The American way of war is a marvelously ingenious thing. And thoroughly modern too. No more of that "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" jazz; your modern "warfighter" (they aren't called "soldiers" anymore, you know) prefers to view his targets through, say, a computer screen safely ensconced back in the Homeland or thousands of feet in the sky, or else through the unearthly greenish glow of night-vision scopes. And open combat? Forget it. The new American way is the sneak attack on civilian homes in the dead of night. You creep up, you break in, you cap a few ragheads, then you run away. What glory! What magnificent valor!
The Washington Post reports on yet another glorious page in the annals of the exceptional nation "intended by God to be a light set on a hill to serve as a beacon of hope and Christian charity to a lost and dying world." It's the usual story. Secret "warfighters" suddenly attack a civilian compound in the middle of the night. This, not surprisingly, provokes a few shots from some of the inhabitants, who have no idea who is attacking their home. The superior firepower of the beacons of hope and Christian charity quickly overcome the piddling arms of the demonic heathens, however, and in a trice, there are dead gook – sorry, raghead – bodies all around. Including children – you've got to have children in your body count these days, if you want to be a thoroughly modern Christian beacon warfighter. Then you and your brave band of secret warriors run away and prepare for the next bold raid.
Naturally, the local losers come out and boo-hoo-hoo over their dead relatives, as if no one had ever seen their son shot to death in front of their eyes before. They trot out all their evidence that the victims had nothing to do with the "insurgents" (which is what your modern warfighter calls anyone who objects to the presence of armed foreigners prowling all over their land), they keen and wail and do all the other animalistic stuff that primitives do when one of the pack snuffs it. "Oh, I lost my son, oh my son, my precious son," etc., etc. – as if there's not a dozen more when he came from; you know how those people breed.
But anyway, here's the beauty part: if the local dorky darkies start to complain, you just say, "Hey man, we came under fire! Those monkeys shot at us when we came sneaking up on their house in the middle of the night with our guns drawn. That proves they were bad guys. We had to take them out."
That's it. That's the drill. It happens virtually every week now in Afghanistan – just as it happened time and again in Iraq, back when some guy named Stanley McChrystal was in charge of covert ops for that evil, reactionary throwback, George W. Bush. Whatever happened to old Stan anyway? Oh yeah; the nice, progressive, thoroughly modern Barack Obama put him in charge of the whole shooting match in Afghanistan, as well as the not-so-secret war of assassination in Pakistan. And oddly enough, the slaughter of civilians in both of these target countries has been rising ever since.
But hey, that's just how we roll nowadays. That's the American way of war. Creep, sneak, kill, run, lie – repeat. Sure, it only makes things worse, creates more enemies, keeps the wars going. But isn't that the point? Check it out, baby: they're piling an extra $33.5 billion of prime war pork on top of the mountain of Terror War funding already laid out for this year! And you need a whole lot of blood to wash down that meat – and a whole lot of new enemies to make sure the feast never ends.
Arthur Silber outdoes himself with this one-two punch of an essay. It begins with a tale that pierces to the essence of what we are -- and what we are becoming -- under our murderous imperium. The second half unfolds some of the implications of the fable in the hard facts of the present day, taking off from the almost indescribable depravity of the current "debate" over Barack Obama's open assertion of the power to assassinate anyone on earth at his arbitrary order, and the continuation of torture under the current administration, despite all the bright shining lies to the contrary.
Silber ends with an adjuration that encapsulates, with searing clarity, something I have been trying to say for a long time:
Consider again the nature of the subjects under discussion: the immense evil of torture ... and Obama's claim that he has the "right" to assassinate anyone without judicial process or evidence of any kind whatsoever, simply because he says so. Reread the little story offered above. And then be brave enough finally to state the truth, at least in what should be the sacred space of your own mind:
This is insane.
This is monstrous.
This is deeply, unforgivably, irredeemably evil.
Here is a note for those who write and talk about these issues. If you write on these subjects and if you talk about them regularly on radio and television, and if you do not state -- repeatedly, with all the conviction and passion that you can command -- that actions of this kind are insane, monstrous and deeply evil, you are not opposing the monstrousnessness. You are accommodating it, seeking excuses for it, trying to minimize it -- or, to use the phrase I often employ in my own notes -- you are "making friends with evil."
If you do this, you are not fighting against the monstrousness. You are part of it.
But don't be content with just an excerpt. Go read the whole piece, and the links.
The fact that the Obama Administration is operating a secret prison in Afghanistan in which captives rounded up on the usual little or no evidence are being tortured even as we speak -- and even as the president was making his funny-haha jokes about predator drones -- does not come as any surprise. The horror of this reality is by now so routine that it almost defies comment. Or as Arthur Silber puts it in a powerful new essay:
The concept of "depravity" has been rendered close to meaningless. When so much of what happens every day, here and abroad, is so unfathomably depraved, what does it signify to state that another 40 murders of innocent human beings represent still one more monstrous act, or that the torture of another dozen or three dozen or a hundred innocent human beings is unforgivably evil, or that the rape of another 10 or 30 or 50 girls and women constitutes a crime so immense in its magnitude that it makes all commentary completely beside the point, and even itself obscene?
None of it is fully real. Most of it is never even noticed. None of it appears to matter, not in ways which cause a critical number of people to resist in ways which might momentarily slow down the machinery of cruelty and death.
So today I am not going to go through blood-soaked chapter and shit-smeared verse on this latest continuous atrocity, nor dissect the howling, puke-evoking hypocrisy of the Comedian-in-Chief of the War Machine. Instead, I just want to note one comment I ran across in reading about the story. It's from a leading progressive voice, Digby, who does, to her credit, go through chapter-and-verse on the gulag hell-hole.
Citing several sources, she notes that this week's Red Cross confirmation of the secret prison's existence was preceded by extensive reporting on the prison -- and the atrocities carried out there -- by well-known media outlets with impeccable Establishment credentials: the BBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. None of these institutions can remotely be suspected of taking a radical -- or even skeptical -- line when it comes to the operations of state power. It takes a mountain of proof to move them to the slightest criticism of the operations of empire (as opposed to the petty machinations of our scheming courtiers). Thus when they do report extensively on a particular government depredation, citing eyewitness accounts and other evidence, you can be sure these Establishment paladins have already shaved away any taint of advocacy and triple-plated themselves with fact-checking to rebut assaults from their friends and contacts in the circles of power. Indeed, nine times out of ten, their revelations come from the circles of power, with one faction leaking damning facts to undermine a rival gang.
