Should we be scared of Uncle Sam ?

by John Quiggin on March 30, 2005

This poll showing that 57 per cent of Australians thought US foreign policy to be as great a threat as that of Islamic fundamentalism provokes a variety of thoughts. I happened to read the poll results on the same day as this NYT story about Maher Arar, whose ‘extraordinary rendition’ has been covered in detail at Obsidian Wings.

There are various ways of assessing threats, and most Australians rightly regard terrorism as an overstated danger. But, as far as terrorism is concerned, there can be few instances more horrible and terrifying than the kidnappings and televised beheadings we’ve seen in Iraq. There are, however, equally awful things going on that are not televised, and that are carried out by the United States government.

An unknown number of people have been kidnapped, then shipped to torture chambers in unknown locations. We’ve found out about this from cases like that of Maher Arar, who was eventually released after his captors gave up on the idea that he was a terrorist, but it’s likely that in most cases, the victim simply disappears and is never seen again. Arar was in transit through the US when he was grabbed, but there have been similar kidnappings in Italy, Sweden and Macedonia and of course, countries like Iraq and Pakistan are free-fire zones.

As with quite a few of the worst policies of the Bush administration, the practice of extraordinary rendition apparently began under Clinton, but has been greatly expanded by Bush[1].

As far as I’ve seen so far, all of the victims in this cases have been Muslims. If that comforts you, perhaps you ought to read Martin Niemoller

As long as extraordinary renditions and similar practices continue, Australians are right to regard at least some aspects of US foreign policy as a threat comparable to that of Al Qaeda.

An update In comments, Katherine observes, correctly I think, that arguments about moral equivalence are counterproductive. As she says ‘“Are we better or worse than Zarqawi and Bin Laden” is the debate people like James Inhofe and George W. Bush want us to have. ” So, I shouldn’t have said “equally awful” above. But what is being done is awful, and such things are contributing greatly to the fear of US foreign policy I referred to.

fn1. Supporters of the Clinton Administration might usefully think about this the next time they are tempted to take a small step on the slippery slope of curtailing civil liberties. Supporters of the current Administration might want to give some thought to the likelihood that the practices they are now defending or assiduously ignoring will sooner or later be directed by Hilary Clinton, who might well choose to use them against the vast right-wing conspiracy linked, at its extremities, to Oklahoma City (the apparent starting point of extraordinary rendition) and to terrorist attacks on abortion clinics.

{ 98 comments }

1

Andrew Brown 03.30.05 at 6:53 am

you need to put a space after the dot in “fn1.” Then textile will know what you mean.

2

Michael Kremer 03.30.05 at 7:10 am

I don’t see where the link you give shows extraordinary rendition as starting under the Clinton administration, or as connected to Oklahoma city. The linked article says

It all started when the United States wished to extradite drug dealers out of whatever country they wanted and into the United States for criminal prosecution. U.S. Agents would essentially kidnap the person, put him on an airplane and then arrest him when he arrived in the United States. It grew after the Oklahoma City bombing as a Presidential Directive. Presidential Directive #39 from the Clinton White House, stated…”If we do not receive adequate cooperation from a state that harbors a terrorist whose extradition we are seeking, we shall take appropriate measures to induce cooperation. Return of suspects by force may be effected without the cooperation of the host government, consistent with the procedures outlined in NSD-77, which shall remain in effect.”

But this is a non-sequitur — what apparently started under the Clinton administration was a policy of kidnapping people on foreign soil to bring them to the US justice system (when extradition fails). The quoted passage says nothing about turning the kidnapped person over to the security apparatus of a foreign state, where they might be tortured.

I recall a 60 minutes episode from the early to mid 80’s concerning a US policy which allowed “bounty hunters” to kidnap people on foreign soil and return them to the US for criminal prosecution. The case involved a man wanted in Florida for some sort of crime — it wasn’t a drug-related crime, I think — who was kidnapped in Toronto and driven across the border in the trunk of a car. This wa

3

Michael Kremer 03.30.05 at 7:14 am

Sorry, I accidentally hit “post” and apparently there is no “preview” function now…

The case I was describing in my previous post was reported while I was in graduate school, that is, 1980-86, so during the Reagan years. I recall protests from the Canadian govt.

By the way, Senator Clinton’s name is “Hilary” with one “l”.

Of course extraordinary rendition is horrible and quite possibly Clinton started it, but the link you’ve given doesn’t seem to support that.

4

Michael Kremer 03.30.05 at 7:30 am

OK — the Wikipedia claims that rendition was developed under the Clinton administration, with administration approval. They claim however that the practice was developed in response to Al Qaeda, and that the renditions happened to Egypt, the first in 1995. There is no connection stated to Oklahoma City. (Why would rendition be used in connection with that sort of domestic terrorism, anyway?) They also claim that the original motivation was to avoid having to try a suspect in the US courts, which might endanger the cover of CIA agents, etc.

Obsidian Wings cites the same case as the first known case of extraordinary rendition (Talaat Fouad Qassem) and dates it to 1995. (http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2004/10/talaat_fouad_qa.html)

So that’s the Clinton administration alright. But the Obsidian Wings post points out “this is actually one of those grey area cases between rendition and extradition—Egypt had charges against him. They had imprisoned him for seven years in the past before his suspected role in the plot against Anwar Sadat before he escaped from prison, and had tried to get Pakistan to extradite him in 1992, so these were not charges made only at the request of the U.S.”

But she also cites five cases from 1998 of clear rendition. http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2004/10/the_tirana_cell.html
http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2004/06/extraordinary_r.html
Still Clinton years…

Anyway my original point remains — rendition is one thing, kidnapping someone in a foreign country to bring him or her to the US is another (also odious, I think) practice, which antedates the Clinton administration.

Sorry about posting without checking around first — I was going to check but then my finger hit the “post” button accidentally in mid-stream, and I was stuck.

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chris 03.30.05 at 7:37 am

“Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/ctimber/crookedtimber.org/wp-content/advanced-cache.php on line 95.”

No doubt there are other invalid arguments scattered through this blog, especially in the comments, but the software hasn’t refuted them yet.

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ajay 03.30.05 at 7:49 am

I think there is confusion between two sorts of ‘extraordinary rendition’. It is a term meaning ‘rendition’ (ie delivery to legal authorities) which is, well, extraordinary in manner (unorthodox/possibly illegal). The point is that it can mean rendition to the legal authorities of the country doing the rendering (eg Mossad kidnaps Eichmann, illegally, and brings him to Israel before rendition to the Israeli legal system) or to someone else’s legal authorities (eg Maher Arar is arrested, legally, in NY, and then handed over to be tortured, illegally). In the second sense, the ‘extraordinary’ bit means that there was no extradition request to the US – they just handed him over.
Clinton started doing the first sort – kidnapping to the US followed by trial in the US. The second sort is a kind of unofficial extradition. As far as I know this is a Bush innovation.

I think we should avoid using the phrase for either. It’s a real legalistic cover, a classic example of weasel words. Let’s talk about ‘kidnapping’ or ‘abducting’ or ‘handing over’ if that’s what we mean.

7

Michael Kremer 03.30.05 at 8:02 am

Ajay — useful distinction — but look at the links to Obsidian Wings in my last post and consider the sort of case I describe in my first two posts (the “bounty hunters”). The first kind of rendition (to the US from outside by kidnapping) really comes from before Clinton (the bounty hunter story, at least); but Clinton, not Bush, started the second kind of rendition, to foreign countries (or at least the CIA started it during the Clinton years — the Obsidian Wings 1998 story, backed up by the Wall Street Journal).

8

John Quiggin 03.30.05 at 8:11 am

Michael, Senator Clinton’s site gives the spelling of her name as “Hillary”.

I agree with ajay that kidnapping is what this should be called, and that’s what I called it, but, as with “ethnic cleansing”, the name used by the perpetrators needs to be named.

Looking back at the link, the precise role of Oklahoma city is a bit unclear as several people have said. It’s worth remembering, though, that Islamists were originally suspected and presumably the presidential Directive was issued before it became clear that the terrorists were US residents.

9

Darren 03.30.05 at 8:18 am

“Should we be scared of Uncle Sam?”

There seems to be a remarkable similarity between the 1981 Bologna railway bombing and the recent Madrid bombing describing by Daniele Genser in “Natos Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe“.

Would anyone on CT like to give us a review of the Genser book?

10

Scott Martens 03.30.05 at 8:22 am

Michael, the case you’re trying to remember is the Sidney Jaffe/Daniel Kear case. What is important to remember is that the US ruled that when Kear went to Canada to catch Sidney Jaffe, he was in breach of US law, because under American law, a bounty hunter’s power is restricted to US soil, so conducting a “rendition” on Canadian soil was just as illegal under US law as Canadian law. So, they shipped him back and, IIRC, Kear the bounty hunter served time in Canada for kidnapping. Jaffe was convicted in the Florida, then his conviction was overturned when the Canadian government protested and he was sent back to Canada to live free. The Trudeau government was insistent that US prosecutors get absolutely nothing out of this incident as a way of making sure no one was ever dumb enough to do it again. It’s happened a few times since, but if a US bounty hunter is stopped by US immigration authorities on the US border, the bounty hunters spend time in jail. It happened again last year with Ken Weckwerth, and it played out the same way – the bounty hunters are serving time and the guy they caught is living in Canada. The US can ask for his extradition if they want to, but “renditions” in Canada are a crime under US law.

