The U.S. and Russia are fighting about missile defense when they should be settling differences

Fred Kaplan writes: The Standard Missile 3, or SM-3 as it’s called, is purely defensive; it works not by blowing up a missile in midair but by slamming into it with great force; in other words, it couldn’t be turned into an offensive weapon, even if some future Western leader wanted it to be.

But from Russia’s point of view, that’s not the issue. As one military adage has it, the only purely defensive weapon is a foxhole, and a battery of antimissile missiles doesn’t change this fact. In the odd world of nuclear strategy, a nation deters an attack by posing a credible threat of “retaliation in kind.” Side A attacks Side B; Side B strikes back against Side A; therefore, Side A doesn’t attack in the first place. But imagine that Side A has an effective missile-defense system. Side A attacks Side B; Side B strikes back, but most of its missiles get shot down before reaching their targets; therefore, Side B is unable to “retaliate in kind.” Both sides do the calculation and understand the strategic imbalance, and therefore (so goes the theory), Side A dominates Side B — intimidates it into doing certain things in A’s favor — without having to go to war.

This is why Russian officials see missile defense systems as a threat. It’s a concept they learned from the Americans. In the 1950s and early ’60s, many American nuclear strategists, notably Herman Kahn, author of the best-seller On Thermonuclear War, advocated anti-ballistic-missile systems as an explicit adjunct to an offensive first-strike strategy: The U.S. launches a nuclear attack on the USSR; the USSR strikes back with the few nuclear missiles that survived the first strike; the U.S. shoots them down with its antimissile missiles. Or, more to the point, the U.S. has the capability to do these things — which puts the U.S. in a dominant position in international confrontations.

In the mid-1960s, when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara proposed a treaty banning anti-ballistic missiles in the United States and Soviet Union, some Russian officials were puzzled: Why ban defensive weapons, they asked? McNamara schooled them on nuclear strategy; he essentially wanted to avoid the destabilizing situation that Herman Kahn wanted to foster and exploit. The Russians learned the lesson. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s last chance to end the ‘forever war’

Jennifer Daskal writes: The United States is fighting an unauthorized war. Over the past 19 months, American forces have launched more than 8,800 strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and hit the group’s affiliate in Libya. The United States continues aerial assaults against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, is going after militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and killed more than 150 suspected Shabab fighters in Somalia just last month.

This war isn’t limited to drone strikes or aerial bombings. It includes Special Operations forces in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan — and possibly elsewhere. This past weekend, President Obama announced that he would send an additional 250 such troops to Syria.

The primary legal authority for these strikes and deployments comes from the 60-word Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed almost a decade and a half ago. In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush asked for an open-ended authorization to fight all future acts of terrorism. Wisely, Congress rejected that request, though it did give the president authority to use force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda, and those that harbored them, the Taliban.

Today, the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden has been killed and the other key participants in the Sept. 11 attacks are either locked up or dead. But the old authorization lives on. [Continue reading…]

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What cyberwar against ISIS should look like

Fred Kaplan writes: Pentagon officials have publicly said, in recent weeks, that they’re hitting ISIS not only with bullets and bombs but also with cyberoffensive operations. “We are dropping cyberbombs,” Robert Work, deputy secretary of defense, is quoted as proclaiming in Monday’s New York Times. Similar, if less colorful, statements have been made by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and,a week ago, President Obama.

What does it mean? And what effects are these new weapons having on the overall war? After dropping his “cyberbombs” bombshell, Work said, “We have never done that before.” But in fact, the United States has done it before, against Iraqi insurgents, including al-Qaida fighters, back in 2007. And, as I discovered while researching my book Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, the effects were devastating.

Standard accounts have credited President George W. Bush’s troop surge and Gen. David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy for turning the Iraq conflict in the coalition’s favor in 2007. These accounts aren’t wrong, as far as they go, but they leave out another crucial factor — cyberoffensive warfare, as conducted by the Joint Special Operations Command and the National Security Agency. [Continue reading…]

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The CIA kidnapper facing jail in Italy

The Daily Beast reports: Former CIA employee Sabrina De Sousa, now fighting extradition from Portugal to Italy, was skiing on a mountainside far away from the action, on Feb. 17, 2003, when Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr was snatched off a street in Milan on his way to the mosque. The cleric, known as Abu Omar, was first flown by executive jet to Germany and then to Cairo, where he was tortured for nearly seven months, according to his own testimony and Amnesty International accounts.

The kidnap was part of the infamous “extraordinary rendition” program being run at the time by the United States. The CIA was grabbing suspected terrorists from all over the world and shipping them to various countries, including Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, and Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, to suffer the tortures of the damned and in some cases execution.