Yet after her admirable recitation of the facts, and their dire implications, Digby comes out with this surprising confession:
I've held off on this issue because of the unequivocal denial by the military that the prison existed and I was willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt. Now that the Red Cross has confirmed that the prison does exist, we know for sure that the military was lying --- and the benefit of the doubt goes to the former prisoners.
She "held off" on the matter, which had been thoroughly reported by the BBC, NYT, WP ... because the Pentagon had denied it. And why would she do such a thing, given the ceaseless flow of lies that has issued forth from that many-sided militarist monument squatting out in the swamplands of Hell's Bottom? Because she wanted to "give the new administration the benefit of the doubt."
The benefit of what doubt? Did she really believe that the Pentagon had somehow been born again through the soul-cleansing election of Barack Obama? The man who, er, retained the leadership of the Pentagon that George W. Bush had put in place? The man who placed a master of black ops and dirty war in charge of the entire "Af-Pak" campaign? A man whose military machine has been caught lying over and over and over and over again about a ceaseless flow of atrocities it has committed -- under his command?
And what is this "new administration" she speaks of? Obama will soon have been in power for 17 months. (He had been in power for 16 months when the BBC issued its first report on the prison). When does an administration cease being "new," with its leaders and agents regarded as genial greenhorns, fumbling their way, learning as they go -- "ya really gotta cut 'em slack on this, they haven't hit their stride yet." In any case, Obama has been intensely involved in the Afghanistan war since the very beginning of his term. Indeed, he has already masterminded not one but two "surges" of the conflict, as well as greatly expanding the murderous campaign of assassinations in Pakistan, killing hundreds of people, terrorizing hundreds of thousands, and exacerbating hatred and extremism at every turn. Afghanistan is Obama's war -- he asked for it during the campaign, and he has willingly made it his own. He has his own hand-picked commander in charge (plucked from the pool of Bushist brass, of course), and he -- he alone -- made the decision not only to keep Bush's Pentagon warlord, but to make him one of his closest advisers.
So I ask again: why would anyone feel compelled to give the Obama Administration the "benefit of the doubt" when it comes to atrocities in Afghanistan -- especially those reported by "respectable," mainstream media institutions?
Digby goes on to make what is, in some ways, an even more surprising statement:
I should have known better. Any administration which declares that it has the right to unilaterally order American citizens to be assassinated obviously isn't going to be squeamish about a little torture, is it?
Yes, exactly. How on earth could someone be cognizant of this universal murder program -- openly announced by Obama's security chief -- and still think that this "new administration" deserves the benefit of the doubt when mainstream media outlets release highly credible stories detailing the continuing atrocities of America's bipartisan gulag? As I wrote here last month:
Let us hear no more excuses for Barack Obama. Let us hear no more defenses, no more special pleading, no more extenuations. Let us have no more reciting of the "pressures" he is under, of the "many obstacles" that balk him in his quest to do us good, of the "bad advisors" who are swaying him to unworthy acts against his will. Let us be done at last with all these wretched lies, these complicitous self-deceptions that are facilitating atrocity and tyranny on a monstrous scale.
Barack Obama has ordered the murder of an American citizen, without trial, without due process, without the production of any evidence. All it takes to kill any American citizen in this way is Barack Obama's signature on a piece of paper, his arbitrary designation of the target as a "suspected terrorist." In precisely the same way -- precisely the same way -- Josef Stalin would place a mark by a name in a list of "suspected terrorists" or "counterrevolutionaries," and the bearer of that name would die. This is the system we have now, the same as the Soviets had then: a leader with the unchallengeable power to kill citizens without due process.
That this power has not been used on the same scale in the American system as in the Stalinist state -- yet -- does not alter the equivalence of this governing principle. In both cases, the leader signs arbitrary death warrants; the security services carry out the task; and the 'great and good' of society accept this draconian power as necessary and right.
This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. It does not matter if you think his opponents in the factional infighting to control a blood-soaked empire and its war machine are "worse" than he is in some measure. When you support him, when you defend him, when you excuse him, it is arbitrary murder that you are supporting. It is the absolute negation of every single principle of enlightenment and human rights professed by liberals, progressives -- indeed, by honorable people of every political stripe -- for centuries.
Yet still, after this, leading liberal voices can say, "Well, the Pentagon says that the BBC, the NYT and WP are all wrong about this nasty secret prison thing. And this new administration -- which I know full well is committed to killing people, even my fellow citizens, without the slightest pretense of due process, and which I know full well still has the proven liars of the Bush War Machine in charge of its operation -- deserves the benefit of the doubt." It boggles, as they say, the mind.
This is not a personal slam at Digby, whose diligent work in continuing to expose the creeping "taserization" of American society I find particularly valuable. Nor am I entirely without understanding of the way that tribal political loyalties can pull strongly on one's reasoning, like the moon working its power on the tides. But at this late date, for this in-no-way new administration, which has laid out its true corporatist-militarist-imperial nature with glaring, painful clarity, it is still striking, even shocking, to see the contortions of accommodation that so many are still willing to put themselves through, in the hope of keeping at least a scrap of obscuring cloth over at least a portion of the naked horror that confronts us.
The found poetry of state terror continues its strange mutilations of the English language. The bizarre verbal heavings of Donald Rumsfeld, for example, are rightly celebrated as choice examples of the genre. And noted English playwright David Hare once fashioned a whole play built largely on the "thought-tormented music" wrought from verbatim transcripts of the principal authors of the war crime in Iraq.
