Empire Burlesque
"Making Friends With Evil": A Fable for Our Times
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 15 May 2010 23:18

Arthur Silber outdoes himself with this one-two punch of an essay. It begins with a tale that pierces to the essence of what we are -- and what we are becoming -- under our murderous imperium. The second half unfolds some of the implications of the fable in the hard facts of the present day, taking off from the almost indescribable depravity of the current "debate" over Barack Obama's open assertion of the power to assassinate anyone on earth at his arbitrary order, and the continuation of torture under the current administration, despite all the bright shining lies to the contrary.

Silber ends with an adjuration that encapsulates, with searing clarity, something I have been trying to say for a long time:

Consider again the nature of the subjects under discussion: the immense evil of torture ... and Obama's claim that he has the "right" to assassinate anyone without judicial process or evidence of any kind whatsoever, simply because he says so. Reread the little story offered above. And then be brave enough finally to state the truth, at least in what should be the sacred space of your own mind:

This is insane.

This is monstrous.

This is deeply, unforgivably, irredeemably evil.


Here is a note for those who write and talk about these issues. If you write on these subjects and if you talk about them regularly on radio and television, and if you do not state -- repeatedly, with all the conviction and passion that you can command -- that actions of this kind are insane, monstrous and deeply evil, you are not opposing the monstrousnessness. You are accommodating it, seeking excuses for it, trying to minimize it -- or, to use the phrase I often employ in my own notes -- you are "making friends with evil."

If you do this, you are not fighting against the monstrousness. You are part of it.


But don't be content with just an excerpt. Go read the whole piece, and the links.

 
Sympathy for the Oval: Seeking Shreds to Cover the Naked Truth of Power
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 23:57

The fact that the Obama Administration is operating a secret prison in Afghanistan in which captives rounded up on the usual little or no evidence are being tortured even as we speak -- and even as the president was making his funny-haha jokes about predator drones -- does not come as any surprise. The horror of this reality is by now so routine that it almost defies comment. Or as Arthur Silber puts it in a powerful new essay:

The concept of "depravity" has been rendered close to meaningless. When so much of what happens every day, here and abroad, is so unfathomably depraved, what does it signify to state that another 40 murders of innocent human beings represent still one more monstrous act, or that the torture of another dozen or three dozen or a hundred innocent human beings is unforgivably evil, or that the rape of another 10 or 30 or 50 girls and women constitutes a crime so immense in its magnitude that it makes all commentary completely beside the point, and even itself obscene?

None of it is fully real. Most of it is never even noticed. None of it appears to matter, not in ways which cause a critical number of people to resist in ways which might momentarily slow down the machinery of cruelty and death.


So today I am not going to go through blood-soaked chapter and shit-smeared verse on this latest continuous atrocity, nor dissect the howling, puke-evoking hypocrisy of the Comedian-in-Chief of the War Machine. Instead, I just want to note one comment I ran across in reading about the story. It's from a leading progressive voice, Digby, who does, to her credit, go through chapter-and-verse on the gulag hell-hole.

Citing several sources, she notes that this week's Red Cross confirmation of the secret prison's existence was preceded by extensive reporting on the prison -- and the atrocities carried out there -- by well-known media outlets with impeccable Establishment credentials: the BBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. None of these institutions can remotely be suspected of taking a radical -- or even skeptical -- line when it comes to the operations of state power. It takes a mountain of proof to move them to the slightest criticism of the operations of empire (as opposed to the petty machinations of our scheming courtiers). Thus when they do report extensively on a particular government depredation, citing eyewitness accounts and other evidence, you can be sure these Establishment paladins have already shaved away any taint of advocacy and triple-plated themselves with fact-checking to rebut assaults from their friends and contacts in the circles of power. Indeed, nine times out of ten, their revelations come from the circles of power, with one faction leaking damning facts to undermine a rival gang.

