One of our leading wise men, William Blum, bears no frankincense or myrrh this holiday, but instead brings his usual penetrating insights, informed by decades of observation -- and courageous resistance -- to the depredations of the American Empire. Check out his archive of reports -- and much more -- at his website, www.killinghope.org. Here's an excerpt from his latest. But don't cheat yourself; go read the whole thing.
December 16 ... I'm standing in the snow in front of the White House ... Standing with Veterans for Peace ... I'm only a veteran of standing in front of the White House; the first time was February 1965, handing out flyers against the war in Vietnam. I was working for the State Department at the time and my biggest fear was that someone from that noble institution would pass by and recognize me.
Five years later I was still protesting Vietnam, although long gone from the State Department. Then came Cambodia. And Laos. Soon, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Then Panama was the new great threat to America, to freedom and democracy and all things holy and decent, so it had to be bombed without mercy. Followed by the first war against the people of Iraq, and the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia. Then the land of Afghanistan had rained down upon it depleted uranium, napalm, phosphorous bombs, and other witches' brews and weapons of the chemical dust; then Iraq again. And I've skipped a few. I think I hold the record for most times picketing the White House by a right-handed batter. And through it all, the good, hard-working, righteous people of America have believed mightily that their country always means well; some even believe to this day that we never started a war, certainly nothing deserving of the appellation "war of aggression".
On that same snowy day last month Julian Assange of Wikileaks was freed from prison in London and told reporters that he was more concerned that the United States might try to extradite him than he was about being extradited to Sweden, where he presumably faces "sexual" charges. That's a fear many political and drug prisoners in various countries have expressed in recent years. The United States is the new Devil's Island of the Western world. From the mid-19th century to the mid-20th, political prisoners were shipped to that god-forsaken strip of French land off the eastern coast of South America. One of the current residents of the new Devil's Island is Bradley Manning, the former US intelligence analyst suspected of leaking diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Manning has been imprisoned for seven months, first in Kuwait, then at a military base in Virginia, and faces virtual life in prison if found guilty, of something. Without being tried or convicted of anything, he is allowed only very minimal contact with the outside world; or with people, daylight, or news; among the things he is denied are a pillow, sheets, and exercise; his sleep is restricted and frequently interrupted...
This is but a tiny incident from the near-century buildup of the American police state, from the Red Scare of the 1920s to the McCarthyism of the 1950s to the crackdown against Central American protesters in the 1980s ... elevated by the War on Drugs ... now multiplied by the War on Terror. It's not the worst police state in history; not even the worst police state in the world today; but nonetheless a police state, and certainly the most pervasive police state ever — a Washington Post study has just revealed that there are 4,058 separate federal, state and local "counterterrorism" organizations spread across the United States, each with its own responsibilities and jurisdictions. The police of America, of many types, generally get what and who they want. If the United States gets its hands on Julian Assange, under any legal pretext, fear for him; it might be the end of his life as a free person; the actual facts of what he's done or the actual wording of US laws will not matter; hell hath no fury like an empire scorned.
....Another group of people who should learn a lesson from all this are the knee-reflex conspiracists. Several of them have already written me snide letters informing me of my naiveté in not realizing that Israel is actually behind the release of the Wikileaks documents; which is why, they inform me, that nothing about Israel is mentioned. I had to inform them that I had already seen a few documents putting Israel in a bad light. I've since seen others, and Assange, in an interview with Al Jazeera on December 23, stated that only a meager number of files related to Israel had been published so far because the publications in the West that were given exclusive rights to publish the secret documents were reluctant to publish much sensitive information about Israel. (Imagine the flak Germany's Der Spiegel would get hit with.) "There are 3,700 files related to Israel and the source of 2,700 files is Israel," said Assange. "In the next six months we intend to publish more files."
Naturally, several other individuals have informed me that it's the CIA that is actually behind the document release.
The sham trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Russia is rightly being protested by those who have a right to do so: Russians in Russia, where more than a thousand people braved the batons of Kremlin storm-troopers to decry the travesty of justice in his recent conviction on more trumped-up charges. You do not have to warm to Khodorkovsky himself, a former oil oligarch who fell out with the power structure that enriched him, in order to denounce the thuggish authoritarianism that his persecution represents. I have courageous friends among those standing up in public against this injustice, putting their own bodies and livelihoods on the line, and I salute them, and all those standing with them.
There are, however, those denouncing the injustice of the Khodorkovsky trial who have absolutely no right to do so. Prominent among these, of course, is the Obama Administration, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the lead. Clinton, the foreign policy spokesperson for a government now raining death by drone on hundreds of civilians inside the sovereign territory of an American ally (among many other unjust and inhumane acts), thundered against the Kremlin for allowing "the rule of law [to be] overshadowed by political considerations."
The grand poo-bahs of the Potomac lined up to condemn the Russian government for its barbaric treatment of Khodorkovsky -- even while their own government was subjecting a 23-year-old soldier to KGB-style torture for the "crime" of telling the truth about outrageous atrocities committed by the American government in the course of an act of aggression that unleashed -- and empowered -- a living hell that has left more than a million people dead, and is still killing around 4,000 innocent civilians every year. Hillary Clinton voted to authorize this act of hyper-barbarism; Barack Obama has called the "surge" of death squads and ethnic cleansing that kept the war going "an extraordinary achievement."
