The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

FRANK RICH - Oh What a Malleable War

Oh What a Malleable War

MAYBE the Bush White House can’t conduct a war, but no one has ever impugned its ability to lie about its conduct of a war. Now even that well-earned reputation for flawless fictionalizing is coming undone. Watching the administration try to get its story straight about Iran’s role in Iraq last week was like watching third graders try to sidestep blame for misbehaving while the substitute teacher was on a bathroom break. The team that once sold the country smoking guns in the shape of mushroom clouds has completely lost its mojo.

Surely these guys can do better than this. No sooner did unnamed military officials unveil their melodramatically secretive briefing in Baghdad last Sunday than Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blew the whole charade. General Pace said he didn’t know about the briefing and couldn’t endorse its contention that the Iranian government’s highest echelons were complicit in anti-American hostilities in Iraq. Public-relations pandemonium ensued as Tony Snow, the State Department and finally the president tried to revise the story line on the fly. Back when Karl Rove ruled, everyone read verbatim from the same script. Last week’s frantic improvisations were vintage Scooter Libby, at best the ur-text for a future perjury trial.

Yet for all the sloppy internal contradictions, the most incriminating indictment of the new White House disinformation campaign is to be found in official assertions made more than a year ago. The press and everyone else seems to have forgotten that the administration has twice sounded the same alarms about Iranian weaponry in Iraq that it did last week.

In August 2005, NBC News, CBS News and The Times cited unnamed military and intelligence officials when reporting, as CBS put it, that “U.S. forces intercepted a shipment from Iran containing professionally made explosive devices specifically designed to penetrate the armor which protects American vehicles.” Then, as now, those devices were the devastating roadside bombs currently called E.F.P.’s (explosively formed penetrators). Then, as now, they were thought to have been brought into Iraq by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Then, as now, there was no evidence that the Iranian government was directly involved. In February 2006, administration officials delivered the same warning yet again, before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Timing is everything in propaganda, as in all showmanship. So why would the White House pick this particular moment to mount such an extravagant rerun of old news, complete with photos and props reminiscent of Colin Powell’s infamous presentation of prewar intelligence? Yes, the death toll from these bombs is rising, but it has been rising for some time. (Also rising, and more dramatically, is the death toll from attacks on American helicopters.)

After General Pace rendered inoperative the first official rationale for last Sunday’s E.F.P. briefing, President Bush had to find a new explanation for his sudden focus on the Iranian explosives. That’s why he said at Wednesday’s news conference that it no longer mattered whether the Iranian government (as opposed to black marketeers or freelance thugs) had supplied these weapons to Iraqi killers. “What matters is, is that they’re there,” he said. The real point of hyping this inexact intelligence was to justify why he had to take urgent action now, no matter what the E.F.P.’s provenance: “My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we’re going to do something about it, pure and simple.”

Darn right! But if the administration has warned about these weapons twice in the past 18 months (and had known “that they’re there,” we now know, since 2003), why is Mr. Bush just stepping up to that job at this late date? Embarrassingly enough, The Washington Post reported on its front page last Monday — the same front page with news of the Baghdad E.F.P. briefing — that there is now a shortfall of “thousands of advanced Humvee armor kits designed to reduce U.S. troop deaths from roadside bombs.” Worse, the full armor upgrade “is not scheduled to be completed until this summer.” So Mr. Bush’s idea of doing something about it, “pure and simple” is itself a lie, since he is doing something about it only after he has knowingly sent a new round of underarmored American troops into battle.

To those who are most suspicious of this White House, the “something” that Mr. Bush really wants to do has little to do with armor in any case. His real aim is to provoke war with Iran, no matter how overstretched and ill-equipped our armed forces may be for that added burden. By this line of thinking, the run-up to the war in Iraq is now repeating itself exactly and Mr. Bush will seize any handy casus belli he can to ignite a conflagration in Iran.

Iran is an unquestionable menace with an Israel-hating fanatic as its president. It is also four times the size of Iraq and a far more dangerous adversary than was Saddam’s regime. Perhaps Mr. Bush is as reckless as his harshest critics claim and will double down on catastrophe. But for those who don’t hold quite so pitch-black a view of his intentions, there’s a less apocalyptic motive to be considered as well.

Let’s not forget that the White House’s stunt of repackaging old, fear-inducing news for public consumption has a long track record. Its reason for doing so is always the same: to distract the public from reality that runs counter to the White House’s political interests. When the Democrats were gaining campaign traction in 2004, John Ashcroft held an urgent news conference to display photos of seven suspected terrorists on the loose. He didn’t bother to explain that six of them had been announced previously, one at a news conference he had held 28 months earlier. Mr. Bush played the same trick last February as newly declassified statistics at a Senate hearing revealed a steady three-year growth in insurgent attacks: he breathlessly announced a thwarted Qaeda plot against the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles that had already been revealed by the administration four months before.

We know what Mr. Bush wants to distract us from this time: Congressional votes against his war policy, the Libby trial, the Pentagon inspector general’s report deploring Douglas Feith’s fictional prewar intelligence, and the new and dire National Intelligence Estimate saying that America is sending troops into the cross-fire of a multifaceted sectarian cataclysm.

That same intelligence estimate also says that Iran is “not likely to be a major driver of violence” in Iraq, but no matter. If the president can now whip up a Feith-style smoke screen of innuendo to imply that Iran is the root of all our woes in the war — and give “the enemy” a single recognizable face (Ahmadinejad as the new Saddam) — then, ipso facto, he is not guilty of sending troops into the middle of a shadowy Sunni-Shiite bloodbath after all.

Oh what a malleable war Iraq has been. First it was waged to vanquish Saddam’s (nonexistent) nuclear arsenal and his (nonexistent) collaboration with Al Qaeda. Then it was going to spread (nonexistent) democracy throughout the Middle East. Now it is being rebranded as a fight against Tehran. Mr. Bush keeps saying that his saber rattling about Iran is not “a pretext for war.” Maybe so, but at the very least it’s a pretext for prolonging the disastrous war we already have.

What makes his spin brazen even by his standards is that Iran is in fact steadily extending its influence in Iraq — thanks to its alliance with the very Iraqi politicians that Mr. Bush himself has endorsed. In December the president welcomed a Shiite leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, to the White House with great fanfare; just three weeks later American forces had to raid Mr. Hakim’s Iraq compound to arrest Iranian operatives suspected of planning attacks against American military forces, possibly with E.F.P.’s. As if that weren’t bad enough, Nuri al-Maliki’s government promptly overruled the American arrests and ordered the operatives’ release so they could escape to Iran. For all his bluster about doing something about it, Mr. Bush did nothing.

It gets worse. This month we learned that yet another Maliki supporter in the Iraqi Parliament, Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Ebrahimi, was convicted more than two decades ago of planning the murderous 1983 attacks on the American and French Embassies in Kuwait. He’s now in Iran, but before leaving, this terrorist served as a security adviser, no less, to the first Iraqi prime minister after the American invasion, Ibrahim al-Jafaari. Mr. Jafaari, hailed by Mr. Bush as “a strong partner for peace and freedom” during his own White House visit in 2005, could be found last week in Tehran, celebrating the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution and criticizing America’s arrest of Iranian officials in Iraq.

Even if the White House still had its touch for spinning fiction, it’s hard to imagine how it could create new lies brilliant enough to top the sorry truth. When you have a president making a big show of berating Iran while simultaneously empowering it, you’ve got another remake of “The Manchurian Candidate,” this time played for keeps.

Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility

Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility

By Dana Priest and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 18, 2007; A01

Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.

They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years.

Not all of the quarters are as bleak as Duncan's, but the despair of Building 18 symbolizes a larger problem in Walter Reed's treatment of the wounded, according to dozens of soldiers, family members, veterans aid groups, and current and former Walter Reed staff members interviewed by two Washington Post reporters, who spent more than four months visiting the outpatient world without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials. Many agreed to be quoted by name; others said they feared Army retribution if they complained publicly.

While the hospital is a place of scrubbed-down order and daily miracles, with medical advances saving more soldiers than ever, the outpatients in the Other Walter Reed encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas.

On the worst days, soldiers say they feel like they are living a chapter of "Catch-22." The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.

Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers' families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment.

"We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it," said Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. "We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling."

Soldiers, family members, volunteers and caregivers who have tried to fix the system say each mishap seems trivial by itself, but the cumulative effect wears down the spirits of the wounded and can stall their recovery.

"It creates resentment and disenfranchisement," said Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker at Walter Reed. "These soldiers will withdraw and stay in their rooms. They will actively avoid the very treatment and services that are meant to be helpful."

Danny Soto, a national service officer for Disabled American Veterans who helps dozens of wounded service members each week at Walter Reed, said soldiers "get awesome medical care and their lives are being saved," but, "Then they get into the administrative part of it and they are like, 'You saved me for what?' The soldiers feel like they are not getting proper respect. This leads to anger."

This world is invisible to outsiders. Walter Reed occasionally showcases the heroism of these wounded soldiers and emphasizes that all is well under the circumstances. President Bush, former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and members of Congress have promised the best care during their regular visits to the hospital's spit-polished amputee unit, Ward 57.

"We owe them all we can give them," Bush said during his last visit, a few days before Christmas. "Not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service."

Along with the government promises, the American public, determined not to repeat the divisive Vietnam experience, has embraced the soldiers even as the war grows more controversial at home. Walter Reed is awash in the generosity of volunteers, businesses and celebrities who donate money, plane tickets, telephone cards and steak dinners.

Yet at a deeper level, the soldiers say they feel alone and frustrated. Seventy-five percent of the troops polled by Walter Reed last March said their experience was "stressful." Suicide attempts and unintentional overdoses from prescription drugs and alcohol, which is sold on post, are part of the narrative here.

Vera Heron spent 15 frustrating months living on post to help care for her son. "It just absolutely took forever to get anything done," Heron said. "They do the paperwork, they lose the paperwork. Then they have to redo the paperwork. You are talking about guys and girls whose lives are disrupted for the rest of their lives, and they don't put any priority on it."

Family members who speak only Spanish have had to rely on Salvadoran housekeepers, a Cuban bus driver, the Panamanian bartender and a Mexican floor cleaner for help. Walter Reed maintains a list of bilingual staffers, but they are rarely called on, according to soldiers and families and Walter Reed staff members.

Evis Morales's severely wounded son was transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for surgery shortly after she arrived at Walter Reed. She had checked into her government-paid room on post, but she slept in the lobby of the Bethesda hospital for two weeks because no one told her there is a free shuttle between the two facilities. "They just let me off the bus and said 'Bye-bye,' " recalled Morales, a Puerto Rico resident.

Morales found help after she ran out of money, when she called a hotline number and a Spanish-speaking operator happened to answer.

"If they can have Spanish-speaking recruits to convince my son to go into the Army, why can't they have Spanish-speaking translators when he's injured?" Morales asked. "It's so confusing, so disorienting."

Soldiers, wives, mothers, social workers and the heads of volunteer organizations have complained repeatedly to the military command about what one called "The Handbook No One Gets" that would explain life as an outpatient. Most soldiers polled in the March survey said they got their information from friends. Only 12 percent said any Army literature had been helpful.

"They've been behind from Day One," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who headed the House Government Reform Committee, which investigated problems at Walter Reed and other Army facilities. "Even the stuff they've fixed has only been patched."

Among the public, Davis said, "there's vast appreciation for soldiers, but there's a lack of focus on what happens to them" when they return. "It's awful."

Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander at Walter Reed, said in an interview last week that a major reason outpatients stay so long, a change from the days when injured soldiers were discharged as quickly as possible, is that the Army wants to be able to hang on to as many soldiers as it can, "because this is the first time this country has fought a war for so long with an all-volunteer force since the Revolution."

