Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 16 April 2010 00:00
The piece below was posted last year. However, it was one of many pieces wiped out from the database in one of the many hack attacks the site has endured over the years. Having run across the original text in my files, I wanted to get it back "on the record" here at Empire Burlesque. And sadly, it is still all too relevant.
If George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and other principals of the previous administration were ever brought to trial for war crimes, I would offer my services, in all sincerity, to their defense. For I think they would have a strong case to make, one that would be of vital, perhaps decisive importance for the future of the nation -- and the world.
I. The Case for the Prosecution
To see the Bush Faction in the dock -- charged with launching a war of aggression and creating a worldwide gulag of torture and illegal detention -- is of course the fervent dream of millions of people across the globe. Such a sight would seem to provide tangible proof that the ideal of justice cannot be vanquished entirely by the brute force of elite power.
The evidence supporting these charges is mountainous, and growing all the time. What's more, the essentials are undisputed, even by the defendants themselves. In the case of aggression, the public reasons offered by the Bush White House for the invasion of Iraq were even less substantial than those put forth by Adolf Hitler for the invasion of Poland in 1939. And this is true even if you accept the highly disputable notion that the Bush Administration really believed that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, it would be true even if Saddam really did have weapons of mass destruction.
In the Nazis' case, there was at least the pretense of a (faked) direct attack on German territory; not even Hitler dared publicly base his invasion on a mere threat, on the presumption that Germany might be attacked at some point in the future. But even in the best-case scenario, giving the American government the full (and wholly undeserved) benefit of the doubt, the Bush Administration launched a war that has killed more than a million innocent people solely on the basis of a mere threat, from weapons that had never been used against the United States -- and whose existence had not even been proven. If this is a legal, moral justification for war, then every American president of the last half-century has been guilty of a treasonous dereliction of duty for not launching a pre-emptive attack on the Soviet Union, whose actually existing arsenals of nation-destroying weapons were aimed openly and specifically at the United States for decades.
So the facts of the aggressive war case are not in dispute. And no, the UN resolutions stemming from the 1991 Gulf War are not relevant; nothing in them gave any member nation the right to launch military action unilaterally to enforce the resolutions without the prior approval of the Security Council. In every way, then, the invasion of Iraq was a clear violation of the UN Charter's very clear and specific strictures against aggressive war -- strictures which the United States helped formulate and had publicly subscribed to for almost 60 years at the time of the Iraq invasion. There is no genuine legal basis for denying that the invasion of Iraq constitutes the formal war crime of military aggression, as Arthur Silber, for one, has pointed out in great detail.
The torture case is, if anything, even clearer. According to the laws of the United States, it is simply illegal to order or carry out torture, at any time, under any circumstances whatsoever. Moreover, the question of what constitutes torture is clearly addressed -- and even though Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton colluded to exempt certain exquisite psychological and indirect tortures devised by the CIA from the law (as Noam Chomsky reminds us), the existing legal threshold for defining torture still falls far, far below the one adopted by the Bush Administration; i.e., anything short of death, organ failure or permanent physical damage. And of course, even these cynical and sinister standards were routinely violated: there have been many deaths -- murders -- as a result of the torture program which no one now denies was established, maintained and closely monitored by the Bush White House.
And again, the accused do not denying employing these practices; on the contrary, they champion them openly, and have long done so, as in the case of Dick Cheney's acknowledgment and praise for waterboarding -- a torture technique that has been prosecuted as a serious crime in American courts for generations, and was regarded, by the American government, as a basis of war crimes charges against Japanese officials following World War II.
Thus, by any understanding of the law -- from the most common-sense reading to the most arcane and convoluted parsing -- it is clear that the capital crime of torture has been committed by the Bush Administration. Any court proceeding would immediately establish this fact.
To sum up: Did the leading members of the Bush Administration instigate and collude in actions that resulted in a war of aggression and the deliberate, systematic infliction of torture on captives? Yes. Do they admit -- even boast -- that these actions occurred? Yes. What defense can they offer then?
