System of a Down: Powers, Principalities and the Sacred Right to Torture

At his Harper's blog, Scott Horton demonstrates how the architects of George W. Bush's filthy torture regimen are now holding positions that allow them to protect themselves and their masters from the legal consequences of their actions.

Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Crouch, a former military prosecutor, was due to testify to a Congressional subcommittee about the Administration's attempt to suppress evidence of torture in "Military Commission" trials of alleged terrorists. But at the last minute, he was blocked from testifying by the Pentagon's general counsel, William J. Haynes II, on specious grounds that Horton blows out of the water.

And who is William J. Haynes II? As Horton notes, Haynes was:

Donald Rumsfeld’s lawyer, who continues to serve as general counsel after the Senate Judiciary Committee gave a thumbs-down to his nomination for a federal judgeship in the Fourth Circuit (“Over my dead body,” in the words of one Fourth Circuit Republican). Mr. Haynes is one of the prime torture conspirators, and the author of a December 2002 memorandum endorsed by Rumsfeld that has already provided the basis for two criminal indictments of the former Defense Secretary. Haynes is one of the Bush Administration officials most likely to be indicted for his role in the torture scandal when he steps down from office. Mr. Haynes has a strong reason to prevent Col. Couch from testifying, since almost anything he would have to say would be embarrassing to, and might even incriminate, Mr. Haynes.

Horton continues:

But then let’s consider the other side of this. The Constitution, federal law and three rulings of the Supreme Court all make clear that oversight of the Military Commissions process is vested in Congress. So on what basis do Pentagon officials obstruct Congress’s exercise of its oversight function? Mr. Whitman evidently feels under no compunction to explain that. Perhaps because he has no explanation.

Now here we come to the crux of the matter. What do you think Congress will do about this rank and flagrantly illegal obstruction of justice? I know and you know: nothing. Oh, some bold Democrat might issue a stern statement that they are going to send a stern letter to the Pentagon asking for clarification of this matter, and if they don't get a satisfactory answer within a reasonable amount of time, why they might have to write another stern letter threatening to issue a subpoena at some point down the line -- a summons which the Bush Regime will ignore as they have done so many other times, which will no doubt occasion yet another stern letter or two.

Meanwhile, the torturing will go on. The Bush Regime doesn't even try to hide it anymore; in fact, they are rubbing it in the faces of the slack-jawed goobers in Congress: "Hey, how about our boy Mukasey? He won't even condemn waterboarding, an atrocious practice that's been outlawed and denounced for hundreds of years -- and which our own government used to prosecute as a war crime -- and you're still going to approve his nomination! Yeah, we're waterboarding, all right. We're waterboarding out the wazoo. We're waterboarding like there's no tomorrow. Hell, we even go out back and waterboard the dogs sometimes. You oughta hear them bitches squeal, it's a real hoot! And waterboarding is just the tip of the iceberg, baby, just one of the treasure trove of 'intensive questioning' techniques we've scooped up from the KGB and North Korea and the Saudis and the Egyptians and the Israelis and Genghis Herbert Walker Khan. It's out there, Clyde, high and wide, we're not ashamed of it. And you're gonna swallow it, ain't you? You're just going to lay back of your own volition -- we won't even have to tie you down -- you'll put the rag on your own face yourself and say, Pour it on, big daddy, waterboard me!"

This is where we are now. This is the government -- and the "opposition" -- that we have. Just think of it: the Bush Administration -- and their bootlicking sycophants in the rightwing anthill -- has now made torture the defining essence of the United States government, the "litmus test" for public service, as Rosa Brooks noted in the LA Times (quoting another piece by Horton):

...the GOP has a new litmus test for its nominees: Will you or will you not protect U.S. officials who order the torture of prisoners?