In this regard, as in almost every aspect of the Terror War, "continuity" has been the hallmark of the Obama Administration. But we would do the progressive, forward-looking president a grave disservice if we were to imply that this dynamic, historic figure has confined himself to mere continuity. No, in field after field of governmental endeavor, Barack Obama has striven mightily not just to uphold the many authoritarian and militarist innovations of the Bush Administration, but to expand them -- increasing their scope and depth, codifying, normalizing and making permanent many practices which his predecessors had enshrouded with ambiguity, deception and deliberate murk. Bush and Cheney were afflicted with a vestigial embarrassment at the howling illegality and constitutional subversion of many of their Terror War policies, and seemed to fear these acts would provoke some kind of public outcry or political controversy -- or even prosecution -- should they be made too explicit.
But our cool, savvy and thoroughly post-postmodern president carries none of that dead lumber from our long-vanished past. Where Bush was content with smirks and hints about his assassination program, Obama is bold, sending his security chief to declare openly before Congress that the president now has the unrestricted right and power to murder anyone, Americans included, in cold blood, by the simple expedient of declaring his victim a suspected terrorist of some vague description. Whereas Bush and Cheney usually resorted to backroom bureaucratic knife-twisting or bombastic but empty public threats to try to silence and cow officials who expose high crimes of state, the Obama Administration brazenly brings down the draconian power of federal prosecution against whistleblowers. Our progressives-in-power will not just take away your government job or bluster at your editors if you give your fellow citizens a glimpse of the blood-soaked sausage-making that goes on behind the imperial curtain; no, they will put you in the penitentiary, to rot away with murderers and child abusers, which is where they rank all such treacherous tellers of truth.
So we should not be surprised to find the Obama Administration outstripping its mentors and models from the Bush years in the production of Orwellian nomenclature. Nor is it remarkable that these perversions of language are leading to further perversions of law, morality and plain common sense.
We refer to the recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the vast expansion of the CIA's powers to murder people in Pakistan with missiles fired by robot drones. These remote-control killings were originally aimed at specific, known, named individuals suspected of being top "militant" leaders. But now, people are being targeted not because of any action they are known or alleged to have taken, but simply because they seem to fit an arbitrarily designated "pattern of life" -- even if the remote-control killers don't know the victim's name.
This "pattern" is put together from clumps of data gathered by surveillance robots hovering high in the sky above Pakistani towns and villages, watching people as they go about their ordinary business, and from whatever bits of local gossip the CIA can glean from paid operatives raking through their neighbor's private lives. Naturally, the CIA refuses to describe "the standards of evidence" by which it decides to kill unknown, defenseless people with missile strikes on houses, compounds and neighborhoods. And of course, the Agency claims it is targeting only "militants" (however that infinitely elastic term is being defined these days).
Yet at the same time, the Terror War operatives cannot resist boasting that they are sweeping up so much information that they can determine "the characteristics of individual people." And since is it the pattern of observed daily life that yields the designation of a person as a "militant," the CIA must inevitably be tracking countless numbers of innocent people as well. Otherwise, how could they discern specific "patterns of life" that indicate the existence of a hitherto unknown "militant" within a given population? You can only get such data by observing that population as a whole.
In other words, the program, for all its technological whizbangery, is essentially a crude KGB-style rape of the privacy of individual human beings, whose lives are a forced open book, with every action and interaction being judged by a remorseless spy, holding the power of life and death in his hands. People who act "suspiciously" -- by unknown criteria, determined in secret -- can be killed without warning, without trial, without charge, without even their names being known to their killers. But here, of course, our thoroughly modern president outstrips the KGB, which usually picked off its victims piecemeal, quietly, individually. Nowadays, we send heavy missiles screaming through the sky to destroy whole buildings and city streets in order to kill one unnamed, unknown suspect who has somehow exhibited the wrong "pattern of life." In almost every case, many people -- sometimes dozens -- die with the victim, regardless of the "pattern of life" they displayed for the deadly peeping toms on the Potomac.
As the Times notes, this particular tactic of state terror was initiated in the last year of the Bush Administration, but has been greatly expanded and "even streamlined" by the Obama Administration. The result has been the deaths of hundreds of people. As the Times reports:
Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information. In some cases, the CIA discovered only after an attack that the casualties included a suspected terrorist whom it had been seeking.
The CIA was directed by the Bush administration to begin using armed drones to track Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda figures, as well as Taliban leaders who fled to Pakistan's tribal areas after the Sept. 11 attacks.
President Bush secretly decided in his last year in office to expand the program. Obama has continued and even streamlined the process, so that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta can sign off on many attacks without notifying the White House beforehand, an official said.
Missile attacks have risen steeply since Obama took office.
Note the telling little details. In some cases, it is only after an attack that our CIA guardians (or more likely, their paid private contractors) discover there was a suspected militant among the smoking, stinking pile of dead bodies that their drones have left behind. And the "vast majority" of these officially claimed 500 victims (the true number of dead is much greater, of course) were killed on the basis of "only fragmentary information" at best. What's more, the LAT reports that these deadly attacks are being carried out in Pakistan at the rate of one every three and a half days.
Let's be clear. A program like this, conducted on such a broad and relentless scale, is in no way aimed solely at eliminating individual "militant leaders" or even "insurgent networks." It is, quite demonstrably and unarguably, a terrorist campaign, designed to terrorize the target populations into acquiescence with the attacker's agenda. Again, despite its use of advanced technology and sophisticated Orwellian techniques -- Big Brother in the sky, with a bomb -- it is no less primitive, morally and politically, than a carload of fireworks and fertilizer left to explode on a city street. The only result of the program will be to engender more hatred of the United States (and of the vaunted "civilized values" the United States purports to represent), and to provoke more retaliation, more bloodshed, more extremism.
This is the "pattern of death" that a system based on terror, violence and domination will inevitably produce. You can pervert the language that surrounds it, cloaking it with security-geek jargon, or fine phrases about freedom and security; you can tell jokes about it, turning stone-cold mechanized killing based on "fragmentary information" into a jolly jape to titillate sycophantic journalists and vacuous celebrities. You can do anything you like to disguise the reality of your terrorist campaign -- but you cannot change that reality on the ground where it is occurring, nor stop the reverberations from your evil and idiotic actions from spreading their turbulence in ways you have never foreseen, and can never control.
Der Spiegel has published a series of striking pictures recently discovered in the forgotten archives of a Berlin publishing house: photographs of city scenes in the immediate aftermath of Nazi Germany's surrender.