II. In Defense of George W. Bush
Faced with prosecution for their admitted deeds, the principals of the Bush Administration would have only one defense: precedent. They would have to show that their actions had been accepted practice in American government for many, many years -- from the very beginning, in fact -- and had never been regarded as prosecutable offenses before. To imprison them now -- or even execute them -- for carrying on the standard policies and practices of bipartisan governance stretching back for generations would surely constitute cruel and unusual punishment. It would be selective prosecution. It would be nothing less than the "criminalization of political differences" -- for the historical record clearly shows that aggression and torture have always been treated in the American system as political implements, tools of political policy, and not as criminal matters.
Thus the Bush defense team would have to put forth a mountain of historical evidence, laying out in great detail the use of military aggression and torture (both directly and by client states under American direction, for American purposes) over the entire course of U.S. history. Naturally, they would focus most of their attention on the decades since World War II, as this would involve institutions, agencies -- and even some of the same people -- that serve as instruments of American policy and practice today; It would be easier, and more relevant, to show the continuity with their more immediate bipartisan predecessors. But the older historical material would also be important in setting out the long-established precedents and philosophies in which modern policies are rooted.
It is here that I would want to contribute to the defense. I would gladly act as a lowly researcher for them, sifting through the accumulation of historical fact and insightful analysis provided over the years by such noted writers as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Arthur Silber, Alfred McCoy, Richard Seymour, Fred Anderson and Andrew Clayton, and far too many more to mention. And beyond these overviews and works of synthesis, there are the innumerable, highly detailed articles, studies, monographs, and full-scale scholarly works produced by historians in every field of specialty: political, economic, legal, cultural, military, and so on.
A war crimes trial of George Bush, Dick Cheney and their chief minions would be a public spectacle of perhaps unprecedented scope. Millions of people all over the world would be riveted to it every day; the American public especially would be hanging on its every word. To mount such a defense, on such a powerful platform, would devastate the myth of American exceptionalism like nothing else imaginable. Horrific atrocity, brutal arrogance, deadly ignorance -- again, by both direct and collateral hand -- would all be brought into the glaring light. The principle of violent domination -- continuous, accepted, celebrated, legitimized, institutionalized -- would stand revealed as a core value, if not the core value, of the American way.
Only through such a spectacular act of non-violent "creative destruction" could we hope to sweep away the false narrative that is drummed into every American from birth until it becomes an integral part of their own self-image and their understanding of the outside world: the false narrative of righteous exceptionalism that underpins and "justifies" the monstrous violence of empire. This myth performs a kind of psychic and moral alchemy in the minds of Americans, transmutating the reality of bloodsoaked murder, repression and suffering into benign acts of "liberation" and "humanitarianism."
Removing these blinders would give us a chance to at least begin effecting genuine change and reform in a system that has poisoned its own people and wrought destruction and chaos around the world. It would not restore "the shining city on the hill" -- which never existed, and never can exist, given the manifold imperfections, confusions, and contradictions of human nature; but it might, just might, clear the ground for the construction of a better polity: more enlightened, more just, more humane. That is a noble endeavor I would be glad to join, whatever form it took -- even if that form happened to be the defense of George W. Bush at a war crimes trial.
Not that I believe Bush and his gang of gilded thugs are innocent; they are not. They are sadistic murderers at the outer reaches of depravity. But neither are they aberrations of the system that has produced them. Rather, they are its quintessence, its exemplars, its inheritors and continuers -- and they have, in turn, bequeathed the core value of violent domination to their successors, who have freely and eagerly embraced it. If the Bush gang stands trial, then the entire system must be put on trial; otherwise, their prosecution would be nothing but a show trial, a scapegoating designed to perpetuate the system while appearing to cauterize and cleanse it of a limited, aberrant evil, as Arthur Silber has argued in his powerful series, "Against Prosecution."