Begun under President Bill Clinton, the rendition program developed with a vengeance under President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in America. And Abu Omar’s kidnapping took place only weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, when the Bush administration was anxious to prove some link between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. (None existed.)

Abu Omar was believed to have funneled jihadists into the ranks of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was then operating out of northern Iraq and later founded the organization Al Qaeda in Iraq, that evolved into the so-called Islamic State. Italian authorities, backed by the CIA, believed he was plotting to blow up a busload of American students who attended an international high school in Milan. [Continue reading…]

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Rebecca Gordon: Exhibit one in any future American war crimes trial

Let’s take a moment to think about the ultimate strangeness of our American world.  In recent months, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have offered a range of hair-raising suggestions: as president, one or the other of them might order the U.S. military and the CIA to commit acts that would include the waterboarding of terror suspects (or “a hell of a lot worse”), the killing of the relatives of terrorists, and the carpet bombing of parts of Syria.  All of these would, legally speaking, be war crimes.  This has caused shock among many Americans in quite established quarters who have decried the possibility of such a president, suggesting that the two of them are calling for outright illegal acts, actual “war crimes,” and that the U.S. military and others would be justified in rejecting such orders.  In this context, for instance, CIA Director John Brennan recently made it clear that no Agency operative under his command would ever waterboard a suspect in response to orders of such a nature from a future president.  (“I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I’ve heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure.”)

These acts, in other words, are considered beyond the pale when Donald Trump suggests them, but here’s the strangeness of it all: what The Donald is only mouthing off about, a perfectly real American president (and vice president and secretary of defense, and so on) actually did.  Among other things, under the euphemistic term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” they ordered the CIA to use classic torture practices including waterboarding (which, in blunter times, had been known as “the water torture”).  They also let the U.S. military loose to torture and abuse prisoners in their custody.  They green-lighted the CIA to kidnap terror suspects (who sometimes turned out to be perfectly innocent people) off the streets of cities around the world, as well as from the backlands of the planet, and transported them to the prisons of some of the worst torture regimes or to secret detention centers (“black sites”) the CIA was allowed to set up in compliant countries.  In other words, a perfectly real administration ordered and oversaw perfectly real crimes.  (Its top officials even reportedly had torture techniques demonstrated to them in the White House.)

At the time, the CIA fulfilled its orders to a T and without complaint. A lone CIA officer spoke out publicly in opposition to such a program and was jailed for disclosing classified information to a journalist.  (He would be the only CIA official to go to jail for the Agency’s acts of torture.)  At places like Abu Ghraib, the military similarly carried out its orders without significant complaint or resistance.  The mainstream media generally adopted the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “harsh techniques” in its reporting — no “torture” or “war crimes” for them then.  And back in the post-2001 years, John Brennan, then deputy executive director of the CIA, didn’t offer a peep of protest about what he surely knew was going on in his own agency. In 2014, in fact, as its director he actually defended such torture practices for producing “intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.”  In addition, none of those who ordered or oversaw torture and other criminal behavior (a number of whom would sell their memoirs for millions of dollars) suffered in the slightest for the acts that were performed on their watch and at their behest.

To sum up: when Donald Trump says such things it’s a future nightmare to be called by its rightful name and denounced, as well as rejected and resisted by military and intelligence officials.  When an American president and his top officials actually did such things, however, it was another story entirely. Today, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon catches the nightmarish quality of those years, now largely buried, in the grim case of a single mistreated human being. It should make Americans shudder. She has also just published a new book, American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, that couldn’t be more relevant.  It’s a must-read for a country conveniently without a memory. Tom Engelhardt

The Al-Qaeda leader who wasn’t
The shameful ordeal of Abu Zubaydah
By Rebecca Gordon

The allegations against the man were serious indeed.

* Donald Rumsfeld said he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person” in al-Qaeda.

* The Central Intelligence Agency informed Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that he “served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps… He also acted as al-Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications.”

* CIA Director Michael Hayden would tell the press in 2008 that 25% of all the information his agency had gathered about al-Qaeda from human sources “originated” with one other detainee and him.

* George W. Bush would use his case to justify the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” claiming that “he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained” and that “he helped smuggle al-Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan” so they would not be captured by U.S. military forces.

None of it was true.

And even if it had been true, what the CIA did to Abu Zubaydah — with the knowledge and approval of the highest government officials — is a prime example of the kind of still-unpunished crimes that officials like Dick Cheney, George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld committed in the so-called Global War on Terror.

