Empire Burlesque
Cage Match: Gitmo Case a Snapshot of America’s Imperial Soul
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 01 December 2014 01:04

Andy Worthington asks a burning question: “Why is Shaker Aamer still at Gitmo?” And after detailing the case of Aamer — an innocent man sold to the American security forces by the human traffickers who partnered with the CIA in Afghanistan, a man who was cleared for release from the American concentration camp seven years ago — Worthington suggests the likely answer:

Aamer knows too much about the torture regime at Gitmo, and has been too vocal in standing up for fellow prisoners throughout his illegal captivity — and has made it clear he will continue to speak out against the inhumane conditions in the camp.Worthington’s piece should be read in full, but here are a few excerpts:

Imagine being imprisoned, year after year, despite having been told that your captors had undertaken a high-level review process and no longer wanted to hold you?

At the United States’ detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, is facing just that situation. More than seven years ago, the George W. Bush administration approved Aamer for release from the detention facility. Five years ago, the high-level interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Barack Obama when he took office, also approved him for release (PDF) and told him he would be freed, along with 125 others, once the necessary arrangements were made.

When releasing its illegal captives, the United States insists that its victims’ home countries (or some other country) will be willing to take them. As Worthington notes, for seven years, the British government has been calling for Aamer to be returned to the UK, his home country. Thus even by the perverted rules of the American concentration camp system, there should be no bar to Aamer’s released. He’s been cleared by the Bush administration; he’s been cleared by the Obama administration; his home country stands ready to welcome him, and has continually called for his release. So why he is still be held captive? Worthington writes:

We know that Aamer has been an eloquent defender of prisoners’ rights from the moment he was handed over to the U.S. by bounty hunters in Afghanistan, where he had traveled with his family to provide humanitarian aid. We know that he has been a leader in the prison, because of his outspoken criticism of conditions at Guantánamo, and has tales of torture and abuse to share with the world.

Perhaps this fear of embarrassment is the only thing preventing the United States from ending Aamer’s 13-year imprisonment and allowing him to rejoin his wife and children in Britain.

A man sold into captivity by crooks working with spies to facilitate the vast, endless expansion of America’s imperial war state (a plan laid out years ago by some of the top leaders of the American elite, as we have noted here so often before): this is the reality of the American state. This is what we are now, this is what we do. Yet people still get exercised, on both left and right, over the question of which bloodstained murderer will preside over this slaughterhouse of human values for the next four years. They still think this is the democracy they were taught about in school. They still think that if we can just get the right peachy-keen person in charge of this world-ravaging war machine, then all will be well. I confess that I can no longer fathom such wilful blindness to reality, such utter moral idiocy.

 
Continuity in Kyrgyzstan: The Same Old Imperial Game Goes On
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 24 July 2009 13:18

The New York Times tells us that the ongoing political crackdown in America's Terror War ally Kyrgyzstan is an example of the difficult "challenge" faced by  the Obama administration as it seeks to "balance" its strategic needs with its "concerns" for human rights.

But of course this is not a "challenge" at all. It's remarkably simple. When you are conducting wars of imperial domination in far-flung, hard-to-access lands, you must keep the local satraps sweet -- unless or until you can replace them with your own hand-picked stooges. Everything else is just window dressing for the rubes back home.

In Kyrgyzstan, there is the added element of the local thug getting backing from another Great Gamester, the Kremlin. Theoretically, such a thing could complicate matters, but in this particular case, it does not, because Washington and Moscow are both backing the same side in Afghanistan's protracted civil war. Obama has already wrung new levels of cooperation from Russia's double-headed leadership in pushing his broad military escalation in Afghanistan. And in any case, the Kremlin is a hobbled gamester these days, concerned mostly with protecting its flanks against further encroachments on its historic hegemony – and protecting its own hand-picked stooges, such as the savage Chechen warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, whose critics are being assassinated one by one. The Kremlin is also concerned with fending off the bristling missile bases the United States is installing around its frontiers, with the Obama Administration eagerly taking up and advancing the Bush Regime's aggressive provocation.

But back to Kyrgyzstan, where the oh-so-progressive peaceniks of Brand Obama have tossed that milksoppy 'human rights' jazz overboard and are lavishing love and largess on the increasingly brutal strongman, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Shall we be dull and mention "continuity" yet again? I'm afraid we must. For here, as elsewhere – everywhere – imperial concerns (known as "strategic issues" in our ever-obfuscating Beltway jargon) trump all others. As Scott Horton notes at Harper's, referring to the Times' account of brutal beatings doled out to Bakiyev's opponents:

In a recent description of challenges to his administration, he put the word “freedom” in first place. Is he concerned that the Kyrgyz have too much of it? Accounts like the one above suggest that he’s out to give “freedom” a good, sound thrashing. So how does the United States react? Since early 2002, the Kyrgyz Republic has had an important position in Washington’s view—it is home to Ganci Air Force Base. And maintaining that military installation has been the alpha and omega of U.S.-Kyrgyz relations. The collapse of the nation’s nascent democracy hardly seems to be given a second thought.


To sum up, it seems the government of Kyrgyzstan is repressive, undemocratic and corrupt. But because it's willing to offer a plot of land for yet another outpost in America's empire of military domination, all is forgiven.

Which suggests that if Iran wants to get past its little spot of bother with Washington that keeps cropping up – you know, where America's "chief diplomat" constantly declares her doubts that, er,  diplomacy will resolve any of the Empire's problems with Iran, and warns that the "nuclear clock is ticking" toward some promised if unspecified unpleasantness if Tehran doesn't knuckle under – then the mullahs should consider hosting a couple of big ole American bases in the Persian hinterlands.

After that, the Iranians – like Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki, who is currently "hosting" more than a quarter of a million American forces (public and private) and signalling his willingness to keep them on indefinitely – could arrest, repress and torture who they please, without a discouraging word from Washington. A win-win situation all around!

 
Pay for Play: Brief Glimpses of the System at Work
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 24 July 2009 00:22

Many, many years ago, when I was a young pup of a reporter on a small rural paper in the foothills of the Appalachians in East Tennessee, one of my very first assignments was to attend a court hearing on a murder case, then meet afterwards with one of the most senior law enforcement officers in the county, who would be giving testimony in the case. This officer frequently provided the paper with photographs of the latest drug raid or big arrest his force had made.

I went to the hearing, then met the officer. He was, literally, a towering figure, topping six-foot-five, and sporting a thin Errol Flynn moustache, perhaps to offset his thinning hair. He was a powerful, popular figure, and one of the top leaders in a statewide law enforcement association; indeed, he spent several weeks a year training his colleagues in the latest modern methods of crime-fighting and professional law enforcement management.

I'd never met the man, but when I introduced myself as the reporter from the Herald, he gave me a big smile, took my hand with a crushing grip, and sat me down on a bench in the old, antebellum courtroom. He pulled out a roll of 35mm film in its plastic canister and handed it to me. As he handed it over, he clamped his massive hand down hard on my thigh and gripped it tight. "Here's your pictures," he said in a low voice. "If you do right by me, we'll get along just fine. But if you try to screw me, you're fucked."

Then he let go, stood up, and went off, smiling and back-slapping his way through the citizens milling in the hallway. Well, he got good coverage during the time that I was at the paper. He was very cooperative with the press; I went on several drug raids with his forces as they turned houses inside out -- the officers were particularly tickled when they found sex Polaroids the suspects had taken of themselves; although these were not germane to the charges at hand, they were examined far more closely than the actual evidence. I even went on what must surely have been one of the last moonshine raids in the Tennessee hills, after a long trek deep into the backwoods, where some nostalgic old-timer had set up a still -- even though the county, which was still nominally "dry," was ringed with numerous package liquor stores; you were never more than ten minutes' drive from all the hard liquor you could want.

But the "press" -- such as we were -- never had the time, or the resources, or the publishers' blessing to pursue the more troubling rumors that floated around the law enforcement star and several other bigwigs in the area. These chiefly involved cooperation between law enforcement, top financial entrepreneurs and criminal organizations to facilitate the transport of illegal drugs into the area, chiefly through private airstrips set up in far corners on palatial estates.

This was, oddly enough, the same basic set-up that I encountered, or heard credible tales of, in every American newspaper where I worked -- in East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and down in Mississippi. In every case, there was prima facie evidence (and sometimes more than that) of a local worthy -- banker, music star, famous evangelical -- providing the facilities for drug-running while the law looked the other way. And in every case, there was a lack of resources -- and institutional will -- to pursue the allegations further. In the one instance where there was an effort to follow one of these trails, a top editor and I were set to drive to New Orleans, where a televangelist's planes were allegedly being used to fly in dope from Central America. But the night before we were to leave, I got a call at home from the editor: "Our sources tell us we'd better not meet with [the man who would corroborate the allegations.]" Why not, I asked. "They say we'll never make it out of New Orleans alive." So we didn't go.

I was reminded of all this ancient personal history by the recent story in the New York Times about the latest round of corruption arrests in New Jersey. Mayors, councilmen, city, county and state officials, rabbis -- all are alleged to be operating a crime network ranging from international money-laundering to good, old-fashioned cash in an envelope (or even a cereal box) in exchange for government favors. This was not the case of a "few bad eggs," but a veritable platoon of community leaders.

It was, in other words, another brief glimpse behind the curtain of how the world really works a good deal of time, at every level. There is always some powerful person somewhere clamping their hands down on somebody's thigh and muttering, "Play ball, and it's jake; screw me and you're fucked." Every now and then, someone will make a play too large for the pull they can muster to cover themselves; or maybe someone with bigger pull wants to muscle in on their patch, and brings the heat -- or, occasionally, a straight-up unit or prosecutor will get the goods and somehow run the gauntlet of protective barriers that hedge in the powerful.

But the fact is, many, many, many people in power whom we are incessantly told -- even ordered -- to respect and obey are dirty. They lie, they cheat, they steal, they commit or countenance heinous crimes. Sometimes the corruption comes in the form of a wad of cash passed under the table at a diner; sometimes it comes in the form of "bundled contributions" to a national campaign or arcane legal entity designed to receive, process -- and launder -- cash for politicians dripping with piety; or, even more often, in the form of the golden revolving door between government service and corporate sinecures. Sometimes the crime is looking the other way when a plane comes in loaded with dope; sometimes the crime is sending the planes in loaded with bombs.

A few years after I left the Appalachian foothills, my old thigh-clamping pal was convicted on felony gambling charges (as always, its the venial sins of the flesh that bring you down, not the pay-offs, strong-arming, commission of war crimes, etc.). But today he is once again a prominent, popular politician in the area. The evangelist whose drug-laden planes were allegedly landing in Louisiana is still a prominent, popular evangelist, despite a couple of highly publicized falls from grace with sultry jezebels. And the music star whose private airstrip on his vast rural manor was allegedly used to ferry dope is still a music star, noted now for his fierce Christian piety and rock-ribbed patriotism.

 
Landmarks of Loss and Love: Being Human in Horrible Times
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 28 November 2014 00:42

Moscow-based American writer and critic John Freedman has penned a tremendously powerful piece on his blog, Russian Culture in Landmarks. Writing a response to an article by Russian-born writer Martha Gessen in the New York Times, Freedman has encapsulated, in so many ways, the experience of those of us who, in this grim and ugly century, have "lost" both our countries -- the America that gave us birth, and the Russia which, as with Rilke, became our "spiritual homeland" -- to bizarre, brutal, murderous, belligerent, xenophobic, mean-spirited, wilfully ignorant perversions of themselves. In America, in Russia, and in so many other places around the world, what is best in human nature has indeed been “captured by aliens and stuffed into a trunk” — to borrow Freedman’s chillingly apt evocation of the poem by Alexander Timofeevsky.

Freedman writes:

Russia has been my intellectual, emotional and aesthetic raison d’etre for many, many decades. I have lived in Moscow for many decades. I’ve published a lot of books about Russian culture. I have been followed by the KGB and the FSB. I have been, essentially, kidnapped and interrogated. My phones and my apartments have been tapped. My car has been stolen (probably by the authorities), I have been recruited openly and otherwise to be a snitch. I have lost most of what little money I had in various defaults, financial crashes and monetary reforms. I have been the victim of vandalism and slur campaigns. And through it all I didn’t give a damn. Because my love for Russia and its culture was that strong. It was that strong. All that other crap was just that, crap. All I cared about, figuratively speaking, was Pushkin. Erdman. Dostoevsky. Tolstoy. Gogol. Kurochkin. Korkia. Klavdiev. Mukhina. Ginkas. Bakshi. Krymov. Yukhananov. It’s unfair to begin a list because the list must stop somewhere and the riches of Russian culture, the riches that have fed me for most of my adult life are such that the list could damn near be endless.

So when Masha Gessen writes about love, I know what she means. I have lived that love. And that love has held me strong through trying times. And then “the present” came. I’m going to say “the present” came in late 2010. It’s an arbitrary choice, but it’s more or less when Vladimir Putin truly began pushing his people over the edge and some of them began pushing back. What we have witnessed since then is something akin to the mayhem of a slaughterhouse gone mad. The arrests, the harassment of peaceful citizens, the murders of journalists and lawyers attempting to do their job, the bizarre machine of lawmaking that seeks to ban the human being from thinking at all (outlawing curse words, outlawing the questioning of official history, outlawing “propaganda of a gay lifestyle”), the use of hatred to inspire love of country, the vilification of anyone daring to have his or her own opinion, the use of lies, lies, lies, bold, brazen lies as an excuse for anything the state wishes to do …

But the bigger point is this – as this tsunami of insanity has inundated those of us living in Russia, the worst, the most horrible, the most untenable, the most inexcusable aspect of it all has been the way the vast majority of Russians have either turned a blind eye – “Oh, I don’t know anything about it!” – or embraced it …

I have been accused – by former friends and by utter strangers – of being a spy, of being here to undermine Russia, of being one of those from the West who has destroyed Russian values.

As this cacophony of nonsense and words built up, I found myself drifting farther and farther from my love until we lost touch with one another. This was followed by despair and utter confusion fueled by outrage and deep, gnawing sorrow. One cannot live like that. One either loves or one dies.

Reading Freedman’s words, I was thinking, Yes, the same thing has happened in America too: the wilful, bellicose blindness, and the widespread embracing of horrors that in my own lifetime would have once been considered monstrously “un-American,” not to mention evil and inhumane by any moral standard. And of course, I’d spent the last 13 years — since my first columns questioning and denouncing the militarist American empire in the aftermath of 9/11 — being called a traitor, a subverter out to destroy America and its sacred values. etc.  Then, reading further, I saw that Freedman also recognized the similarities:

I am not setting myself up in opposition to [Gessen] at all … On the contrary, I share with her that love and loss of it. It’s traumatic, believe me. Moreover, Gessen is talking about losing her own native culture and a feeling for it. …  I also want to say that I, as an American, can fully share Gessen’s disillusionment with her own native culture. I mean, let’s be honest, I am writing this as streets in many U.S. cities are burning once again, because … yes, again, a young black man or boy has been shot by a white policeman who gets off scot-free. This is to say nothing of my disgust over the complete collapse of the American political system, which now has been simplified to this: He with the most dollars wins (notice I don’t bother to add “she” because it’s always a “he”). I, too, like Masha Gessen gazing upon a home culture that nurtured her and then scorned her, know that horrible feeling of realizing that my home is no longer my home. The shock of realizing that your home has been lost while you were making tea, flirting with the neighbor, or scrubbing the toilet, has never been described better than by the great poet Alexander Timofeevsky, who wrote in his long, narrative poem Tram Car No. 37:

Russia was pilfered by aliens.
In five minutes they beamed her up,

Squashed her down, and stuck her in a trunk.

Meanwhile, as you and I were busy dreaming,

Somebody replaced her with a counterfeit.

These are grim times. Monstrous, ugly, implacable — and seemingly immovable — systems of power hold increasingly brutal sway over vast areas of the earth`; a monstrous weight crushing hope and light out of the future. But as Freedman writes, you either love, or die.  One way Freedman combats our age’s despair and soul-death is through his blog, which focuses on the deepest currents of Russian culture, on what remains eternally true — worthy of love, expressing the always-provisional, eternally-failing but ever-striving desire to find and hold and nurture and enhance “the better angels of our nature.”

Although Freedman’s post is very personal, and deals mainly with Russia, it has an insight that reaches beyond the particulars of person and place and geopolitics. It calls us back from the pit of our despair, calls us back to the fight, the only fight that matters: the struggle to deepen the meaning of what it means to be human, in ourselves and in our relation to all others.

 
Battle Cry: Candidate Paul Appeases the Masters of War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 17:07

Oh dear. Rand Paul, favorite candidate of those who dream of an anti-imperial coalition of hardcore libertarians and the antiwar left, has popped many a bubble this week with his proposed Senate bill to declare war on ISIS.

Supporters will doubtless say that Paul (like another young politician on the make who served as a blank screen for his followers' aspirations for genuine hope and change) is merely playing "11th dimensional chess" with the move, trying to put America's war machine back on a Constitutional footing, while outflanking potential rivals for the GOP nomination who might otherwise have painted him as "soft" on killing large amounts of people with massive amounts of expensive and profitable machinery.

But Paul is not simply calling the war machine's bluff. As Antiwar.com points out, he has already been supporting the American return to war in Iraq; he now wants to codify it, constitutionalize it -- and, remarkably, expand it beyond the admittedly porous "limitations" that the Warmonger-in-Chief has placed on the effort so far.

As with every other intervention in the West's great Terror War, even the militarists' own intelligence services are pointing out the obvious fact that the war on ISIS is actually strengthening extremism throughout the region and elsewhere. Yet Paul -- who has garnered broad national interest chiefly through his antiwar and anti-imperial rhetoric -- wants to double down on the new war. He could have moved to have Obama impeached for waging unconstitutional war -- but he chose instead to seek legitimization and expansion of America's decades-long atrocity in Iraq.

The war bill is yet another confirmation that Paul is damn sure running for president in 2016. More shrewd than his father, he knows that you must prove your bloody bona fides to the powers-that-be if you want a chance to take your turn at the top. No doubt the keepers of the coffers of our war profiteers are already looking favorably in young Rand's direction.

As so many have done before him, Paul has decided that state power -- so dreadsome elsewhere, especially if it threatens to restrict the rapacious greed of the powerful in any way or, god forbid, make the least effort at helping anybody -- is fine and dandy when it's used to slaughter people. Especially if you hope to have your own finger on the trigger.

 
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