The brave citizens and residents of Moscow who came out to denounce Khodorkovsky's show trial deserve all praise for their moral courage; but these bloodstained hacks of the Beltway have no standing whatsoever to inveigh against the offenses of other regimes.
The Obama administration has been loud in its denunciations of the Kremlin's perversion of justice to carry out a political vendetta. But what have these stalwart champions of human rights said about the life sentence given last week to Indian human rights activist Binayak Sen? What have we heard from the Nobel Peace Laureate, Barack Obama? What have we heard from Hillary Clinton? Not a single word.
As the Guardian reports, Sen is a "celebrated human rights activist and medical doctor, has worked for more than three decades as a doctor in the tribal-dominated areas of the state of Chhattisgarh in central India, working for people denied many of the basic services that the state should provide, such as health and education." The people he works among are among the poorest on earth. Sen is also an avowed practitioner of non-violence, walking in the path of Gandhi.
Sen is also a leading civil rights activist, who has spoken out repeatedly and forcefully against the depredations of the state government, which has launched savage "counterterrorism" operations the Maoist movement spawned by the dire poverty. These "counterterror" methods include the creation of a deadly paramilitary force, the Salwa Judum, or "Purification Hunt.'
As Jawed Naqvi reports in Dawn, "the Judum was founded not so much to track or hunt down Maoist rebels as to clear the passage of local resistance groups to enable corporate access to Chhattisgarh’s largely untapped mineral resources." Sen's chief "crime" seems to have been his vocal opposition to the state-run militia's atrocities. The official charge was that he visited an elderly prisoner who is alleged to be a Communist, and carried letters from the prison for him. As Naqvi notes, the "evidence" against Sen was threadbare, circumstantial and in some cases obviously fabricated, just as in the Khodorkovsky case.
What's more, Sen was charged under an ancient law originally imposed on India by its British colonial masters. As Kalpana Sharma notes in the Guardian:
More than 150 years ago, the British introduced a law in India designed to check rebellious natives. In 2010 this law has been used by an independent India to check activists who question government policy.
Section 124A of the Indian penal code was introduced in 1870 by the British to deal with sedition. It was later used to convict Mahatma Gandhi. ..Sen worked among the poorest and most deprived people in India, the Adivasis. The Maoists have also established their base in the tribal belt stretching through the heart of India. Their concerns are similar; their strategies diametrically opposite.
..Denied bail for two years, Sen was finally allowed out on bail last year. On December 24, a case that on all counts was weak and based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence, concluded. Sen was found guilty of sedition and other charges, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
They gave a life sentence to a man who has never raised a violent hand against the state or another human being. (He only narrowly avoided a death sentence for another charge: "waging war against the state.") A life sentence -- under a colonial law. This is the "democracy" praised by Barack Obama just a few weeks ago during a state visit to India, where he made sure to be seen paying homage to Gandhi -- whose mantle of moral courage Obama himself claimed during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, declaring:
As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But moral force means nothing when there is money to be made -- from the corporate exploitation of Chhattisgarh's resources or, in Obama's case, from hawking $5 billion worth of death machinery from America's war profiteers to the Indian government.
Protests against Sen's sentence have broken out all over India. The injustice has also provoked denunciations across the world. Even the imperial house organ, the Washington Post, published a decent news story about the case on Wednesday. (Obviously the main editors are still off enjoying the holidays.) The article, by Emily Wax, actually provides some good context to the Sen case, the larger machinations behind it, and even -- gasp! -- some understanding of how generations of poverty, despair and exploitation can give rise to an "insurgency":
In a case that has prompted denunciations by international human rights groups and scholars, prosecutors said Binayak Sen, 60, had aided Maoist rebels in rural India, visiting Maoist leaders in jail and opening a bank account for a Maoist, charges that Sen denies. Human rights activists allege that police planted evidence and manufactured testimonies, and Indian judges have criticized the Dec. 24 judgment.
Soli Sorabjee, a former attorney general, called the ruling shocking. "Binayak Sen has a fine record," he said. "The evidence against him seems flimsy. The judge has misapplied the section. And in any case, the sentence is atrocious, savage."
Sen, a pediatrician, has worked for decades to help people displaced by violence and government land seizures in India's mineral-rich regions. Despite the country's booming economy, hundreds of millions of Indians remain mired in poverty - a stubborn inequality that has helped fuel a deadly Maoist insurgency in as many as 20 of India's 28 states.
...en, who was arrested in 2007 and was not granted bail for two years, says he was targeted solely because he was a vocal critic of the government's use of armed groups to push villagers out of mineral-rich forest areas. His sentencing comes as major economies, including the United States and China, are seeking access to India's growing markets - a sign of the country's emergence as an economic superpower.
I'm afraid if Ms Wax keeps writing like this, addressing actual realities, she will soon find herself out of a job. For it is surely the pursuit of "access to India's growing markets" -- for well-connected elites, of course -- that has led to the Peace Laureate's voluminous silence on the case of Dr. Sen, and to the lack of reaction from the world's scolding schoolmarm, Hillary Clinton.
Wax even slips this passage into the article: an observation that has growing resonance not only in India:
"Anyone in India who dissents or questions the superpower script is ostracized," said Kavita Srivastava, national secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, of which Sen is a vice president. "Sen's arrest is happening because this government is extremely anti-poor. Our much-praised 9 percent growth is coming at the cost of displacing millions of people with land that is being given away for mining and corporate development."