As Scott Horton reports in his Harper's Magazine blog: "Several days before his first meeting with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Michael Mukasey's Justice Department handlers arranged a private meeting for him with a number of 'movement conservatives.'... They pushed aggressively on the torture question. They wanted Mukasey to pledge that he would toe the administration's line" by not criticizing the administration's approval of waterboarding and similar interrogation techniques, and they wanted him to "protect those who authored the [interrogation] program" by issuing opinions that would keep those responsible for the program from facing criminal prosecution.

In his Senate testimony, Mukasey made it clear that he shared this agenda. He was conciliatory on a wide range of issues, but even when it looked as though his confirmation was at risk, he refused to give an opinion on whether waterboarding constitutes torture or is legally prohibited. That was his line in the sand.

And yet these sinister wretches -- blood caked all over their thousand-dollar suits -- are still treated, even respected, as the legitimate custodians of the constitutional Republic they have brutally defiled. Witness the ersatz-Hamlet pose of "progressive" champion Russ Feingold, agonizing in public over the vexing question of whether he should vote against the torture-enabling, tyranny-approving Mukasey as attorney general. In the end he did cast a meaningless vote against the nominee -- albeit reluctantly, larding his statement with praise. As we have noted before, the only honorable and self-respecting thing an legislator could do in these degraded times is simply to say of every single nominee offered up by the blood-caked suits: "Anyone who would agree to work with this criminal enterprise is automatically unfit to hold office, whatever other qualifications they may have."

Oh, but the Democrats are being cagey, we are told; they're being savvy, being tactical. They're holding their fire, playing it cool, not wanting to appear divisive or partisan, just waiting for the presidency to fall back into their hands in 2008. And then, and then....

Then what? The Democratic nominee looks certain to be Hillary Clinton -- whose husband buried a whole boatload of previous Bush crimes after he took office in 1993, as Robert Parry reports in his book, Secrecy and Privilege. If Clinton I had allowed justice to pursue the various Bush I scandals to the end, we would have been spared the hideous, murderous farce of Bush II's reign. The name of Bush would have been so rightly tainted that L'il Pretzel would never have gotten anywhere near close enough to steal the 2000 election. Is there anyone who believes that Clinton II would pursue Bush II's manifold crimes any more diligently than her husband? The Clintons and Bushes are so close now they'll probably be vacationing together after the election. "Hey, Hill, you gave me hell out there on the campaign trail -- and I wasn't even runnin', ha ha!" "Well, George, you know how the game is played. No hard feelings, ha ha ha!" "Naw, Hill, no sweat. Gimme another one them Coors there; thank god I don't have to pretend about booze anymore, ha ha! Say, where did Bill and Laura get off to....?"

No mainstream Democrat will ever allow full-fledged criminal investigations and prosecutions of Bush II officials for torture and the war crime of military aggression. You know and I know that's not going to happen. We will get, at most, some soaring rhetoric about "healing national wounds" and "coming together again" and "moving on." (With the outside possibility of a few small fry being offered up as sacrifices, to let the Dem president preen as the "restorer of the rule of law" -- and also purge the Republicans, and Bush, of the worst taint: "Hey, it was a few bad apples, and now they're gone. We've got a clean slate!")

So let's not wring our hands like Russ Feingold, fretting over the Regime's nominees. Let us simply reject, adamantly and utterly, anyone put forward by the Bush Administration -- and anyone who approves anyone put forward by the Bush Administration.

And let us at last be done with the fatal pretense that what we are witnessing today in the war of aggression and the torture program are some kind of aberration, the result of "bad apples" in the White House and Pentagon. Let us instead embrace the truth spoken by Simone de Beauvoir, about the "war on terror" that her native France waged in Algeria (and which is quoted to apt effect by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine):

To protest in the name of morality against "excesses" or "abuses" is an error which hints at active complicity. There are no "abuses" or "excesses" here, simply an all-pervasive system."

It's not just Mukasey. It's not just Haynes. It's not just Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Rove (or Hillary or Bill). It is the all-pervasive system that is crushing us. Or as another writer once put it:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.