Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 23:34
With international turf battles and diplomatic spats slowing the distribution of food, water, medicine and security in Haiti, the stricken people are now fleeing to the countryside. This may actually help the situation in one sense, as it might be easier to get aid to more people in unruined areas; however, it will also put a great strain on regions which are themselves mired in poverty and deprivation, and lacking in infrastructure.
Meanwhile, in Port-au-Prince, as aid begins to trickle in, anguished medical professionals are lamenting the multitude of unnecessary deaths that the bureaucratic bottlenecks have caused. As the Guardian reports:
Médecins sans Frontières says confusion over who is running the relief effort – the US which controls the main airport, or the UN which says it is overseeing distribution – may have led to hundreds of avoidable deaths because it has not been able to get essential supplies in to the country. "The co-ordination ... is not existing or not functioning at this stage," said Benoit Leduc, MSF's operations manager in Port-au-Prince. "I don't really know who is in charge. Between the two systems (the US and the UN) I don't think there is smooth liaison [over] who decides what."
...There has been criticism from some aid agencies of the Americans for giving priority to military flights at the airport while planes carrying relief supplies are unable to land. MSF has had five planes turned back from the airport in recent days, three carrying essential medical supplies and two with expert surgical personnel.
"We lost 48 hours because of these access problems," said Leduc. "Of course it is a small airport, but this is clearly a matter of defining priorities."
Asked how many avoidable deaths had been caused by the delays, he said that hundreds of critical lifesaving operations had been delayed by two days.
"We are talking about septicaemia. The morgues in the hospitals are full," he said.
... John O'Shea, the head of the Irish medical charity, Goal, [said], "there is only one thing stopping a massive and prodigious aid effort being rolled out and that is leadership and co-ordination. You have neither in Haiti at the moment."
The American government response has largely been a militarized one. But the celebrated American war machine -- whose annual budgets could lift millions out of poverty, deprivation and lack of infrastructure every year -- seems too musclebound to respond with the precision and flexibility that the situation requires. No doubt most of the individuals involved in the effort are working tirelessly; but a system designed for war, for death, destruction and domination, will never be a fit instrument for humanitarian relief.
The chief face of the United States in Haiti right now are highly-armed veterans of imperial wars, trained for conquest and occupation -- and many of them strained by multiple tours. And while many Haitians will greet the sight of any organized force coming to help them, America's long and ugly history with Haiti is not forgotten either, as Ed Pilkington notes:
The Haitian in whose house in Port-au-Prince we are staying – a prominent businessman and generally very pro-America – keeps a cherished machete on his wall. It was used, he explained to me one night, by his grandfather to attack US soldiers during the 1915-1934 American occupation of his country.
Writing on Monday, Pilkington also detailed the fatal slowness of the musclebound relief effort:
Day seven of the catastrophe, yet wherever we go we are still surrounded by crowds of people living on the streets pleading with us for water. A few miles away at the airport huge quantities of supplies are stacked high in the sun. Under a deal finalised between the heads of relevant parties on Sunday night, US troops will be responsible for securing the incoming supplies at the airport, and then moving them to four central distribution hubs. One of those hubs is at the national football stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince and another at a golf course near the US embassy.
That will free up troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti, so the official line goes, to take charge of the next stage of the process – getting the aid out of the central hubs and to the neighbourhoods. For that purpose the UN has pinpointed 14 distribution locations where it, together with aid groups, will hand out the goods.
The plan sounds neat, thoroughly thought-out, fool-proof. There is only one problem: it is several days late.
A vast, permanent, completely mobile, well-trained, civilian rescue and restoration corps could easily be maintained by the United States, at the merest fraction of what it now pays out for its regular "war supplements" -- never mind the obscenely bloated 'regular' Pentagon budget. (And yes, such a corps would have a security component, made up of officers who have been trained to deal with suffering people in extremity -- not those trained to inflict suffering and extremity on people.)
This seems like a somewhat better use of public money than, say, waging endless wars to "project dominance" to the four corners of the earth, or bailing out a kleptoplutocracy that has wrecked the global economy and ruined the lives of millions around the world -- or even enriching pharmaceutical and med-biz conglomerates beyond the dreams of avarice just to claim you have passed health care "reform" without actually reforming an insanely expensive and unjust system. But like Dennis Kuchinich's idea of a "Department of Peace," any notion of a full-scale rescue corps would be hooted off the national stage by the super-savvy serious "realists" who rule our discourse, and our lives.
So we will go on as we are now. When natural disasters strike -- and they will be striking more often, and with deadlier effect, on our crowded, corroded planet in the years to come -- we will simply follow the same old pattern: launching ad hoc, inept attempts to retool a few bits and pieces of the lumbering War Machine for temporary humanitarian service. And once again, hundreds, if not thousands, of stricken people will die needless deaths.
NOTE: As noted here the other day, two good venues for giving aid to Haiti are Partners in Health and the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, both of whom have been working in Haiti for many years.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 01:08
If you really want to know the truth about the sickening wretches who run our country, if you want to know exactly what they will commit, what they will command, what they will countenance and conceal, all the way to the very top of the blood-greased pole of the Oval Office, then read every word of this astounding piece by Scott Horton in the new edition of Harper's: "The Guantanomo 'Suicides.'"
This is a full-length article which the magazine is making available for free on its website. In it, Horton unfolds the story of three men, almost certainly innocent, who were almost certainly murdered by American "interrogators" at a secret site in the American concentration camp in Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, on the night of June 9, 2006 -- an atrocity that set off a long, complex chain of deceit that continues to this day.
These killings were not only declared "suicides" by Washington; it was even claimed that the deaths were deliberate acts of "asymmetrical warfare" carried out by hardened terrorists -- "fanatics like the Nazis, Hitlerites, or the Ku Klux Klan, the people they tried at Nuremberg," as a Pentagon mouthpiece told the press. Yet as Horton notes, all three men had been put on "a list of prisoners to be sent home." One of them was only a few weeks away from his formal release. There was no credible evidence of terrorist connections against any of the men, two of whom had been sold into captivity by bounty hunters.
Yet these prisoners did have one black mark against them. They had been taking part in hunger strikes to protest conditions in the concentration camp. They were troublemakers, loudmouths. They wouldn't break. They had lawyers.
And so, according to a mass of credible evidence -- from heavily redacted official reports pieced together by the students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University, and from the courageous testimony of soldiers who had been on duty that night -- these three men, Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, were taken to a "black site" at Gitmo known as "Camp No." All regular military personnel were forbidden to enter the site, or even acknowledge its existence -- although some soldiers later testified to hearing screams from behind Camp No's concertina wire. Eyewitnesses say that three prisoners were taken, one by one, in a white van to Camp No on the night of June 9; and later, just before the alarm went up about the "suicides," the van returned and unloaded a mysterious cargo.
As Horton notes, the official accounts of the "suicides" are risible:
According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated.
[Yes, that's the same NCIS that has its noble adventures in the pursuit of truth and justice celebrated each week in a top-rated TV show.]
