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May 28, 2003

Repealing Godwin’s Law
Posted by Teresa at 04:57 PM *

If this story is accurate, we’re going to have to repeal Godwin’s Law. It’s from an Australian paper, the Courier-Mail:

US plans death camp 26may03

THE US has floated plans to turn Guantanamo Bay into a death camp, with its own death row and execution chamber. Prisoners would be tried, convicted and executed without leaving its boundaries, without a jury and without right of appeal, The Mail on Sunday newspaper reported yesterday.

The plans were revealed by Major-General Geoffrey Miller, who is in charge of 680 suspects from 43 countries, including two Australians. The suspects have been held at Camp Delta on Cuba without charge for 18 months.

General Miller said building a death row was one plan. Another was to have a permanent jail, with possibly an execution chamber.

The Mail on Sunday reported the move is seen as logical by the US, which has been attacked worldwide for breaching the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war since it established the camp at a naval base to hold alleged terrorists from Afghanistan.

But it has horrified human rights groups and lawyers representing detainees. They see it as the clearest indication America has no intention of falling in line with internationally recognised justice.

The US has already said detainees would be tried by tribunals, without juries or appeals to a higher court. Detainees will be allowed only US lawyers.

British activist Stephen Jakobi, of Fair Trials Abroad, said: “The US is kicking and screaming against any pressure to conform with British or any other kind of international justice.”

American law professor Jonathan Turley, who has led US civil rights group protests against the military tribunals planned to hear cases at Guantanamo Bay, said: “It is not surprising the authorities are building a death row because they have said they plan to try capital cases before these tribunals. This camp was created to execute people. The administration has no interest in long-term prison sentences for people it regards as hard-core terrorists.”

Britain admitted it had been kept in the dark about the plans. A Downing St spokesman said: “The US Government is well aware of the British Government’s position on the death penalty.”
Cowboy Khalil, from whom I got this, concurrently points out this story in The Guardian:
Red Cross denied access to PoWs May 25, 2003

The United States is illegally holding thousands of Iraqi prisoners of war and other captives without access to human rights officials at compounds close to Baghdad airport, The Observer has learnt.

There have also been reports of a mutiny last week by prisoners at an airport compound, in protest against conditions. The uprising was ‘dealt with’ by the Americans, according to a US military source.

The International Committee of the Red Cross so far has been denied access to what the organisation believes could be as many as 3,000 prisoners held in searing heat. All other requests to inspect conditions under which prisoners are being held have been met with silence or been turned down. …

Unlike the Afghans in Cuba, there is no doubt about the status of these captives, whether PoWs or civilians arrested for looting or other crimes under military occupation: all have the right, under the laws of war, to be visited and documented by the International Red Cross. ‘There is no argument about the situation with regard to the Iraqi armed forces and even the Fedayeen Saddam,’ said the ICRC’s spokeswoman in Baghdad, Nada Doumani.

‘They are prisoners of war because they have been captured during a clear conflict between two states. If they served in the armed forces or in a militia with distinctive clothing which came under the chain of command of one of the warring states, they are protected under article 143 of the Geneva Convention.’ …

Civilians held, she said, have similar rights because they have been detained by an occupying power, which the ICRC insists the Americans to be, even if they do not use those words of themselves. ‘Civilian prisoners under a military occupation have the right to be visited and documented,’ she said, ‘and for their next-of-kin to be informed.’
I have two things to say. First: If we genuinely care about the well-being of our military personnel overseas, we have to stop flouting the Geneva Convention. The traditional way to get the other side to stop mistreating your guys who’re held prisoner is to mistreat their guys in turn. This is hard on prisoners from both sides. Best to just not go there.

Second: My god, deathcamps. Shall we start admitting the possibility that these people are every bit as bad as they seem? If they have moral agency, which they do, it’s possible for them to be not just greedy, deluded, and incompetent, but evil.

We tend to shy away from that thought, in part because it’s so embarrassingly lurid-sounding; but being lurid and distasteful has never been enough to keep bad things from happening.

The other reason we shy away is because if they really are that bad, we’re in for some hard, ugly times before this is over.

(from ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose, via Frog n’ Blog)

Comments on Repealing Godwin's Law:
#1 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 05:57 PM:

Why does it keep on getting worse? Is there no bottom to this? I can't type anything more, all I can do is cry. I don't believe in God, but I want to pray. Help, please, just help us.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 06:29 PM:

There is a bottom. It is a very long way away. That may or may not be a consolation to you.

Otherwise I'm at a loss. Do I really have to explain the human propensity for sin to someone who was raised hardline Presbyterian? This feels like the time I got put on a comics panel and Julie Schwartz walked in and sat down in the audience. Eeek. Help.

Maybe we should ask Ken MacLeod?

#3 ::: Daniel J. Boone ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 06:33 PM:

I just finished blogging this, but your "My god, deathcamps" is much more succinct and to the point than my ramblings.

I'm fearful but I'm also starting to get really really angry. These people are destroying everything that ever made it good to be able to say "Civis Americanus sum".

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 06:42 PM:

The bottom is, indeed, a long way off...but as far as I can tell, we're in freefall. Is there nothing that can stop these people? Will no one rid us of this troublesome Dubya?

Oops. Sort of. Not advocating violence against that idiot, or anyone, not really. And if he were assassinated it would make him a martyr, and things would get even worse.

But if he choked to death on a pretzel in the White House, I would throw a party to celebrate. With a mock grave, and jig music.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 06:56 PM:

Christopher, he's not doing this alone.

#6 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 06:57 PM:

"Death Camp" is a bit dramatic. But the more accurate "U.S. Constitution, Geneva Convention, and Rules of Common Human Decency Circumvention Camp" is a bit of a mouthful, so I'm happy with Death Camp.


This demonstrates why we have checks and balances and accountability and limits on power.

This is why I feel like breaking things when I read someone smugging that Republicans and Democrats are all the same.

This, and other egregious crap, will be what this administration will be known for, assuming that the elections aren't cancelled and textbook production isn't turned over to Homeland Security Ethical Standards Agency.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 07:48 PM:

Do everything you can to block the switchover to electronic voting machines.

#8 ::: Flitcraft ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 07:50 PM:

Death Camp is way over the top.

The twin areas of concern here are Bush's enthusiasm for the death penalty and the likelihood that any 'tribunals' will not be open and fair.

It's hardly a surprise given Bush's death penalty stance that he would consider the death penalty to be an option in such cases.

The original article is from the Daily Telegraph and it makes clear that these are still plans and that any decision has not been taken yet. Yes, it's very worrying but anyone who wants to talk about death camps with their resonances of WW2 should go read their World War 2 history.

Did the people in Auschwitz or Treblinka got such things as trials of any sort? Are conditions in Guantanamo are even near what they endured? The very conditions of the camps themselves were designed to kill from malnutrition and disease. Their primary function was to exterminate entire ethnic groups - in their millions. Proposing a flawed trial system for a few hundred enemy POWs does not even get near it.

What you have is an American-style maximum security jail with the prospect of some deeply dodgy legal procedures leading to possible death sentences. Getting shrill about 'death camps' just detracts from what should be the real focus - getting these people fair trials and legal representations and opposing Bush's enthusiasm for the death penalty.

As a historian I think Godwin's (as it is commonly used) is quite an advance on people making deeply flawed comparisons with Nazi Germany which only serve to discredit worthwhile causes by making their supporters look like they're scaremongering.

Sorry folks, but I both oppose Bush and abhor people debasing terms like 'death camp'.

#9 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 08:04 PM:

Yeah, yeah, the prisoners are gaining weight and get medical care and have copies of the Koran and get to take showers unlike the guys back home, but it's STILL A FRIGGING END RUN AROUND NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL LAW and as American citizens we should be ASHAMED to be associated with arrogant crap like this.

I've gotten to the point where I think vigorous and over-the-top scare-mongering is _exactly what's called for_, because we're competing with distractions like American Idol and a monsoon of shameless bullshit from an increasingly media-savvy DOD spin machine and their eager lackeys in the right-wing press.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 08:26 PM:

Flitcraft, the Guantanamo Bay facility differs in many ways from an American-style maximum security facility.