First, in what the magazine aptly calls a "surreal image," Red Army soldiers gather before the ravaged Brandenburg Gate for a poetry reading, with the city still smoking from its death-struggle.
Next, grim street scenes: one of the innumerable suicides of German civilians as the Russians entered the city, wreaking a dreadful vengeance for their 20 million dead; and one of the thousands of Nazi soldiers killed in the final battle.
Finally, life carrying on, as it will, whatever the circumstances: Red Army soldiers distributing bread to Berlin women -- slicing it with a captured Nazi dagger.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings." -- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
"Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand." -- Homer Simpson
Our text today is from Tom Englehardt, who is on the case with yet another ignored atrocity by our super-duper Special Ops boys in the goodest good war of them all out in Afghanistan. (See the original for the many links):
[H]ere it is in a nutshell: there was a U.S. night raid somewhere near the Afghan city of Jalalabad. American forces (Special Operations forces, undoubtedly), supposedly searching for a "Taliban facilitator," came across a man they claimed was armed in a country in which the unarmed man is evidently like the proverbial needle in a haystack. They shot him down. His name was Amanullah. He was a 30-year-old auto mechanic and the father of five. As it happened, he was also the brother-in-law of Safia Siddiqi, a sitting member of the Afghan Parliament. He had, as she explained, called her in a panic, thinking that brigands were attacking his home compound.
And here was the nice touch for those U.S. Special Operations guys, who seem to have learning abilities somewhat lower than those of a hungry mouse in a maze when it comes to hearts-and-minds-style counterinsurgency warfare. True, in this case they didn’t shoot two pregnant mothers and a teenage girl, dig the bullets out of the bodies, and claim they had stumbled across "honor killings," as Special Operations troops did in a village near Gardez in eastern Afghanistan in March; nor did they handcuff seven schoolboys and a shepherd and execute them, as evidently happened in Kunar Province in late December 2009; nor had they shot a popular imam in his car with his seven-year-old son in the backseat, as a passing NATO convoy did in Kabul, the Afghan capital, back in January; nor had they shadowed a three-vehicle convoy by helicopter on a road near the city of Kandahar and killed 21 while wounding 13 via rocket fire, as U.S. Special Forces troops did in February. They didn’t wipe out a wedding party – a common enough occurrence in our Afghan War — or a funeral, or a baby-naming ceremony (as they did in Paktia Province, also in February), or shoot up any one of a number of cars, trucks, and buses loaded with innocent civilians at a checkpoint.
In this case, they killed only one man, who was unfortunately — from their point of view — reasonably well connected. Then, having shot him, they reportedly forced the 15 inhabitants in his family compound out, handcuffed and blindfolded them (including the women and children), and here was that nice touch: they sent in the dogs, animals considered unclean in Islamic society, undoubtedly to sniff out explosives. Brilliant! "They disgraced our pride and our religion by letting their dogs sniff the holy Koran, our food, and the kitchen," Ms. Siddiqi said angrily. And then, the American military began to lie about what had happened, which is par for the course. After the angry legislator let them have it ("…no one in Afghanistan is safe — not even parliamentarians and the president himself") and the locals began to protest, blocking the main road out of Jalalabad and chanting "Death to America!," they finally launched an investigation. Yawn.
If I had a few bucks for every "investigation" the U.S. military launched in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years after some civilian or set of civilians died under questionable circumstances, I might be on vacation year around.
The U.S. military can, however, count on one crucial factor in its repetitive war-making: kill some pregnant mothers, kill some schoolboys, gun down a good Samaritan with two children in his car trying to transport Iraqis wounded in an Apache helicopter attack to a hospital, loose a whirlwind that results in hundreds of thousands of deaths — and still Americans at home largely don’t care. After all, for all intents and purposes, it’s as if some other country were doing this on another planet entirely, and "for our safety" at that.
In that sense, the American public licenses its soldiers to kill civilians repetitively in distant frontier wars. As a people — with the exception of relatively small numbers of Americans directly connected to the hundreds of thousands of American troops abroad — we couldn’t be more detached from "our" wars.
This is a theme, a reality, that is emerging more clearly as the years of the never-ending Terror War drag on: by and large, the American people do not care about the innocent people being killed, in their names, all over the world. They don't care about "the children’s limbs hanging in trees," as war's eyewitness John Pilger puts it.
They don't care -- even as the inevitable, predictable blowback from these murderous polices comes home to roost on their own streets, the icy voice of revenge that says: "You come to our countries and kill our people; we will come to your country and kill yours." The former is considered a high and noble calling; the latter an act of unspeakable evil. That violence is not the answer -- that it only perpetuates the endless cycle of murder and vengeance that has marked our humankind since our mutation out of apehood -- is of no moment to those who see their loved ones shredded to death unjustly before their eyes.
What would I do if I came home from an ordinary day at work to find my children -- my children -- dead beneath the ruins of my drone-struck house? What would I do if saw my ailing father muscled from his home by masked goons who beat him and humiliate him then drag him off, bleeding, dying, to some iron-fronted dungeon? I hope I would have the strength to hold onto my belief in non-violence as the only hope to one day evolve our natures, and our cultures, beyond their deep-dyed savagery. But how likely is it that I would be that extraordinary, that I would have the extra measure of wisdom to know that more death and destruction would not bring back my loved ones, but only keep the cycle going to devour more innocents? How likely is it that I would have the moral courage to fight off the "cloud of blood and hormones" that drives the craving for revenge?
Not too likely, I fear; not in my case, nor in that of most others. Yet every day -- day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year -- atrocities like those described above are being carried out, in the name of the American people, in the name of civilization, in the name of our "way of life." Every day, day after day, some father or mother finds their children's limbs hanging in the trees, some child finds his parent's broken bodies smoking in the rubble, some ordinary, innocent human being sees their loved ones beaten, chained, abused and killed. Every day, day after day.
Only a fool -- a bloody-minded, arrogant, puffed-up, pig-ignorant fool -- could not see the horrific harvest of hate and destruction that will spring from such evil seeds. Only a fool -- or an elitist so wadded in wealth and privilege that he believes these monstrous fruits will never touch him personally, and doesn't care what happens to the rabble below, as long as his profits -- and his primitive, psychosexual lust for forcible dominion -- remain safe.