What really happened to the men? One clue comes from yet another hunger striker, Shaker Aamer, who was "interrogated" that same night, but managed to survive:
He described the events in detail to his lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, who was permitted to speak to him several weeks later. Katznelson recorded every detail of Aamer’s account and filed an affidavit with the federal district court in Washington, setting it out:
On June 9th, 2006, [Aamer] was beaten for two and a half hours straight. Seven naval military police participated in his beating. Mr. Aamer stated he had refused to provide a retina scan and fingerprints. He reported to me that he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs. The MPs inflicted so much pain, Mr. Aamer said he thought he was going to die. The MPs pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears. They choked him. They bent his nose repeatedly so hard to the side he thought it would break. They pinched his thighs and feet constantly. They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a mag-lite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out.
The treatment Aamer describes is noteworthy because it produces excruciating pain without leaving lasting marks. Still, the fact that Aamer had his airway cut off and a mask put over his face “so he could not cry out” is alarming. This is the same technique that appears to have been used on the three deceased prisoners.
Aamer, who wife is British, continues to be held in the concentration camp, despite the UK government's request for his release, and despite the fact that there is "no suggestion that the Americans intend to charge him before a military commission, or in a federal criminal court, [or] indeed, [that] they have [any] meaningful evidence linking him to any crime." The only dangerous thing about Aamer is what he knows, and what he can tell.
Horton examines the official cover-up of these deaths in great detail. The deliberate and systematic deceptions began in the first hours after the killings -- and are still going on, carried forward with great guile by the Obama Administration. All along the way, evidence was destroyed, records were falsified, eyewitnesses were ignored -- or threatened. When the whistleblowers took the case to the new Administration in early 2009, hoping for a fairer hearing from the progressive young president, they were fobbed off with earnest promises of a thorough investigation by a team which included a close crony and former law partner of new Attorney General Eric Holder. But after months of inaction, the probe was suddenly closed, with government officials refusing to explain the decision.
Perhaps the most gruesome act in this bipartisan cover-up was the mutilation of the dead men's bodies. All three of them had their neck organs removed by military pathologists in the earliest stages of the investigation. As Horton notes:
An odd admission, given that these are the very body parts—the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage—that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking. These parts remained missing when the men’s families finally received their bodies.
This mutilation -- "the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy" -- prevented the families from carrying out proper forensic examinations of their own. Their request for the return of their children's body parts went unanswered.
All they are left with -- all we are left with -- are mutilated corpses and lies.
There is much more in Horton's piece, and again, I urge you to read it in full. Hold it in your mind the next time some sanctimonious official begins extolling the exceptional virtues of our shining city on the hill. And remember -- always remember -- that this militarist system of lawless violence and brutal domination is what our greasy pole-climbers, of whatever political stripe, want to have; it is what they want to wield. It is precisely this kind of power -- of life and death, of sway and command -- that they yearn for, fight for, cheat for and lie for in the bizarre and hollow rituals that our empire stages every four years.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 18 January 2010 17:36
One can almost feel the disappointment amongst Western media mavens that earthquake-stricken Haitians have not, in fact, degenerated into packs of feral animals tearing each other to pieces. Day after day, every single possible isolated incident of panic, anger, "looting" (as the removal of provisions from ruined stores by starving people is called) and vigilantism has been highlighted -- and often headlined -- by the most "respectable" news sources. [As you can imagine, Britain's truly vile -- but eminently "respectable" and politically pampered -- Daily Mail is a leader in this odious field, with stories about "slum warlords" leading gangs of violent "pillagers."]
And yet the prophesied riots never seem to materialize. Outlets such as the New York Times are moved to remark, with seeming wonder, "Amid Desperation, Mood Stays Calm," as the paper noted in one sub-headline on its website on Monday. Astonishingly, the Haitians are acting almost like real human beings in any vast disaster: trying to stay alive, trying to care for loved ones, trying to help strangers, trying to get through the worst and reach a place where they can begin to rebuild their lives and communities. The media have sought strenuously to revive the bogus narrative that they foisted on the destruction of New Orleans: "Black Folk Gone Wild!" But thus far, they have been palpably disappointed.
Of course, there is anger among the stricken populace. Anger at the slowness of relief efforts, and anger at the utter collapse of the "government" which was installed by the American-backed coup in 2004. The "president" of this regime has been conspicuous by his absence in the crisis, neither speaking to the people by radio nor appearing among them. This may change now that sufficient American troops have arrived to bolster his confidence, but it has been a striking example of the vast disconnection between the implanted government and the people. The anger now submerged by the need for immediate relief and recovery may emerge with strong force later -- especially if the American-led restoration efforts simply return the nation to the strangulation of the pre-quake status quo.
Barack Obama's cynicism in placing George W. Bush, of all people, as a figurehead of America's "abiding commitment" to Haiti is jaw-dropping. Not only did Bush preside over one of the most colossally inept and destructive responses to a natural disaster in modern times -- while also inflicting the unnatural disaster of mass murder in Iraq -- it was his administration that engineered the latest coup in Haiti, saddling it with an unpopular, powerless government that simply collapsed in the earthquake. Choosing Bush to spearhead relief for Haiti is like hiring Ted Bundy as a grief counselor for murder victims.
Bush's co-figurehead, Bill Clinton, is hardly a better choice, of course. As we noted here earlier this week, it was Clinton who imposed a brutal economic and political stranglehold on Haiti as his "condition" for restoring the democratically elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1996 -- after Aristide had been ousted earlier in a coup engineered by the first President George Bush.
Both of these ex-presidents bear great responsibility for creating the conditions of dire poverty, ill health, corruption and political instability that have made the effects of this natural disaster so much worse. Yet these are the men whom Obama has made the public face of America's humanitarian mission.
In the short run, I suppose it doesn't matter. Obama was bound to pick some hidebound Establishment figure anyway, so why not these two? Maybe Bush and Clinton can squeeze a few extra relief dollars out of the bloated plutocrats they run with -- and Clinton can also work the celebs who still like to bask in the afterglow of his former imperial power. If the prominence they have gained by immoral means can provide immediate relief to those whom they have so grievously afflicted, then so be it.
But in the long run, their selection as the symbols of America's altruistic concern for Haiti's wellbeing certainly does not augur well for any genuine reconfiguration of Haiti's crippling political and economic arrangements. On the contrary; it signals pretty clearly that the imperial gaming of Haiti will go on.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 18 January 2010 17:32
To mark the day set aside to honor that cuddly, kindly American hero of yesteryear, we offer this paraphrase from Woody Allen:
"If Martin Luther King Jr. came back and saw the things being done in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 17 January 2010 00:59
Arthur Silber has surfaced again after a long silence due to chronic -- and worsening -- illness. As you can see from this post, his health remains precarious, and he is need of assistance -- not only for the bare modicum of health care that he might be able to eke out with a few extra dollars, but also just to survive on a daily basis: buying food, paying rent, etc.