Just for you, I'm going to reveal one of Making Light's deeply secretive comment-thread policies: Certain words and phrases are rationed. It's calculated by time. Some, you can get away with saying perhaps once a month. Others will only cause a raised eyebrow if you use them more than once a day, or more than once in the same comment.

Some of the more objectionable words and phrases not only have a time period attached to them, but can't be used at the beginning of that period. For example, "you people" or "you folks" may be allowed if used by someone who's been participating in the discussion for a month or more, depending of course on the rest of the comment; but it's perilous if used in one's first-ever contribution to the ongoing conversation.

Are there other rules and policies? There are. Am I going to explain them all? I am not. Do I have an obligation to explain any of them? In my opinion, no.

Why am I explaining this one? So that you will understand me when I say that you've used up your allotment of "shrill" for this quarter, possibly for the next two quarters.

#11 ::: Cowboy Kahlil ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 08:31 PM:

I suspect the only things delaying the executions is the tenuous state of affairs in Iraq. They know damn well they'll kick off a spate of reaction throughout the Middle East and perhaps even in Pakistan.

The idea is probably being floated as a specific message to hostile Iraqis, so they'll lay off. As arrogant as this admin is, I hope they're not stupid enough to follow through. Such an act would be so outrageous that I can't see anyone willing to be our ally afterward.

As for the Red Cross being denied, where are our representatives on this???? I can think of no valid reason for the denial.

#12 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 08:32 PM:

What were the McDeathcamps in _The Fortunate Fall_ called? It was something catchy, but I appear to have misplaced the memory.

#13 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 08:44 PM:

My first thought (when I read about this yesterday) was that "death camp" was a bit over the top. But honestly, I'm trying to think of the real, meaningful differences between what's being suggested for Gitmo and what the Bad German Guys did in WW2, and it doesn't come down to much:

1) Scale
2) How the prisoners are treated before they're killed
3) The possibility that the Bushies don't intend to actually kill all of the prisoners

Not much comfort.

#14 ::: Flitcraft ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 09:03 PM:

I intended no discourtesy, and the phrase I used was 'Sorry folks' not 'you folks'. If that has some discourteous meaning in American English, I apologise. It was meant to be friendly as in 'I agree with a lot of this but this one thing I really don't like.'

My own background is working on the 16th and 17th century European witch hunts and people often use Nazi analogies, I think with more justice, but I've never been comfortable with it. Again there is a big difference between seeking to exterminate a whole people and employing dubious legal procedure combined with the availability of the death penalty.

I've clearly not lurked long enough to pick up the tone here and it seems like a highly sensitive issue, so I'll bow out of it.

#15 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 09:14 PM:

They certainly don't intend to kill all of them, because they have let some of them go. (I was very surprised by that news story.)

It was obvious from the outset that the prisoners were put there -- in what is essentially an extrateritorial enclave -- and denied POW status specifically so they could be disposed of by unconstrained administrative fiat.

That's what that camp is for; being able to completely ignore due process and the rule of law. The specific consequences, the specific choice of fiat, are much less important to those living in the United States than the simple fact of an administration actively opposed, not merely to the Constitution of the United States, but to the entire idea of due process, of there being such a thing as rights under the law.

If we're going to talk about repealling Godwin's Law, well, I sent this to Patrick earlier today, without thinking much about how deep his mail queue probably is.

Too cheap to film his Triumph of the Will in the US
isn't what the Globe and Mail called it, but that's sure what it reads like.

I'm going to make a couple of predictions.

By the time the 2004 Presidential election is held, Antonin Scalia will be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

By the time the 2004 Presidential election is held, it won't be possible for a Democrat to win without carrying multiple states which have adopted unverifiable electronic voting machines as their sole means of casting a ballot.

Roe vs. Wade will be overturned by 1 Jan 2005.

#16 ::: Berni ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 09:31 PM:

I have never understood how someone could be both a Christian (as Bush claims to be) and pro-death penalty.

I heard on NPR the other day a sad story about the state of the prisons in Mississippi. The living conditions are so bad sometimes that being there has been classed as cruel and unusual punishment. (No water for days at a time, extreme heat, etc.) I guess when you can treat our own people that way, it's not much of a stretch to do the same to others.

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 09:34 PM:

David, I don't have a copy at home. All I can remember is Square-Mile-on-Chu.

#18 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 10:04 PM:

I first wrote a response to Flitcraft, but after his gracious withdrawal, this bit of it will have to stand alone as a reaction to this set of "plans".


There is a place I visit from time to time in dreams. It is a narrow brick building, whitewashed on the inside with high ceilings, sitting inside high walls, near a small lake. Inside one room, parallel with and maybe a foot below the ceiling near one wall is a metal bar, with hooks attached every foot or so, as you would have seen in old butcher shops, perhaps above the front window to hang meat on display.

The room is real - I first saw it thirty years ago while visiting Berlin. It is in Plotensee Prison (now the Plotensee Memorial) which was the traditional place of execution for Berlin. In July, 1944, some of those implicated in the plot against Hitler were given summary trials, and hung with piano wire from those hooks. There are still and motion pictures of it, if you care to look for them.

It is quite true that those who were deported to the east that died in the Aktion Reinhard camps or Auschwitz-Birkenau ususally did not undergo formal trial -- they were there by administrative process, by an act of state. And it is also true that many of those in more "conventional" camps (Konzentrationslager or KZ) in Germany were there under the lovely euphemism of "protective custody" or Schutzhaft. But many of those in KZ's, and many who were executed like those conspirators, were tried and sentenced by a court, and not always Volksgericten or Nazi Party courts -- by the regular, good old German court system (after it was completely debased, of course).

A key bit of history is how the Nazi party first purged the regular judges, then created parallel court systems, such as People's Courts (Volksgericten) or Party Courts to assure that trials wouild proceed as planned, on schedule, with predictable results. These courts were for special cases or special crimes, but soon came to handle any crime that a prosecutor thought would have a better chance in a "more controlled" environment. After the war, a number of these jurists were tried and convicted of judicial murder and other crimes against humanity.

Have we made it there yet? No, I don't think so, not quite. But we are starting down that path by deciding that we won't be safe unless we have special courts with special powers outside normal law (either US or international, take your pick) to handle some kind of extraordinary defendants, a special judicial system that can impose the death penalty outside the normal system.

I keep seeing that room.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 10:06 PM:

Goodness, Flitcraft, don't do that. Responding like a human being, especially one who knows something about something, is enough to banish suspicion. I was raising my eyebrow at "shrill", nothing more.

The "You people/You folks" bit was a reference, not to you, but to a language pattern I've observed in a certain species of online twit. I wrote about it here. As you'll see, you don't fit the description.

I too am dissatisfied with most Nazi analogies (not to mention "x thing is just like what caused the decline and fall of the Roman Empire"); but it increasingly seems to me that our justifiable wariness in invoking that comparison has produced a blind spot: We have trouble thinking and talking about behaviors and ideologies that, while not identical to those of the Nazis, nevertheless have enough overlap with them to make us uncomfortable.

That's all.

Now tell me how people mis-analogize Nazis to the great witch hunts. It sounds interesting.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 10:17 PM:

Claude, I dropped him a note. I'm hoping he'll come back.

#21 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 10:57 PM:

The comparisons between the conduct of the current Bush administration in the United States and the German National Socialist Workers Party miss something, and I think it's something important.

It's not the lack of widespread attrocity, to the limit of the available economic means; if we go by the time elapsed since suborning the electoral process, the Bush regieme is well ahead. (Also better prepared, and the product of longer planning, but never mind.)

The Nazis, thoroughly horrible, ghastly, and appalling, were civilization gone really, really bad; rationally, logically, horribly bad.

The party theorists talked about the burden they were under, to do terrible deeds in the service of securing civilization and the safety of the people and the culture they idiolized.

