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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  May 2011

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE May 2011

Subject:

Re: Raid Account, Hastily Told, Proves Fluid

From:

Michael H Goldhaber <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 6 May 2011 13:36:20 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (305 lines)

Stuart, et al.,

It's Science for the People, not one half or the other half. There is a scientific issue connected with the bin Laden killing, namely the believability of the very fast DNA determination, with 99.9% accuracy. This has been partly mitigated by the statements of bin Laden's daughter and by al Qaeda that he was indeed killed. Still I would be happy to see more discussion of this on the list. 

But the question of whether he should have been killed in the manner he was, or whether he should or could have been arrested and brought before a Nuremberg -like trial, or other civil trial, or military trial, involves complex issue of international law and other matters, as does the debate between you and Michael B. as to how much "the left" should concern itself with this question. In the heyday of SftP, we mostly stuck to science-related matters that had political implications. Even now, there is no shortage of those. Meanwhile, there are countless other fora for political questions that are little concerned with science. 

Let me add, I personally have strong  but complex views related to the questions you want addressed, Stuart. I have refrained from discussing them here because I don't see this as the proper forum. I suspect many others have similarly refrained. 

Best,
Michael

On May 6, 2011, at 12:39 PM, Stuart Newman wrote:

> Michael, while I generally agree with your advice about not going off-subject, 
> the list not only concerns "science" but also "for the people." That's why many 
> posters keep coming back to questions of social institutions, censorship, war, 
> capitialism, and socialism. If we can't air differences about what does or does 
> not consttiute government activities in the public interest, no amount of 
> discussion about science or narrowly defined science policy issues will bring us 
> forward. 
> 
> On Fri, 6 May 2011 11:57:45 -0700, Michael H Goldhaber 
> <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
>> While these issues are serious and important, I don't think they are suitable 
> for this list. Please try to confine discussion to those issues that have 
> relevant science-related content. Otherwise we could get into almost 
> anything, such as Supreme Court rulings, random Senate hearings, the 
> budget, any number of international issues, and much else. Surely there are 
> plenty of science-related issues worth discussing. 
>> 
>> Best,
>> Michael
>> 
>> On May 6, 2011, at 9:54 AM, Michael Balter wrote:
>> 
>>> This is one of Greenwald's best posts, and despite its length I read it all. It 
> is well argued, although I would add a third group to the two he characterizes:
>>> 
>>> "I think what's really going on here is that there are a large number of 
> people who have adopted the view that bin Laden's death is an unadulterated 
> Good, and it therefore simply does not matter how it happened (ends justify 
> the means, roughly speaking). There are, I think, two broad groups adopting 
> this mindset: (1) those, largely on the Right, who believe the U.S. is at War 
> and anything we do to our Enemies is basically justifiable; and (2) those, 
> mostly Democrats, who reject that view -- who genuinely believe in general in 
> due process and adherence to ostensible Western norms of justice -- yet who 
> view bin Laden as a figure of such singular Evil (whether in reality or as a 
> symbol) that they're willing to make an exception in his case, willing to waive 
> away their principles just for him: creating the Osama bin Laden Exception."
>>> 
>>> The third group would be leftists like me, who are very interested in 
> knowing all the details, but who think the left has nothing to gain by making a 
> big fight over the way bin Laden was killed and want to move on to higher 
> priority issues. Stuart continues to misunderstand my position on this. And, 
> there is little relationship between the news media updating its coverage of 
> this as it learns more details and the conspiracy theories that are already 
> circulating and which I have made reference to.
>>> 
>>> Also, I see little so far to criticize in the news media's handling of this. 
> During the first 24 hours, the media had little choice but to report what it was 
> told by Obama adminstration officials. Since then, reporters have developed 
> their own sources, both within and outside the administration (including among 
> Pakistani officials) and have increasingly reported new versions of the story as 
> the week as gone on. Most or all of what Greenwald and members of this list 
> now know about the killing of bin Laden, and most of what they will know in 