Silber has no insurance, and no other means of support other than what he is given for the writing on his blog. And readers here know that his writing and insights are incomparable, and that Silber gives us a deep and bracing viewpoint that we sorely need. [Just check out the list of "Major Essays" on his site -- or take a random stroll through his archives -- and you will see what I mean.]
So if you have anything to give, please consider throwing a bit of it Silber's way, as soon as you can.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 13 January 2010 22:36
Via Mark Crispin Miller, the Center for Constitutional Rights points to some venues for getting help to the people of Haiti: Partners in Health and the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. You can find several more in this listing from the New York Times.
The relentlessly maintained, deliberately inflicted political and economic ruin of Haiti has a direct bearing on the amount of death and devastation that the country is suffering today after the earthquake. It will also greatly cripple any recovery from this natural disaster. As detailed below, Washington's rapacious economic policies have destroyed all attempts to build a sustainable economy in Haiti, driving people off the land and from small communities into packed, dangerous, unhealthy shantytowns, to try to eke out a meager existence in the sweatshops owned by Western elites and their local cronies. All attempts at changing a manifestly unjust society have been ruthlessly suppressed by the direct or collateral hand of Western elites.
The result? Millions of people -- weakened by hunger, deprivation, malnutrition, disease -- living jammed together in precarious, substandard housing. A lack of the physical, financial and civic infrastructure needed to support a decent life in ordinary times -- and to provide proper assistance, and a strong framework for rebuilding, when disaster strikes. Even a far lesser earthquake than the one that struck this week would have caused an unconscionable amount of unnecessary suffering in a nation that has been as ruthlessly and deliberately throttled as Haiti.
With Hurricane Katrina, we saw how callously and unjustly America's elites reacted to the destruction of one of their own cities. Politically connected Mississippi millionaires got prompt and copious assistance -- while many New Orleans natives are still refugees, scattered across the country years after the flood. And this in a nation in which the infrastructures -- though rapidly rotting from the corruption of greed and militarism -- are still strong. What hope then for Haiti?
Yes, there will now be a great outpouring of immediate aid, as there always is after any spectacular disaster. And of course, this is laudable, and I encourage anyone who can to contribute what they can to these efforts. But unless there is a sea-change in American policy, unless there finally comes an end to the curse that has been laid on Haiti -- not by God, or by the Devil, but by the hard hearts of elites following blindly in the cruel traditions of their predecessors -- then this flurry of caring and attention will soon give way again, as it has always done, to callous disregard, brutal repression and inhumane exploitation.
The tale of these cruel traditions -- and the "continuity" with them that Obama has already displayed -- does not augur well for such a change. But as that wise man, Edsel Floyd, always says, we live in hope and die in despair. And such a hope for Haiti is worth holding onto, and working toward.
At the same time, hope must not be blind; you have to acknowledge the grim realities in order to know just what you're up against. So let's take a long, hard look.
Scant hours after the earthquake hit, televangelist Pat Robertson was on the air, declaiming to his millions of viewers that the reason Haiti was stricken by this disaster -- and has been suffering grievously for 200 years -- is because the Haitians "swore a pact with the devil" in order to win their freedom from their French colonial overlords the early 1800s.
And while such vomitious expulsions are to be expected from this well-wadded, politically-wired, virulently extremist mullah (once aptly described in these pages as a "dictator-coddler, blood diamond merchant, Jew-hater and milkshake shiller") this time there is a very tiny grain of truth to be found in the splattered mass of Robertson's upchucking. The Haitians have indeed been cursed for 200 years, and the curse does indeed go back to their liberation. But pace Robertson, the source of this curse is not metaphysical. As I noted in a piece written in 2004:
Exactly two hundred years ago, Haitian slaves overthrew their French masters -- the first successful national slave revolt in history. What Spartacus dreamed of doing, the Haitian slaves actually accomplished. It was a tremendous achievement -- and the white West has never forgiven them for it.
In order to win international recognition for their new country, Haiti was forced to pay "reparations" to the slaveowners -- a crushing burden of debt they were still paying off at the end of the 19th century. The United States, which refused to recognize the country for more than 60 years, invaded Haiti in 1915, primarily to open it up to "foreign ownership of local concerns." After 19 years of occupation, the Americans backed a series of bloodthirsty dictatorships to protect these "foreign owners." And still it goes on.
Indeed it does. The 2004 piece detailed Washington's latest long, bipartisan squeeze play on Haiti, which culminated in a coup engineered by the Bush Administration -- the second time in which a U.S. president named George Bush had ousted the democratically-elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office. It is tale worth telling again:
Although the  Haiti coup was widely portrayed as an irresistible upsurge of popular discontent, it was of course the result of years of hard work by Bush's dedicated corrupters of democracy, as William Bowles of Information Clearinghouse reports. Bushist bagmen funded the political opposition to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, smuggled guns to exiled Haitian warlords, and carried out a relentless strangulation of the county, cutting off long-promised financial and structural aid to one of the poorest nations on earth until food prices were soaring, unemployment spiked to 70 percent, and the broken-backed government lost control of society to armed gangs of criminals, fanatics and the merely desperate. Meanwhile, Haiti was forced to pay $2 million a month on debts run up by the murderous (U.S.-backed) dictatorships that had ruled the island since the American military occupation of 1915-1934. ...
The ostensible reason for Bush's deadly squeeze play was Haiti's disputed elections in 2000. That vote, only the nation's third free election in 200 years, was indeed marred by reports of irregularities -- although these were not nearly as egregious as the well-documented hijinks which saw a certain runner-up candidate appointed to the White House that same year. There was no question that Aristide and his party received an overwhelming majority of legitimate votes; however, out of the 7,500 offices up for grabs, election observers did find that seven senate results seemed of dodgy provenance.
So what happened? The seven disputed senators resigned. New elections for the seats were called, but the opposition - two elitist factions financed by Washington's favorite engines of subversion, the Orwellian-monikered "National Endowment for Democracy" and "International Republican Institute" -- refused to take part. The government broke down because the legislature couldn't convene. When Bush came in, he tightened the screws of the international blockade of the island, insisting that $500 million in desperately needed aid could not be released unless the opposition participated in new elections - while he was simultaneously paying the opposition not to participate.
The ultimate aim of this brutal pretzel logic was to grind Haiti's destitute people further into the ground and destroy Aristide's ability to govern. His real crime, of course, was not the Florida-style election follies or the reported "tyranny." ... No, Aristide did something far worse than stuffing ballots or killing people -- he tried to raise the minimum wage, to the princely sum of two dollars a day. This move outraged the American corporations -- and their local lackeys -- who have for generations used Haiti as a pool of dirt-cheap labor and sky-high profits. It was the last straw for the elitist factions, one of which is actually led by an American citizen and former Reagan-Bush appointee, manufacturing tycoon Andy Apaid.