The US does not, however, always extend this understanding to Mexico, but at least it does sometimes. Mexico has refused a number of US extradition requests as a consequence of inconsistent US treatment of what the American government would unquestionably call kidnapping if Mexicans did it on US soil.

The Clinton rule allows the President to say “screw the diplomatic consequences” and have American agents perform kidnappings on foreign soil, although if people who aren’t US agents do it, I think it’s still kidnapping under US law. And, under a president who genuinely fears the consequences of saying “screw what everybody thinks”, I suppose this authority isn’t any worse than the authority to undertake other kinds of acts of war without having to ask anybody. But allowing presidential decisions to toss inconvenient laws out the window whenever they like is clearly very dangerous when the president no longer fears consequences, and it strikes me as the kind of bad idea that someone in the Clinton administration could have foreseen.

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mw 03.30.05 at 8:42 am

but it’s likely that in most cases, the victim simply disappears and is never seen again.

What’s the basis for making that statement? Surely if that happens ‘in most cases’ then we would have a list of victims who had been seized by U.S. agents, turned over to foreign governments, and then never heard from again.

I’m certainly not defending the practice, but suggesting that it is ‘equally awful’ as televised beheadings is bizarre. It seems odd to have to point out the differences, but let’s start with the fact that none of the victims of ‘televised beheadings’ have been subsequently released and testified about their ordeals. Nor has ‘extraordinary rendition’ been used on any ordinary civilian that authorities could lay their hands on–as is obviously the case with the head choppers (or have we forgotten Margaret Hassan already)?

As for the Australian polling data, how do we reconcile the fact that 57% thought the U.S. foreign policy was as grave a threat as Al Queda, but “a large majority said they rated the US alliance as important to Australia’s security”? So most Aussies simultaneously regard the U.S. as a grave threat to their security AND as the critical guarantor of that same security? (Is schizoprenia a particular problem down under)?

I also like these tidbits:

“72 per cent drew the line at following the US into war with China over Taiwan” and “only 34 per cent said the US FTA was good for Australia, compared with 51 per cent in favour of an FTA with China”.

Well, how convenient. In other words–we like the U.S. security guarantee (and presumeably this guarantee is against intimidation by China–who else would it be against, Japan?) BUT don’t bother us about joining in to protect other free peoples against Chinese intimidation and, oh by the way, we’d much prefer to trade freely with the potential adversary you’re protecting us against than with you.

Well, uh, gee, thanks guys…

As for ‘extraordinary rendition’ and the use of torture. They are appalling and have to be stopped. And I’ve no doubt that they will be stopped. Why? Because they are at odds with basic American values–when the details become known, they are ultimately indefensible. In the U.S., these kinds of things are self-correcting. It would be better, of course, if civil liberties were never compromised even in times of perceived danger, but it has happened several times before and been corrected and it will probably happen again in the future (and be corrected).

This is in contrast, of course, with the head choppers where that practice is, in fact, a deep expression of their values…which is why they go out of their way to broadcast the practice as widely as possible rather than to hide it. They are not embarrassed, they are proud.

It is necessary to oppose both ‘extraordinary rendition’ AND islamofascism without completely losing perspective about the relative nature of scale of the problems.

12

Michael Kremer 03.30.05 at 8:54 am

I found a discussion of the bounty hunter case in the article at
http://law.vanderbilt.edu/journal/35-03/porcello.pdf
pp. 974 ff
The case involved a guy who skipped bail from a Florida court and went to Canada. His crime involved sale of land. The case was from 1980. Apparently a Supreme Court ruling from the 1850s limits bounty hunters right to arrest to within the US, but other court decisions give US courts jurisdiction over people brought into the US by bounty hunters. (This is known as the Ker-Frisbie doctrine.)

In the Canadian case, the man kidnapped in Canada was convicted in Florida, but the bounty hunters were extradited to Canada to face kidnapping charges.

There is discussion in the article of treaties which might overturn the Ker-Frisbie doctrine, but apparently Congress needs to execute the treaties and is unlikely to do so.

And that’s enough about that — I apologize for going on for so long.

13

John Quiggin 03.30.05 at 8:57 am

mw, most of the well-publicised cases involve people who have turned out not to be terrorists and have been released. The only reason they have come to public attention is because the people involved have told their stories. I assume there are plenty of other cases where those kidnapped have not been able to convince their captors of their innocence.

If as you suggest, the reason we haven’t heard about other cases is that there aren’t any, this implies a degree of incompetence on the part of US authorities that even now I find hard to credit. On this account, they’ve engaged in massive violations of the law, involving a well-organised network of planes, prisons and so on, but done so only on a handful of occasions and always in cases of mistaken identity,

14

Barry 03.30.05 at 9:00 am

mw:

“What’s the basis for making that statement? Surely if that happens ‘in most cases’ then we would have a list of victims who had been seized by U.S. agents, turned over to foreign governments, and then never heard from again.”

Uh, no, that’s the point.

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Michael Kremer 03.30.05 at 9:11 am

John — of course you’re right about Clinton’s name — sorry. I need to slow down. (Curious thing — if you google “hilary clinton” you’re directed to Sen Clinton’s site, but the word “hilary” doesn’t occur there.)

Scott — thanks — my last was written while yours was posted. The article I referenced didn’t mention that Jaffe’s conviction was overturned. In fact the article states that his conviction was upheld on appeal. According to the opinion at

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=search&case=/data2/circs/4th/011628pv2.html

Jaffe served sentences on the convictions in the Florida case. he then returned to Canada when on parole.

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Michael Kremer 03.30.05 at 9:13 am

Oh, one bit more: Jaffe’s conviction on the land sale cases was overturned on a technicality but his conviction on “failure to appear” was upheld. (Same source as above.)

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Scott Martens 03.30.05 at 9:17 am

I’m certainly not defending the practice, but suggesting that it is ‘equally awful’ as televised beheadings is bizarre. It seems odd to have to point out the differences, but let’s start with the fact that none of the victims of ‘televised beheadings’ have been subsequently released and testified about their ordeals. Nor has ‘extraordinary rendition’ been used on any ordinary civilian that authorities could lay their hands on—as is obviously the case with the head choppers (or have we forgotten Margaret Hassan already)? [...]

As for ‘extraordinary rendition’ and the use of torture. They are appalling and have to be stopped. And I’ve no doubt that they will be stopped. Why? Because they are at odds with basic American values—when the details become known, they are ultimately indefensible. In the U.S., these kinds of things are self-correcting.

MW, I would say that torturing someone outside of public oversight is a good deal worse than beheading them on TV. With the second, you know exactly what the perpetrators are up to and there is no ambiguity about them. With the first, people are able to find excuses about how no one told them, how it rarely happens, and how it’s not such a big deal in the greater scheme of things when it has, undeniably, happened. Denial is easy when acts are outside the public eye.

And in what way does “Nor has ‘extraordinary rendition’ been used on any ordinary civilian that authorities could lay their hands on” apply to Maher Arar?

As for this sort of thing being “self-correcting” in the US, I’d appreciate some examples of this self-correction. Let’s start with the Japanese internment in WWII and how that little oversight corrected itself right away, then move on to the red scares of the 1920’s and 50’s – with a special eye to explaining how Eugene V. Debs’ citizenship was restored only 50 years after his death – and follow it up with an explanation of the current state of the US prison system and the speed with which US authorities have responded to a couple of decades of deteriorating conditions bad enough to lead to human rights claims.

Americans aren’t particularly bad about civil liberites. But they aren’t particularly good about them either. Basic American values are not really solid in content and have a knack for getting redefined when convenient. I remind you that it was well within living memory that “basic American values” condoned racially explict marriage and immigration laws, and that law and order at all costs have had advocates all through American history. Faith in the self-correction of American political culture is not a real sturdy cornerstone.

18

KCinDC 03.30.05 at 9:22 am

MW: I wish I had your confidence that this unpleasant little episode will blow over quickly and everything will go back to normal. What possible reason do you have for believing that?

The details are known, they are indefensible, and those responsible not only escape punishment but are promoted, with the wholehearted support of Republicans and insignificant opposition from Democrats. The vast majority of the American people don’t give a damn, because it’s only happening to a bunch of brown people who look like terrorists. When exactly are you expecting the self-correction to occur?

Torture and disappearings were at odds with basic American values once, but nowadays they seem to be well on their way to assuming a central place among them.

