The fact that the Obama Administration is operating a secret prison in Afghanistan in which captives rounded up on the usual little or no evidence are being tortured even as we speak — and even as the president was making his funny-haha jokes about predator drones — does not come as any surprise. The horror of this reality is by now so routine that it almost defies comment. Or as Arthur Silber puts it in a powerful new essay:
The concept of "depravity" has been rendered close to meaningless. When so much of what happens every day, here and abroad, is so unfathomably depraved, what does it signify to state that another 40 murders of innocent human beings represent still one more monstrous act, or that the torture of another dozen or three dozen or a hundred innocent human beings is unforgivably evil, or that the rape of another 10 or 30 or 50 girls and women constitutes a crime so immense in its magnitude that it makes all commentary completely beside the point, and even itself obscene?
None of it is fully real. Most of it is never even noticed. None of it appears to matter, not in ways which cause a critical number of people to resist in ways which might momentarily slow down the machinery of cruelty and death.
So today I am not going to go through blood-soaked chapter and shit-smeared verse on this latest continuous atrocity, nor dissect the howling, puke-evoking hypocrisy of the Comedian-in-Chief of the War Machine. Instead, I just want to note one comment I ran across in reading about the story. It’s from a leading progressive voice, Digby, who does, to her credit, go through chapter-and-verse on the gulag hell-hole.
Citing several sources, she notes that this week’s Red Cross confirmation of the secret prison’s existence was preceded by extensive reporting on the prison — and the atrocities carried out there — by well-known media outlets with impeccable Establishment credentials: the BBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. None of these institutions can remotely be suspected of taking a radical — or even skeptical — line when it comes to the operations of state power. It takes a mountain of proof to move them to the slightest criticism of the operations of empire (as opposed to the petty machinations of our scheming courtiers). Thus when they do report extensively on a particular government depredation, citing eyewitness accounts and other evidence, you can be sure these Establishment paladins have already shaved away any taint of advocacy and triple-plated themselves with fact-checking to rebut assaults from their friends and contacts in the circles of power. Indeed, nine times out of ten, their revelations come from the circles of power, with one faction leaking damning facts to undermine a rival gang.
Yet after her admirable recitation of the facts, and their dire implications, Digby comes out with this surprising confession:
I’ve held off on this issue because of the unequivocal denial by the military that the prison existed and I was willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt. Now that the Red Cross has confirmed that the prison does exist, we know for sure that the military was lying — and the benefit of the doubt goes to the former prisoners.
She "held off" on the matter, which had been thoroughly reported by the BBC, NYT, WP … because the Pentagon had denied it. And why would she do such a thing, given the ceaseless flow of lies that has issued forth from that many-sided militarist monument squatting out in the swamplands of Hell’s Bottom? Because she wanted to "give the new administration the benefit of the doubt."
The benefit of what doubt? Did she really believe that the Pentagon had somehow been born again through the soul-cleansing election of Barack Obama? The man who, er, retained the leadership of the Pentagon that George W. Bush had put in place? The man who placed a master of black ops and dirty war in charge of the entire "Af-Pak" campaign? A man whose military machine has been caught lying over and over and over and over again about a ceaseless flow of atrocities it has committed — under his command?
And what is this "new administration" she speaks of? Obama will soon have been in power for 17 months. (He had been in power for 16 months when the BBC issued its first report on the prison). When does an administration cease being "new," with its leaders and agents regarded as genial greenhorns, fumbling their way, learning as they go — "ya really gotta cut ’em slack on this, they haven’t hit their stride yet." In any case, Obama has been intensely involved in the Afghanistan war since the very beginning of his term. Indeed, he has already masterminded not one but two "surges" of the conflict, as well as greatly expanding the murderous campaign of assassinations in Pakistan, killing hundreds of people, terrorizing hundreds of thousands, and exacerbating hatred and extremism at every turn. Afghanistan is Obama’s war — he asked for it during the campaign, and he has willingly made it his own. He has his own hand-picked commander in charge (plucked from the pool of Bushist brass, of course), and he — he alone — made the decision not only to keep Bush’s Pentagon warlord, but to make him one of his closest advisers.
So I ask again: why would anyone feel compelled to give the Obama Administration the "benefit of the doubt" when it comes to atrocities in Afghanistan — especially those reported by "respectable," mainstream media institutions?
Digby goes on to make what is, in some ways, an even more surprising statement:
I should have known better. Any administration which declares that it has the right to unilaterally order American citizens to be assassinated obviously isn’t going to be squeamish about a little torture, is it?
Yes, exactly. How on earth could someone be cognizant of this universal murder program — openly announced by Obama’s security chief — and still think that this "new administration" deserves the benefit of the doubt when mainstream media outlets release highly credible stories detailing the continuing atrocities of America’s bipartisan gulag? As I wrote here last month:
Let us hear no more excuses for Barack Obama. Let us hear no more defenses, no more special pleading, no more extenuations. Let us have no more reciting of the "pressures" he is under, of the "many obstacles" that balk him in his quest to do us good, of the "bad advisors" who are swaying him to unworthy acts against his will. Let us be done at last with all these wretched lies, these complicitous self-deceptions that are facilitating atrocity and tyranny on a monstrous scale.
Barack Obama has ordered the murder of an American citizen, without trial, without due process, without the production of any evidence. All it takes to kill any American citizen in this way is Barack Obama’s signature on a piece of paper, his arbitrary designation of the target as a "suspected terrorist." In precisely the same way — precisely the same way — Josef Stalin would place a mark by a name in a list of "suspected terrorists" or "counterrevolutionaries," and the bearer of that name would die. This is the system we have now, the same as the Soviets had then: a leader with the unchallengeable power to kill citizens without due process.
That this power has not been used on the same scale in the American system as in the Stalinist state — yet — does not alter the equivalence of this governing principle. In both cases, the leader signs arbitrary death warrants; the security services carry out the task; and the ‘great and good’ of society accept this draconian power as necessary and right.
This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. It does not matter if you think his opponents in the factional infighting to control a blood-soaked empire and its war machine are "worse" than he is in some measure. When you support him, when you defend him, when you excuse him, it is arbitrary murder that you are supporting. It is the absolute negation of every single principle of enlightenment and human rights professed by liberals, progressives — indeed, by honorable people of every political stripe — for centuries.
Yet still, after this, leading liberal voices can say, "Well, the Pentagon says that the BBC, the NYT and WP are all wrong about this nasty secret prison thing. And this new administration — which I know full well is committed to killing people, even my fellow citizens, without the slightest pretense of due process, and which I know full well still has the proven liars of the Bush War Machine in charge of its operation — deserves the benefit of the doubt." It boggles, as they say, the mind.
This is not a personal slam at Digby, whose diligent work in continuing to expose the creeping "taserization" of American society I find particularly valuable. Nor am I entirely without understanding of the way that tribal political loyalties can pull strongly on one’s reasoning, like the moon working its power on the tides. But at this late date, for this in-no-way new administration, which has laid out its true corporatist-militarist-imperial nature with glaring, painful clarity, it is still striking, even shocking, to see the contortions of accommodation that so many are still willing to put themselves through, in the hope of keeping at least a scrap of obscuring cloth over at least a portion of the naked horror that confronts us.