I received the following comment on my last post about the hacking of the website. I thought I would offer the exchange here, in hopes that it will clarify some things, not just about the hacking but about the website itself. And this is the last thing I'm writing about the current hack -- except to say, once again, a very heartfelt thanks to all the readers who expressed their support in so many ways.
A commenter writes:
I must preface this whole comment with a statement that I consistently enjoy reading this work. I am a college kid, who, perhaps in the spirit of college rails against everything - government, the Democratic Party, the press, University administration, the shoddy food etc. It's my role in society to be contrarian - because without advocates for such abstract concepts of human rights, democracy, liberty - perhaps they wouldn't exist as vigorously as they do now in the world. As an extension of my role is work as contrarian - Chris Floyd and Glen Greenwald as examples. I read these pieces, comment about them and raise discussion about Bradley Manning and drone attacks in my human rights class, and the world goes on. The work I cite is part of the discussion, and not necessarily the "truth." (As a side note, my course on human rights is taught by a former cabinet member under Bush I, and he is more an advocate of governments speaking out on human rights than I would expect).
As an Idealist now, I talk about these violations in the abstract, they don't affect me personally: I have never met an Afghani with an arm blown off because of drones, I have never had my parent's blog taken down, I am not living in Egypt. I talk about them nonetheless because I am compelled to do so - perhaps as Chris is compelled to as well; but most importantly there is still a hope that these things that occur do not really occur motivated by a supreme evil. I have always felt that in 30 years time, after I get a job, pay my taxes, I can begin to see the world in a more pragmatic grey and not a black and white. My experience with my professor in the human rights course has indicated that there are a basket of interests that must be balanced by every government, and the US government isn't as monolithic as people think - the state department is certainly fumbling around in the dark like much of the world as governments are fundamentally still made of people - and people are always prone to error.
So while I talk about human rights and democracy, and American Imperialism - it's always in the back of my mind that in some time I will come to accept the pragmatic rationale those in power use to justify bad things. I mean, from one point of view, we get "imperial masters" who bomb for fun and actually derive pleasure from it - do we really accept this? As (hopefully) still rational people, do we really think that those in Obama's administration really sit in dark rooms and concoct/hatch plans to murder thousands every day? We point to the official press releases that muddy the water as a m.o. of cover-up, but why can't it be like this: a bunch of people who get intelligence that al queda lives in house x, decide that they can't take a chance if osama is there - and pull the trigger because they have their pictures of their wives and daughters on their desks and genuinely are scared to fuck up? Does no one harbor even a small kernel of light for these people?
What's most scary is this constant takedown of the website. It indicates that perhaps that I am wrong, and that governments are monolithic and those controlling the strings actually would derive pleasure from suppressing the small sites. Even still, am I inclined to take this world-view as truth, as doctrine? I hesitate to actually believe it because I still have hope in this world! Damn it, I don't want to believe it - I am much more comfortable talking about it as a college kid, isolated by books and tuition in an abstract thinking-man's land. I love reading this work, Chris - it helps me fulfill my role, but I do not believe it. I love the words, the eloquence, the idealism that permeates these digital pages. But I cannot extinguish that small kernel of light I have for people. I won't extinguish it perhaps until it directly affects me, and the constant attack on your site - well, it could still be twerps (I am in college, and there are lots of people I know who have the mindset and skills to do these attacks).
Keep writing, but I will reserve my judgment.
If you think this site presents a "monolithic" understanding of human nature -- including the nature of those humans who operate in a brutal, inhumane system of power -- then you understand nothing of what I write. The whole point of power structures based on inequality and domination is that those who get caught up in them are not cackling, moustache-twirling cartoon villains -- they are ordinary human beings who end up degrading their own humanity because they put it to the service of a violent, brutal, unjust system. They do this for a thousand different reasons -- mostly because it's the system they were born in, the system that seems "normal," and a system that rewards those who accept it and serve it with honors, prosperity, respect, a sense of belonging, etc.
But who is claiming, or would ever claim, that governments are not "fundamentally made of people" prone to ignorance and error as we all are? You seem to feel that this site presents a cartoonish, "monolithic" view of reality -- but here you are fretting over straw men of your own devising, not anything I have ever claimed.
That said, do you really think that the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of innocent villagers killed in America's patently illegal drone attacks in Pakistan have been killed just because some tender-hearted soul was looking at pictures of his family on his desk and said: "Well, who the hell knows if this intelligence report we got from some unnamed source somewhere acting on motives totally unknown to us is accurate or not; gosh darn it, I just can't take the chance that Betty Lou and little Skipper might be slaughtered in their beds tonight by a big ole Muslim; better push the button anyway."
Do you really believe that's how it happens? Day after day after day after day, with the thousands of secret operatives and military personnel and government officials involved? Every one of them only thinking of Betty Lou? Every one them genuinely scared that if they don't blast a whole compound of Pakistani peasants to bits -- rip little children to shreds, turn mothers and grandfathers into piles of smoking goo -- then Osama will come and kill their families? None of them could possibly be acting from base or cynical motives? Or even more -- that these actions, and many others like them, could not possibly be the result of institutional processes and agendas that do not take individual human lives into account -- neither those of their victims or of their own agents -- but grind on regardless of Betty Lou, while sometimes, yes, trying to "muddy the waters" with lies and misrepresentations if their misdeeds (or "mistakes") come to light? Do you think this doesn't happen in our system on a regular basis -- as it does and always has in every other system?