Acknowledging the problems with outpatient care, Weightman said Walter Reed has taken steps over the past year to improve conditions for the outpatient army, which at its peak in summer 2005 numbered nearly 900, not to mention the hundreds of family members who come to care for them. One platoon sergeant used to be in charge of 125 patients; now each one manages 30. Platoon sergeants with psychological problems are more carefully screened. And officials have increased the numbers of case managers and patient advocates to help with the complex disability benefit process, which Weightman called "one of the biggest sources of delay."

And to help steer the wounded and their families through the complicated bureaucracy, Weightman said, Walter Reed has recently begun holding twice-weekly informational meetings. "We felt we were pushing information out before, but the reality is, it was overwhelming," he said. "Is it fail-proof? No. But we've put more resources on it."

He said a 21,500-troop increase in Iraq has Walter Reed bracing for "potentially a lot more" casualties.

Bureaucratic Battles

The best known of the Army's medical centers, Walter Reed opened in 1909 with 10 patients. It has treated the wounded from every war since, and nearly one of every four service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The outpatients are assigned to one of five buildings attached to the post, including Building 18, just across from the front gates on Georgia Avenue. To accommodate the overflow, some are sent to nearby hotels and apartments. Living conditions range from the disrepair of Building 18 to the relative elegance of Mologne House, a hotel that opened on the post in 1998, when the typical guest was a visiting family member or a retiree on vacation.

The Pentagon has announced plans to close Walter Reed by 2011, but that hasn't stopped the flow of casualties. Three times a week, school buses painted white and fitted with stretchers and blackened windows stream down Georgia Avenue. Sirens blaring, they deliver soldiers groggy from a pain-relief cocktail at the end of their long trip from Iraq via Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Andrews Air Force Base.

Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, 43, came in on one of those buses in November 2004 and spent several weeks on the fifth floor of Walter Reed's hospital. His eye and skull were shattered by an AK-47 round. His odyssey in the Other Walter Reed has lasted more than two years, but it began when someone handed him a map of the grounds and told him to find his room across post.

A reconnaissance and land-navigation expert, Shannon was so disoriented that he couldn't even find north. Holding the map, he stumbled around outside the hospital, sliding against walls and trying to keep himself upright, he said. He asked anyone he found for directions.

Shannon had led the 2nd Infantry Division's Ghost Recon Platoon until he was felled in a gun battle in Ramadi. He liked the solitary work of a sniper; "Lone Wolf" was his call name. But he did not expect to be left alone by the Army after such serious surgery and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He had appointments during his first two weeks as an outpatient, then nothing.

"I thought, 'Shouldn't they contact me?' " he said. "I didn't understand the paperwork. I'd start calling phone numbers, asking if I had appointments. I finally ran across someone who said: 'I'm your case manager. Where have you been?'

"Well, I've been here! Jeez Louise, people, I'm your hospital patient!"

Like Shannon, many soldiers with impaired memory from brain injuries sat for weeks with no appointments and no help from the staff to arrange them. Many disappeared even longer. Some simply left for home.

One outpatient, a 57-year-old staff sergeant who had a heart attack in Afghanistan, was given 200 rooms to supervise at the end of 2005. He quickly discovered that some outpatients had left the post months earlier and would check in by phone. "We called them 'call-in patients,' " said Staff Sgt. Mike McCauley, whose dormant PTSD from Vietnam was triggered by what he saw on the job: so many young and wounded, and three bodies being carried from the hospital.

Life beyond the hospital bed is a frustrating mountain of paperwork. The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents with eight different commands -- most of them off-post -- to enter and exit the medical processing world, according to government investigators. Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but few of them can communicate with one another. The Army's three personnel databases cannot read each other's files and can't interact with the separate pay system or the medical recordkeeping databases.

The disappearance of necessary forms and records is the most common reason soldiers languish at Walter Reed longer than they should, according to soldiers, family members and staffers. Sometimes the Army has no record that a soldier even served in Iraq. A combat medic who did three tours had to bring in letters and photos of herself in Iraq to show she that had been there, after a clerk couldn't find a record of her service.

Shannon, who wears an eye patch and a visible skull implant, said he had to prove he had served in Iraq when he tried to get a free uniform to replace the bloody one left behind on a medic's stretcher. When he finally tracked down the supply clerk, he discovered the problem: His name was mistakenly left off the "GWOT list" -- the list of "Global War on Terrorism" patients with priority funding from the Defense Department.

He brought his Purple Heart to the clerk to prove he was in Iraq.

Lost paperwork for new uniforms has forced some soldiers to attend their own Purple Heart ceremonies and the official birthday party for the Army in gym clothes, only to be chewed out by superiors.

The Army has tried to re-create the organization of a typical military unit at Walter Reed. Soldiers are assigned to one of two companies while they are outpatients -- the Medical Holding Company (Medhold) for active-duty soldiers and the Medical Holdover Company for Reserve and National Guard soldiers. The companies are broken into platoons that are led by platoon sergeants, the Army equivalent of a parent.

Under normal circumstances, good sergeants know everything about the soldiers under their charge: vices and talents, moods and bad habits, even family stresses.

At Walter Reed, however, outpatients have been drafted to serve as platoon sergeants and have struggled with their responsibilities. Sgt. David Thomas, a 42-year-old amputee with the Tennessee National Guard, said his platoon sergeant couldn't remember his name. "We wondered if he had mental problems," Thomas said. "Sometimes I'd wear my leg, other times I'd take my wheelchair. He would think I was a different person. We thought, 'My God, has this man lost it?' "

Civilian care coordinators and case managers are supposed to track injured soldiers and help them with appointments, but government investigators and soldiers complain that they are poorly trained and often do not understand the system.

One amputee, a senior enlisted man who asked not to be identified because he is back on active duty, said he received orders to report to a base in Germany as he sat drooling in his wheelchair in a haze of medication. "I went to Medhold many times in my wheelchair to fix it, but no one there could help me," he said.

Finally, his wife met an aide to then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who got the erroneous paperwork corrected with one phone call. When the aide called with the news, he told the soldier, "They don't even know you exist."

"They didn't know who I was or where I was," the soldier said. "And I was in contact with my platoon sergeant every day."

The lack of accountability weighed on Shannon. He hated the isolation of the younger troops. The Army's failure to account for them each day wore on him. When a 19-year-old soldier down the hall died, Shannon knew he had to take action.

The soldier, Cpl. Jeremy Harper, returned from Iraq with PTSD after seeing three buddies die. He kept his room dark, refused his combat medals and always seemed heavily medicated, said people who knew him. According to his mother, Harper was drunkenly wandering the lobby of the Mologne House on New Year's Eve 2004, looking for a ride home to West Virginia. The next morning he was found dead in his room. An autopsy showed alcohol poisoning, she said.

"I can't understand how they could have let kids under the age of 21 have liquor," said Victoria Harper, crying. "He was supposed to be right there at Walter Reed hospital. . . . I feel that they didn't take care of him or watch him as close as they should have."

The Army posthumously awarded Harper a Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq.

Shannon viewed Harper's death as symptomatic of a larger tragedy -- the Army had broken its covenant with its troops. "Somebody didn't take care of him," he would later say. "It makes me want to cry. "

Shannon and another soldier decided to keep tabs on the brain injury ward. "I'm a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, and I take care of people," he said. The two soldiers walked the ward every day with a list of names. If a name dropped off the large white board at the nurses' station, Shannon would hound the nurses to check their files and figure out where the soldier had gone.

Sometimes the patients had been transferred to another hospital. If they had been released to one of the residences on post, Shannon and his buddy would pester the front desk managers to make sure the new charges were indeed there. "But two out of 10, when I asked where they were, they'd just say, 'They're gone,' " Shannon said.

Even after Weightman and his commanders instituted new measures to keep better track of soldiers, two young men left post one night in November and died in a high-speed car crash in Virginia. The driver was supposed to be restricted to Walter Reed because he had tested positive for illegal drugs, Weightman said.

Part of the tension at Walter Reed comes from a setting that is both military and medical. Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, the squad leader who lost one leg and the use of his other in a grenade attack, said his recovery was made more difficult by a Marine liaison officer who had never seen combat but dogged him about having his mother in his room on post. The rules allowed her to be there, but the officer said she was taking up valuable bed space.

"When you join the Marine Corps, they tell you, you can forget about your mama. 'You have no mama. We are your mama,' " Groves said. "That training works in combat. It doesn't work when you are wounded."

Frustration at Every Turn

The frustrations of an outpatient's day begin before dawn. On a dark, rain-soaked morning this winter, Sgt. Archie Benware, 53, hobbled over to his National Guard platoon office at Walter Reed. Benware had done two tours in Iraq. His head had been crushed between two 2,100-pound concrete barriers in Ramadi, and now it was dented like a tin can. His legs were stiff from knee surgery. But here he was, trying to take care of business.

At the platoon office, he scanned the white board on the wall. Six soldiers were listed as AWOL. The platoon sergeant was nowhere to be found, leaving several soldiers stranded with their requests.

Benware walked around the corner to arrange a dental appointment -- his teeth were knocked out in the accident. He was told by a case manager that another case worker, not his doctor, would have to approve the procedure.

"Goddamn it, that's unbelievable!" snapped his wife, Barb, who accompanied him because he can no longer remember all of his appointments.

Not as unbelievable as the time he received a manila envelope containing the gynecological report of a young female soldier.

Next came 7 a.m. formation, one way Walter Reed tries to keep track of hundreds of wounded. Formation is also held to maintain some discipline. Soldiers limp to the old Red Cross building in rain, ice and snow. Army regulations say they can't use umbrellas, even here. A triple amputee has mastered the art of putting on his uniform by himself and rolling in just in time. Others are so gorked out on pills that they seem on the verge of nodding off.

"Fall in!" a platoon sergeant shouted at Friday formation. The noisy room of soldiers turned silent.

An Army chaplain opened with a verse from the Bible. "Why are we here?" she asked. She talked about heroes and service to country. "We were injured in many ways."

Someone announced free tickets to hockey games, a Ravens game, a movie screening, a dinner at McCormick and Schmick's, all compliments of local businesses.

Every formation includes a safety briefing. Usually it is a warning about mixing alcohol with meds, or driving too fast, or domestic abuse. "Do not beat your spouse or children. Do not let your spouse or children beat you," a sergeant said, to laughter. This morning's briefing included a warning about black ice, a particular menace to the amputees.

Dress warm, the sergeant said. "I see some guys rolling around in their wheelchairs in 30 degrees in T-shirts."

Soldiers hate formation for its petty condescension. They gutted out a year in the desert, and now they are being treated like children.

"I'm trying to think outside the box here, maybe moving formation to Wagner Gym," the commander said, addressing concerns that formation was too far from soldiers' quarters in the cold weather. "But guess what? Those are nice wood floors. They have to be covered by a tarp. There's a tarp that's got to be rolled out over the wooden floors. Then it has to be cleaned, with 400 soldiers stepping all over it. Then it's got to be rolled up."

"Now, who thinks Wagner Gym is a good idea?"

Explaining this strange world to family members is not easy. At an orientation for new arrivals, a staff sergeant walked them through the idiosyncrasies of Army financing. He said one relative could receive a 15-day advance on the $64 per diem either in cash or as an electronic transfer: "I highly recommend that you take the cash," he said. "There's no guarantee the transfer will get to your bank." The audience yawned.

Actually, he went on, relatives can collect only 80 percent of this advance, which comes to $51.20 a day. "The cashier has no change, so we drop to $50. We give you the rest" -- the $1.20 a day -- "when you leave."