19

karl 03.30.05 at 9:47 am

Extraordinary renditions were developed in the 80s. For those interested, the details are spelled out in TORTURE BY PROXY:INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC LAW APPLICABLE TO “EXTRAORDINARY RENDITIONS” by the Committee on International Human Rights of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law http://www.abcny.org/pdf/report/Torture%20by%20Proxy%20-%20Final%20(PDF).pdf

As noted on page 15 of that report:

On the record, U.S. government officials acknowledge only the existence of the practice of
“rendition to justice” – a practice developed in the late 1980s when the technique was apparently
created in order to allow U.S. law enforcement personnel to apprehend wanted individuals in “lawless” states like Lebanon during its civil war. In the early 1990s, renditions to justice were allegedly exclusively law enforcement operations in which suspects were apprehended by covert CIA or FBI teams and brought to the United States or other states (usually the states having an interest in bringing the person to justice) for trial or questioning. 70 According to then FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, during the 1990s, the United States “successfully returned” thirteen suspected international terrorists to stand trial in the United States for completed or planned acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens. Then CIA Director George Tenet testified that the CIA took part in over eighty renditions before September 11, 2001.

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mw 03.30.05 at 9:49 am

I assume there are plenty of other cases where those kidnapped have not been able to convince their captors of their innocence.

Based on what? Having a prisoner be released and testify as to treatment is certainly not the only way we would have to know about these people. Suppose Maher Arar had never been released. We would still have known about him. Do you assume the ‘plenty of other cases’ involved victims with no acquantainces, families, or governements to speak up or inquire as to their whereabouts?

21

Thomas 03.30.05 at 9:50 am

Can I start referring to the ordinary process of deportation, or even the ordinary workings of the criminal justice system, as involving kidnappings?

I mean, if we capture and detain someone against their will, and if the legalities don’t matter one way or the other, then all of these practices involve kidnapping.

What do we help by using inflammatory language?

BTW: Wasn’t Arar released by someone other than his “captors”? I mean, he wasn’t in US custody at the time of his release, was he? That’s the whole point of rendition, isn’t it?

And some of these cases don’t really involve US kidnappings, do they? I mean, it looks like the case in Sweden involves Swedish kidnappings, and US cooperation in the transport of the kidnapped to a third nation. Accessory after the fact, if we’re anxious to use the language of the criminal law to inflame. (Or perhaps we kidnapped them after the Swedish authorities kidnapped them…)

22

Uncle Kvetch 03.30.05 at 9:56 am

And I’ve no doubt that they will be stopped. Why? Because they are at odds with basic American values—when the details become known, they are ultimately indefensible. In the U.S., these kinds of things are self-correcting.

What utter nonsense.

The details have been known for some time now, MW. The American public’s response to that knowledge was to reelect George W. Bush.

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mw 03.30.05 at 10:03 am

As for this sort of thing being “self-correcting” in the US, I’d appreciate some examples of this self-correction. Let’s start with the Japanese internment in WWII and how that little oversight corrected itself right away, then move on to the red scares of the 1920’s and 50’s

Exactly. I made no representation about the speed with which the problems will be resolved (though I would bet on months or a couple years vs many years or decades). The point is the internment of Japanese during WWII was not a ‘slippery slope’ that lead to the enshrinement of the practice as standard operating procedure–there was no mass internment of ethnic Koreans or Vietnamese during those wars nor mass internment of ethnic Cubans or Russians or Chinese during the Cold War–instead Japanese internment lead to an attitude of ‘never again’ and a sense that this was a shameful episode. Ditto the ‘red scares’–they did not lead, via a slippery slope, toward, say, a South American dirty-war and mass disappearances and murders of political opponents. They lead, instead, to an attitude of ‘never again’ and a sense that these were shameful episodes.

I remind you that it was well within living memory that “basic American values” condoned racially explict marriage and immigration laws, and that law and order at all costs have had advocates all through American history.

Quite so–but the trend was in the direction of improvement in race relationships rather than, say, racial discrimination worsening and being applied to other racial or ethnic groups.

Faith in the self-correction of American political culture is not a real sturdy cornerstone.

Over the long term? Sure it is. There is a great deal of historical evidence for self-correction and really none at all for ‘slippery slopes’.

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mw 03.30.05 at 10:12 am

The details are known, they are indefensible, and those responsible not only escape punishment but are promoted, with the wholehearted support of Republicans and insignificant opposition from Democrats. The vast majority of the American people don’t give a damn, because it’s only happening to a bunch of brown people who look like terrorists. When exactly are you expecting the self-correction to occur?

The process is obviously already well underway. The abuses in Abu Gharib did not result in those practices being greeted with cheers by the American public and their being enshrined as standard operating procedure–they resulted in investigations, prosecutions, and reform.

Now you may reasonably argue that none of the above went far enough but it would be ridiculous to argue that the general American reaction to Abu Gharib has been, “Hey, that’s great! Let’s have more of that, shall we?”

Similarly, the original ‘no rules apply to enemy combatants’ position has been modified through legal decisions and pressure created by publicity.

No, this kind of crap isn’t being taken care of fast enough, but the arrow is clearly pointing in the right direction.

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Katherine 03.30.05 at 10:26 am

I hope so about the self correction, and there are some Congressmen and Senators working on it, but I wouldn’t count on it in the short term.

Arar seems to have been released by Syria because Canada kept bugging them about him & the U.S. was not showing them any appreciation.

He wasn’t a civilian grabbed at random, we thought he was a terrorist, but the major evidence against him seems to have been two other suspects’ “confessions” coerced under torture in Syria.

Thomas referred to Sweden kidnapping two suspects, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery as if the U.S. just helped them out at their request. It seems pretty clear it was the opposite: the U.S. initiated it, planned it, and carried it out.

Here’s a list of the renditions I know about in chronological order.
Talat Fouad Qassem (9/95)
Ahmed Osman Saleh, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Naggar, Shawki Salama Attiya, Essam Abdel Tawwab, and Muhammad Hassan Tita (7/98-8/98).
Ahmed Salama Mabrouk, Essam Hafez,
and Ihab Muhammad Saqr (7/98 or 9/98)
Mamdouh Habib (10/01)
Jamil Qasim Saeed Muhammad (10/01)
Muhammad Haydar Zammar (11/01)
Ahmed Agiza & Muhammad Al Zery (12/01)
Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi (late 2001 or early 2002)
Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni (1/02)
Maher Arar (10/02)
Osama Moustafa Nasr (11/03)
Khaled el-Masri (12/03)

estimates for the total # of renditions: about 70 before 9/11, but 20 or so of those are renditions to the U.S. 100-150 after 9/11.

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Ancarett 03.30.05 at 10:27 am

Small note about the Niemoller citation. It’s a common error that this litany starts with the Jews, but Niemoller actually wrote it thusly:

First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

You can read Franklin Littell’s article about Niemoller’s saying and the importance of getting it accurately here: http://tinyurl.com/8ibb

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Katherine 03.30.05 at 10:28 am

if self-correction happens, the people who claim that it happened before it really did will have done nothing but delay it.

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lemuel pitkin 03.30.05 at 10:31 am

Admirers of the Niemoller quote may be interested to know that the Communists part was excised from the version used at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington. So I have to differ with John: In the US, if you are not a Communist (or Muslim?), not speaking up for them is considered just fine.

(Can’t find a link, sorry, but the bowdlerized quote was displayed prominently when I was there a few years ago.)

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Katherine 03.30.05 at 10:33 am

“Do you assume the ‘plenty of other cases’ involved victims with no acquantainces, families, or governements to speak up or inquire as to their whereabouts?”

I would assume the other cases involved citizens of non-Western countries where the government did not actively protect them & their family & acquaintances had no access to the Western press. Also, in most of the cases that we know about, either the guy has been released or someone actually saw him taken onto the plane, or saw the plane at the airport, or in Arar’s case he was known to be in the custody of U.S. intelligence/immigration before he disappeared.

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Matt Weiner 03.30.05 at 10:46 am

The US does not, however, always extend this understanding to Mexico, but at least it does sometimes. Mexico has refused a number of US extradition requests as a consequence of inconsistent US treatment of what the American government would unquestionably call kidnapping if Mexicans did it on US soil.

Relevant here is the Alvarez-Machain case. Alvarez was a doctor suspected of assisting in the torture and murder of a U.S Drug Enforcement Agency agent in Mexico. In 1990 (under George H.W. Bush), the DEA hired some Mexican nationals to kidnap Alvarez and bring him to the U.S. for trial.

In 1992 the US Supreme Court ruled that Alvarez’s kidnapping did not violate the US-Mexico Extradition Treaty, so the trial could go forward:

Six Justices ruled that U.S. courts had
jurisdiction, even though, they conceded, kidnapping “may be . . . ‘shocking’
. . . , and . . . in violation of general international law principles.”
Three dissenters found it “shocking that
a party to an extradition treaty might believe that it has secretly
reserved the right to make seizures of citizens in the other party’s
territory. . . . Most courts throughout the civilized world will be
deeply disturbed by the ‘monstrous’ decision the court announces today.
For every nation that has an interest in preserving the rule of law
is affected, directly or indirectly, by a decision of this character. link

(Here’s the decision in U.S. v. Alvarez-Machain.)