Lies? Probably, a lot of the time; but like all self justifications, the lies they told themselves.

The lies the Bush regieme tells itself, tells the world, aren't those lies; instead of making a false god of a false duty, they tell the lies of the Elect.

There's a real difference between thinking you're doing this horrible thing becuase you must, and between thinking you can do no wrong; between a false duty and a false certainty, between idolatry of the state and idolatry of persons, between common purpose and unique escape of constraints.

That's something gone bad, all right, but it isn't civilization.

#23 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 11:04 PM:

Damn, I'd gotten a copy of that from a friend
whose more of a lefty than either of us, and I was
sincerely hoping it was a paranoid delusion
of some kind...

#24 ::: Flitcraft ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 11:15 PM:

Thanks for the notes, Teresa, I genuinely didn't mean to offend and maybe worded things a bit more strongly than I should have. (By the way I'm female - I just have an odd internet handle!)

I loved Claude's response, because here I think I can find common ground.

"A key bit of history is how the Nazi party first purged the regular judges, then created parallel court systems, such as People's Courts (Volksgericten) or Party Courts to assure that trials wouild proceed as planned, on schedule, with predictable results."

Yes, this does hit the issue on the nail, once people start taking liberties with judicial process, then very bad things can happen. I don't want to cause too much of a tangent with my own field, but abuse of normal standards of justice was the key to witch trials - especially using lax standrds of proof and special justiciary commissions which there was little control over (I'm thinking here of my own patch in Scotland). Interestingly enough the witch-hunt in Scotland was stopped by lawyers and judges insisting on proper standards of legal proof - not a sea change in belief about whether witches existed.

Thinking about it, I'd say the witch hunts may contain good analogies - the main motor for confessions (in Scotland) wasn't usually outright torture but sleep deprivation which was used to break people whose confessions were then used as evidence against others.

Attempts have been made to compare the witch hunt to the Nazis by people like Andrea Dworkin who claimed 'nine million' as the number of witches executed. In fact the numbers are more like 60, 000 over 300 years for the whole of Europe (Brian Levack's figures), at tops they could be 100, 000. Dworkin attempts to argue that it was a holocaust against women, but at least 20% of those accused were male and in some areas of Euprope nearly 100% of those accused were male. It's also been cast as a holocaust against pagans - but the women and men who were executed weren't pagans! They were usually practising Christians who trangressed against social norms in their communities. I could go on but I would create a large tangent.

My heart tends to sink when I hear things like 'death camps' because I've heard this applied to things as diverse as abortion clinics and battery chicken farms! However I like analogies with specific and more comparable things like the neutering of the normal court system under the Nazis and the introduction of an unregulated parallel system. That kind of analogy (and I would make analogies to the legal abuses which allowed witch-hunting to prosper) I think can be helpful.

It's 4 am here and I'm rambling!


#25 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 12:19 AM:

Flitcraft -- Again there is a big difference between seeking to exterminate a whole people and employing dubious legal procedure combined with the availability of the death penalty.

Yes, there is. Exterminating a people is called genocide, and that's not the word being used here. If the Nazis had set up their camps and executed people at random instead of particular groups, would they not have been death camps?

#26 ::: Christina Schulman ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 02:10 AM:

The concentration camps in _The Fortunate Fall_ were just called "Square Miles", although in a quick flip-through I did find one instance where they were ironically referred to as "McGulags". I'd forgotten just how very good that book is.

Regarding secret courts and wacky due process shenanigans, several months ago the radio program "This American Life" ran an episode entitled "Secret Government", about both citizens and immigrants being held without charges by the military and the INS. Scary stuff, but the most surreal part was the last act, about a 20-year-old secret government court that authorizes wiretaps on possible foreign spies and foreign agents.

"In 24 years, it has never turned down a government request for a wiretap, as best as any outsider can tell--until this year. This past summer the court said issued an opinion that said Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department were going way too far in their zeal for wiretaps. It cited 75 cases in which the Justice Department tried to sneak around rules to protect Americans from surveillance."

I especially liked the bits about the ACLU's attempts to file an amicus brief.

You can listen to the entire episode from the summary page if you have RealPlayer. (Which I don't, because I despise all the barnacles attached to it.)

Like Lydia, I'm feeling pretty damn helpless to affect my government's actions. I am not going to do my best to tune out the election this time. I've signed up to volunteer for the Bob Graham campaign. If Graham loses the Democratic primary, I'll work for the candidate that wins, even if I have to hold my nose while I do so. I will hand out bumper stickers, I will man phones, I will write letters to the editor. (Laurie Mann's good at that last, which does more to reach the average voter than a world of blogging.)

The alternative is moving to Holland, and frankly, I'd rather be behind the crazy gun-waving president than in front of him.

#27 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 06:30 AM:

Prediction #3, to add to Graydon's:

At least one of the Democratic candidates will be shot.

#28 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 06:43 AM:

I think we have all gotten too easy with the word "Nazi" as a quick-fix word to apply to things we don't like (example "Soup Nazi" and "femNazi.") Other such words are "death camps" and "facist" and "Gulag." And those useful-as-quick- descriptors (shall we call them flash-metaphors?) are great in wild harangues but break down when confronted by historians.

Yet the flash metaphors do get us talking, once we calm down from our immediate kneejerking.

And they DO catch the eye.


#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 07:21 AM:

Thing is, Jane, a world of sloppy online usage doesn't mean people won't set up more gulags.

#30 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 07:50 AM:

Yeah, once the courts have been suborned, the elections won't be far behind.

I hear that one of the southern African states bought some second-hand voting machines from Chicago, and Mayor Daley is now President for Life and Golden Hippopotamus of the River of Plenty...

#31 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 08:07 AM:

The 'witch hunt' metaphor was aired recently (I saw it in the 5/9/03 Virginian-Pilot). Lileks says he wants to "jump in a time machine" and tell Joe McCarthy, "Just because the Salem witch trials convicted innocent women doesn't mean there wasn't some crone burning hair and casting spells in the town down the road."

So Joe's problem was that he just didn't try hard enough, I guess, like those slackers in Salem who gave witch hunts a black eye by not finding the REAL witches.

If we had real witches on our side, AM radio would be full of real frogs, instead of metaphoric toads.
(I can dream.)

#32 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 08:14 AM:

I want Daley back. And Nixon. And even McCarthy.

Those guys were reasonable and restrained, compared to what we have now.

#33 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 08:32 AM:

Teresa sez: Christopher, he's not doing this alone.

Yeah, I know. I hope they all choke, believe me. They make me regret (and at the same time cling gratefully to) my oath against baneful magic. (Hey Kip, there ARE real Witches on our side...but we don't harm others, no matter how bad they are.)

But Shrub is their figurehead, their frontman. Without him, the ugly guys with no personal charm would have to show their faces, and (Americans being what they are - stupid) they'd be much less convincing; perhaps enough so that our halfwit countrymen would finally notice what hideous crimes are being committed, not only against the individuals in Gitmo, but against all of us - and our children (/nephews), and our children's children.

Re the deathcamps: if genocide is an essential criterion...well, there still would have been horrible crimes against humanity even if there'd been no genocide in Hitler's camps (i.e. no Jews, no Roms, no...whatever other ethnic groups). There would still have been homosexuals (some of us know and do not forget how the pink-triangle wearers were mistreated even by their fellow prisoners), trade unionists, Roman Catholics.

The fact that the Gitmo prisoners are being held without trial or access to lawyers, and that some of them are US citizens, means that any of us, at any time, could be declared an Enemy Combatant and dragged off to Cuba.

And gaining weight is not necessarily a good thing...they're not starving, but unless they're gaining lean body mass they could still be malnourished. Feed people nothing but white bread and peanut butter, and they'll gain weight all right...right up until they die.

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 08:54 AM:

Oh, and" I find the idea that sleep deprivation is not "real" torture bizarre. Teresa can comment on what it's like to be chrionically short on sleep (or effectively so); being forced to stay completely awake for an extended period is torture, and I don't care if the Geneva Convention doesn't mention it, or even specifically excludes it.