The crowd was anxious, exhausted. A child crawled on the floor. The sergeant plowed on. "You need to figure out how long your loved one is going to be an inpatient," he said, something even the doctors can't accurately predict from day to day. "Because if you sign up for the lodging advance," which is $150 a day, "and they get out the next day, you owe the government the advance back of $150 a day."

A case manager took the floor to remind everyone that soldiers are required to be in uniform most of the time, though some of the wounded are amputees or their legs are pinned together by bulky braces. "We have break-away clothing with Velcro!" she announced with a smile. "Welcome to Walter Reed!"

A Bleak Life in Building 18

"Building 18! There is a rodent infestation issue!" bellowed the commander to his troops one morning at formation. "It doesn't help when you live like a rodent! I can't believe people live like that! I was appalled by some of your rooms!"

Life in Building 18 is the bleakest homecoming for men and women whose government promised them good care in return for their sacrifices.

One case manager was so disgusted, she bought roach bombs for the rooms. Mouse traps are handed out. It doesn't help that soldiers there subsist on carry-out food because the hospital cafeteria is such a hike on cold nights. They make do with microwaves and hot plates.

Army officials say they "started an aggressive campaign to deal with the mice infestation" last October and that the problem is now at a "manageable level." They also say they will "review all outstanding work orders" in the next 30 days.

Soldiers discharged from the psychiatric ward are often assigned to Building 18. Buses and ambulances blare all night. While injured soldiers pull guard duty in the foyer, a broken garage door allows unmonitored entry from the rear. Struggling with schizophrenia, PTSD, paranoid delusional disorder and traumatic brain injury, soldiers feel especially vulnerable in that setting, just outside the post gates, on a street where drug dealers work the corner at night.

"I've been close to mortars. I've held my own pretty good," said Spec. George Romero, 25, who came back from Iraq with a psychological disorder. "But here . . . I think it has affected my ability to get over it . . . dealing with potential threats every day."

After Spec. Jeremy Duncan, 30, got out of the hospital and was assigned to Building 18, he had to navigate across the traffic of Georgia Avenue for appointments. Even after knee surgery, he had to limp back and forth on crutches and in pain. Over time, black mold invaded his room.

But Duncan would rather suffer with the mold than move to another room and share his convalescence in tight quarters with a wounded stranger. "I have mold on the walls, a hole in the shower ceiling, but . . . I don't want someone waking me up coming in."

Wilson, the clinical social worker at Walter Reed, was part of a staff team that recognized Building 18's toll on the wounded. He mapped out a plan and, in September, was given a $30,000 grant from the Commander's Initiative Account for improvements. He ordered some equipment, including a pool table and air hockey table, which have not yet arrived. A Psychiatry Department functionary held up the rest of the money because she feared that buying a lot of recreational equipment close to Christmas would trigger an audit, Wilson said.

In January, Wilson was told that the funds were no longer available and that he would have to submit a new request. "It's absurd," he said. "Seven months of work down the drain. I have nothing to show for this project. It's a great example of what we're up against."

A pool table and two flat-screen TVs were eventually donated from elsewhere.

But Wilson had had enough. Three weeks ago he turned in his resignation. "It's too difficult to get anything done with this broken-down bureaucracy," he said.

At town hall meetings, the soldiers of Building 18 keep pushing commanders to improve conditions. But some things have gotten worse. In December, a contracting dispute held up building repairs.

"I hate it," said Romero, who stays in his room all day. "There are cockroaches. The elevator doesn't work. The garage door doesn't work. Sometimes there's no heat, no water. . . . I told my platoon sergeant I want to leave. I told the town hall meeting. I talked to the doctors and medical staff. They just said you kind of got to get used to the outside world. . . . My platoon sergeant said, 'Suck it up!' "

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/17/AR2007021701172_pf.html

"Bewildered, Confounded and Miserably Perplexed"

"Bewildered, Confounded and Miserably Perplexed"

by digby


With wingnuts peddling phony Abraham Lincoln quotes left and right, it's probably a good idea to take a closer look at what Abraham Lincoln actually said. Queequeg found a speech he gave on the House floor in 1848 during a debate on the Mexican War. And guess what:

Lincoln brought up three issues, all of which are found in the debate over the occupation of Iraq: funding of the occupation, deception about the reason for war, and predictions about the ease and brevity of the fighting. On all three issues, today's Democrats echo Lincoln's arguments.


And they do. This passage, though, is far more scathing and insulting than anything a Democrat has said:

As to the mode of terminating the war, and securing peace, the President is equally wandering and indefinite. First, it is to be done by a more vigorous prosecution of the war in the vital parts of the enemy's country; and, after apparently talking himself tired on this point, the President drops down into a half despairing tone, and tells us that "with a people distracted and divided by contending factions, and a government subject to constant changes, by successive revolutions, the continued success of our arms may fail to secure a satisfactory peace." Then he suggests the propriety of wheedling the Mexican people to desert the counsels of their own leaders, and trusting in our protection to set up a government from which we can secure a satisfactory peace; telling us that "this may become the only mode of obtaining such a peace." But soon he falls into doubt of this too; and then drops back on to the already half abandoned ground of "more vigorous prosecution." All this shows that the President is, in no wise, satisfied with his own positions. … His mind, tasked beyond its power, is running hither and thither, like some tortured creature on a burning surface, finding no position on which it can settle down and be at ease.

Again, it is a singular omission in this message that it nowhere intimates when the President expects the the war to terminate. … As I have before said, he knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show there is not something about his conscience more painful than all his mental perplexity!


Why that's downright uncivil. Call a blogger ethics panel immediately!

Lincoln said a few other things that the wingnuts might not like to hear:

Our safety, our liberty, depends upon preserving the Constitution of the United States as our fathers made it inviolate. The people of the United States are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.

Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose - and you allow him to make war at pleasure.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable - a most sacred right - a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.

My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.


Today we have the new poster girl of the Republican Party saying this:

I have to tell you, in general, I’m skeptical of anything that has Bill of Rights tacked on to it.”



The old gray Republican party ain't what it used to be.

http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2007_02_01_archive.html#3601079582842397387#3601079582842397387

Cheney's Son-in-Law is a Saboteur and a Traitor

Cheney's Son-in-Law is a Saboteur and a Traitor Hotlist

Sat Feb 17, 2007 at 12:33:57 PM CST

Actions have consequences, as neocon extraordinaire Frank Gaffney repeatedly stated the other day in his debate with Glenn Greenwald on the Alan Colmes radio program. Indeed, as our Fake President Lincoln reminded us (circa 2003):

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.

"Fake" President Abraham Lincoln

So, if people debating the merits of that war on the floor of the House of Representatives are saboteurs (yes, I'm looking at you, Real President Lincoln) than what is a person who deliberately sabotages our efforts to protect America's homeland from attacks by our enemies?

Well, he would be Vice President Dick Cheney's Son-in-Law, for one thing (via Washington Monthly):


In March 2003, when the world’s attention was focused on U.S. soldiers heading to Baghdad, twelve senior officials in the Bush administration gathered around a long oak conference table in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, part of the White House complex. They were meeting to put the final touches on a proposed legislative package that would address what was perhaps the most dangerous vulnerability the country faced after 9/11: unprotected chemical plants close to densely populated areas. [...]

The basic elements of the legislation were simple: the EPA would get authority to regulate the security of chemical sites, and, as a first step, plants would submit plans for lowering their risks. One man present at the meeting, Bob Bostock, who was homeland security adviser to the Environmental Protection Agency, was relieved to see that something was finally being done. "We knew that these facilities had large enough quantities of dangerous chemicals to do significant harm to populations in these areas," he says.

No one present was prepared for what came next: the late arrival of an unexpected visitor, Philip Perry, general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Perry, a tall, balding man who bears a slight resemblance to Ari Fleischer without the glasses, was brusque and to the point. The Bush administration was not going to support granting regulatory authority over chemical security to the EPA. "If you send up this legislation," he told the gathering, "it will be dead on arrival on the Hill."

No one doubted the finality of Perry’s message. The OMB, which sets the course for nearly every proposal coming out of the White House, is a much-feared department that raises or lowers its thumb on policy priorities, a sort of mini-Caesar at the interagency coliseum. But Philip Perry could boast one more source of authority: he was, and is, the husband of Elizabeth Cheney, and son-in-law of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Got that? Cheney's son-in-law essentially killed any chance we had after 9/11 of making America's numerous chemical plants safer from a terrorist attack, despite the fact we were told over and over again by President Bush and other administration officials that we are engaged in a war against Islamic terrorists who want to kill Americans. More from the Washington Monthly:

The result has been that our chemical sites remain, even five years after 9/11, stubbornly vulnerable to attack. Philip Perry has hardly been alone in tolerating this. Others in the White House and Congress have been equally solicitous toward the chemical industry. But as part of a network of Cheney loyalists in the executive branch, Perry has been a key player in the struggle to prevent the federal government from assuming any serious regulatory role in business, no matter what the cost. And a successful attack on a chemical facility could make such a cost high indeed. A flippant critic might say the father-in-law has been prosecuting a war that creates more terrorists abroad, while the son-in-law has been working to ensure they’ll have easy targets at home. But it’s more precise to say that White House officials really, really don’t want to alienate the chemical industry, and Perry has been really, really willing to help them not do it.

Imagine that. Al Qaeda has a mole deep within within our own Government, and he just happens to be related by marriage to Vice President Cheney. A traitor to our country who has taken an active part in increasing the risk to the lives of his fellow Americans that might result from another terrorist attack on our country. At least, that's the only logical inference I can draw from Mr. Perry's actions which clearly are designed to weaken our national security and embolden the terrorists who, by President Bush's own admission want to kill us.

Either that, or Perry, and many others in the Bush administration, have a reckless disregard for the safety and welfare of any American citizen who happens to live within the vicinity of a chemical plant. In the law, I would argue that is considered a sufficient intent to justify a charge of treason:

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

For if you make it easier for our enemies to attack and kill American citizens by blocking legislation which would have made our chemical plants more secure, are you not aiding and comforting our terrorist enemies? I would say so.

And no, I'm not being flippant. I'm very, very serious. Check the localities in and around where you live. I'll bet you'll find chemical plants such as the ones that Mr. Perry has so assiduously kept unprotected in the interests of serving his friends in the chemical industry. I know that there are quite a few of these facilities where I live. And if anyone of my family or friends suffers harm as a a result of an attack on those facilities, you can bet I'm not just going to blame the terrorists directly responsible, but also people like Philip Perry, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, chemical industry lobbyists and any politician who took their money.

But why wait for that terrorist attack on our most vulnerable plants and facilities to occur before we do something about it? Can anyone else say the word impeachment? Because if lying about a blow job is a major "crime and misdemeanor" justifying removal of a sitting President from office, than certainly giving aid and comfort to our enemies in a time of war so ones' buddies in the chemical industry can save a few shekels ought to qualify.



http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/2/17/132348/291

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mea culpa to Bush on Presidents Day

Mea culpa to Bush on Presidents Day

Plain Talk by Al Neuharth, USA TODAY founder

Our great country has had 43 presidents. Many very good. A few pretty bad. On Presidents Day next Monday, it's appropriate to commemorate them all.

I remember every president since Herbert Hoover, when I was a grade school kid. He was one of the worst. I've personally met every president since Dwight Eisenhower. He was one of the best.

A year ago I criticized Hillary Clinton for saying "this (Bush) administration will go down in history as one of the worst."

"She's wrong," I wrote. Then I rated these five presidents, in this order, as the worst: Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, Hoover and Richard Nixon. "It's very unlikely Bush can crack that list," I added.

I was wrong. This is my mea culpa. Not only has Bush cracked that list, but he is planted firmly at the top.