Alvarez was acquitted, and according to the linked article sued the US and his kidnappers under the Alien Tort Claims Act; in 2004 the Supreme Court according to this, dismissed the particular case but upheld the ATCA in some way that I don’t understand.

CNN read the 2004 case as ruling on the legality of overseas arrests, but that seems to be at odds with the interpretation of all the other sources I found.

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Matt Weiner 03.30.05 at 10:49 am

As for those who claim that torture is self-correcting–presumably the removal of Alberto Gonzales from the office of White House Counsel, in retaliation for his writing the infamous memos defending torture, is part of the self-correction.

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Uncle Kvetch 03.30.05 at 1:02 pm

it would be ridiculous to argue that the general American reaction to Abu Gharib has been, “Hey, that’s great! Let’s have more of that, shall we?”

No. The “general” reaction was something like a cross between a shrug and a stifled yawn.

Oh, and there were, in fact, quite a number of voices saying “Great, let’s have more!” But they were only talk radio hosts with millions of avid listeners, so they don’t count.

if self-correction happens, the people who claim that it happened before it really did will have done nothing but delay it.

Thank you, Katherine.

33

Sebastian holsclaw 03.30.05 at 1:15 pm

Since the question “Should we be afraid of Uncle Sam” is explicitly framed in contrast with China, the answer is pretty clearly no, other worrying to the contrary. People who worry about the US far more than China aren’t weighing things out well.

34

Jim Harrison 03.30.05 at 1:24 pm

The dangerousness of a country is proportionate to the product of its propensity to act badly and its power to do harm. If that equation is roughly right, the United States is obviously the most dangerous nation on earth, unless you really think that American political leaders are hundreds of times more reliable and humane than the others.

By the way, it is pointless to argue about possible Clintonian precedents for the recent bad behavior of the current administration since Mr. Bush doesn’t give a damn about precedents anyhow. If you can gaily dispense with diplomatic rules that have been in force since the Peace of Westphalia, you hardly need to find support for your actions in some Albright memo.

35

Katherine 03.30.05 at 1:30 pm

“People who worry about the US far more than China aren’t weighing things out well.”

Doesn’t it sort of vary by country? Iranians who worry more about the US than China are being quite sensible; Taiwanese who do so have issues. Australians

36

Katherine 03.30.05 at 1:39 pm

one last thing:

I think any suggestion that the U.S. and Al Qaeda are morally equivalent or equivalent in the threat they pose is both transparently wrong, and really counterproductive. “Are we better or worse than Zarqawi and Bin Laden” is the debate people like James Inhofe and George W. Bush want us to have. It is a distraction from the relevant questions about rendition, though, like: what is happening? Is it against the law? Can it be justified? How do we stop it?

37

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.30.05 at 1:42 pm

Ok, then to be precise, Australians who are more afraid of the US than they are of China are using a scale of fear that I find rather odd.

38

Steve 03.30.05 at 1:47 pm

“FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE JEWS – MARTIN NIEMOLLER

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.”

Hmm. Let’s rewrite this.

First they came for the Nazis
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Nazi.
Then they came for the Italian Fascists
and I did not speak out
because I was not an Italian Fascist.
Then they came for the Japanese Nationalists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Japanese Nationalist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.”

What’s the point of this exercise? Using the Niemoller statement as an argument only makes sense if you assume the people being ‘gotten’ are innocent. If you are a Nazi, or an Italian Fascist, or a Japanese Nationalist, or a Fundamentalist Terrorist, its entirely APPROPRIATE to ‘come for you.’ There may be problems with repatriation, but to suggest that trying to stop terrorism is morally equal to slaughtering Jews is so asinine only an educated academic could make it. You people are flat out bizarre.

MW, good job. But why are you wasting your time here?

Steve

39

Chris 03.30.05 at 1:59 pm

Orin Kerr over at Volokh “has posted in response to this”:http://www.volokh.com/posts/1112191306.shtml . Here’s my comment crossposted from the Volokh thread:

I haven’t been in touch with John about his post so this is just my take on this.

Your quotation from the original CT post is selective and misleading. You write:

that equivalence may make the U.S. “a threat comparable to that of Al Qaeda.”

But in the original JQ wrote (emphasis added by me):

Australians are right to regard at least some aspects of US foreign policy as a threat comparable to that of Al Qaeda.

The “at least some aspects” is crucial here as is John’s specification of what those aspects are:

An unknown number of people have been kidnapped, then shipped to torture chambers in unknown locations…. it’s likely that in most cases, the victim simply disappears and is never seen again.

Since it is plausible that — “terrorist suspects” or not — many of the victims of extraordinary rendition are innocent persons, denied due process, tortured and perhaps killed, it hardly seems outrageous to suggest that this kidnapping, torture and killing carried out by a state is morally on a par with the very same acts perpetrated by non-state actors.

This judgement depends on it being true that “in most cases, the victim simply disappears and is never seen again.” But if that were true — and it may not be — then I don’t see that your indignation about “moral equivalence” is soundly based.

40

Matt Weiner 03.30.05 at 2:02 pm

Steve, you can think that someone should be afforded due process even if he is guilty.

And in any case, at least some of the people being “gotten” ARE innocent. If you’d read about the Maher Arar case, you’d see that there’s approximately no evidence that he’s guilty of anything, and that I believe that also goes for the people whose tortured confessions were used to implicate him.

Paying attention to elementary facts is not “flat out bizarre.”

41

mw 03.30.05 at 2:11 pm

Iranians who worry more about the US than China are being quite sensible

Well, the Mullahs who worry more about the US than China are being quite sensible–those in the streets demonstrating for democracy and chanting, “Bush, Bush, Kush, Kush”…their perspective may be rather different. Same applies to the pro-Syrian leadership in Lebanon vs the protesters.

During the various mass protests for democracy in the Middle East, there have been no violent, bloody crackdowns by the governments.

Have you stopped to wonder why not? Because the tyrants have suddenly found religion? Or is it because they’re afraid a slaughter of peaceful protesters just might lead to something extraordinarily unpleasant for those in power who ordered such actions (say, smart bombs landing on presidential palaces with 1-meter accuracy)?

42

jet 03.30.05 at 2:25 pm

Good point MW. Middle-Eastern protests for reform aren’t really anything new. It’s the fact that the governments aren’t responding with naked violence in the streets that is strange. Probably just a Cosmic Carmic Coincidence that all that happens to coincide with the US invasion of Iraq and Bush’s unrelenting hyping of Democracy, Liberty and Freedom.

43

lemuel pitkin 03.30.05 at 2:25 pm

Steve,

As it happens, I don’t think being a Jew is the moral equivalent of being a fascist. But I’d love to see you develop the Jews=Nazis argument further.

I also would be against rounding up my political opponents — even Nazis and fascists — without due process, intering them in camps and murdering them wholesale. It’s one of the things that distinguishes me from them. And from you.

44

Matt Weiner 03.30.05 at 2:30 pm

Egypt to crack down on rallies (yes it’s al-Jazeera, but if Cairo’s security director says so I believe him)

Do you seriously believe that Mubarak fears that if he cracks down the US will kill him?

Or does it just excite you to think about the accuracy of smart bombs?

All this is aside from the question of extraordinary rendition, but non-mullah Iranians are significantly more likely to be killed by the US than by China in the near term. If you’re one of the ones who think that the US invasion of Iraq has not led to significant civilian casualties you need to get out more.

45

jet 03.30.05 at 2:40 pm

Oh and I love the CT equivocating of torture with beheading. As if torture could ever be worse than beheading. I wonder if John McCain would agree that torture is worse than beheading? Perhaps he wishes he had been beheaded by the Vietcong instead of just tortured, but I sincerely doubt it. But oh what great propaganda it makes when you can obfuscate together a case for the US being worse than Al Queda.

Charming, as usual.

46

SomeCallMeTim 03.30.05 at 2:47 pm

Ok, then to be precise, Australians who are more afraid of the US than they are of China are using a scale of fear that I find rather odd.

Now that‘s funny. On account of the actions of a 20 whack-jobs with $50 worth of boxcutters, we’ve (a) invaded an unrelated country for reasons few outside the Bush legion understand, (b) accepted that the Administration is allowed to try to jettison the Constitution (Padilla), (c) countenanced the broadening beyond comprehension of the “extraordinary rendition” program, and (d) accepted the rot implicit in the “torture memos” as the penultimate arbiter of the “law of the land”. But it’s the people of OZ who need their fear-scales re-jiggered.

