You want to climb to the top of this seething pit,
You got to walk and talk real nice.
But the secret price of power here is
Yesterday we wrote about the sudden-onset amnesia of our media-political class concerning the officially confirmed operations of American death squads. As we noted, official Washington is in a minor flutter at the moment over reports that Dick Cheney ordered and then concealed the existence of a planned program of targeted assassinations -- a program which was supposedly never implemented and was then supposedly cancelled by Obama CIA chief Leon Panetta. We merely pointed out the well-known fact -- supported by copious reportage in mainstream journals in the past eight years, not to mention proud public admissions by top government officials, including the president -- that the CIA (and other agents of the United States government) had indeed been murdering people in "extrajudicial assassinations" throughout the Bush Administration.
I concentrated on state murder during the Bush years because that is the ostensible focus of the current, manufactured controversy over the alleged existence of one allegedly non-operational program. However, as Jeremy Scahill points out, the Bush-Cheney murder racket was not created ex nihilo, but was a continuation and refinement of murder programs initiated by Bill Clinton. Scahill also makes the pertinent observation that "extrajudicial assassination" -- known quaintly in the old days as murder most foul -- is continuing unabated under Barack Obama.
The deep-dyed complicity of Democratic leaders, executive and congressional, in official murder sprees is the main reason we will never see a genuine investigation of America's death squads, as Scahill points out. Imperial crime is thoroughly bipartisan; neither faction dares push too far in such matters, because both are smeared and caked with blood.
Scahill's piece should be read in its entirety, but here are a few choice bits:
The fact is that many of Bush’s worst policies (now being highlighted by leading Democrats) were based in some form or another in a Clinton-initiated policy or were supported by the Democrats in Congress with their votes. To name a few: the USA PATRIOT Act, the invasion of Iraq, the attack against Afghanistan, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, the widespread use of mercenaries and other private contractors in US war zones and warrant-less wire-tapping...
As [the Democrats now pretending to be scandalized by the recent Cheney allegations] well know, President Obama has continued the Bush targeted assassination program using weaponized drones and special forces teams hunting "high value targets." As former CIA Counter-terrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro and others have pointed out, "The CIA runs drones and targets al-Qaeda safe houses all the time." Cannistraro told Talking Points Memo that there is no important difference between those kinds of attacks and "assassinations" with a gun or a knife.
...It is pretty clear that when the Bush administration took over, it picked up the Clinton administration’s policy on assassination and ran with it — albeit with more of a missionary zeal for killing and a removal of some of the layers of lawyering. In short, the Bush team expanded and streamlined the longstanding U.S. government assassination program.
Throughout the 1990s, the question of covert assassinations was a source of major discussion within the Clinton White House and it is clear assassinations were attempted with presidential approval. Newsweek magazine reported on how, in 1995, U.S. Special Forces facilitated the assassination of a Libyan "terrorist" in Bosnia, saying, "American authorities justified the assassination under a little-known 1993 ‘lethal finding’ signed by President Bill Clinton that gave permission to target terrorists." A former senior Clinton official speaking shortly after 9/11 called on the Bush administration not to escalate the U.S. assassination program, saying "We have a war on drugs, too, but we don’t kill drug lords." But then, with no apparent sense of contradiction, the official added, "we have proxies who do."
...The truth is, under Clinton, it wasn’t just proxies authorized to do the assassinations. ... Clinton did authorize what amounted to assassination squads to hunt down and kill bin Laden and other "al-Qaeda leaders." That happened officially in 1998 with Clinton’s signing of a Memorandum of Notification authorizing the CIA to carry out covert assassinations. George W. Bush was not the president and Dick Cheney was not the vice president. Of course, current CIA Director Leon Panetta was Clinton’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1997 and would have been party to years worth of discussion on this issue when Clinton was president. Under Clinton, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued secret rulings stating that the Ford/Reagan ban on assassinations did not apply to "military targets" or "to attacks carried out in preemptive self-defense," according to Steve Coll, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Ghost Wars.