The Iraq war, of course, has become Bush's albatross. He and his buddies are great at coining words or slogans. "Bushisms" that will haunt him historically:

  • "Shock and Awe," early 2003.

  • "Mission Accomplished," May 1, 2003.

  • "Stay the Course," June 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006.

  • "New Strategy," 2007.

Another term historians may weigh critically is "Decider."

Is he just a self-touted decider doing what he thinks right? Or is he an arrogant ruler who doesn't care or consider what the public or Congress believes best for the country?

Despite his play on words and slogans, Bush didn't learn the value or meaning of mea culpa (acknowledgement of an error) during his years at Yale.

Bush admitting his many mistakes on Iraq and ending that fiasco might make many of us forgive, even though we can never forget the terrible toll in lives and dollars.

http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2007/02/plain_talk_by_a_1.html

Paul Krugman - The Health Care Racket

The Health Care Racket

Is the health insurance business a racket? Yes, literally — or so say two New York hospitals, which have filed a racketeering lawsuit against UnitedHealth Group and several of its affiliates.

I don’t know how the case will turn out. But whatever happens in court, the lawsuit illustrates perfectly the dysfunctional nature of our health insurance system, a system in which resources that could have been used to pay for medical care are instead wasted in a zero-sum struggle over who ends up with the bill.

The two hospitals accuse UnitedHealth of operating a “rogue business plan” designed to avoid paying clients’ medical bills. For example, the suit alleges that patients were falsely told that Flushing Hospital was “not a network provider” so UnitedHealth did not pay the full network rate. UnitedHealth has already settled charges of misleading clients about providers’ status brought by New York’s attorney general: the company paid restitution to plan members, while attributing the problem to computer errors.

The legal outcome will presumably turn on whether there was deception as well as denial — on whether it can be proved that UnitedHealth deliberately misled plan members. But it’s a fact that insurers spend a lot of money looking for ways to reject insurance claims. And health care providers, in turn, spend billions on “denial management,” employing specialist firms — including Ingenix, a subsidiary of, yes, UnitedHealth — to fight the insurers.

So it’s an arms race between insurers, who deploy software and manpower trying to find claims they can reject, and doctors and hospitals, who deploy their own forces in an effort to outsmart or challenge the insurers. And the cost of this arms race ends up being borne by the public, in the form of higher health care prices and higher insurance premiums.

Of course, rejecting claims is a clumsy way to deny coverage. The best way for an insurer to avoid paying medical bills is to avoid selling insurance to people who really need it. An insurance company can accomplish this in two ways, through marketing that targets the healthy, and through underwriting: rejecting the sick or charging them higher premiums.

Like denial management, however, marketing and underwriting cost a lot of money. McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, recently released an important report dissecting the reasons America spends so much more on health care than other wealthy nations. One major factor is that we spend $98 billion a year in excess administrative costs, with more than half of the total accounted for by marketing and underwriting — costs that don’t exist in single-payer systems.

And this is just part of the story. McKinsey’s estimate of excess administrative costs counts only the costs of insurers. It doesn’t, as the report concedes, include other “important consequences of the multipayor system,” like the extra costs imposed on providers. The sums doctors pay to denial management specialists are just one example.

Incidentally, while insurers are very good at saying no to doctors, hospitals and patients, they’re not very good at saying no to more powerful players. Drug companies, in particular, charge much higher prices in the United States than they do in countries like Canada, where the government health care system does the bargaining. McKinsey estimates that the United States pays $66 billion a year in excess drug costs, and overpays for medical devices like knee and hip implants, too.

To put these numbers in perspective: McKinsey estimates the cost of providing full medical care to all of America’s uninsured at $77 billion a year. Either eliminating the excess administrative costs of private health insurers, or paying what the rest of the world pays for drugs and medical devices, would by itself more or less pay the cost of covering all the uninsured. And that doesn’t count the many other costs imposed by the fragmentation of our health care system.

Which brings us back to the racketeering lawsuit. If UnitedHealth can be shown to have broken the law — and let’s just say that this company, which is America’s second-largest health insurer, has a reputation for playing even rougher than its competitors — by all means, let’s see justice done. But the larger problem isn’t the behavior of any individual company. It’s the ugly incentives provided by a system in which giving care is punished, while denying it is rewarded.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

George Lakoff - Escalating Truth

Escalating Truth
by George Lakoff
The U.S. House of Representatives today began debating a non-binding resolution opposing President Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq. Democrats pushing the measure deserve support and thanks. The House action raises important questions about the ideas behind the debate and the ways those ideas have been framed.

Bush announced his policy of sending over 20,000 more troops to Iraq in early 2007 when most of the country was calling for a withdrawal of troops. The administration called the buildup of troops in the proposal a "surge."

It is interesting to note that in today's coverage of the debate, the Washington Post uses the word "surge" only once – and that in a paraphrase of Republican John Boehner's defense of Bush's order. The term used in this case was "troop-surge."

In its coverage, the New York Times does not use Bush's term at all. The term "surge" is missing from its coverage of the House action. And, the link provided by the Times to the resolution itself is titled, "The Concurrent Resolution on the President's Escalation Plan." Escalation is a more accurate description of Bush's plan. But its use – and the diminished use of surge – did not happen without a disciplined and focused effort by progressives.

This represents an important victory for those who oppose Bush's deployment of more troops to Iraq. And it illustrates nicely why ideas matter – and how frames affect contests of ideas.

The word "surge" indicates a relatively small short-term increase in force that has an effect and naturally goes back to its previous level. In military parlance, a "surge force" is the opposite of a "base force": troops come in to do a job that can be done quickly, and then leave. They are not "based."

That was not the Bush plan. Only one major combat unit was to be sent that was not scheduled to go. Other units were to go earlier and leave later — indefinitely later, since there was no end date or condition. Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, a theorist of the "surge" and retired Army General Jack Keane wrote in the Washington Post that the "surge" must be large and lasting — at least 18 months and 30,000 troops. The new commander in Iraq, General Petraeus, upon taking up his post said that the troop increase would have to last years to be effective in counterinsurgency.

Then, Bryan Bender, writing in the Boston Globe on February 2, 2007, reported that the 21,000 combat troops Bush was asking for would need an extra 28,000 support troops to keep them in the field. The total then became almost 50,000 additional troops to be kept there for years.

Words have meanings; they express ideas and ideas are important. The word "surge" came with the idea of a relatively small short-term increase in force that would be effective. Such previous troop increases had been ineffective and the joint chiefs saw no reason that this one would be effective either. The actual proposal called a "surge" was the opposite of what the word meant. In short, the very use of the word "surge" was a lie.

People all over the country noticed the "surge" framing immediately, and quickly — and accurately — reframed the President's proposal as an "escalation." Escalation is a strategy employed by an apparently superior power that is losing when it was expected to win. It is the strategy of raising the level of force and, hence, of violence, bringing in more troops, deepening one's commitment to a strategy already in place, raising the bar for what is to count as "success" and for the removal of troops.

As Nobel-prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman observed, this is the same strategy as that used by a gambler who has been losing and hopes to beat the house by continually raising the stakes. In escalation, when the prospect of losing is "unacceptable," de-escalation is unlikely. The deeper the commitment of troops, the harder it is to get those troops out.

The word "escalation" is, of course, charged. It has echoes of Vietnam, where sending more and more troops led to a greater and greater disaster. Those who used the word about Iraq did so for good reason. First, they knew that previous "surges" had no noticeable effect. Second, they knew that most of the troops would be employed in Baghdad, interposing them between the Sunnis there and the Shiites that were in the process of driving out all Sunnis as part of a civil war. The American presence could well raise, not lower, the level of civil war violence and result in the killing of more of our troops. Third, sending more troops would make it hard to remove our troops before the 2008 election. The Democrats, who took over Congress on the pledge to extricate our troops, would then look ineffectual. Having the power of the purse over continued spending on the Iraq occupation, the Democrats in Congress would have taken on the responsibility for the continued use of troops. Fourth, "escalation" suggests by the allusion to Vietnam that sending more troops won't work and will only lead to more coffins coming home. And fifth, escalation is a policy matter: the militarization of foreign policy, namely, use force and keep using more force. It is a continuation of neoconservative policy and a direct challenge to the Democratic mandate to get our troops out. "Escalation" is the word that tells the truth about the policy, the politics, and the inevitable negative effect of the policy.

The Democratic leadership has been using the word, naming the policy accurately and thus challenging the lie implicit in "surge." In previous years, before the Democrats became savvy about the importance of accurate framing, they might have just argued against the Bush "surge." What was the effect of getting savvy?

On the website of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, there is a record taken from a Google News Search of the use of the two words in the press during the week of January 10 – 17. The story, however, viewed the word use as a horserace, a simple competition of which word was used most:

"One method of testing was a Google search for the week of Jan 10-Jan 17, which yielded 18,118 stories with the word 'surge,' close to double the number that used the word 'escalate' or 'escalation,' (10,112). Two more neutral phrases were even less common. 'Troop increase' appeared in 9,177 stories, and 'troop buildup' in 3,868 stories.

A search of the same terms from Jan. 10-Jan. 17 within the more limited universe of LexisNexis (52 major newspapers and 35 news broadcasters) found similar results, but also a nuance.

Again, 'surge' appeared nearly twice as often as 'escalate', and (2,503 stories versus 1,296). And the neutral terms, 'troop buildup' (294 stories) and 'troop increase' (901 stories) were again used less."

- Project for Excellence in Journalism Website

The Project for Excellence in Journalism missed the significance. Though it announced "surge" as the "winner," the real story was being ignored. "Escalation" had 10,112 uses! "Surge" had only 18,118 — relatively small considering that it was the official White House term, the one unquestioning journalists would feel safe using. The point is that "escalation" and its meaning got out there in the press — enough to have a major effect, to blunt and offer a counterforce to the meaning of "surge," as well as to call attention to the real Bush policy. The Democratic leadership is still using "escalation," as it should. The idea is out there more than enough, and that is what matters.

The horserace mentality — counting numbers of uses, not cognitive effects, is all too common in journalism today. A perfect example is centrist blogger and DLC President Bruce Reed, who has a column on Slate. Reed has no appreciation for the effect of ideas and little understanding of what words mean. He thinks, mistakenly, that "escalation" is just a fancy way of saying "send more troops" and that the Democratic leadership should abandon the term:

"Democrats' rechristening effort — again, like the Bush plan itself — would seem to be too little, too late. Time dedicated its first Friday cover to 'The Surge' — a higher profile than escalation can hope for, no matter how often Democrats repeat it."

Notice that Reed mistakenly thinks that reframing is just "rechristening" when it is really about truth-telling and alerting the public to a policy that goes well beyond "more troops." The issue for Reed is the "higher profile" of a Time cover rather than the effect of the idea of escalation, discussed over 10,000 times in the press in a week.

As Reed points out, many of those uses of "surge" were "so-called surge":

"Some critics have started calling it the 'so-called surge.' Unfortunately, if surge is misleading, 'so-called surge' is even more so—leaving the unintended impression that perhaps Bush won't be increasing troops at all. (Then again, as Fred Kaplan has warned, that may be an entirely accurate description of Bush's plan: more troops than we can mobilize and fewer than we'd need to win.) Richard Cohen managed to cram everything into a single sentence: 'A so-called surge is a-coming, an escalation all decked out with an Orwellian-sounding name.'"

Reed gets the meaning of "so-called" wrong. "So-called" says that the following word does not fit reality, despite the attempt by someone in a position of authority to describe reality that way. "So-called" points up the attempt to deceive and rejects it, as Richard Cohen's sentence shows. As one would expect, the nature of the deception is different for hard-core neocons than for most people. Neocons like Kagan want the President to openly promote neocon policy: more force for an indefinitely long period, which appears to be his real policy. But those who want the troops to leave Iraq find the conservative use of the word not only deceptive, but immoral.