[Read more…]

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Invasion of Iraq ‘undoubtedly increased the threat’ of terrorist attacks in UK, said then-head of MI5

Richard Norton-Taylor writes: We can confidently make some assumptions about the Chilcot inquiry, whose report has just been delivered to the Cabinet Office for “national security checks”. It will strongly criticise Tony Blair for promising George Bush that the UK would join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 but keeping parliament and the public in the dark; attack ministers, mandarins and top brass alike for allowing Blair to delay military preparations; and damn the catastrophic failure to prepare for the subsequent occupation of the country.

What has received far less attention is the devastating evidence Chilcot heard about the invasion making Britain more vulnerable to terrorism. Blair has always dismissed suggestions that his foreign policy decisions were in any way responsible for encouraging terrorist attacks and “radicalising” young British Muslims as a charge perpetuated by “the left”.

The evidence to Chilcot contradicts his assertion. Lady Manningham-Buller, head of MI5 at the time, bluntly told the inquiry the invasion “undoubtedly increased the threat” of terrorist attacks in Britain.

She said she communicated her view to Blair via Whitehall’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). “The number of plots, the number of leads, the number of people identified, and statements of people as to why they were involved,” all pointed to the increased terrorist threat to the UK. [Continue reading…]

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America’s habit of winning wars then losing the peace

Dominic Tierney writes: In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Washington toppled regimes and then failed to plan for a new government or construct effective local forces — with the net result being over 7,000 dead U.S. soldiers, tens of thousands of injured troops, trillions of dollars expended, untold thousands of civilian fatalities, and three Islamic countries in various states of disorder. We might be able to explain a one-off failure in terms of allies screwing up. But three times in a decade suggests a deeper pattern in the American way of war.

In the American mind, there are good wars: campaigns to overthrow a despot, with the model being World War II. And there are bad wars: nation-building missions to stabilize a foreign country, including peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. For example, the U.S. military has traditionally seen its core mission as fighting conventional wars against foreign dictators, and dismissed stabilization missions as “military operations other than war,” or Mootwa. Back in the 1990s, the chairman of the joint chiefs reportedly said, “Real men don’t do Mootwa.” At the public level, wars against foreign dictators are consistently far more popular than nation-building operations.

The American way of war encourages officials to fixate on removing the bad guys and neglect the post-war stabilization phase. When I researched my book How We Fight, I found that Americans embraced wars for regime change but hated dealing with the messy consequences going back as far as the Civil War and southern reconstruction. [Continue reading…]

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Does it take 8 years to decide whether to declassify 28-pages of 9/11 report?

The Daily Beast reports: By the end of President Obama’s term in office, the administration hopes to decide whether to declassify a controversial portion of Congress’ investigation into the 9/11 attacks, the White House said Tuesday. The so-called “28 pages,” which have never been publicly released, are said to implicate Saudi government officials and civilians in the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

The administration had directed a “declassification review” of the material from the Joint Congressional Inquiry into the terrorist attacks in 2014. Former lawmakers who have read the classified pages say they describe a financial and logistical support network for the 19 hijackers, most of them Saudi citizens, while they were in the U.S. The report was released in December 2002.

“That review process remains underway, but every effort is being taken to complete it before the end of the Administration,” Ned Price, the spokesperson for the National Security Council, told The Daily Beast in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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Time to declassify 28 redacted pages of a report that holds 9/11 secrets

60 Minutes reports: In 10 days, President Obama will visit Saudi Arabia at a time of deep mistrust between the two allies, and lingering doubts about the Saudi commitment to fighting violent Islamic extremism.

It also comes at a time when the White House and intelligence officials are reviewing whether to declassify one of the country’s most sensitive documents — known as the “28 pages.” They have to do with 9/11 and the possible existence of a Saudi support network for the hijackers while they were in the U.S. [Continue reading…]

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Trump says that after 9/11 Bush should have ‘just gone to the beach and enjoyed the ocean and the sun’

In an interview with the New York Times, Donald Trump said: Every bad decision that you could make in the Middle East was made. And now if you look at it, if you would go back 15 years ago, and I’m not saying it was only Obama, It was Obama’s getting out, it was other people’s getting in, but you go back 15 years ago, and I say this, if our presidents would have just gone to the beach and enjoyed the ocean and the sun, we would’ve been much better off in the Middle East, than all of this tremendous death, destruction, and you know, monetary loss, it’s just incredible. ’Cause we’re further, we’re far worse off today than we were 15 years ago or 10 years ago in the Middle East. Far worse. [Continue reading…]

Maybe the trip to the beach should have been preceded by some national mourning, cleaning up the attack sites, and improving airline security, but who can argue with Trump’s colorfully expressed conclusion that the war on terrorism has been an utter failure?