47

The Navigator 03.30.05 at 2:53 pm

And Steve, the point of the Niemoller quote is not that extraordinary rendition is equal to the Holocaust. The point is that, when one’s government starts doing outrageous things to unpopular groups of strangers, and one voices no outrage or protest, one may eventually find oneself subject to those same outrageous practices.

48

Steve 03.30.05 at 2:55 pm

Ah-
Admittedly, the analogy is a bit imprecise, and my post resulted in implications that I didn’t intend. But still.
1)Jews, and others, were rounded up wholesale for extermination.
2)Noone ’rounded up’ Nazis, or Italian Fascists, or Japanese Nationalists, in order to slaughter them wholesale. But we did arm a few million of our young men (probably many of your grandfathers) to kill a few million of them until the rest quit.
3) Now, we are arresting a few dozen (few hundred?) suspected Muslim fundamentalists in order to try to stop them from blowing up civilians in the west.
Is our effort in 3) comparable to 1), or comparable to 2)?
Note that we did 2). We did 2) while making ethical, moral, and political mistakes (Japanese relocation in the US, there are plenty of cases of battlefield execution of prisoners, many of our bombs went astray and killed civilians, and so on). 2) Does not imply moral purity, nor does it imply that we were never wrong in the process, or that we are never wrong while engaging in 3).
Using the Niemoller quote implies that you compare our antiterrorism efforts to 1). And you are nuts.

Steve

49

jet 03.30.05 at 2:58 pm

Matt,
Mubarak worries about the US quite a bit, for many reasons. Let me explain, no there is too much, let me sum up.

-The US is the largest trading partner with Eqypt, for starters.
-The US contributes to Eqypt roughly 15% of Eqypt’s budget as foreign aid.
-The Eqyptian military is dependant on US military exports for key equipment. (not like you can switch over to French tanks overnight)
-Egypt is facing rising unemployment and budget shortfalls.
-Bush has already started decreasing the amount of foreign aid to Eqypt because of political prisoners.
-Bush has made it clear that future foreign aid will be linked to how Eqypt treats government opposition.

Looks to me like Bush could unseat Mubarak without dropping a single bomb.

“Or does it just excite you to think about the accuracy of smart bombs?”
But listening to you is like listening to the semi-retarded know it all who picks up a sentence, mis-interprets it on purpose, and then laughs at how smart he is.

50

Hannibal Lector 03.30.05 at 3:04 pm

Jet excreted:
“As if torture could ever be worse than beheading.”

Come on over to my place, Jet, and I’ll gleefully prove you wrong.

Then I’ll eat your liver with a nice bottle of Chianti!

51

Donald Johnson 03.30.05 at 3:50 pm

Steve, our bombs in WWII didn’t go astray and kill civilians. They went more or less where they were supposed to go (on cities) and killed civilians as they were intended to do. Or do you think the Tokyo firebomb raid was an act of carelessness? We were the lesser of two evils in WWII, of course, but it’s disturbing to see people rewriting utterly noncontroversial parts of history.

52

Cryptic Ned 03.30.05 at 4:06 pm

As for ‘extraordinary rendition’ and the use of torture. They are appalling and have to be stopped. And I’ve no doubt that they will be stopped. Why? Because they are at odds with basic American values—when the details become known, they are ultimately indefensible.

That’s quite strong faith you have. I think your statement only makes sense if you use “American” in the sense that it is usually used in American public discourse, as a synonym for “good”. If these practices are at odds with basic good values, but the public perceives them to be necessary to “defend” America the nation-state, I don’t think the government would see any reason to stop them.

53

Cryptic Ned 03.30.05 at 4:10 pm

Using the Niemoller quote implies that you compare our antiterrorism efforts to 1). And you are nuts.

I’m sick of people implying that “comparing” one thing to another is the same as equating them. Comparing and equating are completely different things, which should be obvious.

Not to mention that it’s nearly impossible, and very rarely done, to actually “equate” things, which means postulating that they are equally bad or equally important or equally something else.

This business of “you compared this thing to that thing which is clearly worse, therefore nothing you say is valid because you are weird” is yet another way for people to avoid an argument and then tell themselves they won it on a technicality.

54

Andrew 03.30.05 at 4:12 pm

I wouldn’t stress too much over a poll like that since the policies of this specific US administration are an aberation compared to US behaviour during other periods. Wait about 10 years – after the memory of GWB becomes dim – and I think we’ll warm up again to our strange American cousins.

55

George 03.30.05 at 4:26 pm

Wasn’t going to comment, but your update makes this post a non-sequitur. The poll asks explicitly for a comparison. If you want to eschew “moral equivalence” arguments, start from another point.

56

Matt Weiner 03.30.05 at 4:51 pm

But listening to you is like listening to the semi-retarded know it all who picks up a sentence, mis-interprets it on purpose, and then laughs at how smart he is.

(1) Classy. Listening to you is never like this.
(2) My sentence about getting excited was a response to mw’s remark about smart bombs. And I feel no need to apologize for it. Anyone who starts getting into detail about the 1-meter accuracy of smart bombs in an unrelated political discussion is betraying something of a pathology. Those bombs kill people, and if you’re aware of a case in which U.S. bombs landed within 1 meter of some bad guy without killing any innocent bystanders, let me know. (For instance, the missile strike on Qaddafi that didn’t kill him but did kill his three-year-old child, or stepchild.)

So I don’t think I’m misinterpreting the sentence. If mw wanted to say that the Middle Eastern tyrants are afraid that the US will overthrow them if we crack down on democracy he can. The fact that mw chose to fantasize about the killing power of our mighty bombs shows that he (?) is more enthusiastic about killing than he ought to be.
(3) All your points show that Egypt is dependent on the US. None of them show that Mubarak needs to fear a bomb on his presidential palace (and if I thought Bush was contemplating such an action, I’d consider him much more of a danger than I do). Reread my comment–it said “kill him.”
(4) And all of the steps toward democratization you mention could have been undertaken without shedding a drop of anyone’s blood. It doesn’t make the war on Iraq any less of a sideshow in democratization.
It’s authentically great that Bush talks about democratization. In his first term he did little more than talk–see under “Iraq, early local elections, not held to facilitate loony privatization schemes.” Now he seems to be doing more. That’s nice. To ascribe every good thing happening in the Middle East to Bush’s magic war of democratization is just silly.

57

Andrew Boucher 03.30.05 at 4:58 pm

“We were the lesser of two evils in WWII…” Yes, and Mother Teresa is the lesser of two evils compared to Mugabe. OK we can all be put on a continuum and no one is perfect except Jesus Christ; there’s some evil in all of us. But the Allied forces (“we”) – the US and the UK – were the lesser of two evils only in this rather trivial sense. The difference between them and Nazi Germany or Japan was about as close to good vs. evil as you can get in any war, and you are trivializing the awfulness of the Axis powers with your remark.

With that said one wishes more Americans today would deplore their government’s use of torture and abusive treatment, and inability to accord due process to individuals, among other despicable acts. It is morally outrageous and ultimately counter-productive.

58

mw 03.30.05 at 4:58 pm

Do you seriously believe that Mubarak fears that if he cracks down the US will kill him?

Ask me about Assad. Do you think he’d feel comfortable sleeping in his own bed the night after ordering a massacre of pro-democracy protesters? Do you think such calculations play no role in his current thinking?

All this is aside from the question of extraordinary rendition, but non-mullah Iranians are significantly more likely to be killed by the US than by China in the near term. If you’re one of the ones who think that the US invasion of Iraq has not led to significant civilian casualties you need to get out more.

I don’t think there’s any real chance of a U.S. invasion of Iran or Syria (there are no spare troops for it, for starters), but I think there definitely is be a chance of a regime-targeted air campaign in response to egregious actions on the part of the Syrian or Iranain regimes. And I further think that this possibility is likely having some effect in moderating the behavior of the regimes in question.

Or does it just excite you to think about the accuracy of smart bombs?

No–but the scenes of democracy protesters taking back their countries from tyrants do. And the existence of smart bombs that make it possible to target, say, the Mukhabarat headquarters without damaging nearby civilian buildings I do count as a good thing because I believe that capability may be important in making the democracy protests possible.

59

mw 03.30.05 at 5:03 pm

That’s quite strong faith you have. I think your statement only makes sense if you use “American” in the sense that it is usually used in American public discourse, as a synonym for “good”.

Not at it all–it makes sense in the sense that it is perfectly consistent with U.S. history in which excesses have repeatedly lead not to slippery slopes of greater excesses but rather of corrective actions. I would certainly not claim, for example, that McCathyism was “good” only that it lead to its own demise reather than greater and greater violations of civil liberties.

60

Uncle Kvetch 03.30.05 at 5:07 pm

Every day, in every way, we’re getting better and better.

I envy you, MW. I’d much rather live in your America than mine.