It has the same evidence profile as the usual (sharp hot cold heavy acid base hungry thirsty) kinds of physical torture, too: people will say anything, sign anything, if you'll just let them sleep. Worse than physical torture, they will begin to hallucinate and become suggestible, to the point where they'll believe they're actually guilty of what they're being accused of.

Combination of imposed physical suffering (just because your brain is the pain center doesn't mean the suffering isn't physical) and deterioration of evidence value = torture in my book. But there are reprehensible practices that don't quite fit this, because the suffering is mental rather than physical: telling a child that s/he can go home iff s/he says what you want; threatening a prisoner by holding a gun to hir baby's head, etc. I think these practices should be banned even though they're not torture, because their evidence profile alone is bad enough. But sleep deprivation? Come on, America! Try staying awake for 3 days straight (without drugs; you'll need help), THEN tell me it's not torture.

On another topic, somehow the word 'shrill' doesn't bother me quite as much coming from a woman as from a man. I guess it's because I'm sexist enough not to feel the assumption that higher-pitched voices are less worth listening to when the speaker has one herself. Weird.

#35 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 09:45 AM:

Otherwise I'm at a loss. Do I really have to explain the human propensity for sin to someone who was raised hardline Presbyterian?

Raised in a denomination where adultery is the most heinous sin which can be imagined doesn't really help one understand the depths of human depravity. Depravity is talked about in the abstract, but in terms of concrete examples, there's adultery, and allusions to homosexuality. You know, I can't remember a single time when the sermon referenced the Nazi death camps, or any other such huge atrocity. It could have happened, but I rather doubt it.

When I was in 8th grade, I was in a private, Christian school. Mr. McLean sent home releases to all our parents, asking permission to show a film. I think everyone in my class was given permission. He said that these would be very upsetting, and anyone who wished could leave the room, but he thought that it was important that we all know about these things, that this never be forgotten. He then showed us two short films on the Nazi death camps. That was the first time I ever heard the word Auschwitz, that was when I first found out about the death camps.

The bottom may be a far piece from here, but ten years ago, I would have thought that it was impossible for us to fall so far. I believe in my country -- or, perhaps, believed. The War on Some Drugs made it harder and harder, and INS was wearing away at my soul, but underneath it all, I still truly believed in the rule of law, an honest attempt at justice within the system, and the centrality of the Bill of Rights to both the Judiciary and the general public's concept of what our country was founded upon.

I haven't given up. I've just despaired. They aren't the same thing. When everything else fails, despair can offer energy. Not hope, of course, but many people have fought without hope. We can't afford to stop fighting, even if we can't see any way to win.

#36 ::: JeremyT ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 11:15 AM:

The trivialization of words is something that deeply troubles me. I've spent some time thinking about how we have marginalized the use of the word "conspiracy" in our society, but it hadn't occured to me to also think about words like "Nazi, fascist, gulag, and death camp."

As Teresa said, just because we find these words uncomfortable and extreme doesn't mean no one will ever put the principles into practice. I think our society puts itself at great risk by lowering the usage of such words to the point where we create de facto debate rules outlawing their use.

I think the best thing that has ever happened for people who want to gain control is what has happened to the word "conspiracy." It's likely that quite a few people only have to read the word and start giggling. But there have been conspiracies to gain power in the past, and just because there are some undeniably crazy people with crazy conspiracy theories out there does not there will not be deliberate conspiracies to gain power in the future.

I think the same goes for terms like Nazi and death camp.

I guess it's similar to a lesson we learned from _1984._ Control language and its meaning and you control everything.

#37 ::: Toni ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 11:32 AM:

>>>>>Is there nothing that can stop these people? Will no one rid us of this troublesome Dubya?

It's tempting, but no, that would not solve the problem. Cheney is just like Bush but way smarter. [I do NOT advocate assassination, just fantasize about it occasionally. :^) ]

How to escape this sinking ship is the question. Just don't know if I have the will to start over someplace else. New Zealand is looking more attractive every day.

#38 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 01:21 PM:

I agree, Toni. NZ may not be such a good choice, though. Some friends of mine looked into it, and discovered that NZ wouldn't allow African-Americans to immigrate. This was 10 or 15 years ago and may have changed by now. (Or I could be misremembering entirely, but I don't think so.)

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 01:22 PM:

Arrggh! Teresa, could you close that italic after 'immigrate' and delete this post? Thanks.

#40 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 01:38 PM:

Quick perspective check from Down Under: while the Courier-Mail is not exactly a tabloid rag, it's not celebrated for its dedication to accurate reporting either. I haven't been able to find this story in any more reputable news source, Australian or otherwise. I've enjoyed this discussion and don't mean to derail it, but thought that perhaps others might like a crumb of comfort.

#41 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 01:47 PM:

Excellent point sennoma, and one that US residents woud not be familiar with. However, we may not draw too much comfort from this crumb, considering how bad a job our own press has done in covering issues like this. Unfortunately, it is becoming all to easy to believe that an Australian paper would catch an important story like this while American media would miss it.

#42 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 02:01 PM:

The trivialization of words is something that deeply troubles me. I've spent some time thinking about how we have marginalized the use of the word "conspiracy" in our society, but it hadn't occured to me to also think about words like "Nazi, fascist, gulag, and death camp."

What has happened to the word conspiracy is, I think, different from what has happened to Nazi and its companions. Nazi, Holocaust, gulag, and the like are used as a form of hyperbole. It is similar to how celebrities went from star to super-star. Conspiracy, on the other hand, is not a form of hyperbole, but a negation. Conspiracies don't exist, everyone knows that. Calling something a conspiracy theory is a way of saying it's nonsense. Calling something a death camp is a way of making that thing sound even more horrific, possibly an attempt to make it more real in the minds of the readers.

I used conspiracy with malice aforethought, for both meanings of the word. The implication that this was all paranoid nonsense is directly referenced. However, feeding radioactive milk to boys and keeping health records on them by our government is best described as a conspiracy, ne? Overthrowing the government of Chile was a conspiracy, ne? The FBI conspired within itself to allow the person they knew committed the murder go free and the innocent man stay in prison, wouldn't you say? If not a conspiracy, what were these actions?

Somehow, we have to face those things, if we are to understand what is being done to us now, I think. It's so hard to believe that the government could be so evil. But it can be. It has been. It will be, unless we stop it. You don't stop things you don't believe in, though, you ignore them.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 02:04 PM:

I just have a moment here --

Solzhenitsyn talked about sleep deprivation in The Gulag Archipelago. The inmates there were connoisseurs, of a sort. Their two bits of consensus I remember: (1.) The Nazis were amateurs. (2.) Sleep deprivation will break anyone.

#44 ::: Flitcraft ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 03:09 PM:

Sorry if I was unclear. I most definitely think of sleep deprivation as very serious torture! I was alluding to the 17th century view of it. Then torture had a very strict legal definition which is why they didn't count sleep deprivation as torture (chillingly they called confessions obtained from sleep deprivation 'voluntary confessions'). This allowed sleep deprivation to be widely used in a totally unregulated way - as it was not regarded as 'torture'. That's a large part of how it became such an important method for witch hunting. I'm afraid I didn't explain that enough.

My point was merely that it was sleep deprivation, rather than the more common picture of the inquisitor with the rack which generally lay behind convictions and executions for witchcraft.

So my point was that I take it extremely seriously and not the reverse!

#45 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 03:16 PM:

Claude -- I did check German-language sources as well as English, figuring that those Godless pinko Euroweenies could be counted on to run this story if it had a grain of truth in it. None of the majors (Die Zeit, Die Welt, NetZeitung, Berliner Z. usw) seem to have picked it up. reported it directly from the Courier-Mail story, but they were the only ones and I presume they are about as reliable as their anglophone counterparts. I don't read any other languages well enough to look further.

(Side note: it was interesting to learn that Cuba is quite the vacation destination for Germans, and to see Nietzsche discussed in daily newspapers -- "is Bush driven by the Will To Power?".)