Apaid was the point man for the rapacious Reagan-Bush "market reform" drive in Haiti. Of course, "reform," in the degraded jargon of the privateers, means exposing even the very means of survival and sustenance to the ravages of powerful corporate interests. For example, the Reagan-Bush plan forced Haiti to lift import tariffs on rice, which had long been a locally-grown staple. Then they flooded Haiti with heavily subsidized American rice, destroying the local market and throwing thousands of self-sufficient farmers out of work. With a now-captive market, the American companies jacked up their prices, spreading ruin and hunger throughout Haitian society. The jobless farmers provided new fodder for the factories of Apaid and his cronies. Reagan and Bush chipped in by abolishing taxes for American corporations who set up Haitian sweatshops. The result was a precipitous drop in wages - and life expectancy. Aristide's first election in 1990 threatened these cozy arrangements, so he was duly ejected by a military coup, with Bush I's not-so-tacit connivance.
But as we said, the latest round of punishment for Haiti was a thoroughly bipartisan affair:
Bill Clinton restored Aristide to office in 1994 - but only after forcing him to agree to, yes, "market reforms." In fact, it was Clinton, the privateers' pal, who instigated the post-election aid embargo that Bush II used to such devastating effect. Aristide's chief failing as a leader was his attempt to live up to this bipartisan blackmail. As in every other nation that's come under the IMF whip, Haiti's already-fragile economy collapsed. Bush family retainers like Apaid then shoved the country into total chaos, making it easy prey for the warlords whom Bush operatives - many of them old Iran-Contra hands - supplied with arms through the Dominican Republic, the Boston Globe reports. ...
When Aristide agreed to a deal, brokered by his fellow leaders in the Caribbean, that would have effectively ceded power to the Bush-funded opposition but at least preserved the lineaments of Haitian democracy - Apaid and the boys turned down the offer, with the blessing of their paymasters in Washington, who suddenly claimed they had no influence over their recalcitrant hired hands. ...
Instead, Aristide was told by armed American gunmen that if he didn't resign, he would be left to die at the hands of the rebels. Then he was bundled onto a waiting plane and dumped in the middle of Africa. Within hours, the Bush-backed terrorists were marching openly through Port-au-Prince, executing Aristide's supporters.
Guess they won't be asking for two dollars a day now, eh? Mission accomplished!
Of course, all of that happened in the bad old days, before Barack Obama ushered us into a new, "post-racial" era. Surely this man of vision and compassion, himself a scion of Africa, would at last put an end to Haiti's punishment for rising up against its white masters.
But it was not to be. As noted here last year, in "Cry, the Unforgiven Country":
Obama and his "superstar" secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, are loudly championing the latest egregious, brutal farce that Washington and the West have foisted upon the uppity natives of Haiti.
Senatorial elections held this month by the government imposed on Haiti after the U.S.-backed coup of 2004 ... produced a turnout of less than 10 percent of eligible voters: a result that mocks any notion of a popular, legitimate democracy. But this is not because the Haitians are so lazy and disinterested that they couldn't be bothered to vote. Nor that they are so satisfied with the benevolent, paternal care of their American-appointed masters that they saw no need to let silly electoral contests trouble their bucolic life.
No, the 90 percent refusal rate was in fact a massive protest action, driven chiefly by the fact that the American-backed government would not allow the most popular party -- the party of the government ousted by the 2004 coup -- to run a slate of candidates in the election. By clerkly hook and bureaucratic crook, Haiti's election overseers banned the Fanmi Lavalas slate back in February. At that moment, the April elections became a dead letter, a meaningless farce -- yet another cruel joke played on the people of Haiti.
How did the enlightened progressives of the new American administration respond? John Caruso reports:
CLINTON: The U.S. removed a military dictatorship in 1995, clearing the way for democracy. And after several years of political disputes, common in any country making a transition, Haiti began to see progress. And the national and presidential elections in 2006 really moved Haiti’s democracy forward. What the president and the prime minister are seeking is to maintain a strong commitment to democratic governance which will take another step forward with elections for the senate on Sunday.
To translate from the vulgar Clintonian dialect: 1) "political disputes" refers to the overwhelmingly popular presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was "disputed" (and continually undermined) by the U.S. and its fifth column in Haiti; 2) Haiti "began to see progress" thanks to the U.S.-backed coup of Aristide in 2004; and 3) the 2006 elections that "really moved Haiti's democracy forward" excluded both Aristide and FL's preferred candidate in his stead (Father Gerard Jean-Juste, thrown in prison on invented charges by the U.S.-backed government in order to prevent him from running), resulting in the ascension of Rene Preval—who understands clearly who's the boss, and therefore merits a pat on the head from Clinton.
Which brings us to today's senatorial elections, in which the U.S./Haitian "strong commitment to democratic governance...will take another step forward" via the calculated suppression of the majority party's ability to run a slate of candidates...
So the centuries-long U.S. project of democracy prevention in Haiti is still going swimmingly. And anyone who feared that our first black president might be less sympathetic to the need to smash the democratic aspirations of the first free black nation in the hemisphere can rest assured: Obama will never let race — or anything else — stop him from doing the empire's dirty work.
It is certain such dirty work will soon be afoot once more -- and we must fight it, call attention to it, and not let Haiti disappear in the imperial shadow yet again. But at this moment, the most pressing concern is the human suffering in Haiti. So again, do look into the relief efforts noted above, or any others you might prefer.
UPDATE: John Caruso has more background on one of the relief agencies recommended above, plus more historical context for Haiti's suffering, including this devastating piece by Noam Chomsky.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:39
In the latest London Review of Books, Neal Ascherson provides a revealing vignette of the machtpolitik that is the true guiding principle of the Potomac Empire -- despite all its never-ending evangelical cant about promoting "democracy" and "freedom" around the world. Ascherson shows American leaders confronting the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989 in "Gorbachev Betrayed." Here we see American elites scrambling to preserve the "stability" of Soviet rule across Eastern Europe -- even at one point signalling U.S. approval for armed intervention by the Soviets to control the situation.
But this should not be surprising. In an imperial system, power exists for its own sake; it is not an instrument for the advancement of principles or the public good. Its only true goal is self-perpetuation, and so it seeks to protect itself against any and all possible threats, however remote or minor. "Instability" is always one of the great bugbears of power-systems. Any movements that arise outside established norms are always highly suspect (even those in line with the system's professed ideals) -- and subject to the most strenuous attempts to bring them to heel as soon as possible. (Such as the murderous dose of economic "shock doctrine" that was administered to the former Soviet Union.)
Unfortunately, the LRB piece is subscription only; but here's the relevant excerpt:
Bush the Elder took over in 1989, suspicious of Gorbachev and determined to halt Reagan’s rush into arms reduction agreements, which Bush thought were destabilising the global balance. But he was far from being a passionate freedom fighter. As the year drew on, and widening cracks spread across the Cold War’s architecture, he was not so much happy about the new birth of liberty as worried about Europe’s growing unpredictability. All these books [under review] give examples of his exaggerated caution. He came to prefer reforming Communists, who at least had experience of managing things, to dissidents and opposition heroes. In Poland he urged General Jaruzelski to run for president, judging him a much safer pair of hands than Lech Walesa, and declined to pour aid money ‘down a Polish rat-hole’. In Hungary, he shocked opposition members by appealing to them to back the new Party leadership. He was dismayed by the enthusiasm of rebels like the bearded János Kis, who reminded him of a Woody Allen character: ‘They’re just not ready.’