61

The Jewish Conspiracy 03.30.05 at 5:27 pm

I’d like to see numbers. How many terrorists are there in the world? 50, as many as 100? How many US soldiers? How much money and weapons do the terrorists have? How much does the US military? How many people and institutions do the terrorists represent and can count on for moral and strategic support — an entire nation of people, perhaps? How many people have the terrorists killed compared to that military? How many have they killed compared to regular criminals? Is the incidence of terrorism today less or more than it was in the past? Are there more terrorists than there were Klansmen? Are the people in the Middle East more sympathetic to terrorists than Americans were to Klansmen? Are there more terrorists than right-wing soldiers of God and Country that stalk abortionists and blow up federal buildings? But what I would really like to know is, are there more Islamist terrorists today than there were Jewish Bolsheviks in Nazi Germany?

62

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.30.05 at 5:35 pm

“And all of the steps toward democratization you mention could have been undertaken without shedding a drop of anyone’s blood.”

That sounds like a dangerous fantasy. The peaceful transition away from authoritarian regimes is historically very rare.

63

Matt Weiner 03.30.05 at 5:50 pm

MW, I’ll suspend the remarks about the pathology, then. I like democracy protestors too (though if anyone tries to give Bush credit for events in Central Asia, where we continue to support people-boiling Islam Karimov, I will not be responsible for my actions). But I don’t think precision bombs have much to do with them.

You seem to have a lot of faith in our ability to take out the bad men in Middle Eastern countries without harming innocents. I don’t share that faith. We tried that with Saddam, after all, and it didn’t work.

Nor do I think it would be effective if it did work–that is, I don’t see the chain of events “Mullahs/Assad massacre democracy protestors (incidentally there aren’t currently any in Syria), US bombs Mullahs/Assad killing them and some surrounding people” being followed by “Democracy takes hold.” More likely “Someone else takes over” or “civil war breaks out.” Has there been a case in which a bombing by a foreign power led to democracy by killing a dictator? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem likely here.

Would Assad sleep well after ordering a massacre of protestors? I think so. Even Bush will not just order bombings under those circumstances. Assad and the mullahs probably fear invasion–because Bush has been gunning for them for a while–and that may constrain their actions (though I think it’s also spurring the Iranians at least to push their nuclear program along). If I could be sure that the invasions would not happen, that would be a good thing. But I’m afraid that we will see an invasion, and it will be much messier and bloodier than the precision strikes you envision. (And, as I said, I think precision strikes are pretty messy and bloody in itself.)

And Egypt and Palestine are really important, and the threats there just aren’t the threats of force.

64

Kieran Healy 03.30.05 at 5:51 pm

That sounds like a dangerous fantasy. The peaceful transition away from authoritarian regimes is historically very rare.

Too right, Sebastian. [cough] We will be greeted as liberators [cough].

65

Matt Weiner 03.30.05 at 5:52 pm

Sebastian, that comment was specifically about Egypt. If we’ve got to invade Egypt in order to push it toward democracy we’re really fucked. I certainly hope that we can push Egypt toward democracy by threatening to cut aid, which is what Jet was pushing for.

66

Sebastian holsclaw 03.30.05 at 6:13 pm

“Too right, Sebastian. [cough] We will be greeted as liberators [cough].”

One would think you might be capable of discovering the distinction between a point about being greeted as liberators and the historical difficulty of a society ridding itself of dictators without bloodshed but apparently one would be wrong.

“I certainly hope that we can push Egypt toward democracy by threatening to cut aid, which is what Jet was pushing for.”

I think that is quite possible. But it is much more possible now than it ever has been before. And that is a testimony to the fact that Bush’s inept foreign policy execution had powerful enough underpinnings to at least partially overcome the other defects. That was made possible in large part by demonstrating in the Middle East that the US was not easily cowed into submission or scared off by a few body bags.

67

Kieran Healy 03.30.05 at 6:41 pm

One would think you might be capable of discovering the distinction between a point about being greeted as liberators and the historical difficulty of a society ridding itself of dictators without bloodshed but apparently one would be wrong.

Actually I wish the Bush Administration had been capable of grasping it, and indeed the realtionship between the two.

68

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.30.05 at 7:17 pm

I couldn’t agree more. We shouldn’t have expected to be greeted as liberators, and we should have deposed Saddam nevertheless.

69

floopmeister 03.30.05 at 7:26 pm

Ok, then to be precise, Australians who are more afraid of the US than they are of China are using a scale of fear that I find rather odd.

Of course you find it odd. That’s because you are not, I presume, an Australian. Walk a mile in any one else’s moccassins, friend, and you might also ‘realign’ your scale of fear.

The Australian government, has politely informed the US that we won’t be signing up for any action against China, which is also a good thing. This isn’t ‘anti-Americanism’, knee jerk or otherwise, by a conservative government – it’s pure realpolitickal commonsense. China is already our biggest trading partner. We provide raw materials that fuels their economy – as we do with India. We have an excellent working relationship with the Indians – why not with the Chinese?

Remember one thing from an Australian point of view – in World War 2 we hitched our wagon to the star of a fading world power (Britain) and therefore our troops were either fighting Germans in North Africa or lost in the Fall of Singapore. There is a reason Australia was undefended against the Japanese, you know, and it wasn’t because we didn’t seem them coming.

Relying on ‘Great Friends’ for safety is a fool’s game – look at where we are situated in the world. We are 22 million people situated half an hour’s flight from the world’s biggest Muslim nation. Our most important relationshiip is with Indonesia, and the rest of Asia, not the US.

I believe that Howard, much as I viscerally dislike the man and all he stands for, will only stand by a visibly fading US for so long. China is who we will be living with in 20 years, and India. That’s our reality.

70

Mill 03.30.05 at 8:02 pm

Most of my Australian friends don’t believe that the U.S. -would- actually “shield” them if was was declared on them. Does anyone really believe that if China went crazy and tried to annex Australia, the US would do anything other than cough and strongly disapprove? (Does anyone really believe that the US will protect Taiwan when the time comes? Seriously?) It’s just fortunate for Australia that there ARE no countries with designs on it. At the moment.

As for the FTA issue, maybe my friends are skewed because they’re mostly online, IT-industry people, but one huge, huge problem they have with a U.S. FTA is that it requires partial to complete acceptance of the U.S.’s completely and utterly insane IP laws, which would probably allow spurious-patent-holding U.S. companies to shut down virtually the entire Australian software industry in courts of law, whenever they felt like it. “But they won’t! IP law is never used in unreasonable ways like that!” is not convincing.

Compared to the U.S. legislature and judiciary’s current attitude to IP law, even -China- looks like a safer bet. Rampant piracy and mimicry of your work is better than being out of a job altogether.

71

Andrew 03.30.05 at 8:52 pm

Mill are you serious? US would go to war with China in a weekend over a tiny island right next to China that’s technically still part of China, of course they’d go to war with them over Australia. Who are your Australian friends? None of my friends, family, etc. doubts that.

72

Matt Weiner 03.30.05 at 8:56 pm

That was made possible in large part by demonstrating in the Middle East that the US was not easily cowed into submission or scared off by a few body bags.

It sounds oddly as though you’re arguing that the high body count is a good thing, because it allows us to demonstrate our resolve.

Well, that’s the sort of out-of-context nitpickery that makes Jet mad at me. So I will say, seriously: If we really wanted to show resolve in encouraging Egypt to democratize, the right approach would’ve been to exert pressure on Egypt to democratize all along, rather than invading Iraq. That, I think, would have put us in a better position for pushing Egypt toward democracy than we are now. That’s only an amateur’s opinion, but so is yours.

And I don’t think showing our willingness to accept casualties is relevant here, since Mubarak knows that no one in our government is insane enough to try to democratize Egypt by military force. So whether we’re willing to take casualties (and that means–whether people in the US government are willing to send soldiers to their deaths) won’t matter to our Egypt policy.

73

Andrew 03.30.05 at 8:56 pm

Oh and floop, you’re wrong. The US is still our largest trading partner for both imports and exports though China has over taken Japan for 2nd on exports and is knocking on the door for 2nd in imports.

74

floopmeister 03.30.05 at 9:12 pm

Andrew – yep, you’re right about that. Apologies.

But are you being sarcastic here in your comment below?

Mill are you serious? US would go to war with China in a weekend over a tiny island right next to China that’s technically still part of China, of course they’d go to war with them over Australia. Who are your Australian friends? None of my friends, family, etc. doubts that.

What army do they think they’d use? The US is seriously miltarily overstretched at the moment, and the fact that China owns a great deal of the US debt might put a dampener on that little exercise.

Mill’s friends sound a lot like my friends, Andrew. From where we’re sitting, the US doesn’t look in a particularly good position to come running to anyone’s rescue at this moment.

Much better we work on creating good relationships with our neighbours.

75

Andrew 03.30.05 at 9:25 pm

Why would the US have to pay back its debt to a country it goes to war with? If China owns the debt, the US could say “Ok we’ll pay back our debt to Japan and to Canada, but China, we’re busy killing you so too bad.” Maybe you meant to say “China is buying a great deal of US’s debt.”

