Republicans Trashing Law Enforcement because It Polls Well

The best explanation for why, after having been briefed that underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was in FBI custody (and therefore, anyone who watches TV would know, mirandized), Republicans more recently started attacking the Obama Administration for having mirandized Abdulmutallab is this:

Republicans discovered the renewed power of terrorism in last month’s special Senate election in Massachusetts. Neil Newhouse, the pollster for the Republican victor, Scott Brown, said voters responded to the way Mr. Brown framed the issue, supporting him 63 percent to 26 percent when told he favored charging suspected terrorists as enemy combatants in a military tribunal while his Democratic opponent would give them constitutional rights and a civilian trial.

“This moved voters more than the health care issue did,” Mr. Newhouse said. “The terrorism stuff resonated, and it wasn’t just from the advertising we did.”

In fact, Mitch McConnell all but admitted that he was hitting the Administration on civilian court issues because of Scott Brown’s election in response to a question he was asked on February 3.

“If this approach of putting these people in U.S. courts doesn’t sell in Massachusetts, I don’t know where it sells,” he told a questioner.

He added: “You can campaign on these issues anywhere in America.”

That is, Republicans are attacking law enforcement–even as they have succeeded in getting Abdulmutallab’s cooperation quicker than it took the torturers to get false information out of KSM–because it polls well, because Scott Brown won on a pro-waterboarding platform.

Here’s the timeline:

December 25, 2009: Abdulmutallab attempts to bomb plane; after refusing to talk, FBI reads Miranda warning; John Brennan briefs Republican leadership that Abdulmutallab in FBI custody; FBI tells intelligence partners it will charge Abdulmutallab criminally, to no objections

December 26, 2009: FBI again tells intelligence partners it will charge Abdulmutallab criminally, to no objections

January 1, 2010: Two FBI agents fly to Nigeria to seek help from Abdulmutallab’s family

January 4, 2010: Scott Brown embraces water-boarding, advocates trying Abdulmutallab in military commission

January 5, 2010: Administration considers, but rejects, possibility of treating Abdulmutallab as enemy combatant

January 7, 2010: Obama Administration releases report of what went wrong on terror attack

January 8-10. 2010: 57% surveyed prefer military commission to civilian trial

January 17, 2010: Two Abdulmutallab family members fly back to Detroit to convince him to cooperate

January 19, 2010: Scott Brown wins special election

January 20, 2010: Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins hold hearing on Christmas bombing; Collins complains about information sharing, not Miranda warning; Blair says not consulted before Miranda read, says new interrogation team should have made decision though it is not yet functional

Several days after his family arrives: Abdulmutallab begins to cooperate

January 25, 2010: Lieberman and Collins write letter attacking FBI for giving Miranda warning

January 27, 2010: Mitch McConnell and others write Holder complaining about Miranda warning

January 30, 2010: Susan Collins attacks Obama for Miranda warning in weekly radio address

February 2, 2010: Mueller tells SSCI Abdulmutallab is cooperating

February 3, 2010: Holder responds to Republican critics; Mitch McConnell attacks “law enforcement” approach and later admits it works in campaigns, mentioning Brown’s victory

February 7, 2010: John Brennan reveals that Republican leaders briefed on FBI custody for Abdulmutallab, made no objections

February 9, 2010: John Brennan writes op-ed, “We need no lectures.”

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. Loo Hoo. says:

    Good for Brennan:

    Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill. They will, however, be dismantled and destroyed, by our military, our intelligence services and our law enforcement community. And the notion that America’s counterterrorism professionals and America’s system of justice are unable to handle these murderous miscreants is absurd.

    A telling timeline, EW.

  2. behindthefall says:

    voters responded to the way Mr. Brown framed the issue, supporting him 63 percent to 26 percent when told he favored charging suspected terrorists as enemy combatants in a military tribunal while his Democratic opponent would give them constitutional rights and a civilian trial

    Oh great. Now my day starts with the most hope-destroying factoid I’ve read in years. That’s Massachusetts? Sober-sided Yankees? Generous, tolerant Massachusetts? I don’t like what we are anymore.

  3. BoxTurtle says:

    It’s no wonder we’re running hit squads, we can’t try ’em in a civilian court and we can’t convict them and keep them locked up with a military commission. But the hits seem to work well, no appeals, no lawsuits and the only lawyer involved is Obama.

    Boxturtle (even Bmaz favorite sheriff reads folks their rights. Mexicans too!)

  4. Leen says:

    Many Americans seem to want someone to hate or torture. Forget the rule of law. Frightening.