Again, I say: Who has the cartoon viewpoint here? Who has the "monolithic" apprehension of reality?
You speak of how you will be in 30 years after your graduation. Well, it's been 30 years since I was in college. I have a job. I pay my taxes. I have a family. And yes, I do see the world in pragmatic gray, not through the prism of any kind of monolithic "idealism" whatsoever. Life is full of compromises on every level, many of them difficult. But what you don't seem to realize is how very radical, how very extreme our system is. You don't seem to realize how many innocent people have been killed by it, or with its full backing, in so many places for so many years. Of course there is "a basket of interests that must be balanced by every government." But one of the "baskets" of our current system includes the bipartisan determination to ensure -- by any means necessary -- the continuing domination of world affairs by the United States. Not to mention the continuing domination of the United States by those "baskets of interests" who have a vastly disproportionate amount of money and power, and want to keep it that way. And why do they want to keep it that way? Because they believe that it's the right thing to do, that they are serving a greater good in maintaining the proper order of society, etc. The fact that this greater good coincides with their own self-interest is just a happy coincidence -- and one of the most persistent and pernicious of the delusions that, yes, plague all of us kernels. Millions of people around the world have died, violently, and many millions more have had their lives blighted or degraded by the "balancing" of these particular "baskets". You have to know the true nature of the system you're dealing with in order to determine your stance toward it. That's not "idealism." That is true pragmatism.
And of course, there are good people trying to do the decent thing in this system. This is true of every system of human organization under the sun, throughout history. I have stated this plainly many times. And yes, of course, most of the people who end up doing evil in this system -- and all other systems -- are not cackling super-villains who love to murder, but are ordinary people who think that by serving the system they are doing good. The fact that this process is not "monolithic" is what is so terrible about it.
I don't know exactly what you mean by "harboring a kernel of light" for those who end up -- willingly, knowingly, unwittingly, ignorantly -- doing evil things on behalf of a power structure. You seem to be saying that you hope they really aren't willing evildoers but just ordinary human beings who perhaps don't realize the full moral consequences of their actions. Well, again, who is saying otherwise? And who says you have to "extinguish that small kernel of light" you have for people? If this is the message you are taking away from the website, then I cannot possibly possess the "eloquence" that you attribute to me, because I would have entirely failed to convey my understanding of the world.
But of course, any person, in any system, at any level, at any time, can bestir themselves and become more aware of what they are doing or facilitating through their involvement in the system -- and then disassociate themselves from it. And it is up to each individual to decide how far they are willing to compromise -- in the pragmatic gray area in which we all live -- with the system they find themselves in, and when they finally have finally reached a line they cannot cross. There is nothing "monolithic" or idealistic about it; it's a struggle that goes on inside us all every single day of our lives.
As for the website, I'm beginning to regret talking about the hack at all. Do you really think that I think that Barack Obama or "those controlling the strings" at the highest level personally shut down my website -- and did it just to get cackling, super-villain pleasure out of it? Is that really what you took away from my post? If so, again, I must be one of the worst writers in the world. I don't know exactly what happened with the hacking -- but I do know that in a system that now operates mind-boggling "security" technologies on a vast scale (and it's no secret, you know; you can read about it in the Washington Post if you like), all it takes is one person with the power to put a website, or an air traveler, on some minatory list somewhere, and that target is going to find their lives mucked up in various ways. And yes, maybe such a listmaker got some 'bad intelligence,' or maybe they made an unwitting mistake, or maybe they were thinking of Betty Lou and the kids and were scared of Al Qaeda, or maybe they didn't cackle but wept salt tears of regret at turning a website over to the teams of hackers which we know -- again, from mainstream media reporting -- that governments and corporations around the world employ to do their dirty work for them.
Or hell, maybe it was just some twerp -- even one of those people you know who has the mindset and skills to hack at a website 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for months on end, defeating some very sophisticated security measures and so on. All I was trying to do in the post was to tell readers what I thought had happened to the website -- especially after it had been hacked so badly, and after many of the recent posts had disappeared. And these surmises were based on new evidence that convinced me, for the first time, that the relentless series of hacks were, as I said, very likely to have been a deliberate targeting of the site. That seemed the most logical conclusion of the evidence; but if my interpretation of the evidence is wrong, so what? I'm not asking anyone to go out and, say, fire drone missiles at villagers in Pakistan on the basis of my interpretation. It's just my opinion.
Finally, I don't know what kind of "doctrine" you think I am pushing here. I'm not pushing any "doctrine" whatsoever. And certainly not one that is meant to cause anyone to "lose hope in this world." I honestly don't see how anyone could get such a thing from this website. And of course you should "reserve your judgment." What else would any thinking person do?
But if you do want to know my "world-view," below is a reprise of a piece I first wrote several years ago. It expresses as best I can the impetus behind the website. Perhaps this is a good time to bring it out again.