#46 ::: Nicholas Weininger ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 04:29 PM:

Yeah, it seems to me that the proper reaction to an uncorroborated story with a deliberately inflammatory headline is skepticism, rather than immediate paroxysms of outrage.

And "death camp" really is an inflammatory and inappropriate phrase here. We can quibble semantics all we want, but the fact is that "death camp" in most people's minds conjures up Auschwitz and Kolyma. Likening those megahorrors to the execution of a few dozen prisoners of war (which is what the Gitmo detainees are, regardless of the "enemy combatant" nonsense spewed by the administration) is silly and makes one look like a Chicken Little.

By saying this I do not mean to excuse the summary execution of prisoners of war, nor to diminish the importance of opposing it. Indeed, assuming the story is correct, it would be unfortunate to say the least if the opposition to executions at Gitmo were discredited by the hyperbolic exaggerations of the opponents. Because I think the story, if true, is yet another example of how the US is coming steadily to resemble one of those squalid Latin American military dictatorships so beloved of the CIA during the Cold War. That is a plenty horrible thing by itself; it is *different* from the sort of horror produced under the totalitarian regimes that ran death camps; and I don't see how confusing the two is helpful.

#47 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 04:35 PM:

I've been thinking a lot lately about this concept of it can't happen here. I'm not generally prone to hysterics, but I'll admit to a deep and growing unease with our current administration, its ever-more-evident interest in conquest (I don't know what else you could call it), and its total disregard for morality, world opinion, and the basic human rights of both its own citizens and so-called enemy combatants.

So I guess the question becomes: if it's happening--and it is plain to me now that what's going on in America today is the bulb and shoot of fascism--

What can we do about it?

As Americans, for those of us who are, and as interested observers, for those of us who aren't?

How much do we let them get away with? And how much power do we have to put a stop to it? And where do we get more?

Hmm. Denial is more comfortable, isn't it?

#48 ::: Daniel J. Boone ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 05:01 PM:

I don't think "death camp" is at all inflammatory in the context of this story (which our hostess appropriately disclaimed at the beginning with an "if this story is accurate" disclaimer.(

Perhaps it's my Russian and Soviet studies background, but "death camp" to me is not limited to some narrow concept of ultimate horror. Rather, it describes that rather common tool for disposal of inconvenient persons employed by repressive governments everywhere for most of the 20th century.

To me a "death camp" is a penal facility located remotely from the bulk of the population (to keep a low profile and to make escape more difficult) at which some significant fraction (by no means all) of inmates are either executed outright or are allowed to expire from varying combinations of abuse, neglect, malnutrition and overwork. A defining characteristic of a "death camp" is that the deaths, although intentional, are extra-judicial, meaning that they are not the direct result of a sentence of death imposed by that degree of "due process" considered normal and appropriate by the society running the death camp.

Yes, I just made this definition up, which is convenient for my argument. But I don't think it's an unreasonable definition of "death camp" or very far beyond the meaning that people who have read their history ascribe to the term. And the Guantanamo proposal, if it's true and if it happens, certainly does meet the definition.

#49 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 05:06 PM:

Least sufficent means analysis.

What's the state at which the folks who are convinced that God wants them to have the power to do anything they want again reliably subject to the rule of law?

What is the least much you can do to get that?

My guesses at the answers are 'hang them all' and 'dispossess their heirs of the wealth of their fathers'.

This will end when those who advocated it are dead, poor, and discredited; that's a big scary job, to put it mildly.

"Due process for them when there's due process for us" might make a good starting slogan; it at least conveys the essential basis of the complaint.

#50 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 05:16 PM:

are again subject to the rule of law, drat it.

#51 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 05:31 PM:
This will end when those who advocated it are dead, poor, and discredited; that's a big scary job, to put it mildly.

Yeah, that sums up my thoughts nicely--although I'm not sure we need to hang them all. A nice life sentence would be just as effective, if we could catch them.

I'm heartened by the move to cite some of the ringleaders as war criminals in international courts. I think it's a positive step. Alternately, the rest of the world may pull on their boots and comes to kick our collective asses. Which would be quite the adventure for all concerned. (Some years ago, I wrote a story involving Canadian peacekeeping troops stationed in the Northeastern US. That somehow no longer seems as outre as it once did.)

Okay, a daunting task, but I put it forth that it's not a job that can be ignored for much longer.

#52 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 05:57 PM:

To me a "death camp" is a penal facility located remotely from the bulk of the population (to keep a low profile and to make escape more difficult) at which some significant fraction (by no means all) of inmates are either executed outright or are allowed to expire from varying combinations of abuse, neglect, malnutrition and overwork. A defining characteristic of a "death camp" is that the deaths, although intentional, are extra-judicial, meaning that they are not the direct result of a sentence of death imposed by that degree of "due process" considered normal and appropriate by the society running the death camp.

I think this is an excellent definition/summary. May I quote you?

#53 ::: Daniel J. Boone ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 06:01 PM:

Yonmei, of course you may quote me. I'm glad you find that my definition hits somewhere near the mark.

#54 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 06:36 PM:

The one problem with the death camp claim is that the basic concept is commonplace in the USA, where the death penalty is applied in so many states.

On the basic practical level of carrying out a sentence, it makes sense to set things up at Camp Delta.

The special danger in this is the legal process employed. Whether or not judicial killing is a good thing is largely irrelevant. What corrodes the machinery of the United States is that the normal legal procedures, under both national and international laws, are being thrown away.

#55 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 06:47 PM:

Rather nifty Daniel -- clear and very useful indeed.

The only area of clarification that I can think of involves the last phrase:

. . . not the direct result of a sentence of death imposed by that degree of "due process" considered normal and appropriate by the society running the death camp . . .

How would you see that applied to situations like the detention camps in Bosnia, where such deliberate deaths did occur, while ethnic cleansing took place outside them, apparently with the acceptance of a large portion of the surrounding society, the regime in particular?

#56 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 07:21 PM:

It's not a Death Camp at the moment. At the moment, it's simply a Devil's Island.

Phrases can be used in campy ways, but the existence of soup nazis, feminazis, and grammar nazis no more invalidates the existence of real Nazis than Death loses its sting because of the existence of Monty Python movies and Terry Pratchett novels.

Phrases also have ways of expanding their meanings to fit. When we say "ghetto" these days, it does not specifically mean "Jewish quarter in a medieval city." It more means "poor blighted urban enclave, usually black."

What Bush is planning sounds more like a Death Camp than a Summer Camp, so it seems perfectly fair to call it that once actual executions occur. Right now? It's a Devil's Island, a brutal and inhumane island penal colony.

For those who say it's humane, I'll believe that when I hear it from the Red Cross.

#57 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 07:35 PM:

sennoma, using Google News I was quickly able to find this story by David Rennie, dated May 24, in the Daily Telegraph.

Selected quotes from the Telegraph story:

But the camp is clearly here to stay. American military commanders have drawn up plans for a permanent terrorists' prison at the site, including a possible execution chamber. ...

Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller heads the Joint Task Force (JTF) in charge of suspects from Afghanistan and across the globe. He said: "We have laid out a very extensive plan should long-term detention and imprisonment be given to JTF Guantanamo." ...

Building a Death Row at Guantanamo "is one of the plans", said Gen Miller.

The special tribunals will involve no juries and there will be no appeals to higher courts, only reviews of verdicts by the defence secretary, and ultimately, the president.

For security reasons, only American lawyers will be allowed to act for the Guantanamo detainees, all of whom are foreigners.

#58 ::: PDM ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 07:48 PM:

I feel that Death Camp is exactly right. IMHO, this is more smoking-gun evidence that Amerikkka is the Nazi Germany of the 21st century.

#59 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 09:33 PM:

Claude wrote: "A key bit of history is how the Nazi party first purged the regular judges, then created parallel court systems, such as People's Courts (Volksgericten) or Party Courts to assure that trials wouild proceed as planned, on schedule, with predictable results. These courts were for special cases or special crimes, but soon came to handle any crime that a prosecutor thought would have a better chance in a "more controlled" environment. After the war, a number of these jurists were tried and convicted of judicial murder and other crimes against humanity."