Thus the evils inevitably and inescapably produced by a system of violent domination would go on and on, gaining new strength from the reinvigoration of the national myth that has justified so much horror for so long: "See? We got rid of the bad apples; everything is fine now, the system is good now, we're exceptional again, the hill is shining once more." And the righteous bombs of humanitarian liberation would keep falling on the bodies of innocent people.
III. Back to Reality
But we all know there will be no such trial, and certainly no such defense. As we have seen in the last few months, the American political class and its media sycophants have rallied 'round the flag to defend the system's core values. They have made it abundantly clear that they do not consider torture and military aggression to be criminal offenses when these actions are carried out by the American government. Instead, such things are regarded as affairs of state -- matters of policy and politics, subject to factional quibbling over their execution and extent, perhaps, but certainly not a question of law, or justice, or morality.
And so the system and its horrors keep churning on, regardless of the liberal credentials of its current managers. An overseer of a torture chamber and director of death squads, Stanley McChrystal, has now been put in charge of the "good war" in Afghanistan and its inexorable spread into Pakistan. The war crime in Iraq continues unabated, with an increasingly shattered army of desperate, doped-up, burned-out soldiers still loose in a crumbling, broken land, while vast permanent bases are being expanded to house the tens of thousands who will remain behind even after a still- uncertain "withdrawal" plan is completed. The "disease of permanent war," as Chris Hedges terms the swine flu of militarism that rages so virulently through the imperial system, will keep driving the nation, and the world, to one disaster after the next. As Silber puts it:
Intervention always leads to more intervention: the first intervention leads to unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as the justification for still further intervention. That intervention in turn leads to still more unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as yet another justification for still further intervention. The process can go on indefinitely, and the ultimate consequences are always disastrous in the extreme.
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 10 April 2010 23:48
Just think, it was once a "scandal" that an American secretary of state gave the green light to a program of "targeted killings" -- assassinations -- murders -- that he knew was about to take place. This was once considered a deeply serious matter -- so staining and shattering to the official's reputation that he has spent almost 35 years lying about it, and having other people lie about it for him: Cable Ties Kissinger to Chile Scandal (AP):
As secretary of state, Henry Kissinger canceled a U.S. warning against carrying out international political assassinations that was to have gone to Chile and two neighboring nations just days before a former ambassador was killed by Chilean agents on Washington's Embassy Row in 1976, a newly released State Department cable shows. ..
In 1976, the South American nations of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay were engaged in a program of repression code-named Operation Condor that targeted those governments' political opponents throughout Latin America, Europe and even the United States...The State Department drafted a plan to deliver a stern message to the three governments not to engage in such murders.
In the Sept. 16, 1976 cable, the topic of one paragraph is listed as ''Operation Condor,'' preceded by the words ''(KISSINGER, HENRY A.) SUBJECT: ACTIONS TAKEN.'' The cable states that ''secretary declined to approve message to Montevideo'' Uruguay ''and has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter.''
...The next day [after Kissinger's orders had been conveyed to U.S. ambassadors by an underling], on Sept. 21, 1976, agents of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet planted a car bomb and exploded it on a Washington, D.C., street, killing both former Ambassador Orlando Letelier, and an American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Letelier was one of the most outspoken critics of the Pinochet government.
Poor old Henry Kissinger. All that botheration, all those lies, all the years of gut-churning anxiety about scandal, even prosecution -- and for what? Mere complicity in state murder of foreigners carried out by a foreign government? Why, nowadays, we have U.S. presidents openly ordering the murder of American citizens, and nobody bats an eye. There is no scandal, no prosecution -- there is not even any debate. It's just a fact of life, ordinary, normal, unchangeable: the sun rises in the east, cows eat grass, rain is wet, American presidents murder people. What's the big deal?