Broken Light: Work, for the Night is Coming
Black milk of daybreak, we drink it at evening – Paul Celan, "Deathfugue"
The children were walking to school. The young people were going out to a dance.
The children stepped on a booby trap planted by a soldier. The young people were shredded by the nails of a suicide bomb. They were all blown up, destroyed.
One moment, the force of life animated their biological matter, their brains seethed with billions of electrical impulses, the matrix of consciousness brought the entire universe into being, within them, within each of them, each solitary vessel of knowing.
The next moment, only the matter remained: inert, coagulated, decaying. There was no more knowing, no more being; the universe had come to an end.
We drink it at midday and morning; we drink it at night
They would have us believe it is because Ishmael warred with Jacob. They would have us believe it is because this or that Divine Will requires it. They would have us believe it is because ethnicity or nationality or religion or some other arbitrary accretion of history and happenstance must override both the innumerable commonalities of all human beings and the radical, irreplaceable uniqueness of each individual.
They would have us believe anything other than the truth: that everyone and everything will die; that all nations, ethnicities, religions and structures will fall away into rubble, into nothingness, and be forgotten; that even the planet itself will be reduced to atoms and melt away, like black milk, into the cold deeps of empty space. And in the face of this truth, nothing matters ultimately but each specific, fleeting instance of individual being, the shape we give to each momentary coalescence of atomic particles into a particular human situation.
That's all we have. That's all there is. That's what we kill when we murder someone. That's what we strangle when we keep them down with our boot on their throat.
We drink and we drink
Is it not time to be done with lies at last? Especially the chief lie now running through the world like a plague, putrescent and vile: that we kill each other and hate each other and drive each other into desperation and fear for any other reason but that we are animals, forms of apes, driven by blind impulses to project our dominance, to strut and bellow and hoard the best goods for ourselves. Or else to lash back at the dominant beast in convulsions of humiliated rage. Or else cravenly to serve the dominant ones, to scurry about them like slaves, picking fleas from their fur, in hopes of procuring a few crumbs for ourselves.
That's the world of power – the "real world," as its flea-picking slaves and strutting dominants like to call it. It's the ape-world, driven by hormonal secretions and chemical mechanics, the endless replication of protein reactions, the unsifted agitations of nerve tissue, issuing their ignorant commands. There's no sense or reason or higher order of thought in it – except for that perversion of consciousness called justification, self-righteousness, which gussies up the breast-beating ape with fine words and grand abstractions.
And so the fine words and breast-beating goes on and on – prosperity, freedom, holiness, security, justice, glory, our people, our homeland, God's will be done, we will prevail.
We shovel a grave in the air where you won't lie too cramped
Beyond the thunder and spectacle of this ape-roaring world is another state of reality, emerging from the murk of our baser functions. There is power here, too, but not the heavy, blood-sodden bulk of dominance. Instead, it's a power of radiance, of awareness, connection, breaking through in snaps of heightened perception, moments of encounter and illumination that lift us from the slime.
It takes ten million forms, could be in anything – a rustle of leaves, the tang of salt, a bending blues note, the sweep of shadows on a tin roof, the catch in a voice, the touch of a hand, a line from Sappho or John Clare. Any particular, specific combination of ever-shifting elements, always unrepeatable in its exact effect, and always momentary. Because that's all there is, that's all we have – the moments.
The moments, and their momentary power – a power without the power of resistance, defenseless, provisional, unarmed, imperfect, bold. The ape-world's cycle of war and retribution stands as the image of the world of power; what can serve as the emblem of this other reality? A kiss, perhaps: given to a lover, offered to a friend, bestowed on an enemy – or pressed to the brow of a murdered child.
Both worlds are within us, of course, like two quantum states of reality, awaiting our choice to determine which will be actuated, which will define the very nature of being – individually and in the aggregate, moment by moment. This is our constant task, for as long as the universe exists in the electrics of our brains: to redeem each moment or let it fall. Some moments will be won, many more lost; there is no final victory. There is only the task.
We drink you at morning and midday; we drink you at night
So do we counsel fatalism, a dark, defeated surrender, a retreat into bitter, curdled quietude? Not a whit. We advocate action, positive action, unstinting action, doing the only thing that human beings can do, ever: Try this, try that, try something else again; discard those approaches that don't work, that wreak havoc, that breed death and cruelty; fight against everything that would draw us down again into our own mud; expect no quarter, no lasting comfort, no true security; offer no last word, no eternal truth, but just keep stumbling, falling, careening, backsliding, crawling toward the broken light.
And what is this "broken light"? Nothing more than a metaphor for the patches of understanding – awareness, attention, knowledge, connection – that break through our darkness and stupidity for a moment now and then. A light always fractured, under threat, shifting, found then lost again, always lost. For we are creatures steeped in imperfection, in breakage and mutation, tossed up – very briefly – from the boiling, chaotic crucible of Being, itself a ragged work in progress toward unknown ends, or rather, toward no particular end at all. Why should there be an "answer" in such a reality?