Wax concludes her piece with these damning quotes:
"Binayak Sen has never fired a gun. He probably does not know how to hold one," historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in the Hindustan Times. "He has explicitly condemned Maoist violence, and even said of the armed revolutionaries that theirs is an invalid and unsustainable movement. His conviction will and should be challenged."
Sen's wife, also a doctor, said in an interview that she is launching an international campaign to do just that.
"He is a person who has worked for the poor of the country for 30 years," Ilina Sen said. "If that person is found guilty of sedition activities when gangsters and scamsters are walking free, well, that's a disgrace to our democracy."
Yes, when gangsters and scamsters -- and brazen war criminals -- walk free, it is indeed a disgrace to democracy. A disgrace in India, a disgrace in the thug state of Russia -- and a damnable disgrace in the United States of America, where hypocritical poltroons mouth empty pieties in their highly selective protests against injustices that pale before the crimes they are committing.
One of the most important books published in 2010 -- or indeed, in this century -- was Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions. As I noted here a few months ago, Professor Joy Gordon's "detailed, richly sourced and morally horrifying account of the sanctions era must be read to be believed. However bad you thought it was, the reality was much worse."
The latter statement is one of the key elements of the book's importance. Even if you are one of the very few who have made yourself aware of the reality of this vast crime against humanity -- digging out whatever nuggets of truth you could glean from the mountainous slagheap of lies and myth and amnesia that bury it -- you will be staggered by the picture of cold-blooded inhumanity that Gordon brings to light. (I have also written about the book in this post, which highlights a powerful review of Gordon's book by Patrick Cockburn, who added even more detail.)
Earlier this month, the UN Security Council formally voted to lift the 20-year-old sanctions against Iraq. Having launched a Hitlerite war of aggression against the country, plunging it into a living hell that has taken the lives of more than one million innocent people, displaced millions more and spread disease, ruin, terrorism, extremism and tyranny across the conquered land, the great defenders of Civilization in Washington lauded themselves for their magnificent act of clemency and mercy in ending the sanctions regime.
The story was little-noted at the time, but Professor Gordon noticed it, and penned a striking piece for the Capital Times, which also serves as an excellent introduction to her book -- and as a reminder of the continuing, murderous hypocrisy of our bipartisan elite. Below are some excerpts. And remember: much of this deadly record occurred under the "enlightened" leadership of our last "progressive" president, the Democrat's beloved Big Dawg himself, Bill Clinton -- whose wife now directs America's foreign policy. From Gordon:
Last week the U.N. Security Council voted to lift the sanctions that it imposed on Iraq 20 years ago. Vice President Joe Biden hailed the occasion as “an end to the burdensome remnants of the dark era of Saddam Hussein.”
What he did not say was that the sanctions were more than burdensome. They triggered a humanitarian crisis that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children, and the collapse of every system necessary to sustain human life in a modern society. And he certainly did not mention that among all the nations on the Security Council, it was the U.S. -- and the U.S. alone -- that ensured that this human damage would be massive and indiscriminate.
... The U.S. policies were extreme and relentless. The U.S. blocked refrigeration for medicines, on the grounds that refrigerators might be used to store agents for biological weapons ... The U.S. blocked child vaccines and yogurt-making equipment on the grounds that the Iraqi government might use them to make weapons of mass destruction. ... The U.S. prevented Iraq from importing water tankers during a period of drought, while there were epidemic levels of sickness from drinking water unfit for human consumption. ... At one point, a U.S. official came before the 661 Committee with a vial of cat litter, and informed the members, in all seriousness: “This could be used to stabilize anthrax.”
No one else found the U.S. justifications to be plausible. UNMOVIC, the U.N.’s weapons inspectors, disputed many of the U.S. justifications for blocking humanitarian goods. ... Still, the U.S. rarely relented.
The U.S. insisted that these policies were aimed at Saddam Hussein. But it was obvious that they had little to do with him. Iraq’s political and military leadership, and the wealthy elite, were insulated from the hardship. But the population as a whole was not. To destroy a country’s infrastructure, to reduce a nation to a pre-industrial condition and then keep it in that state, means precisely that it will be unfit to sustain human life. The reports of U.N. agencies and international organizations such as the Red Cross ensured that U.S. officials knew, with certainty, exactly what harm was being caused by U.S. policies.
While Vice President Biden tells the world that the end of the sanctions means that Iraq can now move forward to a bright future, what he does not say is that in fact there was damage that was irreversible, including child deaths and stunted growth from years of malnutrition. What he also does not say is that the rest of the damage -- the collapse of the infrastructure, the terrible deterioration in industry, agriculture, electricity, health and education -- was not just due to Saddam Hussein’s indifference. However much harm Saddam did to the Iraqi people, the U.S., for over a decade, made it far, far worse.
These excerpts are just part of the story. You should read the whole article, then read the book. As our public life -- and our common humanity -- become more and more degraded by the relentless, howling maelstrom of lies and meaningless inanity that pours down on our heads day after day, the task of preserving our historical memory -- the record of reality -- becomes more urgent all the time. Professor Gordon has performed an heroic task in reclaiming the story of this atrocity from the efforts of our corporate and militarist and political elites to erase it.