    Jane Mayer mentions Brown’s comments during the campaign in Mass

    “In a television ad, Brown, who is in the Army National Guard, flashed a photograph of himself in fatigues and declared, “Some people believe our Constitution exists to grant rights to terrorists who want to harm us. I disagree.” Brown also announced his support for waterboarding suspected terrorists—a tactic that Holder, among others, has denounced as torture. As Brown’s attacks grew more pointed, Fehrnstrom said, Coakley got “bollixed up” defending Obama’s policies. He added, “The obvious follow-up is: Are you going to read Osama bin Laden the Miranda warning if you catch him?”

    Read more:

    Holder shook his head at Scott Brown’s assertion that America’s “laws are meant to protect this nation, not our enemies.” Such rhetoric, he said, was “inconsistent with a little organization called the United States Supreme Court.” During the Bush years, U.S. courts consistently struck down claims that detainees at Guantánamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were beyond the reach of U.S. and international law. Moreover, Guantánamo detainees receive legal counsel that is paid for by the U.S. government. Holder said, “It’s distressing to me that on an issue that is truly a matter of life and death for this nation people will find a way to make that a partisan issue.”

    Read more:

    In Mayer’s article she says that there are less restrictions on how evidence is collected and used in Military trials rather than in criminal courts. Is that true? Lower standard in military courts?

    • BoxTurtle says:

      In a real military court, I understand that the protections are basically similar though not identical.

      But if you mean the gitmo trials, the rules there are WAY different. Hearsay is allowed. You have no right to question the prosecutions witnesses beyond what the court chooses to allow and it may completely forbid cross examination. You have restricted rights to call your own witnesses. Evidence obtained under torture is admissable, evidence that the defendent was tortured is not. And so on.

      Boxturtle (And even so, convictions are hard to come by)

      • Leen says:

        Here is the line in Jane Mayer’s “The Trial”

        “By 2008, the Bush Administration believed that this so-called Clean Team had compiled sufficient evidence to charge Mohammed and the others with capital murder. The cases were to be tried in military commissions, which have more lenient rules of evidence than civilian courts.”

        If that is true no wonder Holder would want this trial to be in the civilian courts. The whole world is watching

  5. knowbuddhau says:

    Thanks for pointing this out, EW, it’s exactly what I’m on about.

    (Narrative that exploits voter worldviews) + (Intent to deceive for political benefit) = Myth-jacking.

    For example, we may ask, what things “poll well” with a particular voting bloc? What will physically move the voters to support your side? We need to know in what terms the voters make sense of the world, how they’re seeing and being American voters of such-and-such district, to learn how to jack them around by their own fears, dreams, and such.

    One of our human conceits is to think we cannot be manipulated like the other animals can. Bad news, friends: we can, and we are. We have icons on the control panels of our psyches, I’m saying, and propagandists, spin-meisters, consultants, what have you, play them virtuosically.

    [BTW, as a Joseph Campbell Foundation associate, I’m taking the liberty to quote at length. I’ve tried, but certain passages just don’t compress well.]

    A number of popular moving-picture films have shown the amazing phenomenon of the laying and hatching of the eggs of the sea turtle. The female leaves the water and crawls to a point on the beach safely above the tide line, where she digs a hole, deposits hundreds of eggs, covers the nest, and turns back to the sea. After eighteen days a multitude of tiny turtles come flipping up through the sand and, like a field of sprinters at the crack of the gun, make for the heavily crashing waves as fast as they can, while gulls drop screaming from overhead to pick them off.

    No more vivid representation could be desired of spontaneity and the quest for the not-yet-seen. There is no question here of learning, trial-and-error; nor are the tiny things afraid of the great waves. They know They know that they must hurry, know how to do it, and know precisely where they are going. And finally, when they enter the sea, they know immediately both how to swim and that swim they must.

    Students of animal behavior have coined the term“innate releasing mechanism” (IRM) to designate the inherited structure in the nervous system that enables an animal to respond thus to a circumstance never experienced before, and the factor triggering the response they term a “sign stimulus” or “releaser.” ….

    Chicks with their eggshells still adhering to their tails dart for cover when a hawk flies overhead, but not when the bird is a gull or duck, heron or pigeon. Furthermore, if the wooden model of a hawk is drawn over their coop on a wire, they react as though it were alive—unless it be drawn backward, when there is no response.