Reed thinks that the choice between words is all a matter of meaningless word play. But the issue is reality and our ability to convey it to the public — the reality on the ground in Iraq, the reality of neoconservative foreign policy, and the reality of the political game played by the White House. Words matter because they express ideas, and ideas matter because they present a picture of what's real and what's right.

Conservative ideas and frames must be confronted and contested. Progressives cannot succeed if they treat frames as nothing more than word games, if they fail to understand that the use of a term like surge reinforces the conservative worldview. We are not playing games with words. We are fighting over ideas, and the moral world views that underlie those ideas.


http://www.commondreams.org/views07/0214-26.htm

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jerry Nadler's remarks on the Floor of the US House, 2/13/07

Jerry Nadler's remarks on the Floor of the US House, 2/13/07:

Madame Speaker, I rise to support this resolution and to call upon my colleagues to make a commitment to protect our troops and to bring them home as quickly and safely as possible.

The Iraq War is President Bush's war. The President deceived the American people and Members of Congress when he made the case for war. Every reason we were given for invading Iraq was false. Weapons of Mass Destruction? Not there. Saddam Hussein working hand-in-glove with Al Qaeda? Not true. And the more information that leaks out, the more apparent it becomes that these were not mistakes, but deliberate lies.

I ask you: if the President had gone to the American people and said we must invade a country that poses no imminent threat to us, and sacrifice thousands of lives in order to create a democratic government in Iraq, would we have assented? I think not.

And as the President now says to us that we should continue indefinitely to expend American blood and treasure to support one side in a sectarian civil war, should Congress continue to consent? I think not.

We need to say "Enough already!" Enough with the lies, and the deceit and the evasions! Enough with the useless bloodshed. We must protect our troops and ensure their safety while they are in Iraq. But we must not send more troops there to intervene in a civil war whose outcome we cannot determine. And we should set a swift timetable to withdraw our troops from Iraq, and let the contending Iraqi factions know that we will not continue to expend American blood and treasure to referee their civil war. Only if faced with the reality of imminent withdrawal of American troops might the Iraqis strike a deal with each other, and end the civil war.

We know that the Administration has botched the handling of this war; they stood by as Baghdad was looted, they failed to guard ammunition depots, they disbanded the Iraqi army, they crippled the government by firing all the competent civil servants in the name of de-Baathification. And they wasted countless billions of dollars on private contractors and on G-d only-knows-what, with no accounting.

And all this while they continue to deny resources to the real war on the terrorists. They let Osama bin Laden escape. They allowed the Taliban to recover and reconquer. They allow our ports to remain unprotected from uninspected shipping containers. And they let loose nuclear materials remain unaccounted for, waiting to be smuggled to Al Qaeda to be made into nuclear weapons.

And why does the President want more troops in Iraq? To expand our role from fighting Sunni insurgents to fighting the Shiite militias too. Of course, when we attack the Shiite militias, they will respond by shifting their targets from Sunnis to American troops. American casualties will skyrocket, and we will be fighting two insurgencies instead of one.

I believe the President has no real plan other than not to "lose Iraq" on his watch, and to hand over the whole mess to his successor two years from now. He will ignore anything Congress does that doesn't have the force of law.

That is why this resolution must be only the first step.

In the Supplemental Budget we will consider next month, we should exercise the only real power we have - the Congressional power of the purse. We will not cut off the funds, and leave our troops defenseless before the enemy, as the demagogues would imply, but we should limit the use of the funds we provide to protecting the troops while they are in Iraq and to withdrawing them on a timetable mandated in the law. We should provide funds to rebuild the army and to raise our readiness levels, for diplomatic conferences in case there is any possibility of negotiating an end to the Iraqi civil war, and for economic reconstruction assistance, but above all, we must use the power of the purse to mandate a timetable to withdraw our troops from Iraq.

We must use the power the people have entrusted to us. The best way to protect our troops is to withdraw them from the middle of a civil war they cannot win, and that is not our fight.

I know that, if we withdraw the troops, the civil war may continue and could get worse. But this is probably inevitable, no matter how long our troops remain. And if the Iraqis must fight a civil war, I would rather they fight it without 20,000 more Americans dying.

Yes, the blindness of the Administration is largely to blame for starting the civil war in Iraq, but we cannot end it. Only the Iraqis can settle their civil war. We can only make it worse, and waste our blood and treasure pointlessly.

So let us pass this resolution, and then let us lead this country out of the morass in Iraq, so that we can devote our resources to protecting ourselves from the terrorists and to improving the lives of our people.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Ray McGovern - Wake Up! The Next War Is Coming

Wake Up! The Next War Is Coming
by Ray McGovern

An understated headline moved me yesterday; it was atop AP’s explosively formed story about the “explosively formed penetrators” traced to Iran that are killing our troops in Iraq: “Democrats Skeptical of Starting Row With Iran.” Yawn.

Webster’s: “row”—“a noisy disturbance or quarrel.” Yawn.

What about starting another unwinnable war—this time with Iran? If you are a member of Congress, does it suffice to be “skeptical” about that? Hello?

On January 19, Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The New York Times he believes the White House is developing a case for taking action against Iran, even though U.S. intelligence is not well informed about politics in Iran. “To be quite honest, I’m concerned that it’s Iraq again,” said Rockefeller. “This whole concept of moving against Iran is bizarre.”

Ten days later he told Wolf Blitzer, “I have a great deal of worry that this [escalation of the war in Iraq] could expand...into some kind of action with respect to Iran, which I think would be an enormous mistake.”

Then why not stop it, Senator Rockefeller? Stop the war against Iran before it starts. You are chair of the intelligence committee. You don’t have to be stonewalled, as previous chair Senator Bob Graham was in September 2002. Yes, he voted against the war in Iraq because he knew of the games being played with the intelligence. But he failed to play a leadership role; he didn’t tell his 99 colleagues they were being diddled. It’s time for some leadership.

Several of your colleague senators were reeking of red herring when they arrived home from yesterday’s talk shows. Many of them allowed the administration to divert attention from the main issue with Iran—its nuclear development plans. Instead, the focus was on explosive technology Iran is reported to be giving to Shiite elements to blow up U.S. vehicles on the roads of Iraq. This transport problem is compounded by the unfriendly skies there, where a handful of U.S. helicopters have been shot down in recent weeks. So the problem with “explosively formed penetrators” in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at roadside is real enough.

Why not take the Army’s PowerPoint show-and-tell to Tehran, confront the Iranian leaders and demand they stop? Sorry, I forgot: we don’t talk with bad people. Well, we might try it, just this once.

The real fly in the ointment—the real aim of the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf and of threatening gestures elsewhere—has to do with Iran’s nuclear plans. Recent revelations that the Bush administration summarily rejected Iranian overtures in 2003 to include this neuralgic topic among others in a broad bilateral discussion strengthens the impression that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney actually prefer the military option to destroy Iranian nuclear-related facilities. In any case, the recent hype and provocative actions are likely to end up with an attack on Iran, unless Congress moves quickly to head it off.

Show Me the Intelligence

Where is the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on prospects for Iran’s nuclear capability? You, Senator Rockefeller now have the power to ensure that such estimates are done regularly and in a timely way. An estimate is said to be under way, but at a seemingly leisurely pace completely inappropriate to the circumstances. And there has been no NIE on this key issue since spring 2005.

As you know, the Bush/Cheney administration is no fan of NIEs, unless they can get the likes of former Pentagon functionary Douglas Feith and former CIA director George Tenet to fix the estimate to the policy—as the recent Defense Department Inspector General report’s proved.

In any case, the 2005 NIE concluded that Iran would not be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon until “early to mid-next decade,” with general consensus that 2015 would probably be the earliest. Interestingly, since 1995, U.S. intelligence officials continually estimated Iran to be “within five years” of the capability to make nuclear weapons.

The new NIE in 2005, though, was the first key estimate managed by widely respected Thomas Fingar, the State Department officer who took leadership of the National Intelligence Council earlier that year. Its key judgments were not welcome downtown, however, since they were issued at a time when Vice President Dick Cheney was warning of a “fairly robust new nuclear program,” in Iran, and was painting the threat—and particularly the danger to Israel—as far more imminent.

Several patriotic truth tellers (aka leakers) told The Washington Post of the NIE’s main judgments. The exposure of the intelligence judgments came amid credible reports that the vice president had ordered up contingency plans for a large-scale air assault on Iran, that included tactical nuclear weapons to take out hardened underground nuclear facilities.

The 2005 estimate noted indications that Iran was conducting clandestine work, but there was no information linking those projects directly to a nuclear weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) still has found no conclusive evidence that Iran is tying to build nuclear weapons. (Does that bring back painful memories of Iraq four years ago?) But unlike Iraq, which had been frightened into awarding full cooperation with U.N. inspectors in early 2003, Iran was far less than candid in responding to IAEA questions, and the agency has suspended some aid to Iran and criticized it for concealing certain nuclear-related activities.

The ambiguities are such that, if we bombed Iran, we would once again be going to war in the subjunctive mood.

The dearth of hard evidence shines through some of the more disingenuous pleading of senior administration officials—Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in particular, who have argued that with all the oil at Iran’s disposal it does not need nuclear energy. The trouble is that when Cheney was President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, he and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld persuaded Ford to give the Shah a nuclear program to meet its future energy requirements. There is even more credibility to that claim now. Energy experts note that oil extraction in Iran is already near peak and that the country will need alternatives to oil in the coming decades.

In 1976, Ford reluctantly signed a directive offering Iran a deal that would have brought at least $5.4 billion for U.S. corporations like Westinghouse and General Electric, had not the Shah been unceremoniously ousted three years later. The offer included a reprocessing facility for a complete nuclear-fuels cycle—essentially the same capability that the United States, Israel and other countries now insist Iran cannot be allowed to acquire. This is, of course, no secret to Khomeini’s successors.

What Can Be Said

What Iran is seeking is an enrichment capability, and that capability would allow it eventually to produce nuclear weapons. Whether the Iranians intend to use that technology in the near term for that purpose is open to debate. But if they can develop a commercial/civilian enrichment capability, they will have what Israel calls the “nuclear option.” What cannot be honestly said at this point is what Nicholas Burns, number three in the State Department, has been saying: “There is no doubt Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.” You would think they would take care not to use the exact same phrases they used just four years ago making spurious charges regarding “Iraq’s nuclear program.”

One can argue, as French President Jacques Chirac did in a recent moment of candor, that Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon would not be “very dangerous,” because Iran is well aware that if it fired it at Israel, Tehran would be immediately “razed.” And the post-WWII experience saw mutual deterrence work for 45 years. But the suggestion that the Israeli government try to relax into the concept of deterrence in view of the formidable nuclear arsenal Israel already has, tends to fall on deaf ears. And, given memories of the Holocaust and the ranting of Iran’s current president, this is in some degree understandable.

But there is an equally compelling reason to dissuade Iran from going nuclear. And that is the nuclear proliferation to which that would inevitably lead in the Middle East. The U.S. needs to engage in direct talks with Tehran; we do have common interests and concerns, and we could work toward devising ways to alleviate Israeli fears. But, given the testosterone and myopia that color the Bush administration’s behavior in that region, appeals to those realities and approaches seem to fall on deaf ears.

Congress Must Act

Please, Senator Rockefeller, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear situation is said to be targeted for completion in March. That’s too late; you need to read it before the bombs and missiles start falling on Iran.