Anyway, thank God good old Hank is still with us, and that this honorable public servant has lived to see the day when honorable public servants (and so are they all, all honorable public servants) no longer have to worry about the petty snares of law as they go about their sacred duty of keeping us safe.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 12 April 2010 12:13
In the light of this:
Iraq War Vet: "We Were Told to Just Shoot People, and the Officers Would Take Care of Us" (Dahr Jamail, Truthout.org)
Support the Troops? (John Caruso, A Tiny Revolution)
Tears of Rage, Tears of Grief: Mass Death Returns to Ishaqi (Empire Burlesque)
Dead Souls: The Pentagon Plan to Create Remorseless Warfighters (Empire Burlesque)
is there anything really suprising about this? (From Monday's New York Times):
U.S. Troops Fire on Afghan Bus, Killing at Least 5 Civilians
American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near the southern city of Kandahar on Monday morning, killing as many as five civilians and wounding 18, Afghan authorities and survivors said....
One of the bus passengers and a man who identified himself as the driver said that an American convoy about 70 yards ahead of the bus opened fire as the bus began to pull to the side of the road to allow another military convoy traveling behind to pass. The two convoys and the bus were on the main highway in Sanzari, about 15 miles west of Kandahar city. All of the windows on one side of the bus were shot out ...
If the Afghan government’s casualty toll is correct, it would suggest that troops fired scores or even hundreds of rounds. It was not clear why such a large fusillade would have been directed at a passenger bus....
Actually, it is very clear why these troops would have decided to "light up" a bus crammed with civilians that was pulling subserviently off the road to let even more of the occupier's military muscle barrel through their invaded homeland. It's because for generations, the Pentagon has been employing every mind-bending technique it can find to turn human beings into killing machines.
And oddly enough, the impetus for this massive, long-term "engineering of human souls" was ... the greatest feat of arms in American history: victory in World War II. As I noted in the Moscow Times, way back in 2004:
America calls its soldiers who fought in World War II "the greatest generation." They are hymned by Hollywood, celebrated by publishers and politicians, hailed at every turn....Yet despite the vast tonnage of celluloid and printer's ink devoted to their praise, what is perhaps the truest, highest measure of their worth has been almost universally neglected. And what is this hidden glory, which does more honor to the people of the United States than every single military action ordered by their corruption-riddled leaders during the past fifty years? It's the fact that in the midst of history's most vicious, all-devouring, inhuman war, only about 15 percent of American soldiers on the battlefield actually tried to kill anyone.
In-depth studies by the U.S. Army after WWII showed that between 80 to 85 percent of the greatest generation never fired their weapons at an exposed enemy in combat, as military psychologist Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman reports. Many times they had the chance, but could not bring themselves to do it. They either withheld their fire altogether or else shot into the air, to the side, anywhere but at the fellow human beings – their blood kin in biology, mind and mortality – facing them across the line. This reticence is even more remarkable given the incessant demonization of the enemy by the top brass, especially in the Pacific, where the Japanese – soldiers and civilians – were routinely portrayed by military propaganda as simian, sub-human creatures fit only for extermination.
Yet even with official license given to the most virulent prejudice .. even with all the moral chaos endemic to warfare, American soldiers, as a whole, killed only with the greatest reluctance, in the direst extremity. These were not "warriors," bloodthirsty automatons with stripped-down brains and cauterized souls, slavering in Pavlovian fury at the bell-clap of command. No, they were real men, willing, as Grossman notes, to stand up for a cause, even die for it, but not willing, in the end, to transgress the natural law (implanted by God or evolution, take your pick) that says: Do not kill your own kind – and every person of every race and nation is your own kind ...
But far from celebrating this example of genuine glory, the military brass were horrified at the low "firing rates" and anemic "kill ratios" of American soldiery. They immediately set about trying to break the next generation of recruits of their natural resistance to slaughtering their own kind. Incorporating the latest techniques for psychological manipulation, new training programs were designed to brutalize the mind and habituate soldiers to the idea of killing automatically, by reflex, "at the bell-clap of command," without the intervention of any of those inefficient scruples displayed by their illustrious predecessors.