This and this alone is the only "ideology" behind these writings, which try at all times to fight against the compelling but ignorant delusion that any single economic or political or religious system – indeed, any kind of system at all devised by the seething jumble of the human mind – can completely encompass the infinite variegations of existence. What matters is what works – what pulls us from our own darkness as far as possible, for as long as possible. Yet the truth remains that "what works" is always and forever only provisional – what works now, here, might not work there, then. What saves our soul today might make us sick tomorrow.
Thus all we can do is to keep looking, working, trying to clear a little more space for the light, to let it shine on our passions and our confusions, our anger and our hopes, informing and refining them, so that we can see each other better, for a moment – until death shutters all seeing forever.
Thanks very, very much to everyone for coming up with the lost texts of previous posts. I really appreciate all these efforts, and the very kind words of support as we sort through this latest bout of hacker wreckage.
For a long time, I resisted the idea that these hacks had some kind of political motivation. I thought they were probably the work of twerpish hooligans, the kind of nasty-minded little goobers who get their jollies from sticking gum in doorlocks, or else some trainee hackers trying to prove their mettle or make their bones for some more sophisticated network of takedown operators by picking out sites at random and showing how they could get into them and shut them down.
But the technical sophistication of the more recent hacks, and their unrelenting nature – the sheer amount of time and effort being expended to take down the site – have led me (and those whose technological knowledge cries far in the top of mine) to believe that the hacks are very likely to be the work of some organized entity which has deliberately targeted Empire Burlesque because of its content. These new hacks have been getting through a remarkable amount of security that should defeat any random twerp looking to cause mischief. This is not some goon throwing a brick through your window and running away; it’s someone with the capacity to enter your house surreptitiously, rearrange the furniture, rip up the floorboards and take away all your private papers without being seen or leaving a trace. That takes organization, expertise and a sense of purpose.
So I do think now it’s likely that agencies or entities unknown – whether directly or with hired proxies – are taking pains to stifle the website. Again, I’ve long resisted this idea, mostly because it seems unduly flattering. In the grand scheme of things in the political world, Empire Burlesque is virtually invisible: the readership – though greatly appreciated – is very small, and the website seems to have no resonance beyond this circle. It’s not informing or affecting the wider public debate in any way; it’s certainly not stirring millions of people – or even thousands of people – to enlightened dissent against the crimes and lies of the power structure. In real terms, it poses no threat to business as usual. So what’s the point of trying to silence it?
But of course, taking elaborate, expensive, destructive pains to demolish things which pose no actual threat is, as we know, the very modus operandi of our imperial masters. Indeed, they especially delight in attacking the powerless, in crushing those who have no capacity to strike back. As one of the chief imperial courtiers of our day, Thomas Friedman, once helpfully explained, our power structuralists “hit” Iraq "because we could." That is, because the broken, ineffectual regime there had no capacity to strike back – unlike, say, Iran or North Korea or China or Russia or other nations that might conceivably pose some threat or hindrance to the American elite’s agenda of domination over world affairs.
In like fashion, albeit on a far lesser level, crushing an obscure website that speaks against the empire – and might give even a handful of people the idea that there are alternatives to the hideous world that our elites have made – is entirely in keeping with the power structure’s ethos. And with the vast ‘data mining’ machinery now at the disposal of our ever-expanding security organs, it is probably very easy to rake through the web and pluck out obscure irritants to be targeted. Or it could even be the work of a single little government or corporate apparatchik somewhere who stumbled across the site somehow, took a dislike to it, and decided to put it on a list.
The point is, it does not require any self-flattering delusions about the world-historical importance of Empire Burlesque to believe, on credible evidence, that it has been deliberately targeted by the operatives or hirelings of some organized entity trying to stifle website’s content. That being the case, we are more determined than ever to keep the site going as we see fit, and to keep any decision about its ultimate fate in our hands, not those of the cringing little slaves of power, whoever and wherever they might be. We will continue to do what we’ve been trying to do at Empire Burlesque for years: tear down the lies of a brutal system, in hopes of helping, in some very small way, to clear the ground for the growth of something more holistic, more human, somewhere down the line.
Again, thank you very much for all your support, both in the current difficulties, and down through the years.
You will have noticed that this website was hacked again on Thursday, another savage assault that hijacked the front page and, worse, ransacked files behind the scenes as well.
We've lost all the most recent posts, dating back to January 18. Owing to the often difficult circumstances in which I put together most of these posts, I rarely have the text on hand once a piece has been published on the website. If in the unlikely event that any reader out there has kept a copy of the recent posts in some form -- or even remembers the headlines -- I would be very grateful if you could pass them along. If you have the text itself, then I could repost it quickly. But even a headline alone might help locate a cached version out there, which could be quarried for a re-posting.
As I've said so often, if you find the website hacked, you might try the original website, Empire Burlesque 1.0, to see if there are any new posts. And again, as always, my apologies for the inconvenience.
Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. ... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for 'the universal brotherhood of man' -- with his mouth. -- Mark Twain, The Damned Human Race
As President Barack Obama consoled the nation Wednesday with talk of "rain puddles in heaven," his agents were murdering four more people in his illegal war in Pakistan. The incongruity was excruciating; you could almost feel your neck snapping from the moral whiplash induced by the contrast between word and deed.