Tonight, in the tenth year of the 21st century, the government of the United States is torturing a young man -- one of its own soldiers -- whom it has incarcerated but not indicted. He has been held in solitary confinement for months on end, subjected to techniques of sleep deprivation taken from the Soviet gulag, denied almost all human contact except from interrogators, constantly harassed by guards to whom he must answer every few minutes -- all in an attempt to break his mind, destroy his will, degrade his humanity and force him to "confess" to a broader "conspiracy" against state power.
His name is Bradley Manning. He is 23 years old. The "crime" he is accused of committing is releasing video evidence of an American atrocity committed years ago in Iraq: the murder of Iraqi civilians by helicopter gunships. Under the American system of jurisprudence, of course, he is considered innocent until proven guilty of this heinous 'crime' of truth-telling. He has not been tried or convicted of this charge, or any other crime.
Yet tonight, in the tenth year of the 21st century, in the United States of America, under the leadership of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama, 23-year-old Bradley Manning is being subjected to same tortures routinely inflicted on other unindicted, untried captives of the militarist state.
Journalist Andy Worthington, who has been one of the most thorough and assiduous chroniclers of the modern American gulag, has noted the parallels between the treatment imposed on Manning and that doled out to earlier prisoners of the bizarre, lawless limbo concocted by the American war machine for those who threaten -- or are perceived to threaten -- its ever-expanding, ever-more corrupt operations around the world. Worthington states that the conditions of Manning's imprisonment
bear a marked and chilling resemblance to the conditions in which a handful of US citizens and residents were held as “enemy combatants” under the Bush administration. The key elements here are the elements of profound isolation and suffering ... not just the solitary confinement, with no other human being for company, but also the refusal to allow Manning to have a pillow, sheets, or any access to the outside world through the reporting of current affairs.
It is these factors that mark out his conditions of detention as sharing some key elements with the conditions endured by the three “enemy combatants” held on the US mainland under the Bush administration — the US citizens Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, and the US legal resident Ali al-Marri.
... al-Marri, along with two American citizens also held as “enemy combatants” — Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla — was subjected to the same “Standard Operating Procedure” that was applied to prisoners at Guantánamo during its most brutal phase, from mid-2002 to mid-2004. This involved the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including prolonged isolation, painful stress positions, exposure to extreme temperature, sleep deprivation, extreme sensory deprivation, and threats of violence and death. ...
There is, at present, no suggestion that Bradley Manning has been subjected to a wide range of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but prolonged isolation is confirmed, and depriving him of a pillow, sheets, or any access to the outside world through the reporting of current affairs are all elements of discomfort and further isolation that were key to the program of belittling and punishing “enemy combatants,” and, crucially, “softening them up” or “breaking” them for interrogation. It is, sadly, all too easy to imagine that other techniques designed to disorientate Manning and to further erode his will — involving elements of sleep deprivation, threats and sensory deprivation — could also be applied, or are, perhaps, already being applied, especially if, as has been suggested by the Independent, the authorities are hoping to cut a plea deal with him, reducing a 52-year sentence in exchange for a confession that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, whom the US is seeking to extradite to the US, was not just a passive recipient of the information leaked by Manning, but was instead a conspirator.
As Glenn Greenwald and others have documented, the known treatment being meted out to Bradley Manning is itself a profound form of torture. Indeed, isolation, sleep deprivation, incessant harassment and constant interrogation were primary methods of the torturers in the Soviet gulag, who in many cases did not resort to more "enhanced" techniques unless the pressure was on from above to produce large numbers of "convictions" and "evidence" of conspiracies in a hurry. These techniques -- the same techniques now used under the command of the Peace Laureate -- were considered highly effective and severely punishing tortures in their own right. They are now at the center of the American gulag's treatment of its captives.And, as Worthington ominously notes, we have no way of knowing at this moment whether "enhanced" techniques are being used on Manning as well.
I am running out of words to describe the depths we are sinking into. I am running out of ways to try to shake people from their stupor and shock them into an awareness of the monstrous evil that is rising all around them. Even those who proclaim themselves the progressive friends of all humankind spend most of their time and energy wringing their hands over the political tea leaves, parsing the strategy and tactics of the partisan squabbles between the two scarcely-distinguishable factions of the militarist establishment. And while they are sometimes bold enough to criticize this or that element of the Peace Laureate's administration, they still fret and fight and pray to keep that administration in power.
But tonight that very administration is torturing a young man -- torturing him -- for telling the truth about the crimes being committed by the machinery of evil that their standard-bearer, the Peace Laureate, now proudly directs. If you support this administration, then you support the torture of Bradley Manning. You are working to guarantee that such tortures, and worse, are inflicted on more and more truth-tellers, more and more people whose consciences have been jolted to the core by the abominations they have witnessed or learned about from others.
The militarist, corporatist, liberty-stripping evil that our earnest lovers of humanity fear will come to pass if those evil Republicans come to power is already here, it is happening before their very eyes. "Oh, that Glenn Beck, how terrible he is!" Yes, he is terrible, but I tell you this: Glenn Beck hasn't tortured anyone. Glenn Beck hasn't killed hundreds of defenseless innocent civilians, men, women and children murdered without any warning by robot drones in an undeclared war on an allied nation. Glenn Beck hasn't "surged" an endless, pointless, murderous, money-making war of domination against a broken land and its terrorized people. Glenn Beck is not going to court to defend torturers. Glenn Beck is not proclaiming he has the arbitrary, unchallengeable power to assassinate anyone on earth whenever he feels like it.