An attack on Iran would bring catastrophe. Americans would want to know our reasons for doing so. “Explosively formed penetrators” are unlikely to persuade. Nor will a nuclear threat to the U.S. 10 years hence be found convincing. Iran poses no immediate threat to America. It is right that we be concerned about the security of Israel, but the burden of proof should be on those who argue that deterrence cannot work in that situation.

Most important, bilateral talks with Iran are a sine qua non. Given the circumstances, including heightened tensions and the danger of miscalculation, avoiding face-to-face encounters makes little sense.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his 27 years as a CIA analyst, he chaired NIEs and prepared the president’s daily brief. He is now on the steering group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

http://www.commondreams.org/views07/0212-32.htm

WHATEVER IT TAKES

WHATEVER IT TAKES
by JANE MAYER
The politics of the man behind “24.”
Issue of 2007-02-19
Posted 2007-02-12

The office desk of Joel Surnow—the co-creator and executive producer of “24,” the popular counterterrorism drama on Fox—faces a wall dominated by an American flag in a glass case. A small label reveals that the flag once flew over Baghdad, after the American invasion of Iraq, in 2003. A few years ago, Surnow received it as a gift from an Army regiment stationed in Iraq; the soldiers had shared a collection of “24” DVDs, he told me, until it was destroyed by an enemy bomb. “The military loves our show,” he said recently. Surnow is fifty-two, and has the gangly, coiled energy of an athlete; his hair is close-cropped, and he has a “soul patch”—a smidgen of beard beneath his lower lip. When he was young, he worked as a carpet salesman with his father. The trick to selling anything, he learned, is to carry yourself with confidence and get the customer to like you within the first five minutes. He’s got it down. “People in the Administration love the series, too,” he said. “It’s a patriotic show. They should love it.”

Surnow’s production company, Real Time Entertainment, is in the San Fernando Valley, and occupies a former pencil factory: a bland, two-story industrial building on an abject strip of parking lots and fast-food restaurants. Surnow, a cigar enthusiast, has converted a room down the hall from his office into a salon with burled-wood humidors and a full bar; his friend Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-radio host, sometimes joins him there for a smoke. (Not long ago, Surnow threw Limbaugh a party and presented him with a custom-made “24” smoking jacket.) The ground floor of the factory has a large soundstage on which many of “24” ’s interior scenes are shot, including those set at the perpetually tense Los Angeles bureau of the Counter Terrorist Unit, or C.T.U.—a fictional federal agency that pursues America’s enemies with steely resourcefulness.

Each season of “24,” which has been airing on Fox since 2001, depicts a single, panic-laced day in which Jack Bauer—a heroic C.T.U. agent, played by Kiefer Sutherland—must unravel and undermine a conspiracy that imperils the nation. Terrorists are poised to set off nuclear bombs or bioweapons, or in some other way annihilate entire cities. The twisting story line forces Bauer and his colleagues to make a series of grim choices that pit liberty against security. Frequently, the dilemma is stark: a resistant suspect can either be accorded due process—allowing a terrorist plot to proceed—or be tortured in pursuit of a lead. Bauer invariably chooses coercion. With unnerving efficiency, suspects are beaten, suffocated, electrocuted, drugged, assaulted with knives, or more exotically abused; almost without fail, these suspects divulge critical secrets.

The show’s appeal, however, lies less in its violence than in its giddily literal rendering of a classic thriller trope: the “ticking time bomb” plot. Each hour-long episode represents an hour in the life of the characters, and every minute that passes onscreen brings the United States a minute closer to doomsday. (Surnow came up with this concept, which he calls the show’s “trick.”) As many as half a dozen interlocking stories unfold simultaneously—frequently on a split screen—and a digital clock appears before and after every commercial break, marking each second with an ominous clang. The result is a riveting sensation of narrative velocity.

Bob Cochran, who created the show with Surnow, admitted, “Most terrorism experts will tell you that the ‘ticking time bomb’ situation never occurs in real life, or very rarely. But on our show it happens every week.” According to Darius Rejali, a professor of political science at Reed College and the author of the forthcoming book “Torture and Democracy,” the conceit of the ticking time bomb first appeared in Jean Lartéguy’s 1960 novel “Les Centurions,” written during the brutal French occupation of Algeria. The book’s hero, after beating a female Arab dissident into submission, uncovers an imminent plot to explode bombs all over Algeria and must race against the clock to stop it. Rejali, who has examined the available records of the conflict, told me that the story has no basis in fact. In his view, the story line of “Les Centurions” provided French liberals a more palatable rationale for torture than the racist explanations supplied by others (such as the notion that the Algerians, inherently simpleminded, understood only brute force). Lartéguy’s scenario exploited an insecurity shared by many liberal societies—that their enlightened legal systems had made them vulnerable to security threats.

“24,” which last year won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, packs an improbable amount of intrigue into twenty-four hours, and its outlandishness marks it clearly as a fantasy, an heir to the baroque potboilers of Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn. Nevertheless, the show obviously plays off the anxieties that have beset the country since September 11th, and it sends a political message. The series, Surnow told me, is “ripped out of the Zeitgeist of what people’s fears are—their paranoia that we’re going to be attacked,” and it “makes people look at what we’re dealing with” in terms of threats to national security. “There are not a lot of measures short of extreme measures that will get it done,” he said, adding, “America wants the war on terror fought by Jack Bauer. He’s a patriot.”

For all its fictional liberties, “24” depicts the fight against Islamist extremism much as the Bush Administration has defined it: as an all-consuming struggle for America’s survival that demands the toughest of tactics. Not long after September 11th, Vice-President Dick Cheney alluded vaguely to the fact that America must begin working through the “dark side” in countering terrorism. On “24,” the dark side is on full view. Surnow, who has jokingly called himself a “right-wing nut job,” shares his show’s hard-line perspective. Speaking of torture, he said, “Isn’t it obvious that if there was a nuke in New York City that was about to blow—or any other city in this country—that, even if you were going to go to jail, it would be the right thing to do?”


Since September 11th, depictions of torture have become much more common on American television. Before the attacks, fewer than four acts of torture appeared on prime-time television each year, according to Human Rights First, a nonprofit organization. Now there are more than a hundred, and, as David Danzig, a project director at Human Rights First, noted, “the torturers have changed. It used to be almost exclusively the villains who tortured. Today, torture is often perpetrated by the heroes.” The Parents’ Television Council, a nonpartisan watchdog group, has counted what it says are sixty-seven torture scenes during the first five seasons of “24”—more than one every other show. Melissa Caldwell, the council’s senior director of programs, said, “ ‘24’ is the worst offender on television: the most frequent, most graphic, and the leader in the trend of showing the protagonists using torture.”

The show’s villains usually inflict the more gruesome tortures: their victims are hung on hooks, like carcasses in a butcher shop; poked with smoking-hot scalpels; or abraded with sanding machines. In many episodes, however, heroic American officials act as tormentors, even though torture is illegal under U.S. law. (The United Nations Convention Against Torture, which took on the force of federal law when it was ratified by the Senate in 1994, specifies that “no exceptional circumstances, whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”) In one episode, a fictional President commands a member of his Secret Service to torture a suspected traitor: his national-security adviser. The victim is jolted with defibrillator paddles while his feet are submerged in a tub filled with water. As the voltage is turned up, the President, who is depicted as a scrupulous leader, watches the suspect suffer on a video feed. The viewer, who knows that the adviser is guilty and harbors secrets, becomes complicit in hoping that the torture works. A few minutes before the suspect gives in, the President utters the show’s credo, “Everyone breaks eventually.” (Virtually the sole exception to this rule is Jack Bauer. The current season begins with Bauer being released from a Chinese prison, after two years of ceaseless torture; his back is scarred and his hands are burnt, but a Communist official who transfers Bauer to U.S. custody says that he “never broke his silence.”)

C.T.U. agents have used some of the same controversial interrogation methods that the U.S. has employed on some Al Qaeda suspects. In one instance, Bauer denies painkillers to a female terrorist who is suffering from a bullet wound, just as American officials have acknowledged doing in the case of Abu Zubaydah—one of the highest-ranking Al Qaeda operatives in U.S. custody. “I need to use every advantage I’ve got,” Bauer explains to the victim’s distressed sister.

The show sometimes toys with the audience’s discomfort about abusive interrogations. In Season Two, Bauer threatens to murder a terrorist’s wife and children, one by one, before the prisoner’s eyes. The suspect watches, on closed-circuit television, what appears to be an execution-style slaying of his son. Threatened with the murder of additional family members, the father gives up vital information—but Bauer appears to have gone too far. It turns out, though, that the killing of the child was staged. Bauer, the show implies, hasn’t crossed the line after all. Yet, under U.S. and international law, a mock execution is considered psychological torture, and is illegal.

On one occasion, Bauer loses his nerve about inflicting torture, but the show implicitly rebukes his qualms. In the episode, Bauer attempts to break a suspected terrorist by plunging a knife in his shoulder; the victim’s screams clearly disquiet him. Bauer says to an associate, unconvincingly, that he has looked into the victim’s eyes and knows that “he’s not going to tell us anything.” The other man takes over, fiercely gouging the suspect’s knee—at which point the suspect yells out details of a plot to explode a suitcase nuke in Los Angeles.

Throughout the series, secondary characters raise moral objections to abusive interrogation tactics. Yet the show never engages in a serious dialogue on the subject. Nobody argues that torture doesn’t work, or that it undermines America’s foreign-policy strategy. Instead, the doubters tend to be softhearted dupes. A tremulous liberal, who defends a Middle Eastern neighbor from vigilantism, is killed when the neighbor turns out to be a terrorist. When a civil-liberties-minded lawyer makes a high-toned argument to a Presidential aide against unwarranted detentions—“You continue to arrest innocent people, you’re giving the terrorists exactly what they want,” she says—the aide sarcastically responds, “Well! You’ve got the makings of a splendid law-review article here. I’ll pass it on to the President.”

In another episode, a human-rights lawyer from a fictional organization called Amnesty Global tells Bauer, who wants to rough up an uncharged terror suspect, that he will violate the Constitution. Bauer responds, “I don’t wanna bypass the Constitution, but these are extraordinary circumstances.” He appeals to the President, arguing that any interrogation permitted by the law won’t be sufficiently harsh. “If we want to procure any information from this suspect, we’re going to have to do it behind closed doors,” he says.

“You’re talking about torturing this man?” the President says.

“I’m talking about doing what’s necessary to stop this warhead from being used against us,” Bauer answers.

When the President wavers, Bauer temporarily quits his job so that he can avoid defying the chain of command, and breaks the suspect’s fingers. The suspect still won’t talk, so Bauer puts a knife to his throat; this elicits the desired information. He then knocks the suspect out with a punch, telling him, “This will help you with the pain.”

Howard Gordon, who is the series’ “show runner,” or lead writer, told me that he concocts many of the torture scenes himself. “Honest to God, I’d call them improvisations in sadism,” he said. Several copies of the C.I.A.’s 1963 KUBARK interrogation manual can be found at the “24” offices, but Gordon said that, “for the most part, our imaginations are the source. Sometimes these ideas are inspired by a scene’s location or come from props—what’s on the set.” He explained that much of the horror is conjured by the viewer. “To see a scalpel and see it move below the frame of the screen is a lot scarier than watching the whole thing. When you get a camera moving fast, and someone screaming, it really works.” In recent years, he said, “we’ve resorted a lot to a pharmacological sort of thing.” A character named Burke—a federal employee of the C.T.U. who carries a briefcase filled with elephantine hypodermic needles—has proved indispensable. “He’ll inject chemicals that cause horrible pain that can knock down your defenses—a sort of sodium pentothal plus,” Gordon said. “When we’re stuck, we say, ‘Call Burke!’ ” He added, “The truth is, there’s a certain amount of fatigue. It’s getting hard not to repeat the same torture techniques over and over.”