We are ruled today by just such fools, together with just such cold, deadened, malevolent spirits. But we seem to be content with this. Indeed, the most vociferous, active dissent we see these days comes from those who feel the system is not cruel enough -- who rage at the very thought that tax money might be spent to help someone in need, or that the borders have not yet been laced with radioactive razor-wire, or that accused criminals still have their rights read to them, or that Iran has not been destroyed, or that the power of Big Money might in any way be hedged with light restrictions.
These things bring thousands out in anger: but murder, aggression, torture, atrocity, and corruption on a scale unseen and hitherto unimaginable in human history -- these leave them cold ... as cold as the malevolent spirits who with their useful fools accelerate our degradation.
*This piece has been edited since its original posting.
Illness and other aggravations have hindered the blogivating of late, so below are some choice items from other quarters that are well worth your attention.
The Children's Crusade Andy Worthington tells the truly horrendous story of Omar Khadr, who was taken captive as a child by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and has now spent eight years in the lower depths of the American gulag. He is now being "tried" in the kangaroo "tribunals" of the Bush-Obama Continuum, under arbitrarily concocted, illogical "laws" whose cruel absurdity would shame a Stalinist show trial, including this arbitary ruling by the Department of Defense: “a detainee may be convicted of murder in violation of the law of war even if they did not actually violate the law of war.” You must read the whole piece to see the abysmal depravity that now reigns supreme throughout the highest, most respectable reaches of the bipartisan American estabishment.
Chris Hedges tells a few home truths about the state of the union, in the aptly titled, "No One Cares":
We are approaching a decade of war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq is in its eighth year. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands more Afghans and Pakistani civilians have been killed. Millions have been driven into squalid displacement and refugee camps. Thousands of our own soldiers and Marines have died or been crippled physically and psychologically. We sustain these wars, which have no real popular support, by borrowing trillions of dollars that can never be repaid, even as we close schools, states go into bankruptcy, social services are cut, our infrastructure crumbles, tens of millions of Americans are reduced to poverty, and real unemployment approaches 17 percent. Collective, suicidal inertia rolls us forward toward national insolvency and the collapse of empire. And we do not protest. The peace movement, despite the heroic efforts of a handful of groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Green Party and Code Pink, is dead. No one cares.
The roots of mass apathy are found in the profound divide between liberals, who are mostly white and well educated, and our disenfranchised working class, whose sons and daughters, because they cannot get decent jobs with benefits, have few options besides the military. Liberals, whose children are more often to be found in elite colleges than the Marine Corps, did not fight the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 and the dismantling of our manufacturing base. They did nothing when the Democrats gutted welfare two years later and stood by as our banks were turned over to Wall Street speculators. They signed on, by supporting the Clinton and Obama Democrats, for the corporate rape carried out in the name of globalization and endless war, and they ignored the plight of the poor. And for this reason the poor have little interest in the moral protestations of liberals. We have lost all credibility. We are justly hated for our tacit complicity in the corporate assault on workers and their families.
Our passivity has resulted, however, in much more than imperial adventurism and a permanent underclass. A slow-motion coup by a corporate state has cemented into place a neofeudalism in which there are only masters and serfs. And the process is one that cannot be reversed through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics.
Outsourcing Pain for Insider Profit From Corrente comes the shocking news that Barack Obama has put the voracious foxes of privilege and profit in charge of the henhouse of entitlement programs. The Correnthians point to a piece by James Ridgeway:
When Obama’s new deficit commission gets going, it intends to be “partnering“–in the words of executive director Bruce Reed – with outside groups. Among them will be the foundation run by Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson, who on Wednesday will upstage the president with his own fiscal summit in Washington. Obama insists he is keeping an open mind about how to deal with the deficit and national debt–but as I’ve written before, he’s already stacked his own commission with people who lean heavily toward one particular solution: cutting entitlements. And now he is working hand-in-glove with a wealthy private organization whose central purpose is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Talk about foregone conclusions.
Not just foregone, but foreordained, as anyone who noted the herd of Big Money moose that Candidate Obama had gathered around him during his run for the White House could have foreseen. (Step forward, Arthur Silber and Pam Martens!)
Partners in Crime As Dan Kovalik reports, the "genocidal democracy" in Colombia continues to rage on, with even more American help than ever from the progressive Peace Laureate in the White House. With up to 150,000 "extrajudicial killings" by state forces and their proxies, the Obama administration is hugging the berserkers even tighter:
Father Giraldo, citing new estimates by Colombia's own Prosecutor General, has now shattered those original estimates, announcing that the Prosecutor General is currently investigating 150,000 extrajudicial killings by the paramilitary groups - killings which took place between the late 1980's and the current time. ... [Yet] even as the U.S. has provided Colombia with massive amounts of assistance - most of it military, of course - Colombia has continued to slip deeper and deeper into poverty, with 43% of its population now living in poverty and 23% living in "extreme poverty." As the Washington Post explained, Colombia is "the only major country in Latin America in which the gap between the rich and poor has increased in recent years, according to a report by the UN Economic Commission on Latin America."
Of course, as Father Giraldo noted ... this is all according to Washington's plan to make Colombia a compliant country open to unchecked exploitation by U.S. companies with an endless well of hunger for Colombia's vast reserves of oil, coal, fruits, flowers and precious metals and gems, as well as for a desperate workforce willing to accept barely-subsistent wages.
With President Obama continuing to solidify the U.S.'s relationship with Colombia through a new deal which will give the U.S. access to 7 military bases, and through a Free Trade Agreement which Obama is now pushing, despite his campaign pledges to oppose it, this deadly game plan continues unabated. Only massive resistance in this country can end such destructive foreign policies.
Well, it would end such destructive policies -- except for the fact that, as noted above, no one cares. After all, there has not been a single objection raised among our great and good -- or the public at large -- against Obama's own embrace of "extrajudicial killing" of American citizens (and anyone else on earth our elite want to kill). So what's a few more -- or a hundred more -- or 150,00 more -- assassinated peasants?
