Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh! — Lady Macbeth
Arthur Silber is back, after another long, health-induced hiatus, and, as you might expect, he brings a unique and powerful perspective to bear on the “torture debate.” (Yes, in some far-distant future our much-evolved descendants will marvel — with wonder and revulsion — that our species was once so primitive and barbaric that it actually had “debates” about the practice of inflicting pain and suffering on captive fellow creatures. Or perhaps this puzzled wonderment will come from alien visitors sorting through the lifeless rubble of our self-destroyed planet.)
In any case, Silber has launched what promises to be a landmark series examining the deeper impact and broader implications of the current brouhaha over America’s most recent use of heinous atrocities to work the imperial will of its masters and managers. In the first part, he comes to what he acknowledges might seem a surprising and counterintuitive conclusion: that prosecuting the Bush Regime’s admittedly “monstrous crimes” would not only be useless but also, ultimately, harmful. Why? Because even trials of the highest and mightiest perps would only paper over the fact that “torture is an inevitable and necessary part of the American project as envisioned and directed by the ruling class.”
As usual, Silber brings in and links to a rich trove of supporting detail and analysis; excerpting the post risks reducing the full force of its argument. However, the passages below will give a taste of the essay, and bring out some important points. But do yourself a favor, and read the whole thing. (And while you’re there, do us all a favor and contribute to Arthur’s site, to help keep this important and powerful voice in play.)
From “Against Prosecution (I): A Vicious Fury — With Nukes” [many more links in the original]:
At present, we are in the midst of a heated debate over whether and to what extent the crimes committed by the Bush administration should be investigated; over what means would be best employed if it is determined that an investigation should proceed, and which particular individuals should ultimately be prosecuted, if any. Considering the above excerpts from my earlier analysis of this subject, my own view on this question might surprise you: Given the prevailing realities of American politics and culture, I am unalterably and unequivocally opposed to investigation and prosecution of these monstrous crimes…
As I contemplate the continuing crackup of the American State and the American imperial project, a disintegration that occurs with a rapidity and comprehensiveness that few would have predicted as recently as a decade ago, it often occurs to me that we are to be spared nothing. On the domestic front, the authoritarian-surveillance state continues to expand its reach, destroying what small vestiges remain of the foundation of liberty identified by Brandeis, “the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” (In addition to the more recognized forms of the authoritarian-surveillance state, please always keep in mind other programs that escape notice and comment almost entirely. The InfraGard program is a prime example of what I mean; I still see almost no discussion anywhere of that monstrosity.) Simultaneously, the United States descends into unapologetic, full-fledged oligarchy-kleptocracy, as monumental debt piles up higher and higher, ensuring that this and future generations will be reduced to a desperate hope that a lifetime of debt servitude will be the worst fate to befall them….
[Silber’s reference to InfraGard is indeed a pertinent one, and, as he notes, the rapacious growth of this sinister program has been almost entirely ignored. I urge you to read his earlier piece on the program, and its ramifications.]
As I have discussed at great length, torture represents an immense evil. Yet the current obsessive focus on torture constitutes only another facet of the same overall pathology. In the manner of a Lady Macbeth compulsively washing her hands, almost all of our ruling class and those who support them believe that if only they can remove this single “damn’d spot,” all of their and America’s sins will thus be purified. As with Lady Macbeth, this is the route to a final, irrevocable break with reality, and to ultimate destruction.
For close to none of our politicians and almost none of our prominent national voices will offer a serious challenge to the view that America is entitled by right to be God on Earth. In the context of this pervasive national denial of the truth of the American State and its explicitly proclaimed goal of worldwide dominance, the preoccupation with torture is another manifestation of the identical denial, just as it profoundly misidentifies the nature of the evil involved and reverses cause and effect. For torture is not some aberrational addition to the American polity; it is not a localized barnacle that can be scraped off an otherwise strong and healthy hull.
The truth is precisely the opposite: Torture is an inevitable and necessary part of the American project as envisioned and directed by the ruling class. The American government’s systematic use of torture long predated the Bush administration, just as America’s foreign policy of endless, aggressive intervention abroad took shape over more than a century, often most zealously directed by Democrats prior to the arrival of the detestable Bush. And more than this, and as we shall shortly see, torture was a foundational element of the American State itself. (On the bipartisan roots and development of America’s foreign policy of worldwide hegemony, see my “Dominion Over the World” series… and progressives might pay special attention to Part VIII, for some “welcome history.” Links to all the installments will be found at the conclusion of Part IX.)
