Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Again, why the Internet is Good.

Sometimes when I get to feeling like too many people are agreeing with me, I mosey on over the National Review's website. I try to keep up the habit of reading contrary opinions on matters, just like everyone says you should, and somewhere I got the idea that the National Review was the zenith of enlightened conservative intellectualism. But if this is the case, conservative ambitions to power will be stuck in the black hole of Calcutta a lot longer than anyone is predicting (snap!).

Take for example Andrew McCarthy's 'expose' on the torture memos called The Real Interrogation Scandal.

A two-page ramble to confuse whether or not it's okay for the U.S. Government to "shock the conscience" in it's dealings with foreigners, Mr. McCarthy manages to confuse not only the meaning of the word law, but also this tragic misquote. From his article:

In fact, back then, when it was expedient to be tough on terror, Holder was telling anyone who would listen that these al-Qaeda savages who murdered Americans absolutely did not deserve Geneva Convention protections.

To carp now about the rule of law is shameful. The rule of law hasn’t changed. But they have.

He links to a NRO Corner Blog post, which in turn quotes this WSJ page which finally quotes (without link) Eric Holder on CNN on January 28th, 2002 as saying:

One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people.

It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war. If, for instance, Mohamed Atta had survived the attack on the World Trade Center, would we now be calling him a prisoner of war? I think not. Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not.

Now, the WSJ post is simply a quote, with the attribution "Eric Holder (Barack Obama's choice for Attorney General), on the question of whether unlawful combatants captured in the war on terror are entitled to prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention. From an interview on CNN, January 2002."

Even though the full transcript also exists online, they have chosen not to link to it. As this is an archival page, it makes a little bit of sense, as you don't want broken lings on archival pages. The real problem is that each layer of linking assigns slightly less context and slightly more subtext. The WSJ purports to present Holder's response to a question, even though they did not his whole (and arguably meaning-changing) response. The NRO Corner Blog post is simply titled "Holder On Geneva Conventions" and introduces the quote with "Eric Holder on CNN, January 2002:" using brevity not only to imply that this is the full extent of what he has said, but linking to the WSJ page rather than the full CNN transcript to reinforce the finality and certainty of his opinion at the time. Finally, we come to the "Real Scandal" article, which merely links to the NRO Corner Blog post as it frames the quote in an entirely different meaning, using this tertiary-source material as proof that Eric Holder did not believe suspected-terrorist detainees "absolutely did not deserve Geneva Convention protections."

Of course, that's not at all what Eric Holder said. The complete response from that question follows:

. . . Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not.

And yet, I understand what Secretary Powell is concerned about, and that is we're going to be fighting this war with people who are special forces, not people who are generally in uniform. And if unfortunately they somehow become detained, we would want them to be treated in an appropriate way consistent with the Geneva Convention.

So it seems the NRO has shielded itself under several layers of both literal and metaphorical meta-content (nerrrr!). No wonder their thinking is so limited and insular--they are trapped under a blanket several links deep. How long did it take to find the original transcript? Try googling "eric holder geneva cnn 2002 interview."

All of which brings me back to my original point. The Internet is Good. Newspapers are suffering, which is bad. We need newspapers. But the solution is not necessarily roped-off pay-per-content. Eric Holder's response is important. He's the Attorney General. Newspapers can manipulate it. If google's webcrawlers can't get to your content (are you hearing me, scientific community? how about you, authors of books published by large publishing houses?) how will people know it exists? Of course, I mean my generation of people who know how to use the internet. Not Andrew McCarthy's generation who apparently only know how to read other things in the National Review.

Remember Kids, the Embedded Link is a tool, not a toy. Use it responsibly.