    Here we have an extremely precise image—never seen before, yet recognized with reference not merely to its form but to its form in motion, and linked, furthermore, to an immediate, unplanned, unlearned, and even unintended system of appropriate action: flight, to cover. The image of the inherited enemy is already sleeping in the nervous system, and along with it the well-proven reaction. Furthermore, even if all the hawks in the world were to vanish, their image would still sleep in the soul of the chick—never to be roused, however, unless by some accident of art; for example, a repetition of the clever experiment of the wooden hawk on a wire. With that (for a certain number of generations, at any rate) the obsolete reaction of the flight to cover would recur; and, unless we knew about the earlier danger of hawks to chicks, we should find the sudden eruption difficult to explain. “Whence,” we might ask, “this abrupt seizure by an image to which there is no counterpart in the chicken’s world? Living gulls and ducks, herons and pigeons, leave it cold; but the work of art strikes some very deep chord!” [Emphasis added. Campbell, J. (1968). Masks of God: primitive mythology, pp. 30-31. New York: Penguin (Arkana ed.).

    The formula, for myth-jacking whole nations, or single voting blocs, using innate releasing mechanisms, is very well known.

    SEN. ROBERT BYRD: My hands tremble, but my heart still throbs. I read this quote: “Naturally, the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.” Hermann Goering, president of Reichstag, Nazi Parliament, 1934 [Source: Democracy Now!.]

    Myth-jacking, as in bashing law enforcement because it polls well, I’m saying, is our upgraded, updated, 21st-century Goering method for managing electorates, the state of the art in manufacturing consent.

    But adopting and adapting Goering’s method is ultimately self-defeating. The problem with manufacturing consent being, it’s fake consent, so there’s always a backlash. You just can’t jack voters to hell during every election and expect for everyone to end up in the Promised Land.

    • aardvark says:

      This meant to be a gentle correction, not a critique of the substance. “Innate releasing mechanism” is a term from behavior genetics in which a specific configuration, usually visual, stimulates, or releases, a genetically programmed behavior. I don’t think the behavior being discussed here is genetically programmed.

  6. Leen says:

    Today Jane Mayer will be on Fresh Air to talk about her article “the Trial”

    Hope Terri Gross ask her if she went back to Bloomberg, Schumer and Patterson to ask why they flipped their support for the trial in New York to trying to cut Holder off at the knees

  7. BayStateLibrul says:

    Never, never, trust a Republican.

    I voted for one Republican in my lifetime (I think it was William Weld for Gov).

    Had voter regret, and vowed never to embrace a Republican again.

    That is why I urged folks to vote for Coakley.

    “Keep America Safe” and Cheney are behind this fuckery.

    • PJEvans says:

      I think the last time I voluntarily voted for an R was in 1972. (Pete McCloskey, for Congress. And he wasn’t a party-line R even then.)

  8. tejanarusa says:

    Here’s a description, from “Fresh Air’s” website, of the most disturbing thing (to me) from her interview with Terry Gross:

    Last December, hundreds of people showed up at a rally in Lower Manhattan to protest Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City.

    “The crowd was shouting at the Jumbotron showing Holder’s testimony to Congress, screaming ‘Traitor, communist, hang him,'” recalls New Yorker writer Jane Mayer in an interview on today’s Fresh Air. “It was an ugly scene,” she says — so ugly that the magazine couldn’t print some of what the protesters yelled.

    Trust the Republicans to follow the worst elements of our society, never to lead.

    And, love the patented Marcy timeline. Very revealing.

  9. knowbuddhau says:

    I just realized, while trying to get some yard work done, that I overlooked the flip side of bashing law enforcement: the war-mongering.

    It’s an example of the transactional nature of myth-making and -busting. At the same time the “law & order” party is bashing the use of institutionalized, established law & order methods of dealing with today’s Public Enemy #1, they’re advocating making war. And, as any student of mythology will tell you, that’s not because it makes sense to make war on your very own source, it’s how they believe the world to have been made to work.

    It’s not enough that the state already executes innocents on the altars of our fears of the Other, what we need, their myth-making exhorts, is more kinetic firepower.

    Do what god would do: blast them to kingdom come, then hold the remains in preventive detention hell forever. It’s our righteous duty to make life hell for the enemies of the Big Man Upstairs.

    “The bigger the bombast, the better the American,” could be their motto.

  10. mgloraine says:

    John Brennan tells it straight; we need more like him in government. And more like Marcy Wheeler in journalism.

    • mgloraine says:

      I see in a post by Jim White a statement that Brennan has associations with the torture regime. So I will retract my assertion that we need more like him in government, but I still believe he’s handling this issue properly.

  11. Jo Fish says:

    It’s Jack-Bauer-by-Proxy syndrome. Given that choice of being the person who actually has to look someone in the eye and commit torture and not suffer from some form of PTSD, I don’t think the average person could do it and sleep… the “average” American is not that much of a sociopath.