The US maybe wouldn’t rescue Australia, but it certainly could fight a war with China. Most of the US’ warships are in the Pacific, including a few dozen aircraft carriers that could strike China within hours. There are some 40,000 troops in South Korea, and 35,000 more in Japan. How far are the 15,000 troops in Afganistan from China? Anyway, the war would only happen over Taiwan, I don’t think China has any clever plans to attack Australia.

But we can agree that making good relationships with neighbours is always a good idea.

To be honest, I live in America now so maybe I have a different view than is normal in Oz. Still, that doesn’t sound like any of my friends or family.

76

shippi 03.30.05 at 9:43 pm

is mw’s the perfect example of a bad inductive argument?

77

John Quiggin 03.30.05 at 10:15 pm

In 2000, the US was Australia’s biggest source of imports, Japan our biggest market for exports (ABS data here. I don’t think this has changed, but maybe you have some more recent data, Andrew.

78

floopmeister 03.30.05 at 10:19 pm

The US maybe wouldn’t rescue Australia, but it certainly could fight a war with China.

Sure, but would it win?

…China already has 500 to 550 short-range ballistic missiles deployed opposite Taiwan and has 24 CSS-4 ICBMs with a range of 13,000 km to deter an American missile attack on the Chinese mainland. According to Richard Fisher, a researcher at the U.S.-based Center for Security Policy, “The forces that China is putting in place right now will probably be more than sufficient to deal with a single American aircraft carrier battle group.” Arthur Lauder, a professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, concurs. He says that the Chinese military “is the only one being developed anywhere in the world today that is specifically configured to fight the United States of America.”

http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=2259

Most of the US’ warships are in the Pacific, including a few dozen aircraft carriers that could strike China within hours. There are some 40,000 troops in South Korea, and 35,000 more in Japan.

Somehow, I don’t think the US will ‘beat’ the PLA with only 75,000 troops. Airpower is a massive advantage, but can you seriously see the US trying to go head to head with the PLA in a land war? I certainly can’t.

How far are the 15,000 troops in Afganistan from China?

Well, yeah, but you know they’re in Afghanistan for a reason. Maybe just pulling them out would be a bad idea – otherwise, why not send ‘em to Iraq now?

Anyway, the war would only happen over Taiwan, I don’t think China has any clever plans to attack Australia.

Exactly. Which is why, of course, Howard has excused us from any involvement in the China-Taiwan dispute.

Maybe you meant to say “China is buying a great deal of US’s debt.”

I thought that’s what I did say ;)

…China sits on a $609.9 billion pile of dollars (as of the end of 2004), earned from its trade surpluses with us. Meanwhile, the American government and Japanese followers of George W. Bush insult China in every way they can, particularly over the status of China’s breakaway province, the island of Taiwan. The distinguished economic analyst William Greider recently noted, “Any profligate debtor who insults his banker is unwise, to put it mildly. . . . American leadership has . . . become increasingly delusional — I mean that literally — and blind to the adverse balance of power accumulating against it.”…

http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=2259

The point of the deficit is that the US needs $2 billion or so a day in foreign investment just to service its debt. Who do you think is the biggest investor? China. It’s not a case of the US choosing not to pay back what they owe China – it’s a case of China saying “OK, we are going to dump our US dollars and buy Euros” or simply choosing to no longer invest in the US.

Meltdown.

The US is on extremely shaky financial ground if it decides to have a go at China. But I’ll bet they don’t mention the deficit much on US television.

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John Quiggin 03.30.05 at 10:41 pm

AFAIK, the US is Australia’s biggest supplier of imports, but Japan is our biggest export market. Do you have more up-to-date info, Andrew?

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Andrew 03.30.05 at 11:27 pm

Well I have got more up-to-date information John, but it says that you are right. Sorry, I made a mistake. I looked at the data and US is just behind China in exports while Japan is number one, and it’s been like that for sometime (a few years probably). This site has lots of interesting statistics:
http://www.dfat.gov.au/publications/statistics.html
I recieved my old information from a WSJ article about the time of the FTA, and simply assumed it was true.

Well floop, the $2 billion a day is not to service the US debt, its to service its trade deficit. Those are different. If China stopped buying US dollars, the RMB would evaluate and many different things would happen including big problems for Chinese exports. The dollar’s decline would cause the US trade deficit to shrink and probably disappear as those American sweatshops and cheap NY holidays would become more competitive. The US dollar’s decline would definitely be a very good thing for the US economy in terms of trade balance, but probably not for its inflation.

Haha I wouldn’t know much about US TV floop, I rarely watch it. The trade deficit and the dollars coming collaspe is front page information in the WSJ a few times a week, though that is hardly indicative of US news as a whole, which I know little about. However I have got good information on Seattle-area pubs if you’re interested.

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floopmeister 03.30.05 at 11:57 pm

Don’t worry andrew – I know what getting the figures wrong feels like! ;)

Of course the last thing China would want is to have a US collapse, as this would destroy their biggest export market… but we were talking about a situation in which the two countries were at war. In that sort of situation, mightn’t holding billions of US dollars be a slight advantage?

Can we agree that, at the least, the US might find any confrontation with China (over Taiwan) extremely problematic?

Seattle area pubs – well, can’t see myself ever going there, but if I do your local knowledge will be gratefully appreciated!

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John Quiggin 03.31.05 at 1:31 am

The WSJ news pages are usually pretty reliable. But factual claims in their Op-Ed pages are anything but

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Dave F 03.31.05 at 4:02 am

I’m no economist, but since the US is also outsourcing manufacturing jobs to China on a massive scale, wouldn’t Beijing be risking the destruction of its dollar holdings value and huge job losses in the event of war? I don’t believe either party would risk it, not even over Taiwan. Taipei’s delegation to China this past week was received with great fanfare, which suggests that a little bit of jaw jaw might do wonders.

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winston 03.31.05 at 7:26 am

Floopmeister said “I believe that Howard, much as I viscerally dislike the man and all he stands for, will only stand by a visibly fading US for so long. China is who we will be living with in 20 years, and India. That’s our reality.”

I couldn’t agree more with this – the disintegration of the basis of US power is proceeding remarkably quickly, and Australia has little to gain and much to lose my associating ourselves too closely with the US in future.

I’m surprised that as many Australians are worried by islamic terrorism as they are about the dangers posed by a decaying empire run by what seems to be a group of people who are basically fascists (carefully rebranding themselves as neoconservatives).

The dangers of islamic terrorism have been utterly over-hyped (and it was good to see Justice Kirby pointing this out in front of the head of ASIO recently). There is a great BBC documentary called “The Power Of Nightmares” which describes whats really going on perfectly – anyone who hasn’t seen it should spend some time watching it to understand the relationship between the american neoconservatives and the islamic fundamentalists.

I know who I’m more worried about.

http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0126-30.htm
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/video1037.htm

Mil says elsewhere “As for the FTA issue, maybe my friends are skewed because they’re mostly online, IT-industry people, but one huge, huge problem they have with a U.S. FTA is that it requires partial to complete acceptance of the U.S.’s completely and utterly insane IP laws, which would probably allow spurious-patent-holding U.S. companies to shut down virtually the entire Australian software industry in courts of law, whenever they felt like it. “But they won’t! IP law is never used in unreasonable ways like that!” is not convincing.”

Hear, hear – I simply can’t understand how our interests were simply sold out by the government when the “Free” Trade Agreement was negotiated – no Australian Prime Minister from Menzies onward would have done anything other than laugh when presented with such a travesty, yet Howard has promoted it as some sort of gain for us with absolutely no evidence to back this up…

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Uncle Kvetch 03.31.05 at 9:43 am

The US is on extremely shaky financial ground if it decides to have a go at China. But I’ll bet they don’t mention the deficit much on US television.

That poor woman in Florida is being deliberately starved to death by evil liberals!

Who’s up for some college basketball? It’s MARCH MADNESS!

Will Demi and Ashton be tying the knot?

What’s a trade deficit?

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jet 03.31.05 at 11:28 am

China would look at full economic collapse if it went to war with the US. For one, no more exports to the US. For two, the US Navy will control the blue seas without a doubt. So no Chinese exports to anywhere except the Russian railroad. For three, even if the pussification of Europe is complete, the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Taiwan from the first minutes of missiles and artillery would at least cause Europe to side with the US, if not actually agree to help. For four, the US doesn’t have to win a ground war, just hold the shores of Taiwan for 6 months until the unemployment riots and starving villagers revolt. For five, it won’t be much of a surprise invasion given that China will have to dismantle a huge naval mine field protecting Taiwan (remember, it is an island, think strategy folks, the only infantry to walk on water was Jesus).