I. The Ghost Who Walks
Last week, the reappearance of a figure from the recent past briefly stirred the amnesiac fog that enfolds the brutal reality of the American empire. Former Panamanian ruler Manuel Noriega was taken from the American prison which has been his home for the past 21 years and flown to Paris, where he is to stand trial for decades-old drug-trafficking charges.
The extradition was itself illegal. Noriega, who was captured after the illegal American invasion of his country in 1989, was classed by the United States as a "prisoner of war." In fact, he is the only official POW in American hands today; the empire's innumerable Terror War captives have been denied this designation and its legal protections under the Geneva Conventions. But of course the United States long ago stopped paying even lip service to those "quaint" strictures, as the Noriega case once again demonstrates. Under the Geneva Conventions, POWs cannot be sent by their captors to a third country. But Washington wants to keep Noriega – a former CIA asset who left the rez and defied his imperial paymasters – under wraps, even though his U.S. sentence for drug charges has now been served. So off he went to France at the order of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – convention, and Conventions, be damned.
But why is it so vital to keep the ex-CIA hireling deep-sixed? Simon Tisdall has some answers in the Guardian. Tisdall notes that the U.S. invasion was ordered by Noriega's former CIA boss turned president, George Herbert Walker Bush, to complete an American-backed coup that had failed a few months earlier. Bush sent 24,000 troops to the tiny Central American country – which had been illegally hived off from Colombia in the early 20th century in order to give America control over the territory where the Panama Canal would be built.
By the time of the Bush invasion, American elites had been fuming for years over the Panama Canal Treaty signed in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter, which finally gave control of the Canal to Panama. Even though the treaty would not go into effect until 1999, it evoked bitter and virulent controversy, as anyone around in those days will remember well: Carter was a traitor, a socialist, a weakling, giving away sacred American territory and undermining national security, etc., etc. In fact, the battle was in many ways a test-run for the well-oiled combination of corporate interests, aggressive nationalism and right-wing crankery that would dominate American life after 1980.
Noriega came to power after the death of the Panamanian leader who had signed the treaty, Omar Torrijos – who went down in a plane crash a few months after anti-treaty stalwarts Ronald Reagan and CIA chief Herbie Walker took over in Washington. Noriega, who had been a CIA "asset" since the late 1950s, carried on his yeoman service on behalf of his new bosses for awhile – but the assumption of formal power went to his head. He forgot he was a servant, was surly with his masters, and finally crossed the line: refusing to take part in the secret terrorist war that Reagan and Bush were waging, with Iranian money, against Nicaragua. Suddenly, Noriega's manifold crimes and massive corruption, which Washington had tolerated – indeed rewarded – for decades, suddenly became matters of urgent concern. Noriega went from imperial pet to "new Hitler" in fairly short order. Tisdall takes up the story:
Noriega was a thug. But for many years, he was America's thug – until he turned on his mentors. Trained in military and intelligence matters at the School of the Americas, he became for a time a valued CIA "asset" working for the agency and the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Government documents submitted to the Miami court in pre-trial hearings in 1991-92 confirmed that Noriega was paid (at least) $320,000 by the US government for services rendered. Simply put, Noriega knew too much. He acted as a cold war listening post for the US during turbulent times in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, according to William Buckley's book, Panama: the Whole Story. …
In this capacity, Noriega would have heard a great deal of interesting material, as the Reagan-Bush team aided and abetted horrific atrocities carried out by their right-wing proxies in the region, depredations that killed thousands of innocent people – more than 200,000 in Guatemala alone. Back to Tisdall:
The jury in Noriega's trial on 10 narrowly defined drug-related counts heard none of this. Nor did it hear about Noriega's contacts with Oliver North, John Poindexter, CIA chief William Casey and other key figures in the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations who, allegedly, connived in the supply of arms to Nicaragua's Contra rebels paid for with Medellín cartel drug cash. There were many other such allegations; and Noriega claimed to have proof of senior US politicians' connivance in drug trafficking for political purposes. But none was allowed in evidence.
Having served his sentence, the "prisoner of war" Noriega should now be returned to his own country. But this cannot be allowed. As Tisdall notes:
In Panama, Noriega would have been free to tell all he knew. And for many powerful men in Washington, some of whom are still alive, that prospect was potentially dangerous. The outcome of the Noriega case in Miami, like the 1989 invasion, was never in doubt from day one. It was a show trial, a warning to others. It was pure vengeance. It was a cover-up of decades of illicit regional meddling. But it was also a demonstration of raw American power, of which the world was soon to have more frightening examples.
II. The Past is Prologue
What does this "ancient" history have to do with our brave new world, where world-renowned progressive heroes and Peace Laureates guide with benign and benevolent hand? Plenty.
Noriega's case reminds us of the cynical and brutal nature of the American empire's actual operations. Not the gauzy pictures painted by the increasingly all-pervading "psy-ops" warfare conducted by our militarist honchos to control the "information battlespace" of the American mind (as powerfully detailed in a new piece by Tom Hayden), but the genuine blood-soaked filth and crime which undergirds "the shining city on a hill." This is not old news or ancient history: it is happening today, all over the world, in shadows and corners we will never see – except in stolen glimpses revealed by accident, or by leaks from one pack of courtiers trying to bring down another, or through diligent efforts of a handful of journalists and investigators, and the enormous courage of some survivors and eyewitnesses to the operations of power.
The rise of Barack Obama to temporary management of the imperial enterprise has changed nothing of this. Nor was it ever intended to. As I noted here back in March 2008, before Obama had secured the Democratic nomination:
Well, it doesn't really get much plainer than this, does it? From AP:
Obama Aligns Foreign Policy with GOP
Sen. Barack Obama said Friday … "that my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush's father, of John F. Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan...."
Obama is doing two things here, reaching out to two very different audiences, on different wavelengths. First, for the hoi polloi, he is simply pandering in the most shameless way imaginable, throwing out talismans for his TV-addled audience to comfort themselves with: "You like JFK? I'll be like him! You like Reagan? I'll be like him too! You like the first George Bush? Hey, I'll be just like him as well!" This is a PR tactic that goes all the way back to St. Paul the spinmeister, who boasted of his ability to massage his message and "become all things to all men." Obama has long proven himself a master of this particular kind of political whoredom -- much like Bill Clinton, in fact, another champion of "bipartisan foreign policy" who for some strange reason got left off Obama's list of role models.