His team shared his fear that the Cold War might end in chaos and local conflicts. At the start of the year, Bush had sent Henry Kissinger (codenamed ‘Kitty’) to Moscow on a secret mission to make contact with Gorbachev. Kissinger, going far beyond his brief, suggested that the United States and the Soviet Union set up a joint superpower condominium over Europe: ‘Let us make an agreement so that the Europeans do not misbehave.’ Bush later backed away from this appalling proposal, but Kissinger wasn’t wrong about his president’s instincts. At the end of 1989, as Ceausescu’s tyranny fell apart in wild bloodshed, Secretary of State James Baker sent a message to Gorbachev that the United States might not object if the Soviet Union intervened with armed force in Romania.
Ironically, the Soviets eschewed this proffered collusion for preserving their empire. As Ascherson notes:
All [of the authors under review] agree, because it’s inescapable, that none of these events [the liberations of 1989] would have taken place as they did without Gorbachev, and his decision that the Soviet Union would no longer use armed force to rescue Communist regimes from their internal problems.
Obviously Gorbachev believed, in his own naive and bumbling way, that the purpose of power was not simply its own perpetuation, that when you could no longer even pretend that it was serving a good purpose, when those under your dominion wished to order their own affairs, then you had to lay power down. Contrast this to the far more sophisticated viewpoint of America's bipartisan elite, who believe with evangelical fervor that you never take any option of "national power" off the table, and that armed intervention -- "humanitarian," "defensive," "pre-emptive" or otherwise -- in the affairs of other countries is a righteous doctrine to be applied liberally and continuously all over the world.
And what of the betrayal in the title of Ascherson's piece? This was of course the promise that the West would not extend NATO to the east, in exchange for Soviet approval for the reunification of Germany. This was no small concession for a nation that had lost more than 20 million people in a war against German aggressors less than 50 years before. But as Ascherson notes, the Western "promise" was nothing more than a "historic swindle":
On 9 February 1990, at the end of a visit to Moscow lasting several days, James Baker met Gorbachev. The previous day, with Shevardnadze, he had talked about conventional force reductions, and then about Germany. Baker’s handwritten notes read like this: ‘End result: Unified Ger. anchored in a changed (polit) Nato – whose juris. would not move eastward!’ In other words, the Soviet Union was agreeing to accept German unification in return for an assurance that Nato would stay where it was. Gorbachev’s notes of his meeting with Baker the next day say the same: ‘any extension of the zone of Nato would be unacceptable.’ Baker then explained his bargain with Gorbachev to Kohl. When Kohl met Gorbachev, the chancellor repeated that Nato ‘would not move an inch eastwards’. This was disingenuous. Two weeks later, in Washington, Kohl was saying that Nato should cover the whole of the new Germany.
This was the deal that unlocked the heart of Europe. The Soviet Union, overcoming all its doubts and memories, had consented to a united Germany. But, unfortunately for Gorbachev, he had not bothered to make Baker put the deal in writing. And the West cheated him. That September, it was agreed that Nato should include the whole of united Germany. Gorbachev protested. But he had been outsmarted, and that public humiliation contributed to his overthrow a year later. In 1999, Nato enlarged to cover Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In another five years, Nato had reached Estonia, only 100 miles from St Petersburg.
And so died Gorbachev's idea of "a Common European Home": an "enormous association of independent states, socialist and capitalist, stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals," peacefully evolving, with a common security system, no NATO, no Warsaw Pact, no bristling "missile shields" massing on borders, no military encirclement and brutal exploitation threatening Russia and turning it inward toward nationalistic, "strongman" rule. Perhaps even no Yeltsin, no "shock doctrine," no oligarchs, no Chechen Wars, no societal and systemic collapse that led to the ruin and premature deaths of millions of people.
Naturally, there would have been many hurdles to overcome in this approach, as Ascherson rightly notes. But in any case, it was a viable alternative that was not even tried, or even seriously considered by the other power-players in the Soviet endgame.
Yet it does remind us that alternative visions to the grim self-perpetuations of deeply entrenched massive power systems do exist. We must of course deal with the world as we find it; but reality is not destiny. We do not have to accept that the world remains as we find it, that it cannot change, that no alternative is possible. We do not have to live forever in the stunted, blood-dimmed imaginations of power.
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 09 January 2010 23:29
For almost 200 years, since the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has continally asserted – and often physically exerted – its self-awarded right of dominion over all the lands south of its border. Military "partnerships," exploitative sweetheart deals for U.S. corporate and financial elites, and general servility toward Washington's political and economic agenda have been the chief characteristics of this "special relationship."
Whenever these elements are to Washington's liking, the Latin American country in question is considered a "good neighbor" – however heinous it might be to its own people. But if any one of these elements is not pleasing in the eyes of the Beltway lords, then the offending nation becomes a pariah, a dangerous hotbed of radicalism, terrorism and that most dread condition of all: instability.
Two recent articles reaffirm the unfortunate vitality of this dreary truth.
First, Joseph Shansky brings us this report from Honduras, where the newly elected "legitimate" government of coupsters blessed by Barack Obama are honoring the ancient traditions of American-backed Latin American "democracy":
Now that the world heard from mainstream news outlets such as the New York Times of a “clean and fair” election [in Honduras] on Nov. 29 (orchestrated by the US-supported junta currently in power), the violence has increased even faster than feared.
The specific targets of these killings have been those perceived as the biggest threats to the coup establishment. The bravest, and thus the most vulnerable: Members of the Popular Resistance against the coup. Their friends and family. People who provide the Resistance with food and shelter. Teachers, students, and ordinary citizens who simply recognize the fallacy of an un-elected regime taking over their country. All associated with the Resistance have faced constant and growing repercussions for their courage in protesting the coup. With the international community given the green light by the US that democratic order has returned via elections, it’s open season for violent forces in Honduras working to tear apart the political unity of the Resistance Front against the coup.
...On Sunday, Dec. 7, a group of six people were gunned down while walking down the street in the Villanueva neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. According to sources, a white van with no license plates stopped in front of the group. Four masked men jumped out of the van and forced the group to get on the ground, where they were shot. ... The Honduran independent newspaper El Libertador reports that the group members were all organizers against the coup. According to a resident in the area, "The boys had organized committees so that the neighbors could get involved in the Resistance Front."
This massacre was part of a string of Resistance-related murders during the past few weeks alone. On December 3, Walter Trochez, 25 a well-known activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community was snatched off the street and thrown into a van, again by four masked men, in downtown Tegucigalpa. In the report that he later filed to local and national authorities, Walter said he was interrogated for hours for information on Resistance members and activities, and was beaten in the face with a pistol for refusing to speak. He was told that he would be killed regardless, and he eventually escaped by throwing open the van door, falling into the street, and running away.