Shortly after 9/11, Clinton stated this position publicly, supporting the Bush administration’s "war on terror" targeted assassination policy, saying on NBC News, "The ban that was put in effect under President Ford only applies to heads of state. It doesn’t apply to terrorists." That is a stunning statement that is a true legal stretch given the explicit language of the ban. Moreover, Clinton did, in fact, try to kill a head of state on April 22, 1999, when he ordered a NATO airstrike on the home of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Clinton and Gen. Wesley Clark also authorized an assassination attempt on Serbian Information Minister, Aleksander Vucic, bombing Radio Television Serbia when Vucic was scheduled to appear via satellite on CNN’s "Larry King Live." Vucic was not killed, but 16 media workers were.
Clinton also publicly acknowledged his own administration’s attempt to assassinate bin Laden. "I worked hard to try to kill him," Clinton said. "I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since." Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said after Clinton issued his 1998 "lethal finding," U.S. operatives worked with Afghan rebels for two years in an attempt to kill bin Laden. "There were a few points when the pulse quickened, when we thought we were close," Berger later recalled. Among the alleged attempts on bin Laden’s life taken by Clinton was the 1998 bombing of Afghanistan (which was coupled with a massive strike on the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan).
As Coll observed of the Clinton policy: "Clinton had demonstrated his willingness to kill bin Laden, without any pretense of seeking his arrest."
Scahill has much more on the macabre history -- and the reeking hypocrisy -- behind the current "controversy.
The same lies that were told the last time around ("Sleeper cells!" "Mass Destruction of our cities!" "Unprecedented evil!" "Imminent danger!") are being trotted out again, this time in Democratic drag. Cheney and Obama, Kissinger and Kerry, working together to beat the war drums --who says bipartisanship is dead? As in 2003 (and 1991, for that matter), facts are thin on the ground -- but the bull is flowing thick and fast. So it's once more into the breach, with a military intervention to solve the problems caused by the last military intervention -- which will no doubt cause problems which can only be addressed by a future military intervention. But hey, who cares? The new iPhone is here!!
Did you know that the US government’s counterterrorism chief Matthew Olson said last week that there’s no “there’s no credible information” that the Islamic State (Isis) is planning an attack on America and that there’s “no indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States”? Or that, as the Associated Press reported, “The FBI and Homeland Security Department say there are no specific or credible terror threats to the US homeland from the Islamic State militant group”?
Probably not, because as the nation barrels towards yet another war in the Middle East and President Obama prepares to address that nation on the “offensive phase” of his military plan Wednesday night, mainstream media pundits and the usual uber-hawk politicians are busy trying to out-hyperbole each other over the threat Isis poses to Americans. In the process, they’re all but ignoring any evidence to the contrary and the potential hole of blood and treasure into which they’re ready to drive this country all over again.
Facts or consequences have never gotten in the way of Congress’ lust for war before … and this time it’s no different. Sen James Inhofe (R-OK) recently said Isis militants are “rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major US city and people just can’t believe that’s happening.” (Maybe because there’s no proof that they are?) Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL) said, “It ought to be pretty clear when they … say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that Isis is a clear and present danger.” (Again, who cares if they’re not?)
… Thanks to this wall-to-wall fear mongering, a once war-weary public is now terrified. More than 60% of the public in a recent CNN poll now supports airstrikes against Isis. Two more polls came out on Tuesday, one from the Washington Post and the other from NBC New and the Wall Street Journal, essentially concluding the same thing. Most shocking, 71% think that Isis has terrorist sleeper cells in the United States, against all evidence to the contrary.
… And the president is said to favor a multi-pronged approach that also relies on our “partners” – like the repressive Saudi Arabia – to train and arm the “moderate” Syrian resistance army that is fighting both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Isis in Syria. (Yes, that’s the same Saudi Arabia which, as the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin reported, have been accused of funding and supporting Isis, and the same Saudi Arabia that beheaded 19 people in just the first half of August, including eight for non-violent offenses.)
