Glenn Greenwald, among others, is enraged at Barack Obama’s eager embrace of the latest disgorgement of third-rate juntaism to belch forth from the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress: the “Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009,” sponsored by those ever-stalwart champions of liberty, Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman. As Greenwald describes it:

[The bill] literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.” As long as the Defense Secretary certifies — with no review possible — that disclosure would “endanger” American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if [the Freedom of Information Act] requires disclosure…What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people? Read the language of the bill; it doesn’t even hide the fact that its only objective is to empower the President to conceal evidence of war crimes.

What kind of country passes such a law? Why, a cheap, corrupt, third-rate junta state, which has elevated war and militarism into its supreme value, its “ultimate concern,” its divinity — that’s what kind of country. What other kind of country did you think was skulking there between Mexico and Canada these days?

But the perniciousness of the act doesn’t lie merely in its immediate goal — suppressing war crimes evidence to protect the Terror War machinery that Obama has inherited and is expanding. After all, Obama has been working overtime from the beginning to suppress war crimes evidence against his predecessor, whom he treats more and more as a revered elder, not the despised leader of a discredited faction. No, it is, as they say, the principle of the thing: the enshrinement in law of the notion that anything that could be construed as “harmful” to American troops and operatives abroad — or even the sad sacks back home — can be suppressed by the government.

Adopting the principle of potential “endangerment” as a justification for government repression is not just an open door to tyranny — it kicks the door down and brings the rest of the front wall crashing with it. But of course, that edifice crumbled a long time ago. The only thing remotely surprising about this latest Banana Republic Act is that is so blatant in its gutless abandonment of even the slightest pretense that the United States is anything other than a militarist empire. And yet so many people — including Greenwald at times — continue to praise the new imperial manager whenever he makes a “good decision” or implements a “good policy” — presumably with the idea that you can tame or train the president by rewarding him for good deeds and sternly admonishing him when he does wrong.

But almost every leader in history has made some “good decisions” or implemented some “good policies” in one respect or another, even in the worst regimes. For example, both the Nazis and the Stalinists provided unprecedented programs of recreation and self-improvement for ordinary, long-denigrated, long-ignored workers. Hitler designed and promoted one of the world’s most efficient and affordable cars, which after the war provided millions of ordinary people with new freedom and mobility. Soviet communism brought literacy, electricity, education and modernity to millions of people mired in a brutal, brutish existence. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did much the same.

It is very easy to pick through the record of any leader in any system and find things worthy of praise. But when the system itself is pernicious, when by its very nature it produces terrible evils on a vast scale — as, for example, a militarist empire is bound to do — then such praise, however piecemeal, hedged or nuanced, becomes a kind of unwitting support, or justification, or legitimization of the system.

And the system we are dealing with here is not a constitutional republic — one gone awry, perhaps, but still a basically sound system that can be put to rights with the proper behavior training of its leaders. No; what we have here is a militarist empire: devoted to war, driven by war and by the constant exercise and growth of authoritarian power that every state of war (and state at war) produces. It seems to me that the best reaction to such a system is the one offered by Thoreau, and quoted many times here before:

“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”

The Graham-Lieberman War Crimes Shielding Act is just one more disgrace in a long train. Or as we said here in February 2008, when — with Barack Obama’s help — the Democratic-controlled Senate voted to uphold Bush’s illegal domestic spying program and immunize the corporations that helped carry it out: If the Republic Had not Died Long Ago, This Would Indeed Be the Death of the Republic:

We’ve been mourning the death of the American Republic here (and at other venues) for many years now, since Congress surrendered its Constitutional responsibilities with the “Enabling Act” it passed on September 14, 2001, giving Bush a blank check for “all necessary and appropriate force” against any organization or individual that he alone declared was somehow connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. Three days later, Bush then declared that he had the right to kill anyone on earth anytime he felt like it and there wasn’t a damn thing anyone could do about it. The many, many outrages that have followed — the gulag, the torture program, the Hitlerian war crime in Iraq, the Military Commissions Act (which stripped away the ancient right of habeas corpus and also officially enshrined the concept of the “unitary executive”/presidential dictatorship into law), right down to Tuesday’s vote to “legitimize” Bush’s illegal keyhole-peeping and the corporate criminals who abetted it — have simply been further confirmations of the Republic’s moribund state. Bush and the Democrats have been abusing the corpse over and over, like the sick and degraded moral perverts that they are.

I don’t know what will come next. I don’t know if the United States can crawl out of the filthy pit of empire and tyranny over the next few decades and claw its way toward some new manifestation of democracy — or if it will just keep sinking, raging, rotting, mutating further into a war-and-torture state that must feed constantly on human flesh to survive… But whatever will be, one thing is certain now: the constitutional republic of the United States is a dead letter, a relic of history.

And nothing that happens in November — when one imperial factotum or another gets their turn at the top of the greasy pole — will change that basic fact. The Freedom Road is a long road — and we’re still a long way from taking even our first steps on that journey.

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