....On Dec. 13, one week later, Walter was shot in the chest by a drive-by gunman while walking home. He died at the hospital.
On Dec. 5, Santos Garcia Corrales, an active member of the National Resistance Front, was detained by security forces in New Colony Capital, south of Tegucigalpa. He was then tortured for information on a local merchant who was providing food and supplies to the Resistance. After reporting the incident to local authorities, Santos’ body was found five days later on Dec 10, decapitated.
.... The latest victim, Carlos Turcios, was kidnapped outside his home in Choloma Cortes, at three in the afternoon of Wednesday Dec. 16. He was found dead the next day, with his hands and head cut off. Carlos had been vice-president of the Choloma chapter of the Resistance Front, a town located a few hours outside of the capital. Andres Pavón, president of CODEH (Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras), commented: "We believe this horrendous crime joins others where the bodies show signs of brutal torture…This aggression is directed to the construction of collective fear.”
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate in the Oval Office has yet to issue his forthright condemnation of this "political cleansing" by his new clients in Tegucigalpa. The Surgeon General warns that it may be dangerous to hold one's breath until such a declaration is forthcoming.
Second, as William Blum notes, in the latest installment of his always informative and insightful "Anti-Empire Reports," it was ever thus:
Lincoln Gordon died a few weeks ago at the age of 96. He had graduated summa cum laude from Harvard at the age of 19, received a doctorate from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, published his first book at 22, with dozens more to follow on government, economics, and foreign policy in Europe and Latin America. He joined the Harvard faculty at 23. Dr. Gordon was an executive on the War Production Board during World War II, a top administrator of Marshall Plan programs in postwar Europe, ambassador to Brazil, held other high positions at the State Department and the White House, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, economist at the Brookings Institution, president of Johns Hopkins University. President Lyndon B. Johnson praised Gordon's diplomatic service as "a rare combination of experience, idealism and practical judgment".
You get the picture? Boy wonder, intellectual shining light, distinguished leader of men, outstanding American patriot.
Abraham Lincoln Gordon was also Washington's on-site, and very active, director in Brazil of the military coup in 1964 which overthrew the moderately leftist government of João Goulart and condemned the people of Brazil to more than 20 years of an unspeakably brutal dictatorship. Human-rights campaigners have long maintained that Brazil's military regime originated the idea of the desaparecidos, "the disappeared", and exported torture methods across Latin America. In 2007, the Brazilian government published a 500-page book, "The Right to Memory and the Truth", which outlines the systematic torture, rape and disappearance of nearly 500 left-wing activists, and includes photos of corpses and torture victims ...
The coup ... was actually the beginning of a series of fascistic anti-communist coups that trapped the southern half of South America in a decades-long nightmare, culminating in "Operation Condor", in which the various dictatorships, aided by the CIA, cooperated in hunting down and killing leftists.
Gordon later testified at a congressional hearing and while denying completely any connection to the coup in Brazil he stated that the coup was "the single most decisive victory of freedom in the mid-twentieth century."
...So the next time you're faced with a boy wonder from Harvard, try to keep your adulation in check no matter what office the man attains, even — oh, just choosing a position at random — the presidency of the United States. Keep your eyes focused not on these "liberal" ... "best and brightest" who come and go, but on US foreign policy which remains the same decade after decade. There are dozens of Brazils and Lincoln Gordons in America's past. In its present. In its future. They're the diplomatic equivalent of the guys who ran Enron, AIG and Goldman Sachs.
Of course, not all of our foreign policy officials are like that. Some are worse.
And remember the words of convicted spy Alger Hiss: Prison was "a good corrective to three years at Harvard."
Yes, our great and good are rarely either – especially when there is sinister mischief to be made in the hemispheric backyard of the empire.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 08 January 2010 14:54
Scott Horton of Harper's gives us chapter and verse of the Justice Department's very deliberate -- and insultingly brazen -- sabotaging of its own case against the Blackwater mercenaries who murdered 17 Iraqis in Nisoor Square back in September 2007. As any sentient observer could have told you then, these hired killers -- gorging on taxpayer dollars as they assisted the mass-murdering invasion and occupation of Iraq -- were never going to do time. Why should they? They were just doing what they were paid, by us, to do: kill ragheads.
The case was dismissed by a federal judge last week due to prosecutorial misconduct. In an interview with Democracy Now, Horton explained how the bad deal went down:
[The] decision to dismiss these charges had nothing to do with lack of evidence or weak evidence against the Blackwater employees. To the contrary, there was copious evidence. There was plenty of evidence prosecutors could have used that they evidently weren’t prepared to, including eyewitnesses there. The decision to dismiss was taken as a punishment measure against Justice Department prosecutors based on the judge’s conclusion that they engaged in grossly unethical and improper behavior in putting the case together.
And specifically what they did is they took statements that were taken by the Department of State against a grant of immunity; that is, the government investigators told the guards, “Give us your statement, be candid, be complete, and we promise you we won’t use your statement for any criminal charges against you.” But the Justice Department prosecutors took those statements and in fact used them. They used them before the grand jury. They used them to build their entire case. And they did this notwithstanding warnings from senior lawyers in the Justice Department that this was improper and could lead to dismissal of the case. It almost looks like the Justice Department prosecutors here wanted to sabotage their own case. It was so outrageous.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that’s possible?
SCOTT HORTON: I think it is possible. Specifically in this case, there were briefings that occurred on Capitol Hill early on in which senior officials of the Justice Department told congressional investigators, staffers and congressmen that essentially they didn’t want to bring the case. In fact, one of the congressmen who was present at these briefings told me they were behaving like defense lawyers putting together a case to defend the Blackwater employees, not to prosecute them. And I think we see the evidence of that copiously in Judge Urbina’s opinion.
Horton also notes the bipartisan nature of the ongoing, long-standing moral rot at the "Justice" Department:
It was a decade of gross prosecutorial abuse. We saw lawyers at the US Department of Justice issue opinions attempting to justify torture and mistreatment of prisoners. That was adopted as a legal mantra of the department. [And is now being upheld by the Obama Administration in several court cases.] We saw hundreds of politically motivated prosecutions being brought, one of which is already withdrawn. That was the prosecution of Senator Stevens of Alaska. But we have the Siegelman case, the Paul Minor case, many others, where notwithstanding now overwhelming evidence of misconduct by prosecutors, the Justice Department standing its ground. ...
It’s really quite a mountain of evidence now pointing to serious misconduct by Justice Department prosecutors. And there’s very little evidence — although most of this occurred on the watch of the Bush administration, there’s very, very little evidence that Eric Holder has realized the gravity or severity of the situation or taken any appropriate measures to deal with it.
I'm afraid I must disagree with Horton on this last point. I believe that Eric Holder and his boss recognize very well what is going on in the Justice Department. They just don't want to do anything about it. Why? Because no faction of greasy pole-climbers ever wants to give up any of the powers it inherits when it takes over the reins of a government. A highly politicized, deeply corrupt prosecutorial arm is a very powerful tool. And just as Obama is strenuously upholding all the major assertions of authoritarian power the Bush Regime made in other areas (including the arbitrary right to seize anyone -- or kill anyone -- the Leader or his minions arbitrarily declare a suspected "enemy"), he is diligently protecting the dirty workers in the Justice Department. It is not a failure or oversight on Obama's part: it is deliberate policy.