It’s also strange that we are unquestionably calling the Free Syrian Army (FSA) the “moderate” opposition and putting our faith in their abilities, despite many actual experts claiming they’re far from moderate and far from a cohesive army. As George Washington University’s Marc Lynch wrote in the Washington Post recently, “The FSA was always more fiction than reality, with a structure on paper masking the reality of highly localized and fragmented fighting groups on the ground.” The New York Times reported two weeks ago that FSA has a penchant for beheading its enemy captives as well, and now the family of Steven Sotloff, the courageous journalist who was barbarically beheaded by Isis, says that someone from the “moderate” opposition sold their son to Isis before he was killed....
I once saw the mighty Steel Pulse in concert. It was more than 20 years ago in, of all places, Knoxville. They were opening for Bob Dylan. They stepped onto the stage and proclaimed: "We are Steel Pulse, from Birmingham" -- and they didn't mean Alabama. They proceeded to fill the cavernous basketball arena with the most thunderous reggae I've ever heard -- exploding with boisterous joy, seething with a fierce thirst for justice. A night to remember.
In 2008, they covered one of Dylan's songs, a little-known single he released in 1971: "George Jackson." Jackson had been imprisoned at the age of 18 for a $70 robbery, sentenced to the maddening term of "one year to life." After a decade of self-education and principled defiance that led him to national prominence, he was killed by San Quentin prison guards during a disturbance in August 1971. Dylan recorded and rush-released the song a little over three months later. (Dylan's version is here.)
Following the police berzerkery in Ferguson, Missouri, America is going through one of its periodic -- but always brief and ineffectual -- moments of vague awareness about the virulent, brutal racism it carries in its body politic like an inoperable cancer. For a couple of weeks there, a few people in prominent positions mused in public about maybe taking a look at this race thing, just in case there might be a few little glitches in our glorious system. But that's about far as it went. And of course, most of our Prom-Peeps rushed to assure us, and themselves, that there are no racial problems in America -- except, of course, for the ones caused by the shiftless, grasping, ungrateful darkies themselves. (They've got a president, for Christ's sake! What more do these people want?)
In any event, our Prom-Peeps have now moved on to pants-wetting panic attacks about the Nazi Commie Russkies and the desert demons of Isis (aka "our former allies in the Syrian civil war"). But among those who live the American reality -- those who must live with the agonizing symptoms of the cancer -- the disease of racism continues its ravages. And as Berger shows, figures like George Jackson continue to exert a powerful symbolic relevance -- and a practical inspiration -- in the "lower depths" of the aptly-named prison-industrial complex, and beyond.
Below are a few excerpts from Berger's article. The whole thing is worth reading, and there are many links to further information.
A young black man gunned down by law enforcement. His body is then left outside for four hours. The shocking gore of the situation sparks countless protests around the country calling for an end to racism. Meanwhile, popular attention to the incident prompts investigations into the young man killed, leading some critics to suggest that his working-class background and alleged criminal activities somehow make his death justifiable.
It is not the last month in Ferguson, Missouri. It is not Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Roshad McIntosh or any of the other unarmed black men killed by police in recent weeks — though it could be. It is San Quentin, California, in the year 1971. His name was George Jackson. Though more than four decades have gone by since he was killed, his life and death signal the ways in which this country’s macabre routine of police violence against young black men and women has become institutionalized throughout the criminal justice system.
...When George Jackson went to prison in 1960, there were 200,000 people in prisons around the country. When he published “Soledad Brother“ in 1970, the rate of imprisonment was the lowest it had been in 20 years, with 96 out of every 100,000 Americans in prison. When he was killed in San Quentin in 1971, there were 300,000 people incarcerated, a rate of about 200 per 100,000 people.