Actually, the Germany judiciary was frighteningly willing to go along with the Nazis. I refer you in particular to Ingo Mfcller's "Furchtbare Juristen" (translated into English as "Hitler's Justice: the Courts of the Third Reich" and published by Harvard University Press).

Most of the change occurred within the legal system, restructured to fit Hitler's preferences, which was that justice should reflect "healthy popular sentiment". As Goebbels put it later in 1942, judicial decisions in criminal cases should "be based less on law than on the fundamental idea that lawbreakers are to be eliminated from the community of the Volk".

The regular judges under national socialism were only to happy to use the additional freedoms that they received. The "Analogy Law", which permitted judges to bypass the established principle of "nulla poena sine lege" (no punishment without a law) was particularly welcome in that regard. Other "legislation" of importance was the "Law against Habitual Criminals", a three-strikes law which allowed the courts to sentence repeat offenders to indefinite preventive detention ("Sicherungsverwahrung"), an elegant end run around "ne bis in idem", "nulla poena sine lege" and other fundamental legal principles. That law is still in existence today (in a version that has been chopped down by the Constitutional Court to meet basic constitutional standards), and was as recently as 1998 extended again by the German parliament.

In general, the whole structure of criminal law was remade for the purpose of "eliminating lawbreakers from society", whether by means of preventive detention, the death penalty, or simply excessive imprisonment.

[T]he purpose of a trial now became not so much to determine whether the accused had broken a law, but rather "whether the wrongdoer still belongs to the community"; the criminal trial was supposed to be "an evaluation and segregation of types." A decisive characteristic of National Socialist theory was that emphasis was placed less on the act committed than on the "criminal personality." Legal scholars developed categories of "characteristic criminal types" for use in the rewriting of laws and decrees; these "types", which were determined by "simple and popular distinctions," came to play an ever greater role, from the law against dangerous habitual criminals, the decree concerning protection against juvenile criminals, and the decree on violent crimes and "antisocial parasites" to the new version of the murder laws, which stated: "Murder is punishable by death." All of those laws, which prescribed the death penalty as a possible or mandatory sentence, proceeded on the assumption that murderers are born, not made. [Mfcller]

It is important to note here that this perversion of the judicial system did -- at least in principle -- not offend the sensibilities of the judges, or even the general public. After all, who would object to harsh punishments for murderers or being protected from "habitual criminals"? What was conveniently overlooked was that the principle of guilt in criminal law had been abolished almost entirely, and it was the person who was on trial, not his or her deeds. And in the end, it were the judges themselves who were only too eager to deconstruct the law:

[Hitler] had always objected strongly to the German "mania for objectivity" and had demanded a "ruthless and fanatically one-sided attitude" toward all enemies, particularly those within the country's own borders. Adopting this approach to a large extent, German judges and legal scholars began to develop "constructions" of laws that left only their outer shell, and in many cases not even that. At the same time, however, these constructions were not necessarily "typically National Socialist", but simply conservative, authoritarian, anti-Enlightenment, and predemocratic in spirit. This explains their lasting success. Since many doctrines prevalent during the Third Reich had been conceived and propagated earlier by conservatives of the old school--and were far from being the exclusive property of fanatic Nazi supporters--they did not fall into total discredit with the fall of the dictatorship and are in part still advocated today.[Mfcller]
#60 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 09:36 PM:

Flitcraft - thanks for clarifying. I apparently misread you; I apologize. If your post (or my reading of it) was the match that touched off my tirade, it was tindered, stacked and soaked in kerosene by something I heard on NPR about the capture of some Al Qaeda or Iraqi bigwig (yes, the difference is important, I just don't remember which one it was).

"They probably won't actually torture him," said the asshat they decided to interview. "They'll just do things like keeping him awake for a week and so on" or words very much to that effect.

Screaming obscenities at one's radio is ineffective at best, I discovered.

#61 ::: sinboy ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 10:01 PM:

What I'd like to know is if, when they execute people without benefit of a jury or appeal, how will we know?

It's not like they'll tell us. These are going to be secret trials. Even the 'defence' lawyers won't be allowed to talk to the press. The federal government is planning on killing people after secret trials with no appeal. They'll claim that the executed people had lawyers, and a real defence, but they tell us they don't have to prove it, and we should just trust them.

Even if they were allowed lawyers, I'd have to wonder about the sort of lawyer who'd take a case like that. They have to know that, after the trial is started, they have no chance. Any judge appointed is going to be a rubber stamp, as will the rest of the tribunal. My guess is that the defence lawyers will be chosen as a rubber stamp as well.

#62 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 10:48 PM:

using Google News I was quickly able to find this story by David Rennie

Looks like the on-site execution option is really being considered, then -- although the story is not all over the front pages of the world, which it damn' well should be. Also, my google-fu appears to be poor; please to excuse less-than-relevant sidetrack.

#63 ::: Yule Heibel ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 12:45 AM:

When I first saw the "Deathcamp" story a day or so ago on IndyMedia, I thought, "Uh-huh, truth & hyperbole in fatal embrace." It's so hard to stay decent (get upset?) and not become just cynical (anaesthetized?). I agree with Flitcraft that it isn't necessarily appropriate to use the label "deathcamp" to describe US plans for POWs at Guantanamo Bay. I also feel very strongly, however, that it is becoming more appropriate legitimately to draw parallels between the current U.S. political climate & policy and the kind of German-Nazi 3rd Reich totalitarianism that still leaves us groping for words. It is in a weird way about aesthetics, about being connected to the body and its sensations. Lose that, and you lose your way to any sense of quality, and end up becoming a slave to quantity. In the face of those bastards making policy right now, it sounds high-falutin' and stupid, but I mean by this also to express just how deep I think the problem we're facing is. We're going to argue about numbers (quantity), but not quality. It's an argument along the lines of "Nazi death camps, several million; Guantanamo Bay, incidental so far." But the problem lies in getting suckered to focus on quantity in the first place. We're losing a real battle here in finding words to talk about quality, which is getting away from us.

Quite a few years ago I wrote a book in which I relied in part on Theodor Adorno's writing to analyze the immediate post-WWII period in German art. One thing he kept coming back to was quantity and quality, and how our epistemologies predispose us to value the former at the expense of the latter. At some point, it seems, we're willing to do anything for quantity. I tried to sum up part of Adorno as I understood him: "In rational science, the dominant epistemology of modernity, the subject is exhorted to be 'objective,' which amounts, however, to making the subject into a generality, a 'logos' separate from his or her objective bodily existence. Meanwhile, the emphasis on quantity silences the rights of quality; quality can only be cognized by a subject who is mindful of difference and who does not instantiate him- or herself as autonomous of the determining qualities of the objective world. What is needed is a subject capable of interacting with his or her objects." (p.23, "Reconstructing the Subject")

What if, however, we at some point make the world such that it becomes nearly impossible to interact with its objects because they have finally become abstractions?

Every day I feel that I am only an egg, but I grok that something very desperate is upon us.

#64 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 06:23 AM:

This is all a bit personal (I know people who were/are in Afghanistan, Gitmo and Iraq).

Sleep dep is a powerful thing, and one which (to our shame) we have been allowed to use on the prisoners in the "War on Terror."

[side-note, I find it painful that this is a "War", in which we take great pains to declare our opposition is not entitled to the status of combatant].

Do I think we have a death camp, at the moment? No. Could it become one? Yes. The things this administration has said, and the actions of this President, in his previous Executive role, make me tremble.

His view seems to be that a court can do no wrong when it convicts (only when it acquits) and the the role of the state is to gain vengeance for the bereaved.

It seems to me that vengeance is not our job, but rather Justice. Vengeance we can leave to the Lord.

Personally, I've not seen any use of sleep-dep, nor, "stress positions," nor any of the other borderline tortures we are allowed (pace to all who wich to tell me about "borderline" and "torture in the same phrase.