But the Peace Laureate has done all these things. He is doing all these things, and more. No doubt Glenn Beck -- and all the other greasy-pole climbers seeking wealth and domination in our degraded society -- would like to do these things too. But those with their eyes fixed on the potential or fantasized future evil of their partisan opponents are blind to the fact that their own faction is committing gross evils right here and now. Barack Obama is entrenching the machinery of evil deeper and deeper into the structures of government and society; he is strengthening the foundations of evil that others will build upon, just as he is building upon the wars and gulags and corporate whoredom of his predecessor. Progressives who support Obama -- who support this entrenching process -- are in fact guaranteeing that their dystopian nightmares of the future will come true. They are helping Obama clear the path for an even rougher, more merciless beast now slouching toward Washington to be born.
As I said, words are beginning to fail me. And in any case, almost no one is reading the words on this site. [Most of the traffic is drawn by the magnificent -- and shattering -- collection of Iraq War photos compiled by the webmaster, Rich Kastelein.] So let me end with the words of someone else: the incomparable Arthur Silber, whose mighty heart and incisive mind have blazed with light through many dark years:
I repeat once more: these horrors are now what the United States stands for. Thus, for every adult American, the question is not, "Why do you obey?" but:
Why do you support?
Or will you refuse to give your support? Will you say, "No"? These are the paramount questions at this moment in history, and in the life of the United States. We all must answer them. Our honor, our humanity, and our souls lie in the balance.
UPDATE: After putting this post together, I ran across the latest essay by Chris Hedges at Truthdig. Hedges, like Silber, is one of the very few who have the courage to walk the full walk and live fully by their convictions, despite the cost. Hedges was recently arrested outside the White House of the Peace Laureate, one of many protestors hauled off for speaking the truth about the Laureate's wars in a manner deemed unseemly in our great democracy.
His new piece is an eloquent description of how the nightmare dystopia noted above is already coming into being, a horrible mash-up of Huxley's "Brave New World" and Orwell's "1984." You should read the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts, beginning with his mention of the Bradley Manning case:
...The psychological torture of Pvt. Bradley Manning—who has now been imprisoned for seven months without being convicted of any crime—mirrors the breaking of the dissident Winston Smith at the end of “1984.” Manning is being held as a “maximum custody detainee” in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 of every 24 hours alone. He is denied exercise. He cannot have a pillow or sheets for his bed. Army doctors have been plying him with antidepressants. The cruder forms of torture of the Gestapo have been replaced with refined Orwellian techniques, largely developed by government psychologists, to turn dissidents like Manning into vegetables. We break souls as well as bodies. It is more effective. Now we can all be taken to Orwell’s dreaded Room 101 to become compliant and harmless. These “special administrative measures” are regularly imposed on our dissidents, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was imprisoned under similar conditions for three years before going to trial. The techniques have psychologically maimed thousands of detainees in our black sites around the globe. They are the staple form of control in our maximum security prisons where the corporate state makes war on our most politically astute underclass—African-Americans.
...The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.
... The noose is tightening. The era of amusement is being replaced by the era of repression. Tens of millions of citizens have had their e-mails and phone records turned over to the government. We are the most monitored and spied-on citizenry in human history. Many of us have our daily routine caught on dozens of security cameras. Our proclivities and habits are recorded on the Internet. Our profiles are electronically generated. Our bodies are patted down at airports and filmed by scanners. And public service announcements, car inspection stickers, and public transportation posters constantly urge us to report suspicious activity. The enemy is everywhere.
Hedges also provides a telling passage from Orwell's novel, where the facts of life are explained to Winston Smith:
"We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. ... The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
These bedrock truths of our time are now being played out on the body and mind of Bradley Manning. The object of Bradley Manning's torture is not bolstering "national security" or upholding the "rule of law"; the object of his torture is the torture itself: the demonstration of power, the enactment of power, the physical embodiment of power. Power is not a reality until you exercise it -- inflict it -- upon someone else. And that is the essential, the ultimate concern of the militarist empire that rules us today.
More than a century ago, an aging man, staring his own death in the face, spoke the truth of our times:
Again war. Again sufferings, necessary to nobody, utterly uncalled for. Again fraud, again the universal stupefaction and brutalization of men.
Men who are separated from each other by thousands of miles ... are seeking out one another, in order to kill, torture, and mutilate each other in the cruelest way possible. What can this be? Is it a dream or a reality? Something is taking place which should not, cannot be; one longs to believe that it is a dream and to wake from it.
But no, it is not a dream, it is a dreadful reality!
...How can so-called enlightened men preach war, support it, participate in it, and worst of all, without suffering the dangers of war themselves, incite others to it, sending their unfortunate defrauded brothers to fight? These so-called enlightened men cannot possibly ignore ... all that has and is being written about the cruelty, futility and senselessness of war. They are regarded as enlightened men precisely because they know all this. The majority of them have themselves written and spoken about it. ... No enlightened man can help knowing that the universal competition in the armament of states must inevitably lead them to endless wars or to a general bankruptcy, or else to both the one and the other. ...
Everyone knows and cannot help but knowing that, above all, war, calling forth the lowest animal passions, deprave and brutalize men. ... All so-called enlightened men know this. Then suddenly war begins and all this is instantly forgotten, and the same men who but yesterday were proving the cruelty, futility, the senselessness of wars, now think, speak and write only about killing as many men as possible, about ruining and destroying the greatest possible amounts of human labor, and about exciting as much as possible the passion of hatred in those peaceful, harmless, industrious men who by their labour feed, clothe, maintain these same pseudo-enlightened men who compel them to commit those dreadful deeds contrary to their conscience, welfare or faith.
