Bloggers react to the administration's surprise turnaround in negotiating with Iran and Syria over Iraq. They also split on what to think about an ex-detainee's tale of torture by the CIA, and pretty much find ridiculous that an Arizona man caught with kiddie porn gets 200 years.
Keeping it realist: In what many are regarding as the White House's belated acceptance of one of the Iraq Study Group's "realist" recommendations, the United States has announced plans to convene with envoys from Iran and Syria to discuss the chaos in Iraq. The proposed round table, coordinated and overseen by Baghdad, will include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and State Department officials. Inquiring minds want to know, "Why now?"
Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice breaks down the significance as "a policy shift cocooned in the face-saving device of not quite being an about-face: the U.S. will be there, but didn't call the conference."
Conservative Michael Rubin at the National Review's The Corner doesn't think the conference necessarily signals anything, really: "Analysts often talk about different factions and power centers in Iran, and see such differences as cause for optimism. In this Baghdad conference, the U.S. will be sitting down with representatives of the Iranian foreign ministry. Whatever the factional politics, Iranian diplomats are among the least influential members of the Islamic Republic"
Matthew O'Keefe at the Gun-Toting Liberal says follow the petro-dollars: "Now that the Iraqi government has reached an agreement to share the wealth of it's very profitable oil fields it is more than okay for the evil doers in the region to sit at a table and talk with our nation. … This meeting will be about the money and not the peace."
At The Washington Note, Steve Clemmons, the left-leaning director of the American Strategy Program, New America Foundation, writes that the cue to talk to Iran and Syria "has the markings of European and Saudi stage direction. This writer has reasons to suspect that European Union High Commissioner for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and National Security Advisor to the Saudi King Prince Bandar bin Sultan have been moving chess pieces in consultation with departing US Ambassador to Iraq and incoming US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad to make this 'neighbors meeting' work. This is a necessary but not sufficient first step in re-establishing a new and more stable equilibrium of interests in the Middle East."
And righty Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters weighs a few theories, not least of which suggests "Condoleezza Rice may have prevailed over the Vice President, whose influence appears to be waning in the last two years of the Bush presidency. The abrupt replacement of Donald Rumsfeld and the questionable resolution of the Korean crisis indicates a softening of the approach taken by the administration, at least in tone."
Read more about the decision to engage Iran and Syria.
"Black site" memoirs: Marwan Jabour, a self-confessed enabler of the Taliban and al-Qaida, has offered the Washington Post [note: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.] his grim story of continent-hopping imprisonment under the authority of the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies. Jabour, who was captured in Lahore, Pakistan, says he was held without charges for four years and subjected to physical and psychological torture in Afghanistan and Jordan. (Israel, he says, was the nicest place to be.)
Conservative Honza P. at Pros & Cons has little sympathy for Marwan Jabour and doesn't find the account all that scandalous: " 'Renditions' are also known as 'extradition' when advocates of multilateralism support them. It's kind of like good pork and bad pork. I guess it's only really multilateral to extradite to states that refuse to prosecute these people, or who, like Germany, think planning 9-11 warrants less that ten years in prison."
Will Malven at The Houston Conservative likewise thinks the CIA's methods are legit: "I support what the CIA is alledged to be doing. I support interrogation techniques which cause discomfort. There is a difference between torture-as in sawing the head off of a prisoner while he is still alive and awake or feeding your prisoners into a plastics grinder feet first-and using discomfort to elicit information."
However, Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch, who was quoted in the Washington Post story, adds at liberal blog The Huffington Post: "While Human Rights Watch could not corroborate the details of Jabour's story, its outlines tally with what human rights groups have documented. Prisoners in the CIA program have been 'disappeared,' held for years in acknowledged detention in secret facilities, and barred from communicating with family members, lawyers, or anyone else outside."
Read more about Jabour's story.
Doin' time: Arizona native Morton Berger, 52, who was sentenced to 200 years in jail for possessing child pornography, will not have his case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Both the sentence and the squashed appeal are considered outrageous in cyberspace.
Indiana native Dave Haxton at MacRaven posts: "Methinks that perhaps we have things a bit reversed here: a conviction for rape in Arizona carries a minimum of 5.25 years and a max of 14 years."
And libertarian Jacob Sullum at Reason's Hit and Run is incensed: "Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas both believe the Eighth Amendment does not require proportionality in sentencing; it merely forbids 'cruel and unusual' forms of punishment. So if Berger had been sentenced to be flayed alive or burned at the stake, they might see a constitutional problem. But as far as they're concerned, state legislatures are free to choose a prison sentence of any length for any felony—1 million years for tax evasion, say. I'm not sure whether John Roberts or Samuel Alito have taken a position on this question yet, and I could see them siding with Scalia and Thomas. But the other justices (i.e., a majority) apply at least a 'narrow proportionality principle' prohibiting 'extreme sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the crime.'"
Read more about Berger's bicentennial lock-up.