But of course this contrast remained totally obscured. Instead, the media was saturated with bipartisan praise for Obama's heavenly puddles and "transcendent" rhetoric about "aligning our actions with our values" and measuring our lives by "how well we have loved and what small part we have played in making the lives of others better." Naturally, in the midst of so much self-congratulatory afflatus, there was not much room for a short story from the Associated Press noting that Wednesday saw yet another attack by American drone missiles on a remote village in Pakistan.
Yet even this report was itself drenched in the mindset of righteous murder that lurked behind the treacly tropes that Obama was delivering to a rapturous crowd. You can see it in the language of the very first paragraph:
Suspected U.S. unmanned aircraft fired four missiles at a house in a militant-infested area of northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least four people, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
An "infested" area -- the language used for vermin, for insects, for filthy creatures fit only for extermination. These insects are what is being killed in the wilds of Pakistan: not human beings, not sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. Just strange, worthless little creepy-crawlies called "militants." And if you think this is too extreme an extrapolation, not truly representative of the imperial mindset, recall the words of Admiral William Fallon.
Surely you remember the good Admiral -- former head of U.S. Central Command, the military cockpit of the Terror War. For a brief moment back in 2008, this imperial proconsul was the darling of the progressosphere. Why? Because in a fawning article in Esquire, he made a few noises indicating his lack of enthusiasm for an immediate extension of the Terror War into Iran. Yet even this tepid demurral (which he quickly and cravenly denied making) was couched in the exterminationist language that now imbues both the civilian and military wings of the imperial establishment. As I noted at the time:
Fallon himself has long denied the hearsay evidence that he had declared, upon taking over Central Command, that a war on Iran "isn't going to happen on my watch." And in fact, the article itself depicts Fallon's true attitude toward the idea of an attack on Iran right up front, in his own words. After noting Fallon's concerns about focusing too much on Iran to the exclusion of the other "pots boiling over" in the region, [author Thomas Barnett] presses the point and asks: And if it comes to war? Fallon replies with stark, brutal clarity:
"'Get serious,' the admiral says. 'These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them.'"
The article makes clear that Fallon's main concerns about a war with Iran are, as noted, about tactics and timing: Sure, when the time comes – no shuffling on that point – we'll crush these subhumans like the insects they are; but we've already got a lot on our plate at the moment, so why not hold off as long as we can? After all, Fallon is conducting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as overseeing an on-going "regime change" operation in Somalia, where the United States has been aiding Ethiopian invaders with bombing raids, death squads, renditions and missile strikes against Somali civilians – such as the one this week that killed three women and three children.
The AP reporter has duly absorbed the trickle-down depravity that seeps from the top of the American establishment. He has also absorbed the by-now reflexive -- and absolutely de rigueur -- genuflection to authority displayed by every "serious" journalist. The article is based entirely on quotes from anonymous "officials"; there is not a single voice to offer even the slightest deviation from the Terror War narrative.
So what are we told? That four "militants" were killed. Well, surely they had it coming, right, if they were militants? "Militant" means "insurgent" which means "terrorist" which means "big swarthy devil-worshipper coming to shtup your woman and eat your babies." We know what to do with these insects: you crush them.
But who said they were "militants"? Well, unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials, as indicated at the very beginning of the story. But just three paragraphs later, these same anonymous officials admit that "the identities and nationalities of those killed in Wednesday's strike were unknown."
In other words, the "officials" didn't know who was killed. They didn't know their names. They didn't know their affiliations, their activities, their beliefs, their intentions. They didn't know who they were. They didn't know where they were from. They didn't know anything about them. Yet we are told confidently, without contradiction or the slightest doubt, that they were "militants."
But the story is not finished with its imperial water-carrying yet; not by a long shot. We are then given this bit of savvy insiderdom:
The U.S. refuses to acknowledge the drone strikes publicly, but officials have said privately that they have killed several senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.
Yes, unnamed American officials have said "privately" -- to every dutiful, genuflecting media outlet in the Western world -- that the drone attacks have "killed several senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders." That's what they say -- so that is all that the story says. There is not one word about the many studies and reports by international observers, top American officials and independent organizations in Pakistan about the vast number of civilians who have been killed in Obama's drone war. As Tariq Ali notes in his latest piece about Pakistan's current death spiral into extremism and chaos:
Can it get worse? Yes. And on every front. Take the Af-Pak war. Few now would dispute that its escalation has further destabilised Pakistan, increasing the flow of recruits to suicide bomber command. The CIA’s New Year message to Pakistan consisted of three drone attacks in North Waziristan, killing 19 people. There were 116 drone strikes in 2010, double the number ordered in the first year of the Obama presidency. Serious Pakistani newspapers, Dawn and the News, claim that 98 per cent of those killed in the strikes over the last five years – the number of deaths is estimated to be between two and three thousand – were civilians, a percentage endorsed by David Kilcullen, a former senior adviser to General Petraeus. The Brookings Institution gives a grim ratio of one militant killed for every ten civilians. The drones are operated by the CIA, which isn’t subject to military rules of engagement, with the result that drones are often used for revenge attacks, notably after the sensational Khost bombing of a CIA post in December 2009.