Three decades later, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to stay the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams because the Crips co-founder had dedicated one of his anti-violence books to George Jackson and other well-known black activists (proving, Schwarzenegger said in a statement at the time, that Williams had not been rehabilitated), one in 100 American adults is in prison — approximately 2.3 million people. As of 2011 one in 34 adults, more than 7 million people, is under some form of correctional supervision: prison, parole or probation. Five percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Such staggering and lopsided rates of incarceration devastate whole communities, as the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and so many others can attest: Not only does mass incarceration break up families but it promotes punitive and preemptive policing of black life.
… Jackson and other dissident prisoners were the canaries in the coal mine of our prison nation: Their experience being aggressively policed, excessively sentenced and brutally treated in prison has become the norm. The elements that made his case so noteworthy in 1971 — the long sentence for a petty crime, the indefinite use of solitary confinement — are now almost too mundane to be newsworthy.
As long as the United States continues to police, imprison and kill so many young black men and women, George Jackson will remain a figure whose story needs to be told.
Every time Gazans sit down for a meal, they face a depressing reality. The selection of foods available to them is dictated almost entirely by a harsh policy imposed by the Israeli government, which, as of late, has even refused to allow such innocuous-seeming foods as pumpkins, pasta or beans to cross the border.
The goal behind Israel's tight control of Gazans' dietary regime is definitely not improving their health. Rather, the government argues that allowing "luxury" foods into Gaza would only add to the popularity of Hamas' leaders, enabling them to better feed their constituency. But, in the eyes of many observers, Israel's policy of limiting foods that enter the Strip is almost tantamount to starvation, and comes dangerously close to collective punishment, both of which are not only illegal and immoral methods to use in pursuit of Israeli security, but also do little to improve that security.
It is in fact, in law, in truth and in reality collective punishment, not just "dangerously close" to it. It is an all-out, astonishing brazen war crime -- a clear echo of Nazi policies on provisioning the Jewish ghettos in Poland after the Germans conquered the country. But let's move on:
Indeed, what long-term Israeli interest is served by having pregnant women and children suffer anemia, which causes well-documented damage to fetal and juvenile development? Limiting their access to iron does not improve Israeli security. Rather, it constitutes a gross violation of our own basic human values and the morality of Israeli society.
Can the experts please explain: Why does the Health Ministry recommendation for the diet of Israeli infants and toddlers - "soft fruit such as bananas and avocado, cooked chicken and beef, and cheese cubes" - not apply to Palestinian children? These particular items are all strictly forbidden from entering Gaza, while rice and a limited selection of meat and produce are the only food items in fact allowed to enter.
Several months ago, ministry officials approached the United Nations to consult with them about their dietary plan for the Gaza Strip. The UN officials - as one might guess - politely told them to go to hell, refusing to have anything to do with such a policy. The Israelis then turned to a Health Ministry dietician, whose advice might have led to the present policy according to which, as Israeli officials have stated, "the minimal requirements for the sustenance of Gaza Strip residents are being observed without inflicting a humanitarian disaster."
The participation of medical experts in drawing up the menus for Palestinians in Gaza - if they knew what policy their advice would help produce - is a grave violation of medical ethics.
What the Israelis are doing in Gaza is precisely what the Americans and British did for years in Iraq: not an open genocide, with machine-gun squads and extermination camps, but the deliberate degradation of a people, seeking to cripple not only their political, military and economic power, but also the physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development of future generations. Every expert in child development will tell you how vitally important proper nutrition -- not to mention a stable, secure environment -- is to the development of a child's body and personality. And Nazi experts of yore could have told us how the social, emotional and psychological functioning of adults can also be degraded and destroyed by prolonged captivity in harsh, humiliating conditions of constant fear and incessant hunger. The Nazis could tell us this because they practiced it against the Jews of Europe.
This kind of degradation is what the Anglo-American elites inflicted on Iraqis before the 2003 invasion-- and they are still inflicting on them each and every day of the continuing occupation of the broken land, as the Washington Post reports. Israel, having less ground to cover and fewer captives to degrade, are able to act with even greater intensity and deliberation in Gaza than their Western mentors' pre-war strangulation of Iraq.