But beyond all the rubes out there, Obama is also signaling to the real masters of the United States, the military-corporate complex, that he is a "safe pair of hands" -- a competent technocrat who won't upset the imperial applecart but will faithfully follow the 60-year post-war paradigm of leaving "all options on the table" and doing "whatever it takes" to keep the great game of geopolitical dominance going strong.
What other conclusion can you draw from Obama's reference to these avatars, and his very pointed identification with them? He is saying, quite clearly, that he will practice foreign policy just as they did. And what they do? Committed, instigated, abetted and countenanced a relentless flood of crimes, murders, atrocities, deceptions, corruptions, mass destruction and state terrorism… [This was followed by detailed examples from this glorious record.]
What Obama promised, he has delivered. Escalating the Terror War, expanding arbitrary powers over life and liberty (even openly proclaiming the power to kill American citizens by executive order), protecting the avowed torturers of his predecessor while continuing "enhanced interrogations" by American agents and foreign proxies, filling the coffers of war profiteers with ever-increasing mountains of loot – in all things he has proved himself an apt pupil and worthy heir of the imperial ancestors he lauded.
Just last month had another of those rare glimpses into the thuggish reality of imperial power in its continuity under Obama. It was in Afghanistan, now ruled by Obama's hand-picked commander, General Stanley McChrystal – a long-time expert in the blackest ops of covert war, a man "whose entire career in Iraq remains a classified secret," as Hayden reminds us. It was a small story, making only the slightest stir for a few hours: the report that Obama's secret terror warriors had dug the bullets out of the bodies of two pregnant women and a teenage girl they had killed in a botched night raid on a home that was actually occupied by officials of the American-backed Afghan government. Evidence indicated that the American agents used knives – or for all we know, can openers – to pry their bullets loose from the still-fresh corpses, and from the surrounding walls which had been sprayed, berserker-style, in the raid. Then the respectable official spokesmen for the American military put out the story that the dead women had been victims of an "honor killing" at the hands of the barbaric natives: the hands, in fact, of the two men who had also been killed in the raid – a police commander and a prosecutor for the U.S-backed government, now transformed into "insurgents."
In this particular case, the operations of the fog machine were thwarted by a reporter for the UK paper, The Times, who, practicing the ever more novel art of journalism, uncovered the truth by going to the scene and talking to eyewitnesses, survivors, and local officials. Finally, weeks later, the American brass were forced to admit that their agents had murdered the innocent villagers, violated their corpses and then lied to the world about it. The usual scrapings from petty cash were passed around to the survivors -- $10,000 for five lives. American officials made the usual apologies. "Black Ops" McChrystal made the usual noises about avoiding civilian casualties and tightening the reins on his night riders.
That's it. That's all that happened. No one was punished, no one was prosecuted, no one was fired or even reprimanded for this act of murder and butchery. The story appeared, there was the slightest parting of the cloud, then the fog enfolded reality again.
And this was just one story. What of the many – the countless – other stories that never see even a glint of the light of day? The incidents that go on – the murder, corruption, subornation, subversion, thuggery, and crime of every description that are the daily business of maintaining a system of military dominion and rampant oligarchy? We don't know the half of it, the tenth of it; we wander in the fog, hearing the distant ghostly moans, but never knowing where they come from, or what they mean.
Listen now to a further point: no mortal thing
Has a beginning, nor does it end in death and obliteration;
There is only a mixing and then a separating of what was mixed,
But by mortal men these processes are named 'beginnings.'
"Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion. Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-coloured lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus."
-- R.W. Emerson
*** A conversation during Civil War. (From Bright, Terrible Spirit):
"But in days past, I was a lawyer. Yes, a lawyer, can you believe it? It seems….ridiculous now, doesn't it? An orderly system meant to govern human society, to establish justice, to advance the progress and enlightenment of the human race. Yet that system, that civil cosmos – to which I was so passionately committed – embraced and protected the most wretched evils, entrenched the powerful in their unjust privilege, oppressed the poor and weak most relentlessly and wickedly, yet at every step – at every step – sang hosannas to itself as some kind of divinity. The "Law" – oh, what a hush of reverence surrounded that word, how deeply that reverence and respect penetrated the heart. Well, my heart, anyway. But in these last few years we have seen – in intense, concentrated, microscopic view – the truth about the law, a truth which too often escaped us in the slow unrolling of peacetime. The truth that there is no law, no Platonic Form out there to which we give paltry representation. There is only power: power in conflict with power, power seeking to drive out power, to establish its dominance, maintain its privilege. Power…acquiesces to law – sometimes – but it never, never bows to it. Power goes along with the law when it is convenient to do so, when it is not too restrictive, when it demands little more than the occasional sacrifice – for the powerful are certainly not above throwing one of their own to the mob when circumstances require. But when it comes to the crisis, power shreds the law like a filthy rag and has its own way. And then you see that the law is nothing but a rag, to be torn and patched and fitted to power's aims. The worst atrocities I have seen or heard of in this war have been committed wholly and completely under the law. This thing I held in such reverence was, is, nothing but a scrap soaked with blood and shit.
"I know there are philosophical arguments to be made against this viewpoint. I have made them in the past, and could even now conjure them up like spirits and make them dance before us. It would be a solace to me, to believe once again. But it would only last a moment. For I know what I know. I know what life has taught me, what it has shown me, I see the evidence laid clearly before me and the jury of my mind returns the inescapable, indisputable verdict. I can tell by your expression that you know what I'm talking about."
"I have some inkling, yes," Jim said, warily. He was reluctant to give away anything of his own troubled thoughts. He was also not entirely sure that Malcolm Stuart was sane. Where was this bleak outpouring headed? Toward some mad act of despair? Or was it simply the overflow of a long-pent mind, giving vent to some of its pressures?
The dead sun drew
a smile of blood across my face,
spoke to me through
the shadow of my voice:
Man, it said, this might be next to nothing
and drawn through a bitter tap,
but it's all you'll ever have.