That's right: even a "senior adviser" to the sainted General David Petraeus admits that 98 percent of the people being killed by Obama's drones are civilians. Two to three thousand innocent people murdered -- in cold blood, in an instant, without warning, without any defense, not shriving time allowed, sent down into death and darkness at the order of the man evoking those "rain puddles in heaven" as he exhorts us to "be worthy" of those killed in wanton violence.
And still the story is not finished pushing the imperial line. It ends with yet more savvy analysis of the big picture, the grand strategic games that are so much more important than the stolen lives and mangled bodies of unidentified villagers:
Washington has pushed Pakistan to launch an operation in North Waziristan, but the government has so far refused. The Pakistani army says its soldiers are stretched too thin by military operations against Islamist militias in other tribal area.But many analysts believe the army is reluctant to cross militant groups with which it has historical ties, such as the Haqqani network, who could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign troops withdraw.
Terrible, isn't it? Those treacherous Pakistanis are truculently refusing to launch a massive war on their own people to ease the pressure on America's interminable war-profiteering operation in neighboring Afghanistan. And this ungrateful refusal of great Caesar's reasonable request stems not from any concern on the part of Pakistani officials that launching a vicious civil war would tear their fraying country -- still recovering from one of the greatest natural disasters in modern history -- to pieces, or even from a simple reluctance to slaughter tens of thousands of their fellow citizens. No; according to AP -- or rather, according to the anonymous "many analysts" who provide the sole, unsourced, unsupported viewpoint given voice on the matter -- the only reason that Pakistan is reluctant to destroy itself on Washington's orders is a desire to play games in a post-war Afghanistan.
Biden then moved on Iraq, to discuss "the issue of whether to keep some U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31 deadline" for withdrawing all American forces from Iraq. (Except for the thousands and thousands of soldiers and mercenaries needed to guard the American fortress city in the midst of Baghdad, of course.) The Americans say they will stay only if the Iraqis need them; and Iraq's top military commander recently said that the American military guests should stay at least until 2020.
Four people murdered. A civil war -- with with the genuine potential for national dissolution and even nuclear war behind it -- fomented, encouraged, demanded. The extension of one of the greatest war crimes since WWII -- the senseless slaugher of a million innocent people and the destruction of an entire society -- "discussed" with toadies who owe their power to the aggressor. All this, while Obama asks us to "sharpen our instincts for empathy."
"Sharpen your instincts for empathy." That is what the words say. But the actions say something else altogether: "Close your hearts to pity."
NOTE: While finishing this piece, I ran across Arthur Silber's latest essay, which deals more deeply, broadly and eloquently with this same theme. I urge you to read it in full right away.
UPDATE (Jan 14): The indefatigable Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com brings word of yet another murder spree in the border areas of Pakistan. Even as the warm glow of Obama's Tucson speech spread over the political establishment (see Arthur Silber's scathing assessment of this development), mortar fire from American-occupied Afghanistan killed eight more human beings: five men and three women. As Ditz reports:
Pakistani officials report that a barrage of mortars was fired from across the Afghan border, likely from either NATO troops or Afghan military forces, and destroyed a home in the North Waziristan Agency, killing eight people.
The attack comes just a day after Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Pakistan, during which he warned that his patience was “wearing thin” with the government for not having invaded North Waziristan yet. NATO has yet to confirm that it was their attack, but promised an investigation.
As with the mystery of who launched the attack, the identities of the victims are unclear as well, with Pakistani officials describing them only as five men and three women and reporting no indications of any militant connections, beyond living in a tribal area that the US wants attacked for being a militant hotbed.
But you know what really matters? Not the shredded viscera of eight defenseless human beings, not the further destabilization and radicalization of a nuclear-armed nation suffering from vast natural disasters and mind-boggling levels of corruption in its American-sponsored elite; no, what really matters is that our bipartisan American elites are pledging to be more civil to each other as they rain death, murder and chaos all over the world.
Here's yet another example of the shocking degradation of journalistic standards in the New York Times; they publish letters from witless cranks like the goober below:
Tolstoy Still Makes Trouble
Published: January 9, 2011
To the Editor: It is marvelous to see how Leo Tolstoy continues to have a disturbing effect on the power structures of church and state (“For Tolstoy and Russia, Still No Happy Ending,” front page, Jan. 4). This has always been the case, from czardom through Communism and now in Russia’s “managed democracy.”
For example, despite its promotion of his novels, the Soviet regime repressed vast swaths of Tolstoy’s work, especially his thoughts on nonviolence, the evils of state power and — ironically, given the Orthodox animus — his heartfelt religious writings. The “Tolstoyans” themselves were persecuted by the Bolsheviks.
I doubt if Tolstoy would want “forgiveness” from the Orthodox Church today, or marks of distinction from the state. But he would doubtless be pleased that his turbulent ideas are still alive, still radical and still troubling the powerful long after he was laid in his solitary, unmarked grave.
Chris Floyd Oxford, England
The writer is a former columnist for The Moscow Times.
A version of this letter appeared in print on January 10, 2011, on page A20 of the New York edition.