Gordon, who is a “moderate Democrat,” said that it worries him when “critics say that we’ve enabled and reflected the public’s appetite for torture. Nobody wants to be the handmaid to a relaxed policy that accepts torture as a legitimate means of interrogation.” He went on, “But the premise of ‘24’ is the ticking time bomb. It takes an unusual situation and turns it into the meat and potatoes of the show.” He paused. “I think people can differentiate between a television show and reality.”


This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind “24.” Finnegan, who was accompanied by three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country, arrived on the set as the crew was filming. At first, Finnegan—wearing an immaculate Army uniform, his chest covered in ribbons and medals—aroused confusion: he was taken for an actor and was asked by someone what time his “call” was.

In fact, Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. “I’d like them to stop,” Finnegan said of the show’s producers. “They should do a show where torture backfires.”

The meeting, which lasted a couple of hours, had been arranged by David Danzig, the Human Rights First official. Several top producers of “24” were present, but Surnow was conspicuously absent. Surnow explained to me, “I just can’t sit in a room that long. I’m too A.D.D.—I can’t sit still.” He told the group that the meeting conflicted with a planned conference call with Roger Ailes, the chairman of the Fox News Channel. (Another participant in the conference call attended the meeting.) Ailes wanted to discuss a project that Surnow has been planning for months: the début, on February 18th, of “The Half Hour News Hour,” a conservative satirical treatment of the week’s news; Surnow sees the show as offering a counterpoint to the liberal slant of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Before the meeting, Stuart Herrington, one of the three veteran interrogators, had prepared a list of seventeen effective techniques, none of which were abusive. He and the others described various tactics, such as giving suspects a postcard to send home, thereby learning the name and address of their next of kin. After Howard Gordon, the lead writer, listened to some of Herrington’s suggestions, he slammed his fist on the table and joked, “You’re hired!” He also excitedly asked the West Point delegation if they knew of any effective truth serums.

At other moments, the discussion was more strained. Finnegan told the producers that “24,” by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

Gary Solis, a retired law professor who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum at West Point, told me that he had similar arguments with his students. He said that, under both U.S. and international law, “Jack Bauer is a criminal. In real life, he would be prosecuted.” Yet the motto of many of his students was identical to Jack Bauer’s: “Whatever it takes.” His students were particularly impressed by a scene in which Bauer barges into a room where a stubborn suspect is being held, shoots him in one leg, and threatens to shoot the other if he doesn’t talk. In less than ten seconds, the suspect reveals that his associates plan to assassinate the Secretary of Defense. Solis told me, “I tried to impress on them that this technique would open the wrong doors, but it was like trying to stomp out an anthill.”

The “24” producers told the military and law-enforcement experts that they were careful not to glamorize torture; they noted that Bauer never enjoys inflicting pain, and that it had clearly exacted a psychological toll on the character. (As Gordon put it to me, “Jack is basically damned.”) Finnegan and the others disagreed, pointing out that Bauer remains coolly rational after committing barbarous acts, including the decapitation of a state’s witness with a hacksaw. Joe Navarro, one of the F.B.I.’s top experts in questioning techniques, attended the meeting; he told me, “Only a psychopath can torture and be unaffected. You don’t want people like that in your organization. They are untrustworthy, and tend to have grotesque other problems.”

Cochran, who has a law degree, listened politely to the delegation’s complaints. He told me that he supports the use of torture “in narrow circumstances” and believes that it can be justified under the Constitution. “The Doctrine of Necessity says you can occasionally break the law to prevent greater harm,” he said. “I think that could supersede the Convention Against Torture.” (Few legal scholars agree with this argument.) At the meeting, Cochran demanded to know what the interrogators would do if they faced the imminent threat of a nuclear blast in New York City, and had custody of a suspect who knew how to stop it. One interrogator said that he would apply physical coercion only if he received a personal directive from the President. But Navarro, who estimates that he has conducted some twelve thousand interrogations, replied that torture was not an effective response. “These are very determined people, and they won’t turn just because you pull a fingernail out,” he told me. And Finnegan argued that torturing fanatical Islamist terrorists is particularly pointless. “They almost welcome torture,” he said. “They expect it. They want to be martyred.” A ticking time bomb, he pointed out, would make a suspect only more unwilling to talk. “They know if they can simply hold out several hours, all the more glory—the ticking time bomb will go off!”

The notion that physical coercion in interrogations is unreliable, although widespread among military intelligence officers and F.B.I. agents, has been firmly rejected by the Bush Administration. Last September, President Bush defended the C.I.A.’s use of “an alternative set of procedures.” In order to “save innocent lives,” he said, the agency needed to be able to use “enhanced” measures to extract “vital information” from “dangerous” detainees who were aware of “terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else.”

Although reports of abuses by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have angered much of the world, the response of Americans has been more tepid. Finnegan attributes the fact that “we are generally more comfortable and more accepting of this,” in part, to the popularity of “24,” which has a weekly audience of fifteen million viewers, and has reached millions more through DVD sales. The third expert at the meeting was Tony Lagouranis, a former Army interrogator in the war in Iraq. He told the show’s staff that DVDs of shows such as “24” circulate widely among soldiers stationed in Iraq. Lagouranis said to me, “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.” He recalled that some men he had worked with in Iraq watched a television program in which a suspect was forced to hear tortured screams from a neighboring cell; the men later tried to persuade their Iraqi translator to act the part of a torture “victim,” in a similar intimidation ploy. Lagouranis intervened: such scenarios constitute psychological torture.

“In Iraq, I never saw pain produce intelligence,” Lagouranis told me. “I worked with someone who used waterboarding”—an interrogation method involving the repeated near-drowning of a suspect. “I used severe hypothermia, dogs, and sleep deprivation. I saw suspects after soldiers had gone into their homes and broken their bones, or made them sit on a Humvee’s hot exhaust pipes until they got third-degree burns. Nothing happened.” Some people, he said, “gave confessions. But they just told us what we already knew. It never opened up a stream of new information.” If anything, he said, “physical pain can strengthen the resolve to clam up.”

Last December, the Intelligence Science Board, an advisory panel to the U.S. intelligence community, released a report declaring that “most observers, even those within professional circles, have unfortunately been influenced by the media’s colorful (and artificial) view of interrogation as almost always involving hostility.” In a clear reference to “24,” the report noted:

Prime-time television increasingly offers up plot lines involving the incineration of metropolitan Los Angeles by an atomic weapon or its depopulation by an aerosol nerve toxin. The characters do not have the time to reflect upon, much less to utilize, what real professionals know to be the “science and art” of “educing information.” They want results. Now. The public thinks the same way. They want, and rightly expect, precisely the kind of “protection” that only a skilled intelligence professional can provide. Unfortunately, they have no idea how such a person is supposed to act “in real life.”

Lagouranis told the “24” team what the U.S. military and the F.B.I. teach real intelligence professionals: “rapport-building,” the slow process of winning over informants, is the method that generally works best. There are also nonviolent ruses, he explained, and ways to take suspects by surprise. The “24” staff seemed interested in the narrative possibilities of such techniques; Lagouranis recalled, “They told us that they’d love to incorporate ruses and rapport-building.” At the same time, he said, Cochran and the others from “24” worried that such approaches would “take too much time” on an hour-long television show.

The delegation of interrogators left the meeting with the feeling that the story lines on “24” would be changed little, if at all. “It shows they have a social conscience that they’d even meet with us at all,” Navarro said. “They were receptive. But they have a format that works. They have won a lot of awards. Why would they want to play with a No. 1 show?” Lagouranis said of the “24” team, “They were a bit prickly. They have this money-making machine, and we were telling them it’s immoral.”

Afterward, Danzig and Finnegan had an on-set exchange with Kiefer Sutherland, who is reportedly paid ten million dollars a year to play Jack Bauer. Sutherland, the grandson of Tommy Douglas, a former socialist leader in Canada, has described his own political views as anti-torture, and “leaning toward the left.” According to Danzig, Sutherland was “really upset, really intense” and stressed that he tries to tell people that the show “is just entertainment.” But Sutherland, who claimed to be bored with playing torture scenes, admitted that he worried about the “unintended consequences of the show.” Danzig proposed that Sutherland participate in a panel at West Point or appear in a training film in which he made clear that the show’s torture scenes are not to be emulated. (Surnow, when asked whether he would participate in the video, responded, “No way.” Gordon, however, agreed to be filmed.) Sutherland declined to answer questions for this article, but, in a recent television interview with Charlie Rose, his ambivalence about his character’s methods was palpable. He condemned the abuse of U.S.-held detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, as “absolutely criminal,” particularly for a country that tells others that “democracy and freedom” are the “way to go.” He also said, “You can torture someone and they’ll basically tell you exactly what you want to hear. . . . Torture is not a way of procuring information.” But things operate differently, he said, on television: “24,” he said, is “a fantastical show. . . . Torture is a dramatic device.”


The creators of “24” deny that the show presents only a conservative viewpoint. They mention its many prominent Democratic fans—including Barbra Streisand and Bill Clinton—and the diversity of political views among its writers and producers. Indeed, the story lines sometimes have a liberal tilt. The conspiracy plot of Season Five, for example, turns on oligarchic businessmen who go to despicable lengths to protect their oil interests; the same theme anchors liberal-paranoia thrillers such as “Syriana.” This season, a White House directive that flags all federal employees of Middle Eastern descent as potential traitors has been presented as a gross overreaction, and a White House official who favors police-state tactics has come off as scheming and ignoble. Yet David Nevins, the former Fox Television network official who, in 2000, bought the pilot on the spot after hearing a pitch from Surnow and Cochran, and who maintains an executive role in “24,” is candid about the show’s core message. “There’s definitely a political attitude of the show, which is that extreme measures are sometimes necessary for the greater good,” he says. “The show doesn’t have much patience for the niceties of civil liberties or due process. It’s clearly coming from somewhere. Joel’s politics suffuse the whole show.”

Surnow, for his part, revels in his minority status inside the left-leaning entertainment industry. “Conservatives are the new oppressed class,” he joked in his office. “Isn’t it bizarre that in Hollywood it’s easier to come out as gay than as conservative?” His success with “24,” he said, has protected him from the more righteous elements of the Hollywood establishment. “Right now, they have to be nice to me,” he said. “But if the show tanks I’m sure they’ll kill me.” He spoke of his new conservative comedy show as an even bigger risk than “24.” “I’ll be front and center on the new show,” he said, then joked, “I’m ruining my chances of ever working again in Hollywood.”

Although he was raised in Beverly Hills—he graduated in 1972 from Beverly Hills High—Surnow said that he has always felt like an outsider. His classmates were mostly wealthy, but his father was an itinerant carpet salesman who came to California from Detroit. He cold-called potential customers, most of whom lived in Compton and Watts. Surnow was much younger than his two brothers, and he grew up virtually as an only child, living in a one-bedroom apartment in an unfashionable area south of Olympic Boulevard, where he slept on a foldout cot. If his father made a sale, he’d come home and give him the thumbs-up. But Surnow said that nine out of ten nights ended in failure. “If he made three sales a month, we could stay where we lived,” he recalled. His mother, who worked as a saleswoman in a clothing store, “fought depression her whole life.” Surnow, who describes his parents as “wonderful people,” said, “I was a latchkey kid. . . . I raised myself.” He played tennis on his high-school team but gave it up after repeatedly losing to players who could afford private lessons.