Yet after her admirable recitation of the facts, and their dire implications, Digby comes out with this surprising confession:

I've held off on this issue because of the unequivocal denial by the military that the prison existed and I was willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt. Now that the Red Cross has confirmed that the prison does exist, we know for sure that the military was lying --- and the benefit of the doubt goes to the former prisoners.


She "held off" on the matter, which had been thoroughly reported by the BBC, NYT, WP ... because the Pentagon had denied it. And why would she do such a thing, given the ceaseless flow of lies that has issued forth from that many-sided militarist monument squatting out in the swamplands of Hell's Bottom? Because she wanted to "give the new administration the benefit of the doubt."

The benefit of what doubt? Did she really believe that the Pentagon had somehow been born again through the soul-cleansing election of Barack Obama? The man who, er, retained the leadership of the Pentagon that George W. Bush had put in place? The man who placed a master of black ops and dirty war in charge of the entire "Af-Pak" campaign? A man whose military machine has been caught lying over and over and over and over again about a ceaseless flow of atrocities it has committed -- under his command?

And what is this "new administration" she speaks of? Obama will soon have been in power for 17 months. (He had been in power for 16 months when the BBC issued its first report on the prison). When does an administration cease being "new," with its leaders and agents regarded as genial greenhorns, fumbling their way, learning as they go -- "ya really gotta cut 'em slack on this, they haven't hit their stride yet." In any case, Obama has been intensely involved in the Afghanistan war since the very beginning of his term. Indeed, he has already masterminded not one but two "surges" of the conflict, as well as greatly expanding the murderous campaign of assassinations in Pakistan, killing hundreds of people, terrorizing hundreds of thousands, and exacerbating hatred and extremism at every turn. Afghanistan is Obama's war -- he asked for it during the campaign, and he has willingly made it his own. He has his own hand-picked commander in charge (plucked from the pool of Bushist brass, of course), and he -- he alone -- made the decision not only to keep Bush's Pentagon warlord, but to make him one of his closest advisers.

So I ask again: why would anyone feel compelled to give the Obama Administration the "benefit of the doubt" when it comes to atrocities in Afghanistan -- especially those reported by "respectable," mainstream media institutions?

Digby goes on to make what is, in some ways, an even more surprising statement:

I should have known better. Any administration which declares that it has the right to unilaterally order American citizens to be assassinated obviously isn't going to be squeamish about a little torture, is it?


Yes, exactly. How on earth could someone be cognizant of this universal murder program -- openly announced by Obama's security chief -- and still think that this "new administration" deserves the benefit of the doubt when mainstream media outlets release highly credible stories detailing the continuing atrocities of America's bipartisan gulag? As I wrote here last month:

Let us hear no more excuses for Barack Obama. Let us hear no more defenses, no more special pleading, no more extenuations. Let us have no more reciting of the "pressures" he is under, of the "many obstacles" that balk him in his quest to do us good, of the "bad advisors" who are swaying him to unworthy acts against his will. Let us be done at last with all these wretched lies, these complicitous self-deceptions that are facilitating atrocity and tyranny on a monstrous scale.

Barack Obama has ordered the murder of an American citizen, without trial, without due process, without the production of any evidence. All it takes to kill any American citizen in this way is Barack Obama's signature on a piece of paper, his arbitrary designation of the target as a "suspected terrorist." In precisely the same way -- precisely the same way -- Josef Stalin would place a mark by a name in a list of "suspected terrorists" or "counterrevolutionaries," and the bearer of that name would die. This is the system we have now, the same as the Soviets had then: a leader with the unchallengeable power to kill citizens without due process.

That this power has not been used on the same scale in the American system as in the Stalinist state -- yet -- does not alter the equivalence of this governing principle. In both cases, the leader signs arbitrary death warrants; the security services carry out the task; and the 'great and good' of society accept this draconian power as necessary and right.