Something is taking place incomprehensible and impossible in its cruelty, falsehood and stupidity .... Stupefied by prayers, sermons, exhortations, by processions, pictures and newspapers, the cannon-fodder -- hundreds of thousands of men, uniformly dressed, carrying divers deadly weapons, leaving their parents, wives, children, with hearts of agony but with artificial bravado -- go where they, risking their own lives, will commit the most dreadful act of killing men whom they do not know and who have done them no harm. And they are followed by doctors and nurses who somehow imagine that at home they cannot serve simple peaceful suffering people but can only serve those who are engaged in slaughtering each other. Those who remain at home are gladdened by news of the murder of men, and when they learn that many [enemies] have been killed, they thank someone whom they call God.
All this is not only regarded as the manifestation of elevated feeling, but those who refrain from such manifestations, if they endeavour to disabuse men, are deemed traitors and betrayers, and are in danger of being abused and beaten by a brutalized crowd, which in defense of its insanity and cruelty can possess no other weapon than brute force. Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, 1904 (trans. by Evgeny Lampert, in Essays From Tula, Sheppard Press 1948)
Meanwhile, the man who last year received the world's most noted accolade the enlightened pursuit of peace is now expanding a senseless, brutal and futile war in one foreign land into another, where he has already killed hundreds of innocent people with cowardly bombs fired at defenseless villages from robot drones controlled by armchair warriors thousands of miles away. Another 54 people died from these assassinations just last night; it is claimed they were "militants," but no names were given, no evidence at all to back up these assertions -- and no real reason at all given as to why these assassinations and escalations must continue, on and on, for years, decades, perhaps generations, we are told. Again, Tolstoy:
Spontaneous feeling tells me that what they are doing should not be, but as the murderer who has begun to assassinate his victim cannot stop, so also ... people now imagine that the fact of the deadly work having been commenced is an unanswerable argument in favour of war. War has been started and therefore it should go on. Thus it seems to simple, benighted, unlearned men acting under the influence of the petty passions and stupefactions to which they have been subjected. In exactly the same way the most educated men of our time argue to prove that man does not possess free will, and that therefore even were he to understand that the work he has commenced is evil he can no longer cease to do it.
So dazed, brutalized men continue their dreadful work.
Do not help them. Do not support them. Do not spend your energy and passion and intellect on earnest analyses of the twists and turns of their political fates. They are doing evil. Do not be part of it. Support instead those who try to speak the truth. Stand with them. It is their fate -- not the fate of the petty, brutal power-seekers -- which will determine the meaning of our times and the future of our species.
History never repeats itself, of course. But human nature being what it is -- and the tropes of power and dominance being what they are -- there is a great deal of assonance in history: near-rhymes, recurring echoes in the present which do not chime exactly with the past but fall closely enough to resonate with meaning.
Reading Timothy Synder's account of the genocidal famine in Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s (in his new book, Bloodlands), I ran across the following passage. In it, Snyder describes how Stalin sought to explain away the manifest, catastrophic failure of his policy of forced collectivization, which had led to millions of deaths by starvation:
Stalin had developed an interesting new theory: that resistance to socialism increases as its successes mount, because its foes resist with greater desperation as they contemplate their final defeat. Thus any problem in the Soviet Union could be defined as an example of enemy action, and enemy action could be defined as evidence of progress.
This passage leapt immediately to mind while reading accounts of Barack Obama's vaunted "review" of his ever-intensifying, ever more catastrophic war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The results of this "review" were a foregone conclusion, of course: the President would decide that his policy was the right one and should continue. The only "change" would be a surge in "kinetic activity" along the Pakistan border, with increased drone bombings of Pakistan villages (which have already killed many hundreds of innocent civilians) and more Special Forces operations "along the border" (i.e., inside Pakistani territory). There will also be greatly increased pressure on the Pakistani government to "invade" its own territory and slaughter thousands of its own people in the border regions to relieve the pressure on their American masters in Afghanistan.
In other words, American policy in Afghanistan is failing so badly that Obama is about to engulf a volatile, unstable, nuclear-armed nation in a vast, divisive, violent upheaval led by an utterly corrupt and unpopular government. The result will be the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people, the displacement of millions more -- in a land still reeling from one of the worst natural disasters the world has seen in modern times -- and, of course, the spread of extremism, hatred, instability and chaos.
But for Obama, this highway to hell is actually an indication of "considerable gains toward our military objectives." The ever-spreading insurgency in Afghanistan, which now controls or has strong footholds even in northern regions which the Taliban never controlled before the war, is not, as you might think, a glaring indication of the catastrophic failure of the militarist agenda; on the contrary, it is, Obama says, a sign of "significant progress." This has been the argument of our bipartisan militarists since the very beginning, in Afghanistan and Iraq: any problems in our violent occupations of these foreign lands is caused by enemy action -- and all enemy actions, including the control of more and more territory, can be defined as evidence of progress. The very success of the enemy, the fierceness of their resistance, is evidence of their desperation, their ultimate and imminent collapse.