Roger Director, a television producer and longtime friend, said that he “loves” Surnow. But, he went on, “He feels looked down upon by the world, and that kind of emotional dynamic underpins a lot of things. It’s kind of ‘Joel against the world.’ It’s as if he feels, I had to fight and claw for everything I got. It’s a tough world, and no one’s looking out for you.” As a result, Director said, “Joel’s not sentimental. He has a hard-hearted thing.”

Surnow’s parents were F.D.R. Democrats. He recalled, “It was just assumed, especially in the Jewish community”—to which his family belonged. “But when you grow up you start to challenge your parents’ assumptions. ‘Am I Jewish? Am I a Democrat?’ ” Many of his peers at the University of California at Berkeley, where he attended college, were liberals or radicals. “They were all socialists and Marxists, but living off their family money,” he recalled. “It seemed to me there was some obvious hypocrisy here. It was absurd.” Although he wasn’t consciously political, he said, “I felt like I wasn’t like these people.” In 1985, he divorced his wife, a medical student, who was Jewish, and with whom he has two daughters. (His relationships with them are strained.) Four years later, he remarried. His wife, who used to work in film development, is Catholic; they have three daughters, whom they send to Catholic schools. He likes to bring his girls to the set and rushes home for his wife’s pork-chop dinners. “I got to know who I was and who I wasn’t,” he said. “I wasn’t the perfect Jewish kid who is married, with a Jewish family.” Instead, he said, “I decided I like Catholics. They’re so grounded. I sort of reoriented myself.”

While studying at Berkeley, Surnow worked as an usher at the Pacific Film Archive, where he saw at least five hundred movies. A fan of crime dramas such as “Mean Streets” and “The Godfather,” he discovered foreign films as well. “That was my awakening,” he said. In 1975, Surnow enrolled at the U.C.L.A. film school. Soon after graduation, he began writing for film; he then switched to television. He was only modestly successful, and had many “lost years,” when he considered giving up and taking over his father’s carpet business. His breakthrough came when he began writing for “Miami Vice,” in 1984. “It just clicked—I just got it!” he recalled. “It was just like when you don’t know how to speak a language and suddenly you do. I knew how to tell a story.” By the end of the year, Universal, which owned the show, put Surnow in charge of his own series, “The Equalizer,” about a C.I.A. agent turned vigilante. The series was a success, but, Surnow told me, “I was way too arrogant. I sort of pissed off the network.” Battles for creative control have followed Surnow to “24,” where, Nevins said admiringly, he continues to push for “unconventional and dangerous choices.”

Surnow’s tough stretches in Hollywood, he said, taught him that there were “two kinds of people” in entertainment: “those who want to be geniuses, and those who want to work.” At first, he said, “I wanted to be a genius. But at a certain point I realized I just desperately wanted to work.” Brian Grazer, an executive producer of “24,” who has primarily produced films, said that “TV guys either get broken by the system, or they get so tough that they have no warmth at all.” Surnow, he said, is “a devoted family man” and “a really close friend.” But when Grazer first met Surnow, he recalled, “I nearly walked out. He was really glib and insulting. I was shocked. He’s a tough guy. He’s a meat-eating alpha male. He’s a monster!” He observed, “Maybe Jack Bauer has some parts of him.”

During three decades as a journeyman screenwriter, Surnow grew increasingly conservative. He “hated welfare,” which he saw as government handouts. Liberal courts also angered him. He loved Ronald Reagan’s “strength” and disdained Jimmy Carter’s “belief that people would be nice to us just because we were humane. That never works.” He said of Reagan, “I can hardly think of him without breaking into tears. I just felt Ronald Reagan was the father that this country needed. . . . He made me feel good that I was in his family.”

Surnow said that he found the Clinton years obnoxious. “Hollywood under Clinton—it was like he was their guy,” he said. “He was the yuppie, baby-boomer narcissist that all of Hollywood related to.” During those years, Surnow recalled, he had countless arguments with liberal colleagues, some of whom stopped speaking to him. “My feeling is that the liberals’ ideas are wrong,” he said. “But they think I’m evil.” Last year, he contributed two thousand dollars to the losing campaign of Pennsylvania’s hard-line Republican senator Rick Santorum, because he “liked his position on immigration.” His favorite bumper sticker, he said, is “Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism & Communism, War Has Never Solved Anything.”

Although he is a supporter of President Bush—he told me that “America is in its glory days”—Surnow is critical of the way the war in Iraq has been conducted. An “isolationist” with “no faith in nation-building,” he thinks that “we could have been out of this thing three years ago.” After deposing Saddam Hussein, he argued, America should have “just handed it to the Baathists and . . . put in some other monster who’s going to keep these people in line but who’s not going to be aggressive to us.” In his view, America “is sort of the parent of the world, so we have to be stern but fair to people who are rebellious to us. We don’t spoil them. That’s not to say you abuse them, either. But you have to know who the adult in the room is.”

Surnow’s rightward turn was encouraged by one of his best friends, Cyrus Nowrasteh, a hard-core conservative who, in 2006, wrote and produced “The Path to 9/11,” a controversial ABC miniseries that presented President Clinton as having largely ignored the threat posed by Al Qaeda. (The show was denounced as defamatory by Democrats and by members of the 9/11 Commission; their complaints led ABC to call the program a “dramatization,” not a “documentary.”) Surnow and Nowrasteh met in 1985, when they worked together on “The Equalizer.” Nowrasteh, the son of a deposed adviser to the Shah of Iran, grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where, like Surnow, he was alienated by the radicalism around him. He told me that he and Surnow, in addition to sharing an admiration for Reagan, found “L.A. a stultifying, stifling place because everyone thinks alike.” Nowrasteh said that he and Surnow regard “24” as a kind of wish fulfillment for America. “Every American wishes we had someone out there quietly taking care of business,” he said. “It’s a deep, dark ugly world out there. Maybe this is what Ollie North was trying to do. It would be nice to have a secret government that can get the answers and take care of business—even kill people. Jack Bauer fulfills that fantasy.”

In recent years, Surnow and Nowrasteh have participated in the Liberty Film Festival, a group dedicated to promoting conservatism through mass entertainment. Surnow told me that he would like to counter the prevailing image of Senator Joseph McCarthy as a demagogue and a liar. Surnow and his friend Ann Coulter—the conservative pundit, and author of the pro-McCarthy book “Treason”—talked about creating a conservative response to George Clooney’s recent film “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Surnow said, “I thought it would really provoke people to do a movie that depicted Joe McCarthy as an American hero or, maybe, someone with a good cause who maybe went too far.” He likened the Communist sympathizers of the nineteen-fifties to terrorists: “The State Department in the fifties was infiltrated by people who were like Al Qaeda.” But, he said, he shelved the project. “The blacklist is Hollywood’s orthodoxy,” he said. “It’s not a movie I could get done now.”

A year and a half ago, Surnow and Manny Coto, a “24” writer with similar political views, talked about starting a conservative television network. “There’s a gay network, a black network—there should be a conservative network,” Surnow told me. But as he and Coto explored the idea they realized that “we weren’t distribution guys—we were content guys.” Instead, the men developed “The Half Hour News Hour,” the conservative satire show. “ ‘The Daily Show’ tips left,” Surnow said. “So we thought, Let’s do one that tips right.” Jon Stewart’s program appears on Comedy Central, an entertainment channel. But, after Surnow got Rush Limbaugh to introduce him to Roger Ailes, Fox News agreed to air two episodes. The program, which will follow the fake-news format popularized by “Saturday Night Live,” will be written by conservative humorists, including Sandy Frank and Ned Rice. Surnow said of the show, “There are so many targets, from global warming to banning tag on the playground. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit.”


Last March, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia, joined Surnow and Howard Gordon for a private dinner at Rush Limbaugh’s Florida home. The gathering inspired Virginia Thomas—who works at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank—to organize a panel discussion on “24.” The symposium, sponsored by the foundation and held in June, was entitled “ ‘24’ and America’s Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does It Matter?” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who participated in the discussion, praised the show’s depiction of the war on terrorism as “trying to make the best choice with a series of bad options.” He went on, “Frankly, it reflects real life.” Chertoff, who is a devoted viewer of “24,” subsequently began an e-mail correspondence with Gordon, and the two have since socialized in Los Angeles. “It’s been very heady,” Gordon said of Washington’s enthusiasm for the show. Roger Director, Surnow’s friend, joked that the conservative writers at “24” have become “like a Hollywood television annex to the White House. It’s like an auxiliary wing.”

The same day as the Heritage Foundation event, a private luncheon was held in the Wardrobe Room of the White House for Surnow and several others from the show. (The event was not publicized.) Among the attendees were Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff; Tony Snow, the White House spokesman; Mary Cheney, the Vice-President’s daughter; and Lynn Cheney, the Vice-President’s wife, who, Surnow said, is “an extreme ‘24’ fan.” After the meal, Surnow recalled, he and his colleagues spent more than an hour visiting with Rove in his office. “People have this image of him as this snake-oil-dirty, secretive guy, but in his soul he’s a history professor,” Surnow said. He was less impressed with the Situation Room, which, unlike the sleek high-tech version at C.T.U., “looked like some old tearoom in a Victorian house.”

The Heritage Foundation panel was moderated by Limbaugh. At one point, he praised the show’s creators, dropped his voice to a stage whisper, and added, to the audience’s applause, “And most of them are conservative.” When I spoke with Limbaugh, though, he reinforced the show’s public posture of neutrality. “People think that they’ve got a bunch of right-wing writers and producers at ‘24,’ and they’re subtly sending out a message,” he said. “I don’t think that’s happening. They’re businessmen, and they don’t have an agenda.” Asked about the show’s treatment of torture, he responded, “Torture? It’s just a television show! Get a grip.”

In fact, many prominent conservatives speak of “24” as if it were real. John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who helped frame the Bush Administration’s “torture memo”—which, in 2002, authorized the abusive treatment of detainees—invokes the show in his book “War by Other Means.” He asks, “What if, as the popular Fox television program ‘24’ recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?” Laura Ingraham, the talk-radio host, has cited the show’s popularity as proof that Americans favor brutality. “They love Jack Bauer,” she noted on Fox News. “In my mind, that’s as close to a national referendum that it’s O.K. to use tough tactics against high-level Al Qaeda operatives as we’re going to get.” Surnow once appeared as a guest on Ingraham’s show; she told him that, while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, “it was soothing to see Jack Bauer torture these terrorists, and I felt better.” Surnow joked, “We love to torture terrorists—it’s good for you!”

As a foe of political correctness, Surnow seems to be unburdened by the controversy his show has stirred. “24,” he acknowledged, has been criticized as racially insensitive, because it frequently depicts Arab-Americans as terrorists. He said in response, “Our only politics are that terrorists are bad. In some circles, that’s political.” As he led me through the Situation Room set on the Real Time soundstage, I asked him if “24” has plans to use the waterboarding interrogation method, which has been defended by Vice-President Cheney but is considered torture by the U.S. military. Surnow laughed and said, “Yes! But only with bottled water—it’s Hollywood!”

In a more sober tone, he said, “We’ve had all of these torture experts come by recently, and they say, ‘You don’t realize how many people are affected by this. Be careful.’ They say torture doesn’t work. But I don’t believe that. I don’t think it’s honest to say that if someone you love was being held, and you had five minutes to save them, you wouldn’t do it. Tell me, what would you do? If someone had one of my children, or my wife, I would hope I’d do it. There is nothing—nothing—I wouldn’t do.” He went on, “Young interrogators don’t need our show. What the human mind can imagine is so much greater than what we show on TV. No one needs us to tell them what to do. It’s not like somebody goes, ‘Oh, look what they’re doing, I’ll do that.’ Is it?”

http://www.newyorker.com/printables/fact/070219fa_fact_mayer