But our ruling class and those who call for anything less than the most radical of reforms refuse to acknowledge any of this. By seeking to localize the evil in only one aspect of the much broader and more fundamental evil involved and within a falsely delimited period of time, the torture obsessives would thus whitewash the American project as a whole. And until our foreign policy of the last hundred years is uprooted entirely, torture will never be eliminated. As I have analyzed in detail… the primary objection to the vile reign of Bush, to the extent such objection made itself known, was not to the substance of his foreign policy or to the nature of his actions. The rejection of Bush arose because Bush and his fellow criminals committed the one unforgivable sin: they stated explicitly, without apology and in an especially crude way what America’s goals and methods had been all along. This cannot be allowed; “our” sort of people just don’t do this sort of thing, after all. America’s genocidal murderers are nothing if not well-mannered.
So the selective pursuit and possible prosecution of a few of those who devised, directed and implemented the U.S. torture policies, but only those of recent vintage and not any of those that went before or are yet to come, will conveniently provide the United States with a clean slate upon which to write new chapters of crime. And to those who insist that we must pursue investigations because they may finally allow the entire web of evil to be unraveled, I can only say that such people ought to grow up one of these days. Short of massive, sustained civil unrest, even of the nonviolent kind, the ruling class will not allow it. When in the history of humankind has a ruling class, particularly one which has amassed to itself the kind of power now enjoyed by the American elites, ever fundamentally reformed itself and relinquished a significant part of the power it has obtained through many decades of unrelenting, diligent effort? Only if you answer, “Never,” are you correct.
We will examine all these issues in more detail. For now, keep in mind the nightmare vision of Lady Macbeth in the last stages before her final destruction. Tragically, we must revise even Shakespeare’s powerful imagination. For our Lady Macbeth is not yet a pathetically broken, largely helpless figure, moaning and whimpering as madness consumes her.
No, the Lady Macbeth of our time — a figure who ought to terrify you to the roots of your being — is very different from that. For America today is broken, but she refuses to acknowledge it. In addition, and this is where the terror takes root, she possesses the most fearsome arsenal of weaponry ever seen in history.
This, then, is the waking nightmare that confronts us: America is a hollowed-out hag desperately trying to maintain a fragile, weakening toehold on sanity — a vicious fury, with nukes.
Silber makes a very important point in his conclusion, one that is almost universally ignored. I often receive messages or comments to the effect that this or that development will force the American elite to mend their ways, or rein in their horns, or curtail in some way their relentless drive for domination. For some, it’s the Chinese calling in their T-bills, or some alliance of world powers forming a bloc against American hegemony, or ignominious defeat in some imperial sortie, or economic collapse at home, or any number of scenarios, plausible or otherwise. And I am always surprised that people seem to forget that the American elite is backed by a fearsome, unstoppable arsenal whose global reach and destructive power are almost unimaginable. And equally unimaginable is the thought that the American elite would not — if ultimate push came to ultimate shove — use that arsenal rather than give up their dominance. As they have demonstrated time and again over the course of many decades, our elites are always willing to go to war if necessary to advance their agenda and protect their position. And as every American leader — Republican, Democrat, conservative, progressive — tells us repeatedly, “all options” are always “on the table” when it comes to imposing Washington’s will.
As Silber notes, our well-mannered genocidists — who can watch the murder of a million innocent people and call the operation “an extraordinary achievement” — will never relinquish their dominance voluntarily. They will not bow to reason, to sympathy, to morality, to outside forces, to public opinion — and certainly not to the “rule of law.” And no power now on earth can force them to — not as long as they possess the power to ravage the earth “even till destruction sicken.”
UPDATE: Silber has now published part two of the “Against Prosecution” series: “Concerning the State, the Law and Show Trials.” As usual, this is a serious, carefully considered argument, one that develops and deepens the essay quoted above — and sets the stage for further insights to follow. As noted here yesterday, excerpting pieces like these risks traducing their arguments — and certainly, in Silber’s case, grossly reducing their scope and depth. So we will confine ourselves to only one brief excerpt, dealing a single point, and again urge you to head over there and read the whole thing.
Given my remarks about the great evil of torture, it should be obvious that when I say that any prosecutions in connection with torture will be only the worst kind of show trials, my meaning is precisely the opposite of those torture and/or Bush administration apologists who make the same claim. The apologists say they will be show trials because they will be unfairly selective, since many Democrats are also culpable. That much is true, but the apologists often make a further claim or claims: that the behavior involved was not torture (which is so disgustingly ludicrous given the specifics already available in the public record that I will not even bother to address it), and/or that the torture was “justified.”
This is clearly not my view in any respect. Torture is a monstrous evil that is never justified. My objection to show trials concerning torture is not that these are not crimes, or that these acts are not evil. Instead, my objection is that, as monumental an evil as torture is, it is not the first evil, or the greatest one. The all-encompassing evil, the evil that is the bedrock on which a series of additional evils, including torture, has been erected is the system of governance involved and the nature of the State at issue: a corporatist-authoritarian-militarist State, one devoted to the expanding regulatory-surveillance State at home and to an unending series of aggressive interventions abroad. That is the evil that must be recognized and, if at all possible, rectified or minimized, if the series of evils and the unending path of destruction and death are to be ended.