to his surprise, I had not spoken a word. I had activated the “dead man’s handle” that signaled the onset of unconsciousness. So now I have to wonder about the role of false memory and delusion. What I do recall clearly, though, is a hard finger feeling for my solar plexus as the water was being poured. What was that for? “That’s to find out if you are trying to cheat, and timing your breathing to the doses. If you try that, we can outsmart you. We have all kinds of enhancements.” I was briefly embarrassed that I hadn’t earned or warranted these refinements, but it hit me yet again that this is certainly the language of torture.
Maybe I am being premature in phrasing it thus. Among the veterans there are at least two views on all this, which means in practice that there are two opinions on whether or not “waterboarding” constitutes torture. I have had some extremely serious conversations on the topic, with two groups of highly decent and serious men, and I think that both cases have to be stated at their strongest.
The team who agreed to give me a hard time in the woods of North Carolina belong to a highly honorable group. This group regards itself as out on the front line in defense of a society that is too spoiled and too ungrateful to appreciate those solid, underpaid volunteers who guard us while we sleep. These heroes stay on the ramparts at all hours and in all weather, and if they make a mistake they may be arraigned in order to scratch some domestic political itch. Faced with appalling enemies who make horror videos of torture and beheadings, they feel that they are the ones who confront denunciation in our press, and possible prosecution. As they have just tried to demonstrate to me, a man who has been waterboarded may well emerge from the experience a bit shaky, but he is in a mood to surrender the relevant information and is unmarked and undamaged and indeed ready for another bout in quite a short time. When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay. No thumbscrew, no pincers, no electrodes, no rack. Can one say this of those who have been captured by the tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl? On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is therefore a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down. I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint.
Against it, however, I call as my main witness Mr. Malcolm Nance. Mr. Nance is not what you call a bleeding heart. In fact, speaking of the coronary area, he has said that, in battlefield conditions, he “would personally cut bin Laden’s heart out with a plastic M.R.E. spoon.” He was to the fore on September 11, 2001, dealing with the burning nightmare in the debris of the Pentagon. He has been involved with the sere program since 1997. He speaks Arabic and has been on al-Qaeda’s tail since the early 1990s. His most recent book, The Terrorists of Iraq, is a highly potent analysis both of the jihadist threat in Mesopotamia and of the ways in which we have made its life easier. I passed one of the most dramatic evenings of my life listening to his cold but enraged denunciation of the adoption of waterboarding by the United States. The argument goes like this:
1. Waterboarding is a deliberate torture technique and has been prosecuted as such by our judicial arm when perpetrated by others.
2. If we allow it and justify it, we cannot complain if it is employed in the future by other regimes on captive U.S. citizens. It is a method of putting American prisoners in harm’s way.
3. It may be a means of extracting information, but it is also a means of extracting junk information. (Mr. Nance told me that he had heard of someone’s being compelled to confess that he was a hermaphrodite. I later had an awful twinge while wondering if I myself could have been “dunked” this far.) To put it briefly, even the C.I.A. sources for the Washington Post story on waterboarding conceded that the information they got out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was “not all of it reliable.” Just put a pencil line under that last phrase, or commit it to memory.
4. It opens a door that cannot be closed. Once you have posed the notorious “ticking bomb” question, and once you assume that you are in the right, what will you not do? Waterboarding not getting results fast enough? The terrorist’s clock still ticking? Well, then, bring on the thumbscrews and the pincers and the electrodes and the rack.
Masked by these arguments, there lurks another very penetrating point. Nance doubts very much that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed lasted that long under the water treatment (and I am pathetically pleased to hear it). It’s also quite thinkable, if he did, that he was trying to attain martyrdom at our hands. But even if he endured so long, and since the United States has in any case bragged that in fact he did, one of our worst enemies has now become one of the founders of something that will someday disturb your sleep as well as mine. To quote Nance:
Torture advocates hide behind the argument that an open discussion about specific American interrogation techniques will aid the enemy. Yet, convicted Al Qaeda members and innocent captives who were released to their host nations have already debriefed the world through hundreds of interviews, movies and documentaries on exactly what methods they were subjected to and how they endured. Our own missteps have created a cadre of highly experienced lecturers for Al Qaeda’s own virtual sere school for terrorists.
Which returns us to my starting point, about the distinction between training for something and training to resist it. One used to be told—and surely with truth—that the lethal fanatics of al-Qaeda were schooled to lie, and instructed to claim that they had been tortured and maltreated whether they had been tortured and maltreated or not. Did we notice what a frontier we had crossed when we admitted and even proclaimed that their stories might in fact be true? I had only a very slight encounter on that frontier, but I still wish that my experience were the only way in which the words “waterboard” and “American” could be mentioned in the same (gasping and sobbing) breath.