Until China is fielding nuclear powered air craft carriers and not economically completely dependent on their opponent (the US would barely be harmed, as those cheap factories would find a home somewhere else after a huge round of subsidies and the US gets to write off $400b in deabt), China will not go to war. Remember, the US would just write off all that Chinese “cash”, and China would be left with $400b in poor quality toilet paper. China was just plain stupid to “pay” for the US growth on notes that will become uncollectable if they try to take Taiwan. Kind of put themselves in a Catch-22 situation.

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George 03.31.05 at 12:46 pm

My understanding of the economics (cough) is roughly consistent with Jet’s. The US trade deficit to China is largely China’s problem, if the two go to war. But I’d be interested in hearing from an economic historian, someone like Galbraith. (Anybody here want to claim to be like Galbraith?) Big conflicts often start from this sort of financial train-wreck, but not always in the way that seems most likely. Has there ever been a great power situation analogous to this one?

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Cranky Observer 03.31.05 at 2:34 pm

> For two, the US Navy will control the blue seas
> without a doubt.

You know, much as I deride Clancy-ism among the Radical Right, it does help to read the military-industrial trade press regularly. Particularly if you include some pubs not based in the US on your reading list.

Could the US win an all-out war with China today? Probably. Would it be easy or bloodless? No. In 5 years? Well, probably. In 10 years? Very, very good question.

The unquestioned assumption of US military superiority is going to get a lot of US boys and girls killed some day soon.

Cranky

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jet 03.31.05 at 2:53 pm

Cranky,
What does “all out war” mean? Could the US conquer China? Probably not. Japan was more bloody than the US could ever be, and couldn’t after 10 years.

My quote is about blue sea supiority. And China won’t be a threat to the US blue sea navy in 10 years. And if they want to be a threat in 20 years, they better start on their own nuclear subs and nuclear carriers now (those diesels won’t cut the mustard).

It might also serve to note that every nation in the world thought the US would have more problems with the Iraqi army in 2002. When leading generals in the Russian army are discussing the surprising ease with which the US defeated the Iraqis and comenting on drastic paradigm changes required to counter the US military, there might be something to the widespread rumors of US military domiance.

But we really don’t want a war with China.
If there was a war, probably most people on Taiwan would be dead, China would no longer be the largest population and would be the largest receiver of UN food aid. The world would enter a prolonged depression.

And if China suffered too humiliating a defeat, there might be some additional nuclear radiation in the Atlantic under the previous locations of US carrier groups which would explain the drastically increased radiation levels in the US and China.

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Uncle Kvetch 03.31.05 at 3:40 pm

The unquestioned assumption of US military superiority is going to get a lot of US boys and girls killed some day soon.

Soon?

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bob mcmanus 03.31.05 at 4:50 pm

“Remember, the US would just write off all that Chinese “cash”, and China would be left with $400b in poor quality toilet paper”

Umm, unless I am mistaken these are fungible securities that don’t have China’s name on them and we can’t “write off” China’s cash without writing off everyone else. Correct me if I am wrong.

Now maybe we could survive the worldwide depression better than most, including China, but China has more experience at handling famine and applying repression. Bushco has gained valuable experience in Iraq, of course.

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jimbo 03.31.05 at 6:21 pm

“Umm, unless I am mistaken these are fungible securities that don’t have China’s name on them and we can’t “write off” China’s cash without writing off everyone else. Correct me if I am wrong.”

Happy to.

Those securities consist of accounts at the Fed. One phone call to Mr. Greenspan and they are frozen. And like several people have said, our trade deficit with China is their problem, not ours. Remember, we live in a floating exchange rate system. That means that the U.S. does not need anyone to “finance” anything – the government spends first, then soaks up any excess by issuing debt. If there were no more financial flows to China, there would be that much less excess to mop up. (Of course, very few people on any side of the political debate seem to understand this or anything else about the mechanics of the financial system, but that doesn’t change how it works…)

But there isn’t going to be a war a with China. The Pentagon has been trying to build them up as the beg bad bogeyman ever since the Berlin Wall fell, but it just doesn’t wash. They and we might talk big about Taiwan, but we both just have too much to lose to actually do anything.

And can I remind people of a little thing known as the a-bomb? Y’know, that neat little device that makes “all out war” between great powers obsolete? I mean, “land war in Asia”? What is this, “The Princess Bride”?

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means…”

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floopmeister 03.31.05 at 6:52 pm

That means that the U.S. does not need anyone to “finance” anything – the government spends first, then soaks up any excess by issuing debt.

Ah, the US: paragon of economic conservatism and financial prudence. Just keep spending and damn the debt! Deficits don’t matter, right?

Providing, of course, that the US dollar remains the world’s only fiat currency. That is one of the great ‘givens’ of the current system – the US dollar is the fiat currency, which allows the US to profligately ‘issue debt’. Other countries must have a pool of these dollars in which to trade (particularly for oil).

But this is changing, I suspect. Remember that Soth Korea injudiciously mentioned they were going to ditch a heap of their dollar holdings and the Dow Jones nosedived – other national banks are nervous and the Euro is becoming an alternative fiat currency.

That’s when the chickens come home to roost. I wonder what US energy prices would be like at the pump if the US were forced to buy their oil in Euros, rather than dollars? Russia is thinking about it, ditto Norway, Venezuela and Iran. Iraq, of course, had already started selling in Euros.

So coincidental, no?

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floopmeister 03.31.05 at 6:54 pm

Soth Korea = President Darth Maul?

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bob mcmanus 03.31.05 at 8:27 pm

Three quotes from Brad Setser(links avoided without preview):

March 1:”China intervenes almost exclusively in dollars, at least in the first instance — Nomura has done some good work on this. What we don’t know is what happens after China initially buys dollars; i.e. whether China converts any of the dollars it buys for renminbi into euros, pounds or yen. Increasingly, though, it looks like China keeps most of its reserves in dollars. It just does not use those dollars to buy Treasuries through channels that show up as a “Chinese” or a “central” purchase of US Treasuries in the US TIC data.”

Feb 22:”3) Just in case there are any aspiring currency strategists out there, one word of advice: official purchases of Treasuries (as reported in the TIC data) are an increasingly bad proxy for overall central bank purchases of dollar assets. Central banks could be buying Treasuries through intermediaries, or just buying a broader range of dollar-denominated assets.”

Feb 15: “One problem: the Treasury inflow data does not square with the data on global reserve accumulation. We know China’s reserves, for example, increased by $36 billion in December. The dollar fell by about 3% against the euro in December, so even if China held $200 billion in euros, valuation gains only explain $6 billion of that increase ($200 billion is almost certainly too high of an estimate; in my most recent paper with Nouriel we estimated China’s non-dollar reserves to be closer to $155 billion, but we don’t really know). That leaves $30 billion in new reserves to invest. Most of that, presumably at least two-thirds, went into dollar assets — that implies the People’s Bank of China’s dollar holdings went up by around $20 billion.

That is more than the $10 billion in total official inflows in the December data, let alone the $2.7 billion increase in Chinese holdings of long-term Treasuries.

So what did China do with its growing reserves? Buy Treasuries through London broker dealers? Buy Agencies through intermediaries (foreigners bought $25.6 billion of agencies in December)? Buy corporate bonds through intermediaries? Build up its dollar deposits in the international banking system in the way that Japan did when it was intervening like mad at the end of last year? It clearly did something, and equally clearly, that something is not showing up in the broader US data.”

But you tell me all of China’s dollar-based asset are in an account at the Fed. No wonder so many of us get confused.

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jimbo 03.31.05 at 10:24 pm

Floopmeister –

I think the word you’re looking for is “reserve” currency. Virtually every currency in the world today (except for those, like Hong Kong, that are on a currency board system) are “fiat” currencies. Which means that their deficits don’t matter any more than the U.S.’s does, at least not from a financial perspective – any currency issuing government in a floating rate regime faces no financial limits on it’s spending (like, for example, Japan, which has had deficits consistantly in excess of 7% of GDP for years, while mantaining interest rates around 0%).

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Cranky Observer 04.01.05 at 10:21 am

> And if they want to be a threat in 20 years, they
> better start on their own nuclear subs and nuclear
> carriers now (those diesels won’t cut the
> mustard).

As best I can determine from the public literature, the US Navy is terrified of those diesel subs. Due to advances in batteries and air scrubbers, they can stay underwater for 24-36 hours straight. During which time they are absolutely, 100% silent – unlike a nuclear sub, which always has some level of thermally-generated noise from the reactor.

In fact, the USN just leased on of Sweden’s advanced diesels for a year to see if they can find it in ASW exercises.

Cranky

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jet 04.01.05 at 2:30 pm

Cranky, do you have a link? 24 hours at 7-10 knots, isn’t very scary (yeah we can’t hear it, but it can’t go anywhere, and torpedoes don’t go that far). And then when it surfaces to charge batteries, and fires up that diesel, it is immediately picked up by the thousands of underwater sonar listening devices the USN has all over the Pacific. If diesels were better than nuclears, the USSR and USA would have made different choices.

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