Americans showed their remarkable collective wisdom once again last week, when a shocking act of violence was met with a steady calm across the political spectrum. Indeed, it seemed the entire country was united in a steadfast effort to downplay any disturbing implications of the despicable act and to keep doggedly to business as usual.
We speak of course of Barack Obama's latest "surge" in Afghanistan: his third such escalation of the murderous militarist misadventure in that ravaged land, now heading toward its 10th year of American occupation. Yes, while everyone -- including our leading progressives -- were occupied first with the sight of the orange vulgarian John Boehner waggling the sacred Speaker's gavel then with the latest mass shooting by an American following what George Bush called "the path of action" (i.e., the pursuit of politics by deadly violence) -- the Nobel Peace Laureate was sending 1,400 more troops into the killing fields of Afghanistan.
This move guarantees that there will be an "uptick" in civilians deaths, to borrow the hideous argot of Vice President Joe Biden during the very first Obama "surge" -- which took place less than a month after Obama's inauguration. More killing, more resistance, more extremism, more grief and hatred, more corruption and war-profiteering -- but what of that? These have been the results of every "surge" in the Terror War, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Somalia to Yemen to Pakistan -- and to the many other fronts in the "secret war" of death squads, bombings, kidnappings, gun-running and other terrorist acts that Obama has escalated to mind-boggling heights, and which he is now further entrenching and consolidating with a brand-new HQ for "Special Ops." ("Wetwork Central," perhaps?)
But let us not, in this moment of national grief -- when the Laureate is linking hands across the aisle with the orange vulgarian, putting aside political vitriol in a new spirit of comity (which will doubtless culminate in the bipartisan gutting of Social Security and other such acts of "serious," savvy governance)-- be too critical of our leaders. For surely the main intent of this latest "surge" is not the increase in killing, corruption, chaos and sorrow in Afghanistan (although that will be the inevitable result). No, the primary goal of this act of violence by the Peace Laureate is to provide cover for his political posterior later this year, when he announces the beginning of the long-promised, much-vaunted "drawdown" of troops in the Bactrian satapry.
Can't you see it now? The deadline for the July 2011 "drawdown" approaches. There are earnest articles in the New York Times and Washington Post and other establishment redoubts examining the "internal battles" within the administration on whether Obama will keep his promise to begin winding down the war or else acquiesce to the desire of the "hawks" to maintain troop levels. The agonizing moral debates in the inner circle will be judiciously leaked to favored reporters. Progressive bloggers will enter the fray, calling on the president to be true to his word -- or else this time they really, really, really will be .... really sort of upset with him. The deadline arrives, Obama steps into the pressroom, or into the Rose Garden, or onto the stage at a military base, and he announces .... "The drawdown has begun. Our promise to the American people has been kept."
Then there is rejoicing throughout the progressivosphere ("I've criticized Obama a lot and I'm sure I will again, but you have to give the man credit on this one!") and raging throughout the rightosphere ("Another act of treason by the surrender monkey -- and no, that phrase is not racist!"), and judicious nodding of centrist heads ("We'll just have to wait and see how this plays in Peoria, Jim."). Then you will read down to the fifth or sixth or seventh paragraph in the Times story on the drawdown, and you'll see something like this:
"The first drawdown might be small in overall numbers -- Pentagon officials say that approximately 1,400 troops will be withdrawn over the next two months -- but it is a highly significant milestone. Administration officials are already calling it a political 'home run' for the president ..." And so on and so forth in the usual manner.
In other words, this latest "surge" is a way to increase troop numbers now so that a few troops can be withdrawn later in a symbolic act that will still leave the pointless war-profiteering boondoggle operating in high gear until the cows come home.
It is the kind of bloodsoaked cynicism that only a Nobel Peace Laureate could pull off. And it will doubtless be greeted with hosannas from our progressives ... who in any case will still be ranting about crosshairs on a website -- while ignoring the innocent people being blown and shot to bits by their champion in Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere in his relentless surging of the Terror War.
Note: To understand the deeper implications of this latest escalation, see this remarkably powerful article by Arthur Silber on Obama's last surge. It is a deeply informed and moving essay. And while you are there, please consider contributing to Silber's website. He is in very poor health, and the website is his only means of support. His voice is vital; help him if you can.
For years, I have been writing about the American use of chemical weapons in the savage assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in late 2004. The results of this deployment of WMD began emerging a few months later. The clear evidence of chemical weapons damage among the civilians of the city -- uncovered by Iraqi doctors working for the American-backed government -- was scorned and dismissed at that time, including by many stalwart anti-war voices, apparently frightened that such "extremist" charges would somehow detract from their own "reasonable" opposition -- perhaps even cost them their perches in the mainstream media.
(Oddly enough, my own pieces on the matter were also appearing in the mainstream media -- the pages of The Moscow Times, the decidedly centrist, pro-business, English-language newspaper in the Russian capital, which supported my column from all attacks, including heavy hints from the American embassy that it should be dropped.)
In any case, the evidence of American WMD in Fallujah kept mounting, year after year, until finally, in mid--2010, even the BBC's most respected voices were reporting on the effects of the chemical weaponry -- primarily on the children of Fallujah, some of whom were not yet born when the attack was launched.