As for the camps here... They are not the best. I would say they need more overhead cover, but there has not been any systematic attempt to debase or abuse the prisoners.

As for the ICRC, things they have done, by way of passing messages, making claims, as well as making simple interrogation less productive have soiled their welcome.

I think that to be short-sighted on the part of both the U.S. (for bridling) and the ICRC (for representatives allowing personal feeling to let them step outside the bounds of their professed neutrality).

But I am not an outside observer from here, and may not be as objective as I once was.


#65 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 08:58 AM:

This of course does not challenge the very real possibility that the U.S. is planning executions, but Slate is online with a piece about the kind of food the prisoners are getting fed.

#66 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 10:04 AM:

Graydon, I agree that Bush really wants the right to just make things up as he goes--it's all over his rhetoric.

Nonetheless, I doubt that killing people for thinking wrong is going to have a good outcome.

I'm not sure who said that the Nazis had plenty of killings on their consciences besided the genocides--starting WWII killed more people than were killed internally, and with no better excuse.

#67 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 12:10 PM:

Nancy -
they're not going to stop.

Their reaction to an electoral defeat -- when Clinton beat Bush pere -- was to suborn the electoral system, eh? And not, particularly, because the electoral system had voted them out, but because the electoral system had given the wrong answer. Elections that don't give the answer they're supposed to are obviously not legitimate; they must be abolished.

You cannot play by the rules against someone who despises those rules, who finds them hateful encumbrances, who truly believe that they are not your equal before the law.

You cannot get people whose objective is the destruction of a system to participate in that system.

The purpose of this faction is to take all choice, all wealth, all hope, and all opportunity for themselves, away from you and your children and your children's children, to rule without any need for consent nor any concern for consequences, for ever after.

You can hang them, or you can suffer their rule in ever-increasing poverty and subjugation.

The third option is a rain of nukes from somewhere else; Bush's policies have already made this a very good idea for about two thirds of the population of the earth. If he manages to make it a good idea for people with nukes, well, he and his will mostly survive, won't they?

You won't, but it's not like they actually care about you.

#68 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 10:04 PM:

Alan Bostick quotes the Telegraph:

"The special tribunals will involve no juries and there will be no appeals to higher courts, only reviews of verdicts by the defence secretary, and ultimately, the president."

The defense secretary. Well known for his thoughtful, compassionate, moderate demeanor. I imagine his attitude towards a Guantanamo death sentence would be about the same as his attitude towards Iraqi vases.

And we all know that Bush never saw a death sentence he didn't like.

And these people are in control of the careers of the judges on the tribunal, who are also the jury. Their judgements are bound to take that into account, so they'll almost certainly render verdicts that Bush and Rummy approve of - guilty, with the punishment: execution.

#69 ::: Jonathan Laden ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 11:53 PM:

+ starting WWII killed more people than were killed internally, and with no better excuse +

I won't defend Hitler in any way, shape, or form, but... fighting wars to gain power and territory has been long accepted as legitimate statecraft. That doesn't make it acceptable, but it's not in the same league as the building of Nazi Grmany, the Nuremberg laws or the Holocaust in my opinion.

Back to the present, what can be done? I'm at a loss. It's hard to remember back to when Bush's horrific environmental policy was the main source of my aggravation.

#70 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 06:55 AM:

Teresa - I agree with Lydia that Presbyterianism isn't much help in understanding the human capacity to do great evil, and that this is because it tends to inflate the significance of lesser sins, let alone lesser evils. Mencken had some choice comments on the subject.

As to the subject of the thread, the phrase that comes to mind is 'from shock and awe to night and fog'.

#71 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 11:53 AM:

As a side note, not only do the comparisons to the gulags seem accurate, but pointing out that those people are using Stalin's techniques has the advantages of avoiding Godwin's law, and maybe even getting people who have gotten used to phrases like "door nazi" to mean the person who checks your badge at an sf con to listen to the analogy.

They've got the totalitarian demand for loyalty to the leader, not the society, down pat, too. Is it too much to hope that the Shrub will purge all the competent people in his government? (Ye gods, can someone please find me a better road out of here than foreign conquest?)

#72 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 12:17 PM:


``The death camps still bear witness,'' Mr. Bush said. ``They remind us that evil is real and must be called by name and must be opposed.''

"The sites are a sobering reminder of the power of evil and the need for people to resist evil," Bush told reporters afterward.

#73 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 12:48 PM:

Remember that they're a minority; they're really a tiny minority, and they depend on media control to keep a solid majority of your fellow citizens from being really fatally pissed at them. (E.g., managing to blame Enron's management rather than Republican deregulation policies.)

Real alternative media must get to televisions; nothing else matters in the US, nor will it for the foreseeable future. Is there some way to get real TV news out there, via lots of local cable stations?

#74 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 04:57 PM:

It has just occurred to me that the death penalty is viewed very differently in the US and in Europe, and that what therefore may look to a Usian like another icky instance of a common occurence is a shocking atrocity to a European. I've been opposed to the death penalty for so long that my passion is worn out and all I'm left with is a dull hatred of the system and the comforting belief that Texas isn't really a part of the US.

#75 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 05:07 PM:

Is there some way to get real TV news out there, via lots of local cable stations?

Graydon, it can't be local cable stations. They simply aren't taken seriously. It would have to be a large for-pay cable channel, like HBO. That could happen, but it would have to be a television station that a) had great production values, b) had other things which were interesting to viewers, and c) does not have to rely on advertising for a significant portion of its income.

A Dateline/Sixty Minutes format has a certain amount of potential, and gods know there's plenty of shocking material. However, it probably also requires a very rich liberal media magnate. Ted Turner might have done it, if he hadn't sold out. He said the other day on The National Press Club that selling was the worst decision he ever made.

I wonder, in 50 years, will people remember him as the man who desecrated classic films by colorizing them, or as the man who paid off the United States' $4 billion debt to the UN.

#76 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 05:44 PM:

Lydia: I'm a lifelong Texan. I went to Texas A&M. Texas is a part of the US. The thing is, Bush is *not not not dammit* a real Texan. Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower, now they're real Texans.

As a side note, my brother the staunch Republican actually apologized to me for voting for Bush, and promised that he'll never do it again.

(and if this sounds shr^H^H^H erm, strident, I apologize. Having that yahoo drag my home's reputation in the dirt makes me tense.)

#77 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 07:11 PM:

Anne, any generalization about a state will turn out to be, on closer examination, wrong. My parents are from Boston, but neither is a hoity-toity university-educated effete liberal. (Actually, I wish they were, but that's another story.) I think of Pittsburgh as my home town, but the closest I ever came to a steel mill was the smell. There are many lovely people in Texas, some of them are my friends.

Nevertheless, Iowa is still boring, Minnesota is still nice, NYC does stay up all night, and Boston is snobbish. And Texas is still big, even though Alaska is more than twice its size. No single person is ever a statistic. Generalizations and statistics are only meaningful when applied to large groups of people. Whatever else Texas is, it is a large group of people.

My views of Texas are unfairly colored by the news, of course. In Minnesota, it's pretty darn rare to hear any news from out of Texas that doesn't make one cringe. And, you know, Texas was executing more criminals than any other state before the Shrub was elected.

#78 ::: Jame Scholl ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 09:29 PM:

A) I have to agree with Anne on the Texan thing, being the only native Austinite I know. Austin's sort of a liberal mecca in a vast sea of willingly blind conservatives.

2) Bush is entirely blind to irony, including the impending variety that I hope will some day bite him directly on the fundament (which is, I assume, what funamentalists use to think). After a brief tour of Auschwitz, he spoke:
"All the good that has come to this continent 97 all the progress, the prosperity, the peace 97 came because beyond the barbed wire there were people willing to take up arms against evil," Mr. Bush said.

It's my singular and basically only remaining hope that he's going to discover an astonishing amount of such people inside the barbed wire with him.