On the international front, the urgent priorities after 9/11 should have been to isolate al Qaeda by putting pressure on the Taliban, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

Bush’s principle problem was that he had surrounded himself with the wrong people — and there’s every reason to believe that is exactly what Trump would do too.

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The Dark Prison: Legacy of the CIA torture programme

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The war on terror has turned the whole world into a battlefield

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Arun Kundnani writes: When opinion polls find that most Muslims think Westerners are selfish, immoral and violent, we have no idea of the real causes. And so we assume such opinions must be an expression of their culture rather than our politics.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have exploited these reactions with their appeals to Islamophobia. But most liberals also assume that religious extremism is the root cause of terrorism. President Obama, for example, has spoken of “a violent, radical, fanatical, nihilistic interpretation of Islam by a faction — a tiny faction — within the Muslim community that is our enemy, and that has to be defeated.”

Based on this assumption, think-tanks, intelligence agencies and academic departments linked to the national security apparatus have spent millions of dollars since 9/11 conducting research on radicalization. They hoped to find a correlation between having extremist religious ideas, however defined, and involvement in terrorism.

In fact, no such correlation exists, as empirical evidence demonstrates — witness the European Islamic State volunteers who arrive in Syria with copies of “Islam for Dummies” or the alleged leader of the November 2015 Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was reported to have drunk whisky and smoked cannabis. But this has not stopped national security agencies, such as the FBI, from using radicalization models that assume devout religious beliefs are an indicator of potential terrorism.

The process of radicalization is easily understood if we imagine how we would respond to a foreign government dropping 22,000 bombs on us. Large numbers of patriots would be volunteering to fight the perpetrators. And nationalist and religious ideologies would compete with each other to lead that movement and give its adherents a sense of purpose.

Similarly, the Islamic State does not primarily recruit through theological arguments but through a militarized identity politics. It says there is a global war between the West and Islam, a heroic struggle, with truth and justice on one side and lies, depravity and corruption on the other. It shows images of innocents victimized and battles gloriously waged. In other words, it recruits in the same way that any other armed group recruits, including the U.S. military.

That means that when we also deploy our own militarized identity politics to narrate our response to terrorism, we inadvertently reinforce the Islamic State’s message to its potential recruits. When British Prime Minister David Cameron talks about a “generational struggle” between Western values and Islamic extremism, he is assisting the militants’ own propaganda. When French President François Hollande talks of “a war which will be pitiless,” he is doing the same.

What is distinctive about the Islamic State’s message is that it also offers a utopian and apocalyptic vision of an alternative society in the making. The reality of that alternative is, of course, oppression of women, enslavement of minorities and hatred of freedom.

But the message works, to some extent, because it claims to be an answer to real problems of poverty, authoritarian regimes and Western aggression. Significantly, it thrives in environments where other radical alternatives to a discredited status quo have been suppressed by government repression. What’s corrupting the Islamic State’s volunteers is not ideology but by the end of ideology: they have grown up in an era with no alternatives to capitalist globalization. The organization has gained support, in part, because the Arab revolutions of 2011 were defeated, in many cases by regimes allied with and funded by the U.S.

After 14 years of the “war on terror,” we are no closer to achieving peace. The fault does not lie with any one administration but with the assumption that war can defeat terrorism. The lesson of the Islamic State is that war creates terrorism. [Continue reading…]

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Tanya Golash-Boza: How many presidents does it take to deport 11 million people?

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was never birthed; it was always birthered. The man who, as his wife told a Vanity Fair reporter back in 1990, had a book of Hitler’s speeches in a cabinet by his bedside, has an unerring eye for how to wield anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments for his own benefit. Back in 2011, while considering a presidential run, he birthed his first version of the birther controversy, the claim that Barack Obama was born not in Hawaii but Kenya and so was the ultimate Muslim outsider (and an illegitimate president). It was his equivalent of dipping a toe in the political waters and testing the temperature before diving in — and he still credits that ludicrous claim with burnishing his reputation. (“I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing,” he said in 2013.) This time around, if Donald Trump has proven anything, it’s that he knows exactly what he’s doing and just what impact the symbols he calls up — from that Obama birth certificate to Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio — are likely to have. It’s clear enough that he’s been a student of the trade of demagogue, that he has a natural flair for it, and that when he births a new symbol, it tends to be potent.

