Things That Go Bump in the Night: The President and His Perverts

Arthur Silber is back and, as usual, loaded for bear in "New Barbarians of the Middle Ages, and the Living Dead." Here, he features a long take from a recent article by Slavoj Zizek on one of the most shocking developments of our shocked-and-awed days: the widespread acceptance of torture as "business as usual" for the American State. Especially as evidenced in the "serious" discussions about the "confessions" waterboarded and beaten out of extremist operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. As Zizek puts it:

In a way, those who refuse to advocate torture outright but still accept it as a legitimate topic of debate are more dangerous than those who explicitly endorse it. Morality is never just a matter of individual conscience. It thrives only if it is sustained by what Hegel called "objective spirit," the set of unwritten rules that form the background of every individual's activity, telling us what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

For example, a clear sign of progress in Western society is that one does not need to argue against rape: it is "dogmatically" clear to everyone that rape is wrong. If someone were to advocate the legitimacy of rape, he would appear so ridiculous as to disqualify himself from any further consideration. And the same should hold for torture.

But as Silber has shown in a series of devastating articles (some of which he links to in the current piece, and all worth full and careful reading), it is true beyond any dispute that the same assumption of evil imputed to rape does not apply to torture in American society any longer. Indeed, in many quadrants of the "Bush Base," torture is actively celebrated – as even the briefest dip into the gaseous swamp of the Bootlicking Right (Limbaugh, Malkin, Savage, Beck, O'Reilly, Coulter, etc, etc) will show.

And of course, Bush himself has openly championed "tough interrogation methods" used in secret prisons, based on principles that he approved when Alberto Gonazales, John Yoo and other factotu
ms in the poison kitchen cooked up the "legal briefs" and presidential directives that declared Bush above the law and greenlighted any form of torture that did not cause near-fatal physical damage to the victim. (Although the Bush memos did explicitly provide a giant loophole for any interrogator who got carried away and actually killed a chained, helpless prisoner, saying that if the torturer did not intend to kill the victim, why then, that's OK.) We know that Bush signed off on the Yoo vision of approved savagery just short of the point of death or permanent crippling, as well as the tyrannical notion that the president alone can determine what is legally torture and what is not. Thus, when Bush speaks of "tough interrogation methods" – which he and his minions adamantly refuse to reveal – yet insists that these methods "are entirely legal," we know the true parameters of these operations.

Nor is the cancerous moral relativism of the Bush Imperium confined to torture. The embrace of torture – implicit on the part of an un-outraged public, explicit in the declarations of Bush and his followers – is part of the general acceptance of lawlessness and authoritarianism as bedrock components of the new, post-constitutional American state. The twinning of these latter scourges may seem paradoxical at first, but of course they are intimately connected. Where an authoritarian ruler claims – and exercises – arbitrary power over the lives and liberties of citizens, then law is a dead letter: it means only what the ruler says it means, and it cannot be used against the ruler and his minions, no matter what their depredations.

For those who believe we have yet not reached that point in the United States, Glenn Greenwald provides an incisive look at how the Republican Party has become an openly, thoroughly authoritarian faction – and will remain so even after Bush has crawled back to Crawford. Indeed, in its ardent championing of unrestricted executive power, the mainstream Republican Party is now to the right of such European neo-fascists as Jean-Marie Le Pen and Jörg Haider.

Which brings us to the august and authoritative New York Times, which on Sunday informed us that there were "Some Bumps at Start of War Tribunals at Guantánamo." Think about that. "Some bumps." Turn it over in your mind. "Some bumps."

Who would have thought we would live to see the day that the nation's leading news journal could address the sickening farce of a kangaroo court at an American concentration camp with a headline about "some bumps" in the process – as if this process was some kind of normal function of a constitutional republic, and not a gross and flagrant usurpation, a rape of every principle and ideal upon which the nation was founded?

"Some bumps." Men held for years on end, without charges, many of them simply sold into captivity by bounty hunters or personal enemies, or caught up in blind sweeps by occupation soldiers (like the tens of thousands of people imprisoned by US forces in Iraq during the past four years; at one point, the Red Cross estimated that between 70 to 90 percent of America's Iraqi captives were innocent of any criminal charge, much less "terrorist" or "insurgent" activity), are then subjected to a pseudo-judicial process concocted and controlled by the "unitary executive" – this is described as "some bumps." A few growing pains for the new-style legal machinery of the authoritarian Terror War state.

But to be accurate, only a select few of the multitudes of Terror War prisoners will be subjected to this process; most will remain in permanent legal limbo, as Zizek notes of Mohammed:

Mr. Mohammed has become what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls "homo sacer": a creature legally dead while biologically still alive. And he's not the only one living in an in-between world. The American authorities who deal with detainees have become a sort of counterpart to homo sacer: acting as a legal power, they operate in an empty space that is sustained by the law and yet not regulated by the rule of law.

The chosen few are brought before the kangaroo court for various propaganda or political reasons. The latter was obviously the overriding concern of the recent "trial" of long-term Gitmo captive David Hicks of Australia. It was his "trial" – a goon show from the word go – that was the subject of the "bumps" story in the NYT. However, some courageous voices in the Australian press were not as circumspect as the leading American news journal in reporting the grim carnival.

From the Sydney Morning Herald: Trial would have done Stalin proud – lawyer.
Excerpts: The secret agreement that resulted in David Hicks facing only nine more months in prison may do fatal damage to an already discredited system of dealing with terrorism suspects, legal experts say. The combination of a sentencing deal arranged behind closed doors and the conditions imposed on Hicks, including a year-long gag order and a declaration that he was never tortured, has shown the process to be a political and not legal one, Australian and US observers say.

Robert Richter, QC, one of Australia's most experienced criminal lawyers and a Hicks supporter, said the trial was a sham that had wholly discredited the Pentagon's war-crimes process. "The charade that took place at Guantanamo Bay would have done Stalin's show trials proud," Mr Richter said in a commentary for The Sunday Age. "First there was indefinite detention without charge. Then there was the torture, however the Bush lawyers, including his attorney-general, might choose to describe it. Then there was the extorted confession of guilt."

…Lex Lasry, the Australian QC who observed the tribunal for the Law Council of Australia, said the conditions attached to the deal were suspicious. Hicks would be locked away and forbidden to speak publicly until after the federal election later this year.

"What an amazing coincidence that, with an election in Australia by the end of the year, he gets nine months and he is gagged for 12 months from talking about it," Mr Lasry said. A lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, Ben Wizner, said if Hicks was such a menace to Western security, "why was he given a sentence more appropriate for a drunk-driving offence?"

Thus Bush repays the man he has called his "deputy sheriff," the knuckledragging Australian leader John Howard. And thus every American citizen is mocked and abused by the moral perverts cackling behind the fortress walls of the Bush Imperium, cynically – and very deliberately – gutting the last remains of the American republic, in their headlong and entirely purposeful plunge into authoritarian rule.