And of course the United States is very much a full partner in the ghettoization of Gaza. The deliberate, scientific calibration of cruelty being applied there by the Israelis would not be taking place without the indispensible financial and material support -- and political cover -- that the United States provides to Israel. The degradation of the people of Gaza -- and above all, the children of Gaza -- goes on because the administration of President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress of the United States do not want to stop it.
We all know about the vaunted -- not to mention shameless -- "continuity" between the Bush and Obama administrations in foreign policy and "national security," with Bush's generals, and even Bush's Pentagon honcho, still running -- and expanding -- the Terror War under Barack Obama's orders, while he also wages legal war in the courts to uphold Bush's authoritarian perversions of the Constitution, and defend the war criminals in Bush's gulag -- some of whom Obama has elevated to even greater heights of power.
But surely there is some real "change" going on elsewhere in government, isn't there? How about at the throughly rotted Justice Department, where Bush cronies turned federal law into a partisan weapon, even jailing opposition political figures on trumped-up charges, like the worst kind of third-rate, tinpot tyranny? Surely Obama and his highly progressive Attorney General, Eric Holder, are going to clean out the fetid swamp of lawlessness at Justice, aren't they?
As Scott Horton notes at Harper's, the Obama Justice Department has just fired a courageous federal attorney who had sent a letter to the highly progressive Holder detailing more of the unbelievably brazen machinations of Karl Rove's cronies who put former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in prison on specious charges after a trial before a highly partisan, interest-conflicted judge. As Horton reports:
In a nine-page June 1, 2009 letter to her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, Tamarah Grimes, a member of the Justice Department team that prosecuted former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, itemized an astonishing list of acts of misconduct by her colleagues as they developed what they called “the Big Case.”
[These included]: Two key witnesses were cajoled, coached, and pressured to change their testimony to better support the charges. This specifically included the key evidence given by one witness on which Siegelman was convicted. But, as Grimes notes, the witness in fact had no recollection of the events–he was pressured to recount them in a way that suited the prosecutors....
Members of the prosecution team communicated directly with a pro-prosecution juror while the case was pending and afterwards...
Every aspect of the case was overseen by U.S. Attorney Canary. She had nominally recused herself from the case because her husband, a friend of Karl Rove and the most prominent G.O.P. elections advisor in Alabama, was advising a campaign against Siegelman for which the prosecution provided essential grist.
Eight days after submitting these meticulously documented complaints, many of which echo concerns stated by others in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery, Grimes received a reply of sorts. She was fired. Grimes notes in a press release that she was informed of her dismissal in a letter from Terry Derden of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.
Read the whole post for more dirty details. Horton goes on to note that just as Obama has promoted top Bush officials intimately involved in CIA torture, he has also retained "the clever consigliere of the Bush Justice Department, who amazingly continue to control all aspects of the case involving Siegelman five months into a new Democratic administration (including Leura Canary, who is still on the job in Montgomery)." As Horton puts it: "The Justice Department’s conduct looks increasingly like a Sicilian mob group: you commit the crimes the bosses order and you keep quiet about it, or the consequences will be fearsome."
That's very true; but it doesn't just apply to the Justice Department. The whole imperial court is run more and more like a crime syndicate, with periodic battles to determine which faction will be in charge of divvying up the loot. The Chicago gang has temporarily supplanted the Texas boys, but both pay obesiance to the big bosses back East, with the Bush-Obama "bailout" plans funneling trillions of dollars of public money to the mob kings of Wall Street. And of course, in classic gangster fashion, our bipartisan foreign policy elite use murder, violence -- and the constant threat of murder and violence -- to impose their will on the global neighborhood.
In any case, Don Siegelman remains a political prisoner of the United States of America -- unlike former Republican senator Ted Stevens, whom the Obama Justice Department swiftly released due to prosecutorial misconduct that comes nowhere near the brazen fixing of Canary and her crew.
As it (almost) saith in the Scriptures: They cry 'change, change,' but there is no change.