Don't spill a drop.
-- John Glenday, from Grain
And here's Emerson again, on organ, with a backing band:
Well, that wasn't exactly the headline – but it was the truth behind the reports about the vote in the House of Representatives to tighten the ligature of sanctions around the neck of Iran, as Antiwar.com reports. In accordance with the "diplomacy" of the Peace Laureate in the Oval Office, the House wants to "cripple" the Iranian economy by starving the human beings who live there of gasoline and other vital goods necessary to maintain a modicum of ordinary life.
In other words, the popularly elected leaders of the world's greatest democracy – champions of liberty, justice and human rights – want to stop ambulances from transporting sick and dying children to the hospital. They want whole families to burn to death, whole city blocks to go up in flames while fuelless fire trucks stand idle. They want deliveries of food and medicine to grind to a halt, setting off spirals of starvation, disease, chaos and vast suffering. They want to see tens of millions of innocent human beings driven into a low and brutal level of subsistence, to languish, diminish – and die – in deprivation and misery. This is what they want to see happen. This is the clear intent of their "diplomatic" strategy.
And why are they doing this? Because – ostensibly because – the government of Iran is pursuing the development of a nuclear energy program in accordance with international treaties and under international supervision. And if the above condign punishment of millions of innocent people does not force the government of Iran to give up this legal, carefully inspected program, then the champions of liberty, justice and human rights have proclaimed their intent to unilaterally attack Iran with all the "options" at their command, up to and including the "option" of immolating multitudes of innocent human beings with nuclear weapons.
Now, the government of Iran is an odious regime. Not nearly as odious as, say, the regime of America's staunch ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, of course, but odious enough. But as restrictive as it has been to its own citizens, it has not – in the last decade alone – launched and maintained massive wars of aggression and domination that have killed, by direct and collateral hand, more than a million innocent people. The bipartisan champions of liberty, justice and human rights in Washington have done that, and are doing that.
They seek to break Iran not because it is an odious regime, but because it defies the imperial will, and balks the bipartisan imperial agenda to impose domination on the oil lands. If Iran agreed to become an American client state tomorrow, it would not matter in the least how odious its regime might be -- as we saw in the long, atrocious decades when America's pet tyrant, Reza Pahlavi, ruled there. But because Iran has not agreed to this, it is now a target for decimation: by sanctions and the ongoing campaign of American-backed terrorism and covert operation (all of which are themselves acts of war, including most emphatically the sanctions, as noted here recently), or else by direct military action by American war machine or its proxy in Israel.
And that is why we hear the constant regurgitation of ludicrous charges from our national leaders on the "great threat" that Iran poses to the entire planet. Indeed, Harry Reid, the leading Democrat in the United States Senate -- lauding the House vote and licking his chops to advance this escalation bill to final approval in his bailiwick -- declared that Iran was "a festering sore in the world": crude, dehumanizing language familiar to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Nazi propaganda. Reid went on:
"As [the House] get [the bill] out, I will move everything within my power to move it to the floor [of the Senate] The Middle East is unstable. This will help stabilize it."
Just think of the towering stupidity of that remark. Whatever else you might say about tightening sanctions on Iran -- even if you believed it was the right thing to do -- the one thing you could not say is that such a move will "help stabilize" the Middle East. Indeed, Iran hawks of every stripe -- from the sanctionist strangulators to the bomb-em-now brigade -- openly, even proudly aver that their ultimate aim is to overthrow the current Iranian regime: that is, to greatly, vastly, decisively de-stabilize the Middle East by bringing down one of its most powerful governments. And of course, the sanctions themselves -- like all the other war measures launched by the United States against Iran, and like all the aggressive, constant threats to attack, punish, even obliterate Iran -- are clearly and deliberately aimed at provoking retaliation by the Tehran government: blowback which will, by design, make the Middle East more unstable ... thus 'justifying' whatever measures the United States takes to further its dominationist agenda.
Reid knows this, of course. He does not believe -- not for a single nano-second -- that tightening the noose around Iran's neck will "help stabilize" the Middle East. But he -- like our entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment -- thinks that you are stupid enough to believe it.
Reid's warmongering lies were echoed by another top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who, as AFP reports, forthrightly declared that "the world faces no security threat greater than the prospect of a nuclear Iran."
O lucky world! The greatest thing we have to fear -- in all the world -- is the prospect that Iran -- whose leaders consistently denounce even the idea of nuclear weapons as the gravest sin, and whose nuclear energy program (we repeat for the nth time) is under the closest international supervision ever imposed on a nation -- might, somehow, someday, produce a nuclear weapon. If the mere prospect of this remote possibility is the greatest thing we have to fear in the modern world, then by Godfrey we are in a lot better shape than I thought.
But again, none of this is true. And Berman -- even though he is one of many Congressfolk who seem to believe that they actually represent a district located somewhere between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea -- knows it is not true. He knows, as any sentient being knows, that even if Iran did produce a nuclear weapon, it would not and could not pose an "existential threat" to Israel -- or to the United States for that matter. Any nuclear attack by Iran on Israel would result in a massive retaliation from Israel's nuclear arsenal (obtained and maintained illegally, outside any international treaty or supervision). And even if Israel had no nukes, a nuclear attack by Tehran in the close quarters of the Middle East would rain deadly fallout back on Iran itself. Not to mention the distinct possibility of retaliation by the United States -- or indeed Russia or any number of nuclear states who would feel threatened by this wanton, self-destructive act of nuclear aggression.
In any case, all of this speculation -- every bit of it -- is itself the purest fantasy. It is not going to happen -- and our champions of liberty, justice and human rights who sit ensconced in the midst of thousands of nuclear weapons while directing wars of aggression -- know it is not going to happen. The "Iranian threat," as promulgated by the leaders of both parties in the United States, is the basest of falsehoods -- as the promulgators themselves well know.
I realize it is deeply insulting to the intelligence of anyone with a modicum of intelligence to point out these glaringly, tediously obvious facts -- but when you are dealing with the vast amount of crude, Nazi-like propaganda that daily inundates the American people on the subject of Iran, this kind of waste treatment is necessary.