And it worked. The dehumanization process led to a steady rise in firing rates for U.S. soldiers during subsequent conflicts. In the Korean War, 55 percent were ready to pump hot lead into enemy flesh. And by the time the greatest generation's own children took the field, in Vietnam, the willingness to slaughter was almost total: 95 percent of combat troops there fired with the intent to kill.
And today in occupied Iraq, the brutalizing beat goes on. "Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, it's like it pounds in my brain," a U.S. soldier told the Los Angeles Times last week. Another shrugged at the sight of freshly slaughtered bodies. "It doesn't bother me at all," he said. "I'm a warrior. My soldiers, they are all warriors. They have no problems. There's no place in this Army for men who aren't warriors." Said a third: "We talk about killing all the time. I never used to be this way…but it's like I can't stop. I'm worried what I'll be like when I get home."
Yet strangely enough, this new model army, imbued with eager "warrior spirit," has not produced the kind of lasting victories won by the reluctant fifteen-percenters of yore. It was stalemated in Korea, defeated in Vietnam, chased out of Lebanon and Somalia, balked in Afghanistan (where 40,000 Taliban troops slipped away to fight again and drug-dealing warlords rule the countryside), while its two excursions into Iraq have ended first in irresolution (with "worse-than-Hitler" Saddam still on his throne) and now in bloody quagmire.
Could it be that the systematic degradation of natural morality and common human feeling – especially in the service of dubious ends – is not actually the best way to achieve national greatness?
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 08 April 2010 16:12
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 bloodsoaked 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.
There is nothing particularly remarkable about Obama's order to kill an American citizen without trial or evidence, of course. George W. Bush claimed the same powers. As I have noted here and elsewhere for many years, our American presidents now claim the right to kill any person on earth whom they arbitrarily designate as an enemy -- or even a suspected enemy -- of the United States. Barack Obama embraced this power as soon as he took office, ordering a "surge" in the "targeted killings" on "suspected terrorists" in Pakistan. Hundreds and hundreds of innocent human beings have been murdered in these drone attacks; many thousands more have been driven from their homes, and terrorized into lives of mental anguish, their psyches lamed by trauma, upheaval and the ever-present dread of death raining down on them from the skies.
And of course, thousands of innocent people continue to die in the wars of dominion and profiteering that Obama has so eagerly embraced. In Afghanistan, they die directly at the hands of American forces -- including secret assassins who raid villages by night, often slaughtering civilians, even those cooperating with the military occupation. As Obama's hand-picked commander in the region, Stanley McChrystal, has openly admitted: “We have shot an amazing number of people [at checkpoints and on the roads], but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." And in Iraq -- the scene of the abominable, Nazi-like war crime of military aggression whose continuation by Bush's "surge" was hailed by Obama as "an extraordinary achievement" -- innocent people continue to die in droves at the hands of the vicious and violent forces unleashed and empowered by the American invasion and occupation, while they wait to see which brutal "hard man" will seize power over their riven and ruined society.
No, the only remarkable thing about Obama's direct order to murder his fellow American citizen, Anwar al-Alwaki, is its openness. A few weeks ago, he sent his intelligence chieftain, Dennis Blair, to Congress to openly proclaim the president's "right" to kill American citizens arbitrarily. Bush had kept this claimed power obscured, letting it out in dribs and drabs of directed leaks, and hints and winks in public statements; but Obama has taken us beyond that, to the open declaration and institutional entrenchment of the principle of death without due process for citizens. This indeed is "change" -- with a vengeance.
(And to think that only a few years ago, capital punishment -- with its vast and cumbersome legal machinery -- was banished in America as too unjust and arbitrary in its application; now a president need not trouble himself with the slightest bit of legal process if he wants to have someone killed. I suppose this too is "progress": more streamlined, more efficient, quicker, more modern -- like wireless broadband. It's simply there all the time at the president's pleasure.)