None more so than the Wall (which should by now be capitalized). You know just what wall I mean without my writing another word. There’s only been one wall on the planet since his campaign began and, classically enough for our moment, it arrived by escalator. It came full blown, wrapped in a Trumpian ribbon, all 2,000 miles of it strung along the Mexican border of his mind, complete from day one with “rapists,” and the news that “they” were taking our jobs in return for “drugs” and “crime.”

A package deal, that wall arrived full grown on June 16, 2015, when Donald Trump and his present wife, Melania, descended by escalator from the heavens of Trump Tower in New York to announce his presidential bid to the planet. And that wall — the idea, that is, of purifying our American world of “them” by keeping undocumented immigrants out and getting rid of those already here — was from that moment at the heart of everything he did. As he said that day, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

And they were worth marking. Anyone who has watched his rallies since knows that those words have become the call-and-response chorus at the heart of Trumpismo, our new nativist celebrity religion. That the wall (no less the idea that Mexico will cover the cost of building it) is a fantasy isn’t beside the point, it’s the point itself. What would you expect but a fantasy version of future American life from the presidential candidate nominated by The Apprentice, whose closest adviser is, by his own admission, himself. In such a world, the wish, however malign, is truly the father of reality and the world a fantasy object.

Unfortunately, such fantasies have real consequences, which is why TomDispatch asked Tanya Golash-Boza, author of Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor, and Global Capitalism, to explore both the walling in and deportation dreams (or nightmares) of Trump and his rival Ted Cruz and what exactly to make of them. Tom Engelhardt

Day of the demagogue
Trumpian deportation fantasies and American realities
By Tanya Golash-Boza

In 2006, when I first began researching deportations, George W. Bush was president and quietly building a deportation machine in the Department of Homeland Security. Outside of small activist circles, few Americans knew that deportations had been rising since 1996 due to legislation signed by President Bill Clinton. Nor could anyone then have imagined that the next President would be a Democrat, the son of a Kenyan immigrant, and would make Bush look like a piker when it came to record-high deportations. Nor, for that matter, would anyone have dreamed that deportation would become a — possibly the — signature issue of the 2016 presidential campaign.

And yet, all of this and more has come to pass in a blistering season of demagoguery, nativism, and outright racism. As again would have been unimaginable a mere decade ago, Republican front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have both promised to deport every last one of the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States, the whole lot of them, while as a bonus banning Muslims from the country. Trump gave his particular proposals a special twist by labeling Mexicans coming across the border as “rapists,” and immigrants more generally as “snakes.”

[Read more…]

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The CIA just declassified the document that supposedly justified the Iraq invasion

Jason Leopold reports: Thirteen years ago, the intelligence community concluded in a 93-page classified document used to justify the invasion of Iraq that it lacked “specific information” on “many key aspects” of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.

But that’s not what top Bush administration officials said during their campaign to sell the war to the American public. Those officials, citing the same classified document, asserted with no uncertainty that Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear weapons, concealing a vast chemical and biological weapons arsenal, and posing an immediate and grave threat to US national security.

Congress eventually concluded that the Bush administration had “overstated” its dire warnings about the Iraqi threat, and that the administration’s claims about Iraq’s WMD program were “not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.” But that underlying intelligence reporting — contained in the so-called National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was used to justify the invasion — has remained shrouded in mystery until now. [Continue reading…]

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Trump on ISIS: ‘You have to play the game the way they’re playing the game’

When the Bush administration developed its torture program, it deployed legal arguments to obscure the fact that the techniques being used, such as waterboarding, were indeed forms of torture.

Where it appears to have been non-deceptive was in claiming that the purpose — ill-conceived as this might have been — was gathering intelligence. (Abu Graib, on the other hand, demonstrated the inevitable proliferation of abuse that followed from presidentially sanctioned torture.)

The use of extreme methods was justified, the proponents of what were euphemistically described as “harsh interrogation techniques” said, because of the magnitude of threat posed by terrorist plots.

In contrast, when Donald Trump talks about torture and about reducing the legal restrictions on what is currently permitted, he’s not talking about interrogation. He’s talking about the use of torture as a weapon of intimidation.

ISIS doesn’t decapitate its captives in order to extract information. It’s use of brutality is designed to intimidate its opponents and to force populations into submission.

Like ISIS, Trump sees all things in terms of the power dynamics of domination.

Since brutality has been one of the most effective weapons in ISIS’s arsenal, when Trump says, “You have to play the game the way they’re playing the game,” he is arguing that the United States needs to become as capable of provoking terror as are any of the terrorists it wants to combat.

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