This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. It does not matter if you think his opponents in the factional infighting to control a blood-soaked empire and its war machine are "worse" than he is in some measure. When you support him, when you defend him, when you excuse him, it is arbitrary murder that you are supporting. It is the absolute negation of every single principle of enlightenment and human rights professed by liberals, progressives -- indeed, by honorable people of every political stripe -- for centuries.


Yet still, after this, leading liberal voices can say, "Well, the Pentagon says that the BBC, the NYT and WP are all wrong about this nasty secret prison thing. And this new administration -- which I know full well is committed to killing people, even my fellow citizens, without the slightest pretense of due process, and which I know full well still has the proven liars of the Bush War Machine in charge of its operation -- deserves the benefit of the doubt." It boggles, as they say, the mind.

This is not a personal slam at Digby, whose diligent work in continuing to expose the creeping "taserization" of American society I find particularly valuable. Nor am I entirely without understanding of the way that tribal political loyalties can pull strongly on one's reasoning, like the moon working its power on the tides. But at this late date, for this in-no-way new administration, which has laid out its true corporatist-militarist-imperial nature with glaring, painful clarity, it is still striking, even shocking, to see the contortions of accommodation that so many are still willing to put themselves through, in the hope of keeping at least a scrap of obscuring cloth over at least a portion of the naked horror that confronts us.

 
After the Fire: Militarism in Ruins
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 09 May 2010 14:41

Der Spiegel has published a series of striking pictures recently discovered in the forgotten archives of a Berlin publishing house: photographs of city scenes in the immediate aftermath of Nazi Germany's surrender.

First, in what the magazine aptly calls a "surreal image," Red Army soldiers gather before the ravaged Brandenburg Gate for a poetry reading, with the city still smoking from its death-struggle.



Next, grim street scenes: one of the innumerable suicides of German civilians as the Russians entered the city, wreaking a dreadful vengeance for their 20 million dead; and one of the thousands of Nazi soldiers killed in the final battle.



Finally, life carrying on, as it will, whatever the circumstances: Red Army soldiers distributing bread to Berlin women -- slicing it with a captured Nazi dagger.

 

 
The Poetry of Death: Patterns of State Terror
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 10 May 2010 14:06

The found poetry of state terror continues its strange mutilations of the English language. The bizarre verbal heavings of Donald Rumsfeld, for example, are rightly celebrated as choice examples of the genre. And noted English playwright David Hare once fashioned a whole play built largely on the "thought-tormented music" wrought from verbatim transcripts of the principal authors of the war crime in Iraq.

In this regard, as in almost every aspect of the Terror War, "continuity" has been the hallmark of the Obama Administration. But we would do the progressive, forward-looking president a grave disservice if we were to imply that this dynamic, historic figure has confined himself to mere continuity. No, in field after field of governmental endeavor, Barack Obama has striven mightily not just to uphold the many authoritarian and militarist innovations of the Bush Administration, but to expand them -- increasing their scope and depth, codifying, normalizing and making permanent many practices which his predecessors had enshrouded with ambiguity, deception and deliberate murk. Bush and Cheney were afflicted with a vestigial embarrassment at the howling illegality and constitutional subversion of many of their Terror War policies, and seemed to fear these acts would provoke some kind of public outcry or political controversy -- or even prosecution -- should they be made too explicit.

But our cool, savvy and thoroughly post-postmodern president carries none of that dead lumber from our long-vanished past. Where Bush was content with smirks and hints about his assassination program, Obama is bold, sending his security chief to declare openly before Congress that the president now has the unrestricted right and power to murder anyone, Americans included, in cold blood, by the simple expedient of declaring his victim a suspected terrorist of some vague description. Whereas Bush and Cheney usually resorted to backroom bureaucratic knife-twisting or bombastic but empty public threats to try to silence and cow officials who expose high crimes of state, the Obama Administration brazenly brings down the draconian power of federal prosecution against whistleblowers. Our progressives-in-power will not just take away your government job or bluster at your editors if you give your fellow citizens a glimpse of the blood-soaked sausage-making that goes on behind the imperial curtain; no, they will put you in the penitentiary, to rot away with murderers and child abusers, which is where they rank all such treacherous tellers of truth.