Thus Stalin on the deaths of millions of innocent people at the hands of his policies. And thus Obama, and the entire bipartisan political establishment, on the bloodbath in the bloodlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We are speaking of echoes and assonance, of course, not exact parallels. The death tolls in the Af-Pak catastrophe has not reached Stalinist proportions -- yet. But the prospects for the widening war in Pakistan are almost unbearable to contemplate. What might a nuclear-armed state, controlled largely by its military, do in the event an imminent collapse brought on by the launching of a civil war at the behest of a foreign power? What if it decided the only way to bring the nation back together was a war against the hated common enemy in India? We have already been to the brink of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India within the last decade. And even a non-nuclear war between the two would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions.
And that is only one entirely plausible scenario if the Pakistanis knuckle under to the wishes of their imperial patrons -- the "progressive" Peace Laureate and the Bush Family apparatchik he has retained as his warlord -- and launch the all-out assault on their own people that Washington demands. As Hamlet said: It cannot, and it will not, come to good.
Meanwhile, the present reality of the situation is bad enough, and worsening. Even as the Obama Administration was trumpeting its "progress" and "success" in the nine-year war on one the most blasted, broken-down, defenseless places on earth, Patrick Cockburn, on the ground in Afghanistan, was recording the evidence of growing hunger among the "liberated" people, due largely to the utter corruption at the heart of American policy:
But the most extraordinary failure of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan is that the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars has had so little impact on the misery in which 30 million Afghans live. Since 2001 the US alone has provided $52 billion in aid, two thirds for security and one third for economic, social and political development.
Despite this some nine million Afghans live in absolute poverty while a further five million, considered ‘not poor’, try to survive on $43 a month.“Things look alright to foreigners but in fact people are dying of starvation in Kabul,” says Abdul Qudus, a man with a deeply lined face in his forties, who sells second-hand clothes and shoes on a street corner in the capital. They are little more than rags, lying on display on the half frozen mud.
“I buy and sell clothes for between 10 and 30 Afghanis (two to six cents) and even then there are people who are too poor to buy them, “ says Mr Qudus. “I myself am very poor and sometimes I don’t eat so I can feed my children.” He says he started selling second hand clothes two years ago when he lost his job washing carpets.
US officials admit privately that the torrent of aid money that has poured into Afghanistan has stoked corruption and done ordinary Afghans little good. Aimed at improving economic and social conditions in order to reduce support for the Taliban it is having the reverse effect of destabilizing the country. Afghanistan was identified as the third most corrupt country out of 178 in the world in a report released yesterday by Transparency International.
...The US government policy of providing aid through large American private companies, whose interest lies in making a profit rather than improving the life of Afghans, is proving a failure in Afghanistan as it did previously in Iraq. As winter approaches half of Afghans face the prospect of ‘food insecurity’, or not getting enough to eat in the next three months, according to the US Famine Early Warning System.
This is the reality behind the "considerable progress" proclaimed by Barack Obama this week -- as willfully blind to the truth in his cozy Oval Office as Stalin in the halls of the Kremlin.
The career of the late imperial courtier par excellence Richard Holbrooke is summed up well here by Diane Johnstone. As she notes:
The Dayton Peace Accords were presented as a heroic victory for peace extracted by the brilliant Holbrooke from a reluctant Milosevic, who had to be "bombed to the negotiating table" by the United States. In reality, the U.S. government was fully aware that Milosevic was eager for peace in Bosnia to free Serbia from crippling economic sanctions. It was the Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic who wanted to keep the war going, with U.S. military help.
In reality, the U.S. bombed the Serbs in order to get Izetbegovic to the negotiating table. And the agreement reached in the autumn of 1995 was not very different from the agreement reached in March 1992 by the three ethnic groups under European Community auspices, which could have prevented the entire civil war, if it had not been sabotaged by Izetbegovic, who withdrew his agreement with the encouragement of the then U.S. ambassador Warren Zimmermann. In short, far from being the great peacemaker in the Balkans, the United States first encouraged the Muslim side to fight for its goal of a centralized Bosnia, and then sponsored a weakened federated Bosnia – after nearly four years of bloodshed which left the populations bereft and embittered.
The real purpose of all this, as Holbrooke made quite clear in To End a War, was to demonstrate that Europeans could not manage their own vital affairs and that the United States remained the "indispensable nation". ... His victory was a defeat for diplomacy. The spectacle of bombing plus Dayton was designed to show that only the threat or application of U.S. military might could end conflicts.
Holbrooke's death this week was capped by sinister, cynical comedy from the White House, which sought to turn his dying refutation of the murderous Af-Pak policy he pushed so assiduously into a bit of manly joshing with doctors before going under the knife. Well, maybe that's how it was; maybe he stayed in character, the eager, hearty, shallow courtier, even as death was staring him in the face. In any case, whether Holbrooke saw the light -- or rather, saw the darkness he had served his whole life -- before he died or not, his demise brings to mind a point we were making here just a few days ago.
What I like best about the the health care drama in the US right now is how nearly everyone is fighting on the other side, unwittingly or otherwise. We've got Democrats working to save Obama's nationalized version of Romneycare, while Republicans are doing everything possible to defeat insurance-purchasing mandates that would give even greater power and wealth to their corporate patrons in the health insurance industry. I haven't had this much fun (politically, anyway) since the waning days of the Clinton administration, when give-peace-a-chance Republicans were trying to undermine Clinton's determined efforts to kill Yugoslavs and Iraqis, and Democrats and their "progressive" enablers were clamoring for more more more smart bombs.