Horton also notes that despite all the heartfelt noble promises of both candidate Obama and candidate Clinton during their glorious progressive agon for the presidential nomination in 2008, the mercenaries of Blackwater -- and other firms in the ever-expanding security goon community -- are still swelling their bellies at the government trough:
AMY GOODMAN: What about the US continuing to work with Blackwater, now called Xe, X-e? You have just this latest news of two government—Blackwater operatives reportedly killed last week at the CIA base in Afghanistan.
SCOTT HORTON: Well, that’s right. In fact, I would note that one of the statements the Iraqi government made in response to this was that even though Blackwater was no longer formally a contractor in Iraq, they found that many of the Blackwater employees had simply recontracted with the new contractors there, so they were still in place. And the Iraqi government said that’s completely unacceptable.
Well, the problem is that the US has not changed its pattern of heavy reliance on private security contractors. If anything, we’re actually seeing that reliance increase in connection with the operations in Afghanistan. And in fact, there are only a handful of qualified and authorized service providers. So Blackwater, almost by definition, is going to continue to hold a large part of these contracts as they’re awarded, not with — this is notwithstanding promises that were made by Hillary Clinton, when she was running for president, to terminate the Blackwater contracts. I mean, now she is Secretary of State, and Blackwater is still the principal security contractor to the State Department.
This is all tediously predictable. But in the end, there is a perverse sort of justice at work here. For why should the goon squads of Blackwater be put on trial, when those who hired them go free? The mafia don who orders a hit is considered equally culpable with the button man who actually does the job.
In the end, it is almost obscene to pursue a few hired killers for a single incident, when our highest, most honored officials routinely order mass killings of innocent people all over the world, year after year, without the slightest blush. On the contrary, they boast about it, laud themselves for it, and invite our admiration and support for their "toughness."
For be assured: these bombing runs and house raids and drone strikes are all carried out with the full knowledge that innocent people -- that is, people who have not been arbitrarily declared an "enemy" based on god knows what "intelligence" (lies, whispers, rumors, denunciations, misinformation from double agents, etc.) -- will be killed. An "acceptable level" of "collateral damage" is factored into the matrix of mission planning.
For example, in the early days of the invasion of Iraq, the acceptable level was 30 innocent people -- women, children, the old, the sick, and all other non-combatants. Any mission that was likely to kill more than 30 innocent people had to be signed off personally by Pentagon chief Don Rumsfeld. As far as can be determined, few -- if any -- such missions were ever cancelled by Rumsfeld. Missions which fell below that threshold -- that is, missions in which more than two dozen innocent people were likely to be killed -- were left up to the discretion of commanders in the field.
The acceptable level of civilian deaths in today's operations is not known. (Although it appears that at least eight children can be handcuffed and murdered at any given time.) Very likely the levels change according to the shifting political winds, the nature and location of the mission, the forces and weapons involved in carrying it out, etc. These sorts of details are more closely guarded now. The story about Rumsfeld's mass-death warrants came out in the heady days of "Mission Accomplished," when our masters waxed more lyrical about their special military genius. In fact, the story was put out in order to show how "surgical" and "humane" the American invasion was: "See, we're not just blowing everybody to hell over there! We care. Why, if it looks like we're going to slaughter more than 30 people, Rummy himself has to give the nod!"
In any case, almost every day, our highest officials knowingly and willingly give their approval to the destruction of innocent human lives. (And we won't even get into their culpability for launching operations -- or actively supporting operations -- that ravage societies and foment even more violence in the resultant chaos and blowback, as in Somalia, Yemen, Colombia, Gaza, the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq, etc., etc.) In the past decade alone, they have been responsible, by direct or collateral hand, for the murder of well over a million people around the world. By the end of this decade, if the present policies of "surge" and expansion continue, it is likely that the number of innocent people killed in the American "War on Terror" will be approaching -- if not surpassing -- the Holocaust.
Blackwater is indeed an odious organization, filled with -- and led by -- unsavory characters. But these goons are pipsqueaks with popguns next to our lauded, godly good and great who send their bloated war machine around the earth, "in search of monsters to destroy."
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 16:47
It is often forgotten how "legal" the Nazi regime in Germany really was. It did not take power in a violent revolution, but entered government through the entirely "legal" procedures of the time. The "legal" vote of the "legally" elected Reichstag gave Adolf Hitler the powers to rule by decree, thus imparting strict "legality" to the actions of his government.
Indeed, there were several cases when those who felt the government had overstepped the bounds of law in a particular instance actually took the Nazi regime to court, and won. Why? Because the government was bound by "the rule of law." And the fact is, almost the entire pre-Nazi judicial system of the German state remained intact and operational throughout Hitler's reign. The "rule of law" carried on.
Of course, as the Nazi regime plowed forward with its racist, militarist, imperialist agenda, this "rule of law" became increasingly elastic, countenancing a range of actions and policies that would have been considered heinous atrocities only a few years before. This trend was greatly accelerated after the Regime -- claiming "self-defense" following an alleged "invasion" by a small band of raiders -- launched a war which soon engulfed the world.
Naturally, in such unusual and perilous circumstances, jurists were inclined to give the widest possible lee-way to the war powers of the state. After all, as one prominent judge declared, the war had pushed the nation “past the leading edge of a new and frightening paradigm, one that demands new rules be written. War is a challenge to law, and the law must adjust."
-- No, wait. I must apologize for my mistake. That last quote was not, in fact, from a German jurist during the Nazi regime, but from a ruling issued this week by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit -- one of the highest courts in the land. The quoted opinion -- written by the legally appointed Judge Janice Rogers Brown -- was part of a sweeping ruling that greatly magnified the powers of the government to seize foreigners and hold them indefinitely without charges or legal appeal.
The court denied the appeal of Ghaleb Nassar al-Bihani, who has been held in captivity for more than eight years. What was his crime? He served as a non-combatant clerk for a unit on one side of the long-running Afghan civil war. This war was fought largely between factions of violent extremists; Bihani had the misfortune to be serving in the army of the "wrong" faction when the United States intervened on behalf of the opposing extremists in 2001. Jason Ditz summarizes the case well at Antiwar.com:
Bihani was a cook for a pro-Taliban faction fighting against the Northern Alliance before the 2001 US invasion, and his unit surrendered during the initial invasion.
The Yemeni citizen is accused of “hostilities against the United States” even though he arrived in Afghanistan nearly six months before the US invasion. Not only did his unit never fight against American forces, he was a cook who doesn’t appear to have ever participated in any combat at all. Despite this, he was declared an enemy combatant.