Even without the WMD, the attack itself was one of the most horrific events of the still-unfolding act of aggression in Iraq. Presented in the U.S. press as an old-fashioned, gung-ho, WWII-style "battle," it was in fact a mass slaughter, largely of trapped civilians; almost all of the "terrorists" and "insurgents" in the city had long escaped during the months-long, oddly public build-up to the assault. It seemed clear that the intent was not to quash an insurgent nest, as stated, but to perpetrate an act of condign, collective punishment -- primarily against civilians -- in order to terrorize the rest of Iraq into submission. As I noted at the time of the initial attack in 2004:
"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."
This was a voice from the depths of the inferno: Fadhil Badrani, reporter for the BBC and Reuters, trapped in the iron encirclement along with tens of thousands of civilians. ....
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. ...
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
The wanton, unnecessary destruction of Fallujah is one of the central stories of our time. Yet it is almost entirely forgotten, especially among the people in whose name this vast crime was committed. But the marks of this atrocity live on in its victims. Over the holidays, while America's high and mighty were making merry, yet another detailed study was released confirming a major spike in birth defects in Fallujah following the attack. The Guardian reports:
A study examining the causes of a dramatic spike in birth defects in the Iraqi city of Falluja has for the first time concluded that genetic damage could have been caused by weaponry used in US assaults that took place six years ago.
The findings, which will be published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, come prior to a much-anticipated World Health Organisation study of Falluja's genetic health. ... The findings are likely to prompt further speculation that the defects were caused by depleted uranium rounds, which were heavily used in two large battles in the city in April and November 2004.
... One case documented in the report is of a mother and her daughter who after the 2004 battles both gave birth to babies with severe malformations. The second wife of one of the fathers also had a severely deformed baby in 2009. "It is important to understand that under normal conditions, the chances of such occurrences is virtually zero," said Savabieasfahani.
...Birth-defect rates in Falluja have become increasingly alarming over the past two years. In the first half of 2010, the number of monthly cases of serious abnormalities rose to unprecedented levels. In Falluja general hospital, 15% of the 547 babies born in May had a chronic deformity, such as a neural tune defect – which affects the brain and lower limbs – cardiac, or skeletal abnormalities, or cancers.
No other city in Iraq has anywhere near the same levels of reported abnormalities. Falluja sees at least 11 times as many major defects in newborns than world averages, the research has shown.
The new report follows on the harrowing findings reported by the BBC and The Independent (but strangely omitted from the American media) in mid-2010:
Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.
Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.
Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that "to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened".
US Marines first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in April 2004 after four employees of the American security company Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions.
As I noted at that time:
The background here is good as far as it goes, but it omits the salient point of that mutilation of American mercenaries; it followed a series of security shoot-em-ups that killed a number of innocent civilians in Fallujah. The attacks on the Blackwater mercenaries were a violent reprisal for murders committed by foreign agents in the midst of an illegal act of military aggression. But, as always, the American revenge for the attacks was vastly disproportionate: an entire city destroyed, thousands of people killed -- and generations of terrible suffering for innocent children -- all to get "payback" for four mercenaries.
In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. "During preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small sector of the city," recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.
He added that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: "My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside."
As I noted then, the effects of these wonder-weapons were, to borrow Barack Obama's term for the Bush Regime's "surge" in Iraq, "an extraordinary achievement." From the Independent:
The study, entitled "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009", is by Dr Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, and concludes that anecdotal evidence of a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects is correct. Infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait. The report says that the types of cancer are "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout".
Researchers found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. At Hiroshima survivors showed a 17-fold increase in leukaemia, but in Fallujah Dr Busby says what is striking is not only the greater prevalence of cancer but the speed with which it was affecting people.
A city whose birth defect rate is 11 times the world average. A city where children are suffering from cancers "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors" -- indeed, where the increase in leukemia is far greater than among the first victims of American WMD. O where are our great American moralists, who rant and rage at the exposure of a nipple or the thought of gay sex? Why have they not seized on this terrible crime "against the children," this horrible, criminal overreach of "big government?" O where are our great American progressives, who stood so tall and proud against the American war machine when it was led by an embarrassing vulgarian, but now occupy themselves with handwringing and bead-counting about the political fortunes of his bloodstained predecessor, now perpetrating his own mini-Fallujahs week after week against defenseless villagers in Pakistan?
I'm going to finish by repeating my conclusion of the July 2010 piece. Hell, I might just repeat it every six months from now until kingdom come:
I have written about Fallujah over and over for a long time. In many respects, these stories are like the ones I've written about the American-abetted horrors in Somalia: no one gives a damn. Well, I don't give a damn that no gives a damn. I'm going to keep ringing this bell until my arm falls off. We -- Americans -- have committed and countenanced a great evil in Iraq. I can't change that -- and it's obvious that I cannot prevent the "continuity" of such hellish atrocities by the progressive Peace Laureate now in the White House, and by whatever similar blood-soaked poltroon comes to lead the never-ending Terror War for Loot and Power after him. But by god I will not let it be said that I stood by and failed to bear witness to this raging filth.
From 2004 (see original for links):
"The inferno…is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities.
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.