> the future, comes from the very news media they are accusing of being in 
> cahoots with the White House.
>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
>>> MB
>>> 
>>> On Fri, May 6, 2011 at 5:58 PM, Stuart Newman <[log in to unmask]> 
> wrote:
>>> Since the retailing of the Government's excuses by Elizabeth Bumiller of the
>>> New York Times, and the implicit self-justification by the Times for their 
> earlier
>>> slapdash journalism, are now offered as a scientific lesson to the conspiracy
>>> theorists on this list, I present Glenn Greenwald's latest commentary on this
>>> issue. I don't deny that it is "long", which was one of the criticisms Michael 
> B
>>> lodged against Greenwald's posts. But those not too busy to read it can 
> judge
>>> for themselves whether it is also (as claimed) irrelevant or self-righteous.
>>> 
>>> http://salon.com/a/sYzQfAA
>>> 
>>> 
>>> On Fri, 6 May 2011 16:11:15 +0200, Michael Balter
>>> <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>>> 
>>>> http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/world/asia/06memo.html?
>>> _r=1&emc=eta1
>>>> 
>>>> I'm sure conspiracy theorists won't believe a word of this, but as
>>>> scientists, we should realize that the most parsimonious explanation is
>>>> usually the correct one.
>>>> 
>>>> MB
>>>> 
>>>> May 5, 2011
>>>> Raid Account, Hastily Told, Proves Fluid By ELISABETH
>>> 
>> BUMILLER<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/elis
>>> abeth_bumiller/index.html?inline=nyt-per>
>>>> 
>>>> WASHINGTON � On Monday, the Obama administration said that Osama 
> bin
>>> 
>> Laden<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/osama_
>>> bin_laden/index.html?inline=nyt-per>
>>>> had
>>>> been killed after a firefight with Navy
>>> 
>> Seal<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/n/na
>>> vy_seals/index.html?inline=nyt-org>commandos,
>>>> and that he had used his wife as a human shield. On Tuesday, the
>>>> administration said that Bin Laden was not armed at all, and that his wife
>>>> had not been a shield, but had rushed her husband�s assaulter and was 
> shot
>>>> in the leg.
>>>> 
>>>> On Wednesday, the administration backtracked again. This time it
>>> downgraded
>>>> its initial accounts of a firefight that raged throughout the raid to
>>>> gunshots fired only at the beginning of the nearly 40-minute operation by
>>>> Bin Laden�s courier, who was quickly dispatched by the commandos.
>>>> 
>>>> What happened?
>>>> 
>>>> In the view of officials from past and present presidencies, it was a
>>>> classic collision of a White House desire to promote a stunning national
>>>> security triumph � and feed a ravenous media � while collecting facts 
> from a
>>>> chaotic military operation on the other side of the world. At the same 
> time,
>>>> White House officials worked hard to use the facts of the raid to diminish
>>>> Bin Laden�s legacy.
>>>> 
>>>> �There has never been any intent to deceive or dramatize,� a military
>>>> official said Thursday, asking that he not be named because of ground 
> rules
>>>> imposed by the Department of Defense. �Everything we put out we really
>>>> believed to be true at the time.�
>>>> 
>>>> Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security
>>> 
>> Council<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/n/
>>> national_security_council/index.html?inline=nyt-org>,
>>>> said that as more and more members of the 79-member assault team were
>>>> debriefed after the raid, revisions inevitably occurred.
>>>> 
>>>> �It was the middle of the night, it was a hectic operation in a foreign
>>>> country, there was gunfire, so people�s accounts are clarified over time
>>>> with more interviews,� Mr. Vietor said. �What we did was make as much
>>>> information available to you guys as quickly as we could, and correct
>>>> mistakes as quickly as we could.�
>>>> 
>>>> But the shifting narrative may have distracted from the accomplishments 
> of
>>>> the Seal team and raised suspicions, particularly in the Arab world, that
>>>> the United States might be trying to conceal some of the facts of the
>>>> operation, including that Bin Laden was unarmed.
>>>> 
>>>> �It�s had a hugely negative impact,� said Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and
>>>> author who is an expert on the
>>> 
>> Taliban<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/t/
>>> taliban/index.html?inline=nyt-org>
>>>> and
>>>> radical Islamism. White House officials �were overexcited, obviously,� Mr.
>>>> Rashid said.
>>>> 
>>>> �Liberal Muslims who are very sympathetic to the death of Bin Laden 
> really
>>>> don�t know what to think,� he said. �The American story is very 
> confused.�
>>>> 
>>>> From Europe, even the archbishop of Canterbury weighed in. At a news
>>>> briefing on Thursday, the Most Rev. Rowan
>>> 
>> Williams<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/w/rowa
>>> n_williams/index.html?inline=nyt-per>
>>>> said
