Masters of Disaster: The Bush Gang Opens the Floodgates Again

At first glance, the Washington Post story seems to be a rather routine piece about a turf war between state officials and the federal government over disaster planning. But upon closer examination, it turns out to be a doorway into the dark, fetid heart of the Bush Regime's hell. As the Post's Spencer Hsu reports:

A decision by the Bush administration to rewrite in secret the nation's emergency response blueprint has angered state and local emergency officials, who worry that Washington is repeating a series of mistakes that contributed to its bungled response to Hurricane Katrina nearly two years ago.

State and local officials in charge of responding to disasters say that their input in shaping the National Response Plan was ignored in recent months by senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials, despite calls by congressional investigators for a shared overhaul of disaster planning in the United States...

Federal officials...appear to be trying to create a legalistic document to shield themselves from responsibility for future disasters and to shift blame to states, [said Albert Ashwood, president of a national association of state emergency managers]. "It seems that the Katrina federal legacy is one of minimizing exposure for the next event and ensuring future focus is centered on state and local preparedness," he said.

It's just as disillusioned Bush appointee John DiIulio told us back in 2003 (before he was forced into a Stalinist-style recantation): There is no policy apparatus in the Bush Administration. There is no intent to actually govern the United States. There is only an authoritarian political machine dedicated to advancing its own agenda on behalf of a very narrow elite – and to covering its ass whenever the slightest inkling of its true nature gets out. "What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm," DiIulio told Esquire's Ron Suskind in the now-famous quote. "It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

Of course, Professor DiIulio is, to put it bluntly, an educated fool, who honestly believed Bush's pre-election talk of "compassionate conservatism," who believed that the president was a man of "good heart," full of "respect and decency toward others." The learned Theban didn't seem to realize that even Ted Bundy could appear warm and caring when it suited his purpose; it's a trait shared by many psychopaths and sociopaths, and by countless leaders down through the centuries who tended their roses and enjoyed fine music and petted their children while ordering death, torture, ruin and repression on a monstrous scale.

This monstrous nature is on vivid display in the Post story on the disaster plan. As the piece clearly shows, the Bush Administration simply doesn't care how many American citizens suffer and die – from natural disasters, from collapsing infrastructure, from lack of health care, from military aggression and the terrorism it engenders. The Bushists are willing to do whatever it takes to get their way – no matter what the cost in someone else's blood and anguish.

The disaster plan double-dealing is of course just one more stream feeding the flood of moral corruption that's drowning us. The waters seem to be rising faster than ever in recent weeks; to read the news every day is like taking blow after blow in the face -- every hour a new outrage, or an old outrage refreshed and extended. The FISA debacle, the Justice Department scandals (political prosecutions, goon-squad raids on truth-tellers, etc.), the demented nuclear saber-rattling by Democratic candidates, the alarming spread of militant Christian extremism through the U.S. military under official auspices, the continuing war crime of air attacks on civilian centers in Iraq...and hanging over it all this week, the Dantean journey through the Bush Gulag in "The Black Sites," Jane Meyer's landmark New Yorker piece (well-limned here by Scott Horton, whom I drew heavily upon in the above listing.)

For those who have been following and chronicling the rise of the gulag since its inception (back in the days when its instigators and practitioners were still happy to brag to cheerleading newspapers about "taking the gloves off" and going to "the dark side"), there is not a lot that is new in Mayer's piece. But she has brought it all together with devastating thoroughness and clarity.

Mayer mentions tellingly -- but briefly -- one key aspect of Bush's torture chambers that has been largely overlooked: the key role played by a couple of psychologists in drawing up the sinister regimen (which was also based in part on KGB practices): CIA contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Mark Benjamin of Salon has much more on this pair, who devoted their clinical skills to devising ways to destroy a captive's mind -- in the somewhat bizarre conviction that a destroyed mind can somehow produce useful intelligence. (Benjamin in turn drew on a 2005 piece by Mayer about Mitchell and the Bush Regime's Mengelean use of medical personnel in interrogations.)

Mitchell and Jessen helped run the military's SERE program, originally designed to teach American forces how to resist and survive torture inflicted on them by evil regimes or terrorists. But it turns out that the Rumsfeld Pentagon and its mad scientists were using U.S. soldiers as guinea pigs to help devise their own torture program. For years, the Pentagon flatly denied using SERE tactics on the captives in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, and in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was, of course, a lie. As Benjamin reports:

Until last month, the Army had denied any use of SERE training for prisoner interrogations. "We do not teach interrogation techniques," Carol Darby, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, said last June when Salon asked about a document that appeared to indicate that instructors from the SERE school taught their methods to interrogators at Guantánamo.

But the declassified DoD inspector general's report described initiatives by high-level military officials to incorporate SERE concepts into interrogations. And it said that psychologists affiliated with SERE training -- people like Mitchell and Jessen -- played a critical role. According to the inspector general, the Army Special Operations Command's Psychological Directorate at Fort Bragg first drafted a plan to have the military reverse-engineer SERE training in the summer of 2002. At the same time, the commander of Guantánamo determined that SERE tactics might be used on detainees at the military prison. Then in September 2002, the Army Special Operations Command and other SERE officials hosted a "SERE psychologist conference" at Fort Bragg to brief staff from the military's prison at Guantánamo on the use of SERE tactics.

And Mayer notes:

The SERE program was designed strictly for defense against torture regimes, but the C.I.A.’s new team used its expertise to help interrogators inflict abuse. “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture,” a European official knowledgeable about the program said. “They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses. It takes a psychologist trained in this to understand these rupturing experiences.”

The use of psychologists was also considered a way for C.I.A. officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture. The former adviser to the intelligence community said, “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have Ph.D.s who have these theories.’”

Like DiIulio, Mitchell and Jessen were not experts sought for their dispassionate advice in determining the best policy options for government officials. All the "experts" employed by the Bush Regime are just dupes (as in DiIulio's case) or, as with the psychologists, willing stooges, brought in to act as window dressing for policies already decided upon. Bush and Cheney and their minions wanted to torture people -- not only for the psychosexual kick these genuine perverts get from it but also because it was a central element in their drive to establish an authoritarian executive unfettered by any law. They could not, as a matter of "principle," submit to the authority of the Geneva Conventions, American law or Constitutional precepts. They had plenty of scientists and practiced interrogators on hand to tell them that the KGB-SERE system was useless -- indeed, counterproductive -- in producing actionable intelligence. But they chose to listen only to those who told them what they wanted to hear, whose pseudo-science buttressed decisions they had already taken.

So of course the Bush Administration has shunned state and local emergency officials when drawing up a federal disaster plan. They are not interested in expert advice on the matter. They are not interested in the best policy options for protecting Americans from disaster and aiding them in the aftermath. As their response to Hurricane Katrina shows, they are only interested in milking a disaster for fat contracts to give to their cronies and exploiting it for political advantage. (In the case of New Orleans, this includes adopting policies to ensure that tens of thousands of the poorest refugees from the storm -- almost all of them African-American -- never return, making the city whiter, more suburban, more Republican.)

They don't want to govern; they want to rule. They simply cannot be treated -- on any issue whatsoever -- as an ordinary government engaged in ordinary tussles over politics and policy. They are not a government in any traditional sense of the word. They are the criminal vanguard of a radical movement that is now holding the nation hostage. And any political "opposition" that does not recognize this fact is worse than useless; it is, as we've said before, complicit in the gang's crimes.