#79 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 11:12 PM:

Jon H., Rumsfeld found it hard to believe that there could be as many as twenty vases in the whole country. That is nothing like his attitude towards Guantanamo death sentences.

#80 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2003, 01:43 PM:

Real TV News?

Start with BBC News 24 for a start: I've seen reports that viewing figures for that channel went up a lot, in the USA, during the invasion of Iraq.

The problem is that it depends on satellites to broadcast the signal: who owns and controls the satellites and the uplinks?

It might be worth buying a short-wave radio, while you still can.

#81 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2003, 02:07 PM:

What we need is an American Al-Jazeera.

Arthur C. Clarke's short story 'I Remember Babylon' contains some useful tips for its non-news content.

It could be a real business opportunity for a Russian capitalist.

#82 ::: Daniel J. Boone ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2003, 03:10 PM:

Lydia wrote "It has just occurred to me that the death penalty is viewed very differently in the US and in Europe, and that what therefore may look to a Usian like another icky instance of a common occurence is a shocking atrocity to a European."

Lydia, I think you've put your finger squarely on the knot of the debate. If this is just more of the same, then our hostess's outrage, and my own, are just noisy fear-mongering. Several here, and elsewhere, have said as much, and I think you've just explained why they feel that way.

But I, at least, believe that we are exploring new-to-the-US territories of atrocity.

The difference, really, is the combination of utter lack of due process with secrecy. Of these two, secrecy is the newest; the US has a long history of absolutism in rejecting secret judicial process. On due process grounds we are more shakey; there are serious grounds to question the death penalty processes that are traditional in the US. Even so, the flaws there lie more with the prejudices of the participants (judges, juries, prosecutors, etc.) than with the design of the process. Most people put to death in the US are killed after what Blackstone himself would recognize as a full, if not necessarily fair, trial. What's new about the treatment of so-called "unlawful combatants" is that great care is being taken to prevent them from getting even the trappings of justice. (And no, an administrative tribunal conducted by unaccountable military bureaucrats, in secret, does not count even as "trappings.")

A distinction without a difference? I don't think so. For all its faults, due process conducted in the public eye tends to yield results that are broadly in line with what the people want. Texas executes a lot of people, but at the end of the day that's what the people of Texas mostly seem to want, so it's not surprising, nor should it horrify a true democrat. (It horrifies me, but I'm an anarchist precisely because of the moral horror inherent in majority rule, or rule of any other sort for that matter.)

This is too long so I'll wrap up. What's most horrifying about the Guantanamo Death Camp proposal is that it's designed to function despite any broad opposition the people may have. That's the feature that prompts comparisons with facilities run by repressive dictatorships.

#83 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2003, 10:38 AM:

Steven desJardin wrote: "Jon H., Rumsfeld found it hard to believe that there could be as many as twenty vases in the whole country. That is nothing like his attitude towards Guantanamo death sentences."

My take on what Rumsfeld said was that he was implying that it didn't matter if a few vases were lost, because Iraq probably has plenty and, anyway, how many vases do they really need?

ie, killing a few Afghans at Guantanamo wouldn't really matter because there's plenty more where they came from. They wouldn't be missed back in Kabul.

#84 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2003, 10:43 AM:

Dave Bell wrote: "It might be worth buying a short-wave radio, while you still can."

Unfortunately, that's not as good as it used to be, because the BBC ended their brodcasting intended for North America. You can still pick it up, but the reception is worse and there aren't as many hours of service. I can pretty much only get it, here in Connecticut, after dark; even then it goes off air at midnight/1am

Fortunately, there's still the free RealAudio feeds via the Internet.

Radio Netherlands is on periodically, and lately I've heard an Irish station. Radio Canada is available too.

#85 ::: DM SHERWOOD ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2003, 09:08 AM:

re death camps.
I don't suppose this is a time for humour but as BUFFY said I cover your Arghh and raise ypu an O MY GOD.
I still think you've got more civil rights than we've got-if your white and readonably prosperous- & I speak as someone whose got thumped in a back room in a police station here- couple of punches to the gut nothing to write home about.
At least you've got a couple of decent candidates to vote foe in the DEmocrat Party. The Conservatives here in the UK are wrongheaded stupid & wimps

#86 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2003, 04:10 PM:

Terry! Good to see you here, and thanks for the report from on the ground.

Dubya scares me too. On a personal level he's notoriously vengeful, and in the course of his life he hasn't exactly looked to due process in the public courts to clear up his problems.

Vengeance is never our job.

I'll go with "borderline torture". Granted, it's a small distinction. I'm all for maintaining small distinctions. They're good to have underfoot, where they provide friction and help discourage the formation of slippery slopes.

I can see needing more overhead cover in the camps. People who grew up in humid climates don't properly understand shade. Hot humid air's only slightly less hot when you're in the shade. In a dry climate, getting out of the sun makes a huge difference. It's even better if the only shade isn't indoors where there's no breeze.

I'm glad they're not systematically abusing the prisoners. I have an additional selfish reason for that. It'd be too easy for us to get away with systematic abuse, and I'd like to have as few of our guys as possible coming home with that kind of expertise.

That's the trouble with committing barbarism abroad; eventually your guys have to come home, and one of the hardest things for anyone to do is forget a set of problem-solving skills. In a pinch, you'll use what you know best, and think about it later if you think about it at all.

(Oddly enough, this is also the argument for why fiction writers should be wary of low-end potboiler gigs that force them to write badly. If you've internalized a bunch of cheap tricks and easy outs, you may find yourself having trouble thinking up non-cheap solutions to narrative problems.)

"As for the ICRC, things they have done, by way of passing messages, making claims, as well as making simple interrogation less productive have soiled their welcome."
That would be irritating.
"I think that to be short-sighted on the part of both the U.S. (for bridling) and the ICRC (for representatives allowing personal feeling to let them step outside the bounds of their professed neutrality).

"But I am not an outside observer from here, and may not be as objective as I once was."

I can't claim to be objective, but it both sides sound dumb from here.

It bothers me that we're not concerned about avoiding the appearance of evil. It's one of those reassuring pieces of hypocrisy that tells you that the people who're engaging in it still recognize that they're doing something wrong.

Ken: Thanks, and you're right; time, energy, and attention span are finite. Come to think of it, I know whole clans of professional scammers back home who are deeply particular about certain fine points of sectarian religious observance. They couldn't tell you much about the human propensity for evil, but you could learn a lot about it by studying them.

Anne, I'll say reasonable and tolerant things about Texans if everyone will promise not to tell Mary Kay I did it.

Dan'l, good point about the problem being the combination of secrecy with disregard of due process. Neither one's all that great, but you can compensate for their problems. Combine them, and you can do damned near anything.

I'd have sworn there were provisions in the Constitution that were specifically meant to keep that from happening.

Jon H., I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with your take on Rumsfeld's famous statement. What he said was that the press was showing the same footage over and over of the same guy stealing the same vase, twenty times a day; then cast doubt on whether there were that many vases in the whole country. He wasn't addressing the question of their need for vases, or the adequacy of their remaining supply. He was crudely misrepresenting initial news reports of the looting, and even more crudely suggesting that the country's cultural heritage wasn't worth looting in the first place.

#87 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 01:34 PM:

What he said was that the press was showing the same footage over and over of the same guy stealing the same vase, twenty times a day; then cast doubt on whether there were that many vases in the whole country.

One of the right-wing libertarians who surfaces on the Livejournal community Debate said that (I'm paraphrasing) I just lacked a sense of humour: Rumsfeld was making a joke, okay?

I asked him how he would have reacted if Tony Blair, on 12 September 2001, had said "All I ever see on TV is the same planes crashing into the same buildings, over and over. Goodness me, do they have that many buildings in the entire country?"

He declined to answer, but given the widespread reaction to the Guardian's pullout on September 11, published two weeks later, which incorporated some distinctly sick humour and got a large quantity of complaints... I don't think Blair would have got away with it. The difference is that as far as Rumsfeld is concerned, anyone who cares about the looting in Iraq doesn't matter.

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