Now, there can be no shuffling, no waffling on the matter. Obama has made it crystal clear for even the most avidly self-duping progressive: He will murder his fellow citizens without trial or evidence if he sees fit. The state can murder whom it pleases. This is the system we have. This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. You cannot escape this logic, this judgment. If you support Obama now, in this, then there is no crime he can commit that you will not support.
And thus you become one of those people that we all used to puzzle over, the accomodationists to brutal tyranny: "How did all those people go along with the Nazis? Why wasn't there more opposition to Stalin? How could they countenance all those obvious abominations? What kind of people were they?"
Now you know. They were you. You are them.
NOTE 1: I should make it clear that I do not think that it is somehow more heinous for the American government to target and kill its own citizens, as opposed to killing foreigners by the thousands, which it has done, on a bipartisan basis, for many a year. I am merely laying out the case in this way so that American "progressives" -- almost of all whom are deeply marinated in their own brand of American exceptionalism -- can see that even by the standards of this exceptionalism, which puts American lives and 'values' above all else, Barack Obama is acting -- undeniably -- in a criminal, tyrannical manner.
NOTE 2: While I was writing this piece, I got the welcome news that Arthur Silber was back, after a long hiatus due to his chronic ill health. And, as usual, his insights cut straight to the heart of the matter. As I noted here the other day, Silber was one of the very few writers who saw through the shining cloud that surrounded the Obama campaign to the corroded core within. He also noted the greatest danger of an Obama presidency: that it would confirm, entrench, expand -- and normalize -- the worst aspects of the American imperium, precisely because the system's crimes and atrocities would now be presented in a more pleasing package, with all "progressive" opposition to them completely disarmed by partisan adherence to their standard-bearer.
Ironically, one of Silber's most incisive pieces on this subject was provoked by what many people -- and almost all "progressives" -- still consider Obama's finest moment during the campaign: his speech calling for a "national dialogue on race" -- part of a particularly brutal effort to knife his long-time friend, mentor and pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, deeply and repeatedly in the back.
Go read the new piece now, and follow the links, which provide chilling chapter and verse to underscore the insights. But here is brief excerpt, one of the conclusions that Silber draws today from that early speech:
If one truly and comprehensively understood Obama's speech on race -- the unending, deadly lies on which it was based, and the terrible consequences to which those lies have led and the devastation they will continue to cause -- that speech told you everything you needed to know about Obama.
That is not hyperbole, not if you understood all of that: it told you everything. .. And what has already occurred during the Obama presidency is very far from all or the worst of the destruction that can reasonably be expected to transpire over the coming years.
UPDATE: David Swanson at Counterpunch nails the situation well: "Murder is the new torture," indeed. As Swanson notes, now that torture -- always with us, but previously shrouded -- has been mainstreamed, acceptance of outright murder is the logical next step. And as Swanson observes, it is actually a much more efficient tool of imperial policy:
President Obama has ordered the murder of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Like the innocent but tortured Abu Zubayda (innocent at least of any of the crimes he was accused of), Awlaki is now the mastermind terrorist of the universe. And once he's dead, who's to say he wasn't? Who can demand a trail or access to documents? He'll be dead. See the beauty of it?
If the top mastermind is in Yemen, what the hell are we doing building a quagmire in Afghanistan? Don't ask. But notice this: we have dramatically increased the use of missile strikes to assassinate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we have increased the use of murderous night-time raids to such an extent that we now kill more civilians in that way than we do with drones. They're the "wrong people," or neighbors who came to help, or family members clinging to loved ones. Sometimes they're young students with their hands tied behind their backs. Accidents will happen. But no U.S. officials' future book tours are going to be interrupted by protesters, since there's no torture involved. Civilization is on the march!