The long-running "progressive" stance on America's 21st century imperial adventures can be reduced to this simple dichotomy: Afghan war good, Iraq war bad. And for all progressives who want to be regarded as "serious," the Iraq war is bad because it has distracted us from the real war, the good war, in Afghanistan. This theme has been sounded over and over by the "progressive" candidates throughout the presidential campaign. It is the opinion of a sizable majority of the U.S. population, which has clearly repudiated the Iraq war but still supports the Afghan war.
But a story by Carlotta Gall and Andy Worthington in the New York Times reminds us most forcefully that the Afghan war is not and has never been some separate entity from the brutal, voracious "War on Terror" machine that has killed a million people in Iraq, spawned a global gulag of torture sites and secret prisons for uncharged captives and kidnap victims, and destroyed the last vestiges of the American republic, replacing it with an authoritarian "Commander-in-Chief State" ruled quite literally by the führerprinzip, where the order of the Leader transcends any law. A poison tree can only bring forth poison fruit -- and the Afghan war is a fruit of the Terror War tree.
Gall tells the story of Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, an Afghan war hero who had fought against the Soviets, brazenly defied the Taliban – and died in the American concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay. After the American invasion replaced the Taliban with another set of vicious warlords, druglords and radical sectarians, Hekmati fell afoul of the new Bush-installed regime. In 2003, he accused the governor of Helmland province, Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, of widespread corruption – and of shielding senior Taliban members. Suddenly, Hekmati found himself accused of being a Taliban leader and high-level al Qaeda official – absurd charges, vehemently denied by all who knew him, including senior officials in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
But still Hekmati was seized by American forces– acting as muscle to protect the notorious Helmland druglord – and shipped off to the American concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay. There he rotted for five years, hauled up occasionally for kangaroo "tribunals" which refused to contact the many officials in the American-backed Afghan government who would have vouched for his innocence – even when these same officials were actively seeking out top Bush administration figures to plead Hekmati's case.
But like so many people, Hekmati's friends misunderstood the purpose of the Guantanamo concentration camp. It has nothing at all to do with "fighting terrorism," in Afghanistan or anywhere else. It has nothing to do with prosecuting the "good war" in Afghanistan and bringing peace and freedom to that ravaged land. The Guantanamo concentration camp – like the Afghan war itself – is first and foremost a display of domination. It is the precise equivalent of a vicious ape beating his chest and baring his teeth to assert his sway over the group. The fate of any one individual, however innocent, caught up in the Terror War gulag – or killed in the Terror War's military operations – does not matter in the least. They are merely means to an end – and the end is dominance, "full spectrum dominance" of world affairs. Our leading apes make no secret of this. A "unipolar world" under the hegemony of the United States has been the openly proclaimed goal of a broad swath of the bipartisan foreign establishment for many years -- especially the particularly nasty faction that has coalesced around the illegitimate presidency of George W. Bush.
And that's why the true nature of both the "good war" in Afghanistan and the "bad war" in Iraq has been equally misunderstood. Looked at from the outside, as an attempt at some kind of rational statecraft or coherent, competent military policy, the two wars look like a bloody shambles: lurching from here to there with no clear purpose, entirely counterproductive, spawning more and more of the very terrorism, chaos, extremism and repression they purport to be combatting. But if they are seen chiefly as displays – and physical manifestations – of dominance, then there is no need at all for the specific policies and tactics to make sense or be effective or aim toward a coherent goal. The display of dominance is the goal. You do whatever you need to do at any given point to keep it going: change tack, shift gears, contradict yourself, sell out one ally, buy off another, arm yesterday's enemy, kill him tomorrow – the details don't matter. The dominance is all.
And this is why we have seen so many bewildering changes and dodges in the various "tribunals" and policies regarding Guantanamo Bay. None of them are designed to produce justice for the captives – neither punishment for the guilty nor freedom for the innocent. They are simply a temporary grab-bag of elements thrown together to keep the display going from one shift in the political winds to the next. Sometimes it seems politic to dump a few prisoners out – even those previously proclaimed "the worst of the worst" – in Saudia Arabia or Britain or elsewhere, if that helps out a pal abroad or calms a little squall of bad PR at home ; at other times – most of the time – dominance is best served by keeping even the most glaringly innocent captives, like Hekmati, in chains for years.
The American concentration camp that George W. Bush has created at Guantanamo Bay is a sink of moral depravity, one of the most poisonous of the noxious Terror War fruits. And it has grown directly from the "good war" in Afghanistan. Indeed, it was first created to hold the captives and kidnap victims taken from Afghanistan. The rank evil of Guantanamo is part and parcel of the "good war," as is Iraq, and every other operation of the Terror War, at home and abroad.
As a Jewish agitator killed by the unipolar power of his day once said: A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. There is no "good war" in the Terror Imperium.
Note: For more on the inextricable links between the Afghan war and Bush's gulag tortures, see this piece from Scott Horton at Harper's.