So we should not be surprised to find the Obama Administration outstripping its mentors and models from the Bush years in the production of Orwellian nomenclature. Nor is it remarkable that these perversions of language are leading to further perversions of law, morality and plain common sense.

We refer to the recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the vast expansion of the CIA's powers to murder people in Pakistan with missiles fired by robot drones. These remote-control killings were originally aimed at specific, known, named individuals suspected of being top "militant" leaders. But now, people are being targeted not because of any action they are known or alleged to have taken, but simply because they seem to fit an arbitrarily designated "pattern of life" -- even if the remote-control killers don't know the victim's name.

This "pattern" is put together from clumps of data gathered by surveillance robots hovering high in the sky above Pakistani towns and villages, watching people as they go about their ordinary business, and from whatever bits of local gossip the CIA can glean from paid operatives raking through their neighbor's private lives. Naturally, the CIA refuses to describe "the standards of evidence" by which it decides to kill unknown, defenseless people with missile strikes on houses, compounds and neighborhoods. And of course, the Agency claims it is targeting only "militants" (however that infinitely elastic term is being defined these days).

Yet at the same time, the Terror War operatives cannot resist boasting that they are sweeping up so much information that they can determine "the characteristics of individual people." And since is it the pattern of observed daily life that yields the designation of a person as a "militant," the CIA must inevitably be tracking countless numbers of innocent people as well. Otherwise, how could they discern specific "patterns of life" that indicate the existence of a hitherto unknown "militant" within a given population? You can only get such data by observing that population as a whole.

In other words, the program, for all its technological whizbangery, is essentially a crude KGB-style rape of the privacy of individual human beings, whose lives are a forced open book, with every action and interaction being judged by a remorseless spy, holding the power of life and death in his hands. People who act "suspiciously" -- by unknown criteria, determined in secret -- can be killed without warning, without trial, without charge, without even their names being known to their killers. But here, of course, our thoroughly modern president outstrips the KGB, which usually picked off its victims piecemeal, quietly, individually. Nowadays, we send heavy missiles screaming through the sky to destroy whole buildings and city streets in order to kill one unnamed, unknown suspect who has somehow exhibited the wrong "pattern of life." In almost every case, many people -- sometimes dozens -- die with the victim, regardless of the "pattern of life" they displayed for the deadly peeping toms on the Potomac.

As the Times notes, this particular tactic of state terror was initiated in the last year of the Bush Administration, but has been greatly expanded and "even streamlined" by the Obama Administration. The result has been the deaths of hundreds of people. As the Times reports:

Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information. In some cases, the CIA discovered only after an attack that the casualties included a suspected terrorist whom it had been seeking.‬

The CIA was directed by the Bush administration to begin using armed drones to track Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda figures, as well as Taliban leaders who fled to Pakistan's tribal areas after the Sept. 11 attacks.

President Bush secretly decided in his last year in office to expand the program. Obama has continued and even streamlined the process, so that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta can sign off on many attacks without notifying the White House beforehand, an official said.

Missile attacks have risen steeply since Obama took office.


Note the telling little details. In some cases, it is only after an attack that our CIA guardians (or more likely, their paid private contractors) discover there was a suspected militant among the smoking, stinking pile of dead bodies that their drones have left behind. And the "vast majority" of these officially claimed 500 victims (the true number of dead is much greater, of course) were killed on the basis of "only fragmentary information" at best. What's more, the LAT reports that these deadly attacks are being carried out in Pakistan at the rate of one every three and a half days.