Will Republicans be able to rescue universal health care in the US from the seemingly mortal blow it took from Obama and the Democrats? Time will tell.
2. Robert Scheer is excellent in this piece on the true implications of Bill Clinton's recent appearance at the White House: a spectacle that revealed the utter political bankruptcy of the Obama regime; its moral bankruptcy has been evident from the beginning; indeed, from before the beginning. As Scheer puts it: the "sight of Bill Clinton back on the White House podium defending tax cuts for the super-rich was more a sick joke than a serious amplification of economic policy."
5. Speaking of utter shams, Patrick Cockburn follows billions of dollars down the war profiteering hole in Afghanistan, where millions face "food insecurity" this winter -- a full nine years after their "liberation."
At 3:25 p.m. on Tuesday, a UK judge reverses an earlier court decision and granted bail to Julian Assange, who is being held in a British prison on a warrant for "sexual misconduct" charges in Sweden. The bail is attached with heavy conditions, including the demand for a large wad of cash upfront, a daily curfew (which will keep Assange off the prime-time news), and the requirement of wearing an electric tag.
The ruling does not free Assange, however; he is sent back to jail pending the gathering of the cash, and pending a decision by Swedish authorities to appeal the bail ruling.
At 4:18 p.m., outside the courtroom, film director Ken Loach, one of the many people putting up money for Assange's case, makes this comment:
Clearly, if the Swedish government opposes bail it will show there is some vindictiveness beyond this case. It will show there is some political element that goes beyond the case.
Indeed. At this writing, it is not believed that Sweden has never pursued anyone so zealously (if at all) through the international criminal justice system on a charge of 'sexual misconduct' (not rape).
At 5:26 p.m., it is announced that Swedish authorities are indeed challenging the decision. Assange, although granted bail, will remain in prison until the appeal is heard -- at some point in the next 48 hours.
The Guardian's legal affairs editor, Afua Hirsch, explains the draconian laws -- enacted post-9/11, natch -- that allow government authorities across Europe to amplify their reach across several borders:
Followers of the WikiLeaks story wonder how Assange could be extradited with so few questions asked. Why, for example, can our prisons detain someone (Assange is currently on remand in Wandsworth prison) for an offence under Swedish law that does not exist in British law? And how can a judge agree to an extradition without having seen enough evidence to make out a prima facie case?
The 2003 Extradition Act originated in an EU decision agreed just one week after 9/11. It was sold to voters as a way of ensuring cross-border cohesion in prosecuting suspects wanted across Europe for terrorism and serious crime. ... It's been downhill from there. Around three people per day are now extradited from the UK, and there is little to suggest that the majority are terrorists or serious criminals. In fact those involved in the process agree that many of the cases are "trivial".
This month I watched proceedings in Westminster magistrates' court as Jacek Jaskolski, a disabled 58-year-old science teacher, fought an EAW issued against him by his native Poland. Jaskolski – also the primary carer for his disabled wife – has been in the UK since 2004. His crime? Ten years ago, when he still lived in Poland, Jaskolski went over his bank overdraft limit. There are instances when unauthorised bank borrowing can have criminal elements, but this is not one of them. The bank recovered the money, and there is no allegation of dishonesty. A similar case in Britain would be a civil, not a criminal, matter.
But it is a criminal offence in Poland, where every criminal offence has to be investigated and prosecuted, no matter how trivial. As a result Poland requested 5,000 extraditions last year alone, accounting for 40% of all those dealt with by Britain. By contrast the UK made just 220 requests.
In 2008 a Polish man was extradited for theft of a dessert from a restaurant, using a European arrest warrant containing a list of the ingredients. People are being flown to Poland in specially chartered planes to answer charges that would not be thought worthy of an arrest in the UK, while we pick up the tab for police, court, experts' and lawyers' time to process a thousand cases a year.
That's right; they'll track you down and jail you for an old, repaid overdraft; they'll track you down and jail you for a dessert you didn't pay for. They'll track down across the face of the earth and jail you for things that aren't a crime in the country where they've jailed you -- if you happen to have put powerful people in a bad light; i.e., shown them as they really are.
But tell the truth about power? Or just try to live your ordinary life, care for your loved ones, go to work, harm no one, pose no threat, make no provocation -- other than being an attractive, and defenseless, piece of fodder for petty power to glut itself upon? Oh then, my friend, you can be stitched up, put in the frame anytime they damn well please.
What kind of world do you think you're living in? Well, the Old Man said it years ago:
"Democracy don't rule the world;
Better get that through your head.
This world is ruled by violence:
But that's better left unsaid."
And if the strangulators of truth who are pulling the strings against Assange and WikiLeaks have their way, it's going to remain unsaid.
It has always seemed the strangest thing to me, the way that people will lacerate others -- with cruelty, with lies, with dirty dealing, with petty spite, with cold neglect, with violence, violence on the body and the soul -- just to gain, for just a moment, some bestial sense of dominance, on one level or another, from the highest to the lowest, turning the inexpressible miracle of existence, this paradise of consciousness and sensation we've been given, into a stinking, churned-up living hell.
I look at all this, and I think: These people don't know they're going to die. They don't believe the blow will come. They think they've got all the time in the world to churn in the filth and make themselves "important" -- an importance that will be ripped out of them like a disemboweled gut the instant death closes their eyes ....
I keep looking at the face
That keeps staring back at me
The hard and haunted visage
Of my mortality