>>>> that the killing of an unarmed man left him �uncomfortable� and that 
> �the
>>>> different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not 
> done
>>>> a great deal to help.�
>>>> 
>>>> Many of the discrepancies at the White House came from the man who 
> has
>>> been
>>>> part of the Bin Laden hunt for 15 years, John O.
>>> 
>> Brennan<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/john_
>>> o_brennan/index.html?inline=nyt-per>,
>>>> the president�s chief counterterrorism adviser.
>>>> 
>>>> �Here is Bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this
>>>> million-dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the
>>>> front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield,� Mr.
>>>> Brennan said at a White House
>>>> briefing<http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/02/press-
>>> briefing-press-secretary-jay-carney-and-assistant-president-homela>
>>>> on
>>>> Monday. �I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has
>>>> been over the years.�
>>>> 
>>>> The White House recanted Mr. Brennan�s assertions about the human 
> shield
>>> the
>>>> next day, and news media accounts later suggested that the $1 million 
> price
>>>> put on Bin Laden�s compound in the affluent hamlet of Abbottabad was
>>> highly
>>>> generous. The administration stuck with the number, but The Associated
>>> Press
>>>> has reported that the four original plots of land that were joined to create
>>>> the compound were bought for $48,000 in 2004 and 2005.
>>>> 
>>>> Administration officials said they felt an obligation to the news media and
>>>> the public to put out information about the raid after the president�s
>>>> speech late Sunday night that announced Bin Laden�s killing. They said 
> they
>>>> were also eager to get the facts out before the Pakistanis and that
>>>> country�s powerful spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services
>>> 
>> Intelligence<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizatio
>>> ns/i/interservices_intelligence/index.html?inline=nyt-org>,
>>>> or ISI, offered their own facts and interpretation of events.
>>>> 
>>>> �Do we think it�s a good thing for the ISI to be the first ones out of the
>>>> box?� an administration official asked rhetorically, alluding to the belief
>>>> among administration officials that some elements of the ISI may have ties
>>>> to Bin Laden and the Afghan Taliban.
>>>> 
>>>> But the people who had the best information about the raid, the Seal
>>>> members, did not undergo detailed debriefings until after they flew back to
>>>> the United States, a Congressional official said. As the official told it,
>>>> the Seal commandos returned to their base, went to sleep, were woken 
> up
>>>> Tuesday morning � and then the extensive debriefings began.
>>>> 
>>>> It is unclear whether the early information about the raid came from quick
>>>> conversations with the Seal members, their commanders or other people
>>>> involved. But administration officials said Thursday that everyone in the
>>>> American government � in the White House, the Pentagon and the
>>> 
>> C.I.A.<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/c/c
>>> entral_intelligence_agency/index.html?inline=nyt-org>
>>>> �
>>>> was working off the same sheet of information.
>>>> 
>>>> Public affairs professionals from previous administrations in Washington
>>>> were generally sympathetic. �They were in a tough spot,� said Victoria
>>> 
>> Clarke<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/victoria
>>> _clarke/index.html?inline=nyt-per>,
>>>> a Pentagon spokeswoman from President George W.
>>> 
>> Bush<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/george_
>>> w_bush/index.html?inline=nyt-per>�s
>>>> first term. �First reports are always wrong. It�s a fundamental truth in
>>>> military affairs.�
>>>> 
>>>> David Rohde contributed reporting.
>>>> 
>>>> --
>>>> ******************************************
>>>> Michael Balter
>>>> Contributing Correspondent, Science
>>>> Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
>>>> New York University
>>>> 
>>>> Email:  [log in to unmask]
>>>> Web:    michaelbalter.com
>>>> NYU:    journalism.nyu.edu/faculty/michael-balter/
>>>> ******************************************
>>>> 
>>>> "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the 
> poor
>>>> have no food, they call me a Communist." -- H�lder Pessoa C�mara
>>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
>>> -- 
>>> ******************************************
>>> Michael Balter
>>> Contributing Correspondent, Science
>>> Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
>>> New York University
>>> 
>>> Email:  [log in to unmask]
>>> Web:    michaelbalter.com
>>> NYU:    journalism.nyu.edu/faculty/michael-balter/
>>> ****************************************** 
>>> 
>>> "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the 
> poor have no food, they call me a Communist." -- Hélder Pessoa Câmara
>> 
>> 

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