Let's underscore the salient fact: Bihani never took up arms against the United States, was involved in no combat against the United States (or anyone else, apparently), played no part in any attack on the United States. Yet the court ruled that the United States can arbitrarily declare Bihani an "enemy combatant" and hold him captive for the rest of his life.
But the eminent judges did not stop there in their entirely "legal" ruling. As the New York Times reports, they went to declare that "the presidential war power to detain those suspected of terrorism is not limited even by international law of war." And later: "the majority’s argument [is] that the president’s war powers are not bound by the international laws of war."
Think of that. Let it sink in. The president's war powers cannot be constrained by the international laws of war. Whatever the Leader (no points for translating this term into German) decides to do in the course of a war is thus rendered entirely "legal." He cannot be accused of international war crimes because such things do not apply to him.
With this ruling -- which is all of a piece with many more that have preceded it -- we are well and truly "past the leading edge of a new and frightening paradigm." What is most frightening, of course, is the obscene philosophy of machtpolitik -- the craven kowtowing to the demands of brute force -- that is embodied in Judge Brown's chilling words: "War is a challenge to law, and the law must adjust."
Again, remember the context of this ruling. It deals with the Leader's power over foreign citizens in lands that the Leader's armies are occupying. The judicial "reasoning" expressed by Judge Brown could apply, without the slightest alteration, to the Nazi regime's various programs of mass killing and "indefinite detention" of "enemy" foreigners in occupied lands.
The "resettlement" of Eastern Europe -- in order to provide for the "national security" of the German people and the preservation of their "way of life" -- did indeed require a pathbreaking advance into a "new paradigm" on the part of the law. The exigencies and challenges of the war demanded, as Judge Brown would put it, that "new rules be written."
And so they were. Under the duly, officially, formally constituted German "law" of the time -- as interpreted and applied by obsequious jurists in the mold of Judge Brown and her fellow war power expander, Judge Brett Kavanaugh -- there was little or nothing that was "illegal" in the vast catalogue of Nazi wartime atrocities, including the Holocaust itself. The perpetrators were "only following orders," which had been issued by "legal" entities, acting through "legal" processes, under the direction of the "legal" executive authority, whose unrestrained war powers had been established and upheld by the "rule of law."
Now this legal philosophy -- the primacy of raw, unaccountable power -- is being openly established by the highest courts of the United States. President Barack Obama, whose legal minions fought so ferociously to deny the appeal of the non-combatant captive, has been an ardent proponent and practitioner of this philosophy since his first days in office. His administration has proclaimed that the torturers of the Bush administration will not be prosecuted, because they were just following orders -- orders which had been issued by legal entities, acting through legal processes, under the direction of the legal executive authority, whose unrestrained war powers had been established and upheld by the "rule of law."
It was not always thus. A few years ago, when writing of the "constitutional and moral issues raised by Bush's liberty-gutting 'unitary executive' dictatorship" (which Obama has enthusiastically continued and expanded), I ran across a Supreme Court ruling from December 1866 -- more than 140 years ago: Ex Parte Milligan. In this ruling, which grew out of the wartime excesses of the Lincoln Administration, the Court -- dominated by five Lincoln appointees -- was unequivocal:
Constitutional protections not only apply "equally in war and peace" but also – in a dramatic extension of this legal shield – to "all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances." No emergency – not even open civil war – warrants their suspension. Even in wartime, the President's powers, though expanded, are still restrained: "he is controlled by law, and has his appropriate sphere of duty, which is to execute, not to make, the laws."
As I noted earlier in the piece:
It was a decisive ruling against a government that had far overreached its powers, stripping away essential liberties in the name of national security. The Justice who authored the majority opinion was a Republican, an old friend and political crony of the president who had appointed him. Even so, his ruling struck hard at the abuses set in train by his patron. He stood upon the law, he stood upon the Constitution, even in the aftermath of a shattering blow that had killed more than 600,000 Americans and almost destroyed the nation itself.
This is what the Court decided:
"The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism, but the theory of necessity on which it is based is false; for the government, within the Constitution, has all the powers granted to it, which are necessary to preserve its existence."
The author was Justice David Davis, an Illinois lawyer appointed by Abraham Lincoln after helping run the campaign that gave his old colleague the presidency in the fateful 1860 election. (Davis was also, by a strange quirk of history, the second cousin of George W. Bush's great-grandfather.) By the time the Court issued its ruling, Lincoln was dead, but the after-effects of his ever-expanding suspension of civil liberties during wartime were still roiling through the courts, and through America's fractured society. The Milligan ruling was, in the words of legal scholar John P. Frank, "one of the truly great documents of the American Constitution," a "bulwark" for civil liberties, expansive and exacting in the Constitutional protections it spelled out.
The ruling acknowledged that there are times when the writ of habeas corpus may have to be suspended in an area where hostilities are directly taking place – but even this power, they noted, was highly circumscribed and specifically delegated to Congress, not the president. Lincoln exceeded this authority on numerous occasions, increasing the scope of his powers until the entire Union was essentially under martial law, and anyone arbitrarily deemed guilty of never-defined "disloyal practices" could be arrested or silenced – in the latter case by having their newspaper shut down, for instance. (Lincoln would sometimes – but not always – seek ex post facto Congressional authorization for these acts.) Some parts of the Union that the Lincoln administration thought particularly disloyal were officially put under martial law -- such as southern Indiana, where anti-war agitator Lambdin Milligan and four others were accused of a plot to free Confederate prisoners, and were summarily tried and sentenced to death by a military tribunal.
It was this case that the Court – five of whom were Lincoln appointees – overturned in such a decided fashion.
As noted, that ruling was made in a nation still reeling from a savage, titanic war fought on its own territory. Even in the midst of such turmoil, the idea that "the laws must adjust" to the exigencies of war -- even the extremity of ruinous civil war -- was considered anathema, even to conservative jurists with close ties to the government.
But no longer. Although, unlike a civil war, even the worst terrorist attack imaginable would pose no existential threat to the nation, today the merest whisper of the possibility of a limited terrorist incident shakes the United States to its foundations -- and people willingly line up to be stripped naked by machines, while courts crawl on their bellies before the terrible majesty of unrestrained executive power.
Be assured: the "rule of law" means nothing, protects nothing, sustains nothing. It can always be twisted and stretched by cowards, courtiers and power-seekers. Arthur Silber, as he does so often, cuts to heart of the matter in this powerful essay from 2009, "Concerning the State, the Law, and Show Trials":
The law is not some Platonic Form plucked from the skies by the Pure in Heart. Laws are written by men, men who have particular interests, particular constituencies, particular donors, and particular friends. ... Laws are the particular means by which the state implements and executes its vast powers. When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself -- to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.
Indeed it is not. In our "low dishonest" century, the "rule of law" has become the "lie of Authority" that Auden speaks of. It will not save us. What matters -- as always -- is moral courage in the face of power's encroachments. Sometimes this can be found within an institutional framework, as in the Supreme Court's bold expansion of legal rights to all people, "at all times, and under all circumstances" back in 1866; and of course it can be found in the lives and actions of individuals, acting singly or in concert. Auden again:
Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.