    Sadly they are, however, perfectly capable of out-sourcing their torture to someone else with their blessing under the guise of “okey-dokieness”.

    • aardvark says:

      Many years ago Clint Eastwood was asked whether people went to his movies for the violence (Good, Bad, etc, Dirty Harry, Outlaw Josey Wales)and I thought his answer most astute. “Its not the violence they come for, but the vengeance.” Good Old Testament justice.

  12. WVMJ says:

    Great info from #7

    Cynicism negates action.
    Fear has no power of its own, it must be given power.
    We are able to overcome instinct.
    we can choose courage.
    We can live in a state of Love.
    We can be fearless.
    Yes WE can.

  13. yurinahl says:

    Comrades, Jo Fish said “How can you look some sucker in the eye while you’re torturing him?” something like that. I’m sitting here watching “Network” and it’s like “life has become Network” Like who knew? I mean who knew what a pile of shit America has become? A Nazi shithole where they invade other countries to plunder them, utilise the cheap labor, abandon American labor so as to exploit the cheap new slaves, who will get shitcanned when some cheaper slaves turn up, borrow a shithouse full of money from especially China, for these agressive vampire Capitalist wars. The Chinese who the “Invaders” are lining up to fuck over with the missile carrying destroyers like the ones they have slid into the Black Sea.(35 miles from Russia) It’s like the whole country has gone completely insane or blind, and even if some galoot did go mental on TV,like in “Network” they’d just styalise it and in a couple of weeks there would be clone “Guys going nuts” all over TV. When I found out how up shit creek this country is in a river of debt, it was like being in “Doctor Strangelove” Like you know you’re fucked, no matter what you do , you’re fucked, but you keep on doing the same stupid shit on the outside chance that you’re the one that’s insane and the outside world is really just in need of a little fixing. So when Jo Fish said, “How could you torture?” I was thinking “Yeah how could anyone?” I mean ,I don’t like killing a moth, and if I find a worm I cover it with dirt, unless it’s an anal worm, cuz then it’s gotta die, but it’s like total insanity, when there’s Abu Graib going on, you’d have to be insane to do that shit. What do they do at the recruiting office ? Have a sign that says “psychopaths needed, apply here”. So everyone has seen all the movies and history channel of the fucking Nazis destroying everything because well , they’re insane Nazis. Then on TV you see the Americans destroying Fallujah. Then you’re thinking most of the assholes who pay attention to anything about the middle east don’t know how the west has been fucking the Arabs and inhabitants of the middle east in general since 1900 for the oil. And if you have had your head so in the sand that you don’t know this, don’t know the context of “Why the Arabs so pissed? Or they must be crazy to attack us for no reason(!!!) We’ve just been fucking them out of their oil since 1900 so I mean Why are they so angry? Like the British fucking the Iranians, then when the Iranians finally kick them out in the early 1950s the CIA stages the coup that brought the Shah, who brought the Ayatolla, who brought Ahmadinejad, who brought the western looking protesters in the streets, no camels, no turbans, no AK-47s. And they’re protesting Ahmadinejad, and these are the people who the crummy hypocrit douchebags in our “Government” are warming up to start pulling “They MAY have WMDs” “It’s POSSIBLE they may be acquiring yellowcake” and all the lawyerspeak bullshit they pulled before bombing Iraq into a pile of rubble! Then even after the Bush Idiotcracy totally fucked up the occupation of Iraq, how can these piles of shit, the Neocon zombies, still be getting jobs as college professors, heading the World Bank, shit like that? And the most puzzling thing is, how can these thugs still be alive? I find it incredible that no Iraqi whose family has been destroyed or wounded or burned up by the results of this contrived war has come to America to do some retribution on those assholes. If those bastards were human, they would put a gun in their mouths and blow their heads off to atone for their crimes. But they don’t because they flat out don’t give a fuck. When you consider the theatrical performance that’s posing as a government, those piles of manure in Washington should get some kind of Academy Award shaped like a big turd, for the best job of “Shitting” the public. If it wasn’t for the Internet, I certainly wouldn’t have a clue, being a lazy bastard, I would probably not go to the library. But now I do know enough so I do end up going to the library to get some of the mountain of books which conclude that Bush was a lying war monger grinning monkey. The people are different now that we have the Internet. Just as Nixon didn’t notice that the news people had changed, Like Woodward and Bernstein, the gas bags in Washington haven’t clued in completely that there’s a whole tidal wave of knowlege descending onto the people. The wave that will wash away the manure the politicians have been piling up to hide their dirty tricks.Amen.