Let's be clear. A program like this, conducted on such a broad and relentless scale, is in no way aimed solely at eliminating individual "militant leaders" or even "insurgent networks." It is, quite demonstrably and unarguably, a terrorist campaign, designed to terrorize the target populations into acquiescence with the attacker's agenda. Again, despite its use of advanced technology and sophisticated Orwellian techniques -- Big Brother in the sky, with a bomb -- it is no less primitive, morally and politically, than a carload of fireworks and fertilizer left to explode on a city street. The only result of the program will be to engender more hatred of the United States (and of the vaunted "civilized values" the United States purports to represent), and to provoke more retaliation, more bloodshed, more extremism.

This is the "pattern of death" that a system based on terror, violence and domination will inevitably produce. You can pervert the language that surrounds it, cloaking it with security-geek jargon, or fine phrases about freedom and security; you can tell jokes about it, turning stone-cold mechanized killing based on "fragmentary information" into a jolly jape to titillate sycophantic journalists and vacuous celebrities. You can do anything you like to disguise the reality of your terrorist campaign -- but you cannot change that reality on the ground where it is occurring, nor stop the reverberations from your evil and idiotic actions from spreading their turbulence in ways you have never foreseen, and can never control.

 
Cold Irons Bound: All Together on the Road to Ruin
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 06 May 2010 14:27

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
-- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

"Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand." -- Homer Simpson

Our text today is from Tom Englehardt, who is on the case with yet another ignored atrocity by our super-duper Special Ops boys in the goodest good war of them all out in Afghanistan. (See the original for the many links):

"Afghan lawmaker says relative killed after U.S. soldiers raided her home." ...

[H]ere it is in a nutshell: there was a U.S. night raid somewhere near the Afghan city of Jalalabad.  American forces (Special Operations forces, undoubtedly), supposedly searching for a "Taliban facilitator," came across a man they claimed was armed in a country in which the unarmed man is evidently like the proverbial needle in a haystack.  They shot him down.  His name was Amanullah.  He was a 30-year-old auto mechanic and the father of five. As it happened, he was also the brother-in-law of Safia Siddiqi, a sitting member of the Afghan Parliament.  He had, as she explained, called her in a panic, thinking that brigands were attacking his home compound.

And here was the nice touch for those U.S. Special Operations guys, who seem to have learning abilities somewhat lower than those of a hungry mouse in a maze when it comes to hearts-and-minds-style counterinsurgency warfare.  True, in this case they didn’t shoot two pregnant mothers and a teenage girl, dig the bullets out of the bodies, and claim they had stumbled across "honor killings," as Special Operations troops did in a village near Gardez in eastern Afghanistan in March; nor did they handcuff seven schoolboys and a shepherd and execute them, as evidently happened in Kunar Province in late December 2009; nor had they shot a popular imam in his car with his seven-year-old son in the backseat, as a passing NATO convoy did in Kabul, the Afghan capital, back in January; nor had they shadowed a three-vehicle convoy by helicopter on a road near the city of Kandahar and killed 21 while wounding 13 via rocket fire, as U.S. Special Forces troops did in February.  They didn’t wipe out a wedding party – a common enough occurrence in our Afghan War — or a funeral, or a baby-naming ceremony (as they did in Paktia Province, also in February), or shoot up any one of a number of cars, trucks, and buses loaded with innocent civilians at a checkpoint.

In this case, they killed only one man, who was unfortunately — from their point of view — reasonably well connected.  Then, having shot him, they reportedly forced the 15 inhabitants in his family compound out, handcuffed and blindfolded them (including the women and children), and here was that nice touch: they sent in the dogs, animals considered unclean in Islamic society, undoubtedly to sniff out explosives.  Brilliant!  "They disgraced our pride and our religion by letting their dogs sniff the holy Koran, our food, and the kitchen," Ms. Siddiqi said angrily.  And then, the American military began to lie about what had happened, which is par for the course.  After the angry legislator let them have it ("…no one in Afghanistan is safe — not even parliamentarians and the president himself") and the locals began to protest, blocking the main road out of Jalalabad and chanting "Death to America!," they finally launched an investigation.  Yawn.

If I had a few bucks for every "investigation" the U.S. military launched in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years after some civilian or set of civilians died under questionable circumstances, I might be on vacation year around.

The U.S. military can, however, count on one crucial factor in its repetitive war-making: kill some pregnant mothers, kill some schoolboys, gun down a good Samaritan with two children in his car trying to transport Iraqis wounded in an Apache helicopter attack to a hospital, loose a whirlwind that results in hundreds of thousands of deaths — and still Americans at home largely don’t care.  After all, for all intents and purposes, it’s as if some other country were doing this on another planet entirely, and "for our safety" at that.

In that sense, the American public licenses its soldiers to kill civilians repetitively in distant frontier wars.  As a people — with the exception of relatively small numbers of Americans directly connected to the hundreds of thousands of American troops abroad — we couldn’t be more detached from "our" wars. 


This is a theme, a reality, that is emerging more clearly as the years of the never-ending Terror War drag on: by and large, the American people do not care about the innocent people being killed, in their names, all over the world. They don't care about "the children’s limbs hanging in trees," as war's eyewitness John Pilger puts it.

They don't care -- even as the inevitable, predictable blowback from these murderous polices comes home to roost on their own streets, the icy voice of revenge that says: "You come to our countries and kill our people; we will come to your country and kill yours." The former is considered a high and noble calling; the latter an act of unspeakable evil. That violence is not the answer -- that it only perpetuates the endless cycle of murder and vengeance that has marked our humankind since our mutation out of apehood -- is of no moment to those who see their loved ones shredded to death unjustly before their eyes.

What would I do if I came home from an ordinary day at work to find my children -- my children -- dead beneath the ruins of my drone-struck house? What would I do if saw my ailing father muscled from his home by masked goons who beat him and humiliate him then drag him off, bleeding, dying, to some iron-fronted dungeon? I hope I would have the strength to hold onto my belief in non-violence as the only hope to one day evolve our natures, and our cultures, beyond their deep-dyed savagery. But how likely is it that I would be that extraordinary, that I would have the extra measure of wisdom to know that more death and destruction would not bring back my loved ones, but only keep the cycle going to devour more innocents? How likely is it that I would have the moral courage to fight off the "cloud of blood and hormones" that drives the craving for revenge?

Not too likely, I fear; not in my case, nor in that of most others. Yet every day -- day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year -- atrocities like those described above are being carried out, in the name of the American people, in the name of civilization, in the name of our "way of life." Every day, day after day, some father or mother finds their children's limbs hanging in the trees, some child finds his parent's broken bodies smoking in the rubble, some ordinary, innocent human being sees their loved ones beaten, chained, abused and killed. Every day, day after day.

Only a fool -- a bloody-minded, arrogant, puffed-up, pig-ignorant fool -- could not see the horrific harvest of hate and destruction that will spring from such evil seeds. Only a fool -- or an elitist so wadded in wealth and privilege that he believes these monstrous fruits will never touch him personally, and doesn't care what happens to the rabble below, as long as his profits -- and his primitive, psychosexual lust for forcible dominion -- remain safe.

We are ruled today by just such fools, together with just such cold, deadened, malevolent spirits. But we seem to be content with this. Indeed, the most vociferous, active dissent we see these days comes from those who feel the system is not cruel enough -- who rage at the very thought that tax money might be spent to help someone in need, or that the borders have not yet been laced with radioactive razor-wire, or that accused criminals still have their rights read to them, or that Iran has not been destroyed, or that the power of Big Money might in any way be hedged with light restrictions.

These things bring thousands out in anger: but murder, aggression, torture, atrocity, and corruption on a scale unseen and hitherto unimaginable in human history -- these leave them cold ... as cold as the malevolent spirits who with their useful fools accelerate our degradation.